Dominik Hollmann (1899-1990) -- Champion of Human
Rights, Teacher, Poet,
Dominik Hollmann (1899-1990) -- Verfechter der Menschenrechte,
Bender, Ida. "Dominik Hollman." Volk auf dem Weg, Autumn 2004, 20-25.
Translation from German to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder,
"Clearly before me there emerged a goal of encouraging my people, through literary and artistic works and essays, so as to lend them a feeling of self-worth, to enhance their sense of human dignity, to allow them more self-assurance, and to help them treasure and preserve their mother tongue." Dominik Hollmann, Diary, col. 5, p. 50, 1979
These were by no means empty words.
Dominik Hollmann, born on August 12, 1899 in the city of Kamyshin on the Volga, was raised very strictly in the Catholic faith by his then single mother: Justice, truth, honesty, goodness -- and to these principles he remained true to the end of his life. He was always hungry for knowledge, read much and with pleasure, learned with even greater pleasure and was one of the best in school. His vacations he often spent alongside his cousins of the same age in the village of Marienfeld, participating in all of the work on his uncle's farm, and by age 14 or 15, he became aware of how much superstition and misery there existed in the German villages in the Volga region.
"Every person must have a goal. I, too, put up goals for myself. My very first one, a youthful one, was to become a teacher, to obtain much knowledge so that I would be prepared to serve my people -- which at the time I understood to be my relatives in my home village of Marienfeld -- to enlighten them, to impart culture and knowledge. After that I saw my goal somewhat more expanded: to serve not only my own village, but all German people in Russia. It became very clear to me: one must have knowledge -- much knowledge. Yet I, son of a poor cleaning woman, could not even dream of attending gymnasium [secondary school in the classical mode; Tr.], because tuition was much too high. To my great fortune, a course for training teachers for elementary schools was started in 1914 (the First World War had already begun) in Kamyshin, where I was living with my mother. Upon completing it in 1916 ( I had just reached age 17), I became a teacher at an elementary school (a so-called semstvo school). My most intense wish, studying at university, remained but a dream ... And then came the Revolution and toppled all plans and everyone's dream." D.H., Diary vol. 5
For fifteen years, with great dedication, he practiced his teaching profession in the German villages of Rothammel (1917-23), Marienfeld (1923-29), and Erlenbach (1929-31). In addition to his teaching, he performed many other kinds of work: attempting to eliminate illiteracy among adults, language circles for the purpose of acquiring the Russian language, helping the village council -- at a time when the Soviet government was introducing new official units of measurement for length, area and volume, and accountants and surveyors had to learn a lot of unit conversions.
If a village resident had a problem he could not solve by himself, he went to see Teacher Dominik and had him explain what he could not understand, or asked for advice. Together with his pupils, Dominik Hollmann established a large orchard. He was always ready to impart knowledge to his people, and in the evenings he read to them from newspapers -- interesting items from all over the world, new developments in agronomy, matters of health, serious and humorous stories.
In 1928, Dominik Hollmann began a correspondence course with the Moscow State University, and from 1932 to 1935, he was in direct studies at the German Pedagogical University in Engels. His years of study were very difficult. There was a famine in the Volga region, and students, too, barely existed, and suffered hunger. To make a little extra money for his family of six, Dominik sought work outside his studies, not only for himself, but also for his fellow students, which his colleagues Hans Bahl, Alexander Gallinger, Irma Dyck and Heinrich Kaempf still remember with gratitude, also that as young students they often went to Dominik for advice -- after all, he had 15 years of teaching experience which he gladly -- never condescendingly -- shared with them.
"I undertook translation projects for the German State Publisher. And thanks to the support of my good wife, mother of my five oldest children, I was able to realize my second goal -- university study. On top of it all -- something I could not ever have dreamt of -- I even was able to teach at the Pedagogical University of Engles. I did that for six years. Although my teaching there was a lot of work, it was work that brought pleasure, work that brought joy. I effectively had one and a half jobs, as master teacher while also furthering my education, reading scientific works on grammar, language history, and phonetics. I completed many translations for the State Publisher (he translated, for example, literary works by the Russian classicists Turgenev, Chekhov, Chukovskiy,among others, for literary coruses in German schools. I.B.), joined the work of the writers' association, wrote a textbook on German grammar for German middle schools, a similar one for adults, and wrote poems, essays that were published in the press." D.H. Diary vol. 5
He wrote reviews of performances by the young German State Theater and was literary consultant to the German section of the writers' association of Engels. Well-known Volga German poets such as Edmund Guenther and Waldemar Herdt later wrote: "If I achieved anything in literature, I have Dominik Hollmann to thank for it, who with his fatherly advice and concrete suggestions helped promising authors to realize their abilities."
