| Germans From Russia: Our Compatriots From Karaganda Minna Became Miss Lower Saxony, Maria has Fallen
Silent, Waldemar is Building a House -- Encounters With Germans
Lachauer, Ulla. "Germans From Russia: Our Compatriots From Karaganda Minna Became Miss Lower Saxony, Maria has Fallen Silent, Waldemar is Building a House -- Encounters With Germans From Russia." Die Zeit, March 2004.
Minna wurde Miss Niedersachsen, Maria ist verstummt,
und Waldemar baut ein Haus -- Begegnungen mit Russlanddeutschen
An article from a March, 2004 issue of the major German
newspaper, Die Zeit, taken from the following website http://www.zeit.de/2004/12/Russlanddeutsche
Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog,
Germans from Russia don't have a home anywhere, not in Russia, not
in Germany. Their life stories are shattered, their history a witness
to political despotism. From the Kazakh steppes they come to Bonn,
to Berlin, to the Black Forest, and they feel like fish out of water.
Their families provide their only feeling of belonging. Our author
visited a few of these families. One of a myriad of questions: what
does "German" mean?
She comes "from Russia," Maria Pauls told her neighbors
in Kehl on the Rhine River, and to anyone else who asked her where
she's from. The reaction was always, "Oh," and then the
topic was exhausted. It would have been more correct had Maria Pauls
said, "From Karaganda in Kazakhstan." But that was something
she would shy away from, especially ever since she had come into a
situation in which she had a lot of trouble explaining. She wanted
to tell how as a girl, in 1931, she had been tossed onto the naked
steppes simply because she was the "child of a kulak." Then,
about to make an effort to explain the word "kulak," she
noticed that her conversation partner was a bit lost, she started
to get mixed up, adding Russian words such as kollektivisaziya and
deportaziya. She spoke of semlyanki, sod huts "built with our
hands," of her "little sister Leni, who froze to death in
the Buran," and finally, of "heartache," of "devastation."
All the while she seemed to have the feeling that her German, lightly
peppered with "plautdietsch" [a dialect], might not even
be intelligible in Germany.
[Caption, picture on the first page: Karaganda's Palace of Culture
and Memorial to the Mine WorkersPhoto by Ulla Lachauer]
In addition to the exact, correct reply there is, in fact, the "definitively
correct answer": She was "from Lysanderhoeh." The place
was in Russia, but not really Russia, rather, it was a "German
island within the Tsarist Empire, a Mennonite colony near the Volga.
That is where Maria Pauls was born in 1916, just before the October
Revolution. It is where she grew up, along with books such as Snow
White, songs like Heissa Kathreinerle, Muellers Esel, and Schiller's
poem Die Glocke. This feeling of the kind of home of her childhood
was what she hoped to rediscover in Kehl on the Rhine, where she has
been living since 1988. But she did not find it, and her stories about
the godly village near the Volga found just as little resonance as
those of Karaganda.
Only her family -- and even among them, only her sister Anna, a few
cousins, with whom she had run to school along the low wall lining
the street which, as every child in Lysanderhoeh knew, was built by
the original settlers from Westprussia -- ever knew her as "Mariechen
Maria Pauls realized that she has been
living for 16 years now in a country in which she is unable to relate
to others where she is from and who she is. Germany has gifted her
with a life as carefree as never before, and she is eternally grateful
for that, yet the country has remained a stranger to her. And that
moment, when she caused a German bureaucrat to shed tears meant
a lot to her. To document her right to a surviving dependent's pension
she had shown him a letter that had been kept sacred within the
family, and which read as follows: "My dear Mariechen, ...
I am informing you that I am still alive, but have been very ill
since two days ago -- it's malaria. There is no normal life here.
... How are the children doing? Tell them that their father will
soon come home ..." It was the last sign of life from her husband.
It had arrived in Karaganda in August of 1943.
Over the span of many years I kept talking with Maria Pauls about
She died during the winter before the last one.
Karaganda is about 5,000 kilometers from Germany, not far from China.
It is the largest provincial capital city of the Gulag Archipelago.
The Russians called it the "City of deep shaft mine workers,
who owe their lives to the Great Socialist October Revolution."
Prior to 1917, it was nothing but a land area for nomads. The Kazakhs
called it Sary Arka, or the Golden Steppe, not suitable for permanent
residence. Temperatures reach 50 degrees plus [Celsius, or 120-plus
degrees Fahrenheit] and go down to 50 degrees minus [nearly 60 degrees
minus Fahrenheit], accompanied by hurricane-strength winds. No one
could withstand it all for very long.
