Archive for November, 2010

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From Iowa to Soviet Siberia: The Zimmerman Steel Journey II

In 1931, Henry Zimmerman of Lone Tree, Iowa traveled to Kuznetsk, Siberia, to oversee the building of steel mills in the Soviet Union. The University of Iowa Special Collections has been collaborating with Russian History doctoral student Irina Rezhapova (Kuzbass Institute of the Federal Penal Service) on a special digital project which tells the story of Zimmerman’s journey. Special Collections will be making available online Henry Zimmerman’s personal letters and scrapbooks of photographs, news clippings and ephemera about his time in Soviet Siberia – all part of our Records of the Zimmerman Steel Company (http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/MSC/ToMsC900/MsC850/zimmermansteelworks.html).

 This is Entry 2 of 3 of the Zimmerman Steel Journey.

 

“Foreign Specialists” in the Soviet Union: Exchanges of Technology and Work Ethic

The kinds of exchanges that took place in Siberia between the “foreign specialists” – experts from the US, Germany, Italy, France, Austria and Romania – and the Soviet workers, servants and administrators involved much more than one-way technology transfer. Planning and working side by side, steel experts from these countries also exchanged ideas and attitudes about labor. Thus Henry Zimmerman, who probably brought with him a strong individualist American work ethic which he acquired from his father’s business and other US companies, was now exposed to a Soviet work ethic that emphasized labor as an achievement and sacrifice for the collective: the ruling Communist Party and the future of Communism in Russia. In this Soviet work ethic, the individual’s achievement was valued not in its own right, but as another example of the supremacy of the working class of the Soviet people, and of Communism as a political and economic system. Soviet mines, factories and steel plants organized “socialist competitions” between working brigades in making bricks, loading coal, completing buildings or molding steel in larger quantities or well ahead of their original deadlines. The winners of such competitions received awards such as the designation “foremost worker,” vacations, and appearances at national holidays, political parades and historical commemorations. 

Even without being able to read Russian, we can see that the images in this 1932 article were posed to make Soviet workers appear heroic people who move mountains in building a robust new industry out of nothing for the glory of the Soviet Union.

Pages from a Russian magazine article about the construction of the steel mills in 1932

 

Was there harmony in the workplace between American engineers and Russian workers?

Hardly. In addition to the harsh weather and the differences in work ethic, Western specialists like Henry Zimmerman also faced professional rivalry from Soviet engineers and workers, who had strong national and occupational pride. “The Russian engineers insisted that they could do the various jobs themselves. They refused to follow our instructions. We pulled off of one job because of this, and they went ahead and caused an accident that killed 32 men. [….] We later organized our own bunch to keep the Russians out of our hair. All our recommendations were typewritten, and they stuck their necks out if they didn’t follow them. We got good cooperation from the [Soviet] government.” (“Personality Profile: Ageless Wizard is still Going Strong,” by Jim Arpy, Sunday Times-Democrat July 26, 1964)

 

Did the Soviets try to convert the Americans to Communism?

 You bet! The Soviet leadership not only wanted to acquire technological expertise from the Western advisers, but they also wanted to educate their guests in the ideology of Marxism – hoping to convert them to the Soviet political and economic system. Accordingly, Russian officials included Communist propaganda in their briefings and lectures for Western advisers, as well as Russian language courses and group discussions of technology and life in the Soviet Union.

Were U.S. and other Western specialists successfully indoctrinated with Communist ideology? Even Russian researchers are doubtful about the outcome. “[Western experts] had a double attitude towards political messages: some were listened to, especially if reports were read in their native language, but others were ignored.” (O.A. Belousova, “Foreign Experts and the Soviet Reality: Life of the First Kuznetsk Builders.” 2003, translation by Irina Rezhapova) Do you think that they managed to convince Henry Zimmerman that Communism was the best political and economic system?

 

Please check our blog for the first and the third entry of the Zimmerman Steel Journey.

