Emigration: A German-Russian Dream
By Anton Bosch
"Nemzy - die Deutschen in der Sowjetunion" - "Die
Einfüng der Wehrpflicht"
"Die Deutschen in der UdSSR - einst und jetzt",
Globus Spezial, Verein für das Deutschtum im Aussland e.V.
(VDA), Berlin, Germany, no date, pages 127-131.
Almost all nationalities in the Soviet Union were
able to attain their territorial autonomous homeland. This is still
denied to Germans.
Declassed as a fringe group in Soviet society, German-Russians
had just one goal: to immigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany,
where they can maintain their mother tongue for themselves and for
their children, where conditions for a life as Germans exist, where
the right for freedom and humaneness are ensured.
The desire for individual and political freedom is
more strongly developed in Germans than in any other nationality
because they know best how to appreciate the meaning of freedom
after an oppression lasting for decades. As subjects of a totalitarian
regime and as ethnic Germans they endured oppression twice: with
body and soul. If their national autonomy in the East cannot be
attained, there will only be one way out: to move where they hope
to be able to attain their goals.
Besides, the desire to practice traditional religion
is still unbroken. Persecution of the faithful continues in the
former USSR. In many cases religious persecution takes on radical
forms. Especially members of the Free Baptist Church, which is rightly
called the martyr's church in the former USSR, are constantly exposed
to inhuman persecution. They are thrashed by special groups of thugs;
meetings and religious services are broken up. Believers are called
names at work, children from faithful families are laughed at and
become fall guys by order of the school administration.
As the Germans in the Soviet Union have no autonomous
and cultural independence and cannot get a minimum of rights for
their ethnic group for their continued national existence, they,
therefore, have only one goal: To immigrate to the Federal Republic
of Germany, the land of their ancestors. Paradoxically, now they
want to return to that same country their ancestors had to leave
because of similar inhumane living conditions.
They risk everything for this goal to return to the
Federal Republic of Germany: their friends, their jobs, familiar
environment, education, occupation and their meager savings they
have accumulated through diligence and frugality. They are allowed
to bring along only 90 rubles and personal clothing.
Upon application for immigration, hell breaks lose:
Reprisals at school and at work up to termination, denial of registration
with police when changing residence, confiscation of property and
houses, searches of homes, arrests for petitions with the authorities
to emigrate, expulsion from universities of those few who have received
a place at a university, etc.
Worst of all, they are affected even morally when
former friends and coworkers shun them, because persons willing
to immigrate are as a rule treated as "anti-Soviet people" with
all consequences. In the General Declaration of Human Rights by
the United Nations in 1948, which was also signed by the former
Soviet Union, it is said: "Everybody has the right to leave any
country including their own as well as to return to it."
In reality, this right is arbitrarily interpreted
by the former Soviet Union depending on the general situation between
East and West.
Only those Germans or Jews who can present an invitation
(Vysov) from their relatives in the West have the opportunity to
immigrate. Even a new decree which became effective on January 1,
1987, didn't change anything. To the contrary, it limits the right
to apply for emigration to immediate relatives (only father, mother,
brother, sister, husband, wife).
After the amnesty of 1955, a large part of the German
population, under strictest secrecy, drew up lists of those who
wanted to immigrate and who were brought by reliable persons to
the recently opened German Embassy in Moscow. Overall, of that time,
there are more than 250,000 signatures of Germans who were willing
In the '60s a complete rehabilitation of this German
ethnic group was aimed at. That's why signatures for the restoration
of the German autonomy along the Volga, in the Ukraine and in the
Caucasus had been collected by formed action groups and in January
and June 1965, and were taken to Moscow by two delegations and submitted
to the government. The former chairman of the Supreme Soviet of
the USSR, A. I. Mikojan, responded briefly to the demands by the
Germans: "We don't have any territory. It's impossible to continue
to run the economy in Kazakhstan without the Germans ..." Another
delegation who wanted to be heard by the Supreme Soviet in July
1967, was expelled from Moscow within 24 hours.
Afterwards it became obvious that it was only a matter
of time until the German population disappeared from among the Soviet
people. There was only one alternative left: Immigration to Germany,
the historical homeland.
After signing the German-Soviet agreement of Moscow
in the '70s, a new opportunity for the emigration of Germans from
the Soviet Union opened up. Numerous action groups were formed in
several areas; at relatives, they compiled immigration lists and
made appeals to the West and to the United Nations. In 1973, the
"Association der ausreisewilligen Russlanddeutschen" was founded
in Estonia and was able to exist until February, 1974, and as center
of this movement was able to coordinate its work with many action
groups in Kazakhstan and other areas. All of its members were arrested
and sentenced to prison for up to four years.
On May 18, 1973, a list of more than 7,000 families
(about 35,000 persons) was handed to the Supreme Soviet requesting
the start of talks regarding resettlement. All delegates were arrested,
interrogated and under the supervision of the KGB were taken to
their places of residence where interrogations and harassment continued.