As early as 1833, coal was discovered under the grass. Russian entrepreneurs,
and later a British consortium, had been scratching in the dirt.
The gigantic extent of the coal reserve was discovered only by Lenin's
geologists, and with Stalin's "industrialization war"
its exploitation began in earnest.
In 1930, a railway was extended from West Siberia to the South.
Kulaks constructed it. These diligent farmers from the Ukraine and
western Russia, who in the course of collectivization had been disowned
and deported, were also the first settlers here, and the 14-year-old
Maria Pauls was among them. She and her family and other residents
had been brought here from Lysanderhoeh in the summer of 1931. They
were told to "live there as best you can." They dug themselves
into the earth, and many did not survive the first winter. But despite
a high mortality rate, Karaganda by 1934 had the required 125,000
residents to be called a city.
More and more new ones arrived -- all victims of the Staliniist
"cleansings." In 1937 it was the Korean minority from
the Vladivostok area; then in 1939, following the Hitler-Stalin
Pact, there were the Poles and others from the Baltic; during the
Second World War there came the Finns, Germans, Japanese, and other
members of ethnic groups considered unreliable, such as Tchetchnians,
Crimean-Tatars, and Ingushians. The largest influx arrived in the
fall of 1941, when the Supreme Soviet -- using a bizarre pretext
in branding them as spies and subversives -- ordered all Germans
from the Volga region, and some from the Ukraine and the Caucasus
area deported beyond the Urals. Ten thousand of them ended up in
In the early 1940s, the city may well have had a German majority
population; it is estimated as a quarter since then. It was then
that it happened: Maria Pauls has just been married four years to
her Heinrich, a compatriot from the Volga region, and was pregnant
with her third child. A classical couple in the modern Soviet style:
she works in the collective, he in the underground mines. One day,
in September of 1942, the young Pauls are giving overnight stay
to a young beggar who, as it emerges later, is an escaped German
prisoner of war on the run. As a result, Heinrich is arrested and
convicted of treason, never to return from the prisoner camp.
[Caption: One of the "Dirt homes" in Karaganda Photo by
For decades, no one in the West knew anything of these conditions.
A few things, especially about the Ulbricht Brigade, were learned
from Wolfgang Leonhard, a German Communist who ended up in Karaganda
in 1941. Also from prisoner's memoirs by Maragarete Bbuber-Neuman,
and from Solzhenitzin's Gulag Archipelago, but all of these reports
were more like tiny peepholes in a black curtain.
By European standards, Karaganda is not a city. During my first
visit there I was more than amazed: one broad boulevard, the former
regional committee HQ of the Soviet Communist Party, a boxy hotel,
the pompous palace of culture, a swimming pool, cinema, all built
more or less in the pseudo-classical style of the Stalin era, as
if they were taken right out of the book for establishing Soviet
cities. One single facade, and beyond the main thoroughfare, Karaganda
presents a wild hodgepodge of elements and different worlds. Modular
buildings right next to village structures, mining shafts next to
factory monstrosities, all surrounded by mountains of trash that
in the surrounding flats appear like oversized bosoms. And wherever
there is an open area, there are herdsmen on horseback taking care
of their herds.
Karagandisnki Kerch, Black Forest
About 200,000 people from Karaganda and surrounding area now live
in Germany. They are as numerous as the population of Freiburg,
even more numerous than the refugees expelled from the Memelland
and other areas at war's end. But just as the latter, they scattered
into the four winds, they can be found anywhere, even on the Island
of Foehr. Before the decline of the mining industry, the Ruhr region
might have been an ideal place for those from Karaganda. There are
a few small, dense settlements of them, mostly due to religious
motives -- these can be found near Osnabrueck, in Hersewinkel, Neuwied,
Frankenthal, and in the Black Forest.
The Karagandisnki Kerch [Russian adjective for Karaganda, plus the
dialect word "Kerch," which means "Church"]
is such a place. On a Wednesday evening, long before the meeting
is to start, they are sitting around on chairs covered in red velvet.
