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Tireless Effort on Behalf of the Heimatmuseum: Christian Fieß would have been a Hundred Years Old

Häfner, Albert. "Tireless Effort on Behalf of the Heimatmuseum: Christian Fieß would have been a Hundred Years Old." Mitteilungsblatt, May 2010, 9-10.

Translation from the Original German-language text to American English provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
Excerpt from the festive brochure “Forty Years Heimatmuseum,” 1992: The (then) chair of the Heimatmuseum and, concurrently, honorary chair of the Landsmannschaft [of Bessarabien Germans, in this case - Tr.], Christian Fieß was presented the Medal of merit of the State of Baden-Württemberg on May 9, 1987 by Prime Minister Lothar Späth.  Photo: Eppler. 

May 14, 1910:  On this day Christian Fieß came into the world in Sarata as the tenth child of his parents. As a founding member in 1952, I have kept close ties with the Heimatmuseum [the Homeland Museum of the Bessarabian Germans in Stuttgart – Tr.], and in the process I became a close companion to Mr. Fieß. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth I am moved to remember him in the following.

Christian Fieß’ personality certainly exhibited strengths and weaknesses, soft and tough sides, light and shadow. However, in all fairness one must consider the circumstances of his times, which carried formative characteristics that affected his growth and maturation. 

For Christian Fieß these included conflicts with the Romanian State, i.e., its ministry of education; and concern for the German language, which caused primary formative effects on his development.

To wit, Romania  had obliged herself via the peace treaties of St. Germain (1919) and  Trianon (1920) to a comprehensive respecting of the rights of minorities, and that included the recognition of German schools for all times. When Bessarabia was annexed to Romania, these obligations were ceremoniously confirmed. However, it soon became apparent that there was no intention to keep this promise. On the contrary, deeming the German schools to be the most serious impediment to their planned process of making everything Romanian, the authorities considered them a major thorn in their own flesh. Incidents of nettling and minor infringements grew into reprisals and chicanery and reaching a high point under the minister of instruction, Anghelescu. In addition to banning the German language in instruction and on the schoolyard, this minister, in lieu of further requisite legislation, also ordered that graduates of the Werner School [a German teacher’s college – Tr,] would as of 1934 be ineligible to be employed at state schools, which included (with only three exceptions) all other German village schools. This order hit especially hard the smaller German villages with only one or perhaps even no German teacher, while the larger [German] communities seemed to get by for the time being.

In any case, 120 young German teachers were unable to obtain a teaching position. Their places were taken up mainly by nationalistically inclined, Romanian teachers, who realized that they were protected by school authorities in everything they did, even when their zealous actions overstepped the goal.

These affected young teachers now took their concerns to a certain Christian Fieß, who had already gained experience in Bucharest, and until their concerns might be resolved, those young teachers had to be content to serve under rather reduced earning capacity and as assistants to pastors or religion teachers in their own villages.

During his negotiations with the ministry of instruction, Fieß received active support from Pastor Hasse, a German representative to the Parliament.

However, it became apparent very soon that the authorities had no interest in genuine negotiations and, instead, there were insincerity, abuse, provocations through missing agreed-upon meetings and, in terms of real and open snubbing, denying negotiations of any kind, and all this despite confirmation that had been received and travel to Bucharest had been undertaken.                  

Still, lack of success in all these efforts did not lead to resignation, rather to strengthening of the will to attain, with all available energy and endurance, the re-recognition of the schools and for local administration thereof.  Given his position of responsibility, Fieß remained firmly engaged in these efforts.

Leadership echelons of the church and the ethnic group found full support in the communities, for the village residents, too, realized that loss of the language would also endanger their faith, their customs, and the manner in which they lived together in familiar and traditional ways.

During the years of struggling for their schools there came valuable assistance from Germany, via book donations of the VDA [?], visiting groups, and so on. All this provided the sense that this small ethnic splinter group was not being forgotten. Moreover, the fact that Reich-German diplomatic efforts finally led to the easing of the Romanization pressure, and that the German schools were returned engendered joy, relief, gratitude, jubilation and enthusiasm all around.

I do not believe that anyone at that time was seriously sensing the great peril that non-reflective enthusiasm might open very wide the door to indoctrination. And, of course, after 1940 and in successive years, no one would be spared sobering and disillusioning experiences.

During his time as prisoner of war that lasted into 1947, Christian Fieß was constantly haunted by, among other great needs, the urgent question of what was to become of Germany and its people.     

One thing he foresaw very clearly: regardless of how developments might proceed, parents and grandparents, in their attempts of retelling of the events “at home,” would encounter lack of understanding and possibly be accused of exaggeration or even of lying. In an attempt to prevent this, and for other important reasons, he felt an obligation to - as soon as time permitted – establish a means through which descendants might learn first-hand about the history of their ancestors, their living conditions, property ownership, their faith, culture and their successes in reclaiming the soil for their own prosperity, and also to be able to convince themselves of the truth of any of these revelations..

A homeland museum as a source of strength and of history – serving to reestablish identity and provide information and memories – seemed to him the right solution, and he would henceforth devote himself totally for the realization of it.

Despite enormous obstacles, he took the first step in 1952, and throughout subsequent years there followed an unequaled capacity for collecting things, during which he and his helpers brought together plethora of exhibit materials, textiles, pictures and many other items. The motto “gather first, then organize” was important. Today that kind of success in collecting might not be possible, for many a valuable item might have disappeared during the years of the “economic miracle,” simply because it might have been deemed “old stuff.”

However, it did become necessary to establish some kind of systematic order. A special example of good fortune was the fact that Mrs. Johanna Eigenbrodt had been recruited to do office work. In due time it turned out that, based on her training, her abilities and her occupational experience, she was able to cover multiple areas of responsibility, including even the task of keeping the books. Her diligence, sense of responsibility and absolute reliability in all phases of her work, her loyalty and skill in working with people would make her a very valuable and esteemed co-worker. The fact that as a non-Bessarabian German she strongly identified with the Bessarabian Germans and with the homeland museum, and that even in retirement she was prepared to continue to bring to bear her rich experiences and valuable knowledge clearly deserves recognition and gratitude.   

Despite all the efforts of Christian Fieß and of his team, much remained piecework. Things that had been begun were not brought to completion, systems for organizing and inventorying kept changing, and a conceptual insecurity took hold.

Certainly all this is to be regretted. However, anyone who sees the concept of “museum” as not something dead, but as a living thing, will see it as an information center that constantly grows, that changes, that enriches itself in its offerings and possibilities, and will know that many others will be called to continue the building of the “House of Bessarabian German History.”

In addition to everything that those responsible now have contributed so thankfully and will continue to contribute, future workers will have plenty of treasures to open up:   

A major example is the continuing work on the selection and classification of materials that are already stored in the Heimatmuseum, and also, e.g., on the now accessible archives in the former Bessarabia and in South Russia.

Judgments on Christian Fieß, of his personality and his work in a whole variety of areas will certainly vary, but it will remain his personal contribution to have created, in this Heimatmuseum, a place where the history of the Bessarabian Germans is presented in a living, vivid and intimate manner. For this, and for the establishment of the Bessarabian German Foundation as a guarantee to secure the future of the Heimatmuseum, he deserves our gratitude.            

Concerning the author of this article:

Albert Häfner, born in 1922 in Rohrbach/Bessarabia, was one of the founding members of the Heimatmuseum der Deutschen aus Bessarabien in Stuttgart in 1952. A retired teacher, he continues to be well known for his active volunteer work in the archival area of the Heimatmuseum and, to many visitors, for his competent museum tours.     Heinz Fieß.

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

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