Germano-Phobia in the Russian Empire and in the Soviet Union

Germanophobie im Russischen Reich und in der Sowietunion

Krieger, Dr. Viktor. "Germano-Phobia in the Russian Empire and in the Soviet Union." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2006, 17-19.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English by
Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

NOTE: This is the part 3 of a series of installments of this article, continued from the November, 2006 issue of Volk auf dem Weg


From the Postwar Era to the Collapse of the USSR

The German-Soviet war, with all its victims, but much more so with its memories of heroic deeds and victories, served to inform the identity of Soviet people significantly more strongly than even the wounds that Stalinism left behind. The "Great Patriotic War" -- alongside the October Revolution -- would become the central origin myth for Soviet and, especially, for Russia society.

The Moscow leadership quickly recognized the legitimacy potential and the binding force of collective war experiences and of a developing feeling of communal spirit. The central points of incantation would now be patriotism and the cult of heroism. Pride of victory over Germany, of the new status of world power and the superiority of the Soviet system derived therefrom would certainly be cultivated.

Not only the ever more pompously executed Day of Victory of May 9, but also the innumerable other memorial celebrations, demonstrations at monumental memorials, and honorings of war veterans with all sorts of medals of honor were meant to serve, among other things, to impart an image of heroic postwar times to the younger generation and, last but not least, were intended as a mobilizing source for strengthening the Soviet System. At the same time, official propaganda practically eliminated all mention of the darker side, one that might not correspond with the glorious scenario: complicity with Hitler's Germany between 1939 and 1941, condemnation and shooting of hundreds of thousands of Red Army members and officers accused of cowardice, collaboration with occupying forces by a considerable portion of the Soviet population, misery and dying in the GULags and work camps, deportation of entire peoples, famine and repression in the backwoods, occupation of central European states, extreme violence and simple theft in occupied Germany ...

The title [cover] of a volume
containing a collection
dealing witht he problems of the
"German Push to the East"

All this was accompanied by official stirring up a policy of keeping in people's minds a covert as well as subliminal Germano-phobia: from early childhood on, the Soviet people were being shown -- via innumerable scientific and popular books, literary pieces, articles in newspapers and periodicals, numerous works of art, television programs and films, theater productions, personal meetings with war participants, etc. -- an overwhelmingly negative image of Germans and of German history. "German" practically became synonymous with "Fascist." Seen as the representatives of the actions that had unleashed on the Soviet Union a long-term, costly war full of losses and sacrifices, the German-Russians were to suffer particularly seriously under the moral and psychological consequences. Even more so as the simple fact of the service by tens of thousands of (Soviet-)Germans, within the ranks of the fighting troops of the Red Army, before 1941 and thereafter, and particularly their mobilization and self-sacrificing efforts in the hinterlands as part of the so-called Trud-Army, was completely withheld from the public by the Soviet propaganda machinery. In the face of the imposed information blockade, they had to
serve as scapegoats for and in lieu of actual or invented crimes of the Third Reich, they had to endure resentment by their neighbors, colleagues and bosses, and to expect State-sponsored discrimination in social, political and cultural areas.

In sharp contrast to this, witness the open and understanding view of the population of the [later] German Democratic Republic (DDR) toward the State mass media and writing of history. It was no accident that proponents of autonomy [back in the Soviet Union] pointed to this situation with bitter irony in their collective letter to the party and State leadership: "Since its establishment, the DDR has been treated by the Soviet Union with all possible attentiveness and care, while the Soviet Germans are made to pay for the moral consequences of the war, as though the Fascists had not been in Germany, but among the Soviet Germans instead."

Still, there existed a putative contradiction between the well-intentioned reporting about the DDR and the negative and concealing position via-a-vis its "own" Germans. In the view of the political realists in the Kremlin, this situation, which the German-Russian public felt to be a provocative snub, was quite acceptable. Moscow played its satellite off against the West German "revanchist and military State." Furthermore, the Soviet Union liked itself in the role as liberator of the German people from fascism, and the role of reeducating from barbaric National Socialist teaching toward the humanistic ideals of Socialism. Numerous representatives of the first socialist state on German soil who would become flaming anti-Fascists when they found themselves
in Soviet prisons of war, were treated with considerable forbearance. In the eyes of the East German "active workers" the Russian people were to be seen as the prime vanguard to lead progressive mankind into the bright Communist future: "To learn from the Soviet Union means to learn victory!" However, the beneficent official relationship with the DDR did in no way seem to stand in the way of the dedicated anti-German propaganda in the Soviets' own country.

