Dancing Under the Red Star: The Extraordinary Story of Margaret Werner, the Only American Woman to Survive Stalin's Gulag
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The shocking and inspirational saga of Margaret Werner and her miraculous survival in the Siberian death camps of Stalinist Russia.
Between 1930 and 1932, Henry Ford sent 450 of his Detroit employees plus their families to live in Gorky, Russia, to operate a new manufacturing facility. This is the true story of one of those families–Carl and Elisabeth Werner and their young daughter Margaret–and their terrifying life in Russia under brutal dictator Joseph Stalin.
Margaret was seventeen when her father was arrested on trumped-up charges of treason. Heartbroken and afraid, she and her mother were left to withstand the hardships of life under the oppressive Soviet state, an existence marked by poverty, starvation, and fear. Refusing to comply with the Socialist agenda, Margaret was ultimately sentenced to ten years of hard labor in Stalin’s Gulag.
Filth, malnutrition, and despair accompanied merciless physical labor. Yet in the midst of inhumane conditions came glimpses of hope and love as Margaret came to realize her dependence upon “the grace, favor, and protection of an unseen God.”
In all, it would be thirty long years before Margaret returned to kiss the ground of home. Of all the Americans who made this virtually unknown journey–ultimately spending years in Siberian death camps–Margaret Werner was the only woman who lived to tell about it.
Written by her son, Karl Tobien, Dancing Under the Red Star is Margaret’s unforgettable true story: an inspiring chronicle of faith, defiance, and personal triumph.
were German bombers attacking Gorky. We were stricken with fear for our families and could not concentrate on our work. Many of us broke down and cried for our loved ones at home. I kept thinking of my mama and wondering and worrying—was she okay? I prayed for her, and I hoped that God heard me. Despite our anxiety, we had to work our full shift, and at quitting time, it was a very subdued and troubled column, about four hundred in all, who shouldered shovels and began our three-day journey back
father, and added, “I’m going back to Krasnoyarsk in a couple of days. I would be happy to take him anything you would like to send.” We wanted very much to believe this guy, but there was something about him that didn’t seem quite right. Something was disingenuous about him. His mannerisms seemed too polished for someone who had recently been released from such a villainous labor camp. He seemed too clean and maybe too sane to have just returned from the ill-famed Krasnoyarsk. I suspected he
that most of them had a family member jailed, killed, or wrongfully imprisoned as well. In any case, these dear Russian people wanted to apply whatever healing medicine they could to this dreadful cancer called Stalinism. After another day and night, we finally unloaded, stiff and filthy from our journey. We were in densely forested terrain, somewhere several hundred miles north and east of Gorky, on the southern edge of Siberia. Exhausted and weakened, we had to walk almost four miles to a
car. The logs were eight feet long, mostly birch and aspen, green timber, and very heavy. That was work! It took me an entire week to learn—the hard way—exactly how to do it. My shoulders were bloody sores, and I would awaken in the morning with my back and all of my muscles screaming from the pain of the previous days agonizing toil. In time, I learned to improvise a bit, creating some pads for my shoulders from bits and pieces of discarded leather I had found. Soon the weather changed to
feel a sense of purpose in what I did. Initially, I was the only acrobatic dancer in the entertainment group. So they reserved most of the lesser-used, more physical dance parts for me. I ended up doing virtually all the vigorous female parts, those requiring strong athleticism in addition to dance skills. Being quite thin and agile, I was also able to dance many of the male parts. Basically, I just loved performing on the stage, even in a labor camp, even in Russia. There was nothing quite like