Disobedience, Protest and Resistance by German-Russians in the Soviet Union (Part 8)

Verweigerung, Protest und Widerstand der Russlanddeutschen im Sowietstaat (Teil 8)

Krieger, Dr. Viktor. "Disobedience, Protest and Resistance by German-Russians in the Soviet Union (Part 8)." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2007, 12-14.

This translation from the original German-language text to American English
is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

Subtitle: Internal Estrangement from the Soviet State: The Emigration Movement (continued from Volk auf dem Weger, 2007, issues 2-5, 7, and 10-11)

Circumstances Surrounding the Development of the Emigration Problem

During the entire history of the German-Russian minority, emigration was always considered a proven means of getting away from the conditions that were felt to be an entirely unreasonable and oppressive socio-economic and political situation in the homeland. During the time before 1914, economic and, to a lesser extent, religious factors (for the Mennonites, for example) might have been of the highest importance, but after the Bolshevist Revolution, motivation for emigration was based more on political-social considerations. It was no longer the scarcity of land or the prospect for better living conditions that motivated tens of thousands to leave the country, instead it was the
persecutions and discrimination, as well as the wide-spread lack of rights and the ruinous collectivization engendered by the new people in power.

Rather remarkable in this situation was the geography of the [emigration] target countries: until the end of the 1920's, the vast majority of emigrants was attracted to the New World, and it was in the US, in Canada, but also in Latin-American countries, that the mostly agrarian people eager to emigrate were hoping to maintain or to develop further their traditional way of life.

There was a sharp contrast during the post-war period, when (West) Germany had become the main target country for emigres. For one thing, this was tied to the fact that, as a result of Bolshevist dispossessions and deportations, the formerly independent German farmers and tradesmen had been turned into genuine proletarians, and the economic dynamic of the young West-German State was offering attractive opportunities for salaried occupations. For another thing, for German-Russians the Soviet authorities accepted only family reunification as justification for [allowing their] emigration. Even so, emigration was permitted only for persons of relatives "of the first grade" (parents, siblings, children). As of the mid-1950's these kinds of relatives were found almost exclusively in the [German] Federal Republic [i.e., West Germany] only.

Propaganda brochures aimed at emigrants; printed in Kazakhstan in 1981 and in 1989 (!). The Russian-language brochure from Bishkek was entitled "The Foreign Sky Is Not a Warm One" [,and the one in German carries the slogan "Homesickness Doesn't Go Away!" - Tr.]

Primarily these were the so-called Administrative Resettlers and their descendants. During 1941 a fourth of all Soviet citizens of German origin had come under German and Romanian occupation. And during 1943 and 1944, about 340,000 Black-Sea Germans fled - some were "evacuated" by force - and were resettled in the Warthegau [German-dominated Western Poland - Tr.] or in the Reich itself. Following the end of the war, the Soviet administration - in part by threat of force, in part under false promises - forced about 210,000 Germans to be repatriated. In February, 1955, the government of the Federal Republic officially recognized the naturalizations [that had been engendered by the Reich - Tr.] during wartime and thereby created the possibility of resettlement to West Germany. Of course, this fact might have had scarce consequences, if the Soviet leadership had made any serious efforts during post-war times toward reestablishing equal rights and equal status for these people, instead of banishing them to Siberia, bullying them for decades, branding them as traitors of the nation, and having them watched by the secret police. In the Novosibirsk region alone, of the 12,000 who had been repatriated, 7,818 were subjected to intensive interrogation, and 1,007 of these were placed under "operative control" ["operative" here means as much as "strategic" - Tr.] on suspicion of having cooperated with the enemy. In the banishment sites these potentially German citizens would increasingly become "in-laws" with other groups of German-Russians, so that the number of those becoming eligible for a return [to Germany] in due time increased extensively.

The Communist power, placing great value on validity in foreign politics and proclaiming world-historical superiority of its new social order, at first viewed any expression of wanting to emigrate as a particularly serious anti-Soviet action. The tenacious desire of, say, a simple milk-maid or a welder to leave the very first Socialist "Worker and Farmer State" on earth toward the "capitalist and revanchist" Federal republic of [West] Germany represented, in the thinking of Moscow Central and of the leaders of individual Republics, more political dynamite for the existing system than a comparable desire by intellectual dissidents in the larger cities.

Fighting to Leave the Country

Subsequent to the assumption of diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic and limited resumption of correspondence with outside countries, applications by over 100,000 people eager to emigrate were piling up in the German embassy by 1957, although by the end of the 1960's only a few thousand were allowed to leave the country.

