The Landmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland Celebrates Sixty Years

Part II: Years of Anxiety and Hope. The second article in this series.

The Editors. “The Landmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland Celebrates Sixty Years." Volk auf dem Weg, March 2010, 14-16.

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

Gertrud Braun
Dr. Karl Stumpp

On May 21, 1957, hopes for the Germans from Russia in the West and of the German Russians in the East were further buoyed by an agreement concluded between the German and Russian Red Cross. Some expectations had been awakened by the official State visit of German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in Moscow during the late summer of 1955.

That visit had been followed by the lifting of the Kommandatur [the special military supervision of the so-called “special settlers,” deported Germans – Tr.] in December of 1955, and by an initial thaw in relations between the two countries. In February, 1956, during the Twentieth Party Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, Nikita Khrushchev had revealed a portion of the crimes committed under Stalin, and during that summer the prominent German Russian writer, publicist and political scientist, Prof. Dr. Klaus Mehnert, had paid a visit to German Russians who had been living in Siberia since the war, far, far from their original homes in the Soviet Union.  

The most significant news Prof. Mehnert brought back in 1956 was the cry of his people: “Brother, help me!” Mehnert was also forced to experience the already growing policy of Russification. Even communities in Altai, where the majority of the Mennonites were living, preaching in German was forbidden. Still, the faithful brethren remained steadfast: “We will not allow ourselves to be brought down!”

During those years the manifold efforts by the leadership of the Landsmannschaft concentrated on the integration of new Germans from Russia, the returnees and refugees, into Federal German legislation. And in the local and regional chapters discussions about those Germans remaining in the Soviet Union took equal priority.

Most of our countrymen active in the front of efforts by the Landsmannschaft have died by now. But these were men and women whom we should at least occasionally bring back to the memories of our readers. Who can still remember them?

Gertrud Braun (1906 – 1984), honorary president of the Landsmannschaft, responsible principally for “Volk auf dem Weg.”  

Irmgard Stoldt (1912 – 1998), pastor, tireless fighter for the faith and rights of her countrymen and their ecclesiastical communities.

Margot Stellenhofsky (1911 – 1995), organizer and translator everywhere, with emphasis toward the work on behalf of youth.

Viktoria Fleck (1914 – 2002), a calming influence whenever it was necessary to mollify those fighting with each other in the national leadership and the cultural council.

Erna Walter (1920 – 2003), organizer, social adviser, and leader of the youth organization in the Wiesbaden regional chapter, which from 1962 on became the most important meeting point for those Germans from Russia who had been separated for such a long time.

Gerhard Pokrandt (1905 – 1993), wise advisor and helper to our countrymen in the North of the Republic.

Leo Fütterer (1919 – 1999), between 1967 and 1976 director of the Heimatauskunftstelle [homeland information center] in Stuttgart and one of our best experts in the social arena.

Dr. Karl Stumpp (1896 – 1982), historian and publicist for the Landsmannschaft at a time when other German Russian chroniclers were still writing in the “Soviet German” style, were in university, or had not yet been born.

Josef Schnurr (1913 – 1991), teacher, president of the Landsmannschaft sandwiched between the “old ones” (Pastor Roemmich, Dr. Stumpp) and the “new ones” (Franz Usselmann, Josef Helmel, Edmund Leibham), active on behalf of the rights of German Russian academicians, and an infectious speaker during numerous major events of the Landsmannschaft. 

Julian Merling (1919 – 2002), active pioneer and “quartermaster” for the Landsmannschaft in Baden-Württemberg, where most of our members had found a new home.

Prof. Dr. Benjamin Unruh (1881 – 1959) represented the interests of the Mennonite wing of the Germans from Russia in the Landsmannschaft and in negotiations at high levels.

The year 1958 began with happy news: the Federal Social Court crowned the successful work by the Landsmannschaft in a case for pension rights with a judgment benefitting Willi Kuhn. Many elder countrymen would also benefit from this landmark judgment.

This was in the social arena. At the same time, the Landsmannschaft launched an offensive in cultural efforts at the national and regional and local levels, including Köln, Freiburg, Salzgitter, Hamburg, Hanover, etc. By the end of 1957, the number of local chapters of the Landsmannschaft was up to forty-two.

The most important political slogan at the end of the 1950s, however, was, “Macht das Tor auf!  [Open the Door!].”  A related appeal was signed by German President Theodor Heuss, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Berlin’s Lord Mayor Willy Brandt, and other prominent personalities. Unfortunately that appeal did not evoke satisfactory response, so that the numbers of emigrants coming from Russia remained fairly flat until the historical turn of events under Gorbachev. They resembled a graph of the course of a rising and falling fever:

1955      154                            1956    1016                            1957      923

1958    4122                            1959    5563                            1960    3272

1961      345                            1962      894                            1963      234

1964      234                            1965      366                            1966    1245

1967    1092                            1968      598                            1969      326

1970      342                            1971    1145                            1972    3420

1973    4493                            1974    6541                            1976    9704

1977    9274                            1978    8455                            1979    7226

1980    6954                            1981    3773                            1982    2071

1981    3773                            1982    2071                            1983    1447

1984      913                            1985      460                            1987   14488

But a step rise came immediately after that.

Franz Usselmann
Germany’s Federal Parliamentary State Secretary, Gerhard Baum, who was sent by the Federal Government as a main speaker (front, right) and a view of the standing-room-only convention hall of the 1977 Bundestreffen in Wiesbaden.

The 1960s, 1970s and 1980s might also be designated as the “Wiesbaden Era.” During that time, of fourteen Bundestreffen [nation-wide conventions], thirteen were held in Wiesbaden. On the average, ten thousand attendees were the norm. During the same time span membership numbers in the Landsmannschaft rose from 3,000 to 12,700 families.

