Svetlana Karlin

Born and raised in Moscow, Russia, I live with my family in scenic Oregon. I had the good fortune to witness the final decades of the Soviet Union and turbulent times of glasnost and perestroika. Different cultures and mentalities intrigue me, and history of human societies is my favorite subject.


29 comments on “About

  1. Helen Roche says:

    Hi Svetlana,
    I’m in awe of the amount of research you’re doing for your novel – I’ve just written a short story (5,500 words) set in Berlin, summer of 1944, and that took quite a bit – a whole novel’s worth is pretty daunting! Fascinating though, of course.
    I’ve posted a query on the Axis History Forum, but nobody seems to know the answer – no replies in a week. It’s a rather particular little question – here it is, as I posted it on the forum:
    ‘Suppose a person has been arrested by the gestapo and their house left, for the moment, abandoned; and they have a crop of vegetables in their garden – what would happen to the vegetables?
    Would anyone who took them be guilty of looting and subject to punishment? Would the house and its garden by seized, and if so, by whom? Would the Reich Food Estate take the crop?
    I’m wondering if it’s possible for someone who has denounced their neighbour, to then help themselves to the arrested neighbour’s potatoes. However it would also be interesting to know what happened to the produce in the allotments or gardens of those that had been killed in the bombing.’
    I hope I’m not too cheeky, sending you my question! But you might be one person who does know the answer. 🙂
    best wishes,
    Helen Roche

    • LOC says:

      Hi there!

      I’ll try to ask my parents about this but the first thing that comes to mind is, that in 1944, when somebody owned a house, it was unlikely that they were still allowed to live in it by themselves. Rooms had to be cleared for bombed-out families/persons and usually there would be one family per room. The owners had no choice in this. So, I guess that if somebody was arrested, the other families in the house would keep tending to the precious veg and protect it from looters as best as they could.

      I also know that people from the cities (my grandma, for instance) would cycle or walk out into the surrounding countryside, trying to buy/organise (=steal) potatoes and other food from nearby farmers and that this action called ‘Hamstern’ (because hamsters keep food stores) was illegal and could be punished by law. My grandma once told me that she was stopped on her way back into Berlin with a sack of potatoes and that she emptied it at the policeman’s feet, saying that the sack was hers!

      • Hi Arnika,

        Thank you so much for your input! Your perspective of a third-generation Berliner helps a lot.

      • Helen Roche says:

        Thanks, LOC. I wonder how widespread this was, being forced to take in families? Would people with influence be able to escape having anyone billeted with them? Was it less the case in the suburbs? In the couple of personal accounts I have read of Berlin at this time (‘A Woman in Berlin’ and ‘The Past is Myself’) this subject didn’t crop up much – although some of the neighbours in ‘A Woman in Berlin’ did have refugee girls from Konigsberg living with them.
        You have made me rethink a part of my story though, thanks for that! (It involves one wealthy couple, bombed out of their townhouse, moving into the ‘villa’, in a smart Berlin suburb, of another wealthy couple who have gone to their safer country house.)
        I love the story about the potato sack, and the term ‘hamstern’.
        Please do let me know if your parents have any details to add.

    • Arnika says:

      Sorry for the late reply and to the wrong comment to boot! I can’t seem to reply to your reply…

      Anyway, taking in bombed out people was extremely widespread and I know that a lot of grand villas were teeming with families in each and every room. A lot of Berlin people were also evacuated, especially pregnant women. My mother was born in East Prussia, for example. My grandmother, my great grandmother and my mother were living together in a room in Allenstein, which is now part of Poland.

      One thing struck me as a bit strange – have you researched housing in Berlin? What do you imagine a townhouse in Berlin to be like? Townhouses always seem acutely British to me. Wealthy families in Berlin were living in grand apartments in the inner city – Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf mostly. A lot of the suburbs tended not to be exactly smart. The outer parts of Berlin were former villages, hastily turned into the new home for the army of workers that flooded Berlin in the late 19th century, hoping for a better life in the city and work in a factory. They were not posh places but often something to be avoided, teeming with TB. Have a look at villas in Grunewald, Dahlem and Charlottenburg, also around Nikolassee, that’s where the rich mostly had and still have their villas.

      I don’t know how likely it is for a wealthy couple to have had both an inner city apartment as well as a villa in Berlin. I think it would have been more likely to have an estate out in Brandenburg or Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

      • Helen Roche says:

        Hi Arnika, thanks for taking the time to reply. I shall take your point about townhouses – and I clearly still need to make a bunch of other changes. My story involves a main character (first person – no name) who lives with her husband in a house in Dahlem. (Though I don’t name it – I’ve just based it on Christabel Bielenberg’s account). She meets an upper-class lady who has recently moved to a villa in Dahlem with her husband, a Field-Marshal, because their apartment was bombed. (Have changed it from townhouse to apartment!). The owners of this villa have gone to their summer house on the Wannsee for safety. The upper-class lady asks my character if a cousin, an injured officer, could borrow her country house in the Grunewald in order to recuperate from his injuries. So, to run through who has what dwellings:
        – Main character lives in house in Dahlem and has small summer house in Grunewald
        – Upper class couple have lost their apartment in Berlin, and have borrowed a friend’s villa in Dahlem (they also have a country house themselves, somewhere, but it is full of bombed-out relatives)
        – Owners of the Dahlem villa have gone to their summer house on the Wannsee.

