The Black Sea Germans. A Series of Presentations from a Conference at “Der Heiligenhof” in Bad Kissingen, December 7-9, 2018

Binder, Gustav. ""The Black Sea Germans. A Series of Presentations from a Conference at “Der Heiligenhof” in Bad Kissingen, December 7-9, 2018". Mitteilungsblatt, May 2019, 12-16.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO, with editorial assistance from Dr. Nancy Herzog.


The conference was organized by the Akademie Mitteleuropa (AME) and the Bessarabiendeutscher Verein (BdtV) [Bessarabian German Association]. Seventy-five persons participated, and among them were ten members of the German minority in Ukraine (from Odessa) and Ukrainian students from Mariupol.

The conference was initiated by representatives of the Federal Government’s Office of Culture and Media and directed by Gustav Binder (AME’s Director of Studies) and Dr. Hans Rudolf Wald (of the BdtV). In the following, the author of this article provides has summaries of eight conference presentations.


Presentation by Dr. Viktor Krieger:
“German Settlement History in South Russia during the 19th/20th Centuries”

Through centuries of territorial expansion, the Russian Empire developed into a multi-cultural and multi-denominational peoples’ state, in which the matter of interior colonization played a great role. Fitting into this goal of making the land arable was the recruitment of foreign colonists, which originated with the July 22, 1763 Manifesto of Tsarina Katherine II. The colonists, who came in largest numbers from smaller German States and German Free Cities, were settled in a concentrated manner in the Lower Volga region and, beginning with the early 19th Century, primarily in the Black Sea region, also called South Russia.

During this presentation, the speaker provided comparisons between these two massive colonization regions, in terms of the colonists’ lands of origin, their reasons for emigrating, their ways of settling and their economic systems. He paid great attention to the consequences of eventual lack of land and overpopulation that began as early as the 1840s in South Russia, including Bessarabia, a phenomenon that, among other events, triggered the founding of daughter colonies, initially in neighboring regions and, from about the 1880s on, increasingly in the South Urals and the Kirgiz (Kazakh) steppes, but which also engendered emigration (primarily) to North America.

Settlement areas

Presentation by Dr. Hans Rudolf Wahl:
“Bessarabia and the Bessarabian Germans During the Time of the Russian Revolution, 1917/18”

In various countries of Europe, the end of the First World War and particularly the revolutions in Germany and in Russia, took place under entirely different conditions and with completely antagonistic political, societal, and cultural results. This is mirrored in the corresponding concepts of cultural memories. For the Bessarabian Germans, the two Russian revolutions of 1917 were decisive events. This presentation describes the course of events in three different levels of political and military happenings.

First, on the international level, where as early as 1916 the Russians’ war economy no longer measured up to the demands of the war, a situation that initially led to the collapse of the monarchy in February, 1917 and to the establishment of a provisional democratic government of civic and moderate Socialist elements—all due to the failure of obtaining a cease fire, a catastrophic military defeat in the summer of 1917 and the German Reich’s support for the Bolsheviks--and finally to the coup by the Bolsheviks. Subsequently, the Russian Empire sank into a civil war that encompassed Ukraine in particular and, as 1917 turned into1918, had spread to Bessarabia as well.

These events had their corresponding effects on the regional level, initially in Bessarabia’s independence within the Russian Empire, but then, after the civil war had spread, the January 1918 take-over by the Romanian troops and, finally, occupation of Bessarabia by Romania by March of 1918. The presenter described the ensuing political clashes evoked by the occupation of Bessarabia and the eventual result, that is, annexation of Bessarabia by Romania.

On a third level, the presentation reconstructed the subjective perception of this chain of events by the Bessarabian German population In this context, it is only from that time that Bessarabian Germans began to be spoken of as genuine Bessarabian Germans, who until then had been simply a part of an encompassing Black Sea German history, but now were entering into their own distinct history. Their experiences during the revolutionary months of 1917 and the subsequent Romanian occupation and annexation in 1918 can truly be classified as traumatizing collective cultural shock.


