National Socialist Influence on Life in Societies and Clubs [in Bessarabia]

Bolte, Manfred. "National Socialist Influence on Life in Societies and Clubs [in Bessarabia]." Mitteilungsblatt, May 2013, 4-7.

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

Translator’s Note: this is another in a series of articles from this year’s issues of the Mitteilungsblatt. It is now clear that this series consists of specific writers’ summaries of full presentations by other authors. There should be a total of five of these summary reports. The full presentations are scheduled to appear in the Bessarabian Association’s Jahrbuch 2014 [Yearbook, or Annual]. A.H.

A Report from the Autumn, 2012 Meetings in Hildesheim, with its Overall Theme
“The Influence of National Socialism on the Bessarabian Germans,”
Part 4 covers the presentation by Heinz Fieβ regarding Societies and Clubs

1. Introductory Remarks

Heinz Fieβ chose to delve into his topic “Club Life” by first pointing out that the life in clubs is normally associated with sociability, Gemütlichkeit, sports, music, theater or other matters, but not with political influences that might move people in a specific direction. Here he established how this relates to the Bessarabia of the 1930s. In the beginning, there was a need to get the young people off the streets, since a rather strong case of alcoholism existed in many a village, and it was here that village club life was intended to help out. By establishing various appropriate clubs it was hoped that this problem could be channeled differently, namely, by counteracting alcohol with sociability, music, sports, theater and other activities.

Through his research Fieβ was able to show that the topic “Life in Societies and Clubs in Bessarabia in the 1930s” can be properly described only in connection with the massive influence on those societies and clubs from National Socialism. However, heretofore this connection has not been demonstrated so clearly in the literature. For some time our speaker had searched many yearbooks or annuals, but merely finding essays that report on personal experiences of pleasant sociability, such as evenings of singing, bowling, and musical balls—without any mention of National Socialist orientation or infiltration of nearly the entirety of societies and clubs in all of Bessarabia. Then he came upon the Teplitz Chronicle of 1958, in which Herbert Weiβ describes the final ten years of the Teplitz Colony. Here the influence coming from the Renewal Movement is depicted explicitly. Moreover, in a report by Olga Unterseher in the Heimatkalender 1994 (HK) one finds this statement written by her: “During the 1920s sociability was the most important aspect in the societies and clubs, but in the 1930s they proceeded in a  ‘targeted’ manner.” Mr. Fieβ explained that “targeted activity” really meant reorienting the societies and clubs in the National Socialist ideology of the Renewal Movement.

The presenter relied strongly on visual documentation. For this purpose he searched through the entire pictorial archive of the Bessarabian Association, which by now contains 7,000 images. In his purposeful search he found the pictorial documentation that demonstrates without a doubt the ties between the Renewal Movement and the societies and clubs. In this context Mr. Fieβ cited the particularly fortunate fact that the Bessarabian Association has in its possession a large collection of documentation of the press provided by Mrs. Wolter, in which she gathered a large number of newspaper articles from the 1930s, and from that background the image archive made it possible to determine time and place, and to decide on specific interpretations.

In order to establish the connection, the presenter next provided an overview of the history of newspapers in Bessarabia. Newspapers in German began to be printed after transition to Romanian citizenship in 1919. The paper called “Der Gute Kamerad [The Good Companion]” appeared in the 1930s and was subsequently expanded, becoming the “Bessarabischer Beobachter [Bessarabian Observer, at times abbreviated BesB].” It was for this newspaper that the lawyer and “Renewer” Arthur Fink, frequently contributed articles by which he spread unambiguous National Socialist propaganda. Later another newspaper, “Das Deutsche Volksblatt [German Paper for the People]” was launched and received financial support from the German Reich. Mrs. Wolter assessed these newspapers scientifically. Mr. Fieβ also pointed to papers such as “Der Sonntagsgruβ [Sunday Greeting]” and “Jugend [Youth],” which are yet to be researched.

Mr. Fieβ pointed out that it is important to view events in Bessarabia during those inter-war times of 1918 to 1940 consistently against the backdrop of the enormous historic changes of those times. To be sure, during the 19th Century, Bessarabian Germans had lived a relatively unmolested life. This situation changed drastically when the 1915 Liquidation Laws called for them to be dispossessed and even deported. Fortunately, most were spared the fate the Volhynian Germans underwent, but their negative experiences with Russia make it easy to understand why the Bessarabians endeavored to unite with Romania. The German Reich’s interest in the Germans in South Russia, which developed after the First World War, and the desire of this minority to maintain its German culture promised potential mutual benefits.