During that time the leadership of the Landsmannschaft saw its most important tasks in the social arena and in family reunification. The work to reach the public was eased somewhat by an understanding shown by German politicians and many government workers of the situation existing for German Russians, which they so often had experienced during their own times in Soviet Union camps. There were hardly any language problems. The newly arriving Germans from the “homey expanses” of Siberia and Central Asia as a rule spoke German no worse than any other Germans in foreign countries. They had not yet forgotten the language of their forefathers.

During the 1970s the so-called Lastenausgleich [post-war governmental compensation for losses incurred during the war] became a dominant theme for the Landsmannschaft. Their social advisors were in great demand – be it for assistance in filling out application forms, for translations, for acquiring documented proof, for making sure important deadlines were met and, not rarely, for expert testimony in court. The successes for these kinds of efforts by the Landsmannschaft’s people became an accepted fact, with one thing really standing out, in our opinion: Those countrymen who were allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s were provided with better opportunities for a fresh start than wartime refugees or the later Aussiedler from 1993 and beyond.

In the Landsmannschaft’s chronicle entitled “Heimat und Diaspora {Homeland and Diaspora],” one finds on page 102 that in 1974 the Landsmannschaft put its priorities on the social scene. It is for that reason that it called on its most successful social worker, Franz Usselmann of Bavaria, to join the national leadership echelon of the Landsmannschaft. Many years later “our Franz” was elected as our association’s president. In retrospect it can be said that the thirteen years with him as our chief were certainly not the worst years for our ethnic group in Germany.

During Usselmann’s tenure in office the tasks of the Landsmannschaft kept growing. Years of hopelessness had been replaced with years of relaxation of tensions. There followed the “ice ages” of East-West relations and, finally, a turn for the better, but continuing to be still fraught with problems.

The Landsmannschaft was able to adjust to all of these various conditions. For his main task, social work, Franz Usselmann had assembled a good troupe around himself. Family reunification was in the best of hands with Anton Bosch, and national operations director Alexander Rack (1953 – 2010) in Stuttgart strengthened the back of Munich resident Usselmann.

In the cultural arena, a complete generational change occurred as of about 1978. Younger and young Germans from Russia gradually took over the reins from Dr. Stumpp and Josef Schnurr. The names Eduard von Sarnowsky (1942 – 1989) and Dr. Alfred Eisfeld (born in 1951) from the youth and student ranks of the Germans form Russia emerged again and again in operation reports of the Landsmannschaft, while Alfred Fetsch (born 1940), Waldemar Neumann (born 1938) and Waldemar Axt (born 1948), even at their young ages, were working side-by-side with, and at the same level as the circle of the elders.

A very forward-looking initiative was the “Freundeskreis zur Erforschung des europäischen und außereuropäischen Russlandsdeutschtum e.V. [Association for Research in European and Extra-European German-Russiandom],” which was formed in Wiesbaden on July 11, 1976. Among the initial small circle of founders (only seven members) was the future editor of “Volk auf dem Weg,” secondary-school teacher Eduard von Sarnowsky. In his brief life “Edi” exuded pure energy and was, among other things, a co-initiator of one of the most important cultural innovations of the Landsmannschaft in the 1980s, the Kulturrat der Deutschen aus Russland (KDR) [Cultural Council of Germans from Russia] and of the Internationale Assoziation der Deutschen aus Russland (IADR) [International Association of Germans form Russia].  

Under von Sarnowsky’s leadership the KDR, on October 11, 1981, became the first successor organization for the “Freundeskreis,” and Viktoria Fleck was elected as its first chair.

A second successor organization for the “Freundeskreis” was the International Association of Germans from Russia, which was founded in Stuttgart on September 5, 1982. The large event counted 3,000 attendees, and their three-day meeting was conducted by the KDR.  This association included four other associations:

  1. The Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland
  3. The Associacion Argentina ob Brasilie
  5. The Associacion Mennonite ob Brasilie
  7. The Teacher’s Association Fernbeim in Paraguay

Thus only Germans from Russia of Germany, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay were original members of this grouping. An official contact with authentic groups of German Russians, the Germans in the Soviet Union did not exist yet. And at that time, there was still no “Wiedergeburt” organization [Rebirth] in the Soviet Union. Small wonder that the Association did not last long. Along with its first president, Dr. Matthias Hagin (died in 1990) the entire Association disappeared from the scene.

As late as into the 1980s, German Russians in the West were forced to watch, with great concern, images and headlines in the media showing the persecution of their brethren still stuck left behind in the Soviet Union. Letters to Soviet, German and international offices pointed to arrests and incarcerations happening right in front of the embassy in Moscow. Until his departure from the editorship of “Volk auf dem Weg” in April, 1982, Eduard von Sarnowsky had continuously published reports on harassment and arrests of German Russians desiring to emigrate.

During his first declaration as Chancellor in May, 1983, Dr. Helmut Kohl declared, literally: “We shall urge strongly that more Germans might be able to emigrate from the Soviet Union again.” And the president of the International Society for Human Rights, Dr. Reinhard Gnauch, expressed the same idea a month later at the Bundestreffen of the Landsmannschaft in Wiesbaden: “If Soviet Russian oil can flow freely, then people should also be allowed to travel freely.”  

Of course it took many more years before our people in the East were actually allowed to travel freely. The fact that the Landsmannschaft had played a significant part in producing this turn toward freedom is often underestimated – even by our own membership. They have forgotten, for example, that it was Anton Bosch and Helmut Kremer of the national board of the Landsmannschaft who, at the CSCE Conference in Vienna around the end of 1986, vehemently lobbied for our countrymen’s right to emigrate and who provided the delegations from Great Britain, Canada, the USSR and Germany with supporting documentation concerning families who were still separated.       

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

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