Presentation by Dr. Mariana Hausleitner:
“State Measures toward Romanization and their Consequences on Minorities in Bessarabia”

By the time the Bucharest government had doubled its state’s area toward the end of 1918, it introduced its political system to the added regions. Given the Soviets’ lack of recognition of the separation from Russia, Bessarabia was ruled until 1926 according to rights gained after the war. The large population groups of Slavs and Jews were affected even more strongly than the Germans by bans on gatherings and by censure. Between 1928 and 1935, two governments of the National Farmers Party made attempts to integrate non-Romanians. After 1934, the National Liberals regained governmental power and tried to develop the Romanian economy via special laws. At the same time, and as early as 1933, Romanian and German right-wing radicals demanded the dispossession of the Jews. The king did not oppose the rightist trend, but used it to introduce an authoritarian regime in 1938. After 1939, romanization denoted exclusion and, as of 1941, deportation of the Jews. By 1940, the German minority received more rights, but by then the Germans had been resettled from Bessarabia.


Presentation by Dr. Cornelia Schlarb:
“The role of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Bessarabia”

During the 19th Century, Protestants overwhelmingly immigrated to Bessarabia. From 1832 on, Lutheran communities were provided with pastors taken care of by the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Russia. By 140, twelve collective parish communities and three single parishes had been constituted, and the average number of local preaching sites [villages] in a collective parish was ten. Because pastoral visits were a rarity, so-called Küsterlehrer [sextons acting as teachers] took care of the everyday school and congregational life in the villages. Together with intra-churchly community gatherings, they strengthened the inner Lutheran identity. Viewed from the outside, the Lutheran church represented itself via its buildings and diaconate arrangements that had begun to appear as of the end of the 1800s in Arzis and Sarata. From the 1850s on, communities increasingly began to construct churches. Previous prayer and school buildings were the turned into purely school structures. In Sarata, which was founded by the Catholic priest Ignaz Lindl and his mixed-denominational group of adherents from Bavaria and Württemberg, the first central school in South Russia, the so-called “Werner School,” opened its doors. It was where teachers, community clerks, and land surveyors received their education. The school system, especially the elementary school system, was considered by villagers and by church leaders as an essential part of church life. Even the Russian authorities accepted the German public schools as private church schools.

After Bessarabia was annexed by Romania, the Romanian government considered the German public schools to be state schools and converted them to that status. Before the 20the Century, a boys’ gymnasium [classical secondary school] and a lyceum [a gymnasium for girls] were founded, but after 1919, all three higher institutions of learning were able to exist only under very difficult conditions and with the support of church communities. The existence of the two gymnasia depended on contributions from the Central Administration of the Gustav-Adolf Foundation in Leipzig and, particularly, from the VDA (Volksbund für das Deutschtum in Ausland [People’s Federation for Germandom Abroad]) in Germany.

Beginning in 1927, the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Bessarabia joined with the Evangelical [-Lutheran] Church A.B. in Siebenbürgen [in northern Romania] and various other Lutheran congregations in Greater Romania to form one church organization. In Bessarabia itself, a dispute arose from the fear of losing ecclesiastic and financial independence. The dispute took ten years, until 1937, to resolve itself. Massive financial problems in the Consistory came up during the late 1920s and thus made self-administration more difficult. The bad economic situation, the dispute that had lasted until 1936, and the failure to introduce a church tax engendered massive refusals to pay up and led to salary cuts at the gymnasia and in the Consistory. The strengthening of the National Socialist (NS) movement in Bessarabia the politically motivated and even the ecclesiastical decommissioning of Super Pastor Haase, sharpened differences within the church, and deepened the chasm between church and community circles.

