of the Goettingen Study Group's Institute for Research on Germany
and Eastern Europe
Zehn Jahre Institut fuer Deutschland- und Osteuropaforschung des
Goettinger Arbeitskreises e.V.
Presentation by Dr. Alfred Alsfeld, Goettingen, Germany
A lecture given on November 16, 2000, as part of the Scientific
Convention of the Goettingen Study Group
Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Certainly one can justifiably ask why it is appropriate to pay
tribute to [only] ten years of existence of a small research institute,
especially when one considers that the original founding was not,
as might often be the case, accompanied by a lavishly designed,
These ten years -- oh, how I would like to say the first ten years
-- of the Institute have been a eventful decade. The opening of
the German-German border and the reunification of Germany; the attempted
putsch in Moscow in August of 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet
Union; bombardment of the Parliament of the Russian Federation,
ordered by President Yeltzin; our own Federal Government's efforts
of using contractual arrangements to reestablish relations with
countries of Eastern/Central Europe and the successor States of
the Soviet Union, and efforts to establish a permanent state of
peace on the European continent; Eastern expansion of NATO and negotiations
toward European Community membership of former Socialist States
-- all these were events that not only transformed the political
landscape of Europe, but also made a permanent mark on the thinking
and emotions of all people.
The vision of a unified European House has taken on real form at
least in the fact that one can now pass borders between its countries
-- not only between the States of the Schengen Pact -- almost completely
without any problem. Free travel and exchange of information and
thought is no longer determined by one's home State.
It did not take long for the demand for the citizens' right to free
access to information to take hold in Eastern European States, a
right that had been fairly standard in Western democracies for a
long time. Let me demonstrate this via publications from the areas
of contemporary history and government archives, which the KPdSU
[Soviet Communist Party] kept under surveillance until the end of
Over the course of several decades, Soviet historiography made of
the Bolshvist coup of November 1917 in Petrograd, today's St. Petersburg,
the Great Socialist October Revolution, of the long civil war a
Glorious Triumphal March of the Bolsheviks. Memories of the defeated
enemy vanished along with the death of contemporary witnesses. The
historiography of the 1930's and 1940's remembered nothing but victors.
Historical writing of this period had degenerated into a contest
of the singing of hymns of praise.
As a logical consequence to the fall of the Soviet Union it was
necessary to set out on researching anew the suppressed parts of
Russian history of the 20th Century. Contrary to the Soviet era,
this was done with international participation. Among the projects
already concluded I would like to touch on just a few.
With the support of the Ben Gurion University and the participation
of experts from the US and from Israel, a 6-volume edition of the
acts of the Central Committee and of the expatriate groups of the
Party of the Constitutional Democracies covering the years 1905
- 1930 was edited and published. With the cooperation of scientists
from Columbia University and the State University of New Jersey,
document collections concerning the Menschevik Party over 1917 and
1918 were put together and published. The International Institute
for Social History in Amsterdam and an association in Switzerland
supported the Russian Society "Memorial" in, among other
projects, the publication of a reference work on the topic: "Who
ran the NKVD [People's Commissariat of the Interior of the USSR]
during the years 1934 - 1941?"
The publication of a set of documents of maximum interest to contemporary
historians, the so-called "Special Files" of Stalin and
of Molotov was financed by the United States. Prof. Dr. Manfred
Heinemann (University of Hannover) and Prof. Dr. Dietrich Beyrau
(University of Tuebingen) contributed to the work on the "Special
File" of L. P. Beriya, which was financed by the Volkswagen
Foundation. A German-Russian group of editors published the 2-volume
collection of documents entitled "Camp, Front, or Home: German
Prisoners of War in Soviet Russia 1917 - 1920."
Archive guides and source books for selected archives constitute
projects of a different kind. I'll mention here only a few important
ones. Work efforts on the following were financed by the US: preparation
for printing of the Guide to Archives of the Central State Archive
of the Soviet Army, the Archive for Foreign Policy of the Russian
Empire, and for the Russian Center for Safekeeping and Research
of Documents on the History of Modern Society. An Italian foundation
and two French groups financed the work on a Guide to the Prague
Archives of Documents of Russian Emigration. Participating in the
editing of the Guide to Archives for Documents of the State Archive
for the History of the RSFSR [a German acronym for the post-Communist
Federation of Russian States] were Prof. M. Heinemann (University
of Hannover) and Prof. Dr. Beyrau (University of Tuebingen), as
well as the Volkswagen Foundation.
Was a small Institute in Goettingen able to play in this "concert
of the greats?"
First, Some Data and Facts on the Founding of the Institute
Following certain preparatory work, the governing board of the Goettingen
Study Group, a registered Society, in its meeting of October 26,
1989 decided to establish a research institute. A year passed until
at its next regular meeting of October 26, 1990, the Society members
modified its Bylaws to that effect. The original wording of (Par.
