Disobedience, Protest and Resistance by German-Russians in the Soviet Union (Part 7)

Verweigerung, Protest und Widerstand der Russlanddeutschen im Sowietstaat (Teil 7)

Krieger, Viktor Dr. "Disobedience, Protest and Resistance by German-Russians in the Soviet Union (Part 7)." Volk auf dem Weg, November 2007, 10-11.

Translation from the original German to American English is provided by Alex
Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

NOTE: The Autonomy Movement (Continuation from Issues 2-5, 7, and
October, 2007)

The lifting of the military command surveillance and of Special Settlerstatus toward the end of 1955 for the Germans in no way signified that they were from then on considered to be on an equal level with [other] Soviet citizens.

At least the general liberalization following Stalin's death was marked by growing efforts on the part of officialdom toward firmer integration of the former Special Settlers into the employment and social conditions of Soviet society. For those affected this meant a limited choice of occupation and residential locales, open access to mid-level schools and occupational training, as well as admittance to studies at universities, primarily in the technical, agricultural and pedagogical areas.

Even hesitant acceptance into the Party was beginning to occur, and German-Russians were again being recruited into the Red Army. Furthermore, very limited efforts were observed toward consideration of nationalist needs, which were demonstrated by the appearance of a German-language central newspaper, airing of radio programs, reintroduction of teaching the mother tongue on a limited basis, and allowing performances of some singing and dance groups.

For the Kalmucks, Karatchaes, and Balkars, and others, reestablished territorial autonomies provided a solid base for their social and cultural redevelopment and created a broadly loyalist attitude toward the predominant social and political order. However, with regard to equal status for Soviet citizens of German origin, the Party and State apparatus failed to show any interest even following Stalin's death.

Resistance by those affected in this manner by the comprehensive discrimination from the State demonstrated itself in various ways: not a few Germans sought understanding and security in religious communities, others saw a solution only through emigration, and a third group was hoping that, with the reestablishment of an autonomous republic, general Germano-phobia might be essentially stemmed, and tolerable prospects for most Germans living in a Socialist country might be realized.

Data sheet dated September 18, 1965, sent by the Krasnoyarsk
Regional Party Committee to the Communist Party of the USSR, on the
subject of German Autonomists

The latter were not entirely wrong in this assumption, as the example of the DDR ["German Democratic Republic" of East Germany - Tr.] following the erection of the Wall in 1961 demonstrated. However, the Soviet leadership, using flimsy arguments, continued to deny full rehabilitation [to Germans in the Soviet Union]. In a paper issued in June, 1956, the then Minister of the Interior, Nikolay Dudorov, rejected autonomy for Germans on the grounds that they did not form territorially dense branches, and that even before 1941 only 30 percent of them had lived in the former Volga German Republic. Given these circumstances, "to establish an autonomy for the Germans, as long as they live scattered all over the Soviet Union, would be only a pro-forma matter, especially since after such a re-establishment, most Germans would remain where they are living currently."

Even after Dudorov, the Party leadership continued to use this argumentation in rejecting the justifiable claims of those affected, as if the example of the Kasan-Tatars, of whom less than a third lived within their national Republic, were not obvious.

If, at least until the end of the 1950's, there were generally only individual protest actions (personal letters to the government, conversations within trusted circles, etc.), the 1960's were marked by collective actions by the proponents of autonomy for Germans. Throughout the country, numerous groups were formed by equal-minded people who composed collective protest letters, collected signatures and sent representatives to Moscow with the demand for final restoration of the German Republic and, therewith, guarantee of a realistic equal footing and treatment of this minority.

One of the many collective petitions to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR was organized in 1961 by Alexander Justus, deputy director of a middle school in Kupino in the Novosibirsk region. The petition had been signed by several German residents of the cities of Kupino and Krasnoyarsk.

Viktor Fuchs, one of the active supporters of the autonomy movmeent
of the 1960s, in his apartment in Krasnoyarsk, 2004

Actions by those supporting autonomy strengthened prior to 1964, the time prior to the 200th anniversary of settlement of the Volga region by Germans. Documents that have only recently become accessible at the Regional Archive of State Security and at Moscow party central offices draw a significantly different picture of how the half-hearted "Rehabilitation Edict" of 1964 came about. It particularly strengthens the assumption that the issuance of this act was less intended as a prelude to a visit to the Federal republic of Germany by Party Chief Nikita Khrushchev, which had been expected to take place in October of the same year, but never actually happened, than it happened much more likely as a response to numerous protests by German activists.

