The Traitor’s Daughter: The Film  By

The Traitor’s Daughter: The Film

My mother went missing for 1000 days…

Growing up, I never knew my mother’s real name. She couldn’t tolerate touching or hugging, not for any length of time. Even in the hot prairie sun, she hid a blue tattoo of numbers on her left forearm under long-sleeved dresses. It was a strict family taboo to look. On her deathbed, in our final moments together, I could not bring myself to do so.

Her whole life was one dark, impenetrable secret.

Except on those special nights in Netherhill, Saskatchewan when everyone else was asleep, except us. She called them, her “Russian Nights”. In the solitary house on the Number Seven highway, the rousing, patriotic Russian Army choir awakens the nine-year old girl at midnight. The black vinyl 33 LP spins, transporting Mother and Daughter into the vortex of memory. The clink of ice-cubes in a glass of vodka. Blue curling cigarette smoke. Only then, does she talk. I discover that she was a Soviet Red Army soldier, captured by the Germans during World War Two. She became on of Hitler’s slaves. She survived the camps, but how? Something unthinkable. Unspeakable.

When the war ended, she couldn’t go home. She’d be sent to prison. In Stalin’s eyes, she was a traitor.

Tucked into the corner of the couch, I am spellbound but I don’t dare ask questions. It is forbidden. After the session ended, I climbed back up to my bedroom, shut the door, and furtively, jotted down all I could remember. The next morning, nothing is said. The yellow school bus arrives.

It is as if the prairie winds had scoured away the whole night. There were about half a dozen ‘Russian Nights’. And then, one day, they ended. Unknowingly, I had breached the rules.

I entered a public speaking contest, confident that the story of my mother would win first prize. Projecting beyond the footlights, I described the Gestapo shoving my mom into a wooden ‘punishment’ box, too small for her to stand or sit for three days, of a Nazi soldier cutting her with his knife to see if her blood was red, or “are you Jewish?” Even the untimely drowning of Emma the Cow, “her only friend” made it onto the pages of my speech. It was the only time I ever saw her cry.

No one in the family came to hear my speech, except my Dad who drove me to the school auditorium. The ride home was silent and awkward. I tucked the carefully typed three pages into my special leather briefcase that held all my treasures. it was all so anti-climatic. A few days later, the grade six speech that won second place prize at the district school contest, disappeared.

The Russian Nights came to an end.

Once broken, the covenant, unspoken though it was, could not be fixed. I left the Prairies to become a TV journalist. Over the years, I never stopped collecting details, looking for clues to weave a timeline for the woman who locked me outside her private Iron Curtain.

But those missing 1,000 days remained so, to her last breath. This film, will it free me once and for all, from the burden of secrets, kept and broken? Will I regret knowing the Truth?

In the last twelve weeks of her life, bedridden at the palliative care centre in Calgary, we resurrected our ‘Russian Nights’ one final time. Mother and Daughter. Russian music again transported us back to those special midnight hours on the Number Seven highway, half a century ago.

And then, her last lucid words to me. “Don’t write it.” Am I now, the final traitor?

Roxana Spicer is addicted to story

All kinds of stories, from one end of the globe to the other. Her career began as a CBC TV journalist, working major markets from Vancouver to Halifax and netting Journalist of the Year award in Atlantic Canada. When she moved behind the camera to become a director/producer, her long-form documentaries won national and international recognition for “the fifth estate”,“Contact with Hana Gartner” and “Marketplace”, logging 200 hours of credited directing on CBC’s flagship primetime information programs. As one of the first CBC videographers, she filmed award-winning investigative stories in Belfast, Moscow, Munich, and Havana.

As a journalist, I want the story. As a daughter, I fear the truth

This season, she wrote and directed a series of short-form documentaries for prime-time Global TV: “High Drama” retraces the kidnapping of a Canadian couple in Ecuador, “Lost Childhood” exposes the abduction of Doukhobour children by RCMP in BC, and, on “Stolen Faces”, the shocking stories of acid attack victims. Last year she undertook a research trip to the edge of Siberia, into the last remaining gulag in Russia, to Moscow’s KGB archives, and to a former SS barracks in Germany searching for clues about her mother, among the records of 17.5 million Nazi victims, including the original Schindler’s list.

