Geography of my Life
Becker, Heinrich. "Geography of my Life." Volk auf dem Weg, May 2010, 40-41.
Serial continuation. The previous installment was published in Volk auf dem Weg, March, 2010, 42-43.
Translation from the Original German-language text to American English provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
Often, the employer was informed about the intentions of his employees. Anyone wanting to emigrate would then be invited to appear in front of a gathering of all personnel, where a strong appeal was made to his conscience in an attempt to dissuade him from leaving the Soviet Union.
Still, our wish to emigrate grew even stronger. We even took part in a campaign that gathered signatures, addresses and personal data from thousands of people who wished to emigrate. Through one way or another, this information eventually ended up in the German Embassy. However, we waited in vain. Only few families actually succeeded in emigrating to Germany.
Through acquaintances we learned that in the Baltic republics and in Moldova the whole process of emigrating might be allowed to proceed relatively quickly. For a while we even thought about emigrating to the DDR [the so-called German Democratic Republic – East Germany, as a Soviet satellite -Tr.], but there we had no relatives, making it impossible to receive the required invitation from there to enter the country.
Ewald and Hilda became determined to move to Moldova. They succeeded relatively quickly in selling their house, and in 1976 they reached Bendery.
We, on the other hand, had much less luck in selling our house. Quite simply, no buyer could be found. Due to the great number of Germans who had been moving away to other republics, the availability of single-family homes in Aktyubinsk was very large at that time.
Only by the summer of 1977 were we able to sell the house to a Kazakh official. I traveled to Moldova to try to buy a house there.
Buying a home in those times in the Soviet Union was the quickest way to obtain living space. To get a state-provided apartment or one of the so-called builders’ associations the wait time was as much as ten years.
At official registry places in various Moldovan cities, however, I was told that I, as a German, was not allowed to register as a resident. So I traveled on to Krasnodar between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. The plane landed during late evening, and I spent the night in the airport. The next morning I went to the city registry office without again wasting time first looking for a house.
The receptionist directed me to an official who was responsible for new registrants. I told him I wanted to buy a house and was therefore ready to register as a resident. “Your passport, please,” replied the official. He leafed through it and said, “You are German, yes?” When I replied in the affirmative he said, “Germans and Tatars are not permitted to register in Crimea. I therefore demand that you leave Crimea within twenty-four hours.”
I took back my passport and went straight to the airport. My time was getting tight. I wanted to return to Aktyubinsk and move out of the house. Desperate, I decided that the only way out of this bad situation was to move to South Kazakhstan, where my father had a house.
Beliye Vodi near Chimkent.
On returning to Aktyubinsk I first ordered a furniture storage container, and we began to pack. I informed my father via telegram that we would have to stay with him over the winter. After a few days I took the train to Beliye Vodi near Chimkent in South Kazakhstan in order to make some arrangements before my family would arrive and, most importantly, to find a job.
Beliye Vodi was already a relatively large settlement that had emerged around a railroad station built near Chimkent. My father’s house consisted of three rooms of living space and a rather large kitchen. It was at the edge of the settlement next to a large stream, from which water for the garden and vineyard was taken. My father recommended several construction firms, and I went off to look for a job. During the very first day of my search I received the promise of a position as a “tractorist” in a construction firm.
Getting general supplies in Beliye Vodi was problematic. Although in certain stores one was able to basic groceries such as bread and potatoes and some canned goods, fresh fruit, vegetables and meat were available only at a market for agricultural products and at hefty prices. Many households had gardens through which they tried to improve the availability of food.
We remained in Beliye Vodi until May of 1978, when I gave my employer notice and flew to Dnyepropetrovsk. This Ukrainian city had been recommended to us by acquaintances. The family was to come there after I bought a house. Before I took off, I asked my parents whether they might wish to move to Ukraine with us, but my father decided to stay in Beliye Vodi, and so our paths would separate once again.
Part 4. Ukraine
Sursko-Litovsk near Dnyepropetrovsk
On arriving in Dnyepropetrovsk I was struck by the beauty of the city. It was already a large industrial center with more than a million residents. The city straddled the Dnyepr River. I was astonished to see such order in the streets and in buildings. It was a green city. By means of public transportation such as the street car, buses, and taxis one could reach practically any corner of the city. The food was good, and grocery shelves were filled.
I did not have great luck with my search for a house. Prices for single-family homes in the interior city were very high, which is why I had to change my search area closer to the outer areas of the city. After a few days I located an appropriate house in the city district of Mirniy. The seller and I agreed on the price and went to a corresponding housing authority. After glancing at my passport, an official there looked at me and said, “You are coming from Central Asia, therefore you are not allowed to reside directly in Dnyepropetrovsk. You’ll have to find a house outside the city, in a village such as Sursko-Litovsk, which is ten kilometers away. Only after another year may you attempt to move into the city.”
I took my leave of the seller and took a bus to Sursko-Litovsk. On arriving there I got off at a central market and went on to search for a house on the main street.
Without much hesitation I knocked on the door of a home to ask the residents whether they might know of a house that was being offered for sale. I was shown a brick house that was for sale. From neighbors I learned the address of its owner, who was living in Dnyepropetrovsk. After meeting with him, I got him to agree rather quickly to a sale price of 11,000 rubles, and I flew back to Chimkent.
There I arranged for the move of our furniture and concluded the financial aspects regarding the sale of our house. Just before we were to leave, our eldest was called up to military service. He was assigned to the Ukrainian-Polish border, where he worked two years on the construction of floating bridges.
I succeeded rather quickly in obtaining a job as a truck driver with a large construction firm in Dnyepropetrovsk. My job was to use a trailer pulled by a transport truck of the type “Kirovez” to haul excavation equipment and other large construction machines from one construction site to another.
In Ukraine we immediately handed in an application for travel to the Federal Republic of Germany, but were forced to wait until 1988 for the approval. By that time, our youngest had also been drafted into military service.
Four months after his return we emigrated. Applications for travel papers could be handed in only after the granting of travel permits. To obtain visas we had to travel to Moscow, since there was no German embassy in Dnyepropetrovsk.
On October 28, 1988 we came back to Dnyepropetrovsk from Moscow, and on November 9 we finally left Dnyepropetrovsk by train in the direction of Kiev. We planned to travel to Germany via the Kiev-Berlin train.
In Kiev we stayed in a hotel for several days because we were unable to secure train tickets for immediate departure. But then we finally were on our way. The train took off toward the Polish border. At the border crossing in Brest, all passengers had to get off the train and were told to take our luggage through customs. While we spent four hours of trying to get through customs, our train cars were switched to different axles and wheels, because the track width [rail gauge] in the Soviet Union is different from that in the West.
Part 5. Germany
Neuss in the Rhineland
The train took off from Brest toward Warsaw and East Berlin. In East Berlin we changed to a train that took us to West Berlin.
Eagerly we awaited our next leg of the trip as we sat eating breakfast in a restaurant. Everything seemed new and fascinating to us. By noon we were able to continue our trip.
At the border of the two Germanys, federal border police came onto the train and checked our papers. Hours later we arrived in Braunschweig and, just as were about to get off the train, a lady from the German Red Cross asked us to continue on to Hanover. .
(To be continued in the next issue.)
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.