Nelly Däs is Eighty

Our first celebrant of 2010.

The Editors, “Nelly Däs is Eighty." Volk auf dem Weg, January 2010, 14-15.

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

Nelly Däs
“The Christiansfeld Estate no longer exists. Most of its residents disappeared during the turmoil of the Stalinist era. Only in the memory of very few does Christiansfeld still remain, and names, places and events still emerge.“

Thus reads the final paragraph of the book Emilie, Herrin auf Christiansfeld [Emilie, Ruler of Christiansfeld] by Nelly Däs, published in 2002. There are indeed only a few people who are aware of the fact that there once was a Christiansfeld in the deep south of Ukraine. It once was the home of the author, and it represents the history of so many people who are now scattered all over the world.

So far Nelly Däs has written twelve books. The first one appeared in 1969 under the telling title Wölfe und Sonnenblumen [Wolves and Sunflowers]. Her countrymen and friends in Schwabia were not a little astonished at how a German Russian “Mädle” [Schwabian diminutive of “girl” – Tr.] with an education of only five regular school years and with an apprenticeship in tailoring had been able to accomplish such a feat.

Encouraged by genuine friends and undeterred by debates regarding her literary qualifications, Nelly Däs would publish again and again, at regular intervals, during subsequent years. There followed Der Zug in die Freiheit [The Train to Freeedom], Mit Timofej durch die Taiga [Across the Taiga with Timofey], Aljoscha – ein Junge aus Kriwoj Rog [Alyosha, a Boy from Krivoy Rog], Russlanddeutsche Pioniere im Urwald [German Russian Pioneers in the Primal Forest], Alle Spuren sind verweht. Russlanddeutsche Frauen in der Verbannung [All Ttraces Lost. German Russian Women in Exile], Das Kochbuch der Deutschen aus Russland [Cookbook for Germans from Russia – available in English at GRHC] – all of them titles that leave no mystery about their contents. Nelly achieved another surprising feat when her book Mädchen vom Fährhaus [Girl from the Ferry Place] was used by Germany’s Television Two as the basis for the film Nadjas Heimkehr in die Fremde [Nadya Comes Home to an Unknown Land]. 

Some see her diligence and goal-orientedness as ambition, others call it persistence. However, no one who knows her life story can deny the fact that she is talented and had inherited fine qualities from her Black Sea German ancestors 

Nelly Däs was born as Nelly Schmidt on January 8, 1930 in the former Friedenthal. She emphasizes that we are talking here about the Friedenthal in the Molochna in the South of Ukraine, which, according to Ulrich Mertens’ Handbuch der Russlanddeutschen [Handbook for Germans from Russia – soon to be available from GRHC in English translation - Tr.], is now called Mirovka/Svetnaya. Her grandparents had been prosperous colonists during Tsarist times. However, in 1917 the German Russian Schmidt family lost their land in the wake of the Revolution, and in 1930 they lost everything else to collectivization, and their home as a result of World War II.

In 1945 the remaining family arrived in Schwabia., from which their forefathers had emigrated in Napoleon’s time in search of land and peace. The latest one had been the third flight for this family, who as early as 1935, branded as “kulaks,” had to flee to the Eastern Danube region, and in 1944 had been transplanted from their home village to the Warthegau [in Western {Poland, then occupied by Germany – Tr.]. This time the escape was to avoid yet another “special treatment” by Soviet organs. Nelly as the youngest in her family. Today she is among only a few remaining members of the founding generation of the Landsmannschaft. For nearly sixty years she has been one of its most popular workers.

Nelly Däs became famous well beyond her own ethnic group, not only through her books and lectures, but also because of her highly praised and welcomed engagement even outside her new homeland on behalf of Germans from Russia. Well remembered are her assistance projects for Quero-Quero and Witmarsum in Brazil during the 1990s and for Germans in Ukraine ten years later. 

It should be mentioned at this point that Nelly Däs enjoys even more recognition outside of her Landsmannschaft than in “her own house.” She is a recipient of the Federal Cross of Merit, as well as of Honorary Pins from the State of Württemberg and from the German Red Cross. Within the national Landsmannschaft organization she was responsible for questions concerning German Russian women, and within the Baden-Württemberg organization Nelly Däs at various times led local chapters in Stuttgart and in Waiblingen. Additionally, for twenty-four years she was a member of the Baden-Württemberg State Organization of the Landsmannschaft, and for five years she served as a representative of the CDU Party [Christian Democratic Union] in the community council of Waiblingen. It goes without saying that she was also honored by her own Landsmannschaft as a recipient of its Pin of Merit.

Her great support throughout the years has always been her family. Her husband, Walter Däs, a genuine Schwabian, is and always has been her greatest source of strength. A daughter, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren round out the harmonious family picture.  And, of course, a large community of her fans with its best wishes will always be there for our eighty-year old.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of these articles.

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