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Die Deutschen aus Bessarabien -- Eine Minderheit aus Suedopsteuropa

By Ute Schmidt

Schmidt, Ute. Die Deutschen aus Bessarabien: Eine Minderheit aus Südosteuropa, 1818 bis heute. Böhlau Verlag GmbH & Cie, Cologne, Germany, 2004.

Review translated from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


The author emphasizes that this does not necessarily present a complete history of Germans from Bessarabia, rather it should be seen as a view from a different perspective.

With this study, Ute Schmidt's aims to demonstrate by means of a concrete case -- namely, the group known as Germans from Bessarabia -- the role that historical, political, and cultural traditions of country of origin, or, the role the mentality, behavioral conditioning, and models for analysis conditioned by this history and experiences, played in the process of integration after
1945. Her starting point for this is a dual rupture that the "emigrants by pact" were forced to undergo: Repatriation and escape (1940 and 1945). In contrast with other refugees and deportees who, in 1945, were aprubtly wrenched from their homes, the Germans from Bessarabia, via their collective repatriation subsequent to the "Hitler-Stalin Pact," were first forced to experience a massive rupture in continuity even before their later escape in 1945, a second catastrophical break in their lives.

In her investigation of the integration process after 1945, the author first establishes the fact that the refugeees and deportees did not represent a very homogeneous group. Secondly, she points out the vast differences between the early German Federal Government and the German Democratic Republic. In contrast to conditions in the Federal Republic, the German Democratic Republic met the topic of refugees and deportees with a lack of welcome and even with a feeling of revenge.

Given their specific history of origin and migration, the author submits, the Germans from Bessarabia actually presented positive preconditions for integration. Since they could not consider their situation after 1945 merely as a provisionary one, but a permanent one, they had no choice under those circumnstances but to create a new life for themselves, and as quickly as possible.

The first part of the book contains a description of Bessarabia as a historical place, followed by a sketch of the history of Bessarabia-Germans: origin of German colonists, relationship with the Russian State, welfare committee, rescinding of colonist status in 1871 and the concomitant loss of special rights previously promised, cultural development following the revolution of 1905, and the "proscription against language and assembly" during WW I.

In further articles, the author describes devlopments following the 1918 annexation of Bessarabia to Romania. New markets had to be opened up. During the 1930s, the German Reich would become an important buyer of agricultural products, especially after Reichs-German firms had established contracts with an economical association in Bessarabia and bought up oil products and soy beans at guaranteed prices.

In the chapter entiled "Protestant Ethic," the author deals with the "Wernerschule" and the "Alexander-Asyl" and their impact across the region. She dedicates special chapters to the topic of pietism and to life with other nationalities.

Much space is taken up by descriptions of the inter-war period in Romania: economic-social problems following agrarian reform, the schools and attempts toward "Romani-izing." The chapter "Political generations and splinterings within the political life of Bessarabia-Germans" deals with the new organizational entity called "German Ethnic Council for Bessarabia" and with "renewal movements" appearing in 1932, as well as subsequent splinterings.

The extensive chapter on "Repatriation" deals with the negotiations between the governments of the German Reich and of the Soviets, the make-up of the Repatriation Commission, the mood of the German population during the time between the occupation of Bessarabia and the arrival of the Repatriation Commission, as well as the sometimes difficult negotiations with the Soviet Commission on Property

Of particular intesrest is the author's delving into the conditions accompanying the repatriation events, which she bases on heretofore unknown Soviet sources. Soviet documents contain information concerning the composition of the Soviet Commission, the transformation of German villages into collectives and sovchoses as well as political cleansings and deportations following the repatriation.

The chapter "Everyday life in the camps" describes the first disappointments of the repatriates. Their worst indignation was directed at the designation of the so-called A- and O-cases.

The author describes as precursors to the settlements in the Warthe region and in Danzig-Westprussia the deportation of Poles and Jews, also problems regarding assignments to farm estates according to the principal of "natural restitution" and the idea that individually resettled groups were not to meld into a new tribe of "Warthe countrymen."

The subsequent chapter describes the refugee catastrophe of 1945. Since an orderly retreat of German troops flooding back into the home country was out of the question, it is natural that the result was an indescribable state of chaos.

The author dedicates a special chapter to deported civilians, because their history -- in contrast with that of prisoners of war -- has thus far barely been looked at. She cites as examples the fates of three women and supports this with excerpts from interviews.