On the right side are the men in their dark, old fashioned suits,
and on the left are the women with their head scarves, woolen ones
with imprinted roses, or even some airy ones made of gaudily colored
chiffon. The worship space still betrays its sinful past. It used
to be the casino for the Canadian occupation troops, whose headquarters
was in Lahr. Out front the preacher stretches his arms toward the
sky, and each sentence is also accompanied by a large gesture. "The
world's wisdom is foolishness before God." Today's theme is
Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. "Do not strive for
human wisdom," admonishes the voice, "bow down before
your Savior." After a passage from Isaiah 29:14 they're back
to Paul, followed by singing, and suddenly all are on their knees,
between the rows of chairs, and all murmuring something, a confession
of sins, prayers. Some women are sobbing, an apocalyptic mood is
in the air. "The world is becoming ever darker," whispers
the preacher. After an hour and a half the final hymn is announced
-- number 682: "Take courage, you tiny herd, do not fear your
"Should I be afraid now?" asks Johannes Gudi. He used
to be head of the Evangelical community of Karaganda, and it was
he who had assembled parts of that community back together in Lahr.
Gudi's own life story is representative of the courageous underground
church of Karaganda, famous all over the Soviet Union. He was born
in 1929 as a farmer's son on the Crimea, deported to the Polar Circle,
later to Kazakhstan, worked three decades in the mine shafts of
Karaganda. Even when quite young, as early as during Stalin's time,
he felt "a calling" and entered the "good service"
of the illegal community, which met in remote houses for prayer
-- in German. Because German was the language of the[ir] Bible,
they kept it up with great care. At final count there were 32 such
small communities -- until 1974, when they were finally allowed
to build a church. Still, there were arrests and interrogations,
even "when Gorbachev ascended the throne."
Gudi's greatest surprise in Germany was that the temptations of
consumerism were harder to overcome than abiding prosecution. Because
of this new peril, and because ordained preachers seemed just to
be "too high in the sky" for them, the small group of
Karagandans fought to be able to exist as their own closed community
within the EKD [Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Germany]. "If
we only knew of some place in the desert, we would go there,"
Gudi is reputed to have said to the bishop. "Our own watered-down,
worldly church offers them too little," said Frank-Uwe Kuendiger,
pastor of Martin's Church in nearby Lahr. He would be glad for mere
dialog, but otherwise took the entire matter in a relaxed manner,
viewing it as the return of Pietism to the German South, where he
had been born in the 19th Century, had inspired those seeking God
and radiated his message far beyond, even into Russia.
Lahr is a steadfast little city. Hardly anywhere else did the epic
downfall of the Wall change life as much as here near the French
border. The Canadians, generally well liked, had left here in 1993,
and practically overnight the quarters they had left behind were
filled with strangers from the East. By now the number of Aussiedler
here stands at 9,000 -- 22 percent of the population.
Tormosok from Marzahn
Many, and not only evil tongues, maintain that Berlin-Marzahn may
well be the stronghold of homo sovieticus, who came to feel comfortable
in this largest area of new construction of the entire future German
Democratic Republic. Cheap living space within 8- to 15-story high-rises,
and lack of tradition as the rule. Outwardly at least, Marzahn looks
similar to Soviet urban areas. On this particular February day the
illusion is nearly perfect, there is a constant, but rarely stormy
snowfall. But the driving snow makes it difficult to make out Mehrower
Allee Number 46. Regina and Anatoliy came here in 1999, from Saran,
a so-called "sputnik," that is, a satellite city of Karaganda,
and along came their 4 half-grown children. Over there they were
known as the Andriyashins, here they call themselves the Stills
-- a symbolic act of culture change, and a change that probably
also altered the relationship of the couple.
The Stills feel like fish out of water. In their early forties,
they have to learn a whole new language. But even though they would
take any jobs whatsover, there is no employment where the new language
would be used. Marzahn has a 19.5 percent unemployment rate and,
since recently, two Russian-language channels on cable. Moscow TV
blares into the dreariness of everyday life.
Anatoliy and Regina, both born in 1957, know very little about their
own origins. Their parents were Black Sea Germans, and Regina was
born during deportation to the northern Polar Circle. To get better
work, the Stills moved to the Kazakh steppes in 1958. The Andriyashin
family were Russians from the region of Oryol. Anatoliy's father,
a political prisoner, had been incarcerated near Karaganda, where
he met his wife, a Tatar living near the prison camp. Every family
has its own oddyssey to relate. Amidst the forceful mixing of peoples,
it became ever rarer that one fell in love with someone of one's
Childhood during the time following Stalin's death was usually marked
with poverty. Until age 11, Aanatoliy was a so-called "sod
person." Although his father earned decent money in the mines,
the family of five was not able to escape their sod home in primitive
Old Karaganda (colloquially called "Shanghai") until the
end of the 1960s, when they moved into an apartment in a prefab
high-rise. His own generation grew up under somewhat easier conditions
than their elders. He softened his inner opposition to the regime,
became a Pioneer, Komzomoltz -- a natural, immovable way of life.
