Flight from the Red Hell

by Virginia L. Lewis (Editor and translator)
©2020 Monographs XVI, 150 Pages


This autobiographical narrative provides a unique personal account of the life of a Volga German under the Bolshevik Revolution and subsequent famine, agricultural collectivization, and Stalinist regime with its persecution of minorities including ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union. The fact that its author, master miller Heinrich Neuwirt (1902-1953), survived as long as he did is a testimony to the resourcefulness, determination to survive, and capacity to endure hardship he evinced as he was repeatedly ensnared in Stalin’s net, imprisoned, enslaved, and finally sent to the Russian front in a penal army. Neuwirt only managed to produce his account as a result of finding refuge in West Germany after the war, and although the manuscript made it to Volga German relatives in the United States, nothing came of publication efforts since it was written in German. The value of this manuscript lies in its first-person documentation of Volga German life under Stalin. German professor and literary scholar Virginia L. Lewis has rendered Neuwirt’s original German account into faithful English translation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword by Helga Neuwirt Bera
  • Acknowledgments
  • Translator’s Introduction
  • 1 Childhood on the Volga River
  • 2 Revolution!
  • 3 Famine
  • 4 Back in My Homeland
  • 5 The Unexpected Harvest of 1922 and the Start of My Career under Communism
  • 6 Five Years in a Responsible Post
  • 7 My Political Responsibilities
  • 8 What Would the Year 1935 Bring?
  • 9 In Prison
  • 10 My Short-Lived Acquittal
  • 11 Flight and Persecution
  • 12 From Fugitive to Prisoner of War


My father of German descent, Heinrich Neuwirt, was born on March 22, 1902, in Katharinenstadt, Russia, near the Volga River. My father’s manuscript is the only information I have about his former life before he met and married my mother, Charlotte Giehmann. From his manuscript, I learned he was married before and had children in Russia. This is all I know about any extended family. What I do know is, my father was a remarkable man who spoke five languages and learned to memorize great volumes of information, including people’s names. People would contact him about their relatives from Russia, hoping he would have information for them. My father wrote his manuscript with a view to having it published in book form, sold in America, and receiving enough in the way of royalties to move his family to America. That was his hope and his dream. Sadly, he died on March 4, 1953, when I was only 5 years old. He was killed when a truck ran over him while he was riding his bicycle. After reading my father’s manuscript and knowing what I know, I have concluded that his death may not have been an accident. Prior to his death, my father was able to have a small portion of the manuscript publicized in a German Newspaper. Afterwards, some men from Russia tried to convince him to return to Russia, but he refused. As a little girl I remember being told about another incident where some men tried to force my father into their car, but he managed to fight them off and flee. Now only God knows the truth about my father’s death.

I am eternally gratefully for everyone involved in preserving my father’s manuscript and getting it back into my hands. My father dictated his manuscript in German to my mother’s daughter Liane Bunny (my half-sister), who typed it out for him. I do not know how many copies of the transcript there are in existence, however I remember seeing a copy of the manuscript my mother had until her death in 1972. My father sent his manuscript to his sister (my aunt), Elisabeth Neuwirt Freimann, and her husband Karl Freimann in Hartford, Wisconsin, in December 1948. Karl and his daughter Sophie Freimann Rose tried to get the manuscript published in Milwaukee, Chicago, and New York, however they were unable to do so. Sophie Rose held on to the manuscript for safe keeping. After my mother passed, neither my half-brother nor half-sister could find my mother’s copy of the manuscript. I thought the manuscript was lost forever.

My youngest son, Jim Bera, has always been interested in military history and was determined to try and locate the manuscript that was sent to America. Jim’s close friend, Mark Martin, went on a quest with the little information I had available, and managed to contact my second cousin, Earnest Rose Jr., the son of Sophie Freimann Rose. The Rose family, whom I had never met, graciously mailed me my father’s missing manuscript with their correspondence letters. Both of my sons, Dennis and Jim, pressured me to translate the manuscript so they could know my father’s story, however I am not a translator by any means. I tried to translate it the best I could, but quickly became very depressed reading my father’s story. So, the manuscript lay dormant for the past decade or so.

