The Youth and Organizations in Bessarabia during the 1930s
Nader, Christine. "The Youth and Organizations in Bessarabia during the 1930s." Mitteilungsblatt, July 2012, 4-5.
Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO.
Note: Heinz Fieβ was the main speaker for the Day of Culture held May 5, 2012 in the Haus der Bessarabiendeutschen [House of Bessarabian Germans] in Stuttgart. The Bessarabian German Association’s Cultural Committee had been invited, and the title of this article was the day’s topic.
Some seventy interested participants found their way early to the meeting room of the Heimathaus, and they took advantage of the time before the start of our event to greet acquaintances and to chat.
By 10 AM Erika Wiener welcomed the numerous guests on behalf of the Cultural Committee and outlined the event for them.
Following a song participated in by the entire group with piano accompaniment, Lore Netzsch put the visitors in the right frame of mind by introducing the thought for the day taken from Psalm 50, verse 15: “Call upon me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” [RSV translation – Tr.]
Another song preceded a word of welcome by our national chairman, Günter Vossler, who expressed delight over “this full house and your strong interest in this year’s topic.”
He informed the attendees of the highlights and goals of the newly-formed “Strategic Commission,” which has met several times and has deliberated on and drawn up the framework for the continued development of our Association.
Then Erika Wiener gave the floor to the main speaker, Heinz Fieβ, who reiterated the topic of his presentation: “Youth and Organizations in Bessarabia during the 1930s.” He outlined the topic as follows:
- Development of organizational life
- Significance of social organizations for community life
- Impact from the [political] “Renewal Movement” on organizational life.
Regarding Point 1:
The development of organizational life began toward the end of the 19th Century with the establishment of women’s organizations (Sarata in 1886, Klöstitz in 1887). There housewives met regularly, working together on handmade articles to be sold for the benefit of the community. An example of the latter: money for constructing a well in the community. These meetings included much singing, conversation, and general enjoyment of being together.
In 1898 the first consumer organization arose in Sarata with the establishment of a store for consumer goods. In 1921, twenty consumer groups together formed an “Association of Consumer Organizations and Cooperatives.” Beginning in 1895, super-regional teachers conferences were held, and from these arose a so-called “Lehrerbund’ [Teachers’ Alliance] in Arzis. By 1923 an officially sanctioned teachers’ association was formed, with its seat in Sarata.
In 1905 the “South Russian Educational Association” was formed in Odessa in order to “foster the intellectual life,” with the express goal of starting schools, libraries and reading rooms. Presumably, the founding of the secondary schools in Tarutino (1906 and 1908) were tied to this organization, which in 1910 was ordered by government officials to cease its activities.
Full development of organizational life did not occur until after World War I. The early 1920s saw the establishment of local cultural and social organizations such as sports clubs, music and choral groups, social clubs, theater groups, game playing groups, and the like.
The strong post-World-War-I increase in the number of Bessarabian Germans studying in Germany also led to the establishment of certain organizations. For example, in 1920 the “Central Association of Students in Foreign Countries” was formed in Leipzig, and a corresponding group called the “Association of Black Sea Students” was formed in 1921 in Tübingen. (At the founding of the latter group, thirty-nine of the eighty-nine members were Bessarabia Germans.)
Regarding Point 2:
Most significant for community life were local youth and cultural organizations. People of similar interests would meet to pursue those interests together and to foster community spirit. Not only did they engage as a group in sports or [instrumental] music or singing, but they also organized excursions, hikes, evenings of entertainment, and various presentations. The most important aim was to keep the youth who had completed their school years “off the streets,” to support them, and to offer them opportunities for getting together.
But it was not only the youth who were intended to benefit from organizational life. Most social groups also offered events for their elders, including scientific presentations and, in particular, presentations on agricultural topics.
Major highlights were annual meetings and special anniversary celebrations of the organizations, to which clubs from neighboring communities were frequently invited.
Communities built club houses that not only various local groups, but also regional and super-regional associations would be able to use for presentations or workshops.
In these ways, the various organizations – in addition to the schools – made significant contributions toward maintaining and developing command of the German language.
Regarding Point 3:
National Socialism, growing ever stronger in Germany, and the concurrent efforts by Romania toward “Romania-zation” had a significant impact on the Germans in Bessarabia. Young academics returning to Bessarabia from studies in Austria and Germany, among them several teachers, brought with them the National Socialist way of thinking, which in turn was increasingly disseminated by Bessarabian German newspapers such as “Deutsche Zeitung Bessarabiens [German Newspaper of Bessarabia]” (DZB) and “Deutsches Volksblatt [German Newsletter for the People]” (DV), as well as by German radio broadcasts.
