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Hartmut Rempel – Memories of a Musician

Lange, Walter. "Hartmut Rempel – Memories of a Musician." Volk auf dem Weg, July 2010, 41.

Translation from the Original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


The Youth Choir of Olgien, 1928

The fate of the Germans in the Soviet Union must not be forgotten, but not only because it was so dramatic and tragic, but also because the new generation must learn of it and make sure that nothing like it will ever happen again.

The book “Erinnerungen von Hartmut Rempel [Memories of Hartmut Rempel]” serves that purpose well. Hartmut Rempel was born in 1909 to a farming family in the German village Olgien in the North Caucasus. His musical talent was discovered early on, and after he completed the village school, the village community sent him to the city of Georgievsk for musical training. There he completed the Musical Technicum within three years and with good marks.

Hartmut Rempel mastered several instruments, including piano, violin, flute and others. At nineteen he returned to his home village and set out to organize the musical life in Olgien. The village had a youth choir and a wind orchestra.

Still, this musical vitality in Olgien would not last very long. As early as 1929, forced collectivization began with the usual dispossessions of prosperous farmers. This campaign affected Hartmut’s family as well when they were driven out of town. He had to put down his baton, give up any hopes for any continued musical education, and work in the collective.

 Since he was not at all enthusiastic about the new order, there were battles with the collective’s management. Hartmut Rempel was branded a provocateur and arrested by the secret police. He spent one year in prison in Pyatigorsk, after which he was shipped away to the Far North to perform forced labor. He had to work very hard in the construction of the Belamor Canal for five years before returning to his family. Meanwhile his father, Dietrich Rempel, had also been arrested, was sent away and disappeared without a trace. Presumably he died in a camp.

So now Hartmut Rempel had to substitute for his father in taking care of his mother and his younger siblings. He worked as a driver for a Machine Tractor Station.

When he was blamed for an accident with a truck and the resulting damage, there was the threat of another arrest. To avoid such an arrest he fled during fog and night into the neighboring republics of Azerbaidjan and Georgia. Many former residents of Olgien and Romanovka, also fleeing prosecution, had found a haven there.

During those Soviet times, leaving one’s job without permission was met with severe punishment. Thus Hartmut Rempel had the threat of renewed prosecution and jail hanging over his head. He went underground, working as choir director and band director in the German colonies of Helenendorf and Traubensberg

Even after collective operations were introduced in the German villages, people continued to work hard. Hartmut Rempel would later write on this topic as follows: “The homes, built with lime stone and furnished practically, surrounded with greenery and flowers, awakened in each German a pride of belonging to this diligent, energetic people. But now where has it all gone? … They, too, had to leave their homes, and in remote Kazakhstan they were transformed into wretched beggars.”

Before the onset of war, Hartmut Rempel married a Russian girl, Eugenia Morkulova, and in 1937 their first son, Albert, was born. More children would follow. But then came the horrible war with Germany.

Also before the actual outbreak of the war, there had been mass arrests and executions of Germans in Azerbaidjan and Georgia. Hartmut Rempel documented in detail the night-time arrest of my own father, Rolf Lange, for which I was present.

He personally escaped that fate. However, in October of 1941 all Germans in his region were deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia. His wife was pregnant with their third child, and in January, 1942 daughter Maragarete was born. Their second son had died in early childhood in Azerbaidjan.

Regardless of the fact that his family included two very small children and, in addition, two orphan children of his sister Almut, who had died of hunger, and of brother-in-law Arnold Lange, who had died in the Trud-Army, Hartmut Rempel, too, was forced to serve in the same Trud-Army.

There followed very difficult years of separation and of struggles to survive, and only by 1947 was he able to take up his profession of musician again, at first in Omsk in the South Urals and then all the way up to his retirement, in Dzhetysay in Kazakhstan.

Hartmut Rempel did everything he could not to become assimilated, and he always maintained the hope of leaving the Soviet Union and to immigrate to Germany. That event finally happened on November 7, 1979, which ironically was the great State holiday of the October Revolution.

The book “Erinnerungen von Hartmut Rempel” may be ordered from:

Irina Görz, Holzweg 17, 52372 Kreuzau, Schlagstein (Germany); tel.: 011-49-2422-904415 (from US). The price is 9.00 Euros, plus 1.40 Euros postage [inland, I assume – Tr.].

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

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