[breadcrumb]
  Ten-Year Anniversary of the Goettingen Study Group's Institute for Research on Germany and Eastern Europe

Zehn Jahre Institut fuer Deutschland- und Osteuropaforschung des Goettinger Arbeitskreises e.V.

Presentation by Dr. Alfred Alsfeld, Goettingen, Germany

A lecture given on November 16, 2000, as part of the Scientific Convention of the Goettingen Study Group

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


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Certainly one can justifiably ask why it is appropriate to pay tribute to [only] ten years of existence of a small research institute, especially when one considers that the original founding was not, as might often be the case, accompanied by a lavishly designed, glossy brochure.

These ten years -- oh, how I would like to say the first ten years -- of the Institute have been a eventful decade. The opening of the German-German border and the reunification of Germany; the attempted putsch in Moscow in August of 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union; bombardment of the Parliament of the Russian Federation, ordered by President Yeltzin; our own Federal Government's efforts of using contractual arrangements to reestablish relations with countries of Eastern/Central Europe and the successor States of the Soviet Union, and efforts to establish a permanent state of peace on the European continent; Eastern expansion of NATO and negotiations toward European Community membership of former Socialist States -- all these were events that not only transformed the political landscape of Europe, but also made a permanent mark on the thinking and emotions of all people.

The vision of a unified European House has taken on real form at least in the fact that one can now pass borders between its countries -- not only between the States of the Schengen Pact -- almost completely without any problem. Free travel and exchange of information and thought is no longer determined by one's home State.

It did not take long for the demand for the citizens' right to free access to information to take hold in Eastern European States, a right that had been fairly standard in Western democracies for a long time. Let me demonstrate this via publications from the areas of contemporary history and government archives, which the KPdSU [Soviet Communist Party] kept under surveillance until the end of the 1980's.

Over the course of several decades, Soviet historiography made of the Bolshvist coup of November 1917 in Petrograd, today's St. Petersburg, the Great Socialist October Revolution, of the long civil war a Glorious Triumphal March of the Bolsheviks. Memories of the defeated enemy vanished along with the death of contemporary witnesses. The historiography of the 1930's and 1940's remembered nothing but victors. Historical writing of this period had degenerated into a contest of the singing of hymns of praise.

As a logical consequence to the fall of the Soviet Union it was necessary to set out on researching anew the suppressed parts of Russian history of the 20th Century. Contrary to the Soviet era, this was done with international participation. Among the projects already concluded I would like to touch on just a few.

With the support of the Ben Gurion University and the participation of experts from the US and from Israel, a 6-volume edition of the acts of the Central Committee and of the expatriate groups of the Party of the Constitutional Democracies covering the years 1905 - 1930 was edited and published. With the cooperation of scientists from Columbia University and the State University of New Jersey, document collections concerning the Menschevik Party over 1917 and 1918 were put together and published. The International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam and an association in Switzerland supported the Russian Society "Memorial" in, among other projects, the publication of a reference work on the topic: "Who ran the NKVD [People's Commissariat of the Interior of the USSR] during the years 1934 - 1941?"

The publication of a set of documents of maximum interest to contemporary historians, the so-called "Special Files" of Stalin and of Molotov was financed by the United States. Prof. Dr. Manfred Heinemann (University of Hannover) and Prof. Dr. Dietrich Beyrau (University of Tuebingen) contributed to the work on the "Special File" of L. P. Beriya, which was financed by the Volkswagen Foundation. A German-Russian group of editors published the 2-volume collection of documents entitled "Camp, Front, or Home: German Prisoners of War in Soviet Russia 1917 - 1920."

Archive guides and source books for selected archives constitute projects of a different kind. I'll mention here only a few important ones. Work efforts on the following were financed by the US: preparation for printing of the Guide to Archives of the Central State Archive of the Soviet Army, the Archive for Foreign Policy of the Russian Empire, and for the Russian Center for Safekeeping and Research of Documents on the History of Modern Society. An Italian foundation and two French groups financed the work on a Guide to the Prague Archives of Documents of Russian Emigration. Participating in the editing of the Guide to Archives for Documents of the State Archive for the History of the RSFSR [a German acronym for the post-Communist Federation of Russian States] were Prof. M. Heinemann (University of Hannover) and Prof. Dr. Beyrau (University of Tuebingen), as well as the Volkswagen Foundation.

Was a small Institute in Goettingen able to play in this "concert of the greats?"

