Die Deutschen aus Bessarabien -- Eine Minderheit
By Ute 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,
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
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
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 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
A special chapter is dedicated to Bessarabia-Germans in the Soviet
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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