Consequently, Dominik Hollman was invited, in 1940, to become member of the writers' assocaition of the Soviet Union. (In the then USSR, a person could call himself a writer only after he was accepted into the writers' assocaition and had published some literary works.) Dominik acted as consultant to the Collective at the German Theater of Engels and made available to it a volume of folklore he had collected while still in his studies in 1934.
The 1930s, with so many arrests of so-called enemies of the state, were very difficult times. Yet, Dominik had to keep going, despite all, working, training teachers, propagating knowledge. He strongly believed in the power of knowledge. He taught, wrote, and instructed with total dedication, as his students and eventual literary figures Nelly Wacker, Erna Hummel, Herbert Henke and Friedrich Bolger remembered later on.
"And then everything suddenly fell apart. The most gruesome of wars broke out. Gruesome because of the barbaric destruction, the general brutalizaion, and hunger suffered by a quarter million people. Gruesome because of the screaming injustices administered to our simple, honest, hardworking people -- injustices that to this day have not been righted and probably will never be fully set right.
All of us together were chased from our home soil, banished, and declared enemies of the state. We were unwilling slaves and were pushed to and fro. Soon the men, and many of the women, were inducted into the work units of the Trudarmy's concentration camps, where renewed cruelties awaited them. Anyone who attempted, merely attempted to protest, was given up to even greater cruelties -- condemned to ten years in the worst of camps."
D.H., Diary vol. 5
This period of aimlessness, of being subjugated and scattered about, lasted from 1941 until 1956; of these years, Dominik Hollmann spent 1942 to 1944 in the Trudarmy camp of Vyatlag. With scurvy wounds on his whole body, Dominik Hollman was written off as one about to "croak" (dochodyaga [in Russian]) and released for "recovery" to his family, who at the time was doing forced labor and suffering hunger and cold in the far North on the Yanissey river. With an ax in his hand -- not his pen -- he was earning the right, only the right (!) to obtain food via a ration card, and constantly had to listen to "five-tiered," humiliating, raw curse words about himself. More from his diary:
"Fifteen years of night and darkness, hunger, misery, no personal rights, depression, shame, pariahdom, beneath all human dignity ... We were all so depressed that we simply vegetated, without aim. A new life goal finally appeared when in 1956 we were partially rehabilitated. Partially -- only half way, rehabilitated. Thereafter I applied for a teaching position, received many rejections, but was finally employed as German teacher (to satisfy foreign language requirements) at a technical university in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. New hopes awakened. Eight years of work at this institution were beneficial. In addition to my lectures, I also led a German-language group at a regional library, and I started to write again. Not that I saw all that as my life's goal in the truest sense of the word, but it was a period of partial compensation [for the past], a glimmer of hope for regaining our human dignity following years in the morass, of all sorts of humiliation. The German-language newspaper 'Neues Leben [New Life]' began to publish on May 7, 1957 in Moscow. Although I was fully aware that these were all mere crumbs thrown to the German people by the Soviet government, they provided joyous impetus for taking new steps in the area of literature. Even in the darkest times of my life, I had not entirely stopped writing poetry: Because then I may feel the chains less, the burden of the exile may appear half as heavy."
D.H. "The Muse"
After the Soviet government had let it be known via its decree of November 26, 1948 that we Germans were to be exiled in perpetuity, Dominik Hollman wrote the poem [Das Heimatland], and repeated again and again its refrain:
On the Volga, on the Volga
There is my true homeland!
