The Volga-Germans and Their Society
Die Wolgadeutschen und Ihre Verein
Lobes, Helmut. "The Volga-Germans and Their Society." Volk auf dem Weg, November 2006, 15-17.
Translation from the original German-language text
to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
NOTE: This is the conclusion of a series of installments
of this article from Volk auf dem Weg,
the previous articles are listed below:
Four years later the Volga-German Republic participated in
the spring exposition at Leipzig and at the "East exposition"
in Koenigsberg. As on earlier occasions, the Volga wheat here, too,
was met with great interest among the exposition visitors.
In 1926 the Volga Republic was given its own representative to
the Soviet trade mission in Berlin, whereby our fathers entered
the diplomatic realm and were able to move in it splendidly, as
attested to by foreign observers. There resulted regular exchange
traffic of economic experts, teachers, doctors, engineers, workers
and artists between the Spree [Berlin's main river] and the Volga.
Dr. Auhagen, Professor of Agricultural Science at a University
in Berlin, too, got himself acquainted with agriculture by the Volga-Germans
by visiting the Volga Republic in September of 1927. He found the
grain operations to be "simply excellent", and stated
that the state-operated concerns could "provide competition
to the best farming operations in Germany." Furthermore, he
wrote, "in today's Autonomic Republic an economic and cultural
development is under way that will allow us in old Germany to view
our faraway ethnic relatives with great pride."
Although these developments were to suffer destructive political
and economic setbacks in the 1930s, our fathers were still able,
despite a lifestyle forced upon them, to draw the best out of their
agriculture. For example the Volga Republic, at 83 percent motorization
of all agricultural work, and introduction of agricultural-technical
measures, by the end of 1937 placed first in the entire Soviet Union.
And until the deportations of 1941 our Volga region remained a grain
producer of prime ranking.
Also, in the area of industry, our fathers, following the chaos
of the revolution, of the civil wars, and of the famine catastrophe,
were able to deliver outstanding results by simply expanding and
reconstructing traditional concerns and operations to a degree that
self-sufficient industrial branches began to take hold, as for example
the cotton and textile industry, the food industry, construction,
and the like. A number of large enterprises developed that were
of significance for the entire Union: the power station in Engels;
a sawmill at the same locale, with a capacity one and half times
as much as that of all prewar sawmills combined; the giant meat
combine with a daily turnover of 315 cars of raw materials; a bone
processing factory with a 1926/27 capacity of 10,000 tons of bones
and 1,300 tons of lime; plus a cannery. Among other giant plants
of this kind were the machine construction factories "Wiedergeburt
[Rebirth]' and "Kommunist" as well as the meat combine
in Marxstadt, the tool and machine factory in Grimm, etc.
Given the successes listed above, and some we did not have room
to list, our forefathers were clearly on the optimal path toward
turning the Volga region into an industrial/agricultural giant.
Of special significance, in the sense of the developments indicated
by Prof. Dr. Auhagen, was the cultural buildup of the Volga homeland.
It cannot be denied that the cultural inheritance which the old
Germans brought to the Volga was the only cultural and spiritual
source our forefathers were able to draw from extensively, and by
which they were able to maintain their cultural superiority over
their Russian environment. But by the turn of the [19th] century,
this source, due to national distress and the lack of their own education system, gradually ceased
to satisfy their needs in the turbulent 20th century. Far from the
mother nation and without any cultural assistance from the German-speaking
area, this source eventually began to dry up. Within a foreign sea
of nationalities, the tribe was threatened with a cultural and spiritual
impoverishment, with all the dramatic consequences a minority would
be forced to endure.
Our forefathers recognized this peril and took action. The strongest
impetus, and the conviction that they could be successful, was the
structure of their autonomous status and the assurance therefrom
for use of the German language in all areas of political, spiritual
and intellectual, and cultural life.
Although from the very beginning of settlement, and under difficult
circumstances, the school always held a special value for our forefathers,
and even though each colony had a school, success was rather meager,
especially because the schools lacked any kind of modern stimulus
or assistance, be it from Germany or elsewhere. However, this situation
was in no way comparable to state of general illiteracy in the Russian
Empire. The more evident were the successes once the right to self-determination was attained.
By 1928, the Volga-Germans, with 54.7% of them capable of reading
and writing, were second only to the population of the Leningrad
Gouvernement. During the 1930s the educational system of the Republic
boasted 421 schools (107 middle schools among them) with 104,000
students, plus four high schools, eleven technical schools, and
three six-semester workers universities. These studies were attended
by Germans from all areas of Russia; in the time span of 1936-37
their number came to 4,500. In addition there was a network of vocational
schools where specialists for all economic branches were trained
As of the 1930s, the Volga-German Republic also had its German
State Theater, three local theaters, and a theater for Russian drama.
In the capital city of the Republic there was a State Philharmonic,
there were schools of music in Engels and Marxstadt, and schools
of fine arts in Engels, Marxstadt and Balzer. In 1937, ninety libraries
containing 575,660 volumes constituted the library system of the
Republic. Thirty-four newspapers, twenty of them in German and fourteen
in Russian, appeared regularly, with a total circulation of 100,000.
The German State Publishing House in Engels produced for the German
population of the entire USSR, and between 1933 and 1935 published
a variety of titles, totaling 2.8 million copes, among them school
texts with total printings of 1.4 million copies. In 1938 alone,
the institution published 293 titles, among them 69 school texts.
