Sunday, February 5, 2012


Everyone knows the stories and horrors of the concentration camps in Europe in WWII, but many don't realize thousands of people suffered similar circumstances at the hands of Stalin, Russia's tyrannical ruler.  BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY tells of the Soviet secret police tearing people from their homes, crowding them like cattle onto trains, and transporting them across the continent to Siberia.

Fifteen year old Lina, her young brother, and their mother are given twenty minutes to pack their things before they are whisked away.  Packed into rail cars with the words "thieves and prostitutes," they begin a journey that will take most of them to their deaths.

Conditions were horrible.  Any food they were able to bring with them was quickly eaten leaving them to share one bucket of gray gruel once a day if they were lucky.  Drinking water came only when it rained and someone managed to catch the drops in a cup stuck through a crack in the side of the rail car.  They were surrounded by filth and forced to use a hole in the floor to relieve themselves.

After more than forty days of traveling, the survivors were unloaded and set to work in a labor camp where conditions were not much better than on the train.  Lina and her mother and brother worked and watched out for one another as they tried to keep up their spirits with the hope that they might one day be reunited with Lina's father.

This was only the beginning of the suffering for the people of the Baltic states.  Stalin's occupation of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia targeted anyone considered to be anti-Soviet.  Doctors, lawyers, and teachers were among those taken from their homes and deported to labor camps and worse.  Lina and her brother and mother ended up north of the Arctic Circle in Siberia where even the grim determination to survive didn't guarantee they would ever see their homeland again.

Author Ruta Sepetys, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, has created this powerful story of just how cruel human beings can be to one another.  It is the hope of such stories that civilized man will one day end move beyond cruelty and inhumane treatment, but it seems history has a habit of repeating itself.  We can only pray stories like these will not be needed in the future.

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