50 Years of the Landsmannschaft of the
Germans from Russia
by Johann Kampen
50 Jahre Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland
von Johann Kampen
Published in Heimatbuch 2000, Teil II, pages 8- 20, available
in German language at www.deutscheausrussland.de,
Translation from German to American English by Alex Herzog,
Johann Kampen was born on May 5, 1921, in Chortitza near Saporozhye,
Ukraine, where in 1939 he concluded training in the local Pedagogical
Institute. For a brief time he taught German and Russian, then became
a team leader at a collective farm, later a translator during the
German occupation period. In December of 1943 he was evacuated to
the Sudentengau [then a German part of Czechoslovakia], was drafted
and inducted into military service. Subsequent to his December,
1945 release from American war prison, he worked as a construction
machine driver, then as a salesman, waiter, translator, manager,
and in technical employment in Augsburg; and in his second career
he was a correspondent and a pollster. Between 1982 and 1997 he
worked as volunteer editor of Volk auf dem Weg. Together
with his son Hans Kampen he edited seven Heimatbuecher
for the Landsmannschaft from 1985 to the year 2000.
For German-Russians who have returned to Germany, the year 2000 marks
the 50th anniversary of their Landsmannschaft. The founding
date can be considered as either April 22 or October 15 .
In April of 1950 a handful of Germans from Russia who had taken
residence in the American, British and French occupation zones decided
in Stuttgart to establish an organization of their own, and during
October this decision was ratified at a meeting in Kassel of delegates
from the entire country.
Although as a precaution, the original "baptismal name"
of the organization consisted of the rather nonpolitical designation
"Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Ostumsiedler [Association
for Repatriates from the East]," the founding members agreed
that they were in fact establishing a Landsmannschaft [Society
for Compatriots of and] for Germans from Russia. Consequently, in
July of 1950 the association allied itself with the federated "Vereinigten
Ostdeutschen Landsmannschaften [Federated Landsmannschaften
of Germans from the East]."
In practice this group really became an Arbeitsgemeinschaft
[Association, literally a working group], a fact reflected
in its initial statement of purpose, which set forth the following
as its most important tasks:
1. Fostering of native culture and solidarity among compatriots.
2. Enforcement of the right to one's home, human dignity and justice,
as well as the right to integration into the German ethnic body.
3. Maintaining and furthering awareness of social and economic
concerns (pensions, occupational and professional education, concerns
of the young, resettlement).
4. Participation in solutions to such problems as determination
of economic loss and compensation for losses incurred as a result
of war and exile.
5. Resupplying of official papers.
6. Proper oversight of emigration.
7. Aiding the search for missing persons.
8. Scientific research projects.
At the turn of the century , the successor membership has
remained true to this initial statement by their "founding
fathers" of the work of the Landsmannschaft, even
if in the Nineties a new generation's call for increased political
and economic activity has become increasingly audible.
Before there was a Landsmannschaft
The history of organized Germans from Russia in Germany actually
began much earlier, namely, immediately following the October Revolution
of 1917. Subsequent to the First as well as the Second World War,
there were those among the Germans in Russia who endeavored to seek
refuge as far removed from Bolshevism as possible. For many a new
home in Germany itself would not be secure enough, so they looked
for salvation in the New World. There they would be received by
like-minded compatriots and believers who had already pulled away
from Europe. Former Volga-Germans received Volga-Germans into Argentina,
former Black Sea- Germans received Black Sea- Germans into the United
States, Mennonites guided Mennonites into Canada, Brazil and Paraguay.
In time they founded their own societies and associations which
dedicated themselves mainly to historical, genealogical, cultural
and religious questions.
At various times between the two World Wars in prewar Germany itself
there existed ten German-Russian organizations (Meir. Buchsweiler,
"Volksdeutsche in der Ukraine am Vorabend und Beginn des
Zweiten Weltkriegs [Ethnic Germans in the Ukraine on the Eve
and at the Onset of World War II]," pp. 54 ff.) Before the
Second World War they had already turned their attention toward
social problems of their compatriots. At the same time, one must
also note as a negative aspect the rivalry of these associations,
even during the time when National Socialism had forced all of them
into one line. Among others, there were the Committee of German
Groups from Old Russia; the Association of Volga-Germans; associations
for Germans from the Black Sea and the Caucasus; and Mennonite Refuge
By 1933 there were two umbrella organizations for Germans from
Russia in Germany: The "Central Committee of Germans from Russia"
came under the Foreign Ministry and the "Working Group of Germans
from Russia and Poland" stood under the care of the Ministry
of the Interior. The effects of this division of responsibility
would be felt by the Landsmannschaft well into the era
after the Second World War, even in recent times. The more pronounced
leaning toward the Interior Ministry by leading figures of the Landsmannschaft
continued well into the government led by the Red-Green coalition
of 1998, despite the appointment of a Federal Government's Cultural
Representative. The main responsibility of these organizations prior
to the war was assistance for compatriots who had immigrated and
also those who had remained in the Soviet Union. This was especially
important during the famine years of 1921/22 and 1933/34 and during
the onset of collectivigation, when many Germans in the Soviet Union
desired to emigrate.
