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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 detail.

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 Counter-Revolution

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 by Moscow.

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.

The Indictment

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 power.

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

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