Origins of the new (German) President Horst Koehler
Die Herkunft des Neuen Bundespraesidenten Horst Koehler
"Origins of the new (German) President Horst Koehler." Volk auf dem Weg, October 2004, 24-25.
Translation from German to American English by Alex
Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
Following Professor Horst Koehler's election on May 23 as the new
[German Federal] President, citizens are entitled to know more about
his origins and background. In the German media, perhaps due to lack
of knowledge and superficial information concerning Eastern Europe
and about Germans who made their homes in the area, some hair-raising
misinformation is being circulated concerning the origins of Horst
Koehler. Historian, Dr. Michael Kroner, hereby provides a contribution
that clarifies the historical context.
For example, a rather embarrassing faux pas was incurred by Harald
Bauer in an article entitled "Neither Rambo nor Master of Ceremony.
Federal Candidate Horst Koehler Wants to Go in New Directions,"
which appeared in the May 20/21 issues, page 4, of the "Nuernberger
Nachrichten." The conclusion of the article reads as follows:
"Horst Koehler comes from a farming family in what is today's
Moldova, which the Nazis had begun to settle in the 1940s in an
effort to 'Germanize' the area." Horst Koehler has clearly
explained that his parents were from Bessarabia, but that he himself
was born in Poland, from where they fled to Germany. In his book
that is about to be published, Koehler writes that during a visit
in the city of Markkleeberg in Saxony he discovered that St. Poelten
is listed in the church baptismal record as his place of birth.
Given the general lack of knowledge of the historical context, which
is admittedly not simple, such information appears not be factual
and thus causes more confusion than ever before. Thus, the following
Koehler's parents came from Bessarabia, which today is called the
Republic of Moldova. The province, once was part of the Romanian
princedom of Moldau, was annexed by Tsarist Russia in 1812 and was
given the name Bessarabia. Tsar Alexander called for German settlers
to come to the previously thinly settled region, and between 1814
and 1824 some did in fact settle there. They came from South Germany,
but also from Mecklenburg, Pomerania and the Great Duchy of Warsaw,
and they established in Bessarabia a multitude of villages. The
manifesto which the Tsar used to lure them there guaranteed the
settlers free land, religious freedom, exemption from military duty,
and ten years without taxation.
Horst Koehler's ancestors were most likely among those settlers
who made Ryshkanovka (county of Beiz) in Northern Bessarabia their
The Bessarabia-Germans or, simply, German-Russians of the area
were up to 94 percent Protestant and had German churches and schools
in each village, and they built two gymanisiums [secondary schools]
and one teacher training institute. Toward the end of the 19th Century
even Bessarabia-Germans became subject to military service, and
they began to experience the ever increasing political effects of
When in 1918 Tsarist Russia broke apart, the province of Bessarabia,
in the majority inhabited by Romanians, declared itself part of
Romania, which they considered to be their true motherland. In 1919
the Bessarabia-Germans agreed to be part of Romania and thus became
Romanian-Germans. They began to establish contact with other ethnic
German groups in greater Romania and cooperated on various levels.
The Evangelical Church of Bessarabia associated itself with the
national Evangelical church under a Siebenbuergisch-Saxon bishop,
with headquarters in Hermannstadt. Politically the Romanian-Gemans
appeared as a unified ethnic national minority. The German school
system experienced large setbacks, since the Romanian language became
the language of instruction in nearly all public schools.
The Soviet Union never recognized the annexation of Bessarabia
to Romania. And just before the outbreak of World War II, when the
German Reich and the Soviet Union used a secret addition to their
mutual "nonaggression" pact of August 23, 1939 to break
up Eastern Europe into "spheres of influence" (i.e., territories
to be annexed), Germany declared its "disinterest" in
Bessarabia, which in plain language meant that it acceded to its
annexation. And as soon as political partner Romania became occupied
or, simply, isolated, the USSR, with backing from Reichs-Germany,
on June 27, 1940 used the opportunity by directing an ultimatum
to Romania demanding the return of Bessarabia. Romania, now totally
isolated diplomatically, had no chance to defend itself against
Soviet occupation of Bessarabia, which became fact within only days
after it accepted the ultimatum. Bessarabia became a Soviet Republic
within the USSR. Accordingly, the Bessarabia-Germans became Soviet
citizens. The Soviet Union also annexed northern Bukovina, the Baltic
states and areas of Eastern Poland. Germany itself, following its
forceful military invasion of Poland, had assured itself from the
Soviet Union (via a "clandestine" protocol) the right
to resettle the German inhabitants of Bessarabia to the German Reich.