First, Some Data and Facts on the Founding of the Institute

Following certain preparatory work, the governing board of the Goettingen Study Group, a registered Society, in its meeting of October 26, 1989 decided to establish a research institute. A year passed until at its next regular meeting of October 26, 1990, the Society members modified its Bylaws to that effect. The original wording of (Par. 1, Section 3) the Bylaws of 1974, "The purpose of this Society is the conduct of research into all problems that deal with the German question, German refugees and their home regions, as well as with publication of documents concerning these questions" was altered to read: "The purpose of this Society is to conduct scientific research into the legal, political, and socioeconomic status of Germans in Eastern Europe, as well as into the problems concerning the development of Germany and its Eastern Europe neighbors and their cooperation within the framework of a united Europe."

The name of the Institute -- Institute for Research on Germany and Eastern Europe -- signified a definitive program from its very beginning, and the external aspects of the reunification of Germany; the development of its international relationships with its neighbors in the East, within the context of East-West relations; all these became the main focus of the activities of the Institute. However, this must be qualified by the fact that Federal Governmental sponsorship of the research and publications activities in this area has undergone significant changes since reunification. The discontinuation of the Federal Ministry for Intra-German Relations, at the same time, signifies a restructuring in corresponding areas, with the closing of several institutions that are considered not to be up-to-date or in need of projects in their former areas of activity.

The individual states and corresponding foundations followed the same pattern, causing the financing of events or publications to become increasingly problematic. However, the Study Group, as sponsor of the Institute, has been able to summon up a certain amount of funds and to carry out annual scientific conventions, as well as to publish, through the Duncker & Humblot Company, a series called Studies on the German Question, as well as a number of books books via other publishers.

The annual scientific conventions at the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz provided us with a good forum, and with a pleasant atmosphere. Minister Presidents Rudolf Scharping and Kurt Beck, just as their predecessor Helmut Kohl, sponsored these scientific conventions. The Rheinland-Pfalz ("Land-")government provided subsidies for several years. We are very grateful to them all.

Those who assume that only like-minded people attended the annual scientific meetings should peruse the report for the meeting of 1995 and perhaps recall press reports on the same. There they will even find the names of close collaborators of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Anatoly Tcherniayev, Viktor Kuwaldin, Viatcheslav Dashitchev as well as Alexei Filitov and Vladimir Shenayev of the Academy of Sciences of Russia, in lead positions, had a strong hand in establishing the processes in politics and science that have been looked into. At their convention mentioned above, they conducted controversial discussions that even touched on everyday politics. At this point, I would like also to remind the listeners of the reports in the daily press, e.g., in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of May 5, 1995.

The study series Studies on the German Question included the following summary volumes, published in Berlin over ten years by the Duncker & Humblot:
-- Germany amidst Radical Changes in World Politics (1993);
-- The German Question re Yalta and Potsdam, through 1949, the Official Separation of the German States (1993);
-- The German Question re Yalta and Potsdam, from the Separation of Germany through Stalin's Death (1994);
-- 50 Years of Soviet and Russian Policies concerning Germany and its Effects on Mutual Relations (1999);
-- On the Road to German Reunification and to Normalization of Russian- German Relations. Selected Contributions by Boris Meissner (2000)

The Goettingen Study Group's Bylaw Changes of October 26, 1990, the birthday of the Institute, have subsequently shown that the signs of the times had indeed been understood, and a great deal of attention was paid to new opportunities for collaboration that transcended borders -- long before the concept of "collaboration that transcends borders" became the battle cry in the fight for ever-decreasing funding from governmental bodies. In fact, the redirection of the Goettingen Study Group had begun half a decade earlier when a request for support funds was made to the State government of Niedersachsen. In the spring of 1987, it became possible for the first time to employ a full-time scientist, in addition to those who were already pursuing research projects on a more limited basis. That scientist was assigned to do research in the area of the history and current status of Germans in the Soviet Union. Subsequently, the year 1990 saw two articles published in the periodical Osteuropa, on a topic that had been followed with a great deal of attention, namely, on the autonomy movement in the Soviet Union.

In September of 1990 it became possible for the first time to carry out a conference with Soviet participation, in the Baltic-Sea Academy of Travemuende. This conference was dedicated to the Germans in the Soviet Union. One of the speakers was a serection leader of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. The conference summary was published in 1992. Since 1993, scientific conferences with international participation have been held in Goettingen in the fall. Two conference reports have been published, and a third was to be printed by the end of the year 2000.

Also published in September 1990 was the pilot issue of the Information Service's series "Germans in the Soviet Union."

In the 1990's, Soviet expertise and contacts of our members were in great demand by the federal government, by parliaments, courts and charitable organizations in the Federal Republic of Germany. This resulted in delivery of basic groundwork and counsel for the Federal Government in the conception and execution of relief actions for Germans in the CIS-republics, social research in Kyrgyztan and West Siberia, position papers for parliaments and the courts, as well as numerous talks and lectures.

