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Fifty Years of the Landsmannschaft

California District Council Report, Number 20, Fall, 2001, American Historical Society of Germans from Russia

Translation of article from German to English by Richard Kisling, Editor


The 50-year history of the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, Stuttgart, Germany, spans almost the entire post-war era. The following are excerpts from their anniversary book, Heimat und Diaspora ("Homeland and Diaspora"), by Johann Kampen and his son, Hans Kampen, 2001.

Stalin (1929 - 1953)

In 1950, the Germans in Russia don’t dare think of their future. With the exception of those who already fled to the West, they are all situated in the regions to which they were banished forever, according to the August 28, 1941 decree of the Supreme Soviet.

1951. The Germans in the USSR stay under military command, are cut off from the world, and with few exceptions carry out forced labor. Pay of 650 rubles is considered good, though a bicycle costs 500 rubles. Upon marrying, women in many places are forced to keep their maiden names so they can’t go “underground”.

1952. For the Germans in the Soviet Union, Stalin and Beria are the epitome of evil. German oil specialists are permitted to follow their professions outside their regions of resettlement, in the Bashkir and Tatar ASSRs.

1953. After Stalin’s death, German Russians hope for some relief, though many fear that a worse dictator could follow. The Germans remain the stepchildren of the USSR, the Germans the world knows nothing about. The military command is not abolished.

Krushchev (1958 - 1964)

1954. The Germans in the USSR fall deeper into oblivion, as the world becomes fixated on the power struggle in the Kremlin, out of which Krushchev would be victorious. In the collectives, the screws are loosened a little bit.

1955. No one hears what was said about the German Russians in Moscow. The German-language newspaper Arbeit [“labor”] appears in Barnaul on December 5. The military command is abolished on December 13 by decree of the Supreme Soviet, though this is implemented differently region by region.

1956. The Germans in the USSR, along with other peoples in the USSR, desire some kind of thaw. The military command is actually abolished. The first deported German Russians make an effort to immigrate and some are arrested. During the course of the year, 923 are allowed to leave.

1957. People learn that the German Russians and the Crimean Tatars are not mentioned in Krushchev’s “secret speech” of February 1956. The German-language newspaper Neues Leben appears on May 1 [in Moscow]. Maria Vogel [Alfred Schnittke’s mother] is the only German employee.

1958. The German Russians take some hope from an agreement with the Red Cross on April 8. The Volga Germans and the Germans from Ukraine both learn that their homelands are no longer their homelands. Everyone is seeking salvation in southern Kazakhstan.

1959. According to the census, there are 1,619,000 citizens of German nationality in the Soviet Union, or about the same number as in 1939, even though the overall population grew by 22% during the same time. On April 24, the German-Soviet agreement on family unification is signed; exit applications are generally denied by the Soviet authorities.

1960. Contact through the mail between German Russians in the Soviet Union and their countrymen abroad is at a low point; we learn very little: a cow costs 3,000 rubles; a piglet, 150; a chicken, 30 rubles. News leaks out from Orenburg about an unusually high number of cancer cases, and it is said that many women in Karaganda find out about the posthumous rehabilitation of their husbands who were executed in 1937-1938.

1961. The state of the mother tongue deteriorates increasingly among Germans who are scattered across the USSR. Assimilation, and the mutilation of the language proceed unimpeded. A few enthusiasts attempt to rescue it: the German teachers, actors and writers, whose > heyday begins in 1963 or later.

1962. Neues Leben piles on the reports about record-breaking milkmaids, cow breeders, exemplary miners, crane operators or tractor drivers. More and more German names appear in books of recognition and plaques of honor. In Tscherepotz (N. Russia), an egg costs 20 kopecks; half a liter of vodka, 2.86 rubles; workers earn 35 kopecks an hour.

1963. German Russians and German speakers in the USSR write again, as before the war, These writers are among the first who can write, and do more than put it in a drawer.

1964. On August 29, the Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet cancels the part of the deportation order of August 28, 1941, which contains the wholesale condemnation of the Volga Germans, but declares that > the German Russians must remain in the regions of Siberia, Kazakhstan, etc., where they now live and “are integrated”.

Brezhnev (1964 - 1982)

1965. The war against religion that Lenin initiated is expanded by his successors, but people themselves resist the directives against religion. Christians — both Germans and others — secretly gather themselves into congregations. In Chortitza, the “old colony” of Mennonites in Ukraine forms a new 400-member Protestant congregation.

1966. There are approximately 500,000 Baptists in the Soviet Union and they hold a congress in Moscow. The average salary of a Soviet worker is 54 kopecks, or about 2.40 German Marks; their counterparts in the USA make 10.56 German Marks on average, and those in Germany, 4.16 German Marks.

