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Seven Camps and One Emigration

Sieben Lager und Eine Ausreise

"Seven Camps and One Emigration." Berliner Zeitung, 28 August 2001.

Translation from German to English by Lillian Weigel (lbweigel@home.com)


In 1766, Alexander Schwindt's ancestors traveled to the Volga. With 246 other Hessians, they founded the "Kraft" colony. The widely branched family lived in Wohlstand until the Bolsheviks dispossessed them in 1929. In 1938 Alexander Schwindt's grandfather, a farm functionary, was shot along with his son, as a "people's enemy". Following the 1941 German attack on the Soviet Union, Alexander himself, with all his relatives was deported to a labor camp. First, 14 years later, after Adenauer's visit to Moscow, the Russlanddeutsche's tie to the homestead lessened; by then Schwindt had gone through seven labor camps, his family was scattered from Kazakstan to the Baltics. Future efforts to breathe new life into the German Volga Republic ended in repression; in 1974 he left for Germany.

The Schwindt Family chronicle belongs to the Stuttgart exhibition "Life of the Russian-German Farmer". For refugees, this biography is typical of the retrenchments that faced almost 80% of today's more than two and a half million refugees that came to Germany after 1990. On Sunday the exhibit will be at the National Day memorial event where the 'renewed' Alexander Schwindt will be present. Today it hangs in the French cathedral for a memorial service.

The occasion is the 60th Anniversary for the Russlanddeutsche of the fateful decree of August 28, 1941. At that time, the Praesidium of USSR Colonels ordered all Germans to be deported from the Volga district. The resettlement of this most important settlement in the Soviet Union was, according to local rumor, to prevent acts of sabotage. Among the Russlanddeutsche there are thousands of "diversionaries and spies", that the populace had not reported. So all Germans were thought of as having collaborated with the Fascists. In succession, about 360,000 Germans from the Volga district and shortly thereafter, from all further European parts of the USSR, were transported to Siberia, Kazakstan and northward. The German Volga Republic was incorporated into neighboring Saratow and Stalingrad and in 1947 was officially dissolved. The German-Ukrainians also went through deportation after the beginning of the war. The historian, Alfred Eisfeld, puts the total deported up to 1945 at more than a million.

The worldwide condemnation of the collaboration was first called to mind in 1964, and with Perestroika, the return of the survivors to their settlements was made possible. Their property, however, they could not repossess, and a new Autonomy of the Volga District failed thanks to then President Yeltsin, who was not about to mediate with the new Russian-majority population. Yeltsin designated two Siberian rural districts with German settlements as a substitute: Asowo and Halbstadt.

Along with the new Nationalism of the German Unified States (in Russia) and the better employment chances in Germany, the rejection of the Volga Republic is only one reason for the mass exodus of Russlanddeutsche since 1989. Their incorporation into the workplace here has stalled. At the same time, here, the German Republic distances itself from the nationalistic state and leans toward European thinking, seeking to prove itself to foreigners first, rather than to Germans. They stress their will to integrate, and their usefulness, and look at virtual natives as Russians.

The refugee functionaries dwell among us, and compare the exiled bands of deportation to genocide, and soviet camps to fascist concentration camps. Also, Sunday in Berlin, they stated one difference, "there were no gas chambers in the Gulags", With this wanton comparison, they have shocked Germany into uneasiness. And in Russia there is little readiness to discuss the understandable demand of the Russlanddeutsche that the Russians acknowledge them as the last victims of the wars, and acknowledge their fifteen years of work in forced labor camps.

But what especially angered the Russlanddeutsche was a language test, which the federal government instituted as a measure for each entry permission. According to the refugees, they lost their mother tongue through the closing of their schools, the forced assimilation, and because of being undeservedly outlawed as fascists. For this, they also demand an apology from president Putin. At the end of National Day, they sing timidly, the German Hymn, eyes fixed on the strange text.

Appreciation is extend to Lillian Weigel for translation of this article.

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