Effective January 1, 1994, the Institute was accepted into official sponsorship by the Federal Government. Research and publication activities henceforth were on a more substantial base, and it became possible to plan more strategically. Subsequently it became possible to focus on much of the following:

-- Scientific conferences in Goettingen;
-- Research projects for members, sponsored by the government;
-- Collaborative projects covering archives in Russia and Ukraine;
-- Scientific conferences in cooperation with Russian non-government organizations;
-- Historical-ethnographical investigations into formerly German settlements, in cooperation with local historical museums in Russia;
-- Publications in German and Russian in collaboration with foreign partnership.

Of the projects that clearly reached across borders I would like to
mention especially the collaboration with the International Society for
German Culture (Moscow) and with the International Association for Research
on the History and Culture of Germans in Russia (Moscow), in staging
scientific conferences, and the subsequently published summary reports and
scientific information bulletins.

These three projects that were sponsored by the Foreign Ministry demonstrate how rather substantial work can be accomplished even with very modest means. The scientific conferences have resulted in six summary report volumes with 226 articles.

The Scientific Information Bulletin, with its initial circulation of 300, eventually grew into a periodical that kept scientists, archivists, and museums in the CIS-States, in Germany, and in the US informed about ongoing and completed research projects. This Information Bulletin can now be found in all large libraries in the CIS, in Germany., in Israel, in the US, and other countries. Steadily increasing demand has increased circulation to 700 copies.

In cooperation with regional archives in Saratov, Dnyeperpetrovsk, and Odessa, documents of the office for the welfare of foreign emigres in the Volga region have been sifted through, content-annotated, and reports of discovery published. So far, one volume each on the archives of Saratov and Dneperpetrovsk, and three volumes on the Odessa archives, have been published. The latter will eventually grow to 20 volumes. As of now 78 percent have been annotated and are being prepared for printing.

Additionally, source books on the subject of "Volga Germans" have been published covering documents of several country governments, the Peoples' Commissariat of the "ASSRdWD" for Education, for questions addressed by the government of the Volga Republic between 1924 and 1928, and for documents of the Volga Republic in the Volgograd Archives covering the years 1929 through 1934.

Another goal our Institute has embraced is extending the basis for sources for continuing research on the Germans in Russia. Thus far the following document collections have been published:

-- Deportation, Special Settlements, and Trudarmy. Germans in the Soviet Union from 1941 through 1956. Cologne, 1996;
-- Excerpts form the History of Germans in Kazachstan. Documents from the years 1921 through 1974. [In Russian], Moscow, 1997;
-- Excerpt from the History of Germans in Kyrgyztan, 1917-1999. Biskek 2000. (295 documents, for the most part still remaining unavailable to researchers);
-- Map of the "ASSR" of the Volga Germans. Scale: 1 to 100,000. This map, first published for limited governmental use, was amended via a German-Russian and Russian-German register and published in facsimile form and thereby made available for research for the first time.
-- A History of the German Colonists in the Volga Region, originally authored by Jakob Dietz in 1914, but published only partially because of the onset of World War I.

Currently in print is a volume on documents entitled "Herdt, V. (Publ.): Between Revolution and Autonomy. Documents on the History of the Volga Germans, 1917-1918." Being prepared for printing are volumes covering documents on the Mennonites in South Russia covering the years 1917-1919, and on the Germans in the South Ukraine, as well as the August 1925 notes by August Lonsinger on folklore of the Volga Germans.

In certain discussions in Germany, the occasional lack of exact source locales for documents in the volume "Deportation, Special Settlements, and Trudarmy: The Germans in the Soviet Union, 1941 - 1956" was criticized. Those critics could not know that publication of those documents was somewhat conditional in nature. Only several years after our publications did these documents become available from various sources, but in the Russian language. By now those critics should be able to test the authenticity of the documents, insofar as they can gain access to the corresponding archives.

According to our understanding and that of our fiscal sponsor, the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the notion of border-transcending collaboration included the promotion of the work of foreign scientists. In that vein, our Institute has supported and published the first comprehensive work on the "Germans In Odessa", a dissertation of a Ukrainian female historian, on the Mennonites in the Ukraine in the years 1914 - 1931, and a volume on the prosecution of the German inhabitants of the Ukraine in the 1920s and 1930s. Source documents for the latter are still unavailable to researchers, and one cannot count on their release in the foreseeable future.