The flow of care packages from Germany into the Soviet Union slowed
considerably in the Thirties, especially because recipients were
increasingly subjected to severe harassment. It is important to
note that after the death of Reich's President Hindenburg on August
2, 1934, the Soviet Union forbade acceptance of donations and packages
from the organization "Brueder in Not [Brethren in
Need]." Private mailings did continue for awhile, but did not
bring their recipients much happiness. During the years of terror,
1937/38, Soviet authorities often used such mailings as incriminating
evidence. Foreign correspondence by letter all too easily came to
be designated as a violation of Paragraph 58, Item 6 ("espionage").
If the Germans in the Soviet Union thus became nearly completely
isolated from their emigrated relatives, then the Second World War
culminated in a complete bisection of all "Soviet-Germans."
August 28, 1941, must be considered as the key historical date of
the separation "in perpetuity" of German-Russians.
On that date the Supreme Soviet of the USSR issued the ukase [edict]
"concerning the resettlement of all Germans living in the Volga
region." The title constitutes a minimization and trivialization
of an act that may not have its equal in world history. It is minimalizing
language because it not only dealt with 450,000 Germans in the Volga
area, but rather with all German-Russians. In a census of 1939 these
German-Russians numbered 1.6 million. Further, God knows it was
not merely a "resettlement," but a genuine deportation
of an entire ethnic group, an entire people, a term still used today
by some former "Soviet Germans."
The line of separation drawn on August 28, 1941, was the Dnieper
River. German-Russians on the left side of the river, the largest
river in Europe save the Volga and the Danube, were inescapably
seized after carefully laid plans and deported to Siberia. About
one-fifth of Germans in the Soviet Union were at least temporarily
spared from this deportation during the first months of the war,
simply because these people found themselves in the area controlled
by the quickly advancing German troops. Their "ordinary"
fate was that for about two relatively good war years they were
allowed to live in their home villages on the Black Sea, on the
Dnieper or in Volhynia. However, by 1943/44 they were no longer
given a choice, except to be evacuated to Western Poland ("Warthegau
[German designation for the region around the Warthe River],"
ahead of the front moving toward the West, and in 1945, just like
their compatriots four years earlier, most were finally "resettled"
by the Soviet Union into Siberia and northern regions of European
Russia. This "resettlement" was termed a "repatriation"
by the Soviets, but Germany called it, more precisely Verschleppung
(an abduction), literally a "dragging off."
Between 250,000 to 350,000 Germans from Russia were part of this
abduction. One estimate states that there were about 150,000 Germans
from Russia living in Germany following the cessation of the repatriation
actions by the Soviets, a number that includes about 40,000 to 50,000
Germans who had emigrated from the USSR prior to WW II. Dr. Karl
Stumpp, on the other hand, cites a total of merely 52,000 Germans
from Russia living in the Federal Republic of Germany during 1955.
There are several reasons for this discrepancy, some of the more
significant ones being the following:
1. From 1950 on, about 40,000 Germans from Russia imigrated overseas.
2. The "old" Germans from Russia, i.e., post-October-Revolution
refugees and immigrants arriving during the 1920s, were not counted
by Dr. Stumpp, since they had become German citizens long before.
3. Quite a few Germans from Russia were successful in disguising
their true origins and thereby to escape being handed over to the
Soviet authorities. This was especially the case for former German
Soviet citizens who were born in places with German names such as
Kandel, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Neuendorf, Rosental, etc.
4. Those few Germans from Russia who were actually able to remain
in the former German Democratic Republic were also not included
in [Stumpp's] numbers.
The Founding Years, 1950-1955
The core of the founders of the Landsmannschaft belonged
nearly exclusively to Group 2 [above].
These were generally men who had been born around the turn of the
[20th] century and, as young people, experienced the overthrow in
Russia, but were able to follow further developments in the Soviet
Union mostly only from afar, some with perhaps a two-year stay (between
1941 and 1944) in the vicinity of their former home villages. But
just like many other Germans, they became part of the more recent
German history. Further, their relationship with National Socialism
was hardly distinguishable from that of the relationship of the
majority of the German people with Hitler during his first ten years
in power. But following several disappointments over happenings
in the war, they dedicated themselves totally to the aid of their
compatriots who had fled to Germany and were now living more or
less reasonably well in Germany. In this work they relied heavily
on church organizations.
The "core" of the Landsmannschaft membership
per se consisted of those refugees and evacuees of Group 3 [above],
who had all they could do trying to integrate professionally, who
experienced great difficulties in performing their volunteer duties
for the future of their ethnic group, and who put no trust, to any
degree or manner, in their "great brother" in the East.
Some exceptions were those few who were able to find employment
in church or other welfare organizations.