Much more complicated was the treatment of the descendants of the 18th and 19th Century farmer and artisan immigrants. The regime should have exchanged its role of the beaming victors for that of the rueful sinner. But it would thereby find itself in a not so flattering situation of admitting to past crimes and to a need for atonement, especially toward the Germans, even if their name carried the prefix "Soviet-." Such a position could even be explained through justifiable doubt in a culture-bearing image of the Russian people. Admittedly, the rational economic methods of German agriculture -- particularly in the Black Sea region -- had served for a long time as an example to be imitated by Russian and Ukrainian farmers. Despite that, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union decisively declined to honor the 200-year anniversary of the immigration of German settlers in Russia. In contrast, the 350th anniversary of the entry of Kalmyk and Dschungaric tribes into the lower Volga area was celebrated with much pomp in 1959. But by far the greatest show was made in 1981 in the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the integration of Kazakh tribes into the Russian Empire, which trumped all previous celebrations by far. From the example of these oriental peoples, emphasized especially graphically, were the countless acts of civilizing "assistance" by the Russian people, which the former nomads experienced during the Tsarist Empire and especially after 1917.

Even in the face of this declared close relationship to its East German federated partner and despite the public declaration for Proletariat Internationalism, there was no dearth in the Soviet Union of particularly negative reports dealing with the "Russian Germans." For one, there were the Baltic Germans (ostzeycy, ostseyskye barony), landowners of nobility and representatives of the urban middle tier in the Balletic Sea provinces who were now stamped as ex-conservatives and as supporters of the Tsarist autocracy, accused of enslaving and ruthless exploitation of Estonian and Latvian farmers, and deemed responsible for several deplorable states of affairs within the Russian Empire - where they in fact had constituted a significant portion of the government bureaucracy and of the military. Additionally, most studies during the 1920s and 1930s of the (by now) independent countries of Estonia and Latvia reduced the Baltic Germans to nothing but true and loyal followers of Nazi ideology.

Also, the appearance of numerous German favorites at the Tsarist Court, particularly during the ruling term of Tsarina Anna Ionnovna (1730 - 1740), a period that was dubbed bironovshchina, after her favorite, Ernst Johann von Biron, or even "The German Rule," met with biting criticism with strong nationalistic overtones in Russian and Soviet historical writings. Serious studies into the enriching activities of the German-speaking educated, skilled artisans, administrators and offices in service of Russia were inevitably covered up by vociferous criticism of alleged "harmful" effects, of a lack of patriotism, and of alleged suppression of Russian colleagues and coworkers. The latter views were voiced particularly strongly in high-volume literary works, in popular depictions, in school texts and in journalistic articles.

One particular example of this kind of literary publications was the historical novel "The Ice Palace" (Ledyanoy dom) by the Russian author Ivan Lashetchnikov, which deals with that period of Russian history. Although the famous national poet Alexander Pushkin, along with the highly esteemed publicist and literary critic Vissarion Belinski, had strongly criticized the novel, which was published in 1835, on account of obvious bias and historical flaws, the book was reissued in the 1980s -- according to incomplete information -- at a volume of 3,790,000 copies. The reason that the unequivocal judgment of the two literary forces, normally deemed in the former Soviet Union as highly esteemd and infallible, was ignored is very simple: the Russian statesman
Artemi Volynski, as one of the most prominent victims of the bironovshchina was played up as a national hero in the fight against the "German Superior Force" (nemeckoye zasilie). An objective description with a critical treatment of the historical myth would not become possible in historical writing until the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The strongest treatment in this regard has
been provided in the work of the well-known Petersburg historian Yevgeny Anisimov.

The beginnings of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences provided a further arena for projecting nationalist rhetoric, associated foremost with the name Michail Lomonossov, the prime Russian scientist. He was among the most prominent early foes of German dominance at the Academy and was -- according to several witnesses -- said to have emphasized his rhetorical argumentation with personal insults and even physical attacks as it appeared convenient during
normal sessions. He most strongly criticized the theory of the Westphalia-born Gerhard Friedrich Mueller, a member of the Saint Petersburg Academy who, in his writing from the year 1749 had placed the beginnings of the Russian nation to coincide with efforts by the Varangians or Normans. Along with "calumny" and the "disparagement of the Russian people." Especially during the chauvinistically and xenophobically charged climate of the Forties and Fifties of the 20th Century, this argument, as well as the biased judgment of the actions of such people as the Director of the Chancellery of the Academy of Sciences, Johann Daniel Schumacher, who effectively determined the fate of the Academy through the 1750s, would serve the passionate polemic of the times with its pointed and cleanly anti-Western and anti-German orientation.