        Are any of these still implausible combinations? The main character, by the way, is not upper-class, but quite well off – her husband works in government and they are comfortably wealthy. However it is relevant to the plot that she is rather impressed by meeting this upper-class lady with a ‘von’ in her name.

  2. Hi Helen,

    Thank you for visiting my blog. Your question is an excellent example of the challenges faced by every historical fiction writer. Small details are often the hardest to research.

    I don’t have at hand any sources describing similar situations. However, in summer of 1944 Berlin had already suffered extensive bomb damage, the housing situation was dire, and food shortages were severe enough. In this situation, if the owner was not likely to be released, it was possible that his house could be used by the authorities to accommodate bombed-out Berliners or refugees. Many people bombed out of their homes found shelters in garden allotments. I know that members of Resistance often hid in garden allotments. I’m not sure if the Reich Food Estate collected crops from abandoned private gardens.

    I suggest that you visit NaNoWriMo website and check out the WWII Classroom thread on the forums: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/forums/historical-fiction/threads/67228 . Grand Poobah is very knowledgeable about the WWII history and he has helped me with some questions in the past. You could post your question there or ask him directly.

  3. Helen Roche says:

    Thanks very much for the link, Svetlana. I’ll follow it up. Yes, it’s difficult to find out the small details! By the way, as for bomb damage – do you know of any sources charting the bomb damage in Berlin through the war? I *have* just found out about this:
    Haven’t looked at it yet, will do so shortly.

  4. Helen Roche says:

    Hmm, the GoogleEarth thing isn’t as useful as I’d hoped!
    I’ve set my story in a suburb, loosely based on Dahlem because Christabel Bielenberg gives some description of that area. I get the impression that even in 1944, it hadn’t been too badly damaged, relative to the centre of town. Most of the information I can find relates to the city centre, so it’s hard to be sure – I hope I’m on the right track. (There was more bombing to come, of course, and I don’t know what state it was in by May of 1945).

  5. Helen Roche says:

    Do you read German, Svetlana? You probably know about this resource already, but just in case you don’t:
    I don’t read German, but even the titles and pictures are pretty educational.

    • Helen, thank you for sharing such a great resource. I came across some propaganda materials scattered on other websites, but none of those sites was as comprehensive as this one. Even better, this website has a Third-Reich-era map of Frankfurt am Main I’ve been searching for all over the Net!

  6. Arnika says:

    I am afraid that neither Wannsee nor Grunewald are places for summer houses or ‘country houses’ – both are within the city. Somebody who has a house or Villa in Grunewald or Dahlem usually lived/lives there year round and would probably not have an apartment in the city centre (unless they are maintaining it for a mistress, ahem). They might go to the country Estate wherever they have said country Estate but that is more likely to be located in a tiny village somewhere in the province rather than within Berlin. Another thing: a ‘von’ in the name is not terribly upper class. It actually means that the person is on the lowest rung of the aristocracy ladder and quite a few industrialists received a ‘von’ by the Emperor for their part in the economic upswing. So, ‘von’ could be new money. She’d be impressed by a real title, I’d think. Make the person a Duchess, Baroness or a Princess (plenty of them around!) and anybody who was not brought up in those circles would probably hyperventilate just thinking about meeting them.

  7. Helen Roche says:

    Ah – thanks, Arnika, I did wonder if Wannsee and Grunewald were a bit too close. Can you think of places that would be more plausible?
    As for the ‘von’ – it’s probably high enough ranking to impress this particular snob, particularly as the husband of the ‘von’ couple is a Field Marshal. Basically, they turn out to be implicated in the 20th of July plot, so I’m basing them on the class of people who were involved in that; they included quite a few ‘vons’ and the occasional ‘zu’ – it is sufficient that this couple are part of the aristocratic or quasi-aristocratic officer class. However I could think about ‘upgrading’ them. 🙂 Although, if I raise them too high then it would be perhaps less likely that Frau von X would join her local League of National Socialist Women, which is how these characters meet.

  8. curtis says:

    why are russians fascinated with crocodiles?the famous statue in the park in stalingrad,they call some terrible drug crocodile and use it to describe the eu etc etc.thanks for any insight.

    • Curtis, I don’t think there’s any particular fascination with crocodiles among Russians. The famous sculpture in Stalingrad (i.e. the children dancing around a crocodile) just happened to be an illustration to a popular Russian children’s story that had a crocodile in it. There are many other Russian children’s stories featuring different animals like foxes, bears, cats, dogs, pigs, etc., and lots of art based on those stories, as well.

      I don’t think the term Crocodile Club in regard to EU was coined by Russians. It seems that this predecessor to EU was named after a restaurant in Strasbourg, France: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crocodile_Club. Apparently, the name stuck really well.

