Emigration: A German-Russian Dream
"Nemzy - die Deutschen in der Sowjetunion" - "Die Einfüng der
Bosch, Anton. "Emigration: A German-Russian Dream." n.d., 127-131.
Translation from German to English by Claudia Müller, Halle,
Almost all nationalities in the Soviet Union were able to attain
their territorial autonomous homeland. This is still denied to Germans.
Declassed as a fringe group in Soviet society, German-Russians
had just one goal: to immigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany,
where they can maintain their mother tongue for themselves and for
their children, where conditions for a life as Germans exist, where
the right for freedom and humaneness are ensured.
The desire for individual and political freedom is more strongly
developed in Germans than in any other nationality because they
know best how to appreciate the meaning of freedom after an oppression
lasting for decades. As subjects of a totalitarian regime and as
ethnic Germans they endured oppression twice: with body and soul.
If their national autonomy in the East cannot be attained, there
will only be one way out: to move where they hope to be able to
attain their goals.
Besides, the desire to practice traditional religion is still
unbroken. Persecution of the faithful continues in the former USSR.
In many cases religious persecution takes on radical forms. Especially
members of the Free Baptist Church, which is rightly called the
martyr's church in the former USSR, are constantly exposed to inhuman
persecution. They are thrashed by special groups of thugs; meetings
and religious services are broken up. Believers are called names
at work, children from faithful families are laughed at and become
fall guys by order of the school administration.
As the Germans in the Soviet Union have no autonomous and cultural
independence and cannot get a minimum of rights for their ethnic
group for their continued national existence, they, therefore, have
only one goal: To immigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany,
the land of their ancestors. Paradoxically, now they want to return
to that same country, their ancestors had to leave because of similar
inhumane living conditions.
They risk everything for this goal to return to the Federal Republic
of Germany: their friends, their jobs, familiar environment, education,
occupation and their meager savings they have accumulated through
diligence and frugality. They are allowed to bring along only 90 rubles and personal clothing.
Upon application for immigration, hell breaks lose: Reprisals
at school and at work up to termination, denial of registration
with police when changing residence, confiscation of property and
houses, searches of homes, arrests for petitions with the authorities
to emigrate, expulsion from universities of those few who have received
a place at a university, etc.
Worst of all, they are affected even morally when former friends
and coworkers shun them, because persons willing to immigrate are
as a rule treated as "anti-Soviet people" with all consequences.
In the General Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations
in 1948, which was also signed by the former Soviet Union, it is
said: "Everybody has the right to leave any country including their
own as well as to return to it."
In reality, this right is arbitrarily interpreted by the former
Soviet Union depending on the general situation between East and
Only those Germans or Jews who can present an invitation (Vysov)
from their relatives in the West have the opportunity to immigrate.
Even a new decree which became effective on January 1, 1987, didn't
change anything. To the contrary, it limits the right to apply for
emigration to immediate relatives (only father, mother, brother,
sister, husband, wife).
After the amnesty of 1955, a large part of the German population,
under strictest secrecy, drew up lists of those who wanted to immigrate
and who were brought by reliable persons to the recently opened
German Embassy in Moscow. Overall, of that time, there are more
than 250,000 signatures of Germans who were willing to immigrate.
In the '60s a complete rehabilitation of this German ethnic group
was aimed at. That's why signatures for the restoration of the German
autonomy along the Volga, in the Ukraine and in the Caucasus had
been collected by formed action groups and in January and June 1965,
and were taken to Moscow by two delegations and submitted to the
government. The former chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR,
A. I. Mikojan, responded briefly to the demands by the Germans:
"We don't have any territory. It's impossible to continue to run
the economy in Kazakhstan without the Germans ..." Another delegation
who wanted to be heard by the Supreme Soviet in July 1967, was expelled
from Moscow within 24 hours.
Afterwards it became obvious that it was only a matter of time
until the German population disappeared from among the Soviet people.
There was only one alternative left: Immigration to Germany, the
After signing the German-Soviet agreement of Moscow in the '70s,
a new opportunity for the emigration of Germans from the Soviet
Union opened up. Numerous action groups were formed in several areas;
at relatives, they compiled immigration lists and made appeals to
the West and to the United Nations. In 1973, the "Association der
ausreisewilligen Russlanddeutschen" was founded in Estonia and was
able to exist until February, 1974, and as center of this movement
was able to coordinate its work with many action groups in Kazakhstan
and other areas. All of its members were arrested and sentenced
to prison for up to four years.
On May 18, 1973, a list of more than 7,000 families (about 35,000
persons) was handed to the Supreme Soviet requesting the start of
talks regarding resettlement. All delegates were arrested, interrogated
and under the supervision of the KGB were taken to their places
of residence where interrogations and harassment continued. In April,
1974, several hundred ethnic Germans gathered in Karaganda to discuss
actions for emigration. The houses of the Germans were surrounded
by civil servants, militia and more than 400 soldiers; organizers
were arrested and taken away to be interrogated.
