The Landmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland Celebrates Sixty Years

The Founding Years, 1950 - 1956. The first article in a series.

The Editors, “The Landmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland Celebrates Sixty Years." Volk auf dem Weg, February 2010, 10-11.

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

Pastor Heinrich Roemmich
Superintendent Johannes Schleuning

In April, 1950, the Landsmannschaft, that is, the Working Group of Resettlers from the East was voted into existence – and without a pfennig of money to its name. In July of the same year the new Landsmannschaft was assumed into the V.O.L. (Verein Ostdeutscher Landsmnanschaften [Association of Cultural Organizations of Germans from the East]), which today represents fifteen such organizations. The actual constituting conference of this Landsmannschaft took place at a meeting of representatives in Kassel in October of 1950. 

The above passage appeared in “Heimat und Diaspora [Homeland and the Diaspora]” (p. 50), the chronology of the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland [Cultural Association of Germans from Russia] issued in a commemorative document published during its fiftieth anniversary year.

Let us remember: By 1950 nearly two million German Russians had been secreted, right in front of the world’s view, in Siberia, Central Asia, or the Far North of European Russia. At the same time, some 51,235 German [Federal] citizens reported to have been born in the Soviet Union or Russia. At the same time, food ration stamps were eliminated, and two million unemployed were registered in the Federal Republic. Bonn became its capital, having won out over Frankfurt on the Main River in a tense vote, 33 to 29 votes. In October, the very first Federal President, Theodor Heuß, held a reception for the representatives of various Landsmannschaften [plural] in an attempt to become informed about the situation o refugees in Germany.

An important theme for refugees from the East in 1950 was the question of how to go on. Not all viewed a stay in a destroyed Germany as an opportunity. Although those Germans from Russia were still in command of the language of their ancestors, they had emerged from an entirely different system and had held different occupations, as many had been workers in the collectives. Ina sense, for many a German from Russia, the trek to the Free West was yet another continuation of being exiled, as in 1941 and in the escapes of 1943-1944.

Even before the establishment of their own organization, Pastor Heinrich Roemmich, Prof. Benjamin Unruh and other honorable Germans from Russia had been making efforts to secure rights for their new countrymen from Russia, namely, the rights of all German citizens. In his writings directed to the three [Western] occupation powers, Prof. Unruh reminded them of the deportation of Germans from the West to the Soviet Union, and Pastor Roemmich’s organization had begun to care especially for the elderly among our countrymen.

To be exact, the founding of the Landsmannschaft on April 22, 1950 took place in the office of the Assistance Committee fore Ev.-Lutheran Eastern Resettlers in Stuttgart, Archivstraße 18.  Its official constituting act followed half a year later during its first nation-wide convention of delegates in Kassel on October 15, 1950. In the meantime, the “Working Group” had been accepted as a proper organization with equal rights into the Organization of Landsmannschaften for Germans from the East. The fact that they were now on equal footing with East Prussians, Pomeranians, Silesians, Sudeten-Germans, Banat Swabians and others is unfortunately being forgotten in some places these days. The best confirmation at the time occurred when our very first chairman, Dr. Gottlieb Leibbrandt 91908 – 1989) co-signed the Carta of Displaced Peoples.

Then, the surprising news that Dr. Leibbrandt would emigrate to Canada and would thus no longer be a candidate for the leadership of the Landsmannschaft caused our first crisis. Fortunately, during the convention of delegates on February 17, 1952 in Hanover, a new man emerged who would be qualified in every respect for such a post, namely, Superintendent Johannes Schleuning (1879 – 1961).  He had collected copious experience in the Volga region, in Siberia and in Germany, and possessed sufficient authority among his German Russian countrymen, as well as with Federal offices, to stand as a man who would be listened to. It was also very important at the time that Schleuning had already retired and thus had the time, on an unpaid basis and from the “periphery” of Braunschweig, to direct, along with Pastor Roemmich, the work in the Stuttgart main office. The Landsmannschaft was not able to have a full-time operations manager until July, 1956, in the person of Leo Fütterer (1919 – 1999).   

The initial leadership of the Landsmannschaft was faced with a particularly difficult task, namely, to bridge the difference in social legislation in the Soviet Union and in the Federal Republic of Germany. The so-called Federal Refugee Law was enacted in 1953. It applied to all who had been driven off their homeland. This law was followed by the Lastenausgleichsgesetz, a law requiring financial compensation for losses suffered in World War II, applying to all Germans who had incurred damages during the war. The damages had to be substantiated, but it would be much more difficult for Germans from Russia than for other, native Federal citizens to come up with documentation supporting their losses. For this reason the Landsmannschaft made a strong effort to come up with birth and marriage certificates and affidavits for our applicants. A great help in this effort proved to be the establishment of the Heimatsauskunftsstelle [Homeland Information Center] for the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, and the Dobrudsha.   

Again and again, our countrymen experienced rejection of their applications filed according to the requirements of three important laws concerning refugees: the Fremdrentengesetz [Foreigners’ Pension  Law], the Lastenausggleichsgesetz, and the Beamtengesetz [Law governing Officials],which had been issued in accordance with Article 131 of the Federal Constitution. Even in large cities with highly functional local chapters, only few experts succeeded in achieving what was supposed to be made available to all refugees by law. As a rule, applications from Germans from Russia were rejected for reasons that Germans from the Soviet Union could simply not satisfy legal requirements for these laws to apply to them. Consequently the delegates called on the leadership of the Landsmannschaft to rectify the situation by advocating for new laws. Since the Germans from Russia had neither their own representatives in the Bundestag [Lower House] nor even their own attorneys, the path through various offices and officials would prove to be very difficult.   