Stuttgart must be considered the focal point of efforts toward
establishing an organization for Germans from Russia. It was there
that the necessity of founding a Landsmannschaft for Germans
from Russia had been realized most quickly.The vicivity in around
Stuttgart was home to so many Germans from other countries, who
since the beginning of the "Thousand Year Reich" had been
called Volksdeutsche [Ethnic Germans]. This term was not
exactly a pleasant one for all Germans from Russia, but it was better
than the term Russia-Germans [now Germans from or in Russia], Soviet
Germans, German Russians, etc. The more positive terms such as Black
Sea- Germans, Volga-Germans, Caucasus-Germans, Crimea-Germans or
Volhynia-Germans were no longer quite fitting because the war, deportations,
and flight had essentially melted these regional groups into one.
After the war, it was especially the church organizations, in addition
to the Red Cross, that looked after the needs of the refugee "Ethnic
Germans." The first initiatives came from the "Relief
Action Committee for Eastern Evangelical Lutheran Resettlers,"
founded in 1947. Its first chairman, Friedrich Rink, was succeeded
by Pastor Heinrich Roemmich in 1948, Pastor Alfred Kaercher in 1961,
and the memorable Pastor Irmgard Stoldt (1912-1998) in 1969.
The initially unelected spokesman for all Germans from Russia or
the Soviet Union, respectively, was the Evangelical Lutheran Pastor
Heinrich Roemmich (1888-1980).
Soon after the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany
on May 23, 1949, Pastor Roemmich made contact with leading German-Russian
figures in churches and institutions, men such as Prof. Benjamin
Unruh (Mennonites), Clemens Kiefel (Catholics), K.G. Wesel (Independent
Churches), as well as Dr. Gottlieb Leibbrandt, Dr. Wilfred Schlau,
R. Metzler, Andreas Mergenthaler, Julian Merling and Oscar Appel.
Over the course of many years, several of them played a very significant
role in the history of the Landsmannschaft and beyond.
On April 22, 1950, after a brief activity report had been given
by each representative present, the group decided that a "Working
Group for Eastern Resettlers" should be established, they debated
a statement of purpose that had essentially been drawn up by Roemmich
and Mergenthaler, and elected a provisional board that was to function
until the upcoming meeting of delegates. First Chairman was Pastor
Roemmich, his Vice Chairman was Dr. Leibbrandt, and the advisory
committee consisted of Prof. Unruh and Preacher Wessel [sic -- see
variant spelling above, tr.].
During the subsequent convention of delegates on October 15, 1950,
Pastor Roemmich withdrew to his position of director of the Relief
Action Committee for Eastern Evangelical Lutheran Resettlers, and
Dr. Leibbrandt was elected to First Chairman and appointed as paid
secretary of the Working Group.
The minutes of the founding meeting, which were probably written
a few months later, state the following:
"The Landsmannschaft or Working Group for Resettlers
from the East was established in April 1950, without a single penny
of funding ... The final constituting act took place in Kassel at
the convention of delegates during October of 1950. At the same
meeting the creation of a newsletter was also decided. In October
the government granted every Landsmannschaft 3,000 DM.
This money was used primarily to finance our newsletter Volk
auf dem Weg. So far 750 subscribers have signed up to receive
the newsletter. With 1,000 subscribers, the paper can become self-sustaining
This must have been documented at the beginning of 1951. The idea
that an eight-page paper can sustain itself permanently with only
1,000 subscriptions was, of course, a utopian one. The subscription
for one year cost 6 DM! Later the annual subscription price rose
to 8 DM (1954), 12 DM (1962), 16 DM (1963), 24 DM (1972), and 36
DM (1976). In 1980, the subscription for Volk auf dem Weg actually
became gratis for members of the Landsmannschaft, but a
membership fee was set initially at 36 DM, raised to 48 DM in 1985
and to 54 DM in 1995. The number of pages of the paper also analogously,
which, given the corresponding rise in prices in the Federal Republic
of Germany, might be considered a great success story for Volk
auf dem Weg.
Most recently the question has been asked ever more strongly as
to whether the direct tie-in of membership in the Landsmannschaft
to a subscription to Volk auf dem Weg was a successful
move. The number of subscribers to Volk auf dem Weg, that
is, members of the Landsmannschaft, which over 45 years
had continuously risen (2,000 in 1952; 3,000 in 1954; 5,000 in 1972;
7,000 in 1976; 8,000 in 1985; 12,000 in 1992; 32,000 in 1995), has
of late experienced a decline, at least since 1996. At the beginning
of the year 2,000, after cleaning up the data base, there were still
26,200 members of the Landsmannschaft, 1,200 of them overseas.
The blame [for the decline] foremost goes to two competing bilingual
and Russian-language papers, which have no scruples about publishing
material that for Volk auf dem Weg, the organ of the Association,
is deemed as inappropriate or inopportune. Also, the so-called "family
membership" concept has had a negative effect on the number
of members of the Landsmannschaft. What family would order
two or more copies of Volk auf dem Weg just for receiving
correspondingly multiple voting power?
During the first years of the Landsmannschaft, beginning
with the first countrywide convention on May 12, 1951, in Stuttgart-Feuerbach,
getting out of the country was one of the most important topics
of numerous events. By that they did not mean travel or emigration
from the Soviet Union to the Federal Republic of Germany, but emigration
overseas, a topic that occupied even the first federal chairman
of the Landsmannschaft, Dr. Gottlieb Leibbrandt (1908-1989).