Some demonstrations on the Red Square and in front of the German
Embassy in Moscow as well as in front of governmental buildings
in Alma-Ata, Frunse, Dushanbe and other towns were on the agenda.
All these actions as well as pressure from the outside on the Soviet
government and the end of the KSZE-conference in 1975, in Helsinki
resulted in a constantly increasing number of immigrants. In 1976,
immigration reached a record number of 9,652 people.
After the failure of the policy of detente through the invasion
of the Soviet army into Afghanistan, the process of reuniting families
went literally downhill until it came to a complete standstill.
In 1985, only 460 persons came while in 1986, there were only 760
persons. Reunification of separated families was stopped because
of the third change in government in Moscow and because of constantly
deteriorating relations with the West. In order to achieve a positive
trend in the reunification, in the Federal Republic of Germany all
political parties and the government in Bonn mobilized everything
for the Germans in Russia during this difficult period. For the
first time the demand for improvement of reuniting families of ethnic
Germans from the USSR was included in the federal announcement of
4 May 1983. Chancellor Kohl announced during his visit to the Kremlin:
"In the long history the humanitarian question occupying us these
days touches us also. Germans and Soviet citizens of German nationality
want to immigrate to their families and relatives in my country.
This opportunity must be preserved in the spirit of humanity. To
us this is an important matter in interrelations. It is important
to stop the tendencies of the last years and to return to a positive
practice. We would welcome very much, if speedy progress on the
question of immigration were possible. Beyond that, we remain interested
in a great improvement of living conditions and the opportunity
for cultural self-realization of the ethnic Germans in the Soviet
Several debates concerning the situation of the ethnic Germans
in the USSR were held in the European Parliament in Straßburg and
in the Lower House of the German Parliament. All representatives
of all the political parties, unions and governments who traveled
to Moscow supported the interests and the relief of the situation
at the Kremlin. The question of human rights and the situation of
the ethnic Germans had been the focus of discussions at all following
conferences of the KSZE in Ottawa, Madrid, Belgrade and Vienna.
For the first time, the Soviet government allowed again more ethnic
Germans to immigrate just prior to the state visit by the President
of the Federal Republic, Richard von Weizäcker, to Moscow in early
July, 1987. If in the first months of 1987 only 80 to 100 persons
per month received an exit permit, an increase in the average number
of approximately 2,000 people per month could be observed by the
end of the year. A record number of 14,290 was reached in 1987.
The new policy of Glasnost and Perestroika introduced by Gorbatshov
showed its effects even in this problem. It was nothing new to the
government in Moscow that ethnic Germans in the USSR would leave
in groves but the sense of a new era and the inundation effect of
emigration became a problem for the powers particularly in Kazakhstan
and other regions where ethnic Germans are the backbone of the economy.
They tried to retain the Germans by means of a new Glasnost policy
or rather by preventing their effort to leave on the pretext of
difficulties concerning their integration in the West.
In the past, the existence of ethnic Germans in the Soviet Empire
had been hushed up. Presently, it seems all taboos would fade away.
Because of this development, German-Russians increasingly become
the focal point of public discussion both here and there. In 1986,
the ARD aired the film Wir sind aus Siberiens Weiten which
showed German-Russians talking about their life. A second film Das
Buch von Olga und Johann followed on ZDF in 1987. Furthermore
several short reports were broadcast in the news and current television
broadcasts. The German press reacted mainly positively.
For the first time, WDR correspondent Lutz Lehmann filmed the
life of ethnic Germans in Kazakhstan. The film with the title Heimat
in der Fremde was broadcasted on April 13, 1987. In August of
last year, a Soviet television team arrived and filmed the life
of Aussiedler throughout Germany. The film aired nationwide on the
Central Television station in Moscow found a wide response among
Germans as well as among other nationalities in the Soviet Union
because for the first time the viewer was informed that two million
Germans were living there and that there was a phenomenon of mass
migration. If this kind of Glasnost policy will reach its true objective,
is questionable. Quite the contrary, it seems that the sense of
a new era to emigrate was rather strengthened by this telecast.
An ethnic German, who had experienced all kinds of harassment
of deportation, assimilation and annihilation in the former Soviet
Union during the last decades, is not held back by means of propaganda.
As long as autonomy along the Volga and in other areas of South
Russia is not returned, there will be only one way out to escape
the uncertainty and fear of their future: their immigration to the
Federal Republic of Germany, to the land of their ancestors, to
their historical German homeland, where they hope to be able to
live without fear among Germans and as Germans with equal rights
able to realize their goals for their future.
Reprinted with permission of Verein für das Deutschtum im Ausland
Our appreciation is extended to Claudia Müller for translation of this article.