The presenter further referred to a book by Mariana Hausleitner entitled Deutsche und Juden in Bessarabien 1814-1940 [Germans and Jews in Bessarabia, 1814-1940], in which on page 152 one reads that the Werner School in Sarata had by 1930 become the center of protest against Romanian-ization and where, concurrently, enthusiasm for National Socialism grew especially strongly. Johannes Wagner was a teacher at the Werner School and from 1931 on maintained contact with Fritz Fabritius, a National Socialist and the “National Leader of the Renewal Movement.” As a result of this political orientation or, rather, this radicalization, the “Führerprinzip” [Nazi leadership principle] took hold as well in societies and clubs, which were ready to follow “the line.” Such loyalty to the proper “line” would in turn find corresponding financial support from the German Reich. 

2. Development of the Societies and Clubs and their Significance for Community Life 

Mr. Fieβ next provided an overview of the development of life in societies and clubs, which he based on Hugo Häfner’s contribution to the Yearbook 1994, “Das Vereinswesen der Deutschen in Bessarabien [The  Societies and Clubs in Bessarabia], and on his research of the archive of images mentioned above. Since the presentation was in PowerPoint, listeners were pleased with the accompanying pictorial material, which facilitated making the connection with specific stages in the development of societies and clubs. That feature can unfortunately not be reproduced in this particular report on the conference.

At this point Mr. Fieβ put up an overview slide that depicted the variety of club and society life in Bessarabia, especially for the year 1937, using as his source the Deutscher Vokskalender für Bessarabien 1937 [German Peoples’ Calendar  for Bessarabia 1937], from the DZB publishers of Tarutino:

  • 32 “women’s” societies/clubs, with founding years 1886 -1935
  • 36 youth and educational clubs, founded between 1918 and 1936 (merged in 1933 into the Association of German Cultural Societies of Bessarabia)
  • 12 hunting clubs, founded between 1924 and 1931
  • 19 wind orchestras, founded between 1918 and 1928; and 10 string orchestras (founding years unavailable).

In the Yearbook 1994 (HK 94), various authors provide examples of society and club life in some of the larger communities of Bessarabia. For example, in 1923 some young folks in Tarutino took the initiative to establish the youth club “Freundschaft [Friendship].” “There was a need to give the post-school youth some support and some entertainment, to keep them off the streets,” wrote Olga Unterseher (HK 49, p. 41). “By any and all means,” the report continued, “the youth needed to be kept under control.” The establishment of a theater group, a soccer team, chess and domino competitions, a bowling alley, a library, and dance events offering waltz, tango, shimmy, rumba, polka and saratzki helped to move beyond the initial enthusiasm and to win the youth in a fairly permanent way.

The by-laws of the Tarutino sports club, founded in 1919, formulated that club’s goal similarly (HK 94, p. 45): “… by means of games, gymnastics, excursions, hikes, evenings of entertainment, lectures, theater productions, etc., to offer the youth of Tarutino opportunities for getting together and for stimulating conversation.”

The fifth anniversary of the local club in Tarutino turned out to be an absolutely major event. Choirs from German villages, from the Buchenland and even from Siebenbürgen performed in front of 1,500 people. The June 24, 1924 issue of DZB [Deutsche Zeitung Bessarabiens] gushed over that and over a subsequent multiple-group trip to Besaryanka, “and what we were able to experience there even overshadowed the Tarutino events. It was a day of genuine triumph for German song, and the singers performed at each station…The ‘Bessarabisches Heimatlied [Bessarabian Homeland Song]’ by Albert Mauch became the central piece evoking enthusiastic favor.” This enthusiasm led to the spontaneous establishment of a German-Bessarabian Singing Association, which all singing societies present joined on the spot.

Similarly positive were reports of club life in Sarata (Ella Fano, HK 84, pp. 53 ff.), where in 1918 the social club “Der Gute Kamerad [The Good Companion]” was founded with activities and goals similar to those mentioned above. Cited as an extraordinary event was the entertainment gathering “Schwoabaobed [dialect for ‘Swabian Evening’]” held on a regular basis. “Even for the older people the club provides fruitful stimulus via its professional talks, especially on agriculture,” reported Albert Heer in the German People’s Calendar for Bessarabia 1929.

