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A Red Boyhood: Growing Up Under Stalin

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9780826217875: A Red Boyhood: Growing Up Under Stalin
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Many children growing up in the Soviet Union before World War II knew the meaning of deprivation and dread. But for the son of an “enemy of the people,” those apprehensions were especially compounded.

When the secret police came for his father in 1938, ten-year-old Anatole Konstantin saw his family plunged into a morass of fear. His memoir of growing up in Stalinist Russia re-creates in vivid detail the daily trials of people trapped in this regime before and during the repressive years of World War II—and the equally horrific struggles of refugees after that conflict.

Evicted from their home, their property confiscated, and eventually forced to leave their town, Anatole’s family experienced the fate of millions of Soviet citizens whose loved ones fell victim to Stalin’s purges. His mother, Raya, resorted to digging peat, stacking bricks, and even bootlegging to support herself and her two children. How she managed to hold her family together in a rapidly deteriorating society—and how young Anatole survived the horrors of marginalization and war—form a story more compelling than any novel.

Looking back on those years from adulthood, Konstantin reflects on both his formal education under harsh conditions and his growing awareness of the contradictions between propaganda and reality. He tells of life in the small Ukrainian town of Khmelnik just before World War II and of how some of its citizens collaborated with the German occupation, lending new insight into the fate of Ukrainian Jews and Nazi corruption of local officials. And in recounting his experiences as a refugee, he offers a new look at everyday life in early postwar Poland and Germany, as well as one of the few firsthand accounts of life in postwar Displaced Persons camps.

A Red Boyhood takes readers inside Stalinist Russia to experience the grim realities of repression—both under a Soviet regime and German occupation. A moving story of desperate people in desperate times, it brings to life the harsh realities of the twentieth century for young and old readers alike.

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About the Author:

In 1949, upon graduation from the Technical University of Munich in Germany, Anatole Konstantin immigrated to the United States and continued his study of engineering at Columbia University. He founded PDC International Corporation and lives in Connecticut.

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Lamentably, Konstantin’s story is common to millions of Soviet children from the 1930s and 1940s. The NKVD executed his father in 1938. In 1941, the 13-year-old, his younger brother, and his mother fled before the German invasion and survived the war under desperate circumstances. Returning after the German retreat to their Ukrainian hometown, they discovered the grim fates of friends and neighbors who had stayed. What stands out in Konstantin’s account of these terrible times, besides a matter-of-fact, descriptive tone, is the author’s fondness for his mother, who kept the family safe while enduring dangerous and appalling physical conditions. A resourceful woman, she seems to have improvised a solution to recurring crises of housing, food, shelter, and transportation; she never gave up. With such support, Konstantin managed to experience his adolescence along the usual lines of schools, favorite books, chums, and bullies––though his anecdotes in these categories are anything but usual. Replete with the perils of living under communism and in wartime, Konstantin’s lucid memoir contributes to the body of civilian witness to World War II. --Gilbert Taylor

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