Trials of Volga-German Intellectuals
Prozess Gegen Wolgadeutsche Intellektuelle
Krieger, Dr. Viktor, and Alexander Spack. "Trials of Volga-German Intellectuals." Volk auf dem Weg, April 2006, 16-17.
Translation from the original German-language text
to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
The sudden end of the creative activity of such outstanding personalities
as Georg Dinges and Peter Sinner has not been dealt with in sufficient
Professor Georg Dinges (1891 - 1932) dedicated his entire life
to the research of the language of the Volga-Germans, undertook
several folkloristic expeditions to German villages, was the first
Director (1925 - 1929) of the Central Museum of the Volga Republic
he had personally founded, actively supported the establishment
of the national German Pedagogical Institute, and served as its
Deputy Rector before his arrest on January 30, 1930.
Peter Sinner (1879 - 1935?) is widely known as an astute publicist,
knowledgeable ethnic researcher, gifted pedagogue, and sensitive
lyricist. He was arrested in Leningrad on August 14, 1930 and, during
a trial including Prof. Dinges and Anatoliy Synopalov, who for a
time had taught at the German technical university in Pokrovsk/Engels,
was accused of anti-Soviet and counter-revolutionary activities.
On February 1, 1932, each was sentenced to three years of banishment.
This constituted the first of its kind of actions conducted by the
secret service against German-Russian intellectuals, only to be
followed by numerous other trials during subsequent years.
Opening of the German Pedagogical Institute
Not until the very end had anything pointed to the upcoming arrests.
On January 6, 1930, governmental, party and trade union organs held
a solemn, joint celebratory session specifically dedicated to the
opening of the first national technical university, purposely timed
with the sixth anniversary of the transition to an Autonomous Republic.
Telegrams of greeting arrived from Syrzev, the governmental chief
of the Russian Federation, from Bubnov, the People's Commissar for
Education, and from many other prominent representatives of the
government and of the Party, as well as from scientists and from
various organizations. Johannes Schwab, chairman of the Central
Executive Committee of the Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic
of Volga-Germans and, concurrently, Rector of the new Institute,
delivered, in German and in Russian, a speech that lasted several
hours. During the session, the official Deputy Rector also took
the podium, speaking on the cultural morphology of the Volga-Germans.
Prof. Walter Ziesemer of the University at Koenigsberg, organizer
of a significant book donation campaign, delivered greetings from
German colleagues. The appearance of Christian Horst, Secretary
of the Region's Party Committee, raised everyone's attention when
he said: "The German technical university has been given the
honorable task of providing Marxist-educated teachers who, as cultural
pioneers, are to shed light on the spiritual darkness of German
villages." Given this context, there would certainly be no
room for the "old" intelligentsia that was not grounded
in Marxist categories.
"Socialist Transformation of Agriculture" and
Characteristically, Schwab dedicated a significant portion of his
formal speech to the "class struggle in German villages and
the emigration movement among the kulaks." Departure from the
New Economic Policy (NEP) and the subsequent course entered into
during the late 1920s by Stalin and his followers constituted a
fundamental transformation of traditional society and a complete
break from traditional culture, religion and mentality. The most
significant features of the new policies were:
(1) Acceleration of industrialization; (2) Total collectivization
of agriculture; (3) Counter-revolution.
All this led to the prohibition of any autonomous economic and
cultural activity directed toward the creation of a common culture,
and also resulted in the centralization of all branches of the economy.
And on the way to the formation of the "new society,"
entire groups and sections of the population were destroyed that,
in the eyes of the Stalinist helpers, might pose any potential danger
to their absolute power. Included were small enterprises, prosperous
farmers, independent occupations, nationally thinking intellectuals,
"citizen" specialists and scientists, as well as spiritual
and active members of all faith communities.
The OGPU, the secret police, in those years simply engineered secret
and covert trials with the goal of intimidating political opposition
and to play up arising difficulties and mistakes as the work of
"those harmful to the people." The show trial of engineers
and technicians of the mines in the coal city of Shakhty/Ukraine
during the spring of 1928 marked the onset of a wave of arrests
enveloping the entire country and affecting "bourgeois"
technical experts of any kind. The political trial of Sergei Platanov,
the well-known historian and member of the Academy, set the stage
for the sentencing of many scientists during the years 1929 - 1931.
No less harshly suppressed was the "old" intelligentsia
of the national and autonomous republics. In Ukraine, for example,
the Czekhists "uncovered" in 1930 the "Society for
the Liberation of Ukraine," and among the 45 accused there
were Academy members, publishers' editors, university professors,
and writers. In February, 1931, the OGPU further uncovered a counter-revolutionary
espionage organization of "Marist" intellectuals (Mari
was a Finno-Ugric, central-Volga-region people who were alleged
to be striving for an autonomous State under the Protectorate of
Finland. The first to be arrested was the Director of the Regional
Museum and noted ethnic researcher, Evseyev, subsequently accused
of collaborating with Finnish scientists. Further arrests of local
university teachers, scientists and linguists ensued.
