Germans From Russia: Our Compatriots From Karaganda Minna Became Miss Lower Saxony, Maria has Fallen Silent, Waldemar is Building a House -- Encounters With Germans From Russia

Lachauer, Ulla. "Germans From Russia: Our Compatriots From Karaganda Minna Became Miss Lower Saxony, Maria has Fallen Silent, Waldemar is Building a House -- Encounters With Germans From Russia." Die Zeit, March 2004.


Minna wurde Miss Niedersachsen, Maria ist verstummt, und Waldemar baut ein Haus -- Begegnungen mit Russlanddeutschen

An article from a March, 2004 issue of the major German newspaper, Die Zeit, taken from the following website

Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

Germans from Russia don't have a home anywhere, not in Russia, not in Germany. Their life stories are shattered, their history a witness to political despotism. From the Kazakh steppes they come to Bonn, to Berlin, to the Black Forest, and they feel like fish out of water. Their families provide their only feeling of belonging. Our author visited a few of these families. One of a myriad of questions: what does "German" mean?

She comes "from Russia," Maria Pauls told her neighbors in Kehl on the Rhine River, and to anyone else who asked her where she's from. The reaction was always, "Oh," and then the topic was exhausted. It would have been more correct had Maria Pauls said, "From Karaganda in Kazakhstan." But that was something she would shy away from, especially ever since she had come into a situation in which she had a lot of trouble explaining. She wanted to tell how as a girl, in 1931, she had been tossed onto the naked steppes simply because she was the "child of a kulak." Then, about to make an effort to explain the word "kulak," she noticed that her conversation partner was a bit lost, she started to get mixed up, adding Russian words such as kollektivisaziya and deportaziya. She spoke of semlyanki, sod huts "built with our hands," of her "little sister Leni, who froze to death in the Buran," and finally, of "heartache," of "devastation." All the while she seemed to have the feeling that her German, lightly peppered with "plautdietsch" [a dialect], might not even be intelligible in Germany.

[Caption, picture on the first page: Karaganda's Palace of Culture and Memorial to the Mine WorkersPhoto by Ulla Lachauer]

In addition to the exact, correct reply there is, in fact, the "definitively correct answer": She was "from Lysanderhoeh." The place was in Russia, but not really Russia, rather, it was a "German island within the Tsarist Empire, a Mennonite colony near the Volga. That is where Maria Pauls was born in 1916, just before the October Revolution. It is where she grew up, along with books such as Snow White, songs like Heissa Kathreinerle, Muellers Esel, and Schiller's poem Die Glocke. This feeling of the kind of home of her childhood was what she hoped to rediscover in Kehl on the Rhine, where she has been living since 1988. But she did not find it, and her stories about the godly village near the Volga found just as little resonance as those of Karaganda.

Only her family -- and even among them, only her sister Anna, a few cousins, with whom she had run to school along the low wall lining the street which, as every child in Lysanderhoeh knew, was built by the original settlers from Westprussia -- ever knew her as "Mariechen from Lysanderhoeh."

Maria Pauls realized that she has been living for 16 years now in a country in which she is unable to relate to others where she is from and who she is. Germany has gifted her with a life as carefree as never before, and she is eternally grateful for that, yet the country has remained a stranger to her. And that moment, when she caused a German bureaucrat to shed tears meant a lot to her. To document her right to a surviving dependent's pension she had shown him a letter that had been kept sacred within the family, and which read as follows: "My dear Mariechen, ... I am informing you that I am still alive, but have been very ill since two days ago -- it's malaria. There is no normal life here. ... How are the children doing? Tell them that their father will soon come home ..." It was the last sign of life from her husband. It had arrived in Karaganda in August of 1943.

Over the span of many years I kept talking with Maria Pauls about her life.
She died during the winter before the last one.

Karaganda is about 5,000 kilometers from Germany, not far from China. It is the largest provincial capital city of the Gulag Archipelago. The Russians called it the "City of deep shaft mine workers, who owe their lives to the Great Socialist October Revolution." Prior to 1917, it was nothing but a land area for nomads. The Kazakhs called it Sary Arka, or the Golden Steppe, not suitable for permanent residence. Temperatures reach 50 degrees plus [Celsius, or 120-plus degrees Fahrenheit] and go down to 50 degrees minus [nearly 60 degrees minus Fahrenheit], accompanied by hurricane-strength winds. No one could withstand it all for very long.