1, Section 3) the Bylaws of 1974, "The purpose of this Society
is the conduct of research into all problems that deal with the
German question, German refugees and their home regions, as well
as with publication of documents concerning these questions"
was altered to read: "The purpose of this Society is to conduct
scientific research into the legal, political, and socioeconomic
status of Germans in Eastern Europe, as well as into the problems
concerning the development of Germany and its Eastern Europe neighbors
and their cooperation within the framework of a united Europe."
The name of the Institute -- Institute for Research on Germany
and Eastern Europe -- signified a definitive program from its very
beginning, and the external aspects of the reunification of Germany;
the development of its international relationships with its neighbors
in the East, within the context of East-West relations; all these
became the main focus of the activities of the Institute. However,
this must be qualified by the fact that Federal Governmental sponsorship
of the research and publications activities in this area has undergone
significant changes since reunification. The discontinuation of
the Federal Ministry for Intra-German Relations, at the same time,
signifies a restructuring in corresponding areas, with the closing
of several institutions that are considered not to be up-to-date
or in need of projects in their former areas of activity.
The individual states and corresponding foundations followed the
same pattern, causing the financing of events or publications to
become increasingly problematic. However, the Study Group, as sponsor
of the Institute, has been able to summon up a certain amount of
funds and to carry out annual scientific conventions, as well as
to publish, through the Duncker & Humblot Company, a series
called Studies on the German Question, as well as a number of books
books via other publishers.
The annual scientific conventions at the Academy of Sciences and
Literature in Mainz provided us with a good forum, and with a pleasant
atmosphere. Minister Presidents Rudolf Scharping and Kurt Beck,
just as their predecessor Helmut Kohl, sponsored these scientific
conventions. The Rheinland-Pfalz ("Land-")government provided
subsidies for several years. We are very grateful to them all.
Those who assume that only like-minded people attended the annual
scientific meetings should peruse the report for the meeting of
1995 and perhaps recall press reports on the same. There they will
even find the names of close collaborators of Soviet President Mikhail
Anatoly Tcherniayev, Viktor Kuwaldin, Viatcheslav Dashitchev as
well as Alexei Filitov and Vladimir Shenayev of the Academy of Sciences
of Russia, in lead positions, had a strong hand in establishing
the processes in politics and science that have been looked into.
At their convention mentioned above, they conducted controversial
discussions that even touched on everyday politics. At this point,
I would like also to remind the listeners of the reports in the
daily press, e.g., in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of May
The study series Studies on the German Question included the following
summary volumes, published in Berlin over ten years by the Duncker
-- Germany amidst Radical Changes in World Politics (1993);
-- The German Question re Yalta and Potsdam, through 1949, the Official
Separation of the German States (1993);
-- The German Question re Yalta and Potsdam, from the Separation
of Germany through Stalin's Death (1994);
-- 50 Years of Soviet and Russian Policies concerning Germany and
its Effects on Mutual Relations (1999);
-- On the Road to German Reunification and to Normalization of Russian-
German Relations. Selected Contributions by Boris Meissner (2000)
The Goettingen Study Group's Bylaw Changes of October 26, 1990,
the birthday of the Institute, have subsequently shown that the
signs of the times had indeed been understood, and a great deal
of attention was paid to new opportunities for collaboration that
transcended borders -- long before the concept of "collaboration
that transcends borders" became the battle cry in the fight
for ever-decreasing funding from governmental bodies. In fact, the
redirection of the Goettingen Study Group had begun half a decade
earlier when a request for support funds was made to the State government
of Niedersachsen. In the spring of 1987, it became possible for
the first time to employ a full-time scientist, in addition to those
who were already pursuing research projects on a more limited basis.
That scientist was assigned to do research in the area of the history
and current status of Germans in the Soviet Union. Subsequently,
the year 1990 saw two articles published in the periodical Osteuropa,
on a topic that had been followed with a great deal of attention,
namely, on the autonomy movement in the Soviet Union.
In September of 1990 it became possible for the first time to carry
out a conference with Soviet participation, in the Baltic-Sea Academy
of Travemuende. This conference was dedicated to the Germans in
the Soviet Union. One of the speakers was a serection leader of
the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. The conference
summary was published in 1992. Since 1993, scientific conferences
with international participation have been held in Goettingen in
the fall. Two conference reports have been published, and a third
was to be printed by the end of the year 2000.
Also published in September 1990 was the pilot issue of the Information
Service's series "Germans in the Soviet Union."
In the 1990's, Soviet expertise and contacts of our members were
in great demand by the federal government, by parliaments, courts
and charitable organizations in the Federal Republic of Germany.
