Influence of National Socialism on Bessarabian Germans
Bolte, Manfred. "Influence of National Socialism on Bessarabian Germans." Mitteilungsblatt, January 2013, 8-10.
Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO.
Group photo showing the participants in the autumn conference in Hildesheim.
A Report on the Autumn, 2012 Conference in Hildesheim
This year’s autumn conference of the Bessarabian German Association was for the first time held in Hildesheim. Unavailability of Bad Sachsa as an event venue offered an opportunity for Hildesheim to stage this conference. On first blush, the question being addressed at this year’s conference was a rather explosive one: “What kind of influence did National Socialism have on life in Bessarabia, on the church and the schools, on economics and politics, on life in clubs and other associations, and on the relationship with the Jews?”
Regarding this topic, prior to the annual conference, a memorandum had been distributed in which the Historical Commission laid out twelve theses based on the final press document by Mrs. Stefanie Wolters on the history of the 1930s. There followed an influx of observations from Bessarabian Germans concerning a “reappraisal” of the history of those years. Even with that background, and with the realization that confronting this topic could result in a change of perspective, members indeed decided to attend the conference. The process of this kind of debate first demands that we ask a variety of questions: Was there really a connection between National Socialism and Bessarabia, or was Bessarabia an agricultural idyll, a land of “happy” pioneers in which only everyday work, not politics, counted for anything? Could a process of confronting political facts of the 1930s detract from the otherwise “nice” memories of Bessarabia? Will it be possible to turn to a discourse which allows various viewpoints, or has everything already been said on this topic, thus making a conference on it entirely superfluous?
More than seventy members registered for this conference wishing to take part in just such a discourse between personal experiences, family lore and results of serious research. Following a comprehensive, deeply knowledgeable and careful introduction by Dr. Horst Eckert to the conference theme, the content of the conference was set in the form of four presentations:
- National Socialist Influence on the Economy and Politics, by Dr. Olga Schroeder-Negru.
- National Socialist Influence on the Church and Schools, by Dr. Cornelia Schlarb.
- Influence of National Socialism on Life in Clubs and Associations, by Heinz Fieβ, Cert. Ped.
- National Socialist Influence on the Relationship with Jews in Bessarabia, by (ret.) Pastor Arnulf Baumann..
Presentation # 1: National Socialist Influence on the Economy and Politics, by Dr. Olga Schroeder-Negru.
This presentation by Mrs. Schroeder was based on her 2010 doctoral dissertation, which meanwhile has been published as a book entitled Die Deutschen in Bessarabien 1914-1940 – Eine Minderheit zwischen Selbstbehauptung und Anpassung [The Germans in Bessarabia 1914-1940 – A Minority Existing between Self-assertion and Conformity]. This investigation is the result of her research conducted as a recipient of a stipend from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Her research involved very intensive efforts spent in digging into archives in Bonn, Berlin, Odessa, Ismael [Romania] and Chisinau [Moldova]. A great advantage for her was that she is fluent in Russian and in Romanian, her mother tongue. For her dissertation Dr. Schroeder spent several years researching in the important archives of Bonn, Berlin and Bucharest and reading many Romanian and Russian periodicals, and from all that putting together a comprehensive document. In her presentation she attempted to shed light on the topic from Russian, Romanian and German perspectives, that is, as seen from St. Petersburg, Bucharest and Berlin.
To start with, she pointed out that Bessarabian Germans underwent three changes in citizenship, namely, first Russian, then Romanian, and finally German citizenship. Mrs. Schroeder reported that up to 1918 very few Bessarabian Germans had maintained any contacts with Germany, such as reading newspapers from Germany. They lived nearly exclusively in their small-village world in Bessarabia. In Germany, too, awareness of Bessarabian Germans did not come until, and increasingly so, after World War I. In this manner, Mrs. Schroeder painted an image of predominantly conservative farmers in Bessarabia, who were barely politically active and were rather skeptical of influences coming from outside their village community. This picture began to change during the 1920s when a great number of clubs and associations were established in the villages of Bessarabia.