A Renewal Movement was established in Bessarabia in 1931. It organized itself in imitation of the German Führer model and immediately rejected the democratic principle espoused by the Ethnic Council that was founded in 1918.
Many of those returning needed to re-adapt to life in Bessarabia. During their student life they had more or less been caught up in National Socialist ideas, so in Bessarabia they tended to join the “Renewers,” seeing in the various associations an opportunity for introducing their new way of thinking and thereby to spread it.
Whereas during the 1920s, participation in the organizations had offered a relaxed opportunity for helping to structure one’s free time, in the 1930s the “Renewers” moved rather aggressively within those groups.
“If you have the youth, you have the future!” On that topic, there follows an excerpt from the article “Organizations and Raising the Youth” from the “Bessarabische Beobachter [Bessarabian Observer]” of Dec. 1, 1932:
[Reprinted in the Mitteilunsgblatt article in the old formal German print script – Tr.]
Our youth must be brought up with entirely new basic principles, not by decisions of a majority, but with personal responsibility, and through free subordination to the Führer, who has assumed his leadership not through endless annual elections, but through his personal superiority and wealth of experience. So-called “cultural work” alone accomplishes nothing – what matters is the mindset, which must be influenced in the strongest way possible. In other words, it is the spirit of the German ethnic youth movement that must catch a hold of our still unformed, but moldable youth in order to create an ever growing community of educators that adapts to our present conditions.
As early as 1932, the first meetings were taking place – all with the aim of providing the organizational life with a new external and internal structure. In place of democratic rules, here, too, the goal was to introduce a new Führer principle, and the youth was to submit freely to their Führer. Emphasis was to be put not on communal life, but on educating the youth.
By means of “exercises for order” the youth was to assume an “upright posture” physically, and they were to be re-educated politically with the goal of a new intellectual posture.
During elections to the people’s council in 1934 the “Renewers” received fifty percent of the votes.
By now they were able to put their trusted people into all leading positions – not only in politics, but especially in the organizations, which had gained strong importance in community life. Old Germanic customs such as the “egg hunt” were introduced into Bessarabia, and German folk songs regained significance, and even a so-called Bessarabian folk costume was designed and introduced.
New political youth organizations and the so-called “fighting movement” were established and enjoyed strong popularity among the youth.
Strict discipline, new contacts with Reichs-German youth, and taking specific courses alongside them held strong attraction for young Bessarabian Germans. Youth organizations organized free instructional courses for boys and girls, all with the goal of grooming new leaders for their organizations.
Large gatherings for the youth, such as nation-wide youth days, and even the by then annual “egg hunt” were organized with emphasis on young people, clad in the (new) “traditional” folk garb, marching in strict formation, which impressed participants and onlookers alike.
In 1934, with the so-called “Volksprogramm [Program for the People],” a complete ethnic training program for the youth and control over the various organizations were placed under the “Gauleiter” [a Nazi word denoting district leader – Tr.], and everything proceeded in step with the education and training of youth in the German Reich.(Author’s note: after the election success for the Renewal Movement the “Volksrat” [People’s Council] was renamed “Gaurat.”)
The “Association of Cultural Organizations” quietly ceased its activities. The Renewal Movement had simply overtaken it.
Heinz Fieβ’s presentation was accompanied by many original photos from the Association’s archive and with original newspaper clippings from the “Bessarabischer Beobachter” (BB), the “Deutsche Zeitung Bessarabiens “ (DZB), and the Deutsches Volklsblatt” (DV).
A group lunch followed the presentation.
The lunch break presented an opportunity to visit the Heimatmuseum and to participate in a guided tour by Albert Häfner. The bookstore was open, and Hugo Knöll was available for questions regarding genealogy research. Many visitors used the time for private conversations.
At 2 PM the attendees met again for reactions to the morning’s presentation, moderated by Werner Schäfer. A lively discussion ensued regarding the content of the presentation, with many personal stories from contemporary witnesses complementing it richly.
At the conclusion, Erika Wiener again expressed her sincere gratitude to Heinz Fieβ for his very successful and informative presentation. And the Cultural Day ended in relaxed atmosphere with coffee and yeast cakes.
Organized “Egg Hunt” in Tarutino, 1935.
Farmers’ Day in Teplitz, 1937.
Theater group in Sarata, 1934.
Women’s group in Sarata.
Looking into the meeting room.
Heinz Fieβ during his presentation.
Erika Wiener expressing thanks to Heinz Fieβ.
Report by Christine Nader
Photos by Erika Schaible-Fieβ
Historical Photos: from the archive of the Heimatmuseum
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation and to Dr. Nancy Herzog for proofreading the article.