Not to succumb to it would take the very strongest of convictions.
The city became home for many youth, among them Regina, who was
often insulted with epithets such as "You fascist!" It
was a term whose meaning she did not actually comprehend.
During this particular afternoon, a couple, visibly distraught,
attempts to sort out, as a favor to me, the shards of their world.
Given their hodgepodge of language, more Russian than German, nothing
and no one seems to emerge as a concrete picture from it, with the
exception only of their mothers. The one is credited with Christmas
tree and Easter egg nest traditions, the other; the Tatar, with
a few Muslim customs. Some relics of these the Andriyashins-Stills
have passed on to their children. Perhaps one day they will be able
to say that their greatest accomplishment as parents was to wrest
their four children from the steppes and to plant them anew in the
sand of the province [of Brandenburg]. "They," the sons,
"are good in school," and have one leg up on the world
of Germany. The daughters, however, threw themselves into early
marriage and motherhood, and in their own homes, only Russian is
[With folks such as these,] no one is allowed back into the winter
without some nourishment. My package of pralines bears the words
"ptitshye moloko," or "milk of the birds." As
I part and tell them, in the manner of irreverent Westerners who
think they know Russia, "Thank you for the Tormosok,"
they aseem thunderstruck. The word is Karagandan. In the language
of the miners, tormosok connotes food eaten during the afternoon
break in the underground mines. "Not enough snow here,"
sighs Anatoliy Still as I depart. It is the only complaint he has
been able to express.
"Volk auf dem Weg [A People on the Move]"
"Minus 33 degrees [minus 37 degrees Celsius]" is Yahoo's
overnight prediction for Karaganda. - The worldwide web offers such
things as Karagandinskaya, a sausage made in Germany according to
a meat combination or recipe of the steppes. - The site www.nash-mir.de
[Russian language] finds Lyosha, Rita, kids who, under the catchword
"Karagandans in all Lands, unite!" chat about homesickness,
their happy school years, wireless telephones, etc. In the periodical
of the "Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland," Karaganda
is often found way in the back, among the personals. People looking
for others, death announcements, a school class or a group of former
collective workers or construction brigade wanting to gather in
Hamm or Ulm. The editorial part of Volk auf dem Weg [the periodical
in question, title loosely translated as "A People on the Move"]
deals with other matters, that is, basically with three topics:
"We are German! We have suffered! We produce more than we take!"
Every month it is the same litany, as times an angry one, at times
a huge scream. Everything is correct and at the same time blind
2.4 million Aussiedler from the former Soviet Union -- this challenge,
the second-largest for Germany following reunification -- is belittled
via careful calculating arguments. Secondly, nothing hereabouts
is more difficult than being a victim. Any story of suffering must
play its part in highly complicated discourse and placed alongside
with Holocaust. Without that, any retelling of the deportation of
1941, of the Trudarmiya -- the "work army" that cost hundreds
of thousands their lives -- and of the Stalin era in particular,
amounts to nothing. Concerning being German: they are German mainly
as subjects of law -- a historically based claim. But the term is
not useful in describing identity. They and we locals have lived
in completely different worlds at least since the 1917 October Revolution
and, basically, even earlier, since Catherine the Great brought
the first Germans into the Tsarist Empire. So there are at least
two centuries, half an eternity, that must be bridged.
The thinking process of the Landsmannschaft lacks inclusion particularly
of "Karaganda." There is a shying away from, perhaps even
shame in, depicting this entire strangeness, especially the incisively
formative power of everything Soviet. Who are we? Germans, or, as
it seems so often, Russians, who have been tossed about by history
and who were seeking a door open to the West. To illuminate this
aspect requires a look at cities like Karaganda, where a permanently
entangled mix of identities was created, and where the debasement
of humans culminated in complete loss of self, and in endless variety.
Germans or Russians? There is no real answer, rather, the full powers
of imagination are required. Imagine Karaganda! And then a Karagandan
who, for the first time, ever experiences the miracle of an old
city. Or one who in English class, is first touched by the grand
breath of the sentence "Life and liberty and the pursuit of
happiness." One who attempts to grasp the regulations of a
national butchers' guild, or perhaps the Carnival in the Rhine region.
