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Volga Rapture in Argentina

Wolgarausch in Argentinien

Interview conducted by Volk auf dem Weg

Ein Interview von Volk auf dem Weg

"Volga Rapture in Argentina." Volk auf dem Weg, February 2006, 14-15.

Translation from the original German text to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

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Toward the end of 2005, descendants of Volga-Germans gathered to celebrate Christmas. Some wore ancient Volga-German costumes, even when the temperature read 40 degrees [Celsius, which is 104 degrees F. Tr.]. Present were Volga-Germans who were born in Argentina and had never known faraway Russia. Others - from Germany! - had come wearing German costume and even Lederhosen. In an interview with Jakob Fischer, participant in this trip through the world of Volga-Germans in South America, Volk auf dem Weg (VadW) asked abut the background for the unique get-together.

VadW: Jakob, how did Volga-Germans get to South America?

J.F.: In 1874, the Russian Tsarist government rescinded privileges that had been promised "in perpetuity" to German immigrants, and it extended general conscription to the Germans [previously exempted. Tr.]. Military duty at the time lasted anywhere from 5 to 25 years. Seeing colonist sons wounded or killed at various war arenas in the Caucasus region, in central Asia, and during the Russian-Turkish war [between 1877 and 1878] provided the most important impetus for emigration.

Volga-Germans first arrived in Buenos Aires during the initial days of January, 1878. The immigration law that had been endorsed by the then Argentinean President, Dr. Nicolas Avellaneda, was rather tempting to them. That law granted immigrants many advantages. Avellaneda became very active as well. Upon learning of the difficulties the Volga-Germans were experiencing in Russia, he had sent emissaries to Europa with the mission of persuading Volga-Germans to emigrate to Argentina.

During the initial wave, 1,625 families (over 8,000 persons) emigrated from the Volga region to Argentina. They settled in what today is the province of Entre Rios, about 500 kilometers [300 miles] north of Buenos Aires, and established the colonies Mariental (Valle Maria), Koehler (Dalto), San Francisco, Spatzenkutter and Protestantendorf [literally, Protestants' Village]. The first four villages were Catholic, and what is now called Aldea Protestante is Evangelical. A year later, during October of 1879, Aldea Brasilera was established in the Entre Rios province, namely, by Volga-Germans who had initially settled in Brazil and had heard how well their countrymen were doing in Argentina.

The Argentine government granted each Volga-German family 88 hectares [ca. 200 acres] of land, a wooden plow, two horses and some tools, and provided them with food for a year. During the first year, then, the Volga-Germans planted 400 hectares [920 acres] of wheat and doubled the acreage during the following year, tripling it during subsequent years. Things progressed exponentially. After only a year, the Volga-German settlers no longer needed assistance from the Argentine government, and two years later they had paid off all their debts.

Today nearly a million descendants of those Volga-Germans live in Argentina.

Image representative of an Argentinian area settled by Volga-German Immigrants

VadW: Within the Spanish-speaking region, what characterizes the descendants of Volga-Germans as an ethnic group?

J.F.: Upon arriving in Argentina, the Volga-German families were very happy even though they had to begin from scratch, because they were finally living in freedom. In contrast to their Volga-German countrymen in Russia, they would never be exiled, they did not experience famines like those of 1921 and 1933 in the Volga region nor any mass shootings and deportation as under Stalin's regime. Finally, they were never dispossessed, they kept their land and their animals -- something they remain proud of to this day.

These families cling together closely. The older and middle generation still speak the Volga-German dialect rather well, although Spanish is dominant among the youth and children. The church plays an important role. Every member of a family attends services. There are radio programs that are aired in both Spanish and in Volga-German dialects, and there are German-Spanish newspapers and magazines. Volga-German customs are maintained, and entire villages celebrate Christmas, Easter, a church dedication, weddings, etc., as a community.

VadW: Common roots -- was this the reason for your tour? Did you undertake it at your personal expense? Was it strenuous?

