Furthermore, the colonists would be granted the right of local
self-government; they were directly responsible to the Crown and
not to the Interior Ministry of the empire. Also worthy of mention
is the assurance that they would be allowed to leave the empire
at any time, unhindered. The colonists, in contrast to the peasants
in Germany and Russia, were not serfs, but freemen.
The Manifesto of Alexander I of February 20, 1804 laid particular
value on "immigrants, who can serve as an example in agricultural
occupations and crafts...good land managers, people who are well-versed
in viticulture, in the planting of mulberry trees and other useful
plants, or those who are experienced in animal husbandry, particularly
in the management and raising of the best strains of sheep, and
in general those who possess all of the necessary knowledge for
a rational agriculture..."
In the so-called "Privilege of Grace" of Paul I of
September 6, 1800, the Mennonites were granted additional rights
(freedom from war-and civil-service for all time, no swearing
of oaths in court, the right to carry on a business or trade,
Reasons for Emigrating [Why did they Leave]
The privileges promised by the czars appeared particularly enticing
in view of the poverty and the deplorable conditions found in
Germany, above all, in Hesse and southwestern Germany:
-The Seven-Years War
-The Napoleonic Wars
-Political oppression by foreign powers and their own rulers,
-Military service and forced labor for their own rulers and for
foreign powers (for example, sale of soldiers for service in America),
-Economic hardship, crop failures, years of hunger (for example,
Württemberg in 1816).
-Strict, often unjust government,
-Restriction of freedom of religion.
Areas of Origin [Where did they come from]?
The three main areas of emigration of the German Russians were
from Danzig-West Prussia, Poland, and from the German province
of Hesse. Many Mennonites came from Danzig (1789-1804) in addition
to many Catholics and Evangelicals (1832). From Poland came those
Germans who had previously emigrated from Prussia and Württemberg.
Between 1815 and 1818 they left Poland and proceeded to settle
in Bessarabia. The main emigration from Hesse left for the Volga
between 1763-176. In the beginning of the 19th century Germans
migrated into the Black Sea area, however, these emigrants came
mainly from southwestern and southern German provinces of Württemberg,
Baden, the Palatinate, Alsace, Rhine-Hesse and the area of Bavarian-Swabia
contiguous to Württemberg. (see also cover sheet p.2)
Routes taken: How did they get there?
The great planned settlement of German farmers in Russia began
in 1763 and lasted until 1842. Single colonies were still founded
as late as 1862. On the basis of the Manifesto of Czarina Catherine
II, a mass emigration to Russia began after the Seven-Years War.
The majority of these immgrants came from Hesse, but some also
from the Rhineland and Württemberg. This was a difficult
route, there were as yet no railroads or steamships. They went
overland to Lübeck and proceeded by water to St. Petersburg.
From there the journey continued on the land route by way of Moscow
or on the Volga waterway to Saratow, where 104 German settlements
were laid out in an enclosed land area.
The second large emigration of Mennonites from Danzig-West Prussia
began in the year 1789 and then started again after 1803. This
time the way led through Riga into the Black Sea area to Chortitza
and Molotschna. In the year 1804, and then again from 1816-17
until 1842 the greatest emigration of Germans was from Württemberg.
The migration led by water down the Danube River from Ulm or by
land over Pololia near Odessa, to Bessarabia, into the Crimea
and the southern Caucausus.
The settlers from the Palatinate, Alsace and northern Baden migrated
to southern Russia in the years 1809-10. They traveled mainly
through Poland and Podolia, primarily into the Odessa area, where
many large Catholic villages were founded. The settlers often
gave their colonies the same names of the villages and cities
they left behind in their old homeland ; for example Stuttgart,
Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Selz, Straßburg; Tiege, Tiegenhagen,
Altonau, Lichtenau, Orloff; Basel, Darmstadt, Mariental, Rosenberg,
Rheinhardt.. In all, 181 mother colonies were founded in the area
of the Black Sea, in Bessarabia and in the southern Caucusus.
Settlement areas in Russia
During the years 1763-1768 approximately 8,000 families totaling
27,000 people immigrated into the Volga region. Here, on the hilly
side (right bank of the Volga) 45 colonies were founded, and on
the meadow side (left bank of the Volga) 59 colonies were founded.
The Settlements were laid out strictly along religious lines.
The Volga Germans are mainly of Hessian descent, but also come
from the Palatinate and from Württemberg.
The rural settlements near St. Petersburg and Belowesh, (northeast
of Kiev) and Rebendorf were founded at almost the same time as
the German settlements on the Volga.
The Volhynian Germans are for the most part Low-Germans from
the area of the Weichsel River and from Pomerania, Middle-Germans
from Silesia and Poland and High-Germans (Swabians) from central
Poland. By descent, therefore, the Volhynian Germans are northern
Germans, by religion, Protestant.
Whereas the Volga and Black Sea-Germans settled in large closed
villages, the Volhynian-Germans had to a large extent been settled
in scattered settlements and on individual farms. This made community
life more difficult. During Soviet times, it is true, the single
houses were "removed" and replaced by collective farms.
The first group of any size that settled in the Black Sea region
was comprised of Mennonites from the Danzig area, who because
of improved conditions for settlement established themselves south
of Jekaterinoslaw (Dnjepropetrowsk) in 1789. The well-known region
of Chortitz developed in this area. In 1803, the Mennonites, some
from Chortitz, and some from the regions of Danzig and Elbing,
settled in Taurien in the immediate vicinity of the small river
Molotschna. The largest Mennonite group was created here in the
Halbstädter or Molotschna territory.
On February 20, 1804, by means of a decree ordered by Alexander
I, a stringent selection process was applied to recruiting prospective
emigrants from Germany. It was required that the emigrants prove
they possessed a certain level of means of livelihood. This recruiting
process was particularly successful in the provinces in southern
and southwestern Germany.
In the provinces of Cherson, Bessarabia, Jekaterinoslaw, Crimea
and South Caucusus (1817) very large closed settlement areas were
founded on allotted lands.
Denominationally, the Germans in the Black Sea area were divided
In addition, there were German settlements in the Caucusus like
those later founded south of the Urals and in western Siberia.
As for the German villages there were 50 villages in Russia with
a German population between 500 to 5,000 people; to this one must
add Odessa with as many as 12,000, Moscow with up to 20,000 and
St. Petersburg with up to 42,000 Germans (in 1905). (cf. also
The founding of Daughter Colonies
The system of inheritance (the youngest son inheriting the farm),
the abundance of children, and the privilege of being allowed
to buy land, were all factors which led to the founding of numerous
daughter colonies. At first these were founded in the neighborhood
of the mother colonies in the Volga and Black Sea region. Beginning
in the final third of the 19th century daughter colonies were
also established in the northern Caucusus, in the Urals, in Siberia,
Kazachstan and central Asia. The last settlements were founded
in the Amur region as late as 1927-28.
Four hundred and forty daughter colonies were founded in the
Volga area, about 1800 in the Black Sea area and about 500 in
Siberia. All told, 3,232 daughter colonies developed from the
original 304 mother colonies; consequently, in 1940 the German
villages numbered about 3,500 (without the Baltic). The colonies
were strictly divided along religious lines: Lutheran (43%), Catholic
(27%), Baptist (16%), Mennonite (8%) and others (6%).
An additional reason for the extensive spread of Russian-German
culture was the abundance of children [or the high birthrate among
German emigrant families]. While in Europe the birthrate of all
national minorities was less than that of the native population,
in the case of the Russian-Germans the birthrate exceeded that
of the native Russian population. The birthrate of German inhabitants
in European Russia was 43.8 per 1,000 compared with 39.8 per 1,000
among the ethnic Russian population. In the Ukraine, the birthrate
of Germans was 47.3 per 1000 compared with 40.3 per 1,000 of the
native population, and in Vohynia 36 per 1000. In Germany, at
the same time, the birthrate was 19 per 1,000. Before 1918 the
average number of children per family in Germany was 8.
150 years later, 100,000 [German] immigrants became a national
group of 1.7 million in the Russian Empire (1914 census), i.e.
the numbers increased by a factor of 17.
