“…you guys are worse than the Gestapo, you buggers….!”  By

“…you guys are worse than the Gestapo, you buggers….!”

The dinner ‘interrogation’ of my mother by three professional journalists, is interrupted by peals of laughter.  “And, by the way, how are you enjoying your soup?”

Shored up by two pals , I decided to try, once more to pry some war-time secrets out of my mother, Agnes Spicer. That summer’s night in Toronto was the closest I ever came to actually ‘interviewing’ Mom. One of Hitler’s slaves. A traitor in Stalin’s eyes. A Soviet Red Army soldier who could throw knives into a perfect pattern on the wall, or anything or anyone else. That was my mother.

borscht, vodka, and dinner

Three hours later, she gave me the ‘spine’ of the film I am now making,  The Traitor’s Daughter”.

We spent the afternoon between the kitchen and the living room, one set of hands prepping the traditional Siberian dumplings and Russian Borscht soup that I had grown up with on the prairies. That would be Mom. Meanwhile, in my Toronto living room, I set up a video camera on a tripod, ran some cables for the mike and lights, trying to act nonchalant about it all, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Of course, it was rather ridiculous and obvious. But she played along.

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We pretended it was a normal evening of conversation and laughter, all fortified by my mother’s legendary cooking and a very good bottle of merlot. And once again,  a longing  for answers to questions that have haunted me a lifetime.

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From my earliest childhood days in Netherhill, Saskatchewan I had learned that the best strategy for acquiring information from my mother, was simply to say nothing and wait and hope. I had been doing it all my life, from the first midnight sessions on the prairies, when the sounds of the Russian Red Army on the old family HIFI would summon me. I’d crawl out of bed, perch on the corner of the old green velvet sofa, and wait for my mother to talk.

Untitled-4 copy

Forty years later, was this “interrogation ” session in my own living room any different? Only after she died four years ago, would I discover just how much she left out that night. It would take two trips to Russia, a trip to Germany, and, the collective efforts of five professional archivists in three countries. During the war, she was a woman on the run. She covered her tracks with half a dozen alias’s. She had managed to outmaneuver the real Gestapo.

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In doing this film, the question remains: did she outmaneuver me, too?

 

9 Comments

  1. Peter Kavanagh

    “each little bit makes the tale more intriguing.”

  2. Bev Archibald

    “This little clip brings back so many memories of your Mother. Her accent, hand motions and comments are like I saw her yesterday.”

  3. RE: Your on-line promo:That is spell-binding. I am dying to see it. I love the mix of archive and re-enactment too

  4. High praise from an NBC war correspondent! thank you Mandy..

  5. Roxana, this is riveting…. Do not stop on your quest to find the answers you have been looking for, for decades. We are all watching and listening.

  6. Brenda Pincemin Ylioja

    I just finished a book about a holocaust survivor last night and the sight of that uniform gives me the creeps. I can’t imagine how the sight of black boots or even a black suit would affect someone who had been in the camps!

    1. I have a confession to make. I once bought a pair of designer pyjamas, very stylish. silk, black and white, and striped. When I went to visit my mom I could not bring myself to wear them at her home in Calgary…i instinctively feared the image of the stripes would trigger memories of the camps for her. I hadn’t thought of that for years, until I read your comment, Brenda. Please continue to visit the site for updates!

  7. Dr. Thomas Weber

    I looked at your website and was absolutely fascinated by it. What an intriguing story. (I grew up about a hundred km from where your mother was a slave labourer.) If you ever need any advice on how to research the German end of the story of your mother’s story, please let me know.

    Best wishes,
    Tom
    Professor Thomas Weber
    Chair in History and International Affairs & Director, Centre for Global Security and Governance, University of Aberdeen
    Visiting Scholar, Center for European Studies, Harvard University

    primary email address:

  8. A Harvard professor. Wow. Great feedback and another ‘detective’ to help me unlock the mystery of the missing thousand days of my mother’s life story. That is a complete bonus, and Tom, I will definitely be in touch with you. Many thanks…

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