Twenty-nine Bundestreffen of the Germans from Russia - a Retrospective

Kampen, Johann. "Twenty-nine Bundestreffen of the Germans from Russia - a Retrospective." Volk auf dem Weg, March 2009, 4-5.

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

The 1990 Bundestreffen in Wiesbaden ...

[Observations of a] Nostalgic, Historical and Geographical [Nature]

During what is now fifty-nine years of existence, the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland has conducted  -- more or less successfully -- twenty-nine Bundestreffen of its members and countrymen. With its thirtieth all-German conference, to be held in Rheinberg in the Lower Rhine region, it "dares" to go as far West as never before, for another thirty kilometers [18 miles] more and we would be in France, whence [at least from parts of today's France - Tr.] not a few of our ancestors emigrated to Russia around 250 years ago. Old Volga-German names of localities such as Franzosen, Boaro and Nieder-Monjou are clear proof of his.

This will be the twentieth time that a Bundestreffen will have been held on the Rhine River. In 1983 and 2004, Karlsruhe was the locale of our 18th and 28th Bundestreffen, respectively, and before and after that it was Wiesbaden. Stuttgart, on the Neckar River, was the host city for just six times.

... and a "Heimat"- Evening in an impressive setting

Leafing through chronicles of the Landsmannschaft, I seem to find myself drawn to many special Bundestreffen, of which I attended twenty-one. For the other eight I simply rely on "Volk auf dem Weg" and "Heimat und Diaspora [Homeland and the Diaspora]" for reports, or on what attendees told me in person.

So, by my own entirely subjective estimation, the following were the most remarkable Bundestreffen of the Germans from Russia.

1951. The very first Bundestreffen took place on Pentecost in Stuttgart-Feuerbach. About 1500 folks from the three Western Zones took part. "[Some came] even from the far North," wrote an anonymous reporter in "Volk auf den Weg" and specifically named Luebeck, Hamburg and Bremen as their places of residence. The festival's speaker, Fritz Urlich, Minister of the Interior of Baden-Wuerttemberg, reminded attendees of the post-war fate of the refugees and pleaded for the granting of German citizenship to Germans from Russia.

1955. For the most part, the third Bundestreffen took place in the historical Paul's Church on the Main River. This proved to be one of the most important milestones in the history of the Landsmannschaft. Under the leadership of the Black-Sea-German Pastor Heinrich Roemmich and the Volga-German superintendent Johannes Schleunig, the few German-Russian who had remained in Germany finally dared to step out of anonymity, and given the spirit of the times, the former Working Association of Eastern Resettlers renamed itself into the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland.

1962 was the beginning of the Wiesbaden era! With only a single interruption, the subsequent sixteen Biundestreffen would be held in the capital city of Hesse. As ever, celebratory speeches centered on contributions to the successful history of Germans in Russia, but also on their suffering under Soviet power. The then Number Two Man of the Landsmannschaft, Dr. Karl Stumpp, used as a central theme of his oration the analysis of historical materials concerning the Germans in Russia.

1964. This, the seventh Bundestreffen, was entirely characterized by its attention to our brothers and sisters "abroad." During that entire calendar year, only 263 Germans from the Soviet Union were permitted to enter the German Federal Republic. Through more intensive collaboration with officials, with the German Red Cross, and the Association of Refugees, the Landsmannschaft tried to create a better foundation for receiving its countrymen being held in the Soviet Union. Via its own organ, "Volk auf dem Weg," the Association published thousands of personals concerning missing Germans in Russia, and it educated its membership toward assisting Germans returning from  the Soviet Union.

1972 was primarily marked by a sermon by Pastor Eugen Bachmann, who had "graciously" been allowed to leave Kazakhstan. Using the Biblical story of the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus Christ, Bachmann underscored the message that nothing is over after our earthly death.

1974, 1976, 1977. These Bundestreffen in particular were characterized as the "interim time" between the "Old Guard" and the "Younger Rebels," as pointed out by the eminent historian emeritus, Joseph Schnurr. During his speeches, which were occasionally complemented via personal remembrances by the honorary chairman of the Landsmannschaft, Gertrud Braun, and by the eventual of the Cultural Council of Germans from Russia, Viktoria Fleck, many tears were shed.