Over the years, the Russian-Germans developed a distinct and
localized consciousness of their homeland. In contrast to other
immmigrants who, for example, set out for the United States or
Canada, the German settlers did not want to disappear into the
indigenous population because they considered themselves to be
carriers of culture into the Russian Empire. They wanted to remain
"Germans" in their new homeland. Therefore, from the
beginning of migration they placed great value on painstakingly
cultivating their religious beliefs, mother-tongue, and folklore
traditions (folk songs and folk art, music, costume, customs and
usages). They also worked hard to develop these customs and traditions
further and pass them on to succeeding generations. In this way
they were able to preserve their national identity in [southern
Russian and the Ukraine] for over two hundred years and successfully
Landscapes in the Black Sea and Volga Region
In the three largest regions of German Russian settlement (Volga,
Black Sea and Volhynia) there were great variations in the character
of the countryside. Volhynia was in large part an undulating forestland.
This influenced the manner of settlement (scattered settlements
with many individual farmsteads) and the construction of homes
(houses mainly built from wood)..
In contrast, the Black Sea region was a flat, treeless, steppe
region which was later cultivated. No hills or forests blocked
the view over the meadows and fields of grain. From afar, one
could view herds of cattle on the wide plains, grazing and returning
home in the evening. Peasants could be seen ploughing or harvesting
their crops. In summer, one saw clouds of dust everywhere, rising
to the heavens as the result of high winds or moving wagons. When
the heat was too intense the flickering air appeared to be water
(Fata Morgana) or one saw swirling dust columns (whirlwinds)
rise up. Nowhere a tree, nowhere a forest. Nothing but steppe
and more steppe, and after settlement and cultivation, farmland
and grain fields.
The landscape in the Volga region that enclosed the area of German
settlement, exhibited a somewhat different character, than did
the Russian river, the Volga, which divided into the meadow side
on the east and the hilly side on the west.. The German customs
and culture in the Russian countryside were almost exclusively
molded by a rural population. Craftsmen and merchants did not
appear until later times.
With great industry and agricultural knowledge the German Russians
began to cultivate the allocated land. Soon they had adjusted
to the new circumstances and had dealt with the almost insuperable
task [of soil management]. The black soil, rich in humus ("Tschernosjom")
in the southern Ukraine brought good results. On the Volga, on
the other hand, less fertile soils (lacking humus) were predominate,
and as a result wheat, barley, oats and corn were primarily planted.
In some areas like Bessarabia and Crimea, but above all, the southern
Caucusus, viticulture played a large role. It was also the Germans
who bred a strain of cattle ("the German red cow"),
which was known and desired everywhere. Several port cities, above
all Odessa on the Black Sea, and Berdjansk on the Sea of Azov,
became important export cities for grain. For the most part grain
was delivered to these ports by German farmers.
Economically, the first German settlers had a difficult time,
but soon a huge upturn occurred in the economy as the result of
the introduction of industry, the abundance of children, thrift,
and improved agricultural knowledge. New settlements were founded
and new land was purchased. If the Black Sea Germans were able
to buy up significantly more land than the Volga Germans, the
difference lie in the systems of inheritance.
Periodically, every five to seven years, the Volga Germans divided
the common land among the males anew, as a result the individual
holdings became smaller and smaller. Among the Black Sea Germans
the family's entire land ("the enterprise") was left
to one son undivided. Therefore, it became necessary for the other
sons to buy land, as every farmer was determined that each son
would become a farmer. In the Black Sea region 647.000 desjatin
(1 desjatin = 2.7 acres) were allotted to the Germans
at the time of settlement, and until 1914 they bought an additional
4.2 million desjatin (11.34 million acres). For the Volga
Germans the comparable figures were l.4 million desjatin
and 2.5 million desjatin, respectively (3.78 million
and 6.75 million acres). Together, these two groups owned 8.747
million desjatin or 23.617 million acres of land.. If
one includes the land ownership of the Germans in Siberia and
Volhynia as well as that around St. Petersburg of about 3.5 million
desjatin, (9.45 million acres), the result is an ownership of
12.247 million desjatin = 36,142.2 million acres, or
56.5 million square miles; that is more than the entire area of
the former DDR! [East Germany].
With the large increase in the German population in southern
Russia and as the possibility of buying new land was more and
more limited, a shortage of land soon arose. Therefore, one had
to consider providing the children with a higher education to
produce German physicians, teachers and ministers; or the sons
had to learn a craft or trade.
In the Volga region, in and around Balzer, a sizeable textile
industry arose, and in Katharinenstadt (later Marxstadt) a flourishing
metal-working industry. In southern Ukraine, Odessa, Alexandrowsk,
Prischib, Chortitza, Neu-Halbstadt and Spat there developed outstanding
centers of German industry and crafts. There were large enterprises
in these areas with as many as l,000 employees. The German "colonist
wagon" was much desired by all ethnic peoples. Factories
for the manufacture of plows and other agricultural machinery
appeared. But the greatest growth was in the milling industry
which spread out everywhere. Every larger German settlement had
at least one or more mills. In some German regions large flour
mills arose that serviced wide areas and, above all, the large
cities. Numerous brickworks supplied the building materials necessary
to build these mills.
House and Village
In the Volga region large villages were built, often similar
to towns. The houses were built one next to the other on several
streets running the length of the village. In Volhynia, the settlements
were smaller, or the houses lie scattered among the woods. In
the broad Black Sea region, where there was no shortage of land
at the time of settlement, one built on a grander scale. The tidy
houses were built 1 - 3 kilometers in length and 30 - 80 meters
in width. The streets were laid out straight as a string. On each
side of the roadway footpaths were separated by means of acacia
trees ("acacia is colloquial for "robinia").
From the beginning after the land was surveyed and a village
plan made, a parcel of land in the middle of the village large
enough for school and church was included.. The farmyards were
uniformly 40 meters wide and up to 120 meters long, so that the
village plan made a regular, almost chess-board-like impression.
Because all the houses had only one story, the church with its
high tower dominated the village. At the time of settlement, the
German colonists were encouraged to plant trees. And so, a German
village arose like an oasis from the otherwise treeless steppe.
In the spring the village lie in a sea of blossoms, redolent of
honey. Often the houses were completely hidden behind the thick
In the Black Sea region the houses were separated from the street
and the neighboring farmyards by a beautifully shaped wall. The
entrance gate and the entryway often had decorated columns or
gaily painted arches. The buildings in such a farmyard were large
and regularly laid out. On the one side, separated from the encircling
wall by a flower garden, stood the long residence. Two dwellings
of usually four rooms provided shelter for the father and the
oldest unmarried son. Stables for horses and cows were included
under the same roof. Beyond them were the sheds for wagons and
machinery. In front, across from the main building, stood the
"summer kitchen" where life was carried on during the
hot and dusty summer months. The barn was connected to this building.
At the rear of the yard was the large threshing area, and surrounding
this one saw high straw piles and manure piles, in the absence
of coal and wood, both provided indispensable fuel.
In the Volga region, with the exception of the Mennonites, things
were different. Here the house stood isolated with the front yard
on the street side. Across from it, on the other side of the street,
stood the so-called "summer kitchen" or the house for
the younger generation. The stables were located on the border
between the front and the back of the farmyard. The manure found
its way through an opening in the back wall of the stable onto
the manure pile the backyard, never in the front yard!
The exterior of a colonist's house always gave a neat, well-cared-for
impression. In Volhynia the houses were made of wood. In the Volga
region they were partially made of wood and stone. In the Black
Sea region the houses were always made of limestone or sandstone.
The houses were all plastered and beautifully whitewashed. Every
year, usually at Pentecost, the walls were often freshly whitewashed..
The roof, depending on the situation, was covered with reeds,
tin or tiles. Often one saw the year of construction inlaid or
drawn onto the roofs.
In addition to the closed German settlements there were a number
of estates that lay scattered and isolated on the broad steppe.
Entrepreneurial, wealthy farmers, for whom it had become too cramped
in the village, bought land from Russian estate-owners. These
often consisted of between 500 and 2,000 acres. Around the manor
house lie the pasture, farther away the tilled land. Spacious
rooms, many stables for livestock and storage buildings for agricultural
implements and wagons were marks of such an estate.
