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Horst Koehler

Origins of the new (German) President Horst Koehler

Die Herkunft des Neuen Bundespraesidenten Horst Koehler

"Origins of the new (German) President Horst Koehler." Volk auf dem Weg, October 2004, 24-25.

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


Following Professor Horst Koehler's election on May 23 as the new [German Federal] President, citizens are entitled to know more about his origins and background. In the German media, perhaps due to lack of knowledge and superficial information concerning Eastern Europe and about Germans who made their homes in the area, some hair-raising misinformation is being circulated concerning the origins of Horst Koehler. Historian, Dr. Michael Kroner, hereby provides a contribution that clarifies the historical context.

For example, a rather embarrassing faux pas was incurred by Harald Bauer in an article entitled "Neither Rambo nor Master of Ceremony. Federal Candidate Horst Koehler Wants to Go in New Directions," which appeared in the May 20/21 issues, page 4, of the "Nuernberger Nachrichten." The conclusion of the article reads as follows: "Horst Koehler comes from a farming family in what is today's Moldova, which the Nazis had begun to settle in the 1940s in an effort to 'Germanize' the area." Horst Koehler has clearly explained that his parents were from Bessarabia, but that he himself was born in Poland, from where they fled to Germany. In his book that is about to be published, Koehler writes that during a visit in the city of Markkleeberg in Saxony he discovered that St. Poelten is listed in the church baptismal record as his place of birth. Given the general lack of knowledge of the historical context, which is admittedly not simple, such information appears not be factual and thus causes more confusion than ever before. Thus, the following clarification.

Koehler's parents came from Bessarabia, which today is called the Republic of Moldova. The province, once was part of the Romanian princedom of Moldau, was annexed by Tsarist Russia in 1812 and was given the name Bessarabia. Tsar Alexander called for German settlers to come to the previously thinly settled region, and between 1814 and 1824 some did in fact settle there. They came from South Germany, but also from Mecklenburg, Pomerania and the Great Duchy of Warsaw, and they established in Bessarabia a multitude of villages. The manifesto which the Tsar used to lure them there guaranteed the settlers free land, religious freedom, exemption from military duty, and ten years without taxation.

Horst Koehler's ancestors were most likely among those settlers who made Ryshkanovka (county of Beiz) in Northern Bessarabia their home.

The Bessarabia-Germans or, simply, German-Russians of the area were up to 94 percent Protestant and had German churches and schools in each village, and they built two gymanisiums [secondary schools] and one teacher training institute. Toward the end of the 19th Century even Bessarabia-Germans became subject to military service, and they began to experience the ever increasing political effects of Russification.

When in 1918 Tsarist Russia broke apart, the province of Bessarabia, in the majority inhabited by Romanians, declared itself part of Romania, which they considered to be their true motherland. In 1919 the Bessarabia-Germans agreed to be part of Romania and thus became Romanian-Germans. They began to establish contact with other ethnic German groups in greater Romania and cooperated on various levels. The Evangelical Church of Bessarabia associated itself with the national Evangelical church under a Siebenbuergisch-Saxon bishop, with headquarters in Hermannstadt. Politically the Romanian-Gemans appeared as a unified ethnic national minority. The German school system experienced large setbacks, since the Romanian language became the language of instruction in nearly all public schools.

The Soviet Union never recognized the annexation of Bessarabia to Romania. And just before the outbreak of World War II, when the German Reich and the Soviet Union used a secret addition to their mutual "nonaggression" pact of August 23, 1939 to break up Eastern Europe into "spheres of influence" (i.e., territories to be annexed), Germany declared its "disinterest" in Bessarabia, which in plain language meant that it acceded to its annexation. And as soon as political partner Romania became occupied or, simply, isolated, the USSR, with backing from Reichs-Germany, on June 27, 1940 used the opportunity by directing an ultimatum to Romania demanding the return of Bessarabia. Romania, now totally isolated diplomatically, had no chance to defend itself against Soviet occupation of Bessarabia, which became fact within only days after it accepted the ultimatum. Bessarabia became a Soviet Republic within the USSR. Accordingly, the Bessarabia-Germans became Soviet citizens. The Soviet Union also annexed northern Bukovina, the Baltic states and areas of Eastern Poland. Germany itself, following its forceful military invasion of Poland, had assured itself from the Soviet Union (via a "clandestine" protocol) the right to resettle the German inhabitants of Bessarabia to the German Reich. That protocol stated, word for word: "The government of the Soviet Union will not hinder any members of the Reich who reside in its areas of interest, in case it is their wish, to be resettled in German areas of interest or in Germany. It hereby agrees that such resettlements will be conducted by representatives of the Reichs-government, in cooperation with the appropriate local authorities, and that specific rights to property will be kept intact for those emigrating."