This resulted in delivery of basic groundwork and counsel for the
Federal Government in the conception and execution of relief actions
for Germans in the CIS-republics, social research in Kyrgyztan and
West Siberia, position papers for parliaments and the courts, as
well as numerous talks and lectures.
Effective January 1, 1994, the Institute was accepted into official
sponsorship by the Federal Government. Research and publication
activities henceforth were on a more substantial base, and it became
possible to plan more strategically. Subsequently it became possible
to focus on much of the following:
-- Scientific conferences in Goettingen;
-- Research projects for members, sponsored by the government;
-- Collaborative projects covering archives in Russia and Ukraine;
-- Scientific conferences in cooperation with Russian non-government
-- Historical-ethnographical investigations into formerly German
settlements, in cooperation with local historical museums in Russia;
-- Publications in German and Russian in collaboration with foreign
Of the projects that clearly reached across borders I would like
mention especially the collaboration with the International Society
German Culture (Moscow) and with the International Association for
on the History and Culture of Germans in Russia (Moscow), in staging
scientific conferences, and the subsequently published summary reports
scientific information bulletins.
These three projects that were sponsored by the Foreign Ministry
demonstrate how rather substantial work can be accomplished even
with very modest means. The scientific conferences have resulted
in six summary report volumes with 226 articles.
The Scientific Information Bulletin, with its initial circulation
of 300, eventually grew into a periodical that kept scientists,
archivists, and museums in the CIS-States, in Germany, and in the
US informed about ongoing and completed research projects. This
Information Bulletin can now be found in all large libraries in
the CIS, in Germany., in Israel, in the US, and other countries.
Steadily increasing demand has increased circulation to 700 copies.
In cooperation with regional archives in Saratov, Dnyeperpetrovsk,
and Odessa, documents of the office for the welfare of foreign emigres
in the Volga region have been sifted through, content-annotated,
and reports of discovery published. So far, one volume each on the
archives of Saratov and Dneperpetrovsk, and three volumes on the
Odessa archives, have been published. The latter will eventually
grow to 20 volumes. As of now 78 percent have been annotated and
are being prepared for printing.
Additionally, source books on the subject of "Volga Germans"
have been published covering documents of several country governments,
the Peoples' Commissariat of the "ASSRdWD" for Education,
for questions addressed by the government of the Volga Republic
between 1924 and 1928, and for documents of the Volga Republic in
the Volgograd Archives covering the years 1929 through 1934.
Another goal our Institute has embraced is extending the basis for
sources for continuing research on the Germans in Russia. Thus far
the following document collections have been published:
-- Deportation, Special Settlements, and Trudarmy. Germans in
the Soviet Union from 1941 through 1956. Cologne, 1996;
-- Excerpts form the History of Germans in Kazachstan. Documents
from the years 1921 through 1974. [In Russian], Moscow, 1997;
-- Excerpt from the History of Germans in Kyrgyztan, 1917-1999.
Biskek 2000. (295 documents, for the most part still remaining unavailable
-- Map of the "ASSR" of the Volga Germans. Scale: 1 to
100,000. This map, first published for limited governmental use,
was amended via a German-Russian and Russian-German register and
published in facsimile form and thereby made available for research
for the first time.
-- A History of the German Colonists in the Volga Region, originally
authored by Jakob Dietz in 1914, but published only partially because
of the onset of World War I.
Currently in print is a volume on documents entitled "Herdt,
V. (Publ.): Between Revolution and Autonomy. Documents on the History
of the Volga Germans, 1917-1918." Being prepared for printing
are volumes covering documents on the Mennonites in South Russia
covering the years 1917-1919, and on the Germans in the South Ukraine,
as well as the August 1925 notes by August Lonsinger on folklore
of the Volga Germans.
In certain discussions in Germany, the occasional lack of exact
source locales for documents in the volume "Deportation, Special
Settlements, and Trudarmy: The Germans in the Soviet Union, 1941
- 1956" was criticized. Those critics could not know that publication
of those documents was somewhat conditional in nature. Only several
years after our publications did these documents become available
from various sources, but in the Russian language. By now those
critics should be able to test the authenticity of the documents,
insofar as they can gain access to the corresponding archives.
According to our understanding and that of our fiscal sponsor, the
Federal Ministry of the Interior, the notion of border-transcending
collaboration included the promotion of the work of foreign scientists.
In that vein, our Institute has supported and published the first
comprehensive work on the "Germans In Odessa", a dissertation
of a Ukrainian female historian, on the Mennonites in the Ukraine
in the years 1914 - 1931, and a volume on the prosecution of the
German inhabitants of the Ukraine in the 1920s and 1930s. Source
documents for the latter are still unavailable to researchers, and
one cannot count on their release in the foreseeable future.
