| And Don't Forget About us!
Und tut uns net Vergesse!
Paulsen, Nina. "And Don’t Forget About us!" Volk auf dem Weg, March 2005, 16-17.
Translation from the original German to American English by
Translator's Note: The title in the German original is actually
-- its nuance is impossible to render in translation. -- A.H.
Forty years ago, "BILD am Sonntag" [German newspaper
edition] went on a search for Volga-Germans missing without a trace.
"Sing in German once more, Tovairsh!" This sort of optimism
comes from a
headline of a report in the February 21, 1965 issue of "BILD
am Sonntag," which
dealt with the life in Kazakhstan of Germans who had been deported
At the time, Johann Schellenberg, former editor of the Slavgorod
"Rote Fahne [Red Flag]," had received a copy of the paper
from a friend in the
Federal Republic of Germany, and he has kept it for four decades
private records. The yellowed pages, which contain an extensive
very expressive photos consitute a contemporary witness to the history
previously lost, only partially rehabilitated German-Russians. Although
only a tiny fraction within only a part of the vast space and time
postwar history of the ethnic group, it also reports in a very informative
manner on the extreme cynicism with which the German-Russians were
mere "work animals" by the Soviet propaganda machine,
how these Germans
delighted over even the smallest concessions from the regime, and
how they, across
the vast country, lived in the hope for restoration of justice (in
word, autonomy). Since in the final end, it [autonomy] was not restored
all, most of them eventually turned their backs to a country that
been chosen as home by their ancestors, to find happiness and justice
very original home country of those ancestors.
The report entitled "Sing in German once more, Tovairsh!"
goes back to the
time of the so-called thaw in the political climate of the Soviet
gave some measure of hope for political relaxation even to German-Russians
living in places of exile in Siberia and Kazakhstan. Following the
to Moscow by German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and the assumption
diplomatic relations between the German Federal Republic and the
Soviet Union, even
the German-Russians began to receive some concessions. The Presidium
Supreme Soviet of the USSR enacted the decree of December 13, 1955
"concerning the lifting of restrictions on Germans and their
family members living in
special settlements," by which at least the degrading so-called
[mandatory, permanent surveillance by military authorities; Tr.]
Johann Schellenberg, who today lives in Bochum, recalls: "During
1955, the first German-language newspaper entitled 'Arbeit [Work]'
Barnaul, which only a year and a half later was shut down due to
'autonomistic' activities. The next first real harbinger of spring
German-Russians arrived in 1957 with the appearance of the German-language
newspaper 'Neues Leben [New Life]' (from Moscow) and the regional
called 'Rote Fahne [Red Flag].' Both were party organs, but they
spark of hope simply because they were printed in the German language.
added were German-language radio programs in Kazakhstan, Kirgistan,
instruction in the 'mother tongue,' German; and, finally, the decree
19, 1964 by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR 'Concerning Changes to
by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of August 28, 1941 on the resettlement
Germans living in the Volga Region.' Employees of 'Rote Fahne' learned
this decree only from the East German newspaper 'Neues Deustchland
The Russian (Soviet) press remained mostly silent on the decree
Only five months later, on January 5, 1965, did the Moscow newspaper
Leben' carry the [translated] text of the decree. The effects of
rehabilitation of Germans were experienced in person by over two
[German-Russian] immigrants to Germany."
The above-mentioned decree had in fact not been intended for publication.
In the original, that rubric was eventually struck and eventually
with the indication "For Publication in the Advertizer,"
making almost sure once
again that the text of the decree would -- at least for a long while
to reach most of those affected by it.
"Sing in German once more, Tovairsh!" -- German-Russians
in the Kazakh
The introduction to that story in "BILD am Sonntag" of
early 1965 reads as
follows: "In January of this year the Soviet government published
which acquitted the German-Russians of Stalin's accusation of 'having
conspired with Hitler.' Stalin deported these 'Volga-Germans,' and
they now?" Correspondent for Eastern Europe, Manfred R. Beer,
and the Austrian
Franz Graf Goess begin the search for these lost Volga-Germans.
the existence of such a German ethnic group in the Soviet Union
concealed -- the so-called Great Silence. Among other places the
journalists discover near the Chinese border of Kazakhstan traces
of the exiled,
previously lost Germans.
After a trip covering 8,000 kilometers and various attempts to
information in the Soviet capital, they arrive in Kazakh Alma-Ata
and are visibly
impressed by the multicultural aura of this Central Asian metropolis,
well as by its radio broadcast facility. They report being confronted
"Babel of languages as we entered the radio broadcast facility
which is situated in a new section of the Kazakh capital city. Kazakhs,
Kalmucks, Russians, Kirkiz, and Ukrainians are hurrying busily through
endless corridors. The faces, a very mirror of Asia and Europe,
reminder that not less than fifty nationalities were involved in
Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. Even German sounds are heard in this
atmosphere, particularly on the second floor of the gigantic building,
the 'German Studio' is situated."
