Gathering, Preserving and Presenting

Sammeln, Bewahren, Praesentieren

"Gathering, Preserving and Presenting." Volk auf dem Weg, April 2006, 20-22.

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

"Giving history a new home. Emphasizing integration over identity." With this motto, the "Museum fuer russlanddeutsche Kulturgeschichte" [Museum for German-Russian Cultural History] in Detmold strives to document and impart the cultural and historic experiences of German-Russian immigrants in Germany. Not only in North-Rhine Westphalia [NRW], but in all of Germany, it has, for about ten years, been the only German-Russian museum and, since 2002 the project has been managed by the "Museumsverein fuer russlanddeutsche Kultur und Volkskunde" [Museum Society for German-Russian Culture and Folklore." The main support agency before that, which also continues to support the museum's activities today, is the Christian School Support Society Lippe.

"Germans from Russia certainly deserve their very own museum. In the Soviet Union we were unable to learn anything of our history. Many did not deal with their family history or with the history of their own ethnic group until they came to Germany. This regained treasuring of memories must not only be preserved from oblivion, but must also be placed into the consciousness and collective awareness of the younger generations of Germans from Russia and their native-born neighbors." This is how Dr. Katharina Neufeld, Director of the Museum, describes the goal of the museum's initiatives.

Dr. Katharina Neufeld, a Historian who since 1998 has been the woman of expertise and the Director of the Museum

Preserving History from Oblivion -- Finding Identity

In 1996, the museum in Detmold consisted mainly of a traveling exhibit by Otto Hertel (1919 - 1999), a teacher at the secondary school level and longtime chairman of the Landsmannschaft of NRW. As a young teacher in a Detmold gymnasium, he had begun to present in many German cities, by word and image, the history of the Germans from Russia. In 1988 he received support from the German-Russian artist and sculptor Jakob Wedel, whose works have been a significant part of the museum's materials.

During the erection (beginning in 1988) of the private Christian August-Herrman-Francke school in Detmold, an exhibit space for the planned museum was built on the same site. In March, 1996, the "Museum zur Geschichte der Deutschen in/aus Russland" [Museum for the History of Germans in/from Russia] was formally opened. This project steadily expanded and developed in subsequent years, thanks largely to the untiring engagement by [German] countrymen, who treasured not only the building up of German-Russian history, but also the improvement of relations between Aussiedler and native residents.

Wilhelm Friesen, teacher at the Christian School and dedicated helper at the Museum "Fufkaya" -- the Soviet "uniform" of the time of forced labor camps

In February, the "Museumsverein fuer russlanddeutsche Kultur und Volkskunde, e.V." [Officially registered Museum Society for German-Russian Culture and Folklore] was founded and took over all projects toward research and maintenance of German-Russian history. Besides Dr. Katharina Neufeld, chairperson of the Advisory Council and Director of the museum, the board includes Helene Heidebrecht, Andreas Gossen, Katerina Jabs, Eduard Thun, Peter Heidebrecht (representative of the founding family Hertel) and Wilhelm Friesen.

"We are in need of bridges between the past, present and future, and also between all of German culture and the German-Russian subculture, which began its course in Russia over 200 years ago. These historically and societally divergent cultural circles should merge into one common unity" -- this is how Katharina Neufeld describes the museum's mission of striving for indignity. It is worth mentioning that native visitors are beginning to find a link in German-Russian cultural history. Elder native residents, in particular, have been heard to comment: "All of these things -- coffee grinder, butter centiruge, washboard, spinning wheel, iron -- were also commonly part of own ancestor homes ..."

As Katharina Neufeld explains, "It quickly becomes clear that the museum represents two German cultures that had been separated over two hundred years and now are beginning to come back together. Although German-Russian culture took a huge detour in its development within Russia, it is still recognizable as part of overall German culture. We experience a similar feeling when we visit native cultural museums when we come upon objects that we are familiar with in our own ancestral homes."

Every Exhibit Itself Represents a Piece of History

"Gathering, preserving and presenting" -- that is how the [Museum] Directress describes the three pillars of the museum's activities. The original number of exhibits (50) has meanwhile grown to over 1,120 pieces that are housed in permanent exhibit in space covering 100 square meters [ca. 8,300 sq. feet]. Primarily during the last few years the museum has been able to add numerous new exhibits; in 2004, for example, 154 objects were added, and in 2005 it was an additional 204 objects. The total material represents all regions and confessions, as well as numerous topics of German-Russian culture.

This 'Oma' was created by Katharina Dick. She wears a traditional Mennonite folk costume of the late 1890's

The permanent exhibits consist of two departments. The first is dedicated to emigration of Germans to Russia, and their lives there until about 1917, responding to the question: "Why did Germans emigrate to Russia?" The second portion deals with culture and history of the past 100 years in Russia and in the CIS states that ultimately moved Germans there to return to Germany.