The chapter entitled [translated title:] "Self-help and Work -- Models for Integration of the Bessarabian-German Population" begins with activities of the engineer from Sarata, Karl Rueb, and with an organization he founded, the [translated title:] "Operation Assistance for Evangelical Repatriates." The author emphasizes this activity specially because Rueb established it as early as
July 2, 1945, that is, very soon following cessation of the fighting, when no one was yet thinking of registering and taking care of refugees and deportees. The cooperation of this self-help organization and of government administrative bodies succeeded in paving the way for 20,000 refugees, especially Bessarabia-Germans, resettling in Northern Wuerttemberg and Northern Baden.

At this point, the "Assistance Operation of Bessarabia-German Resettlers," founded in 1946, should have received mention (cf. "Heimatkalender 2002, p. 222), which at that time was the organization for our countrymen in the North to turn to.

In August of 1946, Pastor Immanuel Baumann also established the [translated title:] "Assistance Committee for Evangelical-Lutheran Germans from Bessarabia and Dobrudsha," which in April of 1947 received official ecclesiastic recognition from the EKD [Evangelical Church of Germany]. Purposes of the Assistance Committee included "providing pastoral and divine services, employment counseling, and help with establishing permanent residency."

The author dubs Karl Rueb as a man of transition. The [translated title] "Society for German Repatriates from Bessarabia" he had founded -- a forerunner of the Landsmannschaft -- elected Professor Kalmbach as its chair. In 1953, the "Landsmannschaft of Germans from Bessarabia" was established [in West Germany, tr.], and Dr. Otto Broneske became its first chairman.

The second part of the book presents and interprets texts excerpted from 90 interviews of personal histories. These interviews were conducted in the 1990s. The author points out that the biographical stories of the Bessarabia-German interviewees from 3 generations definitely meld into the materials set forth in first half of the book. However, there is obvious emphasis on
contemporary subjective perceptions and interpretations by the interview subjects.

The first presentations deal with the personal lives of Generation I, that is, the so-called experiencing generation. They reconstruct personal stories and experiences up to the rupturing experiences of repatriation, war, and flight, and deal further with the process of integration after 1945. The author also digs into whether the previously acquired, so-called "cultural estate" had any impact on the process of integration. Generation II interviewees are divided into three categories: those between old and new homeland, children of the war, and children of the new residents.

Generation III comprises the "consumer children" born in the 1970s.

The author reaches the conclusion that, for the interviewees, repatriation and escape on the one hand constituted a massive and extremely painful life change, but that on the other hand there was always an awareness of the inevitableness of a process of social change and assimilation, as well as a readiness to adapt to such a process. This basic attitude must assuredly have been an
important psychological factor in the post-war process of integration. Despite repatriation and flight, Germans from Bessarabia did not give up. Rather, as much as possible, they decided to take control of their destinies.

A special chapter is dedicated to Bessarabia-Germans in the Soviet occupation zone.

An integration concept agreed to with the Soviet occupation powers envisioned an optimally quick process of assimilation. The so-called [translated title:] "Central Administration for German Resettles that had been established on a "zonal" basis became fairly moot by 1948 and in 1949 was abandoned altogether. Assemblies by countrymen were banned. Yet the Gessarabia-Germans did maintain their spirit of community and specific mentality much longer that the official SED [Communist Party] policy had envisioned.

The author further makes clear that, in contrast with developments in the old Federal Republic, countrymen in the Soviet Zone were given the opportunity to settle as "new farmers" on agrarian reform tracts of land and, thereby, to tie back into their former agrarian lives. Agricultural collectivization set in toward the end of the 1950s, when agricultural production societies were
formed. Many Bessarabia-Germans, however, considered their entry into these societies as a third act of disownment.

In the conclusion, the author presents a summary of the accomplishments of Bessarabia-Germans during the process of integration and of specific characteristics of this ethnic group. The fact that relations with today's residents of Bessarabia are rather unencumbered is seen as further proof of the successful integration into postwar Germany of the Germans from Bessarabia.

With this book, Dr. Ute Schmidt deals with a topic that has heretofore been covered rather sparingly. Her focus is on the integration of refugees and deportees. This scientific study is, therefore, of interest not only to Germans from Bessarabia, but should also be of benefit for other ethnic groups who experienced a similar fate. For this work, created with much diligence and expert information, Ute Schmidt deserves our gratitude, and the book deserves broad distribution.

Our appreication is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this book review.
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