A further case of political instrumentalization, not only in Soviet, but also in Czech and Poilish historical wirting and publicism, is provided by the preoccupation with the historical process of the so-called "German Push to the East." This process allegedly included a nearly schematic carrying out of a thousand-year Germanic territorial expansion to the East, the goal of which was to either enslave or to drive out of their homes the members of Slavic peoples. Its extent, according to several Soviet scientists, reached "all the way to the Volga." Given such suppositions, it appeared to be logical to denounce as a class the colonists, who had actually been quite peaceful and loyal toward the crown, as active outposts for Pan-Gerrmanism and Reichs-German imperialism. In most publications on the settlement policies and on foreign
immigrants to the Black Sea area -- which territory, in today's geography, comprises South Ukraine, Crimea, Moldova and the Trans-Cacucasus region -- the German farmers were characterized as a uniformly exploitatory group that, furthermore, was hostile to the "Oktober Revolution." During Soviet times, and after the outbreak of WW II, their true fate was left mostly in the dark, although even in scientific and literary publications there was no lack whatsoever of sprinkled-in suspicion mongering along the model of anti-Soviet orientation and readiness for collaboration. An example of such writing is the multi-volume "History of the Cities and of the Agricultural Settlements in the Ukrainian SSR," which was published in the 1970s and 1980s, in Russian and in Ukrainian, the number of copies reaching 15,000.

It was the Volga-German, however, over which the Soviet leadership imposed a total information blockade. By the end of the 1980s, only one (!) scientific essay on this population group, one which dealt with the participation of several colonists in the Cossack uprising at Pugachev during the 18th century, was allowed to be published. The public and scientists remained completely closed off from the great variety of materials in the former Central State
Archives of the ASSR of Volga-Germans; and anyone who sought access to such archival sources would immediately be suspected of harboring anti-Soviet conviction. Until the end of the 1980s, even the mere mention of this documentation collection -- which after 1941 was renamed the Engels Branch of the Soviet Regional Archive -- was forbidden in publications of any kind. At times, there were rather grotesque occurrences: for example, after the outbreak of the war, mention of the Volga-Republic was expunged from the popular satirical novel of 1931, "The Golden Calf" (Zolotoy telenok) by the well-known author Ilya Ilf. Only in the 1990s was a new reprinting of the original edition permitted.

Instead of speaking honestly and openly about the baseless accusations toward its own German citizens and to educate the population in the Soviet Union in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect, the party propagandists and the KGB apparatus purposefully planted libelous rumors. These included talk of numerous spies and subversives, saboteurs and "pests" among the Volga-Germans, talk of traitorous actions, Fascist paratroopers, weapons deliveries, flags with swastikas, the "Fifth Column," and similar additional rumors. But care was taken not to articulate these kinds of views in public, since the authorities were well aware of the baselessness of the accusations.

Not until 1987 was there an official attempt to express these opinions publicly, in order to ascertain the reactions of those affected and the reactions of the Russian majority population. A former KGB officer, by now working as an author, in two articles in the Siberian regional newspaper "Kuzbass"/Kemerov, actually justified the deportation of the Volga-Germans. In
retrospect, the powerful effect that this public slandering had on the Germans cannot be underestimated as, by the hundreds, copies of both articles circulated throughout the entire Soviet Union and loudly called for protest and for contradiction of these statements.

It was especially the liberalization introduced subsequent to Michail Gorbachev's ascent to power that created certain preconditions for an objective assessment of the role of Germans in the Russian Empire and in the USSR, and of the totality of centuries of German-Russian relationships. In June, 1989, for the first time in over fifty years, an academic/scientific convention dealing with the history and culture of the German minority was held -- not surprisingly -- in Alma-Ata. So it was finally possible to discuss objectively and critically the significance of the Baltic Germans, of German citizens in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Saratov and other cities -- those countless Amalie Petrovnas and Karl Karloviches -- in relationship to the intellectual, economic, and political development of Russia. In this context, it is imperative to
mention the honorable activities of human rights organizations such as "Memorial," who work for the complete rehabilitation of the victims of arbitrary despotism by the State and are engaged in a significant way in the breaking down of anti-German biases.

Only with great difficulty did the true extent of the tragic fate of Soviet citizens of German descent come to light. And always there were setbacks -- the nationalist-patriotic, xenophobic, Greater-Russia, anti-Western, Germano-phobic, and anti-Semitic legacies of Bolshevist ideology of the Stalinist ilk were simply too deep, and equally deeply did the decades of propagandistic
misuse of war remembrances continue to affect the collective memories of Soviet and Russian society. All the more did it become possible, therefore, for the Volga area residents to mobilize public opinion in the 1980s and early 1990s against the reestablishment of an Autonomic Republic of Germans. They sued overt and latent German-hostile slogans that simply referred back to the heroic war years and to the images of the enemies in the Cold War.

Even after the dissolution of the USSR and the concomitant discrediting of the Bolshevist grasp of power in 1917, the victory that had been won, with so many victims, over National-Socialist Germany -- which in the popular image had always been seen as victory over the Germans -- would take on a central part of the identity of a Russian nation, a patriotic consensus that enveloped all strata of the population. So, despite all now apparent multiplicity of opinion and emergent openness, even in regard to today's comprehensive historiography of the German minority, all these circumstances must not mislead one about the fact that in the collective memory of a post-socialist society, there exists a multitude of dubious, but decisive images in the people's memories that, given any threat that -- real or imagined as real -- might become a resource for immediate remoblization [of phobia].

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

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