Bavaria House in Odessa
"Bavaria House in Odessa." Volk auf dem Weg, October 1993.
Translated from German to English by Brigitte Von Budde
In May of this year representatives of the cultural committee of the
Bavarian Landtag in the area of Odessa (and others in Petrodolinskoye,
formerly Peterstal) wanted to get a general view of the progress of
the resettlement program which is supported by the Bavarian state
budget with means beyond the budget. The parliament members heard
in talks with resettlement families in Kasachstan that Germans in
Kasachstan got just so much proceeds, when selling their homes, as
the resettlement to the Ukraine, which they had to finance themselves,
had cost. According to the German-Ukrainian foundation in Kiev the
housing just set up in Peterstal is to believed to have cost DM 12
000 per unit. The director of the sowchose said that these units of
Russian architecture are only worth about DM 1 500. He did not dare
to say what happened to the difference for the 43 units. It is, however,
an open secret during the present catastrophic economical conditions
that the mafia gets a large share from all public projects.
The opening of the “Bayernhaus” in Odessa, a German
meeting and cultural center, can be considered as a small ray of
hope in the generally serious situation of the Germans in the Ukraine.
Contrary to Poles or Greeks who call hundreds of churches in the
Ukraine their own, the 30 000 German Lutherans in the Ukraine have
not yet gotten back a single one of their former 300 churches. In
the summer the evangelical church service is held in German language
in Odessa in the ruins of the German St. Paul’s Church. However,
not even the ruins are property of the continually growing congregation
of senior minister Viktor Gräfenstein who himself is a resettler
In order to remedy the shortage of premises the Bavarian minister
of state for labor, family and social order has made available to
the German Lutheran community a meeting and cultural center which
members of the community have renovated and fixed up on a voluntary
basis. Under the leadership of Waldemar Köhn and Dorothea Crepniak,
the house in Brigadnaja 32 in the resort district Arkadija of Odessa
is to teach German language courses for children and adults, discussion
meetings, lectures and exhibits. Das Haus des deutschen Ostens in
Munich gives advice and looks after it. The Bavarian house is also
to become a contact point for German businessmen in the Odessa region.
In private joint venture as for example “Platon” of
Berlin, which has created 100 jobs in the manufacture of eye glasses,
German Russians can find long-term training more secure and faster
than in craftsmen projects which are financed by the Germans and
are to begin now in the Odessa area.
A dependable partner has been found in the Evangelical-Lutheran
church of the Ukraine under the leadership of senior minister Gräfenstein
and president of the church of the church council Juri Schäfer.
This partner takes on and represents effectively the interests of
the Germans in the Ukraine, explained the administrative director
Bruno Lischke of the Bavarian welfare office at the inauguration
of the Bavarian house on June 11, 1993 in Odessa. The Bavarian minister
for welfare will make good his promised visit in early September.
The Lutheran church of the Ukraine, which is supported by the Bavarian
state church, is to take an active role in the resettlement program.
The first purely religious project is the beginning of construction
work for the resettlement of 100 German families from Taldy Kurgan/Kasachstan
in Neuburg (Nowagradowka) near Odessa.
The German Catholics in the former Soviet Union
There are estimates of still 2 million or more German Russians
who are dispersed throughout the individual independent states of
the Soviet Union. From 1950 to 1992, 746,147 came to the Federal
Republic most of them in the past three years.
From January to July 1993, 83,936 came from republics of the former
Soviet Union; 10% more than in the previous year .At the Federal
administrative office there are more than 500,000 applications for
entry; due to the new regulation of quota only 220,000 resettlers
per year can enter the Federal Republic. The majority of those will
come from the GUS countries in the next 5-10 years.
Also, for many of them leaving has simply become too expensive
especially for those who have nothing to sell. Bribes and disturbance
by criminal gangs is another sore spot.
Most of the German Russians are living in Kasachstan, about 900,000;
in Russia, Siberia there may be 800,000, in Usbekistan and the Ukraine
40000 each. Thus far it was assumed that there are 30,000 Germans
in Tadschikistan; most of them fled recently because of war chaos.
Approximately 25% are Catholics, thus one fourth. That would mean
that there are about half a million Catholics among the German Russians
in the GUS.
It is not to be forgotten that these data are not exact.
