Before the Emigration Um Deutsche zu Bleiben (Whether to Remain German)

Issakow, Konstantin. "Before the Emigration Um Deutsch zu Bleiben (Whether to Remain German)." Volk auf dem Weg, 1991.

Translation from German to English by Alma M. Herman

Degradation and tooting during the departure from USSR

The Soviet authorities were always inclined to characterize emigration of the Germans as flight for economic reasons so as not to designate it as political protest. It is possible that there may be a kernel of truth in that. The Germans themselves with clear consciences confirm this by repeating to inspectors in OWIR (passport and visa bureaus) and to journalists, studied theories about reuniting families and searching for material wealth.

But behind the standard clarification hide still other reasons. Most important is the fact that, in spite of their law abidance, they could never resign themselves to the forced post war resettlement in Siberia, Kasachstan and Middle Asia. They constantly persist in waiting for a return to their pre-war homeland. The older people, in general, have sometimes forgotten the destruction of their Volga Republic, the labor armies and the forced emigration. The young people have not forgotten being denied career training. They were refused jobs and were not accepted in the high schools. And equally degrading in the land of the Soviets was the need, for security reasons, to conceal their nationality behind Russian or Ukrainian names. In the last years of Perestroika the Germans have not let it be felt that they could live equally among equals. The state put forth no effort to abolish mass emigration.

The 77-year old Albert Krieger, in his excitement, could say nothing about the situation. He wiped his eyes with a kerchief; saying, "Thanks be to God that we have managed to emigrate. Why? In order to flee from this, our “good” life. His 72-year old wife, Martha Bierbacy: "All our lives we have dreamed that tomorrow will be better-than today. We wanted to bear the disappointments and degradation for the sake of truth and justice, but that has led to nothing good."

Ludmilla Fischer, 35 years old, history teacher: "I tear at the will of the children. In Germany they can learn the German language and culture. All that is not possible to achieve through a single theatre night and three newspapers."

Jakob Fischer, 35 years old: "I have dedicated many years to the German movement. I depart in despair. During the nine years of my work in the theatre I have traveled in nearly all areas inhabited by Soviet Germans. Villages where we gave performances are forsaken. The self-consciousness created by the theatre contributed to the awareness of being German and the desire to emigrate to Germany. The long years of disappointment could have been compensated for through reestablishment of the Republic. But it didn't happen. There is no justice; no trust in tomorrow."

In 1990, 146,000 Soviet Germans moved to the Federal Republic of Germany. The applications for departure from Russia that have so far been announced are judged to total one million. But emigration itself represents a chain of degradation, derision, deprivation and being robbed.

From the narration by Jakob Fischer: "In order to obtain a traveling passport from OWIR, at least 1,000 rubles must be paid. Since German families are large, at least 5,000 to 6,000 rubles has to be paid in Schmierggeldern (hush money). Tariff is the same for all emigrants -Greeks, Jews and Urguren (Hungarians). It is not dependent on travel time. Sometimes the OWIR employees choose to take more money from one or another family by doubling the tariff charge. My brothers waited three months for their passports and each paid 4500 rubles. Yet when the passports were ready, they were asked to pay additional costs.

Large amounts of schmiergelder (bribe money) had to be paid in order to send crated goods by railroad. Nailing a chest cost 400 rubles, according to the official price list and twice as much for shipping.

There was much deceit in money changing. For 900 rubles about 250 DM (German marks) are paid. Lack of understanding by the emigrants, mainly farmers, was often taken advantage of by the money changers who gave out 40 DM (German mark) instead of 250.

Dishonest tricks were practiced also in the sale of private property. Houses inhabited by Germans were in great demand. They had been kept solid and clean. But by an unwritten law, the Germans in Kirgisian could sell only to Kirgisians. Those in Tadshikistan only to Tadshikistans. My brothers lived in the district of Tschimkent and wanted to sell the houses of Russians, Koseaners or Usbeken, but the village was located in Kasachen territory, so it was bought by Kosachen. The house, evaluated at 35,000 to 40,000 rubles, had by force to be offered for 5,000 to 7,000 rubles. When my sister sold her house, hand-to-hand fighting broke out among Koreans, Usbeken and Tadshiken. This all happened in Usbekestan. The house was purchased by an Usbeker who paid only half of what a Korean and a Tadshiken offered.