14 Comments

  1. Claude Adams

    I’m the son of 2 German parents, and every conversation about the war years was derailed by silence, denial or obfuscation. As for my grandfather, who fought in the Wehrmacht in both wars, his memoirs are a bizarre whitewash. The Battle of the Somme gets two paragraphs. Not a word about gas, or the appalling casualties. Collective memory cleansing.

    1. We are the children of the silent generation, we need to share our stories, and to preserve the memory of those who no longer have a voice. Claude, your story is such an echo of mine. There is a lot to say about suppressed stories and the impact on the next generation.

  2. Wow, Roxana, what a story. All the best with this.

    1. Deb, thanks for checking in! I’m posting a new blog every Friday, and hope that you will be back to see how the story is evolving.

  3. This project has caused all kinds of interesting and supportive talk between Cindy, Lela and myself. How very long this project has been following you and how much we all hope for you to complete this tale so it is exactly as you envision it. I recall the woman I talked to so many times at the Homesteader and while I knew there was metal there from exposure to heat, who would have known these huge things were behind that grit. There is a french word, chez, that I like because there is no really good english word to cover the sense. I felt that at Agnes’s place. Can’t wait till we can see this work, best regards.

    1. Your personal comments touched me very deeply, and encourage me to continue on a journey that has been bittersweet, painful, and extremely life-affirming at the same time. Steve, please continue to check in with the site, and send it out to your friends so we can get a new generation of young people involved in talking about the history that shaped us all.

  4. a very touching story. it’s extremely hard to tell the story of people who lost their youth, and therefore part of their identity. especially when those people are so close to you. my father, who was a war hero, like my mother, was never able to talk about the years he fought the nazi’s. he joined the dutch navy on submarines. he never spoke about it, neither did my mother. and I think they never spoke with each other about it. they knew and that was enough. success roxana. nice meeting you.
    stan

    1. Stan, as a professional author and journalist who has seen the battlefield in three contemporary conflicts, your comments are so powerful and evocative. I hope you will continue to watch this site for weekly updates, as I explore the world of the ‘silent generation’ of parents who never spoke of their youth, what youth they had left after Hitler, Stalin, King, and Churchill had finished with them.

  5. Thanks for keeping this alive for us Roxana. My father who fought for the Poles under British command was involved in the liberation of Polish combants incarcerated at the Oberlangen Camp in Germany where my mother was a detainee. What a sweet day for these Polish women to be liberated by their own countrymen! The party went on for a week and many others got together and went on to marry and move on with their lives. It’s described as the romantic chapter of Polish World War II history.”

  6. [...] August, 1945: In the German spa town of Bad Salzuflen, my mother, on the right, with Canadian Private Jack Pfeil, after her legendary swim in the Rhine. It is the actual day they became engaged, making her, the only Russian War Bride in Canada. [...]

  7. Amazing idea, incredible site and storytelling that lured me in before I got to the second sentence.

  8. My dentist was the son of a German soldier who drove panzers in the Wehrmacht in Russia. I’m a history grad, so I casually asked him about his Dad’s service. He immediately got defensive, and stated that his father assured him that the Wehrmacht was not involved in any of ‘those’ atrocities. Of course, history shows otherwise, but I quickly dropped the subject. That was in 2000.

    The secrets and the guilt and shame abide. I’m so glad to see that a new generation of German and other filmmakers are telling the stories so that history can be remembered aright, digested, and so healing and truth can result. The allies also have atrocities and secrets to confess.

    1. That is an amazing story, Sean. You are so correct in identifying the personal issues in trying to tackle a story like this. I hope to hear from you again, as the site updates every Friday. I’d love to get more of your feedback.!

  9. G. Austin Hamilton

    I remember you growing up in netherhil and going to school in kindersley. i new your mon and dad very well your dad was a good mechanic and used to buy parts at Howards Garage in kindersley Your mother was the best cook in the country we always ate at her food outlets., I remember your brother also. my w ife was Eleanor Hamilton a nurse in the Kindersley hospital.I hink this is a very brave thing you are doing and must be very hard. Good Luck1

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