1917: German-Russians Between the First Congress in Moscow and the October Revolution

1917: Russlanddeutsche Zwischen dem 1. Kongress in Moskau und der Oktoberrevolution

Schein, Nina. "1917: German-Russian Between the First Congress in Moscow and the October Revolution." Volk auf dem Weg, April 2007, 46.

This translation from the original German text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

Viktor Roemmich, b. in 1934 in Worms in the Odessa area, sent us this photo, which was taken in 1929 at the collective farm "Red Front"and shows, among others, his father and two uncles. Some readers will certainly be pleased to find a relative or acquaintance in this picture.
 The German-Russians welcomed the February Revolution of 1917 and hoped that the Provisional Government, among other things, repeal the liquidation laws (enacted in 1915, which had as its goal the liquidation of land ownership by the Germans) that had expanded to the whole Empire and, thus, to the Volga-Germans and Siberia-Germans as well.

Between April 20 and 22, 1917, the First Congress of German-Russians was held in Moscow. Eighty-six representatives from nearly all of the largest German settlement regions (15 Gouvernements) attended, among them delegates from the Volga region and Ukraine, from Crimea, from Volhynia and the Trans-Caucasus, as well as from the German urban centers of Moscow and Petersburg.

"For the first time in their history, all the leaders of [this country's] Germans, of all of Russia, were assembled here for a conference" wrote Pastor Johannes Schleunig, who was one of the delegates and wrote down his impressions in the book "Mein Leben hat ein Ziel [My Life has a Goal]." All tiers of the German population were represented, from entrepreneurs to intellectuals to churchmen (Catholics, Lutherans and Mennonites). The Congress was officially opened by Dr. Karl Lindemann (1847 - 1928), professor at the Moscow Agricultural Academy, noted scientist and foremost representative of German-Russian interests. He was engaged politically and was esteemed as a competent agrarian expert, under the Tsarist regime and during Soviet times.

The Congress charged a committee of German delegates to the Duma, led by Karl Lindemann, to represent to the government the interests of all German-Russians. The conference demanded the repeal of the liquidation laws and defended the right to private land ownership. Only feudal estates and cloister properties should be dispossessed, and divided among those farmers who have little or no land. German should once again be the official language and the language of instruction (an edict of August 18, 1914, had banned the speaking of German in public). As further tasks, the merging of all of German-Russians into a nationwide organization, the economic reconstruction of individual settlement areas, and the political contributions by Germans under a variety of new conditions were also discussed.

Earlier, after the expansion of the liquidation laws to the entire Empire, the Volga-Germans in Saratov had formed a committee which protested against the planned dispossessions and, by the end of March, was reorganized into a "Temporary German Committee" under the chairmanship of the entrepreneur Friedrich Schmidt. This group demanded that the Provisional Government repeal the liquidation laws, it encouraged the population to support the new government and asked them to put their trust in the Constituent Assembly. Immediately following the Moscow Congress the Temporary German Committee invoked a conference for April 25 - 27, to be attended by 364 delegates entitled to vote. The Congress established a "Central Committee of Volga-Germans" and agreed on the following basic declaration: The Volga-Germans "support the Provisional Government, if and for as long as it maintains given and promised freedoms..." The assembly demanded the right to use the German language in administrative matters and in the schools, and it charged the Central committee to mediate between general administrations in the colonies, also to establish a "Republican Colonist Party" and to prepare its program.

On May 12, 1917 the Lindemann group founded the Moscow "Association of Russian Citizens of German Nationality" and elected a two-member organizational commission. For the mid-September timeframe Lindemann called for a "Second Congress of Russian Citizens of German Naitonality" in Moscow, which was attended by 50 delegates, who decided to support only German candidates during elections for the Constituent Assembly.

The events of the October revolution, however, would soon throw most of these visions, initiatives and plans of activists between the two Russian revolutions completely overboard. At the time, no one could imagine the brutal extent the systematic destruction of the German-Russians ethnic group would assume within only a few years...

Nina Schein

Sources: - Gerd Stricker, Deutsche Geschichte im Osten Europas, Russland [German History in the European East and Russia] (pp. 135 - 136); - Robert Korn, Kalender 2007. Die Deutschen in Russland im schicksalhaften Jahr 1917 [The Germans in Russia during the Fateful Year of 1917]; - Brochure of the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland entitled "Deutsche aus Russland gestern und heute [Germans from Russia, Yesterday and Today]" (2006).

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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