1955 -- a Course Change
The September 1955 trip by Federal Chancellor Adenauer to Moscow
became the most significant topic for all of Germany and for all
German-Russians. Of primary concern was the resumption of diplomatic
relations and the release of the remaining 10,000 German men from
more than ten years in prisoner-of-war camps. The act found very
strong resonance among German-Russians. However, their hopes were
also accompanied by fears, which were increased by Chief Soviet
Khrushchev, who in return demanded to get back "his" 100,000
Soviet citizens still living in Germany. According to Soviet assumptions,
this included even those former Soviet citizens who had acquired
a German passport long before. Furthermore, "repatriation commandos"
began to reappear in the Western Zones. Although they no longer
took anyone away by force, their presence alone provided many a
sleepless night among weaker souls. "Have no fear," wrote
Johannes Schleunig in October of 1955 in a strong article in Volk
auf dem Weg. At the time he was "spokesman" and thereby
the leading figure of the Landsmannschaft. Although the
Landsmannschaft repeatedly published similar articles until
at least 1957, the German-Russian soul would not find calm for years
The results achieved by Adenauer, at the base level, did not kindle
the kind of euphoria that was claimed in later times. Unfortunately,
its assessment depended on who happened to be in power in Bonn.
Witness, for example, the comment by the federal chairman of the
Landsmannschaft during the time of the social-liberal coalition
in Bonn in 1974, Joseph Schnurr: "The truth about Adenauer's
visit is simply that nothing in the contract mentions the German-Russians,
but subsequent correspondence (between Bonn and Moscow) does reveal
that the Russians have promised to examine with benevolence the
question of the German-Russians."
The fact is that in 1955 one should not have expected more. During
the year 2,000 one might remind oneself that even Gorbachev was
quoted in Pravda as late as 1988,"These are our Germans."
For the German-Russians, the most significant political result
from Adenauer's visit to Moscow was the rescinding of the so-called
Kommandatur [the mandatory subservience of all Germans
to the local military command, tr.]. During preparations for the
visit, the Landsmannschaft had given the Chancellor a number
of lists with names involved in special hardship cases of family
reunification, and it appears that many of these found positive
The Landsmannschaft was able to consider as a further
success the February 22, 1955, decision by the Bundestag
[lower house in Germany, tr.] to recognize within the Federal Republic
all acts of naturalization that had taken place during the war [usually,
by the German army, affecting ethnic Germans previously considered
Soviet citizens, tr.].
In both cases the Landsmannschaft had played an active
role, but deliberately without fanfare. As in the case of many other
problems, the leadership of the Landsmannschaft had placed
itself on the side of "quiet diplomacy" rather than large
demonstrations and marches.
From a purely self-interested viewpoint of the Landsmannschaft,
the third federal congress of Germans from Russia, together with
its unforgettable rally on May 29, 1955, in the tradition-rich St.
Paul's Church in Frankfurt, must be counted among the most important
milestones in its history. In a moving appeal, the Landsmannschaft
addressed the federal government and the German public in demanding
the reunification of German families who had been separated by the
"It is our sacred obligation to assume onto our hearts and
consciences the difficult fate of our people who were deported to
Siberia and, in the name of humanity, to carry this message to the
world: release our family members, our wives, our husbands, our
children; reunite those who were separated by no fault of their
own and who, by all human and divine rights, belong together."
On that same day in Frankfurt, the final renaming of the "Arbeitskeises
der Ostumsiedler [Working Group for Resettlers from the East]"
into the "Landsmannschaft der Seutscher aus Russland
[Landsmannschaft of Germans from Russia]" was carried out.
Of course, it took a long while until Moscow recognized the significance
of this humanitarian act. However, initial emigration statistics
still did not reveal any evidence of real change. In fact, within
the next 15 years, a mere 20,537 Germans in the Soviet Union received
permission, as part of the consideration for reuniting families,
to imigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany.
This was nothing more than a drop in the bucket. Only by 1972 did
the number of emigrants from the Soviet Union climb discernibly
and reach their first high points in the years 1976 and 1977, with
9,704 and 9,274 emigrants, respectively. Today we realize that these
numbers are insignificant in comparison to the numbers as of 1990,
when as a rule more arrived monthly than had arrived yearly prior
to that period.
After 1965, the Year of Human Rights
The year 1965 was designated as the "Year of Human Rights."
Twenty years after the end of World War II, the intent was to draw
the world's conscience to increased awareness of the victims of
flight and deportation.
The conventions of the Landsmannschaft served most of
all to inform the public about the fate of the Germans in the Soviet
Union. Even the main media were beginning to deal with the topic.
On January 7, 1965, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung carried
the following translated excerpt from the London Times,"The
rehabilitation of those exiled from the Volga region could be considered
a friendly gesture toward Germany, giving a signal that the war
hatchet might be buried. Even if they can't be sent to their original
homes, they should at least be cleared of the rap of having been
Neither editor may have been aware that on August 29 of the prior
year a halfhearted attempt at rehabilitation of the Volga-Germans
and the rescinding of the deportation decree of August 28, 1941,
had actually taken place. Of course, the German-Russians could hardly
be cognizant of it. They merely registered complete bitterness over
the fact that were still forbidden to return to their original homes.