This and the poems "Wiegenlied einer sowjetdeutschen Mutter [Cradle Song by a Soviet German Mother]" and "Ein Traum [A Dream]" were sung by our German people in their barracks, to the tunes of well-known Russian songs. [Note: these poems are also translated herein. Tr.] Irma Schaefer, now Stadler, who has resided in Stuttgart since 1999, writes: "The words 'Das Rauschen der Quellen von Balzer wie uralter Freunde Gesang [The rush of springs in Balzer, like the song of ancient friends]' moved me to tears. Balzer --that's where I was born! Those springs -- a gathering place for the youth! How far all this lay in the darkness of years gone by, separated by suppression, hunger, misery, humiliation and total helplessness. But now this poem, sent via a letter -- it was a brightly shining star and it awakened the hope that our poets are still alive, they are writing, and not all is lost."
Dominik Hollmann sent those poems only to his closest, most trusted friends. These were Volga German literary people such as Victor Klein, Reinhold Koeln, Heinrich Kaiser. The latter wrote to the author: "Dear Dominik, please, more such poems! Day and night I shall sit and make multiple copies (he wrote them by hand; I.B.), and I shall send them to our people so that they may not lose hope."
"And now, 1957, because there was a German-language newspaper, there was clearly before me the goal of encouraging my people through literary and artistic works and essays, to lend them a feeling of self-worth and to enhance their feeling of human dignity, to spur them on toward maintaining their culture and preserving their mother tongue ..." D.H., Diary, vol. 5
In 1957, he wrote his first letter to the Soviet government concerning the general lack of rights for the Germans in the USSR. In his archives, there are copies of 17 letters to the Soviet government, to the Supreme Soviet, and to leading personalities -- in them, this champion of human rights cited many factual examples of violations of human rights and of the Soviet Constitution. Again and again, he wrote to the Supreme Soviet: we have no schools in which our children can learn their mother tongue, no theater, no films, no publishers and, therefore, no books, and we have no representatives in government who could represent the interests of our people. This constitutes a grave violation of the constitution of the USSR and of human rights.
Every time, he was threatened by the security organs, but he did not give up.
The "doyen" of German-Russian literature, Johann Warkentin (Berlin), wrote in 1997 in his almanac entitled "Wir selbst [We ourselves]": "It is a hidden fact that many former fellow sufferers give testimony of his (D.H.'s) extraordinary helpfulness, his true Christian love of neighbor. And here another word about Dominik Hollmann, citizen: Dominik was the only one among all the great exponents of our people who fought valiantly in the autonomy movement, and without hesitation, without false excuses, straightforward, and always with personal commitment."
Moved about by the deportation of 1941 and the various forced-labor stints in the Trudarmy, and scattered all over Siberia like chaff in the wind, our German literary greats soon lost sight of each other. It was Dominik Hollmann who organized the very first get-together of German literary figures, yet under the effects of censure and [NKVD-] supervision, which after 1956 no longer existed, but which one always felt. Three men, Reinhold Frank, Andreas Saks and Herbert Henke, followed Hollmann's call and gathered privately with him on November 7, 1956 in Atchinsk [see the accompanying picture of the four; Tr.]. They agreed: writers must worry about the preservation of the German mother tongue and of the culture of our people.
Via the Krasnoyarsk branch of the writer's association, Dominik Hollmann had applied for reinstatement of his membership in the Writers' Association of the entire USSR (which he had lost simply because he was German). As a member of the writers' association he was now able to effect, within the Krasnoyarsk branch of the national society, the establishment of the first section of German-language writers living in the regions of Irkutsk, Kemerovo and Novosibirsk. He kept at it and finally even received permission for a seminar of German literary people of the Krasnoyarsk area. Between July 16 and 19, 1959, eighteen authors and several friends of literature met (naturally, party functionaries, who were always watching over our German people, were present as well). [See the large picture. Tr.]
"It was Dominik Hollmann who after all those years of cruel exile, of the long period of silence, blew his breath into the barely glimmering poetic ember and issued his call 'Nor net lopper gewe' [Dialect, meaning "Never give up!" Tr.] to his friends of writing and spurned them on to keep working," wrote Victor Klein, the well-known Volga-German literary figure and teacher. The seminar [participants] decided that German-Russian literature must be revived.
Dominik took up frequent correspondence with the appropriate authorities and, by 1962, a third seminar took place in Krasnoyarsk. Alexander Henning, who confessed that without Hollmann's encouragement he might never have worked in literature, reported on the seminar via a piece of rhyme. A. Henning deemed this third gathering of German literary figures especially successful.