On the strength of the communal autonomy granted them, the colonists
elected their own mayors (chairmen) and chief mayors (chief executive
officers). These officials were obliged to render a public accounting
to the village council or, as the case may be, to the regional
assembly. The regional authorities were not controlled by the
local representatives of the state but rather by the welfare committee
in Odessa, or the welfare office in Saratov, that in its part
was assigned directly to the government in St. Petersburg.
Religious life was strongly expressed in the German settlements.
Many had emigrated from other places in Europe for religious reasons,
Because religious freedom was guaranteed by the Russian Government,
they were able, and prepared to, make great sacrifices for the
building of the church. The churches always had to be built with
their own resources. But there were never any difficulties in
doing this. The church taxes levied by the community were born
willingly, and participation in the construction was a matter
of honor. Therefore, in every middle-sized and larger community
there was a stately church with a high steeple that towered over
the farm houses. The "church garden" and the "church
wall" were always well-tended.
In every church there were organs, most of which came from Germany;
the Walker organ from Ludwigsburg was particularly well represented
in the Swabian settlements. In the smaller villages and among
the Mennonites there were only meeting houses without steeples;
these often also served as schools. The church buildings primarily
distinguished themselves from the Orthodox churches both in their
outward appearance and also in their interior furnishings.
The style of the churches, that expressed the great pride of
the Germans, was modeled after the neo-classical and historic
examples of the 18th and 19th century that were predominant in
the homeland they had left. The choir usually was oriented toward
the east. The towering steeples displayed a great variety of forms.
According to availability one used wood, limestone or bricks fired
in their own brickwork for building materials.
Church attendance in the German settlements was excellent. Only
one person per family stayed at home. Therefore, the churches
were always overflowing on Sunday. Sunday was strictly observed
as a day of rest. No work was performed on Sunday, not even during
the harvest or during threshing-time. There were German churches,
not only in every German settlement, but also in most of the larger
cities of Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Saratov, Odessa, Tiflis,
Baku, Omsk etc.) The Germans were strictly forbidden from conducting
any missionary activity among Orthodox Christians (until 1905).
The school system
The second cornerstone for the preservation of the German identify
in Russia was the school. Illiteracy was unknown in the German
Russian colonies. At the time of settlement Germans were promised
complete scholastic freedom by the czar's government and every
effort was made to raise the school system to an appropriate level.
In every German settlement there was a school; until 1891 German
was the language of instruction. The Russification of the school
system began in the 1890s and the Russian language was placed
more and more into the foreground.
The school buildings, that usually had to be built with local
funds without any help from the state, bore witness to the desire
for universal education in the German colonies of Russia. They
stood out in many places through their magnificent architecture,
which reflected the wealth and self-assurance of the German settlers.
Soon it became evident that institutions for higher education
were necessary. In part these were so-called "central schools"
which basically assumed responsibility for the education of teachers,
village scribes and merchants. Great value was placed on these
schools and on the cultivation of the German language and literature,
but also on the learning of the Russian language. This was, of
course, necessary because Russian was prescribed for contact with
the Russian officials. The sexton-teachers were also educated
in the central schools. As the pastor often served five to twelve
parishes, these had to substitute for him, holding "reading
services" and officiating at baptisms and burials.
There were large numbers of central schools. As time progressed
(particularly after 1905) seminaries for teachers, ministers,
high school administrators, commercial and agricultural educators
as well as institutions for the deaf-and-mute were founded. There
were also numerous girls' schools whose instructional offerings
were comparable to those of the central schools.
The schools in the larger cities, such as St. Petersburg, Moscow
and Odessa, were particularly outstanding and were also popular
among Russian and Ukrainian children.
Curtailment and cancellation of privileges
While the Germans enjoyed good relations with their Ukrainian
and Russian neighbors, beginning in the second half of the 19th
century there developed a growing sense of Germanophobia (parallel
with Panslavism) among the influential circles of the Russian
soceity which included the nobility, politicians and middle-class
intellectuals. This directed itself above all, and with particular
virulence, against the Germans living in Russia. Native Russians
envied their "privileges" and economic success and found
them to be a foreign body that could eventually become dangerous
(envy-hate-complex). As a result of the Franco-Prussian War and
the founding of the German empire, the special privileges originally
given to the German emigrants "for all time" were canceled
in the year 1871. In 1874 compulsory military service was extended
in the Russian Empire to include the Germans. Only the Mennonites,
who held fast to the principle of non-violence, after long negotiations
were entitled to a kind of substitute duty, (forestry duty). Their
men of military age engaged in caring for forests, tree nurseries,
and model fruit orchards. During World War I the Mennonites were
also conscripted into the medical service.
Traveling onward to America
Because of the changes in the Czar's policies towards the Germans
living in Russia, a large wave of emigration to America began
in late 19th century. This emigration also included the Mennonites.
Initially, great numbers of colonists withdrew to Siberia, where
the czar's laws were not enforced as strictly. Some Germans traveled
to Manchuria and took the long journey across the China Sea and
the Indian Ocean. Others crossed the European continent and the
Atlantic Ocean before they finally arrived in America. By 1912,
approximately 300,000 Germans had emigrated from Russia to North
and South America. A new wave of emigration began after the Treaty
of Brest-Litovsk in 1918 [which took Russia out of the Great War].
As late as the fall of 1929 about 14,000 German farmers and their
families made their way to Moscow with the intention to emigrate.
After long negotiations, Germany finally accepted 5,000 of them,
but only for transit overseas; the others were returned, in many
cases under inhuman conditions and often with the use of brutal
A transit camp was set up in Mölln, where the refugees could
remain for several months. Weakened by the psychological and physical
strain endured in and around Moscow, some of them did not live
to complete the journey. Even now their grave sites in the cemetery
in Mölln bear witness to those days. In 1940 approximately
350,000 to 400,000 Germans from Russia lived in the USA, in Canada
200,000, Mexico 30,000, Brazil 250,000, Argentina 200,000, Paraguay
4,500 and Uruguay 2,500. Included in these numbers are, of course,
those who emigrated overseas in the 1920's. These could be estimated
at 150,000 to 200,000.
In 1978 the "Association Argentina de los Alemanes del
Volga", which publishes the magazine, "El Centenario"
was founded in Argentina. In the USA the "American Historical
Society of Germans from Russia" has existed for about 12
years, and recently, the "North Dakota German Heritage Society"
composed only of ancestors of the Russian-Germans, was founded.
World War I
Even though approximately 300,000 Germans served in the czar's
army, the hatred of everything German reached new heights during
World War I. Citizens were no longer allowed to speak German in
public; preaching in German was forbidden; more than three Germans
were not allowed to meet together and other restrictions.. On
May 27, 1915, a hate campaign erupted in Moscow in the form of
a pogrom against the Germans. The worst harm was done by the so-called
"liquidation laws" of February 2, 1915 and December
13, 1915. The laws provided that all Germans living in a strip
150 kilometers deep, east of the western border and on the Black
Sea were to be removed from this zone and "all fixed property
was to be confiscated." These liquidation laws were carried
out only in Volhynia. Approximately 200,000 Volhynian Germans
made their way to Siberia, completely impoverished; many did not
survive the transportation which took over a period of several
The laws were supposed to be enforced in all areas as far as
the Urals. Due to the bourgeois revolution of February 1917 "only"
the Volhynian Germans were affected.
Years of famine, collectivization and persecution
Until 1941 the treatment of the Germans in Russia was worse than
that of other minorities and the general population; they were
much more severely persecuted than others. During the years, 1921-1933,
famine, previously unheard of, stalked the land of this people
for the first time in the history. Death made deep inroads, above
all among the children and the men. World War, civil war, flight,
and famine produced a decrease in the number of Germans in Russia
from l,621,000 in 1914 to 1,238,500 in 1926.
During the course of the collectivization of Soviet agriculture,
the so-called de-kulakization, particularly in the years
1929-1930, thousands of Germans, above all men, were carried off
from the colonies into the far north and Siberia, without being
allowed to show any signs to family members that they were still
alive. The Germans were particularly affected by the mass arrests
of 1937-38. The number of arrests was fixed for each settlement;
Russian or Ukrainian party functionaries would rather sacrifice
fellow German citizens than their own countrymen. The prosperity
and the cultural level of the Germans were higher on average than
that of the indigenous population and therefore resulted in greater
persecution. Many Germans had relatives abroad (in Germany, the
USA or Canada); often a single letter from one of these ("connection
with abroad," "espionage") was cause for arrest.