As Ella Fano reports, in addition to “der Gute Kamerad,” in 1936, “not the least for political reasons, “the social club ‘Einigkeit [Unity]’ was established. Interestingly, the populace designated it as ‘Number One,’ whereas ‘Der Gute Kamerad’ was relegated to ‘Number Two.’” Contemporary witness Lily Dornreicher described the “Number Twos” as more open and more international, and the “Number Ones” as placing great value on being German. She cited as an example that in this club all but German traditional dances were frowned upon.

In other places as well, such as Arsis and Teplitz, activities including sports, theater, music and choral singing were in the forefront before other activities were added when the clubhouse “Deutsches Haus” was completed. Sigmund Zebra (HK 94, p. 77) reported that the German House opened up in Arsis in 1935 would soon prove to be too small, because “particularly the trans-regional course offerings, e.g., those for women athletes from the newly emerging youth movement, in addition to the usual agricultural talks, caused the facility to be filled.” He continues to report that not all activities available at the club house enjoyed undivided favor. For example, when his grandfather took a look at the clubhouse, he would say—with whatever thought might have been in the background: “In dieses Haus g’hört neigschossa [This place should be shot into].”

To complete the picture, it should be mentioned that, initially in 1929 in Tarutino, and later in around fifteen other communities, a “Jugendbund für entschiedenes Christentum (EC) [Youth Association  for Resolute Christianity]” was established. During the Brethren Conference of 1936 in Friedenstal the EC Youth Association was fully recognized and recommended to the individual communities. (HK 94, pp. 52-53.).

The following sentence formulated by Olga Unterseher (HK 94, p. 42), which on the surface sounds rather harmless, must now be seen in its full meaning, as Mr. Fieβ pointed out even during his introductory remarks:

“Whereas during the 1920s sports such as hiking, bowling, soccer were more or less pleasant leisure-time pastimes, in the 1930s things were conducted in a specific goal-oriented manner.”

Given the political polarization, motivation for conducting societies and club activities was in many areas undergoing fundamental change. For example, in 1935 the youth club “Freundschaft” conducted a week-long course in gymnastics for boys and girls, with free room and board, for the purpose of developing leadership for the gymnastics activities of the societies and clubs.  

The old custom of egg-hunts was reintroduced, German folksongs—sponsored by ideologues—came into full bloom, and upon the urging by “Landesführer” Fabritius, a so-called “[Ethnic] Bessarabian Traditional Garb” was designed and introduced.

3. Influence from the Renewal Movement on the Life of Societies and Clubs

[In the original text this is heading # 4, while # 3 is missing – Tr.]

In the Teplitzer Chronik (pp. 86 ff.) Herbert Weiβ reports as follows: “During the decade of 1930 to 1940 the Renewal Movement played a large role in the political life of the Teplitz community ... Anyone belonging to it saw it as a moral duty to follow—immediately and without objection--any and all orders emanating from its “ethnic national” leadership.

“He who owns the youth owns the future.” This idea held central significance in the Renewal Movement. For example, at the behest of Arthur Fink of Tarutino, a “youth group” was formed in Teplitz in 1932. “Its activities, from an external viewpoint, consisted of singing, gymnastics, and marching. Internally, the use of drill exercises served the objective of teaching the young men, first, to be able to assume a position at attention, and subsequently their leaders would teach them a political orientation that had been previously unheard of.” The leadership of the club “Eintracht” in Teplitz soon considered the youth group to be an alien element, because they tended to act in a very self-confident and high-handed manner. “One could clearly see that there was a hand that directed this organization from the outside” (p. 87).

In February 1932 an initial conference took place in Sarata with the goal of providing some structure to life in the clubs. “At the center of all presentations and discussion,” writes St. Wolter, “stood the youth clubs and the proper training of the youth in general.” The intent was to combine as an “Association of German cultural societies and clubs in Bessarabia.”

The article “Vereinswesen und Jugenderziehung [The Clubs and Societies and the Education of the Youth]” by Theodor Schöch in the “BesB” of December 1, 1932 and its criticism of the existing clubs makes it clear what will be changed by the Renewal Movement: voluntary subordination of the youth to the Führer [in this case it looks like the author means the local/regional leader, not the Führer in Germany -  Tr.] rather than democratic rules; not mere sociability, but a strong influence on fundamental attitudes, plus falling in line with the popular ethnic youth movement. Here is an excerpt from the article:

“In a narrow sense, our youth must be educated according to different basic principles: no decisions by the majority, but personal responsibility, a voluntary subordination to the leader, who is not elected via an annual vote, but chosen because of his personal superiority and rich experience in leadership. So-called ‘cultural efforts” do nothing. The important thing is the appropriate attitude, which must be strongly influenced. In a word, it is the spirit of the national popular youth movement that must take hold of our still unformed, but pliable youth, in order to create at a steady pace of growth a youth educational community that corresponds to our existing situation. First signs of that are apparent. Th. Schöch.”

