LEBENSRAUM! Ingrid Rimland’s Epic Trilogy

Book Review
Published: 1998-05-01

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While historical revisionists have produced no end of factual books analyzing the claim that the Nazis killed six million Jews during the Second World War, they have been notably less successful in creating works of imaginative literature on revisionist themes. Meanwhile, the fictional Holocaust epics of such accomplished hacks as Gerald Green, Herman Wouk, and James Michener have been read, watched and believed by millions of Americans who would never think of delving into Hilberg or Goldhagen.

Ingrid Rimland’s Lebensraum! trilogy should help start to change that. Fiction of epic sweep, this three-volume work spans two centuries in the history of her own people, the German Mennonites, from their settlement on the Ukrainian steppe under the protection of Catherine the Great, to their despoliation and decimation by the Communists—but not before a heroic few of them, forsaking their pacifist creed, join in a heroic, last-ditch defense of Berlin in 1945.

Where lies the revisionism, exactly? Since it is difficult to imagine a novel that depicts the realities that underlay the mythical aspects of the Holocaust (a fictional account of a delousing commando, for instance?), a more feasible literary approach is to counter the history and tribulations of less favored peoples to the proprietors of the better-known (and sometimes overblown) holocausts. This is the direction taken by Dr. Rimland, already an award-winning novelist for The Wanderers, the creator and administrator of the Zuendel(Web)site, and the amazingly prolific source of that daily nugget of revisionist insight, the Zgram.

The revisionism of the Lebensraum trilogy begins with its name, which, thanks to nearly a century of anti-German propaganda (and the occasional ineptitude of Teutonic sabre rattlers) has come to mean “land to be seized by conquest” rather than the “room to live” that the word actually denotes. Writing from her own experience and from the lore of her family and people, as well as from scholarly works, the author tells how the Neufeld and Epp clans wrested great material riches from the virgin land of East Ukraine and, later, Kansas—not by the sword, but by the plow, and how these hard-working, pious families then lost much, if not all, their worldly treasure to the egalitarian cancers of a leveling “democracy” in the United States and Bolshevism in Russia.

Dr. Rimland, herself born to Mennonites in Ukraine, a survivor of the terrible trek westward with the Wehrmacht toward the war’s end, grown to maturity in a Mennonite settlement in Paraguay, brings a rare sensibility to the task of delineating several generations in the lives of her books’ characters. Lebensraum! is narrated in a voice able to articulate the point of view of a community—staid, traditional, pious, sometimes smug—as well as to express the yearnings of the powerful and sometimes rebellious individuals who stand out in it or against it. What results in these three volumes is a tapestry, or better an immense quilt, resurrecting to memory a people at once ordinary and extraordinary, that sought to flee History through piety and hard work, and what happened when History caught up with them.

Ingrid Rimland’s Lebensraum! trilogy is not a sentimental idyll nor a sanctimonious lament nor a rebellious rejection of her Mennonite heritage. What it is, in the shape of a compelling story that links continents and generations, culminating with matchless drama and fury in the German capital, is a question that still bums, for Jew and Gentile as well as for German Mennonite: How best to preserve and protect those two great underpinnings of any stable community, land and heritage—or blood and soil?

[Lebensraum, the immense three volume historical novel by Ingrid Rimland, sells for $75 the trilogy, or $25 for any one volume. Please add $5 for postage and handling for the full trilogy, or $3 for one volume. If you are a California resident, please add the applicable sales tax.]

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Author(s): Bradley R. Smith
Title: LEBENSRAUM! Ingrid Rimland’s Epic Trilogy, Book Review
Sources: Smith's Report, no. 54, May 1998, p. 6
Published: 1998-05-01
First posted on CODOH: Oct. 28, 2015, 3:33 a.m.
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