Possibly the most changes in our Institute have occurred in the
department of "Baltic Studies." Its members during this
time included Prof. Dr. h.c. Boris Meissner, Egil Levits, Dr. Cornelius
Hasselblatt and Detlef Henning. M.A.. This Baltic Studies department,
in cooperation with the Study Group for current Research on the
Baltics, has staged symposia at the Baltic-Sea-Academy in Travemuende,
which were attended by scientists as well as high-ranking representatives
of parliaments and governments of the Baltic states. These symposia
have become an important forum for the exchange of information and
views. These symposia have also produced several summary report
volumes dealing with German ethnic groups in Estonia, Lithuania,
and Latvia during the inter-war period, as well as with questions
on German-Estonian, German-Latvian, and German-Lithuanian relations.
Based in Goettingen, Egil L. Levits, who has commented on Latvian
radio on developments in Latvia and in the world, participated in
the political happenings in Latvia, and became a member of its parliament
in Riga. His subsequent government positions included: Minister
of Justice, Vice-President of the Republic of Latvia, then its Ambassador
in Vienna, and currently at the European Court for Human Justice
Among others, the Baltic Studies Department has issued the following
-- The Baltic Nations. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. Cologne, 1990,
2nd ed. Cologne, 1991;
-- Meissner, B.; Loever, D.A.; Levits, E. (Publ.): The Economy of
the Baltic States in Transition. Cologne, 1993;
-- Meissner, B.; Loeber, DA; Hassselblatt, C. (Publ.): Foreign Policy
of the Baltic States and International Relations in the Baltic Region.
-- Hasselblatt, C.: Rights of Minorities in Estonia. Legal Developments
and Reality 1918 - 1995. Hamburg, 1996'
-- Meissner, Loeber, Hasselblatt (Publ.): The Establishment of a
Liberal-Demoncratic Order in the Baltic States. State, Economy,
Society. Hamburg, 1996;
-- Plus selected writings by Paul Schiemann, published in the Latvian
language by Detlef Henning.
Altogether, the Institute, with financing from various sources,
has coordinated 26 scientific convocations and published 55 books.
I'll spare the reader further listings of publications. I wish to
conclude this overview with the following statement: An Institute
is only as good as the people that work for and in it. I would hereby
like to name them:
Scientific collaborators Victor Herdt and Detlef Henning; the editor
of the information service "Germans in the Former Soviet Union,"
Norbert Krallemann; our librarian, Kristina Heide; Ingrid Moehring,
whom you may have met via the final billings at the convocations;
Sabine Eichwald and Marion Hanke, without whom the telephone would
be silent and many a book would be left unpublished; Friedrich Meyer,
who has a good solution for any and all problems; and Nelly Konrad,
who especially in recent days has done much for the comfort of our
foreign guests. All of these folks have contributed to the welfare
of the Institute. I owe them all my heartfelt thanks.
Essential contributions to our success have also been made by our
colleagues in other countries. Representing of as many as 40 local
helpers in the CIS, I would like to single out Prof. Dr. Igor Pleve
of Saratov, Mrs. Olga Komovaloa of Odessa, and Dr. Peter Wiebe of
Many thanks also to our President, Prof. Dr. h. c. Boris Meissner,
for his thoughtful work as director and as supporter on whom we
can always rely.
All of these people have done their part in providing a small institute
with an unmistakable profile and in its acquisition of an honored
place in the international scientific community. Recent messages
of congratulations and good wishes from our foreign partners certainly
confirm this in an impressive way.
Please allow me to add only a few more words regarding the current
situation and the prospective on the future of the Institute. According
to the public media, we know that the Federal Government, according
to Paragraph 96 BVFG, has been searching for two years now to draw
up new ideas for supporting cultural activities. Support for our
Institute was to be withdrawn and its work redirected to other establishments.
That would have meant not only the end of the Institute, but also
a heavy blow to historical research.
However, due to numerous letters to various addressees in the government,
in parliaments, and in the press, as well as via support from foreign
politicians, scientists, and social organizations, the office in
question has been transformed into a course correction! Current
planning calls for the establishment of a new "Institute for
Culture and the History of Germans in Northeast Europe," headquartered
in Lueneburg. Its core is to be formed by the current Northeast
Cultural Operations Center. Our own Institute is to form a department
thereof, headquartered in Goettingen and, with specific support
within the budget planning process, to carry out research on the
history and culture of Germans from Russia. The Institute is thereby
to maintain its library, to expand it into a regional library, and
to offer publications on Germans from Russia for a catalogue covering
the area of "Eastern Europe." Stated more succinctly,
our finances may be somewhat reduced, but we are very optimistic.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this presentation.