Preparations for putting together a German delegation took place even prior to the year 1963. According to KGB information, Therese Chromova (Schilke) of Frunse, Kirgistan, was the first to express this idea. Alexander Justus supported the idea and, as early as in his September 13, 1963 letter to Heinrich Kaiser, suggested that the members who would elected to the proposed
delegation should gather for a discussion in January or July of the following year. Subsequently, carrying thousands of signatures, they would be sent to Moscow, for one, to bring about the lifting of the shameful deportation ukase of 1941 and, for another, occasioned by the anniversary of the original settlements, to remind their audience of the achievements of the Volga-Germans.

Toward the end of 1963, Friedrich Schessler, informal leader of the autonomists, sent several letters to his comrades in arms asking them to collect signatures and moneys for the delegation.

The Tchekists [KGB - Tr.] listed, in addition to those already mentioned, further activists such as Irma Rudolf of Abakan, Ivan (Johann) Schmidt of Issyk, Kazakhstan, plus Reinhard Koeln of Krymsk in the Krasnodar region.

In the face of numerous letters of complaint, and well informed of growing ill will in the banishment areas, the Kremlin leadership felt forced to start taking a few steps toward improving the situation of the Germans. A commission consisting of high-ranking members of the Party and of national security, considered intensively a petition signed by 104 persons, among them Friedrich Schessler, Heinrich Kaiser, Viktor Fuchs, and others, which demanded complete rehabilitation for the German minority and suggested concurrently that the 200th anniversary of immigration of the Colonists to Russia be observed.

In a final report of June 17, 1964, composed by P. Pigalev, M. Georgadze and V. Semitchastny, the commission recommended that no further government laws on behalf of this ethnic group be enacted, and that a special observance of the settlement by German farmers of the Lower Volga be omitted.

Following the concluding meeting on July 3 in the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR, the Party leadership still decided to issue an inconsequential compensatory act: On August 13, a draft of a ukase concerning the Germans in Russia was presented to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The highest State organ two weeks later approved the document it had been given, and thus came about the well-known edict of August 29, 1964. This legal act only lifted the accusation of active support for Hitler-Germany. The illegal resettlement of the Volga-Germans and of other groups of Germans in the Soviet Union, not to mention territorial rehabilitation or material compensation, were not discussed.

According to well-established practice, there was no immediate publication of the decree. Only several hundred copies were disseminated via official channels to central and regional authorities. However, the Germans were no longer as intimidated as they had been only a decade before; in the face of numerous protests, the State powers saw it necessary to approve publication of the decree in the official "News of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union" on December 28, 1964 and, in German-language translation, in the newspaper "Neues Leben" on January 20, 1965. However, this "rehabilitation" decree was never published or mentioned in the mass media, school texts or popular scientific journals.

The subsequent course of events is well known. Two delegations of German activists, appearing in January and July, 1965 before central party and national organs, and also in a meeting with the nominal head of State, Anastas Mikoyan, were unable to effect anything.

Shortly thereafter a serious persecution of the activists of this nationalist movement began. They were put under constant surveillance, their mail was censored, State attorneys, Party Committees and State security commanded the appearance of these unmanageable Germans and threatened them with reprisals if they would not take leave of their "illegal movement." Internally these massive intimidation actions were simply called prophylaxis.

The failure of attempts in July and August of 1966, and another a year later, to send a third delegation to Moscow, was attributed to the KGB. The gigantic disappointment over the denial tactics of central and local authorities eventually, from about the end of the 1960's onward, took expression in growing efforts to emigrate to (West) Germany.

There was also a remarkable accompanying change of heart among those who earlier had been convinced Communists. For example, in 1966 the Chakassian administration for state security made it known that Friedrich Schessler, after his return from Moscow had expressed his deep criticism of the political process against the authors Daniel and Sinyavski, and that he had defended both. Here one can see incipient efforts toward bridge building to the germinal dissidents and human rights movement, which the supporters of the emigration movement were able to attain in the 1970s.

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

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