Mr. Fieβ noted that by this time the “Renewal Movement” was obviously gaining momentum. Consider the following: In Tarutino, Arthur Fink founded the youth organization “Kampfbewegung [Fighting Movement],” then made its name a harmless one by changing it to “Turnverein [Gymnastics Club].” With that name the club also gained entree to other youth clubs, for example, the youth club “Freundschaft” in Tarutino. According to Stefanie Wolter, by early 1933 fourteen youth gymnastics groups had been created in Bessarabia. Regarding the major youth get-together in Tarutino in June of 1935, Herbert Weiβ notes (Teplitzer Chronik, p. 88): “Spectators went home from this event with good impressions (the extremely high turnout impressed many), and among the youth the number of followers of the Movement increased.”

With their so-called “Freiwilligen Arbeitseinsätzen (FAD) [Volunteer Work Efforts], taken over in Siebenbürgen (with the motto “The common good supersedes the individual good”), the “self-help men provided optimal propaganda for the Movement. Their fresh attitude in action, their volunteer efforts, their strict discipline—for Bessarabian Germans these constituted significant points of attraction.”

Numerous contacts and political instruction sessions with Reich-German youth and students (e.g., in Bad Burnas), with Siebenbürgen (e.g., courses provided in the Raiffeisen Haus [a so-called charitable organization – Tr.] in Herrmannstadt, which included girls, the 1933 Day of Youth in Tarutino, a 1937 nationwide youth conference in Schässburg with the goal of forming a unified German-Romanian youth underscored the desire for accord. Regarding this topic, our presenter brought up the following appeal (from BesB,, 02/15/1933):

“Call for Participation in the 8th Course for Girls Conducted by the Raiffeisenhaus in Herrmannstadt, Dreieichenstraβe 5, between April 3 (Easter Monday) until July 2, 1933. The goal: to train and educate girls to become German women and to prepare them for their later roles in the family, the community, the people and the fatherland. Subjects to be offered: Ethnic Life Questions, the science of race, racial degradation and upgrading, ethnic dying off and ethnic multiplying; life stages and Lebensraum [living space]; the ethnic body and ethnic structures; settlement and a land for children; service…”

Mr. Fieβ illustrated the concepts contained in the appeal, or call, and in explaining the service aspect he pointed out that this dealt with a kind of “Heinzelmännchendienst [elfin service],” namely, to assist “overnight” folks or farmers who had fallen into a needy situation. Such “action” earned strong appreciation and resulted in a major propaganda plus for the “Movement.”

The Farmers’ Day of 1937 in Teplitz also enjoyed strong participation by the youth, coming from all regions of Romania, and it came to be considered a model for other large events.

Weiss reports in the Teplitzer Chronik, p, 100: “Making sure that there was proper order were people from the ‘NAF’ (Nationale Arbeitsfront [National Worker Front], all dressed in attractive clothing. They ushered visitors to their appropriate space. In just a short time the festival square appeared black with people who stood in their ranks in excellent order.” He continues on p. 101: “The Farmers’ Conference was the last large demonstration to be staged in Teplitz. It had furnished the proof that large numbers of people were standing behind the ‘ethnic populist’ leadership.”

In February of 1933, a second conference of representatives of cultural societies took place in Schabo, during which the decision was made to consolidate via the “Association of German Cultural Clubs of Bessarabia’ as another leading association (cf. section 1 above) under the umbrella organization of the People’s Council. The teacher Johannes Wagner was elected as its president. He succeeded in getting the umbrella organization to receive financial funds from the German Reich (cf. Hausleitner, p. 51).

Regarding changes that occurred in 1933, our presenter came up with an excerpt from p. 132 of Mariana Hausleitner’s Deutsche und Juden in Bessarabien [Germans and Jews in Bessarabia]:
“The teachers’ institute (‘Werner School’) in Sarata by 1933 became the center of protests against Romanian-ization and, at the same time, enthusiasm for National Socialism was particularly strong there.” Radicalization of the Germans in Bessarabia was, on the one hand, a consequence of the failure of the negotiation policies of the conservative leadership and, on the other hand, a consequence of the power grab by the National Socialists in the German Reich. As soon as Hans Steinacher in1933 became Reich leader of the ‘Volksbund für das Deutschtum im Ausland [People’s Association for Germandom Abroad] (VDA),’ his office intervened directly in the political scene in Bessarabia. The new organization supported clubs which accepted their introduction of the “Führungsprinzip” [Nazi-oriented leadership principle].

During the third day of a conference of Bessarabian German Cultural Societies in Teplitz in April of 1934 in which, according to H. Weiβ (pp. 90-91) twenty-two cultural societies participated, “representatives of the societies met in a relatively small room of the club ‘Eintracht’ while members of the Renewal Movement gathered in the large theater auditorium for a closed demonstration. […] Romanian police , which was supposed to oversee the conference, sat around in a conference room and had no clue […] The end of the conference (of the cultural clubs) was marked by a heated debate on the topic ‘Societies and the Renewal Movement.’ After a long period of back and forth arguments they agreed on the following compromise statement:

  • The cultural societies and clubs must, given their statutes, continue to exist.
  • Members of the youth groups must also become members of the [cultural] societies.
  • The youth clubs will remain autonomous with regard to their educational and training, but will enjoy material support from the societies.
  • Boards of the societies must be kept informed about the activities within the youth clubs.

Decisions the societies made during their conference were unfortunately not followed through on. After a while the Association of Societies and Clubs very quietly stopped existing. The Renewal Movement had finally outgrown them.”

On that topic, consider this quote from the “Bessarabischer Beobachter:”

“Acceptance of the Ethnic Populist Program has created an apparatus which is called to move our Ethnic Populist Community ever upward. Right from the outset we must observe carefully every component of that apparatus, and should anything not follow its course properly, we must, as necessary, either improve or remove it entirely. The apparatus must be so productive that even those villages which have previously decided not to come into the fold must eventually join in.” (“BesB” issue of May 3, 1934, composed by H.E. [Hugo Erdmann])

Stefanie Wolter, on p. 442: “The Ethnic Populist Program of 1934, the entire ethnic political education, and thereby also the related activities in the societies and clubs, was placed completely under the oversight of the regional council. Herbert Weiβ reports (HK 94, pp. 94 ff.) that Youth leader Fink decided not to accept personal defeat: “When in January of 1936 the political split between Dr. Broneske’s ‘Volksgemeinschaft’ and Arthur Fink’s ‘DVR’ came to be mirrored among the Bessarabian Germans in general, Regional Leader Dr. Otto Broneske relieved Youth Leader Arthur Fink (of the ‘DVR’ faction) of his position…. On March 4, 1936 Youth Leader Fieβ made an appearance in a renewed attempt to restore unity within the Teplitz Youth group. However, he had to leave without accomplishing anything, because the ‘DVR’ faction insisted on maintaining their views and refused to acknowledge any subordination under the youth leadership of the Regional Leader.”

H. Weiβ (p. 97) provides an illustrative example of the power struggle: “On October 28 the ‘DVR’ conducted a grand youth gathering in Teplitz under the leadership of Otto Hämmerling and Melitta Bippus. It was attended by seventy-two boys and fifty-one girls. Before noon, the whole group marched in a rather orderly formation to the church (great value was placed in those days on ‘looking sharp’). A demonstration was planned for the afternoon. However, it failed to take place, simply because the state-appointed woman district doctor (allegedly on the advice of the Teplitz Community Council), came up with specific cases of scarlet fever, and consequently forbade all public gatherings.”

According to Weiβ (p. 99), during the election for the Teplitz Community Council on July 2, 1937 the Volksgemeinschaft received 259 votes, the Cuzists 142 votes, and the DVR 54 votes. Although the Volksgemeinschaft thus had been unable to muster an absolute majority, they knew how to proceed in their own favor. Not much later, the previously mentioned October 24, 1937 Farmers’ Day in Teplitz turned into a precisely targeted, impressive demonstration as the Volksgemeinschaft was sworn into office.

Mr. Fieβ was certainly successful in impressively connecting pictorial material and the historically developed backdrop of National Socialist orientation among the youth within the societies and clubs. For this we are grateful to the presenter.

Note: the complete presentation by Heinz Fieβ, along with the others given in Hildesheim, will be published in the Jahrbuch [Yearbook] 2014.

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