Six Thousand Miles to Home
Kim Dana Kupperman
Legacy Edition Books
Six Thousand Miles to Home is the fictionalized and captivating account of a real Jewish family’s experience in a Soviet labor camp during World War II.
The novel follows the assimilated, German-speaking Kohn family, comprised of father Julius, mother Josefina, son Peter and daughter Suzanna.
With war on the horizon, they leave their hometown in western Poland in 1939 and head to Warsaw. A few days later, Nazi Germany invades. The family succeeds in fleeing the siege to Lwow in eastern Poland with help from some farmers. They spend the next months in relative peace.
But tensions are on the rise; the family knows it could only be a matter of time before things go sour. They spend those months toughening up and preparing for harder times. The father, a World War I veteran, teaches his family survival tips.
In the middle of the night, Soviet police come and arrest the father as an enemy of the people.
Later, the rest of the family is deported — in boxcars similar to those used to transport people to concentration camps — to a Soviet labor camp. They do hard labor harvesting timber alongside other deportees and prisoners in the infamous Gulag. They don’t have enough food and sleep on bedbug-infested hay. They are allowed to take a break once every 10 days, if they are running a fever above 102.2 degrees or when the temperatures fall to truly extreme lows. Illness ravages the labor camp, and getting sick is a death sentence.
The Soviet Union eventually grants its Polish deportees “amnesty,” but this amnesty does not apply to its Jewish prisoners. By pretending to be Catholic, the family is allowed to leave and heads south to Iran.
A lot has been written about what happened to Polish Jews under Nazi rule, but in the early years of World War II, Nazi Germany left eastern Poland alone under a pact with the Soviet Union. There, millions of people, including many Jews, suffered similarly inhumane treatment.
For many readers, this story will serve as a reminder of a part of World War II history that often gets overshadowed.
The novel is a jarring testament to the rampant and widespread disregard for human life during the war. The boxcars, separation of families and inhumane conditions of life in the Soviet labor camp will feel familiar to those well-versed with Holocaust stories, but it may still seem new to read about these events in a different location.
The novel may also feel timely.
Refugees spill across every border in the book. The Soviet Union does not need proof to arrest and deport them, but the family is accused of “overthrowing a frontier,” of crossing the border, from western Poland, under Nazi Germany’s influence, to eastern Poland, under the Soviet Union’s. (They are accused of this even though Poland was still one country when they crossed.) The Soviet Union separates families when determining who shall go to which labor camp. The Kohn family is also separated by the arrest of the father and other events.
This is not Kim Dana Kupperman’s first book, but it is her first work of fiction and a welcome one. The novel is well-written, moves quickly and smoothly blends the family narrative with contextual information about the historical events that shaped the story.