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Is the Hedwig Project a Useful Model for German-Russian Catholics?

Das Hedwigwek -- ein Brauchbares Modell Fuer Russlanddeutsche Katholiken?

Reinhardt, Father Eugen. "Is the Hedwig Project a Useful Model for German-Russian Catholics?" Volk auf dem Weg, December 2002, 23.

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


[Following paragraph is printed in bold in the original:]
After 50 years of persecution, forced resettlement, and deportation in the former Soviet Union, the last Germans are now coming from Stalin's Empire "heim ins Reich [home into the Reich]". Only since 1988 have German-Russians been able to return in really large numbers to the Federal Republic of Germany.

The banning of the German language, discrimination, defamation and, for many, liquidation -- these facts have been ingrained deeply into the memory of many who are coming home.

Even Salesians, East Prussians, Sudenten-Germans and other German ethnic groups were forcefully banished in 1945/46. They came in the millions, but their priests did not come to the West. They came from closed [German] settlements and cities, they had command of the German language, and despite unspeakable sufferings their faith had not suffered any damage.

Their faith and their awareness and knowledge of religious traditions, feasts and the saints remained strong components of their consciousness, and they passed them on. They established works that offered aide to the refugees in their new homes, they organized conventions and pilgrimages, and they had their own apostolic and canonical visiting clerical dignitaries, who took care of their spiritual needs.

Now, over 50 years after the dramatic events of the past, certain well-meaning refugees are urging the German Catholics from Russia to establish something akin to the Hedwig Project. To all those well-meaning people, I should say, or ask, the following.

Suppose the Salesians or Sudeten-Germans had been dragged off toward points East in 1945/46, separated, their German language banned, all their priests and intellectuals killed, their religious practices and passing on of their faith forbidden under severe punishments, and much more. And now, let's say, after 50 years in exile and dispersal, they were to return in large numbers to the Federal Republic, where in the meantime the attitudes toward all foreigners and many matters in the churches have changed or become unfamiliar. The older generation would still know about St. Hedwig and other saints who had been revered in the old home. Would anyone in that situation arrive or have arrived at the idea of establishing a Hedwig Project?

Times change, needs become different. That which was once good and blessed may not be worthy of emulation today, perhaps especially so by those who have arrived fifty years later, who quite simply may lack the appropriate prerequisites, for which they cannot be held responsible.

Many an institution that used to have beneficial influence in earlier times is today fighting for its survival. Some things, in the course of time, require adaptation in order to satisfy corresponding needs. One cannot avoid changes that occur as time passes.

Had the Volga-Germans in 1941, or the Germans from the Ukraine in 1944/45 arrived in the West as closed, homogeneous groups, they would certainly have sent ahead agents who represented their political interests, and they might have asked for specific church projects, such as the Hewdig Project or the Eichendorff-Guilds.

Germans from Russia remember with great nostalgia their villages and cities on the Volga and in the Ukraine, their dignified church ruins -- bulwarks that point to former greatness. Yet, almost every German from Russia in actuality has four distinct "homes": the Ukraine; Kazakhstan, Kirghistan, and Tajikistan; back to Russia; and then to Germany. All these experiences of home are tied together with their memories of deprivation, abuse, and constant discrimination. How can anyone like that have a normal concept of home?

When Yeltsin, during a visit to the Volga area, spoke in favor of at least partial restoration of the Volga-Republic of Germans, the then residents threw rotten eggs at him and chased him away, thereby marking the final end of that dream.

Historical realities, and their consequences, should -- even in the face of all good advice -- be looked at carefully, and one should ask whether the prerequisites for a specific ideas are present before one begins to irritate some with new suggestions that cannot stand the test of careful examination. As Schiller said, "Advice is given comfortably when one is in safe port."

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

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