From the Past and Present of German-Russian Literature:
Nelly Wacker on her 85th Birthday
Aus Vergangenheit und Gegenwart Russlanddeutscher Literatur: Nelly Wacker zum 85sten
Kampen, Johann. "From the Past and Present of German-Russian Literature: Nelly Wacker on her 85th Birthday." Volk auf dem Weg, October 2004, 18-19.
Translation from German to American English by Alex
Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
Our birthday celebrant of the month, Nelly Wacker, will be 85 on October
20. The successful German-Russian author was first noticed by VadW
during the summer of 1991 in Stuttgart Hohenheim at a cultural convention
of the Landsmannschaft with Kristina Teppert. However, it still took
a long time until the author of many German-Russian poems and stories
of such staying power and value ("Evergreens") was introduced
to a wider circle on the West. Even in 1994, readers of Volk auf
dem Weg were still asking, naive-provocatively, "Who's Nelly
Wacker?" But since then she has indeed attained a small circle
of loyal readers in Germany.
So who is Nelly Wacker, really?
Excepting those few who will never be quite with it, she has received
plaudits from all sides. In the Soviet Union the emphasis was on
her loyalty to her mother tongue. When the political system began
to wane, her open manner -- "I wish to speak!" -- met
with real appreciation. And of her first impressions of Germany
she sent, six months later, the following poem to Volk auf dem
Half a year now I've been
something that was and remains for a German-Russian a
The great upheaval brought me to
refugee emergency housing.
A secure roof protected me from
wind and weather.
Two clear windows provided
and the law made sure that
I did not go hungry.
But the land
that for so long I had to call home
once again -- how many times already!? --
wrested a little bit of what had
out from my hands.
But the land of my ancestors
welcomed me with friendly arms,
gave me now a new hold under a new sky,
provided hope and justice
from all those humiliating
of the time of exile.
And now Munich's trees bloom
for me as well,
and good people say to me:
Whether Nelly Wacker would, ten years after her emigration from
Kazakhstan, and after unimagined highs and lows in especially her
literary work, again formulate her impressions similarly, we from
Volk auf dem Weg did not ask the birthday lady. But [at
the time] we did pose a few questions concerning her life and work:
VadW: On December 11, 1994 it will be eleven years since you came
to Germany. Will you celebrate or mourn on that day?
N.W.: So far we have celebrated each anniversary of our immigration
to Germany. We will do so this year as well, and on all future ones
Question: You were a recognized author in the USSR, but here you
were forced to fight for your reputation a second time. Seen in
that context, do you regret your immigration?
N.W.: Regret? No. But one can become a little nostalgic at times,
when one remembers the many students, colleagues and readers' letters.
Question: Was your family reunited or separated by the immigration?
N.W.: Sadly, separated. Those blasted legal articles and paragraphs
Question: The community of writers seemed to play a significant
role in the former Soviet Union. Have you discovered anything like
N.W.: Sadly, no. Although ...Here, too, we have celebrated great
get-togethers in Wuerzburg, Darmstadt, Oerlinghausen ... It is good
that the younger folks have their literary circle and, with Agnes
Giesbrecht, a creative leader. They will not become as isolated
like the old "versifiers."
Question: May we ask a political question?
N.W.: Please do.
Question: Do you mourn the era of Volga-German autonomy?
N.W.: I am foremost a German and, after that, if you will, a Black
Sea German or, more precisely, a Crimea-German. However, I do mourn
over everything German over there that was destroyed and erased
by war and deportation: oh, the many villages in Crimea (314!),
in the Caucasus, in Ukraine. Also, of course, the striving German
Republic on the Volga, where I studied for two years.
About Nelly Wacker's Life
Born in Hohenberg on Crimea, she attended a so-called residential
school in Spat/Cerimea and between 1939 and 1941 studied Germanistics
in Engels/Volga. Her studies were abruptly interrupted by war and
deportation to Kazakhstan. For a while she taught German and Russian,
at first in the Caucasus, then in Kazakhstan. In 1965 Nelly Wacker
was able to finish, by correspondence courses, her studies at the
well-known Pedagogical Institute of Omsk.
Her fairy tales, poems, songs, sketches and stories were first
published in the German-language press and then in German and Russian
collections. Former teachers and students of hers in the Soviet
Union happily remember the slim volumes such as "Bekenntnis
[Confession]," "Nelken auf dich [Carnations for you],"
"Tanz der Kraniche [Dance of the Cranes]," "Der Zauberstock
[The Magical Cane]," or "Friedenslieder [Songs of Peace]."
Her poem "Ich bitte ums Wort [I ask for the floor]" and
the minor family chronicle "Erikas Blumenmaerchen [Erika's
fairy tale of flowers]" became a condemnation of the system
of injustice that caused so much suffering for her family and caused
her father, Reinhold Baeuerle, to disappear as early as 1935.
This is only a brief summary of the life and work of the birthday
lady. Readers of Volk auf dem Weg and of the Heimatbuecher
of the Landsmannschaft der Deustchen aus Russland are well aware
that Nelly Wacker has had her say even within that limited publishing
We do not wish to deprive our readers of two of those "Evergreens"
of which we spoke earlier. They are the poems "Menschtum [Humanity]"
(1982) and "Muttersprache [Mother Tongue]" (1988):
Man remains man
as long as he works,
as long as be builds, creates,
struggles and forms,
as song as he puts his whole strength
into his life's work.
Man remains man
as long as he loves,
as long as he searches,
hopes, hates and suffers,
as long as he has compassion, forbearance,
and does not forgive villainy of any kind.
If he ever loses this humanity --
it would be better had he not been born!
Dear mother tongue,
familiar, inborn word!
You remain with me,
even in the most wretched place,
You stay with me
when friends leave me,
and when even relatives denounce me, purely out of fear ...
You are the umbilical cord
that binds me to my people
and, with great reliance, even today
still binds me with trust.
Help us, fatherland of our ancestors,
that our grandchildren
may not be left without their mother tongue.
The large Volk auf dem Weg family wishes the 85-year-old
much happiness on her remaining journey and great success with her
four-volume life opus, which her loyal readers are eagerly looking
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.