A number of pastors in the church district of Tarutino, as well as some teachers, began to engage in a politically partisan and ideological manner allied with the NS movement led by Otto Broneske and Fritz Fabritius in Siebenbürgen. This ideologization became evident by “populist” and racist instructional content, which intended to give rise to a new historical and human image in the concept of NS-ideology. Reichs-German lecturers were visiting the remote Bessarabia as early as 1933, male and female students came from the Reich and gave presentations on racial topics, while some investigated the state of health of the 1936 Bessarabian Germans. According to a 1937 report by the lecturer Maurer, the “awakening ethnic group” would need another ten to twelve years of instruction to be stable and prepared for the struggles in NS-thinking—likely also in the military sense.

That was not to be. Meanwhile, seventy-eight years have passed since the resettlement of the Bessarabian Germans. Traces of their existence exist to this day, even in the churchly realm. Church buildings have been renovated and turned over to their original purpose with the support of Germans from Bessarabia. In this respect, Lutheran identity continues to survive on the ecumenical expanse, even if in a transformed presence. To this day, the Bessarabian German Association continues to maintain multi-faceted contacts with the new residents of former colonist villages.


Presentation by Dr. Ute Schmidt:
“The resettlement of the Germans from Bessarabia (1940)”

In the autumn of 1940, the 125-year settlement history of the Germans in Bessarabia came to an abrupt end. A precondition for this was the August 23, 1929 German-Soviet non-aggression pact, the so-called “Hitler-Stalin Pact.” In a secret “added protocol” attached to this pact, the German Reich and the Soviet Union – one week before the German attack on Poland – had delineated their mutual “spheres of interest” in East-Central Europe, in which the German side declared its “total disinterest in Bessarabia.” Following the resettlement of German populations from the Baltic, Volhynia and Galicia, the resettlement of Bessarabian Germans from the Soviet sphere of influence became simply a matter of time. During the end of June 1940, the Red Army marched into – at the time – still Romanian Bessarabia. According to the resettlement pact of September 5, 1940 the resettlement of Germans from Bessarabia was, in principle, voluntary, but de facto a forced migration, for in Bessarabia folks were well informed about the consequences of Sovietization in the neighboring South Russia [primarily Ukraine]. For that reason, Bessarabian Germans – with a heavy heart, but nearly in unison – signed the resettlement lists. Only around 2,000 persons [of nearly a hundred thousand – Tr.] remained behind.

The resettlement of the Bessarabian Germans was carried out by a [joint] German-Soviet commission (with 600 persons from each side). The commission was to get the German resettlers to register, to estimate the value of their soon-to-be abandoned properties, to organize the actual resettlement travels, and to complete it by mid-November, 1940. By October 25, 1940, around 93,500 Bessarabian Germans were transported--by rail, truck, bus, and [wagon] train—to the shipping harbors Kilia, Reni and Galati, then upriver on the Danube to the interim camps Prachovo and Semlin near Belgrade. From here, by rail they came to transition camps in the “Old Reich,” in Austria, and in the Sudetenland.

While Nazi propaganda celebrated the resettlement euphorically as a “modern-times migration of peoples,” for the Bessarabian German resettlers it in fact meant a forced and final good-bye to their homes.

The major responsibility for the resettlement rested with the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle [Ethnic German Central Office], aka the VoMi. It was, subsequent to the establishment of the “Reich-Commissar for the Consolidation of the German Ethnic Folkdom” (RKF), integrated into Heinrich Himmler’s power apparatus. Following their “repatriation,” the resettlers were initially housed in 800 “observation” or “quarantine” camps. And before their “naturalization,” in their respective camps they had to undergo a sorting out according to racial and ethno-biological evaluation ratings. The result of this obscure procedure determined whether the resettlers – as promised – could be resettled in the East as self-sufficient farmers or whether, in the “A”-case, they would be deposited in the “Altreich” [the original Empire], where available, cheap labor was strongly needed. The absurdity of this selection process led to strong protests among the Bessarabian Germans. That fatal double characterization of the resettlement indeed consisted in the fact that the foreign German group counted as a “rescue action,” whereas for the Nazi population manipulators it served merely as a gateway into their policy of conquest, expulsion, and “re-peopleing.”For them, the Bessarabian Germans, too, served primarily as human reserves to be used for their plan of ruling the “Ostraum” {Eastern Space].

By 1945, the flight of the German population from the easterly situated “Warthegau,” among them other German Russians and many Black Sea Germans, ended in catastrophe. Caught up by Soviet organs, they were treated as Russian nationalists [citizens] and, as “re-patriots,” forcibly returned to the Soviet Union. But since for the Bessarabian Germans any and all hopes for actual return were for naught, after 1945 they had no other alternative but to integrate into post-war Germany as quickly as possible. They would never voice any demands for repayment or for the right of possession [of their former properties].


Presentation by Dr. Katharina Haberkorn:
“Germans in Ukraine. Efforts towards Recognition and Retention of the Culture”

Before the Second World War, around 880,000 ethnic Germans were living in the territory of today’s Ukraine. According to the most recent census of 2001, the German minority numbered barely 33,000. They are disbursed across the entire country, but more strongly represented in the south-eastern parts of the country. Traces of the settlement history are still visibly recognizable, and cultural institutions are trying to (re)vitalize varying organizations that foster cultural life. The settlement history of the Black Sea Germans in today’s Ukraine is closely tied to the establishments by Tsarina Catherine the Second (1729 – 1796). Many of the more than 140 organizations of the German minority are associated with the founding era of the Germans, not only in memories, but also in what their names signify. The presentation demonstrated, for example, the status of the traces of German settlement history enjoyed in various communities and cities in Ukraine.

Emphasized were the cities Dnipro (formerly Yekaterinoslav), Kiev (the Ev.-Lutheran St. Catherine community), and the community of Katerinivka (in the Mikolayev region), where in each of these places a different approach to the heritage is maintained. The speaker also emphasized how the history of violence of the 20th Century interrupted the handing down of tradition and culture, and how, in each case, regionally and locally, new ways were found in dealing with and rediscovering and maintaining each area’s own history.


Presentation by Dr. Dr. Alfred Eisfeld:
“Archival Materials for Family Research of Black Sea Germans”

In ancestral research, while for the most part, or often exclusively, baptismal, marriage and death records of church communities, as well as census data, are consulted, family research can rely with varying provenance on considerably more documents of an archival nature. Among these are travel papers for immigration to Russia and transport lists. On the back of travel passports one can find notes from which the traveled stretch can be traced via notated dates.

Settlement history is contained in the existing documents (20,000 archival units) of the Welfare Committee for Foreign Settlers in South Russia and of the Welfare Offices in Yekaterinoslav and Odessa. Therein one can find information about the economic development of the colonies, family registers including ownership data, documents on handing down inheritances, the care of orphans, epidemics, fire storms, etc. Orientating information can be obtained via annotated search guides published by the Göttinger Arbeitskreis [Working Group].

Günther Vossler in conversation with Dr. Dr. Alfred Eisfeld.

After the special [self-]administration of the colonies was abolished, they came under the jurisdiction of departments for farmers’ affairs of Gouvernement administrations. Contained therein are, among other objects, passports and documentation on the worker migration and emigrations (after 1871). Barely considered until now have been recruit lists and listings of property of individual families and communities (1915-1916). For the 1920s there are diverse records of lower administrative bodies and of local and regional organizations (cf. the annotated search books for the governmental districts of Cherson and Nikolayev). Examples are records of the village poor, of recipients of assistance during the 1921 famine, of officials of church communities, of farmers who were deprived of their voting rights, etc.

For the 1930s, there is documentation on the recipients of assistance during the 1932-1933 famine, and about the mass terror of 1937-1938. The “German Operation” by the NKVD in Ukraine was the topic of a 2018 documentary volume published (in Russian) in Ukraine. A German-language edition is planned for 2019.

Ukraine’s law on de-Communization opened access for everyone to documents of the Soviet era. Excellent for an initial foray into the 1930s are Internet-accessible data from the project xxx [a Russian phrase for “Rehabilitated by History”] and from “Memorial” Books published in Russian concerning a number of work camps of the Gulag in which Germans from Ukraine were kept.

Regarding the 1940s and 1950s, good starting points are records of the Einwanderungszentralstelle (EWZ) that can be found in the Federal Archive in Berlin, as well as the data bank for the Memorial Society. However, due to re-translations these are not free of inaccuracies.

A further source is the personal documents about rehabilitated Germans, which can be found in regional archives. Family histories, which are based only in part on some of these documents, have become part of the regional history of Ukraine and of European history.

The Jakob Mittelstädt family of Bessarabia on arrival in the US.

Presentation by PD Dr. Günter Koch:
“Settlement of Bessarabian Germans in Poland, 1941-1944. A Contemporary Witness Project."

This talk presented a contemporary witness project that is aimed at documentation via oral history. As an initial theoretical discussion, the special traits of contemporary witnesses were presented in contrast with traditional sources of historical research, as well as the disadvantages observed by historians in the unreliability of memories and the nostalgia affect, versus the advantage of the direct experience the contemporary witness has lived through.

During the second part of the talk, the project itself was presented, first, the historical backgrounds, then the methodical process of gathering data. On both the Polish and the German sides, videos based on five-page questionnaires were recorded, so that there might be the possibility for comparison of the recorded statements and a perspective from two sides: the Polish perspective, which shows the dispossession of personal land properties and the German perspective, which describes property take-over necessitated by force. Analysis of the backgrounds of the contemporary history is intended to serve the coming to terms with the past, and is also intended for educating the youth as well as adults. The scientific significance of the project lies in the tight interdisciplinary interweaving of the sciences of history and of language, for memory is always tied to intensive work with language and the critique of language.

(left): Günther Vossler and Waldemar Eisenbrunn, a cultural consultant of the Germans from Russia in the Free State of Bavaria. (center & right): Participants from Ukraine.

Presentation by Dr. Meinolf Arens:
“City Portrait of Odessa”

For more than 200 years, Odessa had been one of three or four economically and strategically important, population-rich and, from a cultural aspect, most significant metropolises on the Black Sea. Funded at the behest of Tsarina Catherine the Second, it was from its very beginning intended as a central harbor city in the western part of a Black Sea, most likely to be controlled entirely by Russia.in the future. The period up to World War I saw the very rapid growth of this city to a grand number of 850,000 residents 0ca. 1912). The city, from its very beginning a multi-ethnic one, was inhabited primarily by Greeks, Jews, and Russians and, in smaller numbers, Germans (Black Sea Germans), Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Armenians, etc. For Jewish culture as well as Greek culture and national movement, the city played a very special role during the 19th Century. The same applied to high Russian culture of the time. The splendid architectural heritage of that time still characterizes the city today.

After World War I, subsequent to the Russian revolutions and civil wars, as well as the brutal Stalinist cleansings, the population was considerably reconstituted. Hundreds of thousands of normal citizens saw themselves forced to flee. Tens of thousands were deported, starved, or were murdered. The world of the old imperial Odessa with its world harbor drowned in the course of Soviet rule. The final stroke was the siege and conquest of the city by Romanian troops during World War II, culminating in the deaths of tens of thousands and the snuffing out in the Holocaust of the major part of the Jewish population.

Since 1991, Odessa is once again part of the now independent Ukraine and a showplace for the Russian-Ukrainian conflict that is being carried out even in the area of interpretation of the history of the region.

On a regional basis, the population, nearly entirely Ukrainian and Russian since 1944, particularly in recent times orients itself with the cultural and intellectual heritage of a Black Sea metropolis that is liberal and leaning to the world of the 19th Century.

Appreciation is extended to Dr. Nancy Herzog for editing and to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.


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