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Georg Hildebrandt (July 19, 1911 - December 23, 2008) has Died

Kampen, Johann. "Georg Hildebrandt (July 19, 1911 - December 23, 2008) has Died." Volk auf dem Weg, January 2009, 44.

This translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


Georg Hildebrandt

During the Christmas holidays, the editors received the sad news that Georg Hildebrandt, one of ours and witness to an entire century, who was well known far beyond our ethnic group, had died on December 23 at the age of 97 in the Heidelberg Luise-Ebert Senior Center. Georg Hildebrandt, perhaps like no other German from Russia, embodied the struggle for survival of our people in the great expanses of the former Soviet Union, as well as the struggle for human rights there, and for recognition in this country.

For the German Mennonite Hildebrandt family of the Don region, the struggle for survival began with the first dispossession following the October Revolution of 1917. Twelve years later, there came a further acceleration in repressions perpetrated by the State: The Hildebrandts, designated as prosperous farmers (/kulaks/), were dispossessed for a second time. During the period of the New Economic Policy (NEP, 1922 - 1928), Georg, who was still going by the name of Isaak, had nevertheless completed the ninth year at the central school in his home village of Kondratyevka [in the Don region - Tr.]. His further education, however, was interrupted through the arrest in 1930 of his father, Isaak Hildebrandt, and the enforced move of his family.

The next blow came soon thereafter, when the then 19-year-old Isaak took a chance to visit his father in the Far North. On the way, he actually found an apprenticeship in technical drawing in St. Petersburg, which at the time was known as Leningrad. But in 1931 he was arrested a second time, but never found out the reason. Of course, in the 1930s in Russia this was nothing out of he ordinary! However, the barely 20-year-old Isaak escaped from prison and found work on the Dnyeper, where technical talent were desperately needed for the then largest electric power plant in the world, the Dnyeprogess in Saporozhye.

He soon learned that he had been sentenced, in absentia, to five years in prison. As a precaution, he changed his place of residence and then his employment. In Dyepropetrovsk and Krivoy Rog in Ukraine, in Nevyansk in the Ural region, and in Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, in quick succession until 1938, he found work in construction.

During this time all of his relatives were arrested, and when things got too hot for him, Hildebrandt fled to Krasnoyarsk in Siberia., where he found a position teaching German. Of course, he knew German from his parents, and for the time being, no one in remote Siberia knew about his background.

After the outbreak of war in 1941 [Germany against Russia - Tr.], a relatively calm period for Georg Hildebrandt came to an end. Lime so many in early 1942, he was forced to enter the /Trud Army /[forced labor brigades - Tr.]. "There we lived just like prisoners behind wire fences," he later wrote about this in a letter to /Volk auf dem Weg /dated May 15, 1986. He had sent the letter under the name Georg Hildebrandt, while just before that he had dropped the Biblical name Isaak after he experienced some trouble with certain neighbors in Heidelberg.

Among the greatest enemies of Trud Army members was that of hunger; untold numbers of forced laborers died of it. Hildebrandt's feet were dangerously swollen at the time. For that reason the trained technical drawing expert, along with a friend, decided to "manufacture" coupons that were good for an extra plate of soup. But that went well for only a brief time. On September 22, 1942, the two laborers were arrested and sentenced to three years each. "We moved from a labor camp to a penal camp, but our situation actually improved," wrote Hildebrandt in the letter mentioned above. "I was allowed to work in construction, but in 1945 I was once again transferred to the Trud Army."

So the vicious circle continued. In 1947, Hildebrandt was arrested once again, and in 1948 he was sentenced to seven years in prison and to forfeit his normal rights of a citizen for five years.The next phase of forced labor he performed in the notorious Kolyma. In 1953 came his "banishment within banishment," this time from Kolyma to the Urals, where his wife Agathe, nee Schmidt, was living.

In 1955, one of the most important years in the history of German-Russians, Georg Hildebrandt underwent  and survived a difficult lung operation in Moscow, where the German Chancellor Adenauer had just demonstrated his steadfastness, or perhaps the System, only two months after the historical visit by the Chancellor, desired to demonstrate that it could also do things differently ...

Form then on, things improved, and that was true for Hildebrandt as well. In 1961 he moved to Alma-Ata in Kazakhstan. There he was able to work in his chosen profession until his retirement in 1971, and to begin efforts toward emigration to Germany. On November 16, 1974, Georg and Agathe Hildebrandt arrived, safe and sound, in the Federal Republic of Germany.   

In Germany, Georg Hildebrandt soon took an active part in political life. He attained the high point of his work in the 1980s through his engagement on behalf of his /Landsmannschaft /and his critical attention to the treatment of his countrymen in politics and in the press,    

By 1990, he attained a certain literary success as the "hobby" author of the book "Wieso lebst du noch [Why are you still alive]?" (/part of the publication offerings of the Landsmannschaft/). Through this book, which engendered critical and at times controversial discussion, he gained not only many new friends, but also broad recognition, as demonstrated by positive reviews in, for example,  the /Frankfurter Allgemeine/ [a major newspaper in Germany =- Tr.] and in /Der Bote/ (of Canada, where the book also appeared in English translation in 2001). [I believe this version is also available from the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, GRHC -  For a previously translated article on the award for GH, see http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/articles/magazines/articles/georghonor.html -- Tr.].

Georg Hildebrandt received major late recognition in 2003, when, in his senior center in Heidelberg, surrounded by friends, caretakers and advocates from Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Munich, Augsburg and Berlin, he was awarded the Medal of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. For all of them, his book and the many discussions of his life of great fulfillment will be remembered for all time.Note: The book, Why are you still alive?: A German in the Gulag, authored by Georg Hildebrandt, was published by the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries, Fargo, in 2001.

The book, Why are you still alive?: A German in the Gulag, authored by Georg Hildebrandt, was published by the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries, Fargo, in 2001. [12 point bold - italics - link for book.
Georg Hildebrandt displaying his book in the German language. (June, 2001)
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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