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Bavaria House in Odessa

"Bavaria House in Odessa." Volk auf dem Weg, October 1993.

Translated from German to English by Brigitte Von Budde


In May of this year representatives of the cultural committee of the Bavarian Landtag in the area of Odessa (and others in Petrodolinskoye, formerly Peterstal) wanted to get a general view of the progress of the resettlement program which is supported by the Bavarian state budget with means beyond the budget. The parliament members heard in talks with resettlement families in Kasachstan that Germans in Kasachstan got just so much proceeds, when selling their homes, as the resettlement to the Ukraine, which they had to finance themselves, had cost. According to the German-Ukrainian foundation in Kiev the housing just set up in Peterstal is to believed to have cost DM 12 000 per unit. The director of the sowchose said that these units of Russian architecture are only worth about DM 1 500. He did not dare to say what happened to the difference for the 43 units. It is, however, an open secret during the present catastrophic economical conditions that the mafia gets a large share from all public projects.

The opening of the “Bayernhaus” in Odessa, a German meeting and cultural center, can be considered as a small ray of hope in the generally serious situation of the Germans in the Ukraine. Contrary to Poles or Greeks who call hundreds of churches in the Ukraine their own, the 30 000 German Lutherans in the Ukraine have not yet gotten back a single one of their former 300 churches. In the summer the evangelical church service is held in German language in Odessa in the ruins of the German St. Paul’s Church. However, not even the ruins are property of the continually growing congregation of senior minister Viktor Gräfenstein who himself is a resettler from Kasachstan.

In order to remedy the shortage of premises the Bavarian minister of state for labor, family and social order has made available to the German Lutheran community a meeting and cultural center which members of the community have renovated and fixed up on a voluntary basis. Under the leadership of Waldemar Köhn and Dorothea Crepniak, the house in Brigadnaja 32 in the resort district Arkadija of Odessa is to teach German language courses for children and adults, discussion meetings, lectures and exhibits. Das Haus des deutschen Ostens in Munich gives advice and looks after it. The Bavarian house is also to become a contact point for German businessmen in the Odessa region. In private joint venture as for example “Platon” of Berlin, which has created 100 jobs in the manufacture of eye glasses, German Russians can find long-term training more secure and faster than in craftsmen projects which are financed by the Germans and are to begin now in the Odessa area.

A dependable partner has been found in the Evangelical-Lutheran church of the Ukraine under the leadership of senior minister Gräfenstein and president of the church of the church council Juri Schäfer. This partner takes on and represents effectively the interests of the Germans in the Ukraine, explained the administrative director Bruno Lischke of the Bavarian welfare office at the inauguration of the Bavarian house on June 11, 1993 in Odessa. The Bavarian minister for welfare will make good his promised visit in early September. The Lutheran church of the Ukraine, which is supported by the Bavarian state church, is to take an active role in the resettlement program. The first purely religious project is the beginning of construction work for the resettlement of 100 German families from Taldy Kurgan/Kasachstan in Neuburg (Nowagradowka) near Odessa.

The German Catholics in the former Soviet Union

There are estimates of still 2 million or more German Russians who are dispersed throughout the individual independent states of the Soviet Union. From 1950 to 1992, 746,147 came to the Federal Republic most of them in the past three years.

From January to July 1993, 83,936 came from republics of the former Soviet Union; 10% more than in the previous year .At the Federal administrative office there are more than 500,000 applications for entry; due to the new regulation of quota only 220,000 resettlers per year can enter the Federal Republic. The majority of those will come from the GUS countries in the next 5-10 years.

Also, for many of them leaving has simply become too expensive especially for those who have nothing to sell. Bribes and disturbance by criminal gangs is another sore spot.

Most of the German Russians are living in Kasachstan, about 900,000; in Russia, Siberia there may be 800,000, in Usbekistan and the Ukraine 40000 each. Thus far it was assumed that there are 30,000 Germans in Tadschikistan; most of them fled recently because of war chaos.

Approximately 25% are Catholics, thus one fourth. That would mean that there are about half a million Catholics among the German Russians in the GUS.

It is not to be forgotten that these data are not exact.