The help that [NAZI] Germany gave to General Francisco Franco
during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) produced anti-German resentment
in the Soviet Union.
During 1937-1938, in some villages and towns, as many as 48%
of all the males over 20 years of age are believed to have been
deported. The number of fatherless Germans at that time was greater
than it was for the general population after World War II. The
last wave of arrests and murders of Russian Germans came in the
first month after the German attack on the Soviet Union, (June
22,1941) when the large losses suffered by the Red Army led to
the sacrifice of the ostensible "guilty ones."
Hardly any of the Germans returned from exile. For example, of
132 taken into custody in a small suburb of the city, Kopejsk,
in the southern Urals, only three returned. The German children
who lived there were surprised when someone still had a father.
In the villages of Grünfeld and Bergtal (Kirghis) with a
total of about 60 farms, more than 40 men over 20 years of age
were arrested; fewer than 20 remained free. In Thälmann (County
Molotowobad, region Duschanbe) with 58 farms, 29 men and 4 women
were arrested, (five of the men after the outbreak of the war).
In 1942, 37 men were conscripted into the "Trud Army"
for forced labor. Only 12 lived through the war years. In this
way the size of the population declined considerably, particularly
in two of the largest areas of German settlement. According to
the 1926 Census, only 379,630 Germans remained in the Volga region
in contrast to the 650,000 in 1914. For the Black Sea region the
comparable figures were 355,000 as opposed to 650,000.
With the introduction of collective farms and the confiscation
of land, members of other nationalities began to be introduced
into villages that had previously been purely German. The outward
aspect of the villages also changed. The stables were torn down;
as a result, the houses became shorter in length. The long buildings
for cows and horses appeared that now belonged to the collective
and no longer to the individual farmer. The long, high, strawstacks
in the farmyards disappeared. In place of the beautiful stone
buildings of former times, small mud houses appeared, particularly
at the ends of the villages. The walls and fences, so carefully
tended before, deteriorated. The collective triumphed over the
individual. Only barely recognizable remnants of the former magnificence
of the colonists' villages survived.
Cultural and Administrative Autonomy between the Wars
After the Soviets had established their power in Russia, there
was another stormy, but short upturn in the life of the German
minority in spite of the famine of 1921-1924. The autonomous "Worker's
Commune of the Region of the Volga Germans" whose status
was up-graded to the "Autonomous Soviet Socialistic Republic
of the Volga Germans" (ASSRVD) in 1924, had been founded
in 1918. In 1926 the regular Soviet Congress accepted the constitution
of the Autonomous Republic.
Even in its first ten years, the Volga German Republic developed
its industry and to a large extent mechanized agriculture. The
Republic of the Volga-Germans played a leading role in the introduction
of modern production methods into agriculture in the USSR. The
yields from the harvests rose from year to year.
Coinciding with the growth and change in the economics of the
Volga Republic the culture also began to unfold. The Republic
of the Volga-Germans, that in the official Soviet publications
of those years was very often called "Stalin's blooming garden",
was one of the first Soviet republics that completely conquered
illiteracy. In 1918-1919 alone there were 236 "country schools";
in 1921 there were 317 primary schools and 23 middle schools,
as well as a number of other educational establishments. There
were eleven technical schools, five colleges, three worker's institutions,
twenty houses of culture, a German national theater and a children's
theater. In the Republic more than 20 regional and five supra-regional
newspapers appeared. Between 1933 and 1935, 555 German books were
published, collectively about three million volumes.
In the Volga Republic two-thirds of the inhabitants were German
and had all of the characteristics of a nation. It was the center
in which professionals were educated, not only those who lived
there, but also people from the German volk groups in
other regions of the USSR. Everywhere in the Soviet Union that
Germans settled in their closed communities, there was cultural
and administrative autonomy (German as the language of instruction
in the schools, language of government and the law courts). In
the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic (RSSR) there were six German
rayons (districts) and 414 German schools. At times,
the Germans had nine German rayons and 628 German language
schools in the Ukraine.
Beginning in the school year of 1938-1939 the official language
of instruction in all schools was changed to Russian or Ukrainian.
At first the change only took place outside of the Volga German
Republic but, by 1939 all German districts were dissolved. The
churches had already been closed in the period between 1929-1931.
Religious services were forbidden and most of the pastors and
church sextons of all denominations had been arrested and deported.
In this way, the Germans had already been robbed of all minority
rights before the German-Soviet war [1941-1945] and were helplessly
abandoned to Russification. Before WWII the industry and accomplishments
of the Russian-Germans had been acknowledged and praised. The
Germans had no problems living together with members of other
ethnic and national peoples. However, the situation of the Germans
in the USSR radically changed at the beginning of World War II.
The Second World War and the "Trud Army"
World War II sounded the death knell of the Germany minority
as a unified ethnic group in the Soviet Union. Beginning in July,
1941, within a very short time, the 45,000 Crimean Germans were
"resettled" in central Asia. On August 28, 1941 the
Presidium of the Ruling Soviet of the USSR enacted an edict concerning
the "resettling" of the Germans from the Volga region.
In this edict the Russian-Germans were accused of actively supporting
the German troops. 340,000 Volga-Germans were loaded into cattle
cars and deported to Siberia under inhuman conditions. The men
were separated from their families; above all, the aged, children
and the sick died. The Volga-German Republic was dissolved. In
October, 1941 the Caucusus-Germans followed, and in March, 1942
the Germans from Leningrad. A total of 800,000 Germans were deported,
in fact more than 400,000 of them, whether by choice or by coercion,
lived in the Asian part of the USSR. There the women and their
children were settled in scattered makeshift shelters and placed
under the strict oversight of the state security apparatus (Spezkomendatura).
The men between ages 15 and 60, and women who had no children
under the age of three, were placed in the "Trud Army,"
where they were treated as "enemies of the state" and
"betrayers of the fatherland."
The literal translation of "Trud Army" into
English means "Labor Army." It was actually a collection
of forced labor camps that were surrounded by high barbed-wire
fences and kept under close guard. The conditions under which
the members of the Trud Army were forced to live and
labor resembled in their inhumanity those of a penal prison camp.
On their way to work the workers were accompanied by soldiers
who had strict orders to use their guns based on the least suspicion.
In the camp itself the will of any of the guards was law. The
German word "Fritz" was used in the standard
Soviet colloquial to mean"enemy" or "Fascist."
This term was not only used for subordinates and uncultured people,
but also for the leading personnel in the work place. Under these
difficult circumstances, crammed together in camps, the members
of the Trud Army died in huge numbers from cold, starvation,
hard labor, and emotional despair. The Trud Army camp
was finally dissolved some time after the war.
Because of the speedy advance of the German troops [in the summer
of 1941] some of the Russian-Germans were spared this tragic fate
for a short time. They were under German and Russian occupation.
In 1943-1944, 350,000 Black Sea Germans were resettled from the
region between the Dnieper River and the Dniester River into the
Wartheland and from there in part to Germany. Almost all of them
acquired German citizenship of their own free will. At the entry
of the Red Army into Germany 250,000 Russian-Germans were transported
to the USSR, where "because of betrayal of the socialist
homeland" they were sentenced to a lifelong ban and forced
labor. As "traitors" they were treated much more harshly
than the Germans who had been deported earlier in 1941. Also,
a special commandant's headquarters were set up for them, where
those "banned" had to report regularly. The commanding
officers enjoyed rights of the kind enjoyed by estate owners during
the time of Russian serfdom. For visiting a neighboring village
without the permission of the commandant, one received ten days
arrest. For a trip that crossed the border of the region the penalty
was up to 20 years in prison.
Women labored as woodcutters in the primeval forests in the north,
as laborers in the mines of the Urals and the coal-mines beyond
the Arctic Circle. They were fed pitiful bread rations of 300
grams per day. The camps were characterized by starving children,
bitter cold, hunger, and deprivation. There was no hope at all
for release. Death, in short, was the fate and long awaited savior
of many of the Germans in Russia after World War II. Under these
conditions, considerable part of this generation of the Germans
in Russia perished (ca. 300,000).