1967. A report about the city of Engels appears in Neues Leben. The former capitol of the Volga German ASSR is now connected with Saratov by a bridge. People are proud of the Germans’ contributions to the success of the city, but returning there from Kazakhstan is out of the question.

1968. In the USSR, a commission for Soviet German literature is formed, to which Dymschitz, Gorbachew (not the later president of the USSR), Hollmann, Klein and Warkentin belong. The first graduates of the teachers college in Alma Ata are reported about. The German ensemble “Freundschaft” is formed in Karaganda.

1969. The efforts of Germans to leave is turned down on the basis that they are necessary for the development of Kazakhstan! Their link to each other was to be Freundschaft, the newspaper that over the course of succeeding years had more and more problems with the > German language due to a lack of skilled workers. Forty thousand Germans live in Alma Ata, out of a population of 670,000.

1970. The number of Germans in the Soviet Union is reported to rise to 1.89 million. This puts them 13th among the 92 nationalities in the Soviet Union. Neues Leben prints letters from readers complaining about the lack of German books. At the same time, Freundschaft continually prints portraits of “Heroes of Socialist Labor”.

1971. A lively religions life develops in Karaganda, both among Protestants and Catholics, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Adventists, and others. One gets the impression that they want to develop ministers and teachers.

1972. In Kyrgystan, Prelate Anton Köhler celebrates his 50-year jubilee as a priest. In Orenburg, German leaders are trained for song, dance, theater, libraries and houses of culture. There are also reports from Kazakhstan about the successes of German language teachers, for example Emma Bayer in Tschimkent.

1973. On February 25, twelve German Russians who attempt to demonstrate for their emigration in front of the German embassy are arrested. A decree from the Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet, lifting the restrictions on places of residence for the Germans, Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians and others, is not published.

1974. In February, German Russians are arrested again in front of the German embassy in Moscow, for demonstrating for emigration rights. German Russians also demonstrate in Estonia and Latvia. In September, former teachers and students from the (Volga Republic’s) pedagogical institute meet in Marxstadt in the Volga Region. They establish that 15 – 30 German families are living in some villages, again. In Frank, there are 96 such families.

1975. Erich Abel, a German Russian, is sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for wanting to emigrate. In April, 7,000 people in the work camp in Perm sign a “Cry for Help”, and secretly send it to the West. In Eispute, Estonia, Janis Smit is punished with a wage reduction and various restrictions for having young people in the church choir and for offering a prayer for prisoners.

1976. At the turn of the year 1975/1976, the Soviet Interior Ministry announces simplification of emigration requirements. In Kyrgystan, 54 German families with 294 members turn to German Chancellor Schmidt, German President Scheel, Secretary General of the UN Waldheim and the World Council of Churches, asking for help.

1977. Another letter from Kyrgystan with a further 1,800 signatures of German Russians who are ready to emigrate is sent to Breshnev, and is smuggled to Carter and to the Landsmannschaft. Nine German Russians attempt to speak with the German Ambassador in Moscow, but are imprisoned for 15 days then returned to their homes in Takmak, Kyrgystan.

1978. After Breshnev’s visit [to Bonn in May], people hope that the emigration numbers will go up. Those without relatives already in Germany have great difficulty in emigrating. Among those especially affected are the Volga Germans and those living in the Asiatic part of the USSR.

1979. German Russians wanting to emigrate come to be understood by the Soviets as a human rights movement. The Secretariat and the courts take the course between repressive actions and loosening up. In October 101 emigration seekers turn to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Pope for help.

1980. Emigration-seeking German Russians complain about the very slow handling of their applications by authorities in Moscow and in the republics. The “Novisti” publishes an overview of the German newspapers and publishing houses in the USSR. In first > position are Freundschaft in Alma-Ata, with 20,000 copies, and the publishing house “Kasachstan”, with 15 books a year.

1981. Soviet Germans become increasingly aware that they are not entitled to any minority rights, at the same time that the Soviet Union vehemently supports minorities in Africa and South America. Lists of arrested German Russians are circulated to the West through special channels that are created.

1982. The uncertainty of the Germans in the Soviet Union continues. In Susanovo, Orenburg Region, Baptists complain that even though the building of their church is financed by them, huge obstacles are put in their way. A point of light shines in Kyrgystan where Prelate Köhler celebrates his 60th year as a priest.

Andropov (1982 - 1984)

1983. Three German Russians who hijacked a plane are sentenced to long prison terms. In many OWIRs, emigration-seeking Germans no longer address each other as “Comrade”, but as “Citizen”. A demonstration of 100 Germans is put down by the military.

Chernenko (1984 - 1985)

1984. The Soviet Unions allows 4,000 – 5,000 German Russians to emigrate to East Germany. Among the 1,500 delegates elected to the Supreme Soviet are the Soviet Germans Natalia Geller, age 31; Svetlana Zwock, 25; Sophie Jabs, 26; Friedrich Schneider, 58. In May, Peter Peters was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for “religious propaganda”. On July 1, the Soviet Union intensified the regulations and procedures for foreign visitors.

