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Odessa 1919 Synopsis
Paul Vaatz is a land-owner, and founder of the Daimler-Mercedes agency in Odessa. He has a wife, Sophia, and daughters, Tamara(12)and Isa (9). They are fourth generation assimilated German colonists. His adopted country is at war with Germany. In 1917 the Bolshevik Revolution erupts in St Petersburg. From January 1918 there is a hiatus of occupying forces in Odessa, the city being intermittently occupied by the Red Bolshevik army, the German Central Powers, the Western Alliance, and Ukrainian independent forces.
Paul’s journey of survival starts in April 1919, when the Reds enter Odessa, for the second time. His life is immediately at risk from Lenin’s Red Terror,as the Cheka aggressively sets about liquidating all who are rich or have influence. He is desperate to get his family out of Odessa and to live anonymously in the surrounding villages. Before he can do this, the Red Army expropriates his apartment and he has to extricate himself, twice, from being shot on the orders of same red-headedBolshevik. He fears whether Sophia and his girls will cope if he is executed. They make a daring escape from Odessa. His family continue to be hounded by the Cheka. A reward of 50,000 Roubles is placed on his head. With him are, the families of a brother and a brother-in-law, both called Albert.
A Bolshevik requisitioning unit arrives in the village of Grossliebental, where the families are being given refuge. The unwelcome visitors demand grain, farm animals, and forty young men for the Red Army. Paul is complicit in the murder of the whole Bolshevik unit. Tamara and Isa witness the carnage and help with the clear up. Sophia frets as to how the experience will affect them. Red retribution is fierce, but the villagers resist and a full-scale battle develops. General Scholl of the White Army takes charge. Paul becomes a sniper, overcoming his discomfort at targeting fellow humans rather than a stag. After early successes, they lose, and he returns to his family.
The family treks west, to the River Dniester, hoping to escape to Romania. This plan is fails, as the Romanians shoot refugees attempting to cross. A Cheka search party arrives with information that the Vaatz family is close. The villagers are threatened with death if they do not reveal where the refugees are hidden. The unbelievable bravery of the villagers ensures the families survive.
News leaks that the Whites have recaptured Odessa but Red forces block the families’ route back. They risk their lives in sneaking past the guards. After trekking back through destroyed villages they reach Odessa. Paul despairs when told that the Cheka has executed his brother, Carl, who remained behind. He blames the Bolshevik. They restore and refurnish their vandalised apartment, and sell it to a rich baron from Saint Petersburg. Paul happens upon his Bolshevik nemesis and exacts a sweet revenge.
In January 1919, a steamer arrives to repatriate the last remaining German prisoners of war. Paul gets a passage for his family. His surviving brother, Albert, is optimistic that the Whites can win and refuses to join him. On the evening before departure, Paul achieves closure in his conflict with the Bolshevik.
The family celebrate Christmas in a Biscay Bay storm. One month later they are welcomed by brass bands and real coffee as they dock in Hamburg.
During the final collapse of Odessa, in February 1920, brother Albert and wife Mathildeforce their way, through panicking crowds onto a lighter that ferries them to a Russian warship. The fugitives realise their vessel has lost power. Must they return to the death on shore? The British cruiser HMS Ceres comes to the rescue and tows them to Varna in Bulgaria. They journey overland to Germany and to an emotional family reunion.
The linear story line is interspersed with nostalgic, first person flashbacks, of better times, from Tamara and Isa.