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Aussiedler in Germany

Pergande, Frank. "Aussiedler in Germany." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August, 2003.


PEITZ, GERMANY.. A visitor gets a nervous Guten Tag from Olga, but after that an interpreter is needed. So her grandmother, Valentina, helps with the simpler questions, since she still understands German and can speak it a little. It's too bad great-grandmother Klara is away, a visitor is told: She grew up speaking German at home.

Home was the small town of Kaptshagay, Kazakhstan, and during Valentina's childhood she was fluent in German, but then she married a Russian and forgot most of it. It didn't seem anything to worry about at the time; it never occurred to her, or to anyone else in her family, that they would one day move to Germany.

Olga, who is 19 and nine months pregnant, married the child's father recently and two days later she was en route to Germany, becoming the eighth member of her family to settle in this country after being recognized as Aussiedler - literally “emigrants,“ but specifically those ethnic Germans who moved east over the centuries. Today, the term usually refers to ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union who did not start coming to Germany in large numbers until the 1990s.
So far, 2.5 million of these “German-Russians“ have come. No one knows how many more will.

Back in Kazakhstan, Valentina's husband, Aleksandr, was an engineer, she worked in a ceramics factory, and Olga decorated new apartments. In 1996 they decided to leave for Germany, but when the time to leave finally came this year, Aleksandr was told he had to stay behind. He will be joining them soon, after resolving some routine problems with his personal documents, Olga says. Although the three women had relatives in North Rhine-Westphalia, their request to go there was rejected.

All German-Russians are first sent to a reception center in Friedland, Lower Saxony, and then parceled out among the 16 states. That's how Klara and her family ended up in this small Brandenburg town, in a prefabricated concrete apartment block that once housed Polish workers employed nearby during the communist era. When the Poles went home the building was turned into a temporary shelter for the German-Russians, and about half of its 600 beds are full. In a few days, Klara, Valentina and Olga will move to another center, just a few kilometers away, where they will wait until a public housing unit becomes available. In the meantime, they have been instructed to use their time in Peitz to get accustomed to life in Germany.They are already starting to realize that language is just one barrier, and that the cultural
differences involved in coming to the West are huge. Moreover, they cannot move closer to their “compatriots“ in larger towns, but must stay where they are assigned for at least three year unless they find work and agree to be completely responsible for their own support.

That is not easy for them in a country with over 4 million unemployed. A 2001 study by the German government found that 20 percent of German-Russians were jobless, about double the overall national rate and even higher than the 17 percent rate for foreigners, which they legally are not.“Many have qualifications with little value on the German labor market,“ the study concluded.Still, their prospects are by no means hopeless: many companies have found German-Russians to be reliable and hard working, and advertisements in prosperous Baden-Württemberg in particular seek specifically to recruit them. But for the highly educated it can be more difficult because language becomes more of an issue and their qualifications are often
challenged, according to the Otto Benneke Foundation, which helps with their integration.

Still, many German-Russian professionals are now working, especially as doctors.Germans began settling in Russia after Catherine the Great, who was German, decided the country needed new settlers, possessing modern technical skills to develop her adopted country. They were lured with an exemption from taxes and a promise of religious freedom and the Volga region in particular was soon thriving.

This long success story ended in 1941, when Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Ethnic Germans were quickly declared enemies of the state and forcibly removed to Siberia and some of the more remote areas of Kazakhstan. Many were pressed into the Trud armija, the workers' army, where they performed the hardest imaginable labor under appalling conditions.

German-language schools were abolished, and many of the ethnic Germans accepted Russian nationality, rediscovering their German roots only when the cold war ended and they saw a chance to emigrate to a new life in Germany. Here, they can become citizens fairly quickly under a citizenship law, still largely based on the principle of blood, that was created to help the millions of ethnic German refugees expelled from eastern Europe at the end of World War II.

German officials are aware of duplicity in the application process and acknowledge that only a quarter of the group classified as German-Russians are ethnically German; the rest are their dependents. The number of German-Russians who emigrated was much higher than expected, and some 100,000 are still coming every year. Taken aback by the costs of bringing the German-Russians to Germany and sponsoring their integration, the German government is making it more difficult for them to come. The required German proficiency tests have become much more difficult, and migrants must now pay their own transportation costs.According to a formula agreed between the federal and state governments, each state accepts German-Russians in proportion to its share of Germany's population.

Relatives without status as ethnic Germans are classified as foreigners and do not receive the transition payments, and language courses, provided from public funds. Brandenburg, with its 19.8 percent jobless rate, is not German-Russians' favored destination, although they do find that people in the eastern German states are generally more sympathetic than those in the West to people trying to make their way in a new foreign system.

Klara, Valentina and Olga have only a few weeks to wait until they receive the pink certificate certifying them as ethnic Germans, which will lead to German citizenship, but they say they do not feel like citizens, and worry constantly about how they will fare in their new country. Everyone assures them that the children quickly adjust, but what about German-Russian adults? The women have heard that many turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with their loneliness and disorientation.Olga says little during the interview, and it remains unclear if the problem was entirely one of linguistic incomprehension or, rather, a simple unwillingness to say much about
herself. As a reporter leaves, she offers a gentle auf Wiedersehen.

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