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The Kulikows Were Lucky, Pastoral Care for Russian Germans in Augsburg Kulikows Hatten Glück Seelsorge für "Rußlanddeutsche"

Lehmann, Reinhold. "The Kulikows Were Lucky, Pastoral Care for Russian Germans in Augsburg Kulikows Hatten Glück Seelsorge für "Rußlanddeutsche." Wochenzeitung für das Erzbistum Freiburg, 21 July 1996.

Translation from German to English by Alice Morgenstern


Last year in August they took the train from West Kasachstan to Moscow and from there an aircraft to Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Julia Kulikow, her husband Victor and their four children. First they were sent to Hamm to a camp for Russian German immigrants, and then for the time being to some kind of hostel for refugees in Augsburg, where families can live before they find a proper home. At the moment they have one big room. The shower in the cellar only provides cold water. The kitchen and the toilet are on the floor. Cheap lodgings, three or four rooms for a large family are rare, and the Kulikows will have to wait for some time before they can live in a home of their own. A good part of the time is spent with language courses, the parents and the children of school age have to attend them. Mrs. Kulikow has a hard task to make ends meet when she goes shopping to the supermarket twice a week.

Mr. and Mrs. Schoch, Julia's parents, originally lived in Odessa, Ukraine, and lost their home there. When the German army occupied the south of the Soviet Union in 1941 during the Second World War, the Schochs' had to leave and were resettled in Poland (the Warthegau). Polish farmers were driven out of their farms over night, especially for the housing of the Germans. It was the time, when Polish children were separated from their parents and sent to Germany, "the Reich".

Only a few years later, due to the defeat of the German armies in Russia, members of the Schoch family found themselves again under the "protection" of the Soviet army. That meant a new migration to the Soviet Union, to Siberia, to forced labor camps and finally to Kasachstan, where father and mother met again and at last were able to make a modest living. A few years ago they could emigrate to Germany and came to Augsburg. Since last year their daughter Julia lives near them. Her husband Victor is a Russian, and hardly speaks German.

The Kulikows arrived with some summer clothing, bed sheets and some dishes and plates. Everything else they had to give away in Kaschstan. People are poor there and most of the Russian German "Aussiedler" came from that country .There are a lot of empty houses and left behind household utensi1s, and sometimes there are relatives left to take them. This is what happened to the Kulikow property.

The Kulikows, however, were lucky. In the center of Augsburg, where their present lodgings are, there is the Roman Catholic parish of St. Ulrich and Afra. Together with three other parishes, St. Anton, St. Max, and St. Simbert the parson and members of the church communities have found ways of reintegration of those late-comers from the former Soviet Union. That is how the first contacts were made.

20% of that group nominally belong to the Roman Catholic Church, but they do not know anything about church life in general, let alone that in Germany. They are anxious and shy; their former surroundings were totally different. Julia grew up in the country .The nearest church was 80 miles away. A "traveling" priest baptized her. Those clergymen tried to work under the communist regime and went from community to community, celebrating church services in people's homes. If you were German and a Catholic you were not really welcome in Kasachstan, you were considered a dissident and a spy, especially during the Stalin era. From the times of the "underground church" Mrs. Kulikow has kept a prayer-book consisting of a few pages containing the Lord's Prayer and a few church songs, that was all. There was nothing like a Bible, you could not even get it at the black market.

The "Aussiedler" often miss human understanding and reliable contacts. So, dubious sects are the first to make use of the situation. They are sometimes the first to turn up in the camps, provisional homes, and shake beliefs of people, beliefs based on a very small tradition. Ida Hosmann, the representative in the Augsburg office for pastoral welfare for the Russian Germans, knows many stories about grandmothers who practiced emergency baptism for their grandchildren and taught them the first prayers, the sign of the cross, and who prayed the rosary with them. Very often only these religious traces can be found.

There are also voluntary workers in Augsburg such as Mrs. Edeltraud Wohlfarth, who e.g. organizes singing groups for women. The church communities offer courses for believers: basic knowledge about the Holy Mass, Christian symbols, and so on. Priests go to the homes of the Aussiedler and bless them. At the moment, the most urgent problem is finding work for the newcomers. How could integration be possible without work? The Russian Germans are highly motivated and would take any work. But the trouble is that many of them do not know enough German, and there are also prejudices to overcome. What they do get are jobs that other people avoid, such as hard bodily work and nursing. But it is evident that women from the former Soviet Union know how to deal with the old and disabled. Often they were brought up in big families where great-grandparents and grandparents had to be looked after. In countries where medical care was fragmentary and often far too expensive, doctoring was left to the members of the family.

More than 95% of the annual quota of "Aussiedler" (200,000) come from the former Soviet Union, only very few from Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, or Yugoslavia. About 200, 000 will probably arrive annually during the next ten years. Returning to Germany has been made possible since 1987. It is considered the last great exodus of Germans from the vast regions of the Russian territories and the end of a peaceful pioneer-work for centuries. It began in the 17th century with German military experts and craftsmen. Most Germans followed the invitations of Catherine the Great, and after the Napoleonic wars of Tsar Alexander I they mainly settled in the Volga, and later in the Black Sea region. Hitler's attack against the Soviet Union had disastrous consequences for the Russian Germans. Defamed as spies of the so called "Fifth Column" they were often deported to Siberia and there died like flies. Their communities ceased to exist.

The project of the German Government to support the Russian Germans where they were, proved a failure. In many cases the money, millions of D-mark drawn from German taxes, was wasted. It is not surprising that people in search of a future wish to emigrate.

The greatest contingent of Germans comes from the independent Republic of Kasachstan. But that state had never provided a real chance for the Germans; they always considered themselves strangers and saw no future for their children, all the more so nowadays with increasing Islamic tendencies cropping up in public life.

Talks with "Aussiedler" prove that their fates, especially those of the older generation are widely unknown among the Germans. They were driven from their homes, deported, arrested, sent to forced labor camps, famine, terrorized, and still bear the marks of their sufferings. Many mourn for relatives. So parents and grandparents desire that along with them the younger generation emigrates to Germany. They have lost all hope that matters will improve in the East.

According to Ida Hosmann their readiness to integrate, to take up any work, their industry and reliability are considerably greater than in any other part of the population. On the other hand, they experience rejection and often discrimination.

Augsburg is the only diocese with a special representative for the spiritual needs of the Russian Germans. The experience gained there may be taken as a model for other German dioceses. Ida Hosmann and Edeltraud Wohlfahrth have been busy in special informative meetings explaining what they learned about the "Aussiedler". They answer questions such as: Who are the “Aussiedler", where do they come from, and why? They show the problems in Germany, such as feeling unwanted or rejected, the strangeness of the new existence, language difficulties, difficulties with writing, the problem how to find work, school problems, and problems with free time. Then the two women describe the conceptions of the Russian Germans of Christian faith and the church, and offer advice for other Roman Catholic parishes.

One thing is clear: the parish must take the initiative.

The "Aussiedler", members of a "grandmothers' Church" might not have seen a priest as yet and only have vague notions about "popes" of the Russian Orthodox clergy.

Our appreciation is extended to Alice Morgenstern for translation of this article.

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