In April, 1974, several hundred ethnic Germans gathered in Karaganda
to discuss actions for emigration. The houses of the Germans were
surrounded by civil servants, militia and more than 400 soldiers;
organizers were arrested and taken away to be interrogated.
Some demonstrations on the Red Square and in front
of the German Embassy in Moscow as well as in front of governmental
buildings in Alma-Ata, Frunse, Dushanbe and other towns were on
the agenda. All these actions as well as pressure from the outside
on the Soviet government and the end of the KSZE-conference in 1975,
in Helsinki resulted in a constantly increasing number of immigrants.
In 1976, immigration reached a record number of 9,652 people.
After the failure of the policy of detente through
the invasion of the Soviet army into Afghanistan, the process of
reuniting families went literally downhill until it came to a complete
standstill. In 1985, only 460 persons came while in 1986, there
were only 760 persons. Reunification of separated families was stopped
because of the third change in government in Moscow and because
of constantly deteriorating relations with the West. In order to
achieve a positive trend in the reunification, in the Federal Republic
of Germany all political parties and the government in Bonn mobilized
everything for the Germans in Russia during this difficult period.
For the first time the demand for improvement of reuniting families
of ethnic Germans from the USSR was included in the federal announcement
of 4 May 1983. Chancellor Kohl announced during his visit to the
"In the long history the humanitarian question occupying
us these days touches us also. Germans and Soviet citizens of German
nationality want to immigrate to their families and relatives in
my country. This opportunity must be preserved in the spirit of
humanity. To us this is an important matter in interrelations. It
is important to stop the tendencies of the last years and to return
to a positive practice. We would welcome very much, if speedy progress
on the question of immigration were possible. Beyond that, we remain
interested in a great improvement of living conditions and the opportunity
for cultural self-realization of the ethnic Germans in the Soviet
Several debates concerning the situation of the ethnic
Germans in the USSR were held in the European Parliament in Straßburg
and in the Lower House of the German Parliament. All representatives
of all the political parties, unions and governments who traveled
to Moscow supported the interests and the relief of the situation
at the Kremlin. The question of human rights and the situation of
the ethnic Germans had been the focus of discussions at all following
conferences of the KSZE in Ottawa, Madrid, Belgrade and Vienna.
For the first time, the Soviet government allowed
again more ethnic Germans to immigrate just prior to the state visit
by the President of the Federal Republic, Richard von Weizäcker,
to Moscow in early July, 1987. If in the first months of 1987 only
80 to 100 persons per month received an exit permit, an increase
in the average number of approximately 2,000 people per month could
be observed by the end of the year. A record number of 14,290 was
reached in 1987.
The new policy of Glasnost and Perestroika introduced
by Gorbatshov showed its effects even in this problem. It was nothing
new to the government in Moscow that ethnic Germans in the USSR
would leave in groves but the sense of a new era and the inundation
effect of emigration became a problem for the powers particularly
in Kazakhstan and other regions where ethnic Germans are the backbone
of the economy.
They tried to retain the Germans by means of a new
Glasnost policy or rather by preventing their effort to leave on
the pretext of difficulties concerning their integration in the
In the past, the existence of ethnic Germans in the
Soviet Empire had been hushed up. Presently, it seems all taboos
would fade away. Because of this development, German-Russians increasingly
become the focal point of public discussion both here and there.
In 1986, the ARD aired the film Wir sind aus Siberiens Weiten
which showed German-Russians talking about their life. A second
film Das Buch von Olga und Johann followed on ZDF in 1987.
Furthermore several short reports were broadcast in the news and
current television broadcasts. The German press reacted mainly positively.
For the first time, WDR correspondent Lutz Lehmann
filmed the life of ethnic Germans in Kazakhstan. The film with the
title Heimat in der Fremde was broadcasted on April 13, 1987.
In August of last year, a Soviet television team arrived and filmed
the life of Aussiedler throughout Germany. The film aired nationwide
on the Central Television station in Moscow found a wide response
among Germans as well as among other nationalities in the Soviet
Union because for the first time the viewer was informed that two
million Germans were living there and that there was a phenomenon
of mass migration. If this kind of Glasnost policy will reach its
true objective, is questionable. Quite the contrary, it seems that
the sense of a new era to emigrate was rather strengthened by this
An ethnic German, who had experienced all kinds of
harassment of deportation, assimilation and annihilation in the
former Soviet Union during the last decades, is not held back by
means of propaganda. As long as autonomy along the Volga and in
other areas of South Russia is not returned, there will be only
one way out to escape the uncertainty and fear of their future:
their immigration to the Federal Republic of Germany, to the land
of their ancestors, to their historical German homeland, where they
hope to be able to live without fear among Germans and as Germans
with equal rights able to realize their goals for their future.
Reprinted with permission of Verein für das Deutschtum
im Ausland e.V.
Translation from German to English by Claudia
Müller, Halle, Germany