Chelyabinsk -- On the Trails of Persecution
Tscheljabinsk: Auf den Spuren der Verforlgung
Heim, Pastor Christial. "Chelyabinsk – On the Trails of Persecution." Volk auf dem Weg, January 2005, 22-23.
Translation from German to American English by Alex Herzog,
The church in Chelyabinsk
Two and a half years ago, when I was asked to take over pastoral
care of the Germans from Russia in Unna Massen and in the Archdiocese
of Paderborn, I barely knew anything about the history of the Germans
from Russia. I began to read and, even more so, to listen to people's
stories, and so entered more and more into a history that was so
full of suffering, yet very moving and highly eventful. Soon I felt
the urge to travel to the areas of exile in order to be able to
touch and to see what "my people" were speaking about.
With the support of my Archbishop, Hans-Josef Becker of Paderborn,
this path, which I considered as a search for a trail, became reality.
Also of important help were my contacts with the Catholic community
in Chelyabinsk in Russia [just east of the southern Ural Mountains,
Tr.], particularly with Father Reinhard Franitza, a priest from
the Hidlesheim area [Germany], who eleven years ago went to Russia
in order to rebuild the Catholic community there.
I am pleased to provide this excerpted report on my travels, and
I hope that many "Locals" might follow such a path in
order to understand more deeply this history of the Germans from
Russia and, thereby, to be able to contribute more to their feeling
at home here in Germany.
I am looking forward to the time ahead. While flying east across
distances, my thoughts are on the next four weeks. I wish to encounter,
mind that is open and willing to learn, this other world at the
between the European and Asiatic continents. I have a great wish
to let this
upcoming experience be a gift that will move me deeply -- allowing
of "eye to eye" contact, which characterize our work within
this project of
the diocese, to accompany me on my journey.
Father Reinhard picks me up from the airport at the edge of the
Chelyabisnk is one of those cities that was built "on top of
German bones, as I
was told recently by a German woman from Russia. The church, as
I soon find
out, stands on the site of barracks housing the Trudarmy. A memorial
the dead is being constructed there.
Residing in the same house with Father Reinhard are Christoph Teichert,
Father Wilhelm Palesch, and the Curate Markus Nowotny. The large
of the Immaculate Conception is a landmark that is visible from
distances and has become an "official" part of tours of
the city. People from the
nearby and more distant surrounding area often come here, or they
because of the "open door" welcoming attitude and subsequently
wish to learn more
about our faith, about God, and about the Church. Some return, wishing
become a permanent part. This church plays an immensely important
role here, as
a sacred building as well in service to the poor, who receive meals
as a place where members of minorities or of other disadvantaged
I have become used to the place, and my contact with the youth
successful. Only my Russian lessons appear to be a chore, but I
need to take them
-- after all, I came here in part to learn the language a little
Soon I am able to manage taking Communion to the sick in a village
50 kilometers [30 miles] away. But I am being accompanied by my
Russian teacher and her husband. They are familiar with the sick
and also with the way to get there.
In Korkina there is a house of prayer for the Catholic community,
and it is thus an established outpost of the parish. Korkina must
have at least 60,000 residents and is considered to be among the
small cities here, but it also claims one of the largest open-pit
(hard) coal mines in the world. Brown coal and marble have also
been part of the city's history as well. However, its products are
much less in demand these days, so that related businesses go under
and people move away to the larger cities, where, my hosts tell
me, they'll have a chance to find work. Korkina is thus becoming
a city of the elderly and of those who have found their own niche
We are visiting five German-Russians who are too ill to attend
church on Sundays. With all of them I talk and pray in German, and
they are very pleased and happy to see me, but at the same time
they have been marked by their fate. A Sunday later I return to
the community to celebrate Mass with them
The memorial during construction
And finally I get the opportunity to see one of the large field
of graces of the Trudarmy members and thereby to make room for a
very sad chapter of history. Piror to my departure from Germany
I read the book "Zone der totalen Ruhe [Zone of Total Rest]"
by Gerhard Wolter, in which he deals with just this painful way
of the cross of the Germans.
Around 40,000 Trudarmy members died here in Chelyabinsk. In Germany,
I have frequently met older Germans from Russia whose father or
mother died in Chelyabinsk. The government had big plans for the
Trudarmy in Chelyabinsk. They were given the enormous task, the
so-called Bakal Construction [Project]. By as early as 1942, the
first production runs of war materials were being delivered and,
gradually, production of armaments really got going. The site we
are visiting today, the field of graves in which the dead were barely
covered with dirt, now lies behind mountains of slag from the fabrication
of steel. The dead are in part covered by these mounds of slag.
On the way to the site we pass the steel factory. Might it perhaps
have been built by these people [who have been lying dead here]?
About 50 feet behind a mound of slag we reach a beautiful, summer-like
meadow. Except for a modest stone memorial, nothing reminds one
of what lies
beneath us. Even the metal memorial plaque has been stolen. What
provides us with! Deeply moved, I take in the atmosphere of this
are all silent until we finally find words of prayer, in our car.
The memorial inside the city will be completed only after I leave.
consists of a Christ figure 2.5 m [about 9 feet] in height, presenting
onlooker with the image of the Resurrected One. Surrounding the
figure is a giant
crown of thorns about 6 m [20 feet] in diameter. This crown of thorns
fashioned from metal -- no material could be more appropriate for
and each thorn is about 40 cm [16 inches] long. The path to the
its background are red, Christ is white. The following saying by
appears on the red marble: "I am alive, and so you shall be!"
There is an
indention at the bottom which is to contain bones exhumed from the
field of graves
-- to find a final place of rest in representation of all the others
behind the piles of slag from the steel plant. An altar, clad in
metal, is to
be placed over this indention and will serve for various services.
To me, the entire project seems to be a coherent design and appears
to have been discussed with and fully agreed to by local organizations.
The site already appears to have the requisite dignity and maturity
for an official memorial to the Trudarmy members. And even though
no memorial can bring back even one of the dead, this memorial will
give expression to pain, suffering and helplessness, and to condemnation
of injustice. At the same time, all the pain also expresses the
words of the Risen Christ: "Yes, I am alive, and you shall
also live," thereby reminding us that only reconciliation and
peace will provide a path toward the future.
So at the end of this first sojourn I do notice that during these
Russia I have indeed gained an initial deep insight into the lives
thoughts, the history, and the present of Russia's people. It seemed
to be right not
to have spent the time crisscrossing the area, but to stay instead
people, in one place, to learn from them, and to experience a part
everyday lives. For me, this country now has a face, and many of
I met here will remain "keys to understanding" this country.
stories and their experiences, I will take them back to Germany
with Germans in Korkina
At the same time, I have one again been struck with the tragedy
of the hi story of Germans from various states of the former Soviet
Union, and it has become a part of me. Personally following the
erecting of one of the first memorials to the Trudarmy members and
being able to go on the trails, still alive, of the Germans, left
a deep impression on me. All of these facets also imply an even
more intense responsibility to living and working for reconciliation,
for communication, and for understanding. Of no us will be mere
blind accusations, or staring at past suffering, or a helpless surrender
to the fate of "those who simply arrived too late" --
rather, what may be beneficial is active concentration on working
in the present, genuine encounters, eye to eye, exchange as equal
partners, and the knowledge and self-assurance of Germans from Russia
in the fact that they are indeed an enrichment and a treasure for
this country, for our civil and our ecclesiastical communities.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.