Thanks to Hollmann's efforts, yet another seminar for German literary folks was staged in Krasnoyarsk in 1965. Thereafter, several seminars organized by the editors of the newspaper "Neues Leben" took place in Moscow. Dominik Hollmann urged the editors of "Neues Leben" to establish a council for German-Russian literature. As a member of this group he spent much item and effort in training of young writers from our ethnic group. He kept up lively correspondence with many promising writers, with schools, and with students. He traveled to a gathering of readers, at the so-called Savatzky-readings, in settlements in the Altai, visited village groups and schools, and read from his own works.
His courage motivated many, and he "infected" them with the will to write again, since the deportation of 1941 had torn all Germans out of their German milieu. Up to ninety percent spoke neither Russian nor Kasakh, the languages of the areas they had been dragged to, the few fragments of the foreign languages, learned under duress, were not sufficient to satisfy their cultural needs. Like a man wandering through the desert in burning heat, and thirsting for a sip of refreshing water, those banished Germans were panting for things to read in their own German mother tongue.
In 1956, the German-language newspaper "Die Arbeit [Work]" was founded in Barnaul; in it, Hollmann first contributed his short stories "Zwei Brigaden [Two Brigades]" and "Der Stille [The Quiet One]." In May, 1957, the small German-language newspaper "Neues Leben" appeared for the first time. It measured only 27x40 cm [11x16 inches], and with its mere two pages each week it was intended to refresh its German readers. Its small size was not due to scarcity of paper, but rather to the Soviet government's lack of trust in the German-Russians and consequently the prohibition of any larger volume. Imagine trying to leave room, alongside mandatory propaganda text provided by the Pravda publisher and the Central Committee, for works by our own writers! And of course, they also had to conform to censors. Not a syllable was to be written about the years prior to 1941, nor the words Trudarmy, Volga, and many others. Neither could there be writing about the situation of our ethnic groups without their own schools. Our literary people were forced to be very clever in order to make it around the censors.
Dominik Hollmann wrote a story called "Baerbel." The heroine of this story is a large and strong woman of calm and very reserved nature, and one who works as if possessed. This down-to earth female figure was dear to our people and gave them courage. The author thereby established a literary memorial for German women who were in faraway Siberia without their men and carried their families' business on their own shoulders -- without much complaint, without many words. Female readers were moved to tears, because their efforts had been appreciated at least in this manner; Baerbel was one of them.
In 1959-60, he followed up with poems, reports, sketches, humoresques, and short stories. By 1961, when the newspaper's size became slightly larger, Dominik Hollmann's story "Der Neujahrsschuss [The New Year's Shot]" was published. With humor, its author reminded readers of the custom of greeting the New Year with shooting, and also of many other prewar matters, all without provoking the censors.
1964-65: the first German delegation appears in Moscow, Dominik Hollmann among them, in order to report on the situation of the unjustly exiled Germans and to ask for their rehabilitation. They received only rejection, and good promises as a substitute. Dominik Hollmann wrote the poem "Die Palmen [Palms]": as an extension to Michail Lermantov's poem "Drei Palmen [Three Palms]." Just as a spring without other means dribbles into the sand after unthinking people had felled the three palms, thus the Volga-German Republic had unthinkingly been destroyed. But in falling, the palms had spilled their ripe seeds into the sand, and moisture hidden deep beneath allowed the seeds to germinate. And soon young palm trees would grow.
They defended themselves!
They fought and struggled!
Thus a new grove emerged, wrote Dominik Hollmann in his poem, which appeared in "Neues Leben" in 1966.
Many critics call Hollmann a master of the short story. His stories "Ein Menschenleben [A Human Life]," "Peterche [Little Peter]," "Helda," "Eine Nacht [One night]," "Kern des Lebens [Life's Core]," and many others told the reader of the fate of exiled Germans in the Trudarmy and the various exile locales, and in these stories skillfully avoided the censor's forbidden words.
In 1968, Dominik Hollmann wrote the story "Flucht ins Glueck [Escape into Happiness]." Without the location of the village Hammelbach ever being mentioned, the reader understood that the action took place in a Volga-German village. Many, many readers in the 1960s remembered the events of their youth that were similar to or even the same as those depicted in the story. So the story amounted for them to a healing, refreshing balm on the severely wounded soul.