Gorbachev (1985 - 1991)

1985. The most important event of the year for the world, for the USSR, for Germany and for the German Russians, is the election of Mikhail Gorbachev as Chairman of the Communist Party. One of the first outcomes of this change in the Kremlin for the German Russians, is a long article in “Novosti”, which recognizes the significant achievements of the German Russians since the October Revolution.

1986. On September 19, the human rights champion Andrei Sakharov, who had repeatedly supported the German Russians, is permitted to leave Gorki, the place of his exile. The historian Malinovinksi, speaks of the progressive assimilation of the German Russians, which will be complete in several decades.

1987. German President Weizäcker meets German Russians in Moscow, Leningrad and Novosibirsk. Kazakhstan’s Supreme Soviet deals self-critically with the state of the German mother tongue in that country’s schools.

1988. The Soviet German newspapers print letters from readers who are becoming increasingly critical of the status of their ethnic group and their language. The Second Moscow TV Station broadcasts coverage of German Russians. In June, 20 theologians from Westphalia visit congregations in Kazakhstan. Among these are Dr. Strickel, Pfarrer Springer and others.

1989. Rumors about the re-establishment of German autonomy on the Volga reach their peak after the founding of the German-Russian Wiedergeburt in Moscow.

1990. Gorbachev dampens the German Russians’ hopes for autonomy when he says in Nishnyi Tagil: “Today other people live in the region where there was once German autonomy. We cannot solve one problem and create another.”

1991. At its congress in March, the Soviet German Wiedergeburt symbolically declares “The German Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic”. On January 1, the German-language newspaper Freundschaft in Alma Ata is renamed “Deutsche Allgemeine”, and Rote Fahne in Slavgorad is renamed “Zeitung für dich”.

Yeltsin (1992 – 1999)

1992. In January, President Boris Yeltsin offered the following “responsible” explanation about the barriers to autonomy to its supporters: “Where there is no center of gravity of Volga German population, one cannot speak about autonomy. Another problem is the rocket-testing ground in the Volgograd region. Perhaps some region can be created further in the future, but only if the Germans make up at least 90% of the population.”

1993. Initiatives from the Crime, East Prussia, Krasnoyarsk, Kiev, Engels, St. Petersburg and other states of the CIS are announced. In Turkmenistan, U Saparov shoots a film Engelchen mach Freude [s“Little Angel, Make me Happy”] about the fate of German children whose parents were lost in oblivion. The leader of the Soviet German “Wiedergeburt”, Heinrich Groths, resigns. In Omsk, Vladimir Bauer wins election to the Duma, as a candidate from the right.

1994. Justifiable doubt arises about the seriousness of the President of Ukraine’s announcement that he would take 400,000 Germans into the southern part of his country. In August, Neues Leben declared flatly: the project had fallen through. In the summer, many German > Russians visit the region, even Americans of Black Sea descent.

1995. Early in the year, the exhibition “History and Works of the Germans in Odessa and the Black Sea Region” is shown. It is conceptualized for the 200th anniversary celebration of the city and is later shown in Germany. Scholars from Germany and Russia meet in Moscow to draw up a German Russian encyclopedia.

1996. The German Russians, who make up a large part of the population only in Kazakhstan and in Russia stream in masses into Germany, even if this movement is declining. At year’s end, there is a total of 172,181 returnees. Only after a few of them pondered their destiny: Stay or move” and decided to stay “as long as there is still hope for a better future.”

1997. In Strelna, 200 settlers move into the historic district of St. Petersburg. In Halbstadt, Michailovski and Slavgorod (all in Altai), the Bonn government helps by renovating and building German meeting centers; and in Moscow, German President Roman Herzog opens the German Russian House as a place where Germans and Russians can come together.

1998. Eighty years after the founding of the Autonomous Volga German Region on October 19, 1918, the main themeamong German Russians who remain in the CIS is emigration to Germany, and the language test that goes along with it. The media in the CIS attempt to communicate the impression that German Russians are welcome, at least in the Russian Federation, something that really cannot be believed, since only 43% of those who return to Russia say they feel “at home”.

1999. Hugo Wormsbecher, one of the German Russians’ best speakers in Moscow, sees the future possibility for German Russians to live united in a region only in the Russian Federation. For the Germans living in other states of the CIS, Wormsbecher believes that the priority will be the protection of basis living conditions.

Putin (2000)

2000. German Russians don’t wait to see what the Russian President will promise them, or that politics and bureaucracy will demand of them. Rather, they continue to emigrate to German at a steady rate.

Our thanks to Richard Kisling and the CDC Reporter Newsletter for permission to reprint this article.

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