Neither Tatarstan or Kazakhstan or Udmurtia nor any other ethnic/national
territories within the Soviet Union were spared from similar trials.
Not rarely were representatives of Finno-Ugric peoples accused of
Pan-Finnism, or Turkish-speaking peoples accused of Pan-Islamism
or of Pan-Turkism. And, of course, German-Russian intellectuals
would be accused of Pan-Germanism.
Professor Georg Dinges, 1926
A newspaper clipping: Excerpt from
the front page of the [Volga-]Republic newspaper "Nachrichten"
[News] on the opening of the German Pedagogical Institute
Disastrous Connections with Germany
Among German farmers, protests against dispossessions and religious
persecution eventually issued into a mass emigration movement. Toward
the end of 1929, around 13,000 farmers, primarily Mennonites from
West Siberia, gathered in Moscow to demand free emigration from
the country, and in this matter they turned their attention to the
German embassy and to the public abroad. For the Soviet Union this
constituted an enormous loss of prestige and led to noticeable worsening
of German-Soviet relations, strengthening an already existing tendency
toward cessation of any foreign relations not explicitly approved
Earlier, in the 1920s, the Bolshevist leadership had still shown
interest in aid from international assistance organizations in the
fight against the catastrophic famine of 1921-1922, as well as in
cooperating with Germany in economic and scientific matters. In
that context, at the beginning of 1922, the German Red Cross (DRK)
was able to undertake a medical assistance expedition in the Volga-German
region, aimed at fighting the perils of epidemics, primarily cholera,
typhus, and widespread malaria. Dr. Otto Fischer, the chief representative
of the expedition and headquartered in Saratov, and Prof. Heinz
Zeiss, director of the bilogical central laboratory of the DRK in
Moscow, often met in efforts to educate the rural population, and
they also met with Peter Sinner and Georg Dinges to aid in distributing
assistance materials. Sinner was even permitted to publish in various
German periodicals several articles on the history, literature,
mores and customs of his countrymen. At the time, this was still
not considered to be an activity inimical to the State. Dinges maintained
numerous contacts with German linguistic experts and in May, 1924
traveled in Germany for three months. In 1928, and again in 1930,
he met in Saratov with the noted German Germanist Walter Ziesemer.
Even in 1926, during an official visit of a delegation of the ASSRdWD
[German acronym for Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Volga-Germans
- Tr.], Johannes Schwab underscored his side's strong interest in
cultural exchanges with Germany. During the 1930s, however, these
contacts would prove to be the undoing of all involved.
Below we shall provide some excerpts from the indictment against
Georg Dinges, Peter Sinner and Anatoliy Synopalov brought against
them on October 10, 1931. The numerous spelling mistakes have been
corrected, but the frequently clumsy forms of expression have been
preserved. The original text may be found in the documents covering
preliminary proceedings in this penal matter. These are currently
located of the Archive of the Administration of the Federational
Security Service (successor organization to the GPU-NKVD-KGB) in
the Saratov region.
Concerning the indictment of Citizens DINGES G.G., SINNER P.I.,
per Articles 58-4, 58-6 of the Penal Code and against SYNOPALOV
A.K., per Article 58-4:
In 1930, a Special Department of Empowered Representatives of the
OGPU uncovered and, to a certain degree, suppressed counter-revolutionary
and nationalistic espionage activities by Catholic and Lutheran
clergy (Penal Procedures against BAUMTROG, KAPPES, ERBES, HARFF,
WAGNER), as well as by nationalist-chauvinist elements within the
Volga-German intelligentsia (Penal Procedures against Professors
BEHNING, GROSS, etc.). According to testimony from accused individuals
and witnesses, the accused Prof. DINGES and teacher SINNER figured
as persons of Pan-Germanist orientation, inimically disposed toward
the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in the USSR, and closely allied
with secretly active organizations ("Eastern Europe,"
"Foreign Germans") or with White-Emigre organizations
("Society of Volga-Germans") in Germany. These organizations
also figured prominently in the sentences of the above-mentioned
BAUMTROG, KAPPES, BEHNING and others, who had already been sentenced
by the Collegium of the OGPU. Further instances of counter-revolutionary
behavior inimical to the Soviet power merely served as a basis for
their being involved in preliminary criminal proceedings.
From the preliminary proceedings, the following conclusions were
drawn: the accused DINGES, SINNER and SYNOPALOV, who according to
citizen-democratic and nationalist traditions are stripped of German
nationality, from the very beginning acted negatively toward the
Dictatorship of the Proletariat that had resulted from the October-Revolution,
and they had thereby placed themselves into the class of enemies
of the Soviet Union. They were in solidarity with the Menshevists,
allied with social-revolutionary thought, and were reputed to welcoming
a Constitutional Convention for the proclamation of a citizen-Democratic
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.