Deep Gratitude Engenders Encouragement for the Future: Young German Russians Encounter Contemporary Witnesses of the Deportation

Weber, Tatjana. "Deep Gratitude Engenders Encouragement for the Future: Young German Russians Encounter Contemporary Witnesses of the Deportation." Volk auf dem Weg, Youth Insert, October 2011, 1-2.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO. Editing by Dr. Nancy A. Herzog.

Dr. Christian Bergner, Official Representative of the Federal Government Regarding the Aussiedler and Minorities, gave a presentation as part of his own August 30 – 31, 2011 workshop in the Berlin Academy of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which was dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the mass deportation of the Volga Germans. Young people in attendance then showed their deep gratitude for the courage and endurance of the generation that experienced deportation and stated how important awareness of their history is for their own identity.

The workshop was entitled “To Experience, Encounter and Memorialize History: Personal Encounters by Young People with Contemporary Witnesses of the Deportation of German Russians.” It was held in collaboration with the “Escape, Displacement, and Reconciliation Foundation.”

Through personal encounters with German Russian contemporary witnesses of the deportation, fourteen young people were given the opportunity to learn more about the history of their ancestors. Following the presentation mentioned above, some of the young people presented their own impressions of these encounters and of some of the stories they had heard from the elders.

Those contemporary witnesses, Karl Vogel, Mathilde Vogel, Alexander Muth and Lydia Giedt, made it possible for the attendees to participate in their personal deportation history, and the young people interviewing them were deeply moved.

Charlotte Warkentin, age 19, of Niederstein reported to the participants as follows:
While I was listening to the stories, my feelings kept changing. I went from indignation to barely containable anger, simply because I could not fathom how one could allow those events to happen and how anyone could perpetrate such horrendous treatment of people. I also felt complete bewilderment and deep empathy regarding the inhumane treatment of the deportees. I was strongly moved because I recognized in the eyes of these people how grateful they are simply to be alive and to have overcome all those horrible experiences.

Clearly these conversations with the contemporary witnesses also helped the young people in attendance to understand their own history better. Igor Christ, 23 years of age, from Stuttgart, reported as follows:

The more I experience the history of the German Russians, the better I understand my own life. Questions regarding my origins and identity I can best understand and answer through reflection on the fate of our ancestors. I am finding that research into the past is very valuable when I am confronted by other people with further questions concerning the German Russian minority. I am also finding that every generation should be informed about the times of horror, particularly so that something like that will never happen again.

Those words from the young presenters demonstrated not only genuine gratitude and respect for the achievements of the deportees, but they, too, moved the entire audience at the Academy of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The project “To Experience, Encounter and Memorialize History” has demonstrated how important an encounter between contemporary witnesses and the young generation can be. Only this kind of encounter can provide the opportunity to grasp history, to learn from it, and to take courage for the future. 

Contemporary witnesses (from left to right): Karl Vogel, Mathilde Vogel, Alexander Muth and Lydia Gieth.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of these articles and to Dr. Nancy Herzog for the editing of this article.

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