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Years of Persecution and War: Reports from Contemporary Witnesses

Stories by Johann Kampen and Emma Bayer

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


Kampen, Johann." Years of Persecution and War: Reports from Contemporary Witnesses." Volk auf dem Weg, May 2011, 12-13.

Presumably the two most fateful dates in the entire history of the Germans from Russia and the Soviet Union were the onset of war between Germany and the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 and, only a short while later, September 28, 1941, when the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union issued its decree a short while later [regarding the deporting of all Volga Germans – Tr.].

In this issue and in subsequent issues of Volk auf dem Weg we are giving the floor to people who personally experienced the effects of those decisive events. We begin with Johann Kampen, the long-time chief editor of Volk auf dem Weg, and with his long-time partner, Emma Bayer. On May 30, they jointly celebrated their 90th and 86th birthdays, respectively.

Johann Kampen

Johann Kampen, b. May 30, 1921 on the Dnieper River

In July of 1941 my uncle Heinrich Hann and I, together with German and Ukrainian collective workers were ordered to carry out the transport of animals and machines from Chortitza in the Zaporizhzhye area in an easterly direction.

August of 1941 saw the beginning of family separations in Rosental, the twin village of Chortitza. German technical experts, along with Communists and Jews (some of whom had already fled), were evacuated.

My uncle Jakob Hann was one of those evacuees. During the transport his wife and daughter were lost, and he never saw his relatives again. He died in the mid-1990s in Central Asia. His seven siblings, who, following an intermediate stop in the Warthegau [W. Poland] (autumn, 1943) and their escape to West Germany (winter of 1944/1945) had emigrated to points overseas, died in North America between 1960 and 2000.

Among his brothers-in-law, my uncle Eduard Konrad died in exile in Archangelsk, and my uncle Julius von Kampen died in Kazakhstan.

By June 22, 1941, many young Germans in my area had already been inducted into the Red Army. After 1939, such decisions apparently were no longer made on nationality guidelines, but rather for the sake of dependability.

Treated separately were primarily the sons of repressed parents. I was among these, because my father had been arrested in 1938 and killed in the Zaporizhzhye, a fact for which we did not receive confirmation until 1990.

Among the “luckier ones” who had entered the Red Army in 1939, was my cousin of the same age, also my best friend from our early days, Theo Hann. In 1940 I envied him because of his quick rise to the rank of Second Lieutenant, even though he had completed the Pedagogical Institute with lesser marks than mine and had been inferior in sports.

Years later, I no longer envied him. His mother, my aunt Agathe, wrote: “Theo died in Siberia in 1948. In 1941 he had been forced to join the Trud-Army and was not released until 1946, and only because he was deathly ill. We never saw each other after 1940. He has a daughter by the name of Katja. I hope that I will be able to see Katja again in this lifetime.”

Aunt Agathe did have the fortune of seeing her daughter-in-law before she turned ninety after having emigrated to Canada. Several times now I have been able to visit Katja, who was born shortly before the death of her father. She has been living in Bonn since 1990. 

The time under German occupation from August 18, 1941 until September of 1943 was a special period for the Germans in Chortitza, of which there exist detailed reports elsewhere.

Of my immediate circle of relatives, the only one really seriously affected was my uncle Heinrich Hann. He barely survived a death cell he had been put into because he had been suspected for two different reasons: Between 1934 and 1938 he had been director of a collective, and he did not work on Saturdays. “He is a Communist and a Jew,” concluded ignorant men from state security. His actual survival the family ascribed to their prayers and to the awareness of a German officer that there are, of course, Christians who, like Jews, observe the Sabbath and do not eat meat from the pig, namely, the Seventh-Day Adventists. The extended Hann family had been members [of that faith] since 1900.    


Emma Bayer

Emma Bayer, b. May 30, 1925 on the Volga

On May 30, 1941 I turned sixteen, and on July 7 I completed the eighth grade at the German middle school in Balzer/Volga with commendations for outstanding achievements and model behavior. This took place two weeks before the onset of war between Germany and the Soviet Union.

At first we did not notice much about the war. However, from August 27 to August 29, armed columns of soldiers marched through our street, coming from the mooring at Achmat and heading to our city center. People came around hurriedly and looked at each other quizzically, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

On August 30, my teacher went from house to house to tell his students that they could not start the new school year in their school because it was occupied by Red Army troops.

On August 31 we received the German newspaper “Nachrichten” of August 30. The front page contained the decree from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR concerning the resettlement of all Volga Germans to Siberia and Kazakhstan. This was an immense shock.

It took only a few days before the time for our transport arrived. Initially it proceeded on wagons pulled by horses or oxen. Later the authorities also used busses and trucks.

We arrived at Achmat on the Volga, where we had to camp out in the open for a whole week to await further transport. For the next phase we were loaded onto barges that were normally used for transporting goods. This part of the trip took us to Uvek, a suburb of  Saratov. There a long train with double-axed wagons was already awaiting us and our meager belongings. Our railcar contained 43 persons. Three people would always be unable to lie down at night because there just was no place for everybody.

The loading process went quickly, and the train moved away immediately, initially simply to cross the bridge to the other side of the Volga. No one knew our destination. During the train travel we occasionally got some soup and even some good apples at 2.50 rubles a bucket.  In the evenings the doors were closed and bolted shut.

All night long the train rolled on without stopping. When the doors opened again, it was said that “We are in Ayagus.” It was a station near Semipalatinsk.

We then continued via the Trans-Siberian Railroad and arrived in the Altai region on September 29. A cold wind blew into our faces. That made it plain to us that we were in Siberia. School was out of the question. The slogan was, “No work, no bread!”

By October 4 I already had a permanent work assignment in a flax-processing place. About fourteen months later I was “re-qualified” and transferred from the Altai to the forests in the Far North.  I was placed into the Trud-Army in an “Improvement Camp” in the Gorki region, where thousands of older German women compatriots were already working, starving, and freezing. There it was made rather clear to me who I was.

It took another eight years before I was allowed to re-arrange the rest of my life: working and studying, marrying and saving, then working and studying while raising three children, coping with the early death of my husband and, finally, leaving for Germany.

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

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