Review by Gerhard Clausing •
I think we would all agree that war is an ugly matter, driven by megalomaniacs – men who have a vast taste for power and control. The cost exacted on individuals and groups on all sides of warfare is always horrendous. Unfortunately, such is currently the case in Ukraine, and was also the case in 1944, when, among many other actions committed by various groups, Stalin in a little-known World War II side instruction known as “Order 7161” caused Romanian men and women of German descent (as young as 17-18) to be deported into grueling forced labor camps in Russia. The documentation of the plight of survivors of that action is the subject of this engrossing and well-produced project by Marc Schroeder.
This subject is personally difficult for me; I am part of a family that was forced to give up their homelands in Eastern Europe around the same time. It reminds me of the song by Phil Ochs/Joan Baez, “There but for fortune [may go you or I/go you and I],” which specifically deals with war in the fourth verse. So, it was with great compassion and personal recollections on my own part that I immersed myself in this volume of photographic documentation and individual recollections.
Historically connected to other German-speaking subgroups in Europe, 69,332 individuals of this Romanian minority group, primarily from Transylvania (Siebenbürgen), were arbitrarily deported and forced into Russian labor camps under grueling conditions, along with others from Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia, for a total of over 112 thousand men and women. It seems that Stalin saw that procedure as a form of retribution and reparations, a form of punishment and assigned collective guilt to all members of an ethnic category, while at the same time benefitting the reconstruction of the Soviet Union. Marc Schroeder came upon this issue through this group’s partial historical connection with his native Luxembourg, where the German language is also part of their heritage.
Painful as these memories were for the 40 survivors, Marc Schroder was permitted gradual access, and was able to photograph their surroundings and capture strong portraits of these individuals that mirror their traumatic past as they narrated their recollections. They also provided many family pictures and documents from their past, which have now been interwoven with their contemporary environmental portraits and other visual documentation, as well as the interviews presented in the book. Marc Schroeder has also managed to create landscapes and other images of settings that give a great sense of the surroundings, representing the overwhelming situations of the past that these victims experienced and described.
Evidence materials are also included, such as the letter from a camp in image 8 below, which shows the ingenuity of the detainees – they had to combine several words at a time, since they were limited to a total of 25 words per letter to family and friends. The entire project contains hundreds of such moments that will keep you spellbound and astonished, as they described their own ordeals. The sections are further enhanced by special design aspects: Rob van Hoesel has chosen various paper qualities and page backgrounds to reflect the somberness, roughness, and eventual hope, as we are taken through the entire group ordeal, all the way to the return of many of the survivors. Many of the participants have passed away since Marc Schroeder interviewed them during the past decade.
This book is an engrossing presentation of a very difficult subject, well worth your while to delve into to study the wherewithal of warfare from the victims’ perspective. In an admirable and thorough manner, the plight of these survivors is presented visually and verbally, along with the historical background and details on the genesis of the project. This book is a masterfully produced compendium of documentation, most highly recommended.
Gerhard (Gerry) Clausing, Associate Editor of the PhotoBook Journal, is an author and photographer from Southern California
Marc Schroeder – ORDER 7161
Photographer: Marc Schroeder (born in Luxembourg; lives in Luxembourg, Lisbon, and Berlin)
Publisher: The Eriskay Connection; Breda, The Netherlands; © 2021
Texts: Marc Schroeder and Survivors; Heinke Fabritius (epilogue)
Language: English (English edition, reviewed here) or German (German edition)
Softcover, illustrated, with wrap-around; 240 pages, paginated; 7 x 9.5 inches (17.5 x 24 cm); produced, printed, and bound in the Netherlands by Fine Books – Jos Morree, Wilco Art Books, and Patist; English edition: 600, German edition: 400; ISBN English Edn. 978-94-92051-69-1; ISBN German Edn. 978-94-92051-70-7
Photobook Designer: Rob van Hoesel
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are under copyright by the authors and publishers.