The Diocese of Nowosibirsk (Siberia, Russia)
Bishop Joseph Werth thought there were more than one million people
of Catholic descent, but baptized perhaps l00 000 and practicing
Catholics fewer because there were no priests under the communistic
dictatorship. The faith was preserved only where Catholics, as in
German villages in Kasachstan and in the Altai mountains, were living
together in large numbers. Wherever people were spread out the creed
got lost. There are also many Catholics of Polish descent --beside
German Russians, deported Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and Latvians.
The organization of the diocese, the set-up of a curia etc., starts
at point zero. Presently 34 priests and 25 nuns work in all of Siberia;
the number of chapels and churches covers barely half a dozen. The
goals of the young church in Siberia are to stir the religious life,
to make contacts with the wide-spread believers in the vast areas
of Siberia, the development of a liturgy which also respects the
religious traditions and beliefs of the believers. Thinking that
up to a few years ago everything which was religious was suppressed,
it can be understood that a few priests are coined through the experiences
of a church in the underground, in the" catacombs. "
Irrelevant reactions and negative behavior of the Russian-Orthodox
church (ROC) make the situation difficult and problematic. Should
the new religious law, which is inspired for the most part by the
prompting of the ROC, become effective, then the young church will
have more difficulties. Bishop Werth literally said in his speech
on March 19, 1993 at the laying of the foundation of the new cathedral,
"The orthodox church assumes a special position...However,
for a long time Catholic Christians are living side by side Orthodox
Christians who also have their history and tradition. We try to
understand with sincere concern the problems of the Orthodox Church
which, after decades, grew out of the supremacy of militant atheism.
We desire the same understanding for the problems of the Catholic
Church in Siberia. ..On both sides we should delight in the rebirth
of our church.”
We may hope for a great and blessed future in Siberia with the
laying of the foundation for an Episcopal church, with the founding
of our own Caritas1, with a deep faith of Bischop J. Werth and his
faithful followers and the memory of all the deceased who had to
lose their lives because of an ungodly system.
The Diocese of Karaganda (Kasachstan)
Bishop is Jan Pawel Lenga, of Polish descent but born in the Ukraine.
His diocese is one of the youngest and less well defined in the
world of churches. When he, for the first time since the change
in the Soviet Union, dedicated a new Catholic church even the FAZ
(Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) reported briefly about it (FAZ
Muslims in Kasachstan appear to be more tolerant toward the Catholic
Church than the Russian-Orthodox Church in Siberia. However, Muslims
in Kyrgystan and Tadshikistan are more fundamentalistic.
It is certainly an event of the century that this diocese could
be created at all. In the five republics there are even fewer priests
than with Joseph Werth in Siberia. P. Otto Messmer is the only Catholic
priest in Kyrgystan, his brother, Brother Hieronymus Messmer works
in Tadschikistan where he helped many German Russian escape in an
The new diocese has also to begin from point zero. The long years
of suppression and persecution have coined the people and a few
priests. How is one to set up a modern curia with only a handful
of priests? There are no trained novices. Poverty is widespread
the church has hardly any income. Distances are unimaginable and
Priests from Germany and other countries help out; generalvicar
is Msgr. Johannes Boersch who took a leave of absence for a few
years in order to help with the set-up of the diocese. The problems
of how a church which was up to recently still in the underground,
is to function suddenly in a modern way in accordance to doctrine,
but without appropriate material and personnel are unimaginable.
Msgr. Lorenz Gawohl who took a leave of absence for a few years
wrote to us in March 1993, "Our parish has been set up since
May. It includes only all of North Kasachstan. According to statistics,
19,000 Germans used to live here. There will still be 15,000. At
least one third is believed to be Catholic.”
No one knows exactly how many Catholics there are, and where they
are living, and if there are still priests somewhere. Only recently
a priest who had been in hiding on the Island of Sachalin north
of Japan came to Bishop Werth.
Everything has become difficult due to poor postal service, lacking
technical aids and because of long distances of which we have no
A new chapter of church history has begun for the diocese of the
world, isolated from the world but not from God. Especially in the
steppes of Central Asia two or three are being looked for, and will
have been found, who still gather after 70 years of ungodliness,
in order to straighten out their earth and their human existence.
Our appreciation is extended to Bridgitte von Bunde
for translation of this article.