The "red-yellow" Federal government, after some reluctance in previous years, dispatched a speaker to this get-together in Wiesbaden. It was Gerhard Baum, Parliamentary State Secretary. And even before the subsequent Bundestreffen, on January 30, 1979, the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg assumed the role official sponsor of the Landsmannschaft.

1979. By now the Landsmannschaft found itself in the firm grip of the "Second Generation," which in particular included the national chair, Fritz Usselmann and his vice-chairs, Josef Helmel and Edmund Leibham. With roughly similar rank, some younger ones and perhaps really young ones were beginning to participate strongly, namely, Anton Bosch, Albin Fiebig, Eduard von Sarnowski, Waldemar Axt.

1983. A news item of important success for the Bundestreffen in Karlsruhe was: "We now have our own house." In 1982 a cultural event had taken place in that very house in Goeppingen, and it did not take second place to many a Bundestreffen. For the Karlsruhe conference the count of attendees was 6,794. The most important topic was family reunification, which was urged upon the Soviet Union in no uncertain terms. The demand "Once Soviet natural gas flows, then people must also be allowed to emigrate freely," by the President of the Society for Human Rights, Dr. Reinhard Gnauck, was accompanied by thunderous applause.

1990. This was a final Bundestreffen in a long string of those held in Wiesbaden. And its 20,000 attendees strained the capacity of the Rhein-Main Halls. Entirely within the spirit of the Federal republic, Franz  Usselmann demanded that Russia allow all those who were willing to emigrate to do so as they wished. The main speaker was Minister of the Interior, Dr. Wolfgang Schaeuble, for whom this was one of his final great events before the attempt on his life on October 30, 1990. 1998. As of 1992, when the Landsmannschaft moved its Bundestreffen from Wiesbaden to Stuttgart, attendance figures reached entirely new heights, with the absolute top being the 40,000 guests at the 1998 Bundestreffen, many of whom had come to the Stuttgart Killesberg in order to experience for the first time a Federal Chancellor, Dr. Helmut Kohl, as the main guest speaker. His speech was accompanied with loud and impressive applause, even though many had grumbled just a few days before about pension cuts, increases in rejections of immigration applications, cuts in language courses [in the Soviet Union] and the introduction of language tests as part of the Aussiedler application process.

2001. Temporarily this was the last conference held in Stuttgart. The Bonn government at the time was "red-green', and Federal Minister Otto Schily (of the SPD party) came as its representative. 20,000 visitors paid him applause just as sincerely as they had for the leaders of the CDU, even as he emphasized that Germany's capacity to accept [immigrants] was not limitless, and that integration [into German society] without sufficient language skills would be doomed to failure. Schily received special applause for this sentence: "Germans from Russia are our countrymen, not foreigners!" Unfortunately a majority in the Bundestag [the German lower house] viewed this differently, otherwise our later Aussiedler in 2003 would not have been designated as "migrants."

2007. Once again we met in Wiesbaden. The Great Coalition ruled in Berlin, and the principal impact of federal immigration law that had taken effect on January 1, 2005 was a strong decrease in Aussiedler numbers, and after too much obvious lip service toward the Germans from Russia not followed by any deeds, folks within the Landsmannschaft had turned more reserved and more critical. Adolf Fetsch, national chair of the Landsmannschaft as of 2003, tried to defend his countrymen as strongly as possible and urged with very strong words clear improvements in the policies toward Aussiedler.

2009. This time we'll meet in Rheinberg and, God willing, we hope for good weather and strong attendance.

J. Kampen

Overview Listing all Thirty Bundestreffen of the Germans from Russia:

May 1213, 1951 -- 
August 22.23, 1953 --
May 2829, 1955  -- 
June 8 - 10, 1957 --
May 16 - 18, 1959 --
June 22 -24, 1962  --
May 89, 1964 --
June 15 - 17, 1966 --
June 1516, 1968 --
June 87, 1970 --
May 2728, 1972 --
June 12, 1974 --
May 2728, 1976 --
June 1819, 1977 --
June 3, July 1, 1979 --
August 2829, 1980 --
June 2728, 1981 --
October 89, 1983 --
June 2930, 1985 --
June 2728, 1987 --
June 2526, 1988 --
June 2324, 1990 --
June 2021, 1992 --
June 18, 1994 --
June 22, 1996 --
June 6, 1998  --
June 2, 2001 --
June 12, 2004 --
May 26, 2007 --
June 13, 2009 --


















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