That Karagandan, as mentioned, does not exist. For that reason,
unlike those from Koenigsberg or Breslau, it is hardly possibly
to organize his kind into a society of compatriots. The latter were
driven off ancient estates and after 1945, despite dispersal, some
even with the help of a few elite folks, were able to maintain a
certain collective cohesion. In contrast, Karagandans -- descendants
of farmers from many, vastly diverse German colonies, tossed together
and branded as proletarians, never permitted to communicate with
one another about their commonness -- they are atomized beings.
Their only connection is the family. In Germany this group of "people
on the move" has reached the end of their meandering, and it
is dissolving. Its final meeting place is the virtual room in the
The Ninth House, Koenigswinter
"They're all illegal workers," said the neighbors gloomily,
naturally with some envy thrown in, too. Months passed until some
realized that they were really dealing with "relatives"
who on evenings and weekends show up at the construction site in
Stieldorf. They comprise a good dozen -- brothers, uncles, cousins,
all having come to help Waldemar Ivanenko. Any one of them can lay
bricks, various trade skills are represented, for the roof trusses,
for heating, for electric work. They are fortified with advice and
prayers from the grandparents. Grandmother Rebeka Dyck is doing
the cooking. "We must stick together, or we'll all go under,"
says the 32-year-old builder of his own home, a bashful, seemingly
Waldemar Ivanenko: on one side old German, on the other Ukrainian.
Names like these support the conflict. Ivanenko is one of a roughly
70-member clan of Dycks who settled in the Bonn area around the
end of the 1980s. This is the ninth house they have built together.
Without even being conscious of the fact, they are thereby carrying
on a long-standing tradition. During the 19th Century, their ancestors
were erecting houses in the great void of Ukraine and the Caucasus.
Simple ones at first, followed by ever prouder ones. They represented
pioneer spirit and success, but a cutting off by Germans from their
Russian environment. Following the downfall of all of this, in 1941,
during the deportation, they built once again. And that is where
the paths of Heinrich Dyck and Rebeka Ramchen would cross.
[There is no caption for the adjacent map of Kazakhstan. It is designated
as a graphic by Die Zeit.]
Try to build anything in the Kazakhian steppe! Nothing but soil,
grasses, and thistles. No wood, no electricity. Animal skins in
place of window panes. The very first abode for the young couple
in Karaganda was a semlyanka. The second, a "Saman house"
made of clay blobs. Nine children found a place inside. Once the
home was expanded via a solid roof, to protect the wash from coal
dust, at another time the heating method was improved. In an economy
where everything is lacking, they had to be ever inventive.
With conscious determination, miner Heinrich Dyck and his wife never
moved into one of the high-rise buildings, where "badness itself"
resided. Within their own four walls they were able to be relatively
free. Every Friday they baked "ribbelkuchen," and Rebeka
Dyck would spread a blanket across the floor and tell her children
stories of better and more God-pleasing times. Their house was a
world with its own walls, it had its garden and a barn, cows, "chicks,"
and so on, thereby creating a private economy. Through Khrushchev
... Brezhnev ... Gorbachev ... it remained the center of life for
the family, for daughter Pauline, a crane operator. Jobs in construction
were typical for her generation. Pauline's eldest son, Waldemar,
often stayed with his Oma and Opa Dyck as a child.
It was this Waldemar who, for the life of him, had not wished to
go to Germany. He was 16 and, after arriving in Germany, homesick
for years. In the crowded conditions of emergency quarters learning
was rather impossible. Somehow, at sometime, he just left, was gone
forty days without a trace. Suddenly he came back, his hair cut
nearly bald, in a heavily stuffed jacket. He had gone to Karaganda.
And then he came out with this scream: "Maaaamaaah, thank you
for taking me to Germany!" After that he still did some "crappy"
things. He also got outlived the drama over Svetlana, a German from
Karaganda, whom he married at age 23. They will not, however, have
truly arrived until they and their three children move into the
By far the greatest part is accomplished through their own efforts.
Capital is as good as not available, and bank loans are a frightful
matter. It is a project of an untrained worker and a nurse who works
with the aged. Not unlike the way that those traumatized have-nots
built homes in the far East 40 - 50 years back.
Children of the Steppes, Wolfsburg and Werl
Cafe Wallenstein, Wolfsburg. Miss Niedersachsen [Lower Saxony] enters.
Linna Hensel, just as it says in the newspaper, is coming, but never
alone, always accompanied by her elder sister Alexandra. They're
both pretty. Their faces mirror two continents, Alexandra the more
Asian, and Linna the more European. Linna's name is actually Lina:
"The second 'n' was added by our Korean father, otherwise the
name was too German for him. - "Our family was completely scattered,"
laughs Alexandra. "And how," smiles Linna, and Alexandra
adds; "Your head will be spinning!"
