Lexikon of German-Russian Literature

Lexikon der Russlanddeutschen Literatur

Brantsch, Ingmar. "Lexikon of German-Russian Literature." Volk auf dem Weg, February 2005, 17.

Translation from German to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

Warkentin's enthusiastic sonnet cycle "Russlanddeutsche Berlin-Sonnette [German-Russian Berlin Sonnet]" demonstrates his powers of observation. In it the author depicts the problems of German-Russians following the breakdown of the Eastern Block.

For his life's work and particularly for his efforts following the German reunification, Warkentin justifiably received the German Federal Order [Cross] of Merit in 2002.

A special place in German-Russian literature is occupied by Alexander Reimgen, who had been published even before WW II, but had not received notice until after the war.

After the end of mandatory military surveillance, when he finally took notice again in 1959, he, unlike most of his author colleagues, did not depict so much the past of deportation and forced labor camps, even though he himself had spent fifteen years in forced labor. On the contrary, he dealt with the renewed efforts to open up the Kazakh steppes during the nid-1950s.

His positive attitude toward the world and toward life during these pioneering efforts do at times slide into cliche, especially when his protagonists represent all too prominently a friendship toward other peoples and a socialist ethic. Perhaps because of this the negative characters of his sparse but pleasant prose are not Kazakhs, but always backward German-Russians, in contrast to progressive German-Russians. Annette Moritz certainly makes note of this, as does Johann Warkentin in his work on German-Russian literary history.

Real rejection of a superficial, often striking optimism is provided in the literary efforts of the younger generation of German-Russians who were no longer familiar with life before deportation.

One of their best known representatives is Viktor Heinz. Born in 1937 in Novoskatovka in the Omsk region, Heinz was drawn to literature as a student of Viktor Klein, who steered him toward lyrical and terse prose. By his emigration to Germany in 1992, he had passed through a journey that was quite extraordinary for a German in the Soviet Union. He was a professor of language at the Pedagogical Institute of Omsk, occupied a chair at the Pedagogical Institute of North Kazakhstan, and was director of literature for "Freundschaft [Friendship]."

Viktor Heinz' works prior to and after his immigration enjoy a great reputation. His drama trilogy "Auf den Wogen der Jahrhunderte [On the Waves of Centuries]" (1992) dealing with the fate of the German-Russians from their immigration to Russia to the wave of [reverse] immigration during glasnost, perestroyka and the downfall of the Soviet Union were a perennial hit on stage. His autobiographically tinged novel "In der Sackgasse [In a Blind Alley]" depicts his life in the Soviet Union, and by it he creates a memorial to his teacher Victor Klein and the latter's prose piece "Der letzte Grabhuegel [The Last Grave Mound]."

The brothers Weber came upon the scene as innovators while still in their former country. Robert was born 1938 near Moscow and Waldemar in 1944 in Western Siberia. Both lyricists, both also trending toward the modern, wrote free verse and used daring metaphors.

Waldemar Weber stands out by his clear essays that unmask the hollow words of Socialist realism as, for example, when in "Wozu sich abkapseln [Why Isolate Yourself]" he writes about German-Russian literature, [in translation:] "Our life is good because it is supposed to be good! The result is that we -- a people with an extremely tragic fate -- possess a literature that has a 'luster' that is without equal!"

Wendelin Mangold (b. 1940 in Shevchenko near Odessa) also "polishes" this sheen of superficial optimism. Encouraged toward the field of literature by Victor Klein, he, like Viktor Heinz, launched himself on a path toward university studies and, like him, eventually occupied a professor's chair (in Kokchetav) and became a member of the authors association of the Soviet Union.

After immigration, his experiments in language gained even more in complexity. He views the Federal Republic of Germany in a multilayered fashion, particularly as seen in his volume of poetry entitled "Deutschland, hin und zurueck. Reisegedichtzyklen [Germany, to and fro. Cycle of Travel Poetry]."

Today we are faced with the all-important question as to whether there is a future for a literature of Germans from Russia, whether German-Russian immigrant authors will be able to catch on, given the realities of the Republic, with its market mechanisms, its party and club politics and a transforming mentality of its citizens.

As Annette Moritz indicates by the example of Agnes Giesbrecht, who was born in 1953 in Podolsk (Orenburg region), there is hope. This former teacher of Russian, who has been living in Germany since 1989 and works as a librarian at the University of Bonn, and by rediscovering the complexity of her mother tongue, she began to write lyrical and prose works.

In 1995, she founded the very active "Literaturkreis der Deutschen aus Russland [Literary Circle of Germans from Russia]," for which she has been the leader ever since. By organizing readings and seminars and by creating opportunitites for publishing, she very purposefully supports the young, upcoming German-Russian authors.

Among her comrades-in-arms is the sensitive prose writer Waldemar Hermann, who was born in 1951 in Krasnoturinsk (Urals) and immigrated to Germany in 1979, where, thanks to Agnes Giesbrecht, he found himself drawn to literary work.

From the distance of their new home in Germany, some of the recent immigrant authors see their former home in a new, more colorful light that, while not hiding the dark sides, provides them with contrast and variety.

Works like Ilona Wagner's "Mein Laecheln fuer Sibirien [My Smile for Sibieria]" or Nelli Kossko's "Die geraubte Kindheit [A Childhood Robbed]" should find interest here in Germany. Unfortunately, these two authors are not mentioned in Annette Moritz' Lexikon. Neither is Alexander Reiser, author of the volume of humoresque and satire, "Die Luftpumpe [The Pump]." His best original prose pieces are of comparable quality to texts of the cult author Wladimir Kaminer, with the difference that Reiser has yet to come up with the necessary friends and supporters.

This complex and thoroughly researched Lexikon by Annette Moritz, which is characterized by its remarkable sensitivity, deserves not only gratitude for her great effort, but also evokes the wish that it may find a multitude of readers. It is not only a compendium in the normal sense, but is also a breathtaking read.

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