60th Anniversary Rally in Berlin

"60th Anniversary Rally in Berlin." California District Council Report, Spring 2002.

On August 26, 2001, almost 3,000 participants attended the central rally of the Germans of the former USSR on the plaza in front of the Reichstag building at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. They held up for 6 hours on the hottest day of the year, which was about 97 degrees in the shade, and listened to their spokespeople, to government advocates and to their eyewitnesses who managed to survive the consequences of the notorious August 28, 1941 decree of the Supreme Soviet, and now can report about it.

Visitors to the parliament building could hardly believe that these people were from the CIS, because the media have reported so much negative information about the German Russians. Other Germans probably thought this was a religious gathering, because it isn’t every day in Germany that one can witness “Grosser Gott wir Loben dich” being sung and Lord’s Prayer being repeated in an outdoor public setting!

Two exhibitions, “People on the Move: the German Russians’ Path of Destiny” and “German Russian Forced Laborers in Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains”, with their combined length of more that 50 yards, were clearly visible from the government buildings and left a lasting impression. More than 20 German Russians with placards protested against the ignorance and disregard of their fate, and against the measures that restrict “Spaetaussiedlern” from finding a place in Germany. Some of the placard texts visible in the photographs that accompany this article include:

“I survived the ‘Trudarmee’. I am here alone. Let my children return.”

“Complete rehabilitation of the German Russians has never happened.”

“My father died in the ‘Trudarmee’. His grave is unknown.”

The majority of the “Spaetaussiedlern” don’t understand why one family member is permitted to come, but not others: why the mother is considered a German, the father a Russian, the child a Kazakh; that the dialect of the Volga Germans is less “German” than “Koelsch”, the dialect of Koeln [Cologne], which can hardly be understood in the rest of Germany. Government representative Jochem Welt conveyed greetings from the federal government, and he reiterated the words of Interior Minister Schily, who spoke on June 2, 2001 at the Bundestreffen in Stuttgart: the conditions for entering Germany and the immigration quotas would remain unchanged. He could not promise the repeal of the language tests, but he did pledge to support improved participation of spouses in government-sponsored language courses. He read a Biblical passage two days later at the German-Russian ecumenical thanksgiving service at the French Cathedral that stands on Berlin’s “Gendarmenmarkt”.

Erica Steinbach, President of the “Association of Expellees” (the several million Germans who lost everything at the end of World War II when they were expelled from East and West Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia and other eastern regions), described that “forced labor was the daily bread of the German Russians”. She called on influential politicians to support the German Russians and to stand up against the deterioration of their situation.

Dr. Alfred Eisfeld, from the “Institute for Eastern European Research” in Goettingen — who is well known to most German Russians, having distinguished himself for 25 years through his numerous publications — marked the milestones of the German Russians:

- The first mass deportations of 1915.

- The October Revolution of 1917, when the Bolsheviks’ measures were directed at farmers, the class to which most Germans in Russia belonged.

- Collectivization, which also hit middle class German farmers hard.

- The terrors of the 1930s, when many household fathers were liquidated.

- June 22, 1941, when Hitler’s army invaded the Soviet Union.

- The decree of August 28, 1941 from the Supreme Soviet, which bore the benign title “Regarding the Resettling of the Germans who live in the Volga Rayons”. Actually, all Germans were banished, provided they were not already in exile or living under German occupation.

- A further decree on November 26, 1948, which established the injustice in perpetuity and introduced new punishments. They threatened 20 years prison for attempting to leave authorized areas. Penal camps in exile!

- The half-hearted concessions in 1955, 1964 and 1972, which were only tentatively communicated and were so unevenly implemented that the outcome was of little real value.

Dr. Eisfeld noted that there was no compensation in sight then, nor is there now. And there is still no apology from Putin for the unjust treatment of the German Russians, in spite of the recommendation for this by the Duma in Moscow. He appealed to the government in Berlin to maintain their support for the Germans in the CIS, and to have patience with the “Spaetaussiedlern” [who are still arriving at a steady rate of almost 100,000 per year].

A sidebar in the newsletter described the “Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland”’s traveling exhibition:

The exhibition “People on the Move: the German Russians’ Path of Destiny” has been shown in 39 German cities. The program includes opening events with lectures, films, musical performances and opportunities for German Russians to interact with local Germans. There are discussions about the problems of integration, school programs, readings of German Russian authors, celebrations in the town squares, church services involving local congregations and German Russians.

This is viewed as a successful way in which to reduce prejudice against German Russians and increase the level acceptance among Germans. Integration of German Russian youth stood at the center of many of these introduction events. For the years 2002 to 2004, one hundred additional communities have expressed their interest in hosting this exhibit.

Reprinted with permission of California District Council Report.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller