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The Catholics on the Volga – a Book Review 

Herzog, Johannes, Volk auf dem Weg, October 2013, 11.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO. With editorial assistance from Dr. Nancy Herzog.


Last year, Prof. Dr. Albert Obholz produced a ground-breaking book of great importance to the history of the Volga Germans (Die Kolonie Mariental an der Wolga [The Colony Mariental on the Volga, which my cousin Johannes Herzog translated from Russia into German – Tr.]). This year he has come up with a no less important volume, Die Katholiken an der Wolga [The Catholics on the Volga], a book that fills a gap in the literature on the history of Volga Germans.

Although Catholics comprised the second-strongest group among religious confessions of the Volga Germans, descriptions of their religious life have thus far been mostly fragmentary. Chapter by chapter, Prof. Obholz has provided a systematic treatment of the various aspects of the Catholic faith, which assumed a central place in the lives of Volga Germans. In the process he has drawn for us a multi-faceted picture of the faith, its ecclesiastic rituals, caring for souls, the numerous difficulties involved in the building of churches and schools, and the societal pressures that obstructed religious life even as far back as Tsarist times.

Obholz does not gloss over the differences that arose between communities and the clergy, including a measure of insubordination by community members, which in part could also be blamed on human weaknesses, even among the clergy.

Obholz also paints a vivid picture of the suffering of  clergy and laity persecuted for their religion and of the Bolsheviks’ systematic destruction of religious structures and institutions that had earlier seen considerable growth. In the process, he does not neglect to describe the undermining effects of state-sponsored newspapers and their propaganda on the mentality of the people, especially the youth.

The fact that in his effort toward exact detail he does not overlook the big picture, that he credits emphatically the efforts of the bishops, and points to the rebirth of the Catholic Church in the Soviet Union, proves his optimistic attitude and his unshakeable faith in the future of Catholicism even in the territories of the former Soviet Union.

Photos and illustrations break up the text, provide variety, and demonstrate the immense effort and time Albert Obholz has put into this work.

For this book, the author and the Historischer Forschungsverein der Deutschen aus Russland [HFDR - Historical Research Association of the Germans form Russia] deserve to be congratulated.

Our appreciation is extended to Dr. Nancy Herzog for editorial assistance, and to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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