Dominik Hollmann, in a 40-line epilog, does let the reader in on the fact that the children of the main protagonists in the story (following years of exile -- but these words did not appear) hardly spoke German and had their German name (Weissheim) disfigured in its Russian spelling (Wesgeim) -- all consequences of the 1941 deportation. The reader also learns that the son of a formerly well-to-do farmer [a so-called kulak! Tr.] from the village on the Volga has been living in Karaganda for 30 years, so the reader understands that this family was "de-kulak-ized" in 1930 and brought to the infamous exile locale of Karaganda. With only a single sentence -- "Life was not easy at first" -- the author can hint at the fate of these "de-kulak-ized" people.
The other protagonists of the story, members of the teacher Krumbach's family, are scattered all over. Of their two sons one lives in the Urals, the other in Kazakhstan; they were taken into the Trudarmy there, barely 16 or 17 years old, and would never be allowed to leave their places of exile. The readers were all so familiar and close to similar situations, because they had all experienced them. Despite all, of the two Krumbach sons, one became an engineer, the other a chief agronomist, simply because they did not spend the day of rest with vodka, but with books, just as many of us did. After the Trudarmy era, they had supported their practical abilities with theoretical knowledge.
Dominik Hollmann tells us: "do not get discouraged, work diligently, spend time with books, learn despite difficulties, acquire an occupation."
In the story "Kern des Lebens" he says, in the words of a five-year-old: "Yes, Dada, the [wooden] cot is now our room, large enough for the six of us ... Our room at home was larger."
Anyone who experienced the deportation or the fate of our ethnic group understands that this family with many children, deported to Siberia, must live in a very tight situation. Not accidentally, the subtitle of the story is "Lose Blaetter [Loose Leaves]." It is similar to a mutilated life ('s book) from which many leaves/pages have been torn, forcefully, without mercy. The words of the child cause us to read between the lines for what the author wants to tell us, and thus he gets around the censor. A noble lady decides to take care of the six orphaned children and raises them into exemplary, genuine people. In the story "Eine Nacht [A Night]" we again meet a German woman, who in her exile turns a run-down collective into a successful business. The mere writing by the author about these women, of which in reality there were thousands, and mentioning of their difficult fate and courage, fills the readers with gratitude: their own efforts have been recognized.
One cannot mention all of Dominik Hollmanns works in this essay -- there are so many. In all of them, he wrote of close-to-life, daily experiences of the exiled Germans, who did not give up, who despite untold difficulties took their lives into their own hands in order to make it better by diligence, willingness to work, and simple goodness. In was in that way that he encouraged his fellow countrymen.
Hans Bahl wrote: "Dominik Hollmann taught his fellow humans how one can, with dedication and humility, wrestle for knowledge and selflessly offer oneself for one's people. He has enriched our literature with genuine, truth-loving, noble heroes. And he is himself of noble mind." Johann Warkentin wrote in "Neues Leben" on the occasion of the 70th birthday of this lierary figure: "In German-Russian literature, the name Dominik Hollmann has a pure, beautiful sound."
In 1978, Dominik Hollmann succeeded in returning to his original home, Kamyshin on his beloved Volga, which he praised so often. There in Kamyshin a circle of conversation formed spontaneously around him. Germans came to converse with the teacher and author. This excited the authorities and security people, and they attempted to stop these "dangerous" gatherings of Germans.
Yet, with the help and active support of Viktor Herdt, then employee of "Neues Leben," these gatherings were officially permitted months later, as a club of "Neues-Leben readers."
Dominik Hollmann informally organzied a group and volunteer-taught German. Gratefully, many who now live in Germany, for example the Ballard, Altergott, Diel, Beller and other families, still mention that these groups allowed them to improve their language skills.
Dominik Hollmann was fully aware that such a club could not substitute for the Volga-German Republic, but he could not stand by idly as the culture of his people was disappearing. He did whatever he was able to. Even in his old age and while ill, he supported the "Wiedergeburt [Rebirth]" Society with deed and finances, pamphlets, telegrams, speeches and lectures.
And I fling myself nimbly
onto the wild winged horse,
put the spurs into its flanks,
drive it along, galloping,
cause it to rear up
and to neigh loudly,
jumping with anger
and trampling all this plunder junk
that impoverishes the fountain of truth.