"We," -- they always speak in plural, with mother being
the third in the gang -- "Mamma, skashi, what was that? Since
when is our Oma deaf?" they yell into the cellphone. With apparent
pleasure, they walk me through the torture chambers of the 20th
Century, with somewhat the following result: Their grandmother,
Lina Hensel, born in 1935 in Darmstadt/Ukraine, became deaf at age
two as a result of an infection. In 1941, the Hensels tried to avoid
deportation by moving to Asia, but because the German Wehrmacht
arrived too soon, they were [detained for three years and] later
settled in the Warthegau [in Poland]. Lina's father was killed in
the war, and in 1945 the rest of the family was "repatriated"
back to the Soviet Empire. On the way, Lina and her older sister
had to bury their mother. Final destination: Karaganda. Two orphans,
two of so many others in a wild, miserable city. Hunger, early pregnancy,
drunken Russian husbands. Oma Lina, mute due to the deafness, eventually
was forced to raise three children by herself.
"There must have been nothing nice in your childhood, Mama?"
asked Alexandra via the cellphone, "but when the renetki were
blooming, that was nice!?" "Renetki are apple trees,"
explained Linna. Their mother had no better luck later in life,
with the Korean, because he simply left her. Yet, after two generations
of complete lack of familial normalcy, mother was able to provide
the two with a "happy childhood."
Family closeness in a one-room residence in Karaganda of the 1980's.
When mother happened to be home from the cheese factory, the three
would brood together like hens, and mother would read from whatever
pleased her, Romeo and Julia, Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. Outside,
beyond the door of the new building, was the steppe. There was skating,
sledding on the dangerously steep Terekonik, a slag pile outside
the mines. In the summer the girls would run far into the grass
land. "Children here don't have such a thing -- such freedom!"
Emigration in 1992, along with their German Oma, was mostly another
childhood adventure. Accompanied by mother ("Head held high,
go!") they conquered the strange school, were able to deal
with whistles and teasing quite well. Admirers they had plenty,
at least one per finger, and that helped, too. By the time of final
exams, their German was perfect, perhaps with a minor North German
accent. Very soon after that, a triumph: Linna's victory at the
Miss Niedersachsen competition, a success for both of them. Alexandra
acted as Linna's coach -- diet, physical training, makeup -- she
designed and sewed the phantasyful, delicate robe.
They do like Germany a lot, and "that residents can get help."
The local Germans, who "are so reticent, living so much as
individuals," they felt a bit sorry for. The way the two are
sitting there and smoking away -- I trust they're capable of anything.
There is often a thin line between success and failure. Michail
Z., of a similar age, who had emigrated at the same time, even had
a father, a German stepfather, "A good one! The family is not
to blame" the prisoner in the place of detention in Werl wants
to make clear right away. He is diminutive, his eyes dart around
constantly, quickly changing direction. "I miss my country!"
"What exactly do you miss?" -- "The air." --
"What's it like?" -- "Sooty, from the coal."
-- "Nothing further?" -- "It smells good." --
"Like bitterness?" -- "Yes." And then he really
gets going telling his story, about the steppe and what the steppe
meant to him. "I was never a good boy, even in those days ..."
Michail Z. entered school in 1985, the year Gorbachev came to power.
The child experienced the breakup and downfall of the Soviet Union
as a loss of authority of the adults. What was left for them to
say to him? "Just get out of school, toss my bag out the window,
and me after it." He boarded the next bus and rode aimlessly
through the city and the steppe. He might "go hunting for mushrooms."
Or he might crawl around in Stari Gorod, the old part of the city
that had long sunk into the ground over neglected mineshafts, roaming
through ruins and tunnels. In the winters he skipped school entirely.
"Onto the roof and diving into the snow." It appears that
Michail has become a slave to the steppe, a wild man.
"Germany is boring. All the large cities are the same. Guetersloh
is small, Hannover large, and life is always the same: "Work,
watch TV, go to bed, ever saving your money." He is sorry for
his parents, his father slaving away all the time, mother cleaning
for others. Relatives who "are always building" -- he
speaks the words contemptuously. Here and there he tried to study,
but in his school there were just too many Russian speakers, and
even after two years of special subsidized training, there were
no jobs to be had, anyway, "not for Auslaender." Since
his stepfather did not fully adopt him, he did not have a German
passport. Michail simply took what he was unable to buy, he stole,
he cheated. He was given time in an insitution for youth, and later,
he was put in prison for three years, for an offense he would not
In April Michail Z. will be released from prison and deported back
to Kazakhstan. He is deliriously looking forward to seeing Karaganda
again. "Stay here? Never. Everything kaputt. Everyone is leaving."