My husband Doug and I have a close friend, Larry Gunst, who is also of German descent, having German relatives who formerly lived near the Volga River in Russia. Larry Gunst is connected to a group of German Americans with relatives from Russia, some of whom have even written books about their accounts. When Larry found out I had a manuscript, he went to great lengths to ensure that the manuscript was properly translated. He made contact with Robert Russell, Director of Beulah Williams Library at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, who was instrumental in this process. Robert connected Larry with Ginny Lewis, Ph.D., Professor of German at Northern State University. Larry personally paid Dr. Lewis to begin translating the manuscript, and my husband and I paid the rest when we realized the manuscript was in the process of being translated. Dr. Ginny Lewis did an excellent job in translating what I could never do myself. It is very rewarding for me to know that my two sons and our grandchildren now have translated copies of my father’s manuscript for themselves because of her work. It is most rewarding to realize my father’s story will be passed onto our family and to those who will read his story.

Finally, I want to give Glory to our Lord Jesus Christ, who answered my innermost desires to have a copy of my father’s manuscript. Through prayer, He helped guide my son Jim and Mark Martin to locate the manuscript, and by His Grace the Rose family gave me the only known copy in existence.

Helga Neuwirt Bera

Heinrich Neuwirt with his daughter Helga in 1948.
Photo provided by Helga Neuwirt Bera, used by permission.


Two individuals played a crucial role in prompting and facilitating the translation of Die Flucht aus der roten Hölle by Heinrich Neuwirt. Robert Russell, Director of the Beulah Williams Library at Northern State University, first proposed to me that I should consider undertaking this challenging translation project. Thanks to his encouragement and persuasion, my enthusiasm for the endeavor took off. Larry Gunst, a friend of the Bera family and strong advocate for Germans-from-Russia studies, first brought the manuscript to Robert Russell’s attention, and has since played an active role in supporting the project of translating and publishing the manuscript. Helga Bera and her husband, Doug Bera, have responded with enormous kindness to my requests for information and offered unwavering support for the project, as well as steadfast trust in me as the individual responsible for making this English-language version of Neuwirt’s manuscript a reality. I owe a tremendous debt to each of these individuals.

Virginia L. Lewis

Translator’s Introduction

The account you are about to read offers a rare, personal glimpse into the life of a Volga German who experienced everything from the Russian Revolution of 1917 to capture by the Germans as a penal soldier on the Russian front in 1943. While first-person accounts of the terrors that went hand-in-hand with life under communist dictatorship in the Soviet Union are not rare, such an unflinching account of the struggles experienced by an ethnic German who plainly saw through the government manipulation and deception that brought about his persecution is truly unique. In Revolution on my Mind: Writing a Diary Under Stalin, Soviet scholar Jochen Hellbeck presents examples of the many first-person accounts written by Soviet citizens who were in the process of “forging the revolutionary self” by using their writing as a means of realizing “themselves as historical subjects defined by their active adherence to a revolutionary cause.”1 The dichotomy between these many first-hand accounts with their apologist bent and Neuwirt’s autobiographical account of his desperate efforts to resist persecution under the Soviets could hardly be greater. While the diary authors presented by Hellbeck strain western assumptions regarding “liberal subjects: individuals in pursuit of autonomy who cherished privacy as a sphere of free self-determination” (Hellbeck 3), Neuwirt’s narrative conforms strongly to this “liberal subject” model and will therefore satisfy those readers who are keen to understand how life in a totalitarian society affected citizens who believed firmly in the natural and inalienable rights of human beings.


XVI, 150
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XVI, 150 pp., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Virginia L. Lewis (Editor and translator)

Virginia L.Lewis is Professor of German at Northern State University. She earned her Ph.D. in Modern German Literature from the University of Pennsylvania in 1989. Lewis has published several English-language translations of narratives from German and Hungarian and writes on Realism in literature.


Title: Flight from the Red Hell