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Lexikon of German-Russian Literature

Lexikon der Russlanddeutschen Literatur

Brantsch, Ingmar. "Lexikon of German-Russian Literature." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2004, 11.

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


Not even from Georg Luft, the other founder of Soviet-German literature, who entered the Party as early as 1917 and considered it his life's work to tend to the upcoming generation of German-language authors. In addition to writing lyrical poems and prose, he also translated from Russian and wrote contributions to literary criticism.

As was Franz Bauch, Georg Luft was very critical, too, concerning religion, demonstrated particularly in the article "Gottlosen Streifzuegen durch die Bibel [Godless Expeditions Through the Bible]" (Charkov 1930), which was published under his pen name of G. Flut.

More distinctive are Georg Luft's stories in his poetry volume "Oktoberfunken [October's Spark]." Here he succeeds in resurrecting scurrilous figures from his childhood and to tell about social relationships in the German-Russian villages. It must also be mentioned that his final three years (1934-1937) were mired in the darkness of Siberia.

Of an entirely different caliber was the most significant German-Russian author of the inter-war time, Gerhard Sawatzki, who lost his life equally tragically in the Solikamsk work camp. His main opus, the novel "Wir selbst {We Ourselves]" was miraculously saved by his wife, in the form of typed manuscript, and not published until 1948, after which it appeared in serial form until 1988 in the German-Russian "Heimatliche Weiten [Expanses of Home]" (Moscow). The novel describes the socialist changes in villages and cities by means of lively dialogue, spoken by "Heroes of Work," and presented as psychologically differentiated.

A typical life is that of the writer Sepp Oesterreicher, who had the given name of Boris Brainin. Born in Russia as a child of Austrian parents, he left Russia, at age one, along with his parents, and he grew up in Austria, where he completed studies in Germanistics. This fact was to become a serious problem for him. Although he was a member of the Communist Party of Austria and had returned voluntarily to the Soviet Union in 1934, in 1936 he was removed from his lecturer position at the German Teachers University of Engels and in 1937 was sentenced to six years of forced labor, because at a Germanistic convention he had allegedly stated a position not in conformance with the views of the Party. He was accused of being a racist. Only in 1955 was he rehabilitated and as of 1963 he was allowed to teach at the University of Tomsk.

The most difficult of linguistic times for German-Russian came immediately after World War II. Broadly scattered across Siberia and Kazakhstan, exiled Germans were forced to live without freedom of movement, and until 1955 they all were subject to military supervision. They were rehabilitated, but only twenty years after the Second World War, and still they were forbidden to return to their original towns and villages. For all practical purposes, German was limited to being spoken only within the circle of the family.

The fact that under such adverse conditions, not only an interesting, but considerably literate set of German works was produced is one of the most astonishing literary achievements ever produced in the German language. Hugo Wornsberger, who was born in Marxstadt on the Volga in 1938, comments quite correctly on this: "The existence of a Soviet-German body of literature after forty-seven years of immensely difficult and unequal status of the German-Russian people is a remarkable phenomenon, and its existence itself demonstrates a very high level of performance."

Following the catastrophe of the Second World War, which was marked by collective assignment of guilt, the nearly successful destruction of an entire culture, and the loss of cultural identity, it was the elder authors who first took up the pen again, and their most outstanding figure was Victor Klein.

Victor Klein was born in 1909 in Warenburg on the Volga and soon became an orphan at a very early age, following the death of his mother in 1919 and his father's shooting in 1921. With diligence and his innate talents he concluded as one of the best his studies at the German Pedagogical Institute of Engels, the capital city of the Volga-German Republic. Before the deportation of 1941 to Kansk and subsequent forced labor in the Trud Army he had taught German literature and history there for years. He did not return from the Trud Army to his family in Kansk until 1949.

In 1960 he succeeded in obtaining a position as lecturer in German and literature at the Pedagogical University of Novosibisrk. There he collected Russian folklore, tended to young talents and was himself active in literary production. From 1966 until his much too early death in 1975 he was a member of the Writers' Society of the Soviet Union. Victor Klein may have been the only one holding a chair for Germanistic studies, and his grateful students erected a memorial to him soon after his death.

Annette Moritz succeeds effortlessly in weaving a clean arc from Klein's stories prior to WW II that deal with the Volga-German village, to his final great prose opus "Der letzte Grabhuegel [The Final Grave Mound]," which, as his author colleague Waldemar Spaar stated, he wrote straight from his heart. In it he recounted the final hours of the Volga-Germans prior to deportation, from the perspective of the old Volga farmer Andreas, who had loyally helped to establish the new society, but now finds himself being deported. During the last hour of his death, his grandson Andreas is born -- a sign of hope that the Volga-Germans would survive this severe test as a community.

Despite close surveillance, Victor Klein does not shrink back from bringing to mind, again and again, his Volga home, as seen in the poem "Jungengespraech [Boys' Conversation]," in which a 60-year-old Volga-German grandfather in exile lovingly introduces his four-year-old grandson to his sunny childhood on the Volga.

Even more intensely connected with his Volga home was Waldemar Herdt, who was born in 1915 in Seelmann on the Volga and died in 1997 in Savyalovo/Altai. Between 1941 and 1962 his pedagogical career was interrupted by deportation and forced labor. From 1962 onward he and his family lived in Savyalovo, and until his retirement in 1977 he worked for the German-language regional newspaper for the Altai, "Rote Fahne [Red Banner]." In 1974 he was accepted into the Writers' Society of the Soviet Union.

His collection of poetry entitled "Wolga, Wiege unserer Hoffnung [The Volga, Cradle of our Hope]," published in Moscow in 1987, impressed his contemporaries and became an important contribution to what would eventually end up as a vain attempt toward restoring territorial autonomy for the Volga-Germans.

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

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