It was the eventual failure of efforts toward reestablishing an Autonomous Republic, plus the German-Soviet pact signed in 1970, concomitant with limited permission for family reunifications, which provided the emigration movement with additional impetus. This "emigration mood," as it was called in propagandist Russian, became particularly widespread in Kirghystan and Tajikistan, also in the southern Kazakh regions of Alma-Ata, Dshambul, Taldy-Kurgan and Tchimkent, as well as in Karaganda and Aktyubinsk. Here there happened to be a particularly strong concentration of repatriates, their relatives and descendants, plus other regional or sectarian groups of the German minority, such as the Caucasus Swabians and the Mennonites, the greater portion of whom also strove to emigrate to Germany. Prospects for a relatively easier path through bureaucracy concerning emigration caused considerably large communities of Germans to spring up in Estonia, Latvia, Moldova and other regions . Those affected put everything into forcing an emigration permit: written requests and collective letters to party and government organs were composed; petitions and appeals were sent to foreign State and government chiefs, to important media and international organizations such as the UN; and lists of signatures were given to the German embassy and to the German Red Cross. Persons eager to emigrate would take their requests in person to various government offices in Moscow as well as in the Republic metropolises such as Almaty, Frunse (Bishkek), Tallinn and Dushanbe. In the 1970's, Germans established various committees and associations in an effort to protect themselves better form persecution, to gain the required "ear" with the appropriate authorities, and to exercise greater pressure. In many large cities, demonstrations and open protests were commonplace. Photos on March 31, 1980 showing those desiring to emigrate in a protest action on Red Square in Moscow went around the world.

Andrey Sakharov (1978)

Between 1970 and 1979, 56,213 persons were finally permitted to emigrate to the Federal Republic. After this, the Soviet government throttled the emigration stream so drastically that by 1986 only another 16,371 Germans succeeded in leaving the country. During these two comparable time spans, 5,747 and 5,057 persons, respectively, were permitted to emigrate to the GDR [the "German Democratic republic," that is, East Germany - Tr.].

At the height of the emigration wave the Kremlin leadership began to see that it needed to take steps toward improving the condition of the German minority. In a memorandum of August, 1978 the then KGB chief, Yuri Andropov, plus other high-ranking party and State functionaries, proposed the establishment of a German territorial autonomy region in order to "fight against the unhealthy emigration and nationalist atmosphere." Still, the complete lack of reaction against the ethnic unrest of June, 1979 in Kazakhstan, where that German region was to be established, demonstrated that the State powers were never serious about creating real equality for the German-Russians.

Germans would pay a steep price for their drive for freedom. The lists of prisoners which Eduard Deibert had put together, and partial information, indicated that, as of 1972 a total of 89 persons prosecuted criminally and sentenced; of these, two ended up in a psychiatric institution, one eager to emigrate was murdered, and another died in a penal camp. Thousands of activists had to endure home searches, constant surveillance, physical and psychological intimidation, vile press campaigns, being kept from certain occupations and studies, plus "prophylactic" measures by KGB organs, by State attorneys, and by work colleagues incited against them.

The Soviet Human Rights Movement and Germans Desiring to Emigrate

A continual champion of civil rights for the repressed Germans was the outstanding scientist, human rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Andrey Sakharov. Via several petitions to Soviet authorities, and via appeals to foreign governments and international organizations, he pointed out the extraordinarily difficult situation of the German minority in the USSR.

For him, it was a fact that "German emigration rests on a natural desire of people to settle in the land of their forefathers and to take part in their culture, language, economic and social achievements. No less natural is the desire to leave a country in which their people have been exposed to atrocious repression - genocide, in reality - where they are discriminated against to this day, and where they are constrained in education and occupational choice. Hundreds of thousands of Germans have died in the camps and the 'reservations' (i.e., special settlements) , and to this day they are forbidden to return to their former places of residence; furthermore, there is among them hardly a person of academic training, and even now, German pupils are constantly defamed as Fascists by their schoolmates, who have seen plenty of war films."

Sakharov kept up enduring contacts with Friedrich Ruppel, to whom he dedicated a few pages in his memoirs. Furthermore, the difficult fate of individual families, like that of Peter Bergmann of Estonia or of Johann Wagner from Moldova, left him anything but indifferent.

At the time - just as is the case today - efforts by Russian dissidents, who attempted to point out the massive discrimination against German countrymen, received very little attention by intellectuals in the Federal Republic of Germany. During his first meeting with Heinrich Boell in February, 1975, Sakharov addressed the Soviet problems and levied sharp criticism against the - in his eyes - insufficient efforts and lack of attention by the West German press and society in general to their far-away countrymen in the Soviet Union. How could one demonstrate such lack of feeling in the face of such a tragic fate, of inhuman dismissal and continuing persecution of those who wish to emigrate? Boell, as is well known, typically countered with tales of numerous assimilation problems of the immigrants, about their feeling of being lost, etc.

Sakharov's wife, Yelena Bonner, along with other members of the Moscow Helsinki Group, also became actively engaged, particularly during the time span of 1976 to 1982, on behalf of the problems of those desiring to emigrate. The courageous behavior of the Russian dissidents found honorable continuation in the activities of the human rights organization "Memorial," which contributed so much toward the social and especially moral rehabilitation of the German minority in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

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