Imagine that everyone you’ve ever known was packed onto a train and sent away.
No, we’re not talking about the Holocaust, but Stalin’s forced evacuation of minorities to desolate regions of the USSR that really happened in 1949. This event is the background for The Gift to Stalin (2008), a sparse, beautiful, and scary film that’s now being released in America for the first time. In the film, nine-year-old Sashka is one of hundreds of Jews being transported across the Soviet Union in a cargo car, to a work camp. It’s the depth of Stalin’s reign of terror, 1949. Sashka escapes that train car and ends up in a small village in the middle of rural Kazakhstan.
Kazakh culture is a cross-section of Asian and Slavic societies, and the villagers are a pastiche of those ethnicities–a gang of orphans, a shy doctor, and a terrifying policeman who runs the town and terrorizes Sashka’s adoptive mother.
The Gift to Stalin is a peek behind the Iron Curtain, into one small region that, for the most part, has escaped the notice of the rest of the world.