A related new ukase was actually issued by the Supreme Soviet of
the USSR, but not until eight years later, on November 3, 1972.
In its own wisdom, it did not publicize it, as evidenced by the
fact that very few were aware of its existence.
The year 1968 went down in German history as the year of student
unrest. However, these events, save perhaps a few public statements
by academics, hardly registered among the German-Russians, who had
been formed as lifelong flesh and blood opponents of public demonstrations.
However, some new ways of thinking did find their way into the working
group's agenda and would remain an almost necessary "source
of friction." A leading representative of these views was Eduard
von Sarnowski (1942-1989), who in his high academic position really
had no need to delve into the "humiliations" of his ethnic
group, yet he received more criticism rather than gratitude. In
addition to his normal professional life, "Edi," as his
friends affectionately called him, found the time to work as the
editor of Volk auf dem Weg and of two editions of the Heimatbuch
of the Landsmannschaft. In addition, he distinguished
himself especially by his volunteer work in the areas of culture
and youth, where he effected several initiatives.
The fact that after 1968 the Landsmannschaft began to
experience a certain generational change made it apparent that time
had not failed to leave its mark on our elder statesmen. The most
significant change took place in the social sector, which increasingly
became the most important pillar for the Landsmannschaft
to base its work on, and which received decisive impulses from a
man who was largely responsible for the successes and setbacks for
the largest organization for Germans from Russia during the 1970s
and 1980s. His name was Franz Usselmann. As national chairman of
the Landsmannschaft, he continued to cover the same areas
of concern that had previously occupied Pastor Roemmich and a number
of social science experts.
However, the "magic word" in the Landsmannschaft
at that time was the term "vysov." At the onset
of 1968 the German Red Cross attempted to explain the meaning of
this word as follows, "A vysov, as some may know,
has been the key item required by Soviet police as proof that an
applicant has relatives in the Federal Republic and is therefore
always required for every application. However, this procedure has
nothing to do with the granting of a visa by the embassy. In our
opinion, mention in your home newspaper of 'vysov' might
as well be replaced with the more explicit term 'demand.'"
Apparently in those days the tendency to replace simple German
expressions with complicated foreign terms was not as common as
it is today. However, the term vysow did become a commonly
used term, whether it dealt with a "visitor's visa" or
even a "vysov for permanent residence."
During the national convention of June 15-16, 1968, some compatriot
attendees complained that the Federal Government had not sent a
federal minister, but merely an assistant secretary, to Wiesbaden.
The suspicion among the attendees in the Rhein- Main- Halle of the
Hessian capital city was that the federal government did not wish
to irritate the East. The then newly elected president of the Association
of Refugees, Otto Rehs, did not hold back. Soon after his introductory
"Dear comrades in fate, dear Germans from Russia," the
man who was known to be an SPD member began to speak openly, just
as his predecessors and successors in office had done and did, most
of whom were members of the so-called "C-parties":
"You are aware that subsequent to the 20th Congress of the
[Soviet Communist] Party, which introduced de-Stalinization, many
people who had been deported and exiled were allowed to return to
their original homes. Only the German-Russians and Crimean Tatars
are still not allowed to do so. Of the 350,000 German-Russians who
had been evacuated from the south of Russia to the Warthegau, about
75,000 still reside in the Federal Republic today. The majority
of them, however, namely 250,000, were dragged back into the Soviet
Union. We observe that this constitutes a fateful history of suffering
by the German-Russian ethnic group. The tragedy continues today,
because families still remain separated far away from home; they
desire only one thing, a reasonable existence."
The KSZE Final Agreement Document -- Conference on Security
and Cooperation in Europe
On August 1, 1975, the so-called KSZE Final Agreement by 33 European
countries as well as the USA and Canada was signed in Finland's
capital city of Helsinki. (Today the organization [with the German
acronym] KSZE is called "Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe," with the new German acronym OSZE. [KSZE stands
for "Konferenz zur Sicherheit und Zusammenarbeit in Europe,
tr.]. Since the Soviet Union was one of the signatory states, German-Russians
were especially interested in significant clauses of the agreement
dealing with human rights, basic freedoms, family ties and opportunity
for travel. The document clearly stated that participant states
set as their goal to ease toward freer movement and contact between
individuals and groups, to examine travel requests benevolently,
and to deal in a humanitarian and positive manner, and as expeditiously
as possible, with requests for family reunification.
The signing of the KSZE Final Agreement occurred almost on the
25th anniversary of the signing of the Charter for Refugees of August
5, 1950. So one could say that 1975 was a doubly successful year
for the displaced and their Landsmannschaft ...
However, reality in the Soviet Union looked quite different. Bad
news outweighed any other. Those desirous of emigration experienced
harassment and were dragged into court for arbitrary reasons. The
trial against Erich Abel, who was sentenced to three years in prison
merely because of his desire to emigrate, was only the tip of the
Meanwhile in Germany, representatives to a conference of delegates
of the Landsmannschaft intensified their efforts toward
allowing imigration for also those without relatives in Germany.
