This is the first review and recommendation of a completed film ever on this blog. Under Jakob's Ladder is still in the production stage. As a general rule I have not been very impressed with the medium of film recently. Through the Red Gate, however, is a very welcome exception to this trend. My only complaint about the film is that is too short. It is only about 45 minutes. Its subject matter, the fate of Mennonites in the USSR during collectivization and dekulakization, could easily sustain several hours of informative documentation. The documentary is centered around interviews with surviving members of the Bargen and Regehr families who lived through the Stalin regime's campaign to "liquidate the kulaks as a class." The Bargen family left the USSR as part of the last batch of 5,461 Mennonites legally allowed to leave the USSR by the Soviet government near the end of 1929 (1). The Regehr family in contrast was not so lucky. The OGPU deported them to a special settlement village in the Urals in the summer of 1931. The two families are related and during the 1930s the Regehrs managed to smuggle out of the USSR a large number of letters to the Bargens in Canada. Many of these letters have been published in English translation in Ruth Derksen Siemens, Remember US: Letters from Stalin's Gulag (1930-37) Volume One: The Regehr Family (Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2007). This surviving contemporary record along with personal memories of the events gives the documentary a strong primary source base. I intend to show this documentary to both my Political History of the USSR and my Migration and Borders classes next semester. For more information on the documentary and the related book see the excellent website of Dr. Ruth Derksen Siemens.
1. Terry Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), p. 320.