 

By Gyorgy “George” Toth, PhD Candidate in American Studies, Olson Fellow, The University of Iowa Special Collections & University Archives,
With
Irina Rezhapova, PhD Candidate, Russian History, Kuzbass Institute of the Federal Penal Service

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From Iowa to Soviet Siberia: The Zimmerman Steel Journey I

How did a man from Iowa help launch the Soviet steel industry? What was it like for American engineers to work side by side with Russian workers in the 1930s? Who did Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev greet as an old friend when he visited Iowa in 1959? Read on to find out the answers.

 

In 1931, Henry Zimmerman of Lone Tree, Iowa traveled to Kuznetsk, Siberia, to oversee the building of steel mills in the Soviet Union. The University of Iowa Special Collections has been collaborating with Russian History doctoral student Irina Rezhapova (Kuzbass Institute of the Federal Penal Service) on a special digital project which tells the story of Zimmerman’s journey. Special Collections will be making available online Henry Zimmerman’s personal letters and scrapbooks of photographs, news clippings and ephemera about his time in Soviet Siberia – all part of our Records of the Zimmerman Steel Company (http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/MSC/ToMsC900/MsC850/zimmermansteelworks.html).

This is ENTRY 1 of 3 of the Zimmerman Steel Journey.

 

Who was Henry L. Zimmerman, the Steel Maker of Iowa?

 

Photograph of the men of the Zimmerman family, 1910s. Henry Zimmerman is bottom right.

 

Born in Davenport in 1879, Henry L. Zimmerman took an early interest in the family foundry business run by his father, and by the mid-1910s he helped expand the Lone Tree and Bettendorf-based Zimmerman Steel Company into electrification, waterworks, and steel works, exporting steel products as far as Russia, Japan and Australia.

“A Personal Word from the Father of the Zimmerman Family.” Advertising brochure of the Zimmerman Steel Company, 1910s.

 

In 1929 The Santa Fe Railway hired Henry Zimmerman as foundry engineer, in which capacity he traveled from the Mississippi to the Eastern Seaboard, inspecting the company’s plants, taking care of problems and working to make the plants more efficient and productive. This experience may have been the reason why the Freyn Engineering Company soon selected Henry Zimmerman as their chief foundry engineer, one of fifty-seven specialists chosen to establish modern steel mills in Soviet Russia. For people like Henry Zimmerman, a trip to the Soviet Union probably also held the promise of international professional experience, as well as an exotic adventure.

 

What were the living and working conditions in Siberia like?

 

Pictures from Henry Zimmerman’s Siberian photo album

 

When Henry L. Zimmerman arrived at Kuznetsk, Siberia on January 7, 1931, the local temperature was so cold that the heating plants and water mains buried under ground froze and burst. Zimmerman spent the first few weeks in a hotel where “we’d go to bed wearing our caps and mittens, everything but our boots.” (“Personality Profile: Ageless Wizard is still Going Strong,” by Jim Arpy, Sunday Times-Democrat July 26, 1964)

Once the Americans were scheduled to go to Kuznetsk to build the Kuznetsk Steel Mill, with Zimmerman among them, the Soviets began to build wooden houses for them, which may have been rather spacious. The “foreigners” had a special service – stores with a better variety of goods and somebody playing the role of servants who cleaned their rooms. Some of the apartments not occupied by the foreign specialists were used to accommodate some of the front-rank Soviet workers. According to Russian workers’ memoirs, each apartment served as a home for three people: one in the living room, another in the kitchen, and the third one sleeping in the bathroom. They were satisfied, because other workers lived in worse conditions.  (From Irina Rezhapova)

The harsh winter weather of Siberia posed special challenges to those building the steel mills. In a letter of March 15, 1931, Zimmerman asked his son Jimmy to

“Try to picture, what a job it has been to dig all these […] deep pits for the foundation, thru two to three meters of frost when the thermometer was from -40° C to -60° C and the River frozen six feet deep. Frequently it would freeze 6″ to 10″ in a single night, even at the bottom of the pits if they were not covered. We had to plank each pit over and cover it with earth, put in a stove and keep a fire in each pit while the concrete was poured and set.”

 

How did Kuznetskostroy become a Soviet steel boom town?