Based on this and other resettlement pacts, there followed the so-called operation "Heim ins Reich [(Back) home to the Reich]" that led to the resettlement of ethnic Germans from designated and other areas. The Fuehrer, Reichschancellor Hitler had avowed, in an October 6, 1940 speech to the Reichstag, "the return to the German Reich those splinters of Germandom that can no longer be maintained in East and South Europe." They were to contribute to the "Germanization" of areas of Poland that were declared German regions.

The resettlement of Bessarabia-Germans came as a direct consequence of an agreement signed by Germany and the Soviet Union on September 5, 1940. Resettlement was to be voluntary. The Soviets were therefore surprised that practically all Germans there -- about 93,000 persons -- vulunteered for emigration. They were using the opportunity to escape from Communist domination. The resettlement was accomplished via treks and by rail. Based on resettlement agreements with Romania as well, the Germans of South Bukovina and Dobrudscha were also moved to the "Reich" in 1940.

Initially, the Ethnic German Mittlestelle [Central Office] caused the resettled Germans to be taken to intake camps in the German Reich. But to their disappointment, they soon discovered that settlement did not mean the German mother land, but that they, called "Ostwuerdige [Those Worthy of the East" in Nazi official language, would be placed in properties formerly belonging to banned Polish farmers in "newly acquired territories" such as Wartheland, West Prussia and other areas. In this context the farming family Koehler came to the Polish town called Skierbieszov (not the Austrian town of St. Poelten), where their son Horst was born on February 22, 1943.

Were Horst Koehler's parents then Romanian-Germans, as has commonly been stated in the media? Only in a manner of speaking, because hey were definitely born before 1918, when Bessarabia still belonged to the Soviet Union; and at the time of the resettlement, it belonged to the Soviet Union again. Between 1918 and 1940, though, they lived in at was [officially] Romania.

In 1944, as the Red Army was rushing into Poland, the newly resettled naturally were forced to flee. They became part of the gigantic stream of German refugees from the East. The Koehlers reached Markkleeberg-Zoebiker near Leipzig, where they lived until 1953. Then they fled a second time from Communist dictatorship, to the Federal Republic, via West Berlin and, after several intermediate stops at various refugee camps, finally reached their new home of Ludwigsburg. About the subsequent life story of Horst Koehler there is no lack of clarity.

Following the breakup of he Soviet Union, the former Soviet Republic of Moldau (Bessarabia) separated from the USSR and reconstituted itself as the independent republic of Moldova. Reunification with Romania did not happen because, in addition to the mostly Romanian majority population, there were strong elements of Russian, Ukrainian, and Gagau minority populations who strongly opposed it and received support from Ukraine and Russia.

Professor Horst Koehler was the first ever elected Federal President who comes from an Eastern German refugee family. He has often declared that Germany has given him very much and that he would like to return the favor to his homeland, which he loves dearly.

Anyone wishing to learn in more detail about "Die Deutschen Rumaeniens im 20. Jahrhundert [The Germans of Romania in the 20th Century]" may order the brochure with the same title by Dr. Michael Kroner from the Austrian Landsmannschaft, Fuhrmannsgasse 18a, A-1080 Vienna, tel.: (00 430 1 - 40 22 882; e-mail: info@oelm.at_ (mailto:info@oelm.at) ; at 7.40 euros, plus postage.

Siebenbuergische Zeitung Online, June 23, 1004

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

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