Each object in the exhibits represents a bit of history in itself. For example, a wall clock that was built by the Kroeger factory in Russia; or perhaps a frying pan that had been made in Prussia and taken along to Russia by its owners. As Katharina Neufeld explains, "There is one particular exhibit that finds our countrymen definitely pausing for; it is the 'fufaika,' a woolen jacket worn by Trud Army-ists and known as the 'uniform' of those involved in forced labor. The first 'fufaikas' were given to German forced laborers in 1943 in their work camps. At the time, they were simply taken from fallen Red Army members and distributed to forced laborers because the latter had no warm clothes whatsoever."

Particularly remarkable is the art collection. There are works of Jakob Wedel (1931 -), Johannes Graefenstein (1923 - 2004), Heinrich Brocksitter (1932 -), Michael Heidt (1909 - 2003), Ernst Dueck (1936 -) and Theodor Herzen (1935 - 2004). Visitors are often are moved to tears when they see works of art such as "Der Weg des Leidens" [The Path of Suffering] by Jakob Wedel, which reminds the viewer of the banishment of German women in Russia during WW II. The impressive exhibit "Troika," which Wedel finished promptly for the opening of the museum, stands for the wave of terror of the 1930s, to which thousands of German-Russians fell victim. Numerous additional works were donated by hobbyists and model builders.

The museum's Directress says, "By now we have come far enough that our space has become very tight, forcing us to look for alternative venues. It is astonishing how many treasures have been collected: old objects, family relics, photos, documents, works of art, and others tell not only of the history of individual families, but also of the entire ethnic group."

Especially representative are the old bibles. They were printed largely after 1868 and, later, in Germany. Each of these yellowed, fragile bibles stands for the moving story of generations of families, because it accompanied its owners in all experiences of persecution. Among the bibles, there is an ancient one stemming from remote Yakutin. As Mrs. Neufeld relates, "Be it dekulakization during the 1930s, deportations in 1941, or the extraordinary resettlement actions thereafter, bible always accompanied their owners as the most valued object they had."

Research and Integration go Hand in Hand

Museum exhibits are complemented by a collection of books on the history of the Germans from Russia. The museum library, grown meanwhile to 5,000 objects, experiences continued growth from friendly institutions, donations and acquisitions. During the past three years alone, two thousand volumes have been added.

The library also contains more than 100 old and current maps of the settlement areas. One of the most valuable exhibit items is an atlas of the Ev.-Lutheran communities in Russia during 1855. More than 99 newspapers and periodicals from Russia and Germany represent the history of the press. Two examples of rare finds include the "Russian Revue" (St. Petersburg, 1875 - 1888) and the "Archive of Science" (Russia, 1841 - 1863), plus some 36 old and a few contemporary Mennonite periodicals. The magazine "Unser Blatt" [Our Paper] (Moscow, 1925 - 1928) clearly comprises a rare treasure in all of Europe.

In addition to written materials and copies of documents, the archive also houses photographs (currently 5,000 digitalized images, in addition to numerous originals), ca. 50 video documentaries, and valuable documents on the genealogy and autographs of German-Russian origin. In development is a genealogical collection that is frequently consulted by family researchers and others. In addition to making genealogical information available, gaining increasing importance is the access to genealogical data for students who can find material here for reports leading to work toward school completion and graduation. The archives are, of course, available to scientists and researchers.

Research and integration go hand in hand. Even beyond the scientific development of exhibits, the museum workers (all volunteers!!) and teachers are clearly prepared to develop an instructional concept on how to treat the history and current situation of Germans from Russia. The result is intended to include assistance for students and teachers alike, as well as accompanying media and working materials.

Public measures include presentations on the history of the Germans from Russia, which are usually delivered in communities, secondary schools and conferences by Dr. Neufeld.

Nothing Happens without Cooperation

More than 1,120 exhibit pieces are housed in the museum at Detmold

Without willingness toward cooperation, the activities of the museum would hardly be possible. For that reason, the board of the Society and the chairperson and museum director place special value on German-Russian societies, visitors and clients, but also on native institutions that can be of assistance to the museum. For assistance in its creation, the museum is especially grateful to the Museum Office of Muenster, and the Lippean State Museum in Detmold was also especially helpful with difficult questions. Dr. Alfred Eisfeld, deputy director of the North/East Institute, Department Goettingen, is available for scientific advice. Also, the Museum Society has been working with numerous German-Russian organizations, with the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, the "Mennonite History Society," the German-Russian Society in Paderborn, and the club called Plautdietsch-Freunde. Participation in conferences in Russia and Ukraine have led to contacts with museums and archives in the various CIS states. The limited funds of the museum, however, do not suffice for a more intimate level of cooperation.

Thanks to its intensive public relations efforts, regulated operations of the museum, and the competent leadership of Dr. Katharina Neufeld, the museum enjoys ever increasing acceptance from the public. In 2004, the number of visitors, largely due to a special exhibit in the Museum Court of Rahden (North-Rhine Westphalia, County of Minden), exceeded 15,000, and in 2005 the museum was able to increase visitor numbers to 23,000 via exhibits in Paderborn *Museum in the Marstall, Schloss Neuhaus and Municipal Museum of Paderborn)." Katharina Neufeld, particularly proud of these numbers, says "Over 40 German-Russian and native institutions were involved in this project. This constitutes further proof of integration opportunities and the capabilities of our museum toward integration."

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