  9. Helen Roche says:

    Oops, I didn’t realise it would open an embedded video on your page. Feel free to remove if this is now rather dominating the page!

  10. Helen Roche says:

    Svetlana, when I gave you the link to the German Propaganda Archive, I think I was actually intending to give you *this* link:
    Funny, since the other one is in general terms more useful! But this one is very interesting too.

    • Helen,

      I’ve just looked at the materials on that website. Simply fascinating. I can’t read much in German, but still very interesting. Even the ads – they surely give a lot of information on the common brands and types of goods. I’m going to mention some in my story for the historical flair. Thank you for sharing!

      The Crocodile Gena clip made me smile. The cartoon is such a popular classic in Russia, and everyone knows the tunes from it. It’s truly a gem.

  11. Helen Roche says:

    Excellent, aren’t they? I can hardly read any German, but one can at least see what the themes of the articles are. The recipes are very telling. (Lots of oats and potatoes, very little meat.) I also saw on some of the pages of clothes patterns, that they were showing how to make children’s clothes or lady’s dresses from larger items of clothing, So there was a bit of the ‘make do and mend’ spirit that I’m familiar with from British wartime history.
    Sometimes I learn songs in Russian or other languages (I know more in Serbo-Croatian, but the odd one in Russian) – and I wanted to learn ‘Goluboi wagon’ from Cheburashka. But then I discovered it was TOO catchy and it started to drive me mad! 🙂

  12. Helen Roche says:

    Hi Svetlana,
    I wrote a story which is set during the Battle of Stalingrad, and it’s occurred to me that I haven’t had a Russian person look it over for errors of fact or tone. Obviously you can decline, but if you do have time and would be interested in taking a look, it’s here, and I would *love* to hear any comments you care to make. It’s about 3,200 words.

  13. Liz Tolsma says:

    Svetlana, I was researching medical care in Berlin in March 1945 and come across the question you asked on the Axis History Forum. I didn’t see any replies and was wondering if you ever got the information you needed? What I needed to know, specifically, is what kind of medical care would a child with a fever receive? Would the family doctor make a house call? Would the child be taken to the hospital? How would something like typhus have been treated? I know there was an epidemic of typhus after the war, but my characters have just arrived after fleeing East Prussia, so plenty of unsanitary conditions for them to have been exposed. Thank you for any direction you can give me.

    • Liz,

      First of all, my apologies for taking so long to respond. I was overwhelmed with issues at home and work, and I did not check my blog for a long while.

      I did not find much information in English on the clinic I was interested in. Most of the information I have now is from German sources, although it is not complete. If you can read in German, you could try Google.de . Charite and Virchow-Klinikum were major civilian hospitals in Berlin at the time, so you could probably glean some information by Googling them.

      I do not have answers to your questions but there are a few factors to keep in mind. If your story is set in late 1944 – early 1945, there would be an acute shortage of doctors and medical staff in Berlin. Many doctors had been called up to serve as army surgeons, regardless of the specialty. In addition, the city hospitals were overcrowded. Another factor was that refugees were not allowed to remain in the city, unless one had relatives to stay with or was severely ill and unable to travel. Refugees were supposed to move on, instead of staying and putting more stress on the crumbling city infrastructure.

      • Liz Tolsma says:

        Thank you so much for the help. Yes, these refugees had relatives in the city that they were staying with. I have decided to make the illness less severe and have the family’s 80 year old doctor come by to take a look. I’m fascinated by all of your research. My book, Daisies Last Forever, releases in May 2014.

      • You’re welcome. A family’s old doctor would be very plausible.

        Congratulations on your book publication!

  14. tissot madeleine says:

    I would want to find information over the period 1942 1945 in Ukraine. My mother lived in Nikopol and she was 17 years old when German took her as worker for Nurnberg.
    Her family stayed in Nikopol ran away in 1944 and took refuge with Romania. It is very difficult to find information on these events. Few books tell the life of Russian and Ukrainian girls in labor camps in Germany.
    After the war in 1945, my mother was not able to return in Ukraine because she had no information about the place where was her family. I looked a lot on the Internet but I have not much information, I know the names of the mother, the sister, the brother-in-law and the nephew of my mother. You can indicate me a strategy more suited to make my searches. Archives in Ukraine are available for consultation but it is necessary to know the Ukrainian.
    I thank you for giving myself information to find something on these events.
    Madeleine Tissot, fille de Tamara Kamenskaya née en 1925 à Moscou

  15. Madeleine,

    Sorry about my delay in responding. As I have already noted in another post here, I was on a long hiatus from my blog.

    If you are interested in learning more about the life of forced laborers in Germany, I suggest visiting this website: http://www.zwangsarbeit-archiv.de/en/index.html . You could contact the project team and ask for access to the archive to learn about the life your mother experienced as a forced laborer. Perhaps they could give you some tips on where to look for more information on your mother’s family.

    Also, do you speak Russian? If yes, have you tried http://www.yandex.ru, a Russian search engine? I find it more helpful than Google when searching for anything related to Russia and the Soviet Union.

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