A modicum of success was achieved during the subsequent five years,
as can be seen in our statistics that appear at the end of this
article [I was unable locate these statistics, tr.].
Apart from all that, a kind of "musical chairs" was taking
place at the top layer of the Landsmannschaft. The position
of "cultural chief" of the Landsmannschaft passed
from Dr. Stumpp to Joseph Schnurr, while yet another Volga-German,
Dr. Matthias Hagin, was pressed into the research work of the Landsmannschaft,
which due to heavy representation in the original founders group
had been dominated by "Black Sea-German" oriented members.
In 1976 the Missing Persons Tracing Service celebrated 30 years
of existence. A "by- product" of the search activities
was the capturing of data regarding Germans living in the Soviet
Union who desired to emigrate. Due to the excellent collaboration
between the tracing service and the Landsmannschaft those
seeking assistance found very able help in getting visas, in receiving
counseling, and with practical assistance in individual cases. Correspondingly,
at conferences of the Landsmannschaft, appropriate stands
or desks would be available, and ads for assistance in locating
lost relatives often took up more than half the pages of issues
of Volk auf dem Weg.
Sponsorship via the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg
An important step for the future of Germans from Russia and their
Landsmannschaft was taken in 1979 via the acceptance of it
sponsorship by the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg. The official certificate
of sponsorship was issued on January 30, 1979. This occurred during
a real identity crisis among Germans from Russia. Pastor Irmgard
Stoldt captured this crisis in verses that quickly made the rounds:
Who am I?
A German foreigner, an ethnic German,
a German-Russian, a Soviet-German,
a Soviet citizen with German ancestry,
a Russian- German as well?
And what else?
Yes, there is more:
Ordered into exile, forced to leave,
integrated and assimilated.
To some an immigrant, to others a resettler,
emigrant and immigrant,
immigrant and emigrant,
a Russian citizen speaking the German tongue,
deportee and refugee.
Yes, a deported prisoner to boot,
finally released from the clutches
of a foreign state.
What do they want of me?
What will they do with me here?
What will be recorded, set down
in important papers?
These are milestones that marked
and determined my fate forever!
It was the decisions by high-level politics,
actions by authorities,
which created this distance.
Why am I not accepted?
Am I not returning to my old home --
I'm a German, nothing else!
A German who, on behalf of others,
was forced to suffer the brunt of
hatred and revenge towards Germans.
Starving in slavery.
My parents barely escaped death.
Sworn at, held back in school
and career, I finally tore away.
All of the young who overcame their fears
pushed for a return to their old home,
no matter what it may cost!
Only few have succeeded in reaching heir goal.
But now -- I'm here!
And thank you, thank you, thank you!
But who am I now?
Not a foreign guest who may decide to leave at some time,
no, a Landsmann [compatriot] who
has finally reached home
and searches church records
for his ancestors' names, whose
fatherland's woes once forced them
During those times of an identity crisis for Germans from Russia
and of rapidly sinking numbers of resettlers, the sponsorship provided
a safe haven for decisions that were of great importance for the
future. One of these was the acquisition of a house by the Landsmannschaft,
made possible through donations from the members and a by grant
from the sponsoring Land [state]. The date of this purchase
was March 12, 1982. At the time, the main objective of the Landsmannschaft
was to smooth the way toward integrating newly arrived compatriots.
Even though the number of resettlers was getting close to zero --
the absolute bottom was reached in 1985, with only 460 resettlers
during the year -- optimists did not give up hope and knocked on
many doors, not without success.
The Usselmann Era (1978 - 1991)
The federal chairman of the Landsmannschaft at that time,
Franz Usselmann, happened to be an expert on social questions. His
presidency marked the final end of the founding era. The delegates
in 1978 had voted for him when younger representatives of the leadership
echelon, such as Albin Fiebig and Eduard von Sarnowski, were forced
through professional reasons to decline this great responsibility,
and when it became apparent that the older members would no longer
be capable of it. Together with his "governor" Alexander
Rack, the managing federal secretary of the Landsmannschaft,
Usselmann performed his work exactly the way most village groups
and the leaders of a representative group of Germans from Russia
could expect. Any criticism of the "Usselmann Era," expressed
much later, can easily be explained by the fact that the work of
the Landsmannschaft grew so rapidly, and within such a
very short time, that no one could have solved all the problems
entirely satisfactorily. The same can be said for Usselmann's successor,
Alois Reiss, who has been directing the fortunes of the Landsmannschaft
since 1991 and possesses similar strengths in the area of social
questions and beyond. The first years of Usselmann's term at the
helm saw the founding of a sister organization and of a daughter
organization of the Landsmannschaft. The "daughter"
organization was the "Kulturrat der Deutschen aus Russland
[Cultural Council of Germans from Russia]," its "sister"
organization was the "Internationale Assoziation der Deutschen
aus Russland [International Association of Germans from Russia]."