The Amnesty of 1955
After 1945 nothing was heard of the plight of Germans still remaining
in the Soviet Union. Neither in newspapers, magazines or books
were they written about, nor were they spoken of in speeches or
radio broadcasts. There was no correspondence with relatives in
the West. Only after the visit of [West German] Chancellor Conrad
Adenauer in September, 1955, and the establishment of diplomatic
relations between Moscow and Bonn did the Supreme Soviet of the
USSR enact the decree: "Concerning the cancellation of the
restrictions in the legal situation of the Germans and their family
members, who are in the special settlement." After that,
the humiliating command headquarters was abolished, but the prohibition
on Germans returning to their home villages remained in force.
Above all, the national rights of the Germans in the USSR were
not restored. The Germans were forced to sign a declaration in
which they committed themselves never to return to their former
regions and to make no claims to their confiscated property.
About 200,000 Germans petitioned the German Embassy in Moscow,
but they were not allowed to emigrate. In spite of this, the amnesty
improved the lot of most Germans in the Soviet Union. Many moved
to the south, to warmer regions. None of them were allowed to
contact the Red Cross to begin their search for relatives and
friends, whom they had been separated from in the Soviet Union
and Germany for the last ten to fifteen years. Again, there were
German newspapers (1955 in the Altai, 1957 "Neues Leben"
in Moscow), radio broadcasts (Moscow in 1956, Kazachstan in 1957,
Kirghis in 1962). In 1957 a decree was publicized allowing German
instruction in the mother tongue (however, only in Kazachstan;
more than 1 million Germans lived in other republics). In 1957
Pastor Bachmann was allowed to register a Lutheran congregation
in Zelinograd. Lutherans and Mennonites made the first contacts
with their fellow believers in the West and the Catholics soon
closed ranks. According to the [Soviet] Census of 1959, there
were 1,615,000 Germans [living in the Soviet Union] but their
distribution among the republics remained a secret. It was later
found that 820,000 Germans lived in the Russian Republic in 1959.
In the same year 648,000 Germans lived Kazakstan, and a combined
population of 91,000 lived in the republics of Kirghis, Tadzikistan
The Partial Rehabilitation of 1964
The decade of the sixties arrived and with it the so-called "thaw"
[in Soviet and Western relations] that gave hope to many people
in the Soviet Union which, as it later developed, were groundless.
Even for the Germans things finally seemed to have changed: On
8-29-1964 (after 23 years, almost exactly to the day!) the Presidium
of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR passed the resolution: "Concerning
the resettlement of the Volga Germans." This resolution removed
the stigma of treason from the Russian-Germans.
"Life has shown that these sweeping accusations were groundless
and were a sign of the arbitrary use of power under the conditions
surrounding the personal cult of Stalin." However, this was
only a formal rehabilitation. When at the XX Party Day of the
KPDSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) of 1956, the wrongs
inflicted on some small peoples were corrected, one silently passed
over the Russian-Germans, and thus their acquittal appeared only
on paper. The little that had been promised in the edict of 1964
was in reality either not carried out, not carried out immediately,
or not carried out completely. The Germans' demand for the restoration
of their autonomous republic was interpreted as nationalism.
The political rehabilitation of the Volga Germans (and of practically
all of the Germans in the Soviet Union) was presumably planned
by [Soviet Premier] Kruschchev as a conciliatory gesture towards
the Federal Republic of Germany. It was only publicized in the
USSR (January, 1965) after his fall from power. The Russian-Germans
had first heard the news of their rehabilitation from "Neues
Deutschland" (East Berlin) and protested the fact that
the edict had not been published in the Soviet press.
The Struggle against Russification
It would be wrong to believe that the Germans initially put their
hands in their laps and then threw themselves head over heels
into emigrating to the West. They tried to work against Russification,
to further develop their own language and culture. Immediately
after the rehabilitation of 1964, the movement for the restoration
of German autonomy was set into motion. Petitions to the Soviet
government were drawn up, signatures collected, delegations put
together and sent to the Kremlin in Moscow.
Whereas the delegation of 13 women and men in 1965, had collected
660 signatures demanding autonomy (which in the opinion of their
opposite numbers was not sufficient), the second delegation, that
made the trip to the Soviet metropolis less than six months later,
was able to supply 4,498 signatures. This second delegation had
35 members, Volga Germans and Black Sea Germans from Siberia,
Kazachstan and Central Asia. They claimed to speak for more than
one million Germans. They asked for a return to the Volga, easing
of cultural restrictions and proportional representation in the
Supreme Soviet. However, even a third delegation of the Germans
that called at the Kremlin had to return without success; they
received a hearing, however, their demands produced no results.
Here is the viewpoint of the chairman of the Presidium of the
Supreme Soviet of the USSR at that time, A. Mikoyan, who received
the delegation of the Germans on June 7, 1965"...We cannot
restore the republic now. That is beset with great difficulties...We
need the Germans in the new region, Kazakstan, and in the coal
mines in Karaganda...Not everything that has happened in history
can be restored...You are Soviet citizens and have the right to
newspapers, schools...We cannot, in the present situation, manage
the restoration of the autonomous republic, because that is connected
with an immense economic cost, but we will accommodate (the Germans)
in their cultural needs..." However, those were only sweeping
German schools, whose founding (in Kazakstan) was authorized
by an order of 1957 "at the wish of the parents" if
there were enough pupils, were not forthcoming. There were some
schools in the cities in which German as mother-tongue was offered
two or three hours a week to one or two groups outside of the
normal school day. The acute shortage of teachers and text books
contributed to the fact that, German as a subject, was frequently
removed from the schedule. In many cases young German teachers,
who had been trained for German instruction in the mother-tongue
were utilized to teach German as a foreign language at Russian
or Kazakstan schools. Therefore, from the beginning, the participation
of German children instruction in their mother-tongue was minor
because of the lack of motivation; in succeeding years it decreased
even farther. According to statistics from the Ministry of Culture
in Kazakstan, of the more than 600,000 Germans in Kazakstan in
1958, only 975 groups, totaling 16,107 children were receiving
instruction in German. At that time, the children of the Russian-Germans,
if they spoke German at all, spoke only the local dialect learned
from their parents.
Since 1965 several dozen books written in German have appeared
from the publishers "Progress" in Moscow and "Kazachstan"
in Alma-Ata, that are not in great demand because of their mostly
political content or too small a number of copies were printed
of editions which quickly became out-of-print. Even books from
the DDR [East Germany] were only available in very limited numbers.
No printed matter was allowed to be imported from the Federal
Republic [West Germany].
Therefore, it was not surprising that the Germans could not even
read "their own" newspapers, the weekly "Neues
Leben" (New Life), Moscow, "Freundshaft"
(Friendship), Zelinograd and "Rote Fahne" (Red
Aside from the language difficulties, the content of these newspapers,
overloaded with ideology, and often a translation from Pravda,
were not very interesting for the German population. Even so,
this reading material was informative in one respect; in the pages
dedicated to the problems of the Germans, the sharp-eyed reader
discovered a deeply shocking indirect admission of the actual
situation of the Germans in the USSR with their "equal rights."
Consistently, one read about collective farmers, dairy maids,
tractor drivers, cattle raisers, but rarely about qualified technicians,
let alone academics. That was proof that, in spite of the highly-touted
equality of opportunity, the Germans in the USSR were reduced
to being a laboring and farming people. Only 3% of the Germans
were allowed to attend college. Thread-bare excuses were often
used to keep young men and women descent from matriculating.
The Seventies and Eighties
In spite of the partial rehabilitation of 1964, the Germans had
to remain in the areas to where they had been expelled. Even into
the 1980's the moral heritage of the German-Soviet war of 1941-1945
weighed upon them. It was not easy for them to get ahead in a
country in which "Njemez", a weakened variation
of the notorious term "The ugly German", had become
the personification of all things evil and the synonym for "fascist."
For this reason, Soviet journalist for a long time gave them only
marginal consideration. German-language newspapers, such as "Neues
Leben" and "Freundschaft" (now "Deutsche
Allgemeine Zeiting") and the few German-language radio
and television broadcasts, could scarcely dare to criticize the
politics of state and party. German churches were subjected to
considerable difficulties when they tried to register their congregations.
