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They Failed to Extinguish Cultural Identity

Es ist Nicht Gelungen, die Kuturelle Identitaet Auszuloeschen

Paulsen, Nina. "They Failed to Extinguish Cultural Identity." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2004, 8-9.

Translation from German to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


On the occasion of the 240th anniversary of the founding of the first German settlement on the Volga, the "Landsmannschaft der Volgadeutschen [Landsmannschaft of Volga-Germans]" on October 15 gathered together their countrymen from Hesse and other regions of Germany. Among the guests of the event were, in addition to the locally prominent, a group of Volga-Germans from Argentina who were making a trip through Germany and Russia. This particular traditional Day of Culture of the Volga-Germans took place in the Citizens Hall of the Kassel Rathaus. Until now the gathering had been held every two years in Buedingen, where at the time of the original emigrations there had been a recruiting office and a gathering station for those leaving for the Volga region.

In a brief historical retrospective, the Society's president, Dr. Alexander Huebner, honored the memory of the original emigrants who at that time had embarked from Buedingen into an unknown future and who "in their new home on the Volga would contribute significantly to an economical upswing there. Those were true pioneers who knew how to transform wild steppes into a blooming landscape by their skills and untiring efforts ..."

Uwe Frankenstein, delegate to the [Hesse] legislature, praised the "significant efforts toward integration" of the Germans from Russia and paid tribute to this historical fact: "Even though the history of the Volga-Germans is infused with much suffering, it was impossible to extinguish their cultural identity."

Dr. Robert Korn presented the newly published "Kalender der Volga-Deutschen [Volga-German Calendar]," and via an emigrants' song by Bernhard von Platen (1733-1774) he also presented a brief historical glimpse into the time of emigration to the Volga region. Dr. Alexander Huebner, too, reminded the audience of the disadvantages and discrimination suffered by the German settlers in Russia and in the Soviet Union, ever more intense when relations between Germany and Russia were in crisis mode. Yet despite all the sad chapters in their history, the Volga-Germans have never lost their cultural identity. "During the most difficult of times and situations, we stuck together and attempted to solve our problems in common," said Dr. Huebner, and he directed his remarks toward the Landsmannschaft der Deustchen aus Russland who, he said, "really worked hard on our behalf. When we all come together, we can master any and all problems."

Ida Schaefer (of Kassel) recalled the gigantic cultural festival on the Volga on the occasion of the 225th anniversary of the first German settlement, for "at that time," she said, "hope for justice was still alive." Moderator Frieda Dercho (from Osnabrueck) reminded us of the Russian neighbors. "Without the support of the Russian population during and after times of war the number of victims among the German populations at many localities might have been much larger," she said.

Author Dominik Hollmann (1899-1990) was celebrated as one of the most renowned Volga-Germans. His daughter Ida Bender (of Hamburg) spoke of the life of the man of literature, and she recited from his poems. For years she had directed the German Club in Kamyshin/Volga that had been founded by her father. She told how he dedicated his whole life to the preservation of the German language and to the struggle for equal justice for German-Russians. During the course of the evening songs were intoned that had either been written or translated into German by Dominik Hollmann. Alexander Schwindt exhibited his by now famous model of a Volga-German farmer's homestead, along with photos from the 1930s. Alexander, 80 years today, was 18 at the time of deportation. In 1937, seven men of his Schwindt clan were shot to death. Artist Andreas Prediger (of Bad Reichenhall) had brought along new works. With his brush and paint, he continues to still struggle untiringly against forgetting the past. Painter Dshamalia Hergenreder of Weimar won over friends of the arts with her romantic landscapes. Isabell Kessler and Sllvestre Martin Prediger, chairs of two German Clubs in Argentina, greeted the audience in the name of their Volga-German countrymen in Argentina. In that South American country, where many Volga-Germans found a new home toward the end of the 19th Century and during the 20th Century, there are numerous German Clubs that work toward the preservation of the German language and culture.

Lilli and Reinhard Uhlmann of the Historical Research Society of Germans from Russia wore traditional garb of the Germans in Russia that they had carefully introduced during the course of project of the Society. Their tradtioinal clothes include elements from all German-Russian population groups. At the start of the cultural program, which followed the formal presentations and memorials, the audience filled the room beyond capacity. Waldemar Hein tended to the musical accompaniment of the gathering. Viktor Petzer of Hamburg (actor and founder of the German Theater of Kaliningrad) had everyone in stitches as he recited tales in dialect and comical verses as well. A highlight of the program was the singing of beloved folk songs such as "0 Susanna" and "Wie die Bluemlein draussen zittern [Oh how the flowers tremble outside]." During the latter song, the Argentinean Hilario Guinder spontaneously marched onto the stage and supported the Kassel Singers with his powerful voice. Songs like "0 Susanna" were accompanied by lively dancing, an occasion that showed off the Argentinie guests as passionate dancers who demonstrated the classical Hopsa-Polka "a la Argentina" or perhaps even "a la old 'Volga-German."

The Kassel Dance Club "Schwarzgold [Black Gold]" stirred the audience with modern dances. The children (ages 4 through 11) and the other young dancers won the hearts of the audience with their dancing.

Our appreciation is extend to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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