A further important task during the founding years was the collection of information about our countrymen and securing the cultural heritage of the Germans from Russia. The most comprehensive documentation was in possession of Dr. Karl Stummp (1896 – 1982), who had taken advantage of opportunities during the war to secure archival information on the Germans in the Soviet Union. In 1952 a committee of the Landsmannschaft asked him to take over editorship of their newsletter for Germans from Russia, “Volk auf dem Weg” and, in 1955, editorship of the Landsmannschaft’s Heimatbücher [annuals], the first volume of which had been published in 1954 by Julian Merling (1919 – 2002) as the “Calendar of Eastern Resettlers.”

During the years prior and during the establishment of the Landsmannschaft, it was primarily church organizations, in addition to the Red Cross, which tried to care for Germans from Russia. The first we must list in this regard is the “Hilfskomittee der evangelisch-lutherischen Ostumsiedler [Assistance Committee of Evangelical-Lutheran Resettlers from the East],” whose first president was Pastor Heinrich Roemmich, himself a Black Sea German [from Bessarabia – Tr.]. On April 22, 1950 he called a meeting in Stuttgart of spokespersons of Germans from Russia to establish, at least in the interim, an organization they called “Work Group for Resettlers from the East.” Answering Pastor Roemmich’s call were Father Klemens Kiefel of the Catholic Church, Gottfried Wessel from the Free Churches, Prof. Benjamin Unruh from the Mennonites, as well as Dr. Wilfried Schlau, Dr. Gottlieb Leibbrandt, Julian Merling, Oscar Appel, Andreas Mergenthaler and R. Metzler.  

The next steps took place quickly: In July, 1950 the Work Group of Resettlers from the East joined the Association of united Landsmannschaften; on October 15 the very first nation-wide convention of delegates took place, and at the turn of the year, 1950/1951, the first issue of “Volk auf dem Weg” appeared, and during Pentecost of 1951 some 1500 Germans from Russia gathered in Stuttgart-Feuerbach for their first Bundestreffen [national convention]. 

In several cities across the American and British occupation zones the first local chapters of the Landsmannschaft were established, and by 1951 there were state-wide associations in Württemberg/Baden, Hesse, Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, Lower Saxony, Lower Franconia and Upper Franconia. In most cases they were founded by countrymen who had come from the Soviet Union between the two World Wars, who had largely overcome damages of the war, feeling no longer directly endangered by “Big Brother” in the Kremlin.

Their most important concern was directed toward their countrymen who were held in the Soviet Union and were being ignored by the rest of the world. It was for them that they raised their voices, in the West and overseas, where many Germans from Russia had found new homes during the early 1950s, that is, in South America, Canada and the Untied States.

In many ways the year 1955 played a special role in the history of the German Russians, as it brought about a series of striking events:

  • On May 30, 1955 in Frankfurt/Main the “Work Group of Resettlers from the East” finally changes its name to Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, and has been known by it ever since.
  • For the entire ethnic group, the September 1955 visit to Moscow by Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer is the event of greatest significance. As is well known, the visit was concluded with the release of 10,000 German POSWs and the September 13 assumption of diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Soviet Union. Our countrymen in the East and in the West received the new with gratitude.
  • Within the Soviet Union itself, German Russians were also able to register two major successes by year-end: On December 5, 1955 a German-language newspaper, “Arbeit [Labor],” appeared for the first time in the Altai region; and on December 13, 1955 the inhuman special command surveillance of German Soviet citizens is abolished.  

A question regarding the necessity of the Landsmannschaft is answered as follows in the first issue of “Volk auf dem Weg” at the end of 1950:

“The Landsmannschaften [plural] today constitute forms of organization in which all the variously displaced Germans can come together. They represent the concerns of the displaced refugees to our government, which was reconstituted at the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949. Certainly, conditions for us are still somewhat different from those of other Landsannschaften. We continue to harry special concerns and therefore are faced with special tasks.” 

To the folks at “Volk auf dem Weg,” these “special concerns” sixty years ago could mean none other than worrying about the Germans being held in the Soviet Union. Among the “special tasks” the organization’s official organ counted the following:

  • Cultivation of our traditional culture and of connectedness among our countrymen
  •  Seeing to the enforcement of the rights to a homeland, to human dignity, and justice, as well as integration into German society
  • Awareness of significant social and economic concerns
  • Cooperative involvement in questions of determining data to substantiate war-incurred damages and compensation 
  • Appropriate management of immigration
  • Supporting the search for people
  • Academic research on various topics

Today we know that some of these “special tasks and concerns” have lost significance in the course of the years or have made room for new challenges. Still, the summing up provided by “Volk auf dem Weg” in 1950 continues to be valid today:

“Managing these talks in the interest of our countrymen is possibly only when we stand together in unison, and when we devote our entire strength to them.” 
Volk auf dem Weg

(To be continued in the next issue)

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

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