Our forefathers were particularly proud of their Volga-German State
Museum with its invaluable ethnographic department, that had been
opened as early as October 1, 1925. For those times, this constituted
a unique cultural phenomenon for any national minority. But should
the pioneering history of the Volga-Germans per se, a history of
a national minority, of a new ethnic tribe, not be viewed as unique occurrence in the entire history of colonization?
Indeed it should. And it is the phenomenon on which the deeds and
greatness of our forefathers, our Volga-German ancestors, are founded.
In writing this article I was forced to some extent to neglect
the historical aspect of the Volga-German phenomenon, to its disadvantage,
as this writing was aimed more specifically at economic and cultural
aspects, and even so it was necessary to be brief and to describe
only in fragments the achievements of our fathers and ancestors
in the Volga homeland. What I was not able to mention are the determining
economic, spiritual, and intellectual contributions by the colonists
toward the blooming of the cities of Saratov and Porkrovsk and of
other cities along the Volga, as well as toward the good reputation
the German colonists and changing relationships enjoyed from their
non-German neighbors. Also not mentioned are a considerable number
of personalities as well as the poetry of our people, just as is
the Volga-German phenomenon overseas and thus the achievements of
our forefathers worldwide. Only in passing have we dealt with the topic of the unfathomable suffering
and the countless victims during the settlement years, and also
the reasons therefor. Finally, unmentioned as well is the immense
ingratitude of Russia toward its sons and daughters of German nationality,
toward its people of Volga-Germans, and much else.
Still, even these brief and abrupt fragments speak clearly about
the enormous cultural, spiritual, intellectual and material heritage
that generations of our ancestors have bequeathed us. It is also
true that not much of this heritage remains, after decades of systematic
and single-minded obliteration of our homeland. Still, the little
bit that is left, to this day also remains without ownership, as
if the heirs had died out long ago. Did we truly die out? It is
to be hoped that a sufficient number of Volga-Germans has not been
lost to our ethnic tribe and likely does not have to be reanimated.
However, we must finally wake up, to refresh ourselves in soul and
in mind, to shake off our paralyzing indifference toward our own
ethnic history, and to face the responsibilities that are ours.
This involves not only this responsibility toward our forefather's
heritage, and not only the resulting task of maintaining and retaining
this heritage. For us, the members of a persecuted people, this
task touches directly our dignity and self-respect, and its implementation,
besides being a responsibility fulfilled, should also be considered
an act of self rehabilitation, which, of course, should certainly
not preclude in any manner the complete official rehabilitation of all arbitrarily repressed Volga-Germans.
Church at Zug (Gattung)
The responsibility we need to fulfill toward our history of our
ethnic people may generally be formulated as follows: The history
of the Volga-Germans, in all its facets, as well as the cultural
heritage, must be collected, secured, and cared for, within the
homeland of the Volga-Germans, in order that this heritage is retained
in the consciousness of Volga-Germans, in the consciousness of the
German people and the Russian people as well as overseas.
Of course, the realization of this task is not one unique act,
but a continuing process of restoration and preservation that must
be carried out by generations of Volga-German descendants and by
many other people of good will. A few examples should illustrate
what individual components of this great work still needing to be
made up might look like:
Example Number 1:
The history of the Volga-Germans, to its complete extent, must be
entered into history texts of two States participated in a significant
way in its coming into being.
Example Number 2:
Those few halfheartedly maintained historical buildings, churches,
monuments to architecture and building craft that remain within
the Volga homeland must be placed under historical protection by
Example Number 3:
The history of the Volga-Germans, in all its appearances and in
every place that it occurred and was lived or was hidden in any
way at all, must be made manifest to everyone.
These three examples alone demonstrate that we are dealing with
an enormous, time-consuming work, the extent and multifaceted nature
of which, as well as social, financial and other details may have
to reach higher echelons of government of two States.
Who is to get this work to progress? Only we, the Volga-Germans.
With the help and support from other people of good will. Most especially
in best agreement with and support from folks living in our homeland
today, for these as well, one should hope, the message of an internationally
declared right to one's home might have reached by now.
There should be no doubt that a task of this magnitude and
significance can be accomplished only with the combined strengths
of the entire corresponding ethnic group. Therefore, should we be
ready to fulfill our responsibilities toward our forefathers with
dignity, our first step in that direction must be to build up a
respectable, independent, capable society that is able to unify the ethnic groups and to carry their names. Doesn't that appear
to be natural? Well, at least the question "Why a second Landsmannschaft?"
would thereby receive an answer.
In any case, it need not necessarily be a Landsmannschaft, it could
simply be a common "Society for Volga-Germans," one which
takes as its objective and purpose the responsibilities and tasks
One certainly need not establish a Landsmannschaft for organizing
toward its own purposes for such things as gatherings, cultural days
for a handful of folks, other meetings, etc. No question. These
are the responsibilities for various committees, circles, work groups,
etc., just as until recent time they have been functioning under
the umbrella of the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland.
However, we are dealing here with an organization in which people
of a group who have been driven from their homes, come together
for the purpose of a singular, determined, common action. Of course,
also highly welcome in such an organization, called a Society, will
be various musical, literary, theater and other events, especially
if the Society is able to demonstrate greater or lesser successes
toward its tasks. These will not be achieved without effort, since
the Society must, as indicated, set as its objective to maintain
and care for that which might have caused many a person fewer problems
had it disappeared ...
Now the following question naturally poses itself: do we really
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.