In Alma-Ata I was not able to have Jakob's story verified or denied. The officer in OWIR, who would not give his name, assured me that there was no special time or fluctuation and that "whoever presents the documents today can pick up his passport tomorrow."

The honest cashiers at the Foreign Exchange Bank were surprised when the multiple-transaction "snakes in the grass" were not to be found. It was explained to me by a bank officer that because of their effective systems, foreign exchanges could be issued within two days. It was explained to me that 900 rubles in 92 German marks and 100 traveler’s checks would be exchanged in U.S. dollars. That would be handier and safer.

Also, in customs when the BRD containers were searched, everything was in order. A search was made between the mattresses, pillows, baby carriages, toys, dishes, pails and old bicycles. Smuggled goods were suspected. Juri Tschuchrai had to admit "We seldom find prohibited export goods."

Also in customs in Alma-Ata the artist performer Anwar, Madalijew told me: “Representing our President Nazarbajew, I will let the Germans take over a choice area in the Republic and they will feed the Kasachstans as well as the whole Soviet Union.” Naturally the artist had nothing to do with politics. It is possible that economics is also not his strong point. But it is obvious that the loss to the Republic in having the Germans leave affects the entire country. No non-doers are leaving. Only the hardest workers, most eager and ambitious-- those who lived well in the Soviet Union mean to succeed in a foreign land by using their hands and their heads. Is it normal then for Soviet citizens to at last have free choice of their dwelling places? That is the practice in all civilized lands.

The fact that many Germans still choose the Soviet Union delays the advancement of trust in Moscow and puts my opinion about central government in default through opposing efforts. Indeed, hardly anyone believes in the ability to solve the German question. More new hopes are allied with the Russian government. The government of the RSFSR has provided 20,000 rubles for a rebuilding program for the German villages in the Uljanowski. The Agri Industrial Union "Sojus" is taking part. But the grant money is not being used. One cannot buy either bricks, wood or cement. The Germans do not feel justified in requesting funds for building materials from the area. They depend on their own powers. Thousands of German families in Kasachstan, Middle Asia and Siberia are prepared to come into the Uljanowschen villages, but until now it has not been possible to live there. In the village of Bogdaschkino, 40 km from the capital of the territory, I met the first resettlers, the new colonists who slept in a row on the ground. They work without days off and have not seen their families for months. But these people believe they can build a sound future there for themselves and their children and that they would be living no worse than in flourishing Germany.

Foreign countries have promised to help. Dr. Eisfeld, member of the Board of Directors of the Society for Germans in Foreign lands, came to Uljanowsk with an offer to build a cheese and bread factory there. A German school will be built in the village.

"As of now there are plans for 20 undertakings by German firms in locations populated by a concentration of Soviet Germans. Our one wish is to at least improve the material situation for the native population and ease the tensions between the nationalities," says Dr. Eisfeld.

At the end of the past year he first national Rebirth Bank was founded. In common with the scientific Production Union Temp in Alma-Ata, the bank organized the Action Society Wiedergegurt (Rebirth). The president of the bank, Alexander Schmidt, contends that half of the various organization members, about 1.4 million Soviet Germans are members of the AG. In the near future, the AG intends to own name shares totaling several million, put the shares in circulation and distribute the money among emigrating as well as USSR remaining Germans. Schmidt hopes that with the success of the AG the program of Wiedergeburt (Rebirth) of German culture and speech can be financed.

The rescue of the drowning in our state in reality becomes the drowning itself. ??? With the accomplishment of owning commercial businesses, the Germans are answering the ignorance of the government with regard to having their basic rights returned to them.

The programs, plans and conceptions are remarkable. But how many years will it be before they are realized? Only when the foreign firms unite with them. And how many of our degraded and disappointed countrymen will have gone abroad by that time?

From: “Nowoje Wremja” Neue Zeit (New Times)

Our appreciation is extended to Alma M. Herman for translation of this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller