With Your Home in Your Heart: On the 60th Anniversary of the Banishment of the Volga Germans
Mit der Heimat im Herzen: Zum 60. Jahrestag der Vertreibung der Wolgadeutschen
Lobes, Helmut. "With Your Home in Your Heart: On the 60th Anniversary of the Banishment of the Volga Germans." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2001, 16-17.
Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
(The following contribution arrived a little too late for publication in the August edition. In order not to distract from its import, we bring it to you at this time, without change.)
"Before to my ancestors I am gathered,
Even on the night before the grave,
Let my final exhortation be this:
Remain true, my Volga people,
To the earth of your home."
_____ _____ ___- Peter Sinner
Another summer is coming to its end; the 60th since then ...For 60 years the start and the end of summer have been marked by two opposing events. The one, a creative event, dedicated to life, has its 237th anniversary this year. In the interest of Russia and evoked by its government, this event had a creative beginning on the shores of the Volga River in the form of the establishment of the first German colonist settlement on June 29, 1764, and therewith marked the beginnings of a new ethnic group -- the group of the Volga Germans.
The other event, destructive, pernicious and also evoked by the Russian state, numbered its 60th anniversary just a few days ago. It occurred on August 28 for the 60th time, namely, the day of the deportation of the Volga-Germans from their home, and it was to signify the start of the forceful end of the unique history of Volga-Germans. In this case, it was not in Russia's best interest.
Between these two fateful dates lay 177 years, during which seven generations of our brave ancestors "lived, struggled, and bled" on their virgin soil that was so deeply drenched with their blood and sweat. During those nearly two centuries, whatever blessings they achieved and sacrificed for their new home, for Russia, and their loyalty and sense of duty, ever with a clean conscience, they maintained in fostering their relationship and civic comportment toward their state and toward their Russian home - all this is now well documented in many publications and via solid research.
"Their German blood, their German strength, their German faith," wrote the Russian historian P.W. Kaminski, "belong entirely and unreservedly to the country that once opened its doors to them, not as guests, but as citizens of Russia who were granted equal rights."
The delicate question as to how the state on its part conducted itself toward its Volga-German citizens would finally get its answer on August 28, 1941. This answer was simply devastating. For the impossible, the inhumane happened: the Volga-Germans were betrayed. They were, without foundation and in completely mean fashion, slandered. On the basis of mere slander, they were robbed, driven out of their land, their houses, and their very home. In perpetuity - so it was proclaimed after only about seven years in 1948. Possibly...forever...However, one should also remember that this matter of "in perpetuity" can be a two-edged sword, because the injustice - to put it mildly - that was done to the Volga-Germans, and later on to all German-Russians, remains an injustice, and it simply does not go away. And in this case, as expressed so correctly by one of our readers (Volk auf dem Weg, March 2001): "...the heirs of the state that perpetrated this injustice will have to take it upon themselves - for generations - forever." That's the way the "time in perpetuity" looks from the other end. Has the time still not come when the words of right and justice must be spoken there?
Meanwhile, the state that is responsible for this injustice is taking its time...For us Volga-Germans, however, time is beginning to run away; the characteristics and features, even the already threatened feeling of identity of this tormented ethnic group are beginning to be torn away and perhaps to be washed away forever.
A wise saying goes like this: the less one has of it, the more a person burdens himself with a feeling of home.
In those times, our fathers and mothers carried a lot of their homeland into the calamity in bleeding, yet so home-loving and loyal hearts, for no one could forbid that. But hearts can be put to death. And in time they were killed, en masse. At first it was those who "had more," those of the most intelligent, naturally. For a complete uprooting; to erase their Volga-German identity and consciousness that was so closely tied to their Volga home. Not a whole lot of this feeling about their home remained with the survivors. Yet, so much the more did they carefully retain this spirit of the home that they had been robbed of, and for years and decades they would dole it out, from heart to heart, to the young ones growing up in the sheer hope one day to return their children's children to their Volga-German roots. But it was all in vain, for they would be denied exactly this one thing: children who would be aware of their identity. In perpetuity...
Thus the source of a spirit of home they had been trying to bring along, separated as they were from the ground that could nurture this spirit, would eventually simply trickle into the sand. Today it is nearly entirely dried up. To be sure, the number, and thereby the spiritual influence, of those elders who had themselves experienced the Volga home and had in the past decades attempted to remain tied to it as much as humanly possible, is nearing its end. And now what?
-- Did we receive from them sufficient feeling and loyalty for our home, merely to allow our Volga homeland to become completely estranged?
-- Do most of us, to the best of our ability and conscience, ally ourselves with the Volga-German way of life; do we, even when reminded of our responsibility, still identify ourselves with our Volga-German ancestors?
-- Is this awareness of our identity strong and reliable enough to revive it, to restore it, or even to attempt to recreate it among a major part of our people, who at various times were born in the lands of banishment and special settlements?
These are only a few questions that might constitute the conditions under which the spiritual security of the individual and a continuation of our common ethnic group might more or less be secured in the long run.
Since among the basic prerequisites of all peoples of all ages is an awareness of history and of identity and a resulting patriotism, we must simply reestablish or reach for these virtues that we have lost. How do we do this? It is best done in close cooperation between like-minded members of the same ethnic group. Also perhaps it is best done within an appropriate association and, whenever possible, with remembrance of the ethnic roots. All the while one must be very clear that the fact of banishment of a people does not remove its right to a home. On the other hand, all the pain and misery that we were forced to endure in the past 60 years does not free us of responsibility toward [that home]. Neither are we freed of the responsibility toward everything that in our Volga homeland signified the spirit and the lifework of our ancestors...
During these September days of grief and mourning specific mention must be made of the victims, the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of genocide, whom we must grieve for and remember.
Even today, from countless burial places and from the quagmires of endless gulags, they still cry out to our consciousness: Do not betray us! Do not forget anything!
Especially in this area, within the most gruesome pages of our national tragedy, we must not expect that anyone outside of ourselves would eternalize the memory of these martyrs.
And even if until this very day we Germans from Russia remain unable to agree on whether the place of our ethnic resurrection that we are owed might lie in Siberia, in the Altai, in Kazakhstan, or in Ukraine, etc., etc., or perhaps even in the Volga Republic that is yet to be reestablished; we must, for God's sake, and in light of that immeasurably horrible gulag burial place, agree that at least in this area we must fulfill a common duty, and that we shall do so.
Yes, this is a gigantic task that, God knows, is not for the weak and not to be mastered in comfort. Furthermore, called to this task foremost is our youth, whose brimming energy and pioneering spirit, thirst for knowledge and undistorted conception of the truth and of justice would be quite applicable to the task. Let us hope that the leadership of the Deutschen Jugend aus Russland (DJR) [German Youth from Russia] might see therein one of its most important tasks.
In the meantime, the very youngest amongst us Volga-Germans who was born in the old Volga homeland, will be reaching the age of 60 this September...Andreas is his name, Andreas Kinzel - certainly a person we are all familiar with. He was born directly under the wagon on which his grandfather, the elder Kinzel, was on his deathbed, just as the refugees' wagon was stopping for a noontime rest.
"There," Victor Klein tells us in his novel, "where the country road crossed the home village boundary, the elder Andreas was buried shortly afterwards, just where he had always wished, at the edge of the village and facing it..."
"The chubby-cheeked Andreas," Victor Klein tells us further, "will grow up, and when he is a man he'll pattern his life after his grandfather and the others, and prove worthy of his upright and brave people..." (V. Klein, "Der letzte Grabhügel" [The Final Burial Mound], excerpted from the novel in R. Keil and W. Hardt's, Über Victor Klein und seine Zeit [On Victor Klein and His Times], pp. 54-55.)
The author was not wrong...A few years ago in a public office I had the opportunity to meet (whom I, at least, believe to be) a grandson of the birthday celebrant. At the end of a conversation, the official closed his document folder and asked the boy how he felt being in Germany - "as a Russian". The young man answered in a mixed dialect, yet simply and without embarrassment, in a manner that bespoke this conviction: "Bin 'n Wolgadeitscher wie mein Vater un so fiel' ich mich aach." [In dialect: "Am a Volga-German, like my father, and that's how I feel."] The official looked at him with some curiosity for a moment, then a friendly smile appeared on his face, he walked around the desk and said good-bye to the boy and shook his hand firmly. He left.
I admire that boy: his clear, yet naturally informal awareness of his identity at his young age stood in clear contrast against all that we observe every day amongst our Aussiedlern. And even while this circumstance does insist on the assertion that one swallow does not a summer make, it at least carries with it the news that others will follow who will bring summer along with them. It is unstoppable.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.