"Heimatliche Weiten" (Native Horizons), a collection
of Russian-German poetry, prose and journalism, ceased publication
after a few years. The German Theater of Drama, founded in 1981
in Temirtau, (now in Alma-Ata) had constant difficulties in staying
alive. Instruction in the mother-tongue stagnated or in many places
retreated, due to a lack of teachers and textbooks.
The efforts to achieve autonomy after 1964 had been unsuccessful.
One could not expect help from their "Brother State",
the DDR, because the SED showed no interest in the Russian-Germans.
For them they were only "Soviet citizens of German nationality."
In view of the Basic Law (Art.116), the government of the Federal
Republic of Germany felt itself obligated to intercede on behalf
of the Russian-Germans. The West German government was also repeatedly
challenged to do so by the German Bundestag; but at the same time
their hands were tied, because the Soviet government considered
every attempt to provide aid for the Russian-Germans an interfere
in their internal affairs. That finally changed in the autumn
of 1990 with the signing of the pact between the Federal Republic
of Germany and the USSR. dealing with a good-neighbor policy,
partnership and working together. Thus, downgraded to being a
marginal group in Soviet society, the Russian-Germans saw only
one way out of their desperate situation, emigration to Germany
[Federal Republic], the ancient homeland of their forefathers.
During the years 1950 to 1957 only 3,895 Russian-German families
received permission to emigrate. In 1958-1959 family reunification
was agreed upon between the Federal Republic and the USSR by treaty.
Even so, the number of permissions rose only slowly or at times
actually fell, while the requests to emigrate piled up at the
Red Cross by the hundreds of thousands. Whoever received permission
to emigrate was overjoyed, but, the large number of those who
had to remain behind were bitterly disappointed. They were happy
for their countrymen yet envied them at the same time. Who still
remembers what things were like in those days?
For the Russian-Germans, reaching Germany was the goal of their
dreams. On this dream they staked everything; profession, future,
health, livelihood, even the little freedom that one possesses
in a totalitarian state.
Because of their openly expressed wish to emigrate, Germans began
what became a sort of living hell for them; loss of jobs, harassment
in the workplace and school, not being allowed to register with
the police in another location, confiscation of property and houses,
house searches and arrest while petitioning the authorities, to
mention just a few obstacles. Worse still was the moral side,
the atmosphere of general condemnation and rejection that was
artificially aroused against those desiring to emigrate. Is it
possible for someone in the free West to understand the torments
of a person who was labeled a "criminal" and forced
to live as a criminal only because he attempted to make use of
his legitimate right to emigrate? And can anyone here really understand
how a Russian-German lived and felt after already spending 30
years (since 1956!) trying to emigrate?
Can we in the West really understand how someone like Johann
Wagner from the Modavian city of Tiraspol, had for years been
tossed back and forth between hope and despair, and then finally
delivered up to the whims of the bureaucracy? That quiet, taciturn
and hard-working man, who was the head of a large family was actually
found guilty of being a "parasite" simply because of
his dogged efforts to emigrate! Later, however, he was freed on
grounds of "insufficient evidence." This Russian-German
had sent about 200 petitions to all possible Soviet, German and
international institutions as well as to prominent politicians,
yet nothing happened.
Rejections, rejections, rejections...usually they were completely
baseless. The Germans inside the Soviet Union were at the mercy
of the authorities even though they relied upon the Soviet laws,
the Constitution, the Charter of Human Rights, and the Helsinki
Accords. They also cited the "International Pact concerning
Civil and Political rights" of 1966 adopted by the United
Nations and signed and ratified by the Soviet Union. The official
representatives countered: "You do not understand these documents,"
or "We too have read the documents, but as yet have received
no instructions!!" In Kirghis, for example, curious things
happened; the representative of the OWIR-station there, a certain
Ssadybekow, explained his rejection to Mr. Wiebe as follows: "You
were refused permission to emigrate, because in Germany the fascists
are seeking to gain power!" Anton Feininger from the Moldavian
city of Bendery heard from the relevant authorities in Kischinjow:
"It is [West German] Chancellor Schmidt's fault that we refused
you." However, usually "plain-speaking" was the
rule, along the lines of: "We make the decision. If we want
to, we will let you out, if not, then you will just stay here."
The usual formula for rejection was: "You are an independent
family and economically not dependent on your relatives in the
Federal Republic. As you have only distant relatives in [West]
Germany, you do not fit into the category of family reunification."
Seen in this light, there would never be any family reunification.
That was really a complicated subject, this notorious "Family
reunification Soviet style" which was impossible to reconcile
with logic or sound common sense. Who is related to whom, was
decided by the local authorities on their own responsibility,
there was no uniform regulation on this subject. Thus, for example,
some brothers and sisters (often within the same family), came
under the rubrik "distant relatives", others, however,
were considered to be "close relatives" and the decision
was then made accordingly. There are many such dissonances. The
following are several examples:
Because of the wartime situation in 1944, Alois Steiert was separated
from his family, a wife and four children. Herr Steiert, who had
lived in Germany since the end of the war, was not able to achieve
family reunification until 1976, but without his children. The
son, Peter Steiert from Duschanbe commented: "The rejections
of the OWIR of the Tadzikian SSR are incomprehensible; with us
it is really a clear case of family reunification. I grew up without
a father and would finally like to get to know him, to find out
what it means to have a father. Why does the state rob me of this
Another example is Frau Zilke who in her efforts to emigrate
in 1978 had to leave two of her ten children behind. In one of
her petitions the despairing mother wrote: "After many difficulties,
we finally received permission in 1978 for all family members
to emigrate, however, at this time our son, Viktor, was called
up for military service and our daughter, Olga, had married. When
she applied to the passport office in Tokmak (Kirghis), to get
permission for her husband, Herr Seidel, to emigrate also, she
was told: "Get a divorce, then you can go!" Olga Seidel
had to remain behind, hoping that a request (Wysow) from
her parents would lead to a positive decision for her and her
husband. But Viktor Zilke and his sister, Olga Seidel, nee Zilke,
remained separated from their family through the arbitrary use
of Soviet power and force.
The authorities devised various harassments that sometimes verged
on the grotesque; emigration forms were given out in limited numbers
at restricted times. For example, one could only pick up the forms
with one's supervisor at the workplace. But Olga Breitkreuz from
this town was a housewife; therefore she had no supervisor, and
as a result did not receive any forms and could not prepare an
Some dared to protest publicly. On March 31, 1980 a group even
demonstrated in Moscow's Red Square, carrying banners on which
they conspicuously demanded permission to emigrate. The militia
led them away, the episode appeared in the foreign news, but the
situation remained the same.
The issue concerning immigration and emigration did not change
until the law of January 1, 1987.. Indeed, at first only relatives
of the first degree could emigrate in the context of family reunification,
but the authorization procedure became more liberal and more generous.
Current Areas of Settlement
Purely German villages, as witnessed before the the Second World
War no longer exist in the European part of the Community of Independent
States (CIS). Those who were driven out were "settled"
in outlying areas east of the Ural Mountains. And even though
there are still some closed settlements in (Omsk, Altai, Barnaul
and Kirghis) the overwhelming majority of the Russian-Germans
are widely scattered among Russians in Siberia, Kazakstan and
central Asia and among Kazachs, Kirghisi, Usbecks, Turkomen, Tadzhikis
and other ethnic peoples. According to the 1989 census about two
million Germans live in the former Soviet Union. In reality this
number is probably considerably larger, because at the time the
census was taken there was still a personal risk in acknowledging
oneself to be German. That was particularly true in the case of
mixed marriages. During the past two decades a slow migration
of individual families or smaller groups has taken place into
the republics west of the Urals, so that an estimated 120,000-150,000
Russian-Germans have again settled in that region. The others
live as before in the areas to which they have been expelled.
Because of the changed political situation in the republics of
central Asia after the dissolution of the USSR, Germans who do
not wish to immigrate to [re-unified] Germany are moving into
the newly constituted German national districts Altai and Asowo.
According to the latest information, at the end of 1993 these
numbered about 170,000. This migration appears to be continuing.
Social and Linguistic Restructuring
Before the First World War 95% of the Russian-Germans lived in
rural areas; between the wars the percentage of city dwellers
gradually increased from 15.4% in 1926 to 27% in 1941. According
to the census of 1959, 636,189 (39.3%) of the Germans lived in
cities. In 1970 the number grew to 838,515 (45.4%), and by 1989
the figure had reached 52%.