The Diocese of Nowosibirsk (Siberia, Russia)

Bishop Joseph Werth thought there were more than one million people of Catholic descent, but baptized perhaps l00 000 and practicing Catholics fewer because there were no priests under the communistic dictatorship. The faith was preserved only where Catholics, as in German villages in Kasachstan and in the Altai mountains, were living together in large numbers. Wherever people were spread out the creed got lost. There are also many Catholics of Polish descent --beside German Russians, deported Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and Latvians. The organization of the diocese, the set-up of a curia etc., starts at point zero. Presently 34 priests and 25 nuns work in all of Siberia; the number of chapels and churches covers barely half a dozen. The goals of the young church in Siberia are to stir the religious life, to make contacts with the wide-spread believers in the vast areas of Siberia, the development of a liturgy which also respects the religious traditions and beliefs of the believers. Thinking that up to a few years ago everything which was religious was suppressed, it can be understood that a few priests are coined through the experiences of a church in the underground, in the" catacombs. "

Irrelevant reactions and negative behavior of the Russian-Orthodox church (ROC) make the situation difficult and problematic. Should the new religious law, which is inspired for the most part by the prompting of the ROC, become effective, then the young church will have more difficulties. Bishop Werth literally said in his speech on March 19, 1993 at the laying of the foundation of the new cathedral, "The orthodox church assumes a special position...However, for a long time Catholic Christians are living side by side Orthodox Christians who also have their history and tradition. We try to understand with sincere concern the problems of the Orthodox Church which, after decades, grew out of the supremacy of militant atheism. We desire the same understanding for the problems of the Catholic Church in Siberia. ..On both sides we should delight in the rebirth of our church.”

We may hope for a great and blessed future in Siberia with the laying of the foundation for an Episcopal church, with the founding of our own Caritas1, with a deep faith of Bischop J. Werth and his faithful followers and the memory of all the deceased who had to lose their lives because of an ungodly system.

The Diocese of Karaganda (Kasachstan)

Bishop is Jan Pawel Lenga, of Polish descent but born in the Ukraine. His diocese is one of the youngest and less well defined in the world of churches. When he, for the first time since the change in the Soviet Union, dedicated a new Catholic church even the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) reported briefly about it (FAZ 7/7/1993).

Muslims in Kasachstan appear to be more tolerant toward the Catholic Church than the Russian-Orthodox Church in Siberia. However, Muslims in Kyrgystan and Tadshikistan are more fundamentalistic.

It is certainly an event of the century that this diocese could be created at all. In the five republics there are even fewer priests than with Joseph Werth in Siberia. P. Otto Messmer is the only Catholic priest in Kyrgystan, his brother, Brother Hieronymus Messmer works in Tadschikistan where he helped many German Russian escape in an adventurous way.

The new diocese has also to begin from point zero. The long years of suppression and persecution have coined the people and a few priests. How is one to set up a modern curia with only a handful of priests? There are no trained novices. Poverty is widespread the church has hardly any income. Distances are unimaginable and transportation tiresome.

Priests from Germany and other countries help out; generalvicar is Msgr. Johannes Boersch who took a leave of absence for a few years in order to help with the set-up of the diocese. The problems of how a church which was up to recently still in the underground, is to function suddenly in a modern way in accordance to doctrine, but without appropriate material and personnel are unimaginable.
Msgr. Lorenz Gawohl who took a leave of absence for a few years wrote to us in March 1993, "Our parish has been set up since May. It includes only all of North Kasachstan. According to statistics, 19,000 Germans used to live here. There will still be 15,000. At least one third is believed to be Catholic.”

No one knows exactly how many Catholics there are, and where they are living, and if there are still priests somewhere. Only recently a priest who had been in hiding on the Island of Sachalin north of Japan came to Bishop Werth.

Everything has become difficult due to poor postal service, lacking technical aids and because of long distances of which we have no idea.

A new chapter of church history has begun for the diocese of the world, isolated from the world but not from God. Especially in the steppes of Central Asia two or three are being looked for, and will have been found, who still gather after 70 years of ungodliness, in order to straighten out their earth and their human existence.

Our appreciation is extended to Bridgitte von Bunde for translation of this article.

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