Dr. Schroeder showed that, after the [Hitler] power grab in Germany, relations between Romania and Germany worsened. Rising National Socialism in Germany signaled the political police in Romania to begin a campaign of conducting home searches of mainly intellectuals (teachers, pastors). According to Schroeder, during this process a number of National Socialist brochures and leaflets were confiscated by the Romanian police. A special session of the police administration was conducted on July 2, 1933 for the purpose of preparing counter-measures and creating security precautions on behalf of the Jewish population. Bucharest was of the opinion that one could conclude from the behavior of the Bessarabian Germans that they had forgotten where they were living. To wit, they were living on Romanian soil, but as the Romanian government figured, mainly as Germans with merely Romanian citizenship. This sort of “fatherland amnesia” toward the Romanian state was expressed unmistakably in the Bessarabian German press. The articles that were gathered by the Romanian police were rediscovered by Mrs. Schroeder in the archives.
A Bessarabian German representative at the time pointed to the law’s provisions for protecting minorities, to which the Romanian government replied that the Bessarabian Germans might first need to demonstrate loyalty toward the Romanian state, because they were apparently demonstrating anything but loyalty. And the Romanian government deemed that it could prove that position by means of the documents it had confiscated.
Mrs. Schroeder cited the Romanian newspaper Lupta (English: fight) as follows: “Their marches, their gatherings, their newspapers, in which they try to outdo each other in their National Socialist positions, demonstrate very clearly that in their essential being they are living in a foreign spirit and have nothing in common with this (the Romanian) state. For years the Romanian Swabians have lived peacefully alongside the Romanian people, and they have always been loyal toward the state. However, since Hitler took over the ship of state they have become defiant and aggressive. They make improper demands, and their leaders travel to Berlin to visit the Führer to introduce themselves and their open political character. This cannot be tolerated, just as the German Reich Chancellor could not tolerate it if, for example, German citizens, not to speak of a bishop or a parliamentarian, went to Bucharest and, without knowledge of the German government, were to present themselves to the Romanian prime minister as part of some sort of political mission.”
Given this situation, the Romanian government saw itself obliged to adopt strict measures. In a session on July 7, 1934, the Minister of the Interior declared that the faction called Nationalsozialistische Erneuerungsbewegung der Deutschen in Rumänien (NEDR) [National Socialist Renewal Movement for Germans in Romania], formerly known as Nationalsozialistische Selbshilfebewegung der Deutschen in Rumänien (NSDR) [National Socialist Self-help Movement for Germans in Romania], along with all its affiliated organizations, to be officially dissolved. Macovee, Senior Inspector of Bessarabian German schools, approved the sharp measures against the National Socialist Renewal Movement, in which he saw a movement that was clearly developing as anti-Romania. He was of the opinion that the National Socialist Renewal Movement was getting its instructions from Germany. Macovee, had observed that there was agitation in the schools of Bessarabia and that, especially among the youth, an anti-Romanian spirit was spreading. Soon after that, teachers deemed close to the NEDR were relieved of their positions. At the same time, in German-language newspapers one could read, as the representative of Pochhammer in his report to the Foreign Office declared, that an especially sharply focused campaign was being waged against the Germans in Romania.
At a later time, concessions were made once again that affected the German minority in Romania, explained Dr. Schroeder. For example, school instruction was once again conducted in German, and permission to organize clubs was granted. “From 1934 on, German-Romanian trade had consistently increased. While Romania was interested in export of its agricultural products, Germany saw Romania primarily as a supplier of crude oil which the NS leadership needed for its rearmament and expansionist course.” (Cf. Schroeder, O., Die Deutschen in Bessarabien 1914-1940, p. 132.) The concessions [mentioned above] came about with this background of economic cooperation with Germany. There also was a connection with culture and the economy, which were discussed in scientific circles. In contrast with other colonist settlements, a hallmark for the Bessarabian Germans was their part in an essentially unified farming community. As Dr. Schroeder pointed out, in Bessarabia there was no industry and, thus, no extensive stratum of workers.
During the early 1930s, by turning to technical innovations in agriculture, Bessarabian German farmers were contributing to a process of modernization. The use of machines that saved work and time, tractors, for example, produced an economic upswing in the German settlement areas of Bessarabia. The farmers were considered pioneers in the electrification process, during which some villages installed their own electric grids without any assistance from the state. There was also apparent cooperation with Reich German agriculture, which in turn promoted Bessarabian agriculture. Credits were made available to facilitate the independence of Bessarabian agriculture and to bridge times of dire need, e.g., drought conditions (summers without rain). In 1928, for example, there was a serious shortage of food for people and feed for the animals. This caused Senior Pastor Haase to seek a loan from Germany, because Romania, due to problems existing country-wide, was not able to provide such a loan. Thanks to Senior Pastor Haase, a loan of more than 1 million reichsmsarks, at an 8% interest rate (in contrast with the usual 45 to 75 % rate), was made available from Germany, during Weimar Republic times (when Hindenburg was the German Chancellor). By 1934, Senior Pastor Haase’s political career had changed due to the victory by the National Socialist Renewal Movement of Germans in Romania (NEDR). Different groupings arose, and tended to fight against each other. In Romania, too, [native] nationalist groups were formed among the circles around King Carol II, including the right-extremist “National Christian Party” of Alexander Cuza, the so-called Cuza Party. Entire villages turned in unison toward the Cuza Party. This party was deemed more reliable (also because of its anti-Communist stance) than the quarreling renewal movement groups.