The Cultural Council [German acronym:] (KDR) was established on
October 11, 1981, and the Association on September 5, 1982. Soon
after their founding, both organizations suffered from insufficient
membership and financial woes. The Association, for one, was too
dependent on one man, Dr. Matthias Hagin, and practically went into
a deep slumber following his death in 1990. With representatives
from only six countries (Germany, USA, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay,
Canada) it did not amount to much, especially since the most important
country besides Germany, the Soviet Union, was not represented.
With regard to membership and financial problems, the Cultural
Council fared similarly to the Association. The fact that it still
exists must be attributed to its close ties with the Landsmannschaft,
which signifies a measure of dependence, but can always be expected
to serve as a source of support.
1983 -- A Quarter till Twelve
An enormous dip in the number of arriving resettlers appeared as
of about 1983. The total for that year was 1447, for the following
three years it was 913, 460, and 751. On May 4, 1983, the Federal
Republic's Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, personally took up this topic
in a statement at "a quarter till twelve":
"We shall push to make it possible for more Germans to emigrate
from the Soviet Union." It is possible that the Chancellor
might have been thinking about numbers that had been bandied about
around 1976/77 -- numbers that no one could possibly imagine in
1983, not even within the Landsmannschaft. Even when the
Soviet delegation chief at the Third KSZE Conference in Vienna during
January of 1987 attempted to promise that tens of thousands of German
citizens of the Soviet Union would receive permission to emigrate,
most deemed it as a mere propaganda move by Moscow. Yet, Volk
auf dem Weg and both Landsmannschaft representatives
at the Vienna conference, Anton Bosch and Helmut Kremser, were inclined
to be more optimistic and advised others to take Gorbachev at his
On an "intra-political" basis during the 1970s and 1980s,
the Landsmannschaft was primarily pushing for making previous
accomplishments available also for those compatriots who were still
waiting in vain for permission to emigrate.
Political opposition was formidable. With hindsight we now know
that there were pervasive powers, in all political parties, which
were trying to fend off the thinking of the Landsmannschaft.
In fact, the federal chair of the Landsmannschaft was forced
to struggle energetically against false accusations of "a lack
of pressuring," against clearly incompetent statements by individual
politicians, and against the ignorance of the German public concerning
the fate of the Germans from Russia.
Resettler Numbers on the Increase
Gorbachev's representative at the KSZE Conference in Vienna had
not been bluffing after all. An avalanche began to roll in midyear
1987. By year's end there had been 14,488 resettler immigrants,
nearly twenty times the previous year's total. When by 1992 the
year's number of arriving resettlers had risen to 195,576, our ethnic
group became the victim of an effort to pass laws intended to resolve
or clean up problems resulting from the war. Only a few years later
did the resettlers, by then having carefully been legally dubbed
as Spaetaussiedler "[a difficult term, best translated
as "Late resettler immigrants," tr.], begin to realize
that those laws actually included massive restrictions for the "new
ones." Alois Reiss, federal chairman of the Landsmannschaft
from 1991 until 2000, frequently found himself stating publicly
that those laws had not been good laws for the Germans from Russia.
However, they were the best possible given the political circumstances
of the times.
Small wonder, then, that the leaders of the Landsmannschaft
would attempt to forge ties with the governing political parties.
They had broken completely with one system and had little choice
now but to trust the other with their very lives. That way, at least
Paragraph 116 of the federal Constitution, a paragraph that was
absolutely necessary for the continued existence of Germans from
Russia, was retained. And clarifications were made. Some of the
new clarity was hard to take, but one knew what was what.
Many German-Russians [in the Soviet Union], still trusting earlier
promises, and still not believing that even within rich Germany
there were the unemployed, the poor and weak, and little money for
application to general cultural problems, were still packing their
bags confidently. Too glibly did they ignore the real truth in carefully
hedged statements by diplomats and even in open and frank words
from their own friends who were beginning to give out the warning
that it might just be best to stay where one grew up. "There,"
it is true, large sums of money were still flowing in from Germany,
and German regions were being established. Furthermore, on February
21, 1992, President Yeltsin of Russia issued a decree that hinted
at a stepwise reestablishment of the Volga Republic that had been
dissolved in 1941. Yeltsin, however, very quickly changed his mind
after a survey within the Saratov area indicated that a majority
of residents was completely against Volga-German autonomy.
The fruitless debate over autonomy had meanwhile splashed over
into the Federal Republic of Germany. A speaker of a Soviet-German
association called "Wiedergeburt [Rebirth]" that
had been founded in March of 1989 initially effected a kind of euphoria,
but in Stuttgart and Bonn it soon became clear that autonomy would
simply not be forthcoming. For the Germans in Russia, only two alternatives
remained: emigrate and become German by force of Paragraph 116 of
the Constitution or remain and hope for a miracle. After all, our
compatriots in the German Democratic Republic had also waited it
During this phase, the Landsmannschaft as well as German
politicians had to face this dilemma: bring more resettler immigrants
into the country or [at least] make things better. The barely hidden
message was: the more who still come in, the less they'll get. The
secret formula was simply this: "A times E = K," where
A stands for Aussiedler [resettling immigrant], E for individual
benefits per Aussiedler who makes it here, and K for the
totality of funds available for all arriving Aussiedler. And, of
course, the sum K has been steadily decreasing since 1996.