As early as 1833, coal was discovered under the grass. Russian entrepreneurs, and later a British consortium, had been scratching in the dirt. The gigantic extent of the coal reserve was discovered only by Lenin's geologists, and with Stalin's "industrialization war" its exploitation began in earnest.

In 1930, a railway was extended from West Siberia to the South. Kulaks constructed it. These diligent farmers from the Ukraine and western Russia, who in the course of collectivization had been disowned and deported, were also the first settlers here, and the 14-year-old Maria Pauls was among them. She and her family and other residents had been brought here from Lysanderhoeh in the summer of 1931. They were told to "live there as best you can." They dug themselves into the earth, and many did not survive the first winter. But despite a high mortality rate, Karaganda by 1934 had the required 125,000 residents to be called a city.

More and more new ones arrived -- all victims of the Staliniist "cleansings." In 1937 it was the Korean minority from the Vladivostok area; then in 1939, following the Hitler-Stalin Pact, there were the Poles and others from the Baltic; during the Second World War there came the Finns, Germans, Japanese, and other members of ethnic groups considered unreliable, such as Tchetchnians, Crimean-Tatars, and Ingushians. The largest influx arrived in the fall of 1941, when the Supreme Soviet -- using a bizarre pretext in branding them as spies and subversives -- ordered all Germans from the Volga region, and some from the Ukraine and the Caucasus area deported beyond the Urals. Ten thousand of them ended up in Karaganda.

In the early 1940s, the city may well have had a German majority population; it is estimated as a quarter since then. It was then that it happened: Maria Pauls has just been married four years to her Heinrich, a compatriot from the Volga region, and was pregnant with her third child. A classical couple in the modern Soviet style: she works in the collective, he in the underground mines. One day, in September of 1942, the young Pauls are giving overnight stay to a young beggar who, as it emerges later, is an escaped German prisoner of war on the run. As a result, Heinrich is arrested and convicted of treason, never to return from the prisoner camp.

[Caption: One of the "Dirt homes" in Karaganda Photo by Ulla Lachauer]

For decades, no one in the West knew anything of these conditions. A few things, especially about the Ulbricht Brigade, were learned from Wolfgang Leonhard, a German Communist who ended up in Karaganda in 1941. Also from prisoner's memoirs by Maragarete Bbuber-Neuman, and from Solzhenitzin's Gulag Archipelago, but all of these reports were more like tiny peepholes in a black curtain.

By European standards, Karaganda is not a city. During my first visit there I was more than amazed: one broad boulevard, the former regional committee HQ of the Soviet Communist Party, a boxy hotel, the pompous palace of culture, a swimming pool, cinema, all built more or less in the pseudo-classical style of the Stalin era, as if they were taken right out of the book for establishing Soviet cities. One single facade, and beyond the main thoroughfare, Karaganda presents a wild hodgepodge of elements and different worlds. Modular buildings right next to village structures, mining shafts next to factory monstrosities, all surrounded by mountains of trash that in the surrounding flats appear like oversized bosoms. And wherever there is an open area, there are herdsmen on horseback taking care of their herds.

Karagandisnki Kerch, Black Forest

About 200,000 people from Karaganda and surrounding area now live in Germany. They are as numerous as the population of Freiburg, even more numerous than the refugees expelled from the Memelland and other areas at war's end. But just as the latter, they scattered into the four winds, they can be found anywhere, even on the Island of Foehr. Before the decline of the mining industry, the Ruhr region might have been an ideal place for those from Karaganda. There are a few small, dense settlements of them, mostly due to religious motives -- these can be found near Osnabrueck, in Hersewinkel, Neuwied, Frankenthal, and in the Black Forest.