Possibly the most changes in our Institute have occurred in the department of "Baltic Studies." Its members during this time included Prof. Dr. h.c. Boris Meissner, Egil Levits, Dr. Cornelius Hasselblatt and Detlef Henning. M.A.. This Baltic Studies department, in cooperation with the Study Group for current Research on the Baltics, has staged symposia at the Baltic-Sea-Academy in Travemuende, which were attended by scientists as well as high-ranking representatives of parliaments and governments of the Baltic states. These symposia have become an important forum for the exchange of information and views. These symposia have also produced several summary report volumes dealing with German ethnic groups in Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia during the inter-war period, as well as with questions on German-Estonian, German-Latvian, and German-Lithuanian relations.

Based in Goettingen, Egil L. Levits, who has commented on Latvian radio on developments in Latvia and in the world, participated in the political happenings in Latvia, and became a member of its parliament in Riga. His subsequent government positions included: Minister of Justice, Vice-President of the Republic of Latvia, then its Ambassador in Vienna, and currently at the European Court for Human Justice in Strassbourg.

Among others, the Baltic Studies Department has issued the following publications:
-- The Baltic Nations. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. Cologne, 1990, 2nd ed. Cologne, 1991;
-- Meissner, B.; Loever, D.A.; Levits, E. (Publ.): The Economy of the Baltic States in Transition. Cologne, 1993;
-- Meissner, B.; Loeber, DA; Hassselblatt, C. (Publ.): Foreign Policy of the Baltic States and International Relations in the Baltic Region. Hamburg, 1994;
-- Hasselblatt, C.: Rights of Minorities in Estonia. Legal Developments and Reality 1918 - 1995. Hamburg, 1996'
-- Meissner, Loeber, Hasselblatt (Publ.): The Establishment of a Liberal-Demoncratic Order in the Baltic States. State, Economy, Society. Hamburg, 1996;
-- Plus selected writings by Paul Schiemann, published in the Latvian language by Detlef Henning.

Altogether, the Institute, with financing from various sources, has coordinated 26 scientific convocations and published 55 books.

I'll spare the reader further listings of publications. I wish to conclude this overview with the following statement: An Institute is only as good as the people that work for and in it. I would hereby like to name them:

Scientific collaborators Victor Herdt and Detlef Henning; the editor of the information service "Germans in the Former Soviet Union," Norbert Krallemann; our librarian, Kristina Heide; Ingrid Moehring, whom you may have met via the final billings at the convocations; Sabine Eichwald and Marion Hanke, without whom the telephone would be silent and many a book would be left unpublished; Friedrich Meyer, who has a good solution for any and all problems; and Nelly Konrad, who especially in recent days has done much for the comfort of our foreign guests. All of these folks have contributed to the welfare of the Institute. I owe them all my heartfelt thanks.

Essential contributions to our success have also been made by our colleagues in other countries. Representing of as many as 40 local helpers in the CIS, I would like to single out Prof. Dr. Igor Pleve of Saratov, Mrs. Olga Komovaloa of Odessa, and Dr. Peter Wiebe of Omsk!

Many thanks also to our President, Prof. Dr. h. c. Boris Meissner, for his thoughtful work as director and as supporter on whom we can always rely.

All of these people have done their part in providing a small institute with an unmistakable profile and in its acquisition of an honored place in the international scientific community. Recent messages of congratulations and good wishes from our foreign partners certainly confirm this in an impressive way.

Please allow me to add only a few more words regarding the current situation and the prospective on the future of the Institute. According to the public media, we know that the Federal Government, according to Paragraph 96 BVFG, has been searching for two years now to draw up new ideas for supporting cultural activities. Support for our Institute was to be withdrawn and its work redirected to other establishments. That would have meant not only the end of the Institute, but also a heavy blow to historical research.

However, due to numerous letters to various addressees in the government, in parliaments, and in the press, as well as via support from foreign politicians, scientists, and social organizations, the office in question has been transformed into a course correction! Current planning calls for the establishment of a new "Institute for Culture and the History of Germans in Northeast Europe," headquartered in Lueneburg. Its core is to be formed by the current Northeast Cultural Operations Center. Our own Institute is to form a department thereof, headquartered in Goettingen and, with specific support within the budget planning process, to carry out research on the history and culture of Germans from Russia. The Institute is thereby to maintain its library, to expand it into a regional library, and to offer publications on Germans from Russia for a catalogue covering the area of "Eastern Europe." Stated more succinctly, our finances may be somewhat reduced, but we are very optimistic.

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

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
Libraries
NDSU Dept #2080
PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050
Tel: 701-231-8416
Fax: 701-231-6128
Last Updated:
Director: Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Library North Dakota State University North Dakota State University GRHC Home