Ten years ago, the decision was made in favor of more immigrants,
a decision that today one can probably criticize. But what would
the 1.6 million German-Russian immigrant resettlers who were actually
permitted to come into Germany between 1990 and 1999 say had the
Landsmannschaft decided in a contrary fashion?
More Resettlers, more Problems
Responsibility for struggling with this set of problems rested
with the leadership of the Landsmannschaft, mostly unchanged
since 1991, with Alois Reiss at the top. In many locales, new organizations
for Germans from Russia began to emerge, some with pithy names such
as "Heimat [Homeland"], "Initiative,"
"Semlyaki" [Russian term for Landsleute,
Compatriots], and various others. Their anger was first directed
toward higher politics. But since some were unable to accomplish
much due, for example, to insufficient linguistic skills, some former
Germans formerly from the Soviet Union then directed their anger
toward the Landsmannschaft. Was it not, after all, supposed
to make possible for them in Germany what they had not been able
to get in the Soviet Union or the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent
The Landsmannschaft certainly did not have the time or
the means to counteract these arguments aggressively. Their almost
exclusively volunteer workers were fully occupied with "classical"
tasks of the organization, which by now definitely included the
language problems of a new generation of German-Russian Spaetaussiedler.
This classical work continues to be provided with great energy
and success by the many counselors, youth leaders, and cultural
consultants of the Landsmannschaft. One unsolved problem
is the matter of language difficulties, which practically tears
the ethnic group apart. One group wants no part of the Russian language,
the others still, or at least for the time being, have great difficulty
with the German language.
The arguments of either group are clear: Those who speak the German
language point to the lack of acceptance by the German populace
of those who claim to be Germans but can't even speak their mother
tongue; and the "Russophiles" seem resigned to say, "They
will never acknowledge us as Germans, no matter what we speak."
Somewhere between these two extremes is the great majority of Germans
from Russia, actually comfortable with both cultures and willing
to be tolerant of the others. It is here where the potential lies
for a considerably larger organization in the future. The potential
is enormous, provided Germans from Russia work together.
Organizations Sympathetic to or Affiliated with the Landsmannschaft
for Germans from Russia
The Kulturrat der Deutschen aus Russland (KDR) [see translation
above] is a successor organization of the "Freundeskreis
zur Erforschung des europaeischen und aussereuropaeischen Russlandsdeutschtums
[Circle of Friends for Research into the Question of German-Russians
Inside and Outside of Europe]," which existed between June
11, 1976, and October 11, 1981. The chairman of the KDR has automatic
membership on the federal board of the Landsmannschaft,
which in turn has membership on the board of the KDR.
The Arbeitskreis der Wolgadeutschen [Working Group of
Volga-Germans] has existed with a few interruptions since 1918.
Since 1966, and more concertedly in 1981, it has become more visible.
In 1985, the federal state of Hesse assumed partnership for Volga-Germans.
[Translator's note: many original Volga-Germans, possibly most of
them, originated from Hesse.]
DJR -- Deutsche Jugend aus Russland [German Youth from
Russia] constitutes a successor organization of earlier youth groups
of the Landsmannschaft. During its countrywide conference
in October of 1999, this group forged a greater degree of independence
for itself. Membership on the federal board of the Landsmannschaft
is like that of the KDR.
Der Russlanddeutsche Autorenkreis [Circle of German-Russian
Authors] is a strong proponent of bilingualism among Germans from
Russia and provides an opportunity to succeed via the Russian language
for young authors who have not yet mastered the German language.
Der Historische Forschungsverein der Deutschen aus Russland
[Historical Research Society for Germans from Russia] has been in
existence only since January 20, 1999, with Nuremberg as its headquaters.
The Landsmannschaft has traditionally enjoyed good relationships
with the German Red Cross, with the Bund der Vertriebenen
[Association for Refugees], with Caritas, Internal Missions and
Workers' Welfare, with the DJO (Deutsche Jugend in Europe
[German Youth in Europe]), as well as with organizations of Germans
from Russia in the United States. Contact with German-Russian societies
in the CIS currently consists of an information gathering nature.
Appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.
Front row at the
national meeting of 1978 in Wiesbaden. Seated to left of Dr.
Karl Stumpp (third from the right) are Pastor Heinrich Roemmich,
Braun, Franz Usselmann and Joseph Schnurr.
At a 1981 conference
of the Landsmannschaft in Stuttgart.
At the celebration
of the 40th Anniversary of the Landsmannschaft in 1990, German-Russian
choirs flourished as they had never done before. [The banner
in the picture reads, "Landsmannschaft of Germans from
Russia: Our Home -- Germany]
of the Landsmannschaft of recent years, appearing together
with the current national chair, Alois Reiss (front row, 5th
from the left).
representatives of the youth organization of the Landsmannschaft
(left to right): Albina Nazarenus, Eduard Lauer, Albert Vetter,
Johannes Hoerner and Lilia Antipow.