Mrs. Schroeder pointed to interesting occurrences one can read about in her book (p. 339 ff.) under the heading “Conflicts in Chisinau over the Boycott of German goods.” Chisinau, it turns out, experienced considerable irritations during the gleichschaltung [the Nazis’ method of bringing people, clubs and associations, etc., into line with their totalitarian policies] that was being pushed from Germany.
Mrs. Schroeder summarized the situation as follows: During the 1930s, a clear transformation takes place among the German minority in Bessarabia, namely, from a national image to a nationalist and National Socialist one. A significant role is played here, on the one hand, by Russia’s politics during WW I, when Bessarabian Germans – still at the time of Czar Nicholas – were deported to Siberia. There followed the traumatic experiences of the Civil War and the Bolshevization and dispossession of Ukrainian Germans, the collectivization process, and the clumsy and short-sighted cultural and social policies of the Romanian state.
Via specific contacts, such as studying in “Dreamland” Germany, Bessarabian Germans were able to wield considerable influence from abroad. There was serious criticism by the National Socialist leadership of Germany that the renewal movement was not expanding to the extent that Berlin had been expecting. Mrs. Schroeder cited various reports on that topic. In 1937, the propaganda ministry [officially known as], the Reich Ministry for the People’s Information, published the following statement quoting the conservative thinking of the German farmers in Bessarabia: “We have always been German, with a national and social disposition, so why do we suddenly need a renewal of the spirit?” In contrast, there were large numbers of pastors and teachers who had made it their goal to awaken the Bessarabian Germans from their lethargy. However, the renewal movement never managed to expand as comprehensively as had been expected in Berlin, for which Mrs. Schroeder cited the following reasons:
- The permanent demands on the Bessarabian German farmers related to maintaining their possessions, and the often extensive demands for working the land, which forced them to engage in nearly nonstop toil.
- Bessarabian Germans maintained their governing conservative mood and, more often than not, operated out of normal caution.
- The fact that many Bessarabian Germans were well off made it difficult to rouse them.
- Also to be considered was Bessarabia’s geographical situation and its extraordinarily bad transport links, as well as its deficient infrastructure.
- Bessarabia’s situation as a border country to Russia presented an especially challenging situation.
- At that time, Bessarabian Germans felt a kinship with the Russian Germans, since for more than a hundred years they also had belonged to Russia, not to Romania. A strong sense of Russian rootedness had become part of that.
- Via Romania’s agrarian reform of 1922, German farmers with large properties had lost a part of their lands. All land owners with more than 100 hectares [ca. 247 acres] were dispossessed; and some of those tracts of land were transferred, 6 hectares at a time [ca. 14.8 acres], to those without land. During this process, German colonists lost ca, 56,000 hectares [ca. 138,320 acres]. The effect of this reform turned out to be negative for the entire region. The reform resulted in many unjust decisions and in chaotic situations, often leading to long-term court proceedings. Herein one can detect another factor that would keep the people largely removed from the great political trends.
- The Romanian government’s prohibition of the renewal movement, its own various factions, and competition from the Cuza Party made it difficult for the movement to accomplish its goals.
- Fear of Bolshevism presented another reason for the trend toward the right among the Bessarabian Germans.
- One other factor was the idealized image of Germany as the “motherland,” in which Hitler was hailed as “savior.” Disillusionment set in shortly after the resettlement to Greater Germany. And just prior to that, many farms and homes had been confiscated, and many were forced to live in resettlement camps for years.
Mrs, Wiener expressed her gratitude for having been given a view of Bessarabia from other nations’ perspectives that until now had somehow seemed distorted.
Reporting on the various other presentations will continue in future issues of the Mitteilungsblatt. In addition, the presenters will have their contributions published in the 2014 Yearbook.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for
translation of this article.