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Lexikon of German-Russian Literature

Lexikon der Russlanddeutschen Literatur

Brantsch, Ingmar. "Lexikon of German-Russian Literature." Volk auf dem Weg, January 2005, 24.

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


Another stalwart fighter for reinstatement of the Volga-Republic was the author Dominik Hollmann, who was born in 1899 in Kamyshin on the Volga and died there in 1990. He was determined to let nothing to keep him from spending the last years of his life in the old, even if completely changed, country.

Annette Moritz presents two pieces of prose that are typical of what concerned Dominik Hollmann: the two stories "Gesprengte Fesseln [Broken Shackles]" and "Andreas Gutkind." In the latter, Dominik Hollmann deals with the "hot potato" topic of ethnic discrimination of peoples who have been unjustly branded as unreliable.

Andreas Gutkind, an exiled you German-Russian, is the leader of a work brigade consisting mostly of German-Russians and meets the young Lyudmila, whom he meets once again even after being transferred to the Volga-Don Canal near Stalingrad and, following a series of humiliations, he is still allowed to marry her. And although his daughter is a "genuine" half-Russian, he is forced to enter a written request containing the following: "I, Andreas Gutkind, am requesting the Commandant, Comrade Ivanov S.F., to enter the name of my daughter, Anna Gutkind, born August 1, 1946, into the list of exiled spies and subversives."

This Stalinist policy toward punished ethnic groups, which practically lasted into the mid-1960s, would haunt even the younger generation of German-Russians, that is, even those born after World War II.

With a great deal of empathy and an equally great deal of knowledge of the historical circumstances, Annette Moritz similarly touches on a story by Elsa Ulmer, who was born in 1944 in the Taldy-Kurgan region of Kazakhstan.

Following her studies (1961-1966) at the Institute for Foreign Languages in Alma-Ata, Elsa Ulmer worked for nearly ten years in the German editorial section of Kazhak State radio. After that she worked at the German-language newspapers "Neues Leben [New Life]" in Moscow and "Freundschaft [Friendship]" in Alma-Ata. Between 1985 and 1991 she was consultant to the Kazhak Writers' Society, of which she was a member from 1985 until emigrating to Germany in 1994.

In her story "Die Nachtigall aus Kusminka [The Nightingale from Kusminka]" a dream of the German-Russian protagonist, Irma, of becoming a singer is shattered simply because she is a German and thus a member of the punished ethnic peoples. To save her children from a similar fate and from the stigma of being German, she marries her childhood sweetheart Oleg, an ethnically pure Russian.

However, during the story, while living with her husband, Irma begins to develop her old sense of self and starts to view herself again as allied with her German identity, and she asks her children's grandmother to teach them German. Elsa Ulmer adds another level of intensity to her story by having Irma sing a German folk song during an evening for amateur artists. At the same time, this is a signal to the readers to preserve their cultural identity.

In the story "Die Stuetze der Welt [Support for the World]" (Alma-Ata, 1980), we hear the tragic fate of a German-Russian who must live alone because during World War II her husband, a fighter among the partisans, was killed by the Fascists. "They murdered him in truly gruesome fashion because he, a German, had remained true to his Soviet homeland."

Evidence for the fact that this version of the story became too much for even the de-Stalinization era (which was never quite complete) is shown clearly by Annette Moritz, as demonstrated in the ending of a second version of the story and its euphemistic style that accommodates the times.

Remarkable in Elsa Ulmer's story is the lively, never mechanical, description of the widow's fate shared by the German-Russian Sophie and her Kazakh fellow-sufferer, Chalimat. Together they master their difficulties and realize that women constitute the "support for the world."

A similarly heroic story of a German-Russian is dealt with by Hugo Warmsbacher, born in 1938 in Marxstadt on the Volga, in his story "Deinen Namen gibt der Sieg dir wider [Victory Restores Your Name]." This mostly documentary story reports on the German-Russian Paul Schmidt, who escapes from a forced-labor camp and, under the name Ali Achmedov, puts his life on the line for the sake of struggle for the Soviet homeland. He is repeatedly honored for this effort, so, after War's end he dares to return to his true German-Russian identity -- as if, in a sense, to unmask the Stalinist insanity demonstrated in its policies toward punished ethnic groups.

Within the documentary story, he can do so without being punished, but in real life, the authorities did not cotton to it and put him into a Gulag, for obviously sham reasons. Johann Warkentin, in his "Geschichte der russlanddeutschen Literatur [History of German-Russian Literature]," he says as much and thereby exposes the limitations of de-Stalinization, particularly for the German-Russians.

The fact that German-Russian writers did at times write of their love of and, especially, their loyalty for, their Soviet home, despite deprivation and denial of basic rights -- this being especially evident in lyrical tributes to nature -- might be attributed to attempts toward self-assertion following World War II. It is here where Annette Moritz surpasses all other observers of German-Russian literature hereabouts in pointing to a certain struggle toward recognition, even if it is couched in those more or less obligatory literary statements. If German-Russians wished to articulate their language again, they could do so only at the cost of concessions to known and, often, only assumed expectations.

Even Johann Warkentin, who was born in 1920 in the German-Russian village of Spat on Crimea, at first did not deviate from this. But relying on the German-Russians' love of home and willingness to sacrifice, he was generally determined to expose the insanity of their persecution as a punished ethnic people. This mode of attempting to proceed, anyway, would eventually be helpful in his campaign toward territorial autonomy for German-Russians. A realist by nature, Warkentin purposely did not ally himself at all costs with autonomy limited to the Volga area -- after all, he came from the Crimean Peninsula -- and he would have loved to work toward any kind of reconstruction at any other place.

[To be continued in the next issue]

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

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