“Twelve months ago this was a cold, barren, frozen waste, covered with snow and only the howl of the wolf was heard as he chased the Siberian rabbit. Now in dugouts, tents, loghouses and modern homes thirty thousand people live and all have all the work they can do and about 500 more come each week.” (Henry Zimmerman, letter of March 15, 1931)

 

Russian magazine article from the early 1930s about the building of the Kuznetsk steel mill

 

“To describe the work here would take too long except that we are building a group of factories and a city like Gary, Ind[iana] and including everything that is needed in such an industry. In the foundry, which will make iron, steel, brass, and aluminum […] This brick yard will be the most modern and most complete in the whole world, and will make common brick, pressed brick, fire brick, silica brick and fire clay suitable for each [.]” (Henry Zimmerman, letter of January 16, 1931)

 

Please check our blog for the second and third entry of the Zimmerman Steel Journey.

 
 

By Gyorgy “George” Toth, PhD Candidate in American Studies, Olson Fellow, The University of Iowa Special Collections & University Archives,
With
Irina Rezhapova, PhD Candidate, Russian History, Kuzbass Institute of the Federal Penal Service

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George Viereck: Diplomat or Propagandist?

 

This year’s National History Day theme is “Diplomacy and Debate: Successes, Failures, and Consequences.” One collection in our holdings that dramatizes this theme is the George Sylvester Viereck Papers (http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/MSC/ToMsc100/MsC99/MsC99_viereckgeorge.htm). As a German American poet, cultural critic and journalist, Viereck played the role of a cultural diplomat and propagandist in the debate and conflict between the United States and Germany before and during World War One and Two – even when he had to pay a high price for it.

George Sylvester Viereck was born in Munich on December 31, 1884, and was brought to the United States at the age of eleven. Viereck’s first book of poetry, Ninevah and Other Poems, was published in 1907. He also wrote Strangest Friendship: Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House, and, with Paul Eldridge, My First Two Thousand Years: The Autobiography of the Wandering Jew, Salome, the Wandering Jewess, and Glimpses of the Great, among other books.

By the time World War I broke out, Viereck had been already fairly well known for his verse, which appeared in both liberal and conservative periodicals in the United States. Viereck first came under attack for pro-German leanings as editor of the magazine Fatherland in 1914. When the United States entered the war, he changed its name to The American Monthly and turned its teachings against war in general. He urged that the objections of German-born Americans against shedding their relatives’ blood be respected by having them serve in some other capacity than as soldiers in the trenches. The Author’s League, the Poetry Society, and other organizations expelled him, but after war sentiment dissipated he began to appear again on lecture platforms.

Before World War II Viereck  worked as a correspondent for a Munich newspaper and a free-lance writer for American magazines. He once described himself as doing what he could to better relations between the United States and Germany.

On the walls of his Riverside Drive study in New York he had photographs of Hitler, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, and Kaiser Wilhelm. All three, he said in an interview, had been his friends. “But I am no longer on speaking terms with some of them,” he added. In 1929 he had written of Hitler, “This man, if he lives, will make history.”

George Viereck was arrested in New York in October 1941 on charges of withholding from the US State Department information about his pro-German propaganda activities. He was charged with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Viereck and his lawyer appealed his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

 

Pages from Brief for Petitioner in Viereck v. the United States, US Supreme Court, October 1942

 

After his first appeal to the Supreme Court failed, George Viereck began serving his term of one to five years on July 31 1943 in the Federal Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. His lawyer kept working on another appeal.

 

Viereck's statement before sentencing, July 31, 1943

 

Eventually, the US Supreme Court reversed Viereck’s conviction on the grounds that he was not compelled to report his activities “except as an agent of a foreign government.” After serving three years and ten months in prison, George Viereck was released on May 17, 1947.

George Sylvester Viereck died at Mount Holyoke Hospital on March 18, 1962, at the age of 77.

 

Please check out the online finding aid of the George Sylvester Viereck Papers here: 

http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/MSC/ToMsc100/MsC99/MsC99_viereckgeorge.htm