All he wants to do is to get a driver's license and then make a
living driving a truck "in Europe." Expanding, borderless
Europe is for him an ideal space for a puteshestvennik, an adventure.
For Adenauer, the Asiatic steppes began at the Elbe. Who would have
imagined that our small Federal Republic would someday push its
horizon so far East? Today Germany reaches as far as the Oder, and
within our view once again are cities like Breslau and Riga. As
of immediately, the EU's borders are as far away as the Ukraine.
Our minds are filled to bursting, and still there isn't enough:
now we are forced to look even beyond the Ural.
In 1986, when Gorbachev's new passport law opened the door at least
slightly to those willing to emigrate and who had close relatives
in Germany, experts figured with an arriving total of 30,000 to
80,000 people. Karaganda alone had that many people of German descent.
But in those days, literally nothing was known of cities like that.
The same lack of knowledge also harbored the illusion that the unexpected
masses of people would, at least to some extent, allow themselves
to be diverted to settle in one of the former settlement areas,
such as the Volga region. In Germany, which had just been reunited
again, a watchword appeared to be: "Reestablishment of the
Volga Republic" (which had existed from 1924 on, a well known
creation of Lenin himself).
The Exodus was at first explained with the title "Returning
home." Perhaps these words intersected with a longing that
Maria Pauls or the elder Dycks had harbored. To return to the Schwabia
or Westprussia of earlier centuries was not possible. No one has
described more accurately what emigration was like than the Russian
singer Veronika Dolina. Her song is called Lufttransport [Transport
"Travel in the air, earthly emotions: 'Karaganda to Frankfurt
...,' from one pole to another. Women and children, the old ones,
are returning home to Ithaca. My heart feels terrible, even if the
destination is not Exile."
She continues: "Goethe forgot them, Rilke abandoned them, they
learned Russian, Kazakh." Once on the jetway they felt as if
they were flying into outer space: "Karaganda to Frankfurt,
Karaganda to the cosmos."
Reasons for and how the exodus occurred will be analyzed by future
historians; for Karaganda an initial assessment is as follows: On
September 30, 1973, about 400 Germans met for an illegal demonstration.
Arrests ensued. Entire families, enemies of things Soviet for mainly
religious reasons, cleared out toward Moldavia or to the Baltic
region, where applications for emigration appeared to have a better
chance to be accepted. After years of waiting, many -- a vanguard
-- were permitted to move to Germaniya.
Similarly courageous people, like the Dycks and the Pauls, attempted
immediately to take advantage of the new passport regulations. Not
too soon after, the movement had become unstoppable. For one thing,
because people were allowed to speak freely again, the past became
public -- deportation, forced labor, the entire nightmare of their
history. Also to light now came the dangerous situation the city
of Karaganda was in: Karaganda is situated between Semipalatinsk
(atomic test site), Baikonur (cosmodrome site) and Stepnogorsk (bio-weapons
site). At the same time, a societal earthquake was beginning to
rumble. The Kazakhs demanded their own rights, since the Soviet
colossus appeared to be wobbling. It was all more a feeling than
a clear conscious idea: Get out before something worse might happen
to you! Once the process was in gear, the result was something akin
to a chain reaction.
In 1989, Karaganda, with its 800,000 residents, was still a modern
metropolitan city of the Soviet model. By 1991 it, along with the
Empire, tumbled into nothingness. Its descent was almost as dramatic
as its rise 70 years back. 36 mines were closed. Coal, the cause
for Karaganda's founding, was no longer needed. Anyone who was able,
Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, etc., escaped into the old home country.
Heating fuel supplies failed in the wintertime, electricity did
not flow, empty blocks of apartments fell into ruin as if in time-lapse
tempo. "The steppe," said those who had remained, "will
win over the city again." That was the situation when the Gudi
family and the Hensels left it.
The exodus reached a temporary final phase during the mid-1990s.
After the Federal Republic limited immigrations to 100,000 per year
and introduced language tests, waiting periods jumped to from 3
to 7 years. Meanwhile, the situation in Karaganda had stabilized
somewhat. According to a plan by President Nasabayev, in order to
transform the North -- which had been overhwelmed by Russaians settlers
-- into a Kazakh region, a new capitol city, Astana, was established.
