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On the Identity of our Countrymen

Zur Identitaet Unserer Landsleute (Teil 4)

Mueller, Rosa. "On the Identity of our Countrymen." Volk auf dem Weg, May 2007, 26-27.

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


Rosa Mueller

Rosa Mueller has been living in Germany since 1989 and since 1990 has been a member of the Landsmannschaft. She was chair of the local chapter in Nuremberg-Fuerth and for many years acted as a social worker in our association. She is a member of the Board of the BdV [Association of Displaced Persons] of Mittelfranken and since 1992 has been a member of the Aussiedler Advisory Committee of the City of Nuremberg. Her professional experience and activities include: lector of German at the Teaching Institute S. Vauth; from 1994 on, lector and owner of the Language Institute Rosa Mueller in Nuremberg (http://www.institut-rm.de ).

Traditions are naturally very important. One associates with them only idealistic values rather than material things. And these values are passed on by parents and grandparents. We brought many of these values with us to Germany. However, what about the language -- the mother tongue of Germans -- what happened to it?

For most countrymen the learning of another language started a new life for them. For all of them, in fact, because it also meant a complete readjustment. We are very different -- whether you want to believe it or not, it is true. And readjustment is a prerequisite for adaptation, for integration.

Many of us can say with certainty that, in retrospect, the process of our personal integration has been a path full of difficult hurdles. [Here] in the schools our children were treated by others as inferior simply because they spoke [German] with an accent, or spoke hardly any German. The same can be said about our adults.

An accent immediately evoked he question: "Where do you come from?"

And after the answer was provided, the questioners would immediately say "Oh, you're Russian!" Or: "You're Kazakh!" Or some would say "Oh, yes, vodka, vodka, vodka!"

Many of the Aussiedler continue to this day to be confronted with these widespread reactions. Again and again, newly arriving youth face prejudice simply because of where they come from. Not so rarely they are laughed at because they are different. Additionally, for many Aussiedler this ignorant and cliche-ridden attitude concerning Russian customs and traditions tends to be an
impediment for them toward occupational and social integration.

We do not want to be Russians, because we are Germans.

I should like to elaborate a bit more on this point: the members of my generation, that is, the children of the war, even after the war they still suffered -- as Germans. We had acquired and spoke our mother-tongue because our parents and grandparents spoke only German, and it was carefully kept up.

When we children attended school and learned Russian, we were told at home: "Outside you can speak Russian, but once you set foot inside our home, you will speak German only. We are not Russians."

When the Russians called us "nemtsy [Germans]," we felt somehow hurt by it even though we were aware of our nationality. And now that we are in Germany, people call us "Russians," and again it hurts.

I would suggest that we might become less sensitive. We have experienced everything, and many of us tried to make it clear to the locals here that we are not Russian, that we are Germans from Russia, but it just turns out not to be worth it. For the locals, the country, not nationality is what counts. To be sure, our passports list our citizenship, not our nationality. We have German citizenship, so we should be deemed to be Germans, but sadly we are considered "Russians."

We hear this not only outside our homes, but also in our offices, in the schools, from teachers, etc. We often hear things like "that Russian home," "that Russian teacher," "that Russian doctor," "those Russian children," "that Russian store," "that Russian part of town," etc.

We do not wish to be Russians, because we are Germans, but in this, our old home country, everything has changed. "We were more at home there than we are here in Germany" -- that's how many of our countrymen express it. Of course, there are reasons for this: birth, childhood, school, education and training, occupation or profession, colleagues, friends, neighbors -- everything was Russian. Russian was the dominant language of that gigantic country, and
it was the language of communication between the various people of that multinational state.

We acquired not only the Russian language and grew up with it, but also adopted the Russian culture or some other one such as Kazakh or Tadjik. And that's good! It is part of our spiritual and mental richness, our treasure, one that we gathered in the society that was assigned to us.

For this reason I am going to cite at this point (and with great satisfaction) Dr. Andreas Keller: "We are complete and independent people who are equally at home in both cultures and languages." (VadW, 01/2007). And he continues: "One should not have a feeling of incompleteness. Rather, one should draw from it added value. We have so much of what is good, from both cultures."

We are, of course, part of a group of people who grew up bilingual, speaking two mother tongues. Normally there is no such thing, but it works for us because we were part of a certain background, of a certain environment, and we had no influence on what we were given as our responsibilities. We are therefore probably an exception, those who have two mother tongues and who are carriers of two cultures. For all those who wish to contradict these assertions I would cite the following example:

In conversation or in consultation, many Germans from Russia say: "May I speak Russian? I can express my thoughts and emotions better in Russian, and you will understand better the kinds of problems I have or the reason that brings me here." Or "I can speak German, but I can't express exactly what I wish to say. Therefore I would rather speak in Russian."

This is an opportune point for defining the term "language." "Language is the possibility, the instrument for expressing feelings and thoughts, and for understanding those of another." This process is called communication. Without language there is no communication.

And it is in Russian that nearly any Aussiedler is able to express his thoughts and feelings. What that means is he possesses a second mother tongue.

Ones mother tongue is on's primary language since it is that language which a child acquires as its first language and takes along to elementary school with adequate competence. For most people this primary language remains the language of thinking. However, as a result of extended stay, a second language, a so-called secondary language, can often become one's language of thinking.

Many children of the postwar generation of German-Russians regarded and spoke the Russian language (preschool, kindergarten, school, environment, media) as their primary language. On being addressed by their parents or grandparents in German, they would usually respond in Russian. And with time, for the adults, too, Russian became the dominant language. The exception were residents of towns with overwhelmingly German nationality.

This generation thinks and speaks in Russian, therefore one can say with some justification that Russian is their mother tongue. Many of our countrymen learned German in language courses only after they arrived here in Germany. For these folks, Russian is the primary language, German the secondary one.

Even for some cases where both parents are German it is still possible that one or the other person has command only of the Russian language, and no longer the German language. I know many such cases from my professional work. This concerns mostly the generation born in the 1970s and 1980s.

What, then, is the Mother Tongue of these People?

Given the positional significance of language cited above, the answer is "Russian."

In a letter to the Landsmannschaft (see VadW, 02/2003, p. 11), Ivan Basaev, Dr. of Engineering, wrote: "I am part of those late Aussiedler who have 'no German roots.' But the last generations of genuine German-Russians ('by blood') are barely distinguishable from us: the same 'zero' in terms of German language skills at the moment of arrival [in Germany] means the same mentality."

Another example: a German-Russian mother, Irina Diener, teacher of German and English, wrote:

"During the first days, I made it a habit of addressing my children in German, and to react speaking in German in reply to their questions.

My desire was very great to teach the children German as quickly as possible and thereby to ease and shorten their process of entering into school.

But one day I received no answer to a question I had posed in the German language. I turned around and observed that my daughter was in tears. Very quietly she said to me: 'Mama, right now I need you as my Mom, only later on as my teacher.'

What was she missing? What was she lacking? What did I take away from my children by emigrating to Germany? Which emotions are associated with the accustomed address of 'Mama' with Russian pronunciation? My soul gave the answer: trust and love. And I became aware that it is a very valuable thing to have the opportunity to talk and to laugh with one another without torturously looking for the right word, without always having the feeling that one no longer knows anything -- and that, too, is what we mean by mother tongue!

Ever since then we have been speaking Russian at home, i.e., we once again spoke the language with which we can really express ourselves and have the feeling of being understood well."

(See also the article, "Deutsch als Zweitsprache" [German as a Second Language], Volk auf dem Weg, March, 2003, page 22)

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

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