Male Russian-Germans are particularly numerous in the cities,
especially those of the younger generation. The Germans in the
city are less likely than those in rural areas to report German
as their mother tongue. The pressure to assimilate is therefore,
considerably stronger in the city.
Striving for Autonomy
In places where the Germans lived in closed settlements before
World War II there were national governmental units such as the
German Republic on the Volga, 16 German rayons (districts)
and 500 German Soviets (communities) with their own government,
judicial system and instructional language. The German districts
and communities outside of the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics
[ASSR] of the Volga-Germans were dissolved in 1993, the Volga-German
Republic in 1941.
In the years following the decree of 1964 which partially rehabilitating
the Germans, the Russian- Germans initially gave up their efforts
for the restoration of their own state, and solely concentrated
on emigrating to the Federal Republic of Germany. But the Soviet
government had an extremely restrictive attitude towards the Russian-Germans
and gave out very few permissions to emigrate; (the low point
was 1985: 460 during the entire year). Therefore, the discussion
for autonomy of the Germans did not arise again until the beginning
of the democratization process in the second half of the 1980's.
In order to give more force to their demands the Germans organized
themselves. Three social organizations were created which today
I. International Union of Germans - Wiedergeburt (Rebirth)
abbreviated (German ZSVD, Russian MON)
II. International Association of Russian-Germans abbreviated,
(German IVR, Russian MSRN)
III. International Association for German Culture, abbreviated
German IVDK, Russian MSNK)
Under the leadership of "Wiedergeburt," the
largest association of Russian-Germans which increased its membership
to 170,000. Three congresses of Russian-Germans were held between
1991-1993, at which approxiately l,000 delegates from all parts
of the Soviet Union or Community of Independent States (CIS) participated..
A 108-member "International Council of Russian-Germans"
(German ZSRR, Russian MGSR) was established to protect the interests
of all Germans in the CIS.
After a long struggle over a common program, today all three
organizations have the same two goals: the restoration of the
Volga Republic and the founding of German national districts in
predominantly German areas.
At the third Congress in February, 1993, it was decided to hold
a national referendum and to elect a Volkstag as a preliminary
parliament of the Russian-Germans (cf.p.34).
In the meantime there were some successes in the question of
autonomy. Two German districts were formed: the rayon
Halbstadt, in the Altai region and the rayon Asowo, in
the Omsk area.
The Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, ordered the founding of
a German district and a German county (Okrug) in the
areas of Saratov and Volgograd, but without further designating
their borders and without any orders for carrying this out. That
appears to be simply a promise (cf.p.31).
The German federal government supports the Russian-Germans in
all of their efforts to achieve autonomy. In July, 1992, Germany
and Russia signed a mutual protocol concerning the restoration
of the Volga Republic in stages (4-5 years). A German-Russian
and a German-Ukrainian governmental commission were founded, that
are responsible for all concerns of the Russian-Germans.
The Russian-Germans associations cooperate with the commissions..
As the most recent results of this consultation, three regions
were designated to be the first to be supported: the Volga area,
western Siberia and southern Ukraine. (cf.p.19). The founding
of more German districts was demanded by the Germans. As long
as the Volga German Republic is not restored as the cultural center
for all Russian-Germans in the former Soviet Union, it is uncertain
whether the number of Germans preferring to emigrate to the Federal
Republic of Germany will decline.
The Present Situation
Although knowledge about the Russian-Germans in all parts of
the former Soviet Union is alarmingly full of gaps, the Germans
in the nations of the Community of Independent States (CIS), with
few exceptions, are today no longer subject to official discrimination.
Occasionally, in some places, old prejudices are expressed towards
them by members of non-German groups. But officially they are
encouraged to stay where they are, or they are invited with grand
promises to settle in other republics, regions and cities. Usually
some financial support from Germany is expected in connection
In spite of this the number of Russian-Germans wanting to emigrate
does not decrease. There are many different reasons for this desire.
In the nations of the CIS, for example, the democratization process
is proceeding very slowly. A judicially enforceable guaranty of
the right to the restoration of their own sovereignty does not
yet exist. And the Russian-Germans, after decades of discrimination
and persecution, are very distrustful of all governmental promises.
The most recent occurrences in Moscow and in the Russian Federation
have awakened new fears.
In addition there is the fear that the Islamic fundamentalism
that is expanding in many parts of the world could one day go
too far, producing conditions like civil war, as in Tadzikistan.
The instability of political conditions in the nations of the
CIS and their coalescing national self-interest are creating additional
fears for the future.
Also, the introduction of the language of the nominal nation
as the official language in the central Asiatic republics has
brought new concerns: In addition to the Russian language, all
citizens, if they wish to hold their own in the future, have to
learn the official language. Thus, the mother-tongue of the Germans
is pushed even further into the background.
And assimilation proceeds with giant steps; although in the 1926
Census 95% of the Russian-Germans reported German as their mother
tongue, this percentage has declined steadily: in 1959 it was
75%, in 1970, 67.8%, in 1979, 57% and in 1989, 48.7%.
Today, five years later, this percentage will likely have sunk
further still. The most important reason for this is that even
today, no German schools of the pre-war kind exist. There is only
a sporadic offering of instruction of the German language as a
regular subject and then only in the lower grades. Often it rests
solely on the hiring of the oddly qualified teacher. In addition
, professional instruction in German as mother-tongue (MUD) is
in an unsatisfactory condition. Properly trained teachers are
lacking, there are no long-range instructional plans, and proper
textbooks and teaching materials are absent.
Instruction in German as a foreign language cannot fill the gap,
as at most [Russian Federation] schools the only foreign language
taught is English. In addition, English is not, of course, in
a position to replace German as the mother-tongue. Since no German
schools have existed since the period between 1938-1941, a Russian-German
already at retirement age, for example, has been unable to receive
any regular instruction in German. In spite of this, German is
still spoken in many families today, mostly in the dialect of
their forefathers, if parents or grandparents were able to pass
it on. That is why the Russian-Germans are very concerned about
regaining and maintaining their ethnic traditions. As with all
plans for the future, they set their hopes above all on help from
[Federal Republic] Germany or they choose emigration.
The German Federal Republic and Baden-Württemberg, the patron
state of the Russian-Germans, try to be helpful in manifold ways
to those Germans who wish to "stay" in the Russian Federation
and search for realizable future prospects as a national minority.
Those officials of the Federal Republic's Ministry of the Interior
who are responsible for immigration, promote German instruction
of the mother-tongue in [Russian Federation] kindergartens and
schools. The Ministry contributes millions of [Deutsch Marks]
for sending German teachers and language consultants, as well
as supplying teaching and learning materials.
Effective help is also being provided by the Federal Republic
for the founding, furnishing and continuing support of German
cultural centers inside the former Soviet Union. Existing establishments
and new settlements are being sponsored; the German rayons
Asowo and Halbstadt are being assisted in the build-up of their
administration and in the completion of their infrastructure through
financial subsidies and the sending of consultants. In spite of
this, large deficits remain. The German-Russians happily accept
this support and are grateful for it. Whether this will reduce
the number of emigrants in the long run will also depend on the
larger political and economic development in the components of
the Community of Independent States.
From Emigration to Integration
Due to the change in course of Soviet policies in the 1980s as
a result of Gorbachev's "Perestroika" and "Glasnost"
and from the pressure of world opinion, the government of the
former Soviet Union was no longer able to ignore obligations entered
into by treaty under the framework of international agreements
for the protection of human rights. The Russian-Germans, who had
already been waiting for many years for permission to emigrate,
especially profited from these changes. After the "Law Concerning
Immigration and Emigration" became effective on January 1,
1987, the approval system was loosened step by step and the numbers
of emigrants began rosing slowly in 1987. There were 14,488; in
1988, 47,572; in 1989, 98,134; in 1990, 147,950; in 1991, 147,320
and in 1992, 195,576. In 1993 the number is expected to be about
Admission of the Russian-German emigrants is embodied in a series
of laws. At first, the procedure was regulated according to Article
116.1 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany and
the Federal Expellee and Refugee Act (FERA) of 1953. With the
increase in the number of Russian-German emigrants extending into
the hundreds of thousands, restrictions and reductions in benefits
were gradually introduced. For example, late applicants could
only send their applications from their country of origin, and
after their arrival it is only under certain circumstances that
they would be allowed to freely choose their place of residence
in Germany. The War Results Adjustment Act, which took effect
on January 1, 1993, in addition to a series of deletions and restrictions
of benefits and rights, set an annual quota for the admission
of late emigrants, (ca.225,000). The considerable reduction in
the benefits and rights of the later emigrants is very difficult
and painful for those concerned. In spite of the hardships that
they are being asked to endure, and against which the Landsmannschaft
has taken a decided stand during the legislative process, in justice,
one should not overlook the fact that the law has been clarified
in various ways.