Settlement programs were established. Kazakhs who had been set free
in the collectives moved to the cities of the North, and so did
formerly exiled Kazakhs from Mongolia. Today Karaganda's population
is 45 percent Kazakh, earlier it had been 3 percent. The people
of nomads and semi-nomads that after 1917 had been catapulted into
modernity and, barely like any other, had lost its identity, its
traditions, its language, the Islamic faith, wants to overcome the
tragedy with all its might. And within this new order, even if it
develops remarkably peacefully, there is no room for those who are
waiting for emigration.
The family Onodalo is from Abai, a "sputnik" of Karaganda.
After 5 tough years of waiting, they have arrived in Friedland,
leaving behind 27 degrees minus [about minus 16 degrees Fahrenheit]
in pre-spring. "I a-m fe-ar," Ida Onodalo tries to spell
while showing deep furrows in her forehead under her brown locks.
Her husband Alexander and their grown son have disappeared. There
are just the two of us in the sleeping ward with its whitewashed
walls. In broken German, she says "I can't tale, o gospodi
[My God!]." She appears near fainting.
Her recent past includes weeks of taking leave, from their elder
son and his family, from her best friend Safat, a Kazakh woman,
from her students. She is a teacher who is suddenly speechless.
She, Ida, daughter of Volga-Germans, will now have to rely on her
husband, a Ukrainian, for whom things will be even more difficult.
His entire large clan remained behind in the steppes, his culture
has nearly zero chance for surviving in Germany.
"I do have a head and hands. I work, I do anything." Translation:
she'll work as a maid. Ida Onodalo is in her early fifties and has
no illusions whatsoever. "Shto budyet, to budyet [What will
be, will be.]!"
On a piece of paper, I draw a sketch of Eurasia for her, in it there's
Germany, a large dot designating Friedland. "This is where
you are now." I tell her of September, 1945, when the high
British officer, Perkins, commandeered the cow stalls of the experimental
station of Friedland and settled the first refugees in them on heaps
of heather. "This is a cow barn, Ida!" She cries. I draw
lines with arrows showing the paths of millions from Eastprussia,
Silesia, of those returning from the war, of my father-in-law, who
came from Karaganda in 1949, of refugees from the German Democratic
Republic, etc.. Ida does not really grasp my attempt to console
her. We are about the same age, born in 1951. She was born two years
before Stalin's death, I was born six years after Hitler's. Our
biographical coordinates have just intersected for the first time
On leaving, I get kisses and, as usual, Tormosok for the journey.
Final Years of Life, Kehl.
Maria Pauls, who was the first to bring Karaganda closer to me,
has fallen silent. Her retreat from the world occurred slowly, in
stages. After years of a satisfying life -- her children, grandchildren,
and great-grandchildren are all close by and appear to be finding
their way in Kehl -- the past caught up with her. A fall on icy
stairs, a broken hip, anesthesia -- no one knows exactly, how and
when, but she seems certainly transformed. Everywhere she suspected
the KGB, at night she was dismembered children lying around, catlike
animals. The only thing that helped her over her dread was her favorite
song: "Defenseless and abandoned, my heart often longed for
quiet peace." It is one of the famous hymns of comfort of the
Mennonites, and it has been a companion throughout her life.
These fearsome times lasted for years, and then her mind began to
wane. Gradually she became calmer. Once in a while she said, out
of the blue: "I want to be with my sister." That meant
the cemetery. Sister Anna had been the first out of the whole family
to be buried in Kehl. Apparently her grave was a fixed point in
Maria's mind, a place that, along with the metaphysical "eternal
home," she really needed. The others who had died were all
far away, their graves usually without a place or a name, like that
of her husband, who was hastily buried somewhere in the steppes
of Karaganda. Or that of her grandparents, impossible to find because
nothing much is left of Lysanderhoeh.
Maria Pauls did not leave her bed during the past winter. She simply
lies there, peacefully, without the headscarf she had always worn.
Words, even the most loving, be they in German or dialect, appear
not reach her any longer. Only when the nurse Larissa, a compatriot,
asks her, in Russian, to turn over when she makes her bed, does
she seem to perk up. Maria Pauls is still reacting to the language
of orders she had been given in Karaganda.
Ulla Lachauer's documentary novel also takes place in Karaganda:
Ulla Lachauer: "Rita's Folks. History of a German-Russian Family."Rowolt
TB, Reinbek 2003; 432 pages. 9.90 Euros.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.