From the Past and Present of German-Russian Literature:
Nelly Wacker on her 85th Birthday
Aus Vergangenheit und Gegenwart Russlanddeutscher Literatur: Nelly Wacker zum 85sten
Kampen, Johann. "From the Past and Present of German-Russian Literature: Nelly Wacker on her 85th Birthday." Volk auf dem Weg, October 2004, 18-19.
Translation from German to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
Our birthday celebrant of the month, Nelly Wacker, will be 85 on October 20. The successful German-Russian author was first noticed by VadW during the summer of 1991 in Stuttgart Hohenheim at a cultural convention of the Landsmannschaft with Kristina Teppert. However, it still took a long time until the author of many German-Russian poems and stories of such staying power and value ("Evergreens") was introduced to a wider circle on the West. Even in 1994, readers of Volk auf dem Weg were still asking, naive-provocatively, "Who's Nelly Wacker?" But since then she has indeed attained a small circle of loyal readers in Germany.
So who is Nelly Wacker, really?
Excepting those few who will never be quite with it, she has received plaudits from all sides. In the Soviet Union the emphasis was on her loyalty to her mother tongue. When the political system began to wane, her open manner -- "I wish to speak!" -- met with real appreciation. And of her first impressions of Germany she sent, six months later, the following poem to Volk auf dem Weg:
Half a year now I've been
something that was and remains for a German-Russian a
The great upheaval brought me to
refugee emergency housing.
A secure roof protected me from
wind and weather.
Two clear windows provided
and the law made sure that
I did not go hungry.
But the land
that for so long I had to call home
once again -- how many times already!? --
wrested a little bit of what had
out from my hands.
But the land of my ancestors
welcomed me with friendly arms,
gave me now a new hold under a new sky,
provided hope and justice
from all those humiliating
of the time of exile.
And now Munich's trees bloom
for me as well,
and good people say to me:
Whether Nelly Wacker would, ten years after her emigration from Kazakhstan, and after unimagined highs and lows in especially her literary work, again formulate her impressions similarly, we from Volk auf dem Weg did not ask the birthday lady. But [at the time] we did pose a few questions concerning her life and work:
VadW: On December 11, 1994 it will be eleven years since you came to Germany. Will you celebrate or mourn on that day?
N.W.: So far we have celebrated each anniversary of our immigration to Germany. We will do so this year as well, and on all future ones as well.
Question: You were a recognized author in the USSR, but here you were forced to fight for your reputation a second time. Seen in that context, do you regret your immigration?
N.W.: Regret? No. But one can become a little nostalgic at times, when one remembers the many students, colleagues and readers' letters.
Question: Was your family reunited or separated by the immigration?
N.W.: Sadly, separated. Those blasted legal articles and paragraphs ...
Question: The community of writers seemed to play a significant role in the former Soviet Union. Have you discovered anything like it here?
N.W.: Sadly, no. Although ...Here, too, we have celebrated great get-togethers in Wuerzburg, Darmstadt, Oerlinghausen ... It is good that the younger folks have their literary circle and, with Agnes Giesbrecht, a creative leader. They will not become as isolated like the old "versifiers."
Question: May we ask a political question?
N.W.: Please do.
Question: Do you mourn the era of Volga-German autonomy?
N.W.: I am foremost a German and, after that, if you will, a Black Sea German or, more precisely, a Crimea-German. However, I do mourn over everything German over there that was destroyed and erased by war and deportation: oh, the many villages in Crimea (314!), in the Caucasus, in Ukraine. Also, of course, the striving German Republic on the Volga, where I studied for two years.
About Nelly Wacker's Life
Born in Hohenberg on Crimea, she attended a so-called residential school in Spat/Cerimea and between 1939 and 1941 studied Germanistics in Engels/Volga. Her studies were abruptly interrupted by war and deportation to Kazakhstan. For a while she taught German and Russian, at first in the Caucasus, then in Kazakhstan. In 1965 Nelly Wacker was able to finish, by correspondence courses, her studies at the well-known Pedagogical Institute of Omsk.
Her fairy tales, poems, songs, sketches and stories were first published in the German-language press and then in German and Russian collections. Former teachers and students of hers in the Soviet Union happily remember the slim volumes such as "Bekenntnis [Confession]," "Nelken auf dich [Carnations for you]," "Tanz der Kraniche [Dance of the Cranes]," "Der Zauberstock [The Magical Cane]," or "Friedenslieder [Songs of Peace]." Her poem "Ich bitte ums Wort [I ask for the floor]" and the minor family chronicle "Erikas Blumenmaerchen [Erika's fairy tale of flowers]" became a condemnation of the system of injustice that caused so much suffering for her family and caused her father, Reinhold Baeuerle, to disappear as early as 1935.
This is only a brief summary of the life and work of the birthday lady. Readers of Volk auf dem Weg and of the Heimatbuecher of the Landsmannschaft der Deustchen aus Russland are well aware that Nelly Wacker has had her say even within that limited publishing capacity.
We do not wish to deprive our readers of two of those "Evergreens" of which we spoke earlier. They are the poems "Menschtum [Humanity]" (1982) and "Muttersprache [Mother Tongue]" (1988):
Man remains man
as long as he works,
as long as be builds, creates,
struggles and forms,
as song as he puts his whole strength
into his life's work.
Man remains man
as long as he loves,
as long as he searches,
hopes, hates and suffers,
as long as he has compassion, forbearance,
and does not forgive villainy of any kind.
If he ever loses this humanity --
it would be better had he not been born!
Dear mother tongue,
familiar, inborn word!
You remain with me,
even in the most wretched place,
You stay with me
when friends leave me,
and when even relatives denounce me, purely out of fear ...
You are the umbilical cord
that binds me to my people
and, with great reliance, even today
still binds me with trust.
Help us, fatherland of our ancestors,
that our grandchildren
may not be left without their mother tongue.
The large Volk auf dem Weg family wishes the 85-year-old much happiness on her remaining journey and great success with her four-volume life opus, which her loyal readers are eagerly looking forward to.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.