The Karagandisnki Kerch [Russian adjective for Karaganda, plus the dialect word "Kerch," which means "Church"] is such a place. On a Wednesday evening, long before the meeting is to start, they are sitting around on chairs covered in red velvet. On the right side are the men in their dark, old fashioned suits, and on the left are the women with their head scarves, woolen ones with imprinted roses, or even some airy ones made of gaudily colored chiffon. The worship space still betrays its sinful past. It used to be the casino for the Canadian occupation troops, whose headquarters was in Lahr. Out front the preacher stretches his arms toward the sky, and each sentence is also accompanied by a large gesture. "The world's wisdom is foolishness before God." Today's theme is Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. "Do not strive for human wisdom," admonishes the voice, "bow down before your Savior." After a passage from Isaiah 29:14 they're back to Paul, followed by singing, and suddenly all are on their knees, between the rows of chairs, and all murmuring something, a confession of sins, prayers. Some women are sobbing, an apocalyptic mood is in the air. "The world is becoming ever darker," whispers the preacher. After an hour and a half the final hymn is announced -- number 682: "Take courage, you tiny herd, do not fear your enemy."

"Should I be afraid now?" asks Johannes Gudi. He used to be head of the Evangelical community of Karaganda, and it was he who had assembled parts of that community back together in Lahr. Gudi's own life story is representative of the courageous underground church of Karaganda, famous all over the Soviet Union. He was born in 1929 as a farmer's son on the Crimea, deported to the Polar Circle, later to Kazakhstan, worked three decades in the mine shafts of Karaganda. Even when quite young, as early as during Stalin's time, he felt "a calling" and entered the "good service" of the illegal community, which met in remote houses for prayer -- in German. Because German was the language of the[ir] Bible, they kept it up with great care. At final count there were 32 such small communities -- until 1974, when they were finally allowed to build a church. Still, there were arrests and interrogations, even "when Gorbachev ascended the throne."

Gudi's greatest surprise in Germany was that the temptations of consumerism were harder to overcome than abiding prosecution. Because of this new peril, and because ordained preachers seemed just to be "too high in the sky" for them, the small group of Karagandans fought to be able to exist as their own closed community within the EKD [Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Germany]. "If we only knew of some place in the desert, we would go there," Gudi is reputed to have said to the bishop. "Our own watered-down, worldly church offers them too little," said Frank-Uwe Kuendiger, pastor of Martin's Church in nearby Lahr. He would be glad for mere dialog, but otherwise took the entire matter in a relaxed manner, viewing it as the return of Pietism to the German South, where he had been born in the 19th Century, had inspired those seeking God and radiated his message far beyond, even into Russia.

Lahr is a steadfast little city. Hardly anywhere else did the epic downfall of the Wall change life as much as here near the French border. The Canadians, generally well liked, had left here in 1993, and practically overnight the quarters they had left behind were filled with strangers from the East. By now the number of Aussiedler here stands at 9,000 -- 22 percent of the population.

Tormosok from Marzahn

Many, and not only evil tongues, maintain that Berlin-Marzahn may well be the stronghold of homo sovieticus, who came to feel comfortable in this largest area of new construction of the entire future German Democratic Republic. Cheap living space within 8- to 15-story high-rises, and lack of tradition as the rule. Outwardly at least, Marzahn looks similar to Soviet urban areas. On this particular February day the illusion is nearly perfect, there is a constant, but rarely stormy snowfall. But the driving snow makes it difficult to make out Mehrower Allee Number 46. Regina and Anatoliy came here in 1999, from Saran, a so-called "sputnik," that is, a satellite city of Karaganda, and along came their 4 half-grown children. Over there they were known as the Andriyashins, here they call themselves the Stills -- a symbolic act of culture change, and a change that probably also altered the relationship of the couple.

The Stills feel like fish out of water. In their early forties, they have to learn a whole new language. But even though they would take any jobs whatsover, there is no employment where the new language would be used. Marzahn has a 19.5 percent unemployment rate and, since recently, two Russian-language channels on cable. Moscow TV blares into the dreariness of everyday life.