The approximately two million Russian-Germans still living in
the countries of the CIS can now be certain that legal return
to Germany will be on a fairly long-term basis, and that the rules
for admittance have been stated in unambiguous and concrete terms.
Other than that, the public discussion about if, and how, latecomers
to Germany should be admitted has been considerably reduced in
its shrillness and in general has greatly subsided.
Those later Russian-German emigrants arrived in Germany with
great expectations. After the fulfillment of a decades-long dream
of being finally able to immigrate to the home of their forefathers,
they are overjoyed to step onto German soil. It was difficult
for them to make the decision to abandon relatives, friends and
colleagues, property acquired through years of hard work and savings,
their houses, furnishings and automobiles. Still, they make these
great sacrifices to live in freedom as "Germans among Germans,"
to make it possible for their children to attend German schools,
to make a new life for themselves and their families. Therefore,
they want to work and adapt themselves to their new circumstances.
They want to become German citizens as quickly as possible and
aspire to speedy integration. However, they resist giving up their
identity, as they consider themselves to be a nation molded by
a hard fate, which does not seek any kind of favor, but requires
only an acknowledgement of its particular nature, singularity
and culture. The process of inclusion requires time, integration
must evolve. That is particularly true for the middle and older
generations; it is easier for the young people. In general, it
is not realistic to expect patterns of behavior from new immigrants
that ought only to be found at the end of this inegration process.
The Russian-Germans have their own values, which they desire
to maintain. In the years of persecution and deportation their
belief in a "higher justice" was the only thing that
they could hold on to; that gave them hope. For that reason, the
generation that particularly experienced these injustices still
hold fast to their religious beliefs today. A highly developed
sense of family, including the extended family, customs and usages
from long ago, readiness to help neighbors, frugality, diligence
and industry are all ethnic qualities of their particular nature
rooted in their combined German cultural history. Through their
ethnic particularities maintained for centuries, they increase
the diversity of modern German culture. The Russian-Germans revive
long-forgotten cultural values, customs, songs and dialects and
bring them back into the combined German consciousness.
One should not ignore the fact that the Russian-Germans have
lived together peacefully and as good neighbors with other national
groups. Because of their suffering under the Bolscheviki dictatorship,
they turn aside every strain of political radicalism, whether
of the right or the left. The Russian-Germans have prerequisites
for becoming a bridge to the Russians, Ukrainians, Kazachstani
and other peoples of the Community of Independent States.
Beyond that, they are an economic asset for modern Germany. For
example, among the indigenous population of Germany, the age group
from birth to 20 years make up 21.5%, the age group over 65 years
makes up nearly 15%, the corresponding figures among the Russian-German
emigrants are 37.9% and 6.8%. Thus the [comparatively younger
population] of emigrants will contribute to the long-range security
of pensions and annuities. The large consumption needs of the
immigrant arriving with one suitcase are a considerable addition
to the German retail economy. Therefore, the later Russian-German
emigrants are not only consumers, but also producers. They desire
no exaggerated sympathy or charity, but are thankful for self-help.
Whenever the Russian Germans are openly or behind their backs
referred to as "economic refugees," or accused of receiving
"pensions at our expense," it affects them deeply. Everyone
knows that the pensions are paid from current contributions to
the social insurance [in the Federal Republic] includes working
Russian-Germans. It is equally depressing when they are blamed
for being partially responsible for the German shortage of housing
and jobs, as they are satisfied with comparatively small dwellings
and are happy if they get any job at all, even if it is beneath
their professional qualifications. For them the most important
thing is that they are finally living in Germany.
They, however, react with the utmost sensitivity when they are
accused of "not being Germans at all, because they do not
even speak German." After all, they did acknowledge themselves
to be German in the times of the worst persecution and ethnic
discrimination. In addition, their lack of German language skills
can be explained by the fact that since 1938-1941 there have been
no German schools [in the former Soviet Union].
While the churches, private charitable organizations, and many
individuals are assisting the later emigrants in an exemplary
fashion, these and similar misunderstandings put a strain on the
relationship between the "natives" and one million Russian-German
emigrants who live in Germany. They are essentially victims resulting
from widespread ignorance of the history and fate of the Russian-Germans,
the only group of German people collectively denied their human
rights for decades.
The German federal government through its own measures and financial
support of suitable projects has made strenuous efforts to erase
this deficit. The churches are also doing a good job enlightening
people and spreading information. It would also be very welcome
change if Russian-German themes were more emphasized in teaching
and programs in the schools, in adult education and higher education,
in the media, in publications and in trade unions and employer
associations, organizations and municipalities.
It should generally be made public, that the Russian-Germans
today are still suffering from the consequences of deportation
and discrimination for which they are not to blame. Germany has
a historical duty to care for them, because the history of the
Russian-German people is a part of German history.
The Landsmannschaft and the Cultural Council
of the Germans from Russia
Of the 350,000 Germans from Russia that made it to the Wartheland
and farther to the West during the the Second World War, 250,000
of them were "forcibly repatriated." About 100,000 were
able to save themselves by escaping into the occupation zones
of the Western Powers, but even there, with the knowledge, acquiescence,
and assistance of the Allies, Soviet "repatriation commandos"
were on the hunt for these people. About 30,000 Russian-Germans
emigrated from West Germany during the years 1945-1950 for economic
reasons and out of fear of Soviet oppression. They predominantly
migrated to the USA, Canada, South America and Australia. The
remaining intimidated minority of 70,000 persons nevertheless
created their own representation. For safety and political reasons
this was called "Worker's Community of Resettlers from the
East" and was built up under the protection of the churches.
Among the founders were Superintendent Johannes Schleuning (+),
Pastor Heinrich Roemmich (+), Dr. Karl Stumpp (+), Dr. Gottleib
Leibbrandt (+) and Prof. Dr. Benjamin Unruh (+). In 1950 the organization
was renamed the "Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Rußland"
(The Brotherhood of the Germans from Russia).
The Landsmannschaft is a registered organization based
in Stuttgart, whose contribution to the public welfare is acknowledged.
It utilizes many volunteer workers and has a small staff of full-time
employees; it supports state groups in the states of the Federal
Republic and more than 100 city and district groups. It devotes
itself to the material, cultural and social integration of the
late emigrants in the Federal Republic of Germany through cooperation
in the production of a social framework for the emigrants. The
Landmannschaft also provides education and offers legal assistance
for those concerned..
It pursues and promotes research into the history, the culture,
and the present situation of the German minority in the Community
of Independent States (CIS) and brings the results to the attention
of the public by means of the media, politicians, scientists and
associations. It does this through its monthly journal, "Volk
auf dem Weg" (since 1950) and by means of a number of
publications. In 1981 the Cultural Council of the Germans from
Russia was founded for the purpose of researching the history
of the Germans from Russia to cultivate, maintain and pass on
their cultural heritage. This is a non-profit institution which
works closely with the Landsmannschaft.
The Landsmannschaft and the Cultural Council also consider
themselves to represent the interests of those Germans living
in the CIS, whose struggle for sovereignty they support as much
as they are able. In addition they use their influence to support
the realization of the national and individual rights of the Germans
in the CIS, as well as free emigration from the CIS and unlimited
immigration into the Federal Republic of Germany.
Both organizations support the principles: Whoever does not wish
to or cannot emigrate, must be helped in his search for dependable
prospects for the future, but whoever is striving to emigrate,
for him the gate must remain open.
Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Rußland
Kulturrat der Deutschen aus Rußland (KDR)
Our appreciation is extended to Ingeborg W. Smith for translation of this article.