And I swing my dagger
and smash the yoke of injustice,
and I become bold as before.
Ha! I still am a fighter!
D.H., from Altes Musenpferd [Old Horse of the Muse]
Where the Karaman [river], quietly babbling,
turns toward the sandy hill,
where the old weeping willow
drapes its branches over it,
where the wide plowed fields
are steaming under the heat of the sun, --
on the Volga, on the Volga,
that is where my dear homeland lies.
Where under the first beam of sunlight
a larch warbles and swings into the air,
where the shrill blast of a steamer
penetrates far into the steppes,
where every step and hill
of my youth is familiar, --
on the Volga, on the Volga,
that is where my familiar homeland lies.
Where cherries bloom purple
and the apple's golden load ripens,
where juicy melons
enriched our noonday rest,
where we raised German tobacco,
famous as no other, --
on the Volga, on the Volga,
that is where my dearest homeland lies.
Where my heart recognized the power of
first love and of friendship,
where in good times and in bad
I stood with steady feet,
where my father, tired of life's work,
found his final rest, --
on the Volga, on the Volga,
that is where my true homeland lies.
Where in nineteen-hundred-and-eighteen
we fought on the side of Soviet power,
our diligent hands' work
brought about prosperity and culture,
where, in brotherhood's bond
we built our Volga-Republic, --
on the Volga, on the Volga,
there is my homeland, my happiness.
After long and torturous years
in faraway forested ravine
I did, to satisfy my yearning,
visit my lovely hometown.
Surely I know, there I can never live again,
I have been denied from above,
yet how often have I lamented
it amidst the circle of my friends!
But I did not spare effort or difficulty
and traveled over hill and dale,
to see once again, at least once,
my home, my home village again.
The familiar Little Mother Volga,
she smiles at me, with melancholy:
"Where have you been so long?
What have I done to you?
Truly, you were and remain
my poor, well-regarded son,"
thus speak the babbling waves.
Thus my yearning has been rewarded.
The hilly shore greets me,
and on the left bank the meadows lie,
I recognize the place
where once there were rich gardens.
The villages, once so familair to me,
seem strange and deserted ...
But unchanged and homey
the Ilovlya river flows peacefully.
The Karamysh still snakes its way
toward the hilly area,
the rush of the waves in Balzer
sounds like the ancient song of a friend.
The Karaman is dark and sad,
its fame and its glory gone.
Where are those diligent farmers
who once achieved porsperity here?
I also reach the Yaruslan below,
it whispers, familiarly, like a child:
Can you, o traveler, tell me
where my coutnrymen have gone?
In haste, I also look at Seelmann,
Would love to reach Marxstadt once again,
But my eyes seem veiled,
for all the tears I fail to see.
Wiegenlied einer sovietdeutschen Mutter
Sleep, my child, my dear little boy!
Dark is the night.
Only the moon, with its walking stick,
is still keeping watch.
The beautiful shore of the Volga
was our home.
But with ignominy and shame
we were driven hence.
We received a black spot on
on our chests,
endured suffering and horror,
worry and frustration.
Every Soviet-German is branded
a subversive, a spy ...
Sleep, my little German Landsmann!
Sleep, my dear little son!
And you, too, even in your cradle
you are already branded,
for despite all great victories,
no one wipes it away:
In the grand Soviet land
fortune blooms for everyone.
You alone remain exiled,
for to your homeland shores
you are not to return.
Many fine words are uttered
even to you, my son.
But as long as we bear the brand
it is nothing but mockery.
Sleep, my child, in the silvery glow,
your'e still small and weak,
you know not yet why I shed these tears,
nothing of hate and shame.
Grow, my child! Make strong your tendons!
Be not anyone's silent servant!
Think of your mother's tears
and demand what is your right!
At a gathering on November 7, 1956 in Atchinsk; L to R: Reinhold Frank, Domink Hollmann, Andreas Saks and Herbert Henke
At a seminar of Soviet-German writers, June 16 - 19, 1959, in Krasnoyarsk; (L to R): sitting -- W. Eckert, V. Klein, D. Hollmann, A. Saks, N. Ustinowitsch, F. Reis, Fr. Leschnitzer, Irma Duck, A. Henning and Th. Chromowa.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.