That protocol stated, word for word: "The government of the
Soviet Union will not hinder any members of the Reich who reside
in its areas of interest, in case it is their wish, to be resettled
in German areas of interest or in Germany. It hereby agrees that
such resettlements will be conducted by representatives of the Reichs-government,
in cooperation with the appropriate local authorities, and that
specific rights to property will be kept intact for those emigrating."
Based on this and other resettlement pacts, there followed the
so-called operation "Heim ins Reich [(Back) home to the Reich]"
that led to the resettlement of ethnic Germans from designated and
other areas. The Fuehrer, Reichschancellor Hitler had avowed, in
an October 6, 1940 speech to the Reichstag, "the return to
the German Reich those splinters of Germandom that can no longer
be maintained in East and South Europe." They were to contribute
to the "Germanization" of areas of Poland that were declared
The resettlement of Bessarabia-Germans came as a direct consequence
of an agreement signed by Germany and the Soviet Union on September
5, 1940. Resettlement was to be voluntary. The Soviets were therefore
surprised that practically all Germans there -- about 93,000 persons
-- vulunteered for emigration. They were using the opportunity to
escape from Communist domination. The resettlement was accomplished
via treks and by rail. Based on resettlement agreements with Romania
as well, the Germans of South Bukovina and Dobrudscha were also
moved to the "Reich" in 1940.
Initially, the Ethnic German Mittlestelle [Central Office] caused
the resettled Germans to be taken to intake camps in the German
Reich. But to their disappointment, they soon discovered that settlement
did not mean the German mother land, but that they, called "Ostwuerdige
[Those Worthy of the East" in Nazi official language, would
be placed in properties formerly belonging to banned Polish farmers
in "newly acquired territories" such as Wartheland, West
Prussia and other areas. In this context the farming family Koehler
came to the Polish town called Skierbieszov (not the Austrian town
of St. Poelten), where their son Horst was born on February 22,
Were Horst Koehler's parents then Romanian-Germans, as has commonly
been stated in the media? Only in a manner of speaking, because
hey were definitely born before 1918, when Bessarabia still belonged
to the Soviet Union; and at the time of the resettlement, it belonged
to the Soviet Union again. Between 1918 and 1940, though, they lived
in at was [officially] Romania.
In 1944, as the Red Army was rushing into Poland, the newly resettled
naturally were forced to flee. They became part of the gigantic
stream of German refugees from the East. The Koehlers reached Markkleeberg-Zoebiker
near Leipzig, where they lived until 1953. Then they fled a second
time from Communist dictatorship, to the Federal Republic, via West
Berlin and, after several intermediate stops at various refugee
camps, finally reached their new home of Ludwigsburg. About the
subsequent life story of Horst Koehler there is no lack of clarity.
Following the breakup of he Soviet Union, the former Soviet Republic
of Moldau (Bessarabia) separated from the USSR and reconstituted
itself as the independent republic of Moldova. Reunification with
Romania did not happen because, in addition to the mostly Romanian
majority population, there were strong elements of Russian, Ukrainian,
and Gagau minority populations who strongly opposed it and received
support from Ukraine and Russia.
Professor Horst Koehler was the first ever elected Federal President
who comes from an Eastern German refugee family. He has often declared
that Germany has given him very much and that he would like to return
the favor to his homeland, which he loves dearly.
Anyone wishing to learn in more detail about "Die Deutschen
Rumaeniens im 20. Jahrhundert [The Germans of Romania in the 20th
Century]" may order the brochure with the same title by Dr.
Michael Kroner from the Austrian Landsmannschaft, Fuhrmannsgasse
18a, A-1080 Vienna, tel.: (00 430 1 - 40 22 882; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org_
(mailto:email@example.com) ; at 7.40 euros, plus postage.
Siebenbuergische Zeitung Online, June 23, 1004
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.