J. F.: People in South America like to sing and listen to Volga-German songs. German folksongs from Russia, which can be obtained from the Landsmannschaft, are heard constantly on the radio in Argentina and are listened to in nearly every household. For this reason our music group for years has been rather well known in the Volga-German villages of Argentina.

Following the successful visit in Argentina of the Schwabian Choir "Heimatklaenge [Sounds of Home]," our own group was repeatedly invited by Isabel Kessler of Buenos Aires to do a concert tour of Argentina. Since the members of the group are music teachers, we were able to arrange to undertake the tours during our Christmas and New Year's vacations. We traveled at our own personal expense. Our stay in Argentina was organized and partially financed by the Society of Volga-Germans of Argentina. The family of Lillianna and Josef Gareis took wonderful care of us and accompanied us on the tour. Everything had been well thought out and prepared. For those reasons our concert tour was a gigantic success.

Most strenuous were the 800-kilometer [nearly 500-mile] drives by bus during extremely high heat. However, the great enthusiasm and hospitality shown by our countrymen made us forget the stress and strain as soon as we arrived at the villages.

VadW: How were you received?

J.F.: Our reception was always very warm, and the concert halls were always full. The musical couple Katharina Rissling and Wladimir Dederer and I spoke and sang in the Volga-German dialect, and that was always received extremely well. Becaue the Argentinean high summer, with its temperatures of nearly 40 degrees [Celsius = over 100 degrees F.] , we even held performances entirely outdoors.

Josef Gareis, our travel companion and guide, is a radio reporter and presents German and Spanish language radio programs. Due to his efforts, several of our concerts were broadcast on radio and on television.

VadW: What impressed you the most?

Katharina Rissling and Wladimir Dederer

J.F.: We were all deeply impressed with the feeling of solidarity with Germany and the pride in Volga-German roots. Everywhere, at the airport, at railroad stations, and in the villages, our music group was greeted with German and Argentinean flags. Forever unforgettable will be the many encounters and conversations with our countrymen in villages such as Maria Luisa, Lucas Gonzalez, Santa Anita, Aldea Brasilera, Valle Maria, Koehler, Aldea Protestante and Spatzenkutter, as well as the cities of Crespo and Ramirez.

All the locales just mentioned are part of the Entre Rios Province. They were established by Volga-German immigrants between 1878 and 1923. From there we undertook a very long bus trip to Ollavaria in the Buenos Aires Province, where we visited the colony Hinojo, the very first settlement to be founded (on January 5, 1878) by Volga-German settlers in Argentina. A total surprise for us was the village of San Miguel with its wonderful Volga-German Museum.

VadW: How do you see the prospects for contacts between the Volga-Germans in Argentina and our Landsmannschaft? What is the extent of interest in personal contacts?

J.F.: During our trip we established several contacts and collected hundreds of addresses. There are opportunities for reestablishing contacts between relatives in Germany and Argentina, namely those that the closure of Soviet broders and the ban on emigration under Stalin in 1929 had caused to be broken off.

In Argentina, the "Asociacion Argentina de Descendientes del Volga" ("Society of Descendants of Volga-Germans in Argentina") had been around for thirty years now. It is under the leadership of Isabel Kessler and has branch organizations in 37 villages and cities, similar to the local groups of the Landsmannschaft. Several families are members of the Landsmannschaft and regularly read Volk auf dem Weg and the Heimatbuecher. At each event on our tour I advertised the Landsmannschaft and asked for support. There appear to be many variants for future collaboration between our two Societies.

Between September 7 and 10 of this year, a convention of Volga-Germans of all of South America will be staged in Parana, the capitol city of Entre Rios. Attending will not only be countrymen from Argentina, but from Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru and other countries as well. Folks can register with Isabel Kessler, Pujol 662, Depto. 2 (1405) Buenos Aires, Argentina; Tel.: 0054-11-4431-9715; E-Mail: isakessler@yahoo.com.ar.

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

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