A Treasure Trove for Historical Researchers -- Archive Building in Engels to be Expanded

Eien Fundgrube Fuer Geschichtsforscher -- Das Archivegebaeude in Engels Soll Ausgebaut Werden

"A Treasure Trove for Historical Researchers; Archive Building in Engels to be Expanded." Volk auf dem Weg, May 2005, 47.

Translation from the original German text to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

The Engels Branch of the State Archives for the Saratov Region -- this is the official designation for the archives for the history of the Germans from Russia. With its extensive stock of valuable archived documents on the history of that ethnic group, covering more than three centuries, this is a treasure trove for researchers of Russian and other people's history, for literary research, and for journalists.

View of the archive's attic

Based on archived manuscripts, several books have already been published, among them the Geschichte der deutschen Kolonien [History of the German Colonies] by Jakob Dietz, toward the end of the 1990s. After that, the very informative research study Aus der Geschichte der Kolonie Mariental an der Wolga [From the History of the Colony of Mariental on the Volga], which appeared in Germany. Recent works include Spirchwoerter und Redewendungen der Wolgadeutschen [Adages and Idiomatic Expressions of the Volga-Germans] and Seiten der Geschichte. Petrowsk-Engels [Pages of History. Petrovsk-Engels].

However, not only those interested in research are turning to the archives. The palette of questions of interest to people from Russia and in foreign countries is as broad as the fate of those affected [by history]. Simplest examples are confirmation of periods of employment or work, or information concerning the correct spelling of family names or given names.

The archive has been of help to numerous Germans in the former Soviet Union by providing the basis for applications for compensation payments for properties lost during repression and deportation. If requisite proof happens to be missing in the archives, its employees make a concerted effort to contact other institutions. Nobody is sent away without a serious attempt to be of help. The energetic Director of the Archives, Elisaveta Erina (70) is a member of the Rehabilitation Commission and really takes these matters seriously. By the previous year, she had occupied this position for 40 years. No one knows more about the history of the branch and the archives themselves, about which she is capable of talking for hours.

The Archive for German-Russians in Engels occupies a former grain storage building erected in 1902. It was turned into its current use in 1930. The archives of the Autonomous Republic of Volga-Germans were deposited there. At the time it was a structure without windows or doors, neither heated nor properly lit. Access to the grain store was via a fire rescue ladder. There one found a huge pile of official and archival documents. Each time, documents to be worked on would be taken to the building of the Rayon Executive Committee, where a small barn had been transformed into space for work on specific archived documents. Subsequently, the documents would be returned to the grain storage building. Gradually, the grain building was actually expanded and turned into a storage building with shelf space and an attic.

The history of the archives in Engels includes some fateful periods. World War II constituted a decisive challenge. With the onset of the deportation of the Volga-Germans in 1941, a portion of the archives was simply transferred elsewhere, resulting in the loss of many valuable documents. Today one appreciates even more the extent to which other documents were preserved.

For all these reasons, a real tragedy occurred when toward the end of the 1990s the roof of the archive building began to leak in various places. Since the attic in particular contained the majority of unique documents stemming from the end of the 18th Century to the beginning of the 20th Century, such as church records, documents from villages and regional administrative bodies, the director sounded the alarm! The problem was contained, thanks to the assistance of the German Consulate in Saratov and of the "Volga Development" Society.

However, for years now, a different kind of peril for the archives has existed. The spaces inside the former grain storage building simply can no longer hold the entirety of the archival stock. In addition, current methods of preserving the materials are for the most part rather inadequate and thereby endanger the further preservation of irreplaceable documents. Furthermore, there is no reading room, no recreation facility, and no space in which a computer and other organziational/technical equipment can be housed. Elisaveta Erina has been trying to convince various authorities of the necessity of a new building, or at least of an addition to the current building.

A decisive turn to this story occurred during the end of the previous year (2004). October 2004 saw the conclusion of a contract between German and Russian sides concerning the financing of an expansion. The intent is to effect necessary measures such as renovation and the erection of an expanded building, all in an expedited manner.

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