It is from here that three times a week, as on this January 22,
the voice of
the petite announcer, Lilly Warkentin, is heard: "This is Alma-Ata
radio broadcast for the German-speaking population of Kazakhstan."
the two journalists, who have brought along a copy of the newspaper
Leben," it has been made possible to inform the Germans living
in Kazakhstan a
week early of the text contained in the document of the long hoped-for
Beer and Goess recall: "Two days earlier, as we began a five-hour,
flight from Moscow to Alam-Ata, we had in our baggage a copy, hot
presses, of 'Neues Leben.' That was the name of a periodical which
every two weeks in the 'Pravda' publishing company and was intended
German-Russians scattered in all directions across Siberia and Central
that issue had printed on its title page the full text of the text
"And now things will be much better ..." -- Hope is the
last to die
In an adjoining room the two journalists follow the broadcast and
with the chief editor of the "German Hour" emanating from
Their comment: "His name is Dietrich Friesen, and he looks
just like this: tall,
blond, with blue eyes. He has never seen Germany, but speaks outstanding
Dietrich Freisen is one of the first Germans the journalists are
He literally rips the copy of "Neues Leben" from their
his enthusiasm, he says, "I'll rearrange the content of the
immediately. This text must be aired. Had you not brought a copy
of the paper, we
would have had to wait several days for it -- you know, Moscow is
The journalists are able to construct their own answer to a question
does not wish to answer, namely, why one of his coworkers had not
translated the text that has been available in Russian-language
media for days
now. They assume he fears that he might perhaps not translate to
of an i this text as it appears in the Russian original. The smallest
mistake might cost him at least his job, if not more, so he prefers
to wait for
'Neues Leben" and its "official" translation.
As Lilly Warkentin completes reading the final words of the decree
microphone, a powerful trumpet fanfare is sounded, and it provides
transition to the next segment, a report entitled "Working
to the best of your
ability" [literally, "conscience." Tr.]. A reporter
by the name of Eugen Mueller
talks "about the shining example that miner Wilhelm Lenz, a
exiled to Karaganda, provides to his Russian colleagues. Willy is
After the song "Horch, was kommt von draussen rein [Folksong
enters from outside]" is played, "a new piece 'from the
light muse' by the young
Soviet-German composer Oskar Geilfuss, who 'earned his spurs' in
already giving concerts in Moscow" is broadcast. Then comes
"Der Fliederduft hat mich berauscht [The lilac's aroma has
performed with "gusto and emotion" by the Volga-German
singer Elvira Muth.
"At this moment, nearly all Germans in Kazakhstan are sitting
radios," enthuses Dietrich Friesen. For the estimated 800,000
program is of very special importance. For the first time it is
broadcast the entire German-language text of the decree by the Supreme
which is intended to rehabilitate "all Soviet citizens of German
form the discriminatory accusations by Stalin.
This half-hour program is broadcast only three times a week. The
journalists' comment: "This may seem like very little if one
considers that one of
thirteen of Kazakhstan (which is twice as large as the Federal Republic
Germany) is German and 60,000 Germans live in the region of the
of Alma-Ata alone, so that German is the language of commerce right
Kazakh and Russian." At the station they continue to be told
by these Germans
that the program provides to Kazakh-exiled Volga-Germans (that is,
German-Russians) a real feeling of happiness in just being able
to hear their mother
tongue publicly at least three times a week.
Friesen talks hopefully to the journalists of potential consequences
decree: "Now many things will be better. The decree even promises
in our cultural revival. And so I hope very much that we might also
granted more broadcast time ..." In retrospect, it can be said
"that was a nice
thought -- hope blooms eternal." Between promises by the regime
wishes of the ethnic group, who continue to be 'nourished' by the
continue to exist large, insurmountable hurdles. Complete political
rehabilitation is something the Germans in the former Soviet Union
still looking for. The dream of cultural revival, still alive in
the 1960s and
even into the 1980s, is now but a broken dream, especially after
wave of emigration to Germany.
German Enthusiasm for Work -- A Showpiece of the Soviet Propaganda
Beer and Goess must have been the first Western journalists to
interest in the exiled Germans. Consequently, Soviet national politics,
the German-Russians, was presented to them from its very best side.
life and of the horrid past, of which anyone affected kept to himself
fear of the regime, they learned, if at all, at best marginally.
Still, from day to day the two increasingly witnessed "the
great extent to
which Communist propaganda has already taken hold of the creativity
Germans," and the cynical manner they are being used for its
Critically, the journalists are able to observe: "Volga-Germans
are held up to
the other nationalities as exemplars of rigorous fulfillment of
work norms and
even more than the norm. For some time now, the names of the best
are not just Pyotr, Ludmilla or Bigoshim, but more and more they
Christl or Otto."
The journalists find German names listed prominently on the garish
Fame" Signs in villages and cities, even in the museum in Alma-Ata.
German enthusiasm for work is praised from all sides as showpiece
Germans are the best tractor operators, the best milkers of cows,
the best work
brigade leaders, and so on. With amazement, the journalists report:
day passes that the party newspaper for the cities of Alma-Ata or
does not sing the praises of German specialists, engineers or agronomists."
The multipage report of February 21, 1965 i9Bild issue] includes
from readers with their impressions and suggestions on the topic
"German-Russians," which implies that there must have
been prior reports on the
German-Russians. They had obviously met with good response.
In one of the letters, reader Magel of Bonn writes: "As a
Volga-German and political refugee stemming back to the Lenin-Totzky
era, I have read
your published report on the Volga-Germans you discovered not only
interest, but I was also greatly moved and filled with joy."
Another statement comes from Josef Moser of Recklinghuasen and
the difficult situation for the German-Russians who obviously are
in need of
assistance: "it is very difficult to send aid from here, but
there may be one
thing the Soviet government may not object to: asking the next German
to Alma-Ata to present the German-Russians with a few hundred records
German folk songs and Christmas songs. Perhaps the German Embassy
might even take up such a project. That would be something the German-Russians
might wish to create a memorial (in their hearts) to the "German-Germans"
with the inscription: "And don't forget about us!"
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.