The Identity-Enhancing Function of Historical
Identitaetsstiftende Funktion Gechichtlicher Erfahrungen
Krieger, Dr. Viktor. "The Identity-Enhancing Function of Historical Experiences." Volk auf dem Weg, April 2007, 5.
This translation from the original German text to American
English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
NOTE: Countrymen who are interested in history are expected
for a round table discussion with the topic "Federal Citizens
of German-Russian Ancestry: The Identity-Enhancing Function of Historical
In addditon to historian Dr. Viktor Krieger, who will give
a talk on the topic and will moderate the discussion, other historians
who are interested in German-Russian themes will also participate.
Contact: Dr. Viktor Krieger, Tel.: 062260971371, E-Mail:
In using the term German-Russians we mean primarily the descendants
of artisan-agrarian immigrants from Western Europe, particularly from
smaller German states, who during the 18th and 19th centuries were
settled in the Volga and Black Sea regions for the purpose of making
the lands there arable.
Dr. Viktor Krieger (right) during a 2004
historical conference in Krasnoyarsk, shown here with Prof.
Dieter Stellmacher, Emeritus of the University of Goettingen.
In the background, a sculpture that symbolizes the major heroes
of the novel "Zaren Fisch [The Tsar's Fish]" by
the Russian writer Viktor Astafiyev.
They came to a country that, during the course of its territorial
expansion from about the 16th century onward incorporated numerous
advanced cultures and "primitive" peoples, yet in most
cases left their social structures, language, economic forms and
ways of life untouched.
This explains the linguistic and cultural features of the German
colonists that were maintained at least until the end of the monarchy.
On the other hand, the completely different political, social and
climatic conditions in the new country began to form a new ethnic
self-image. The Volga-Germans, living in a compact settlement region,
gave witness of this by their strong feeling of group identity.
This new nationalist self-image, in addition to their traditional
active loyalty and sense of duty during the First World War, had
contributed to taking sides clearly in favor of the Tsarist Empire:
tens of thousands of Black Sea Germans and Volga-Germans fought
as Russian soldiers at the front against Germany and its allies.
In the view of the leadership echelon of the country, these Germans
represented a system-stabilizing element.
However, the inclination of the majority of settlers toward the
power-grabbing Bolsheviks ranged from skepticism to rejection -
a fact that became apparent during the numerous farmer uprisings
during the years 1918 - 1921, as well in continuing protests during
subsequent years. Still, the Volga-Germans initially profited from
the nationalities policies and were assigned their own Republic
- all the more important during a time when political, linguistic-cultural
and socioeconomic rights of specific peoples in the Soviet Union
were tied to territorial autonomy. It was for this reason that the
Socialist system of society found a certain degree of approval among
those representatives of the younger generation that had profited
from new opportunities for education and advancement.
The illegal dissolution of the National Republic in 1941 would
mark the transition to comprehensive persecution of and discrimination
against the entire German-Russian minority. Furthermore, exclusion
from active war experience of Soviet peoples, plus extensive silence
concerning their sacrifice-filled efforts in the so-called Trud-Army
led to further estrangement. Decades of Germano-phobic policies
of the Communist rulers caused extreme difficulties in
the lives of millions, evoked hostilities and suspicion, handicapped
career advancement, led to the neglect of their mother tongue and
of their national culture, blocked the development of an independent
identity, and extensively undermined their loyalty to the Soviet
State. Even following perestroika, repeated attempts to allow the
German-Russians to be become a Soviet people or
a German-Russian people with its own territorial autonomy on equal
footing with others, failed again. Most Germans were finally no
longer prepared to accept their lesser status without resisting.
Moreover, given the unatoned crimes and of continuing discrimination,
the greater portion of this sorely afflicted minority decided to
emigrate to Germany.
Today more than two and a half million citizens of German-Russian
ancestry reside in reunified Germany, and as such they represent
an important demographic, economic, and social-cultural factor in
the country. Memories of suppression and persecution play an important
role in their self-image. It should be remembered also that the
Germans from Russia were not only an object of state policies, but
they also stood out as active and determinant persons who offered
resistance, protest and disobedience. Their centuries of a past
that was often filled with suffering has become an integral part
of Russian, but also of German history. It is high time that the
historical experiences find a worthy place in the collective conscience
of the German nation.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.