Anatoliy and Regina, both born in 1957, know very little about their own origins. Their parents were Black Sea Germans, and Regina was born during deportation to the northern Polar Circle. To get better work, the Stills moved to the Kazakh steppes in 1958. The Andriyashin family were Russians from the region of Oryol. Anatoliy's father, a political prisoner, had been incarcerated near Karaganda, where he met his wife, a Tatar living near the prison camp. Every family has its own oddyssey to relate. Amidst the forceful mixing of peoples, it became ever rarer that one fell in love with someone of one's own nationality.

Childhood during the time following Stalin's death was usually marked with poverty. Until age 11, Aanatoliy was a so-called "sod person." Although his father earned decent money in the mines, the family of five was not able to escape their sod home in primitive Old Karaganda (colloquially called "Shanghai") until the end of the 1960s, when they moved into an apartment in a prefab high-rise. His own generation grew up under somewhat easier conditions than their elders. He softened his inner opposition to the regime, became a Pioneer, Komzomoltz -- a natural, immovable way of life. Not to succumb to it would take the very strongest of convictions. The city became home for many youth, among them Regina, who was often insulted with epithets such as "You fascist!" It was a term whose meaning she did not actually comprehend.

During this particular afternoon, a couple, visibly distraught, attempts to sort out, as a favor to me, the shards of their world. Given their hodgepodge of language, more Russian than German, nothing and no one seems to emerge as a concrete picture from it, with the exception only of their mothers. The one is credited with Christmas tree and Easter egg nest traditions, the other; the Tatar, with a few Muslim customs. Some relics of these the Andriyashins-Stills have passed on to their children. Perhaps one day they will be able to say that their greatest accomplishment as parents was to wrest their four children from the steppes and to plant them anew in the sand of the province [of Brandenburg]. "They," the sons, "are good in school," and have one leg up on the world of Germany. The daughters, however, threw themselves into early marriage and motherhood, and in their own homes, only Russian is spoken.

[With folks such as these,] no one is allowed back into the winter without some nourishment. My package of pralines bears the words "ptitshye moloko," or "milk of the birds." As I part and tell them, in the manner of irreverent Westerners who think they know Russia, "Thank you for the Tormosok," they aseem thunderstruck. The word is Karagandan. In the language of the miners, tormosok connotes food eaten during the afternoon break in the underground mines. "Not enough snow here," sighs Anatoliy Still as I depart. It is the only complaint he has been able to express.

"Volk auf dem Weg [A People on the Move]"

"Minus 33 degrees [minus 37 degrees Celsius]" is Yahoo's overnight prediction for Karaganda. - The worldwide web offers such things as Karagandinskaya, a sausage made in Germany according to a meat combination or recipe of the steppes. - The site [Russian language] finds Lyosha, Rita, kids who, under the catchword "Karagandans in all Lands, unite!" chat about homesickness, their happy school years, wireless telephones, etc. In the periodical of the "Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland," Karaganda is often found way in the back, among the personals. People looking for others, death announcements, a school class or a group of former collective workers or construction brigade wanting to gather in Hamm or Ulm. The editorial part of Volk auf dem Weg [the periodical in question, title loosely translated as "A People on the Move"] deals with other matters, that is, basically with three topics: "We are German! We have suffered! We produce more than we take!" Every month it is the same litany, as times an angry one, at times a huge scream. Everything is correct and at the same time blind to reality.

2.4 million Aussiedler from the former Soviet Union -- this challenge, the second-largest for Germany following reunification -- is belittled via careful calculating arguments. Secondly, nothing hereabouts is more difficult than being a victim. Any story of suffering must play its part in highly complicated discourse and placed alongside with Holocaust. Without that, any retelling of the deportation of 1941, of the Trudarmiya -- the "work army" that cost hundreds of thousands their lives -- and of the Stalin era in particular, amounts to nothing. Concerning being German: they are German mainly as subjects of law -- a historically based claim. But the term is not useful in describing identity. They and we locals have lived in completely different worlds at least since the 1917 October Revolution and, basically, even earlier, since Catherine the Great brought the first Germans into the Tsarist Empire. So there are at least two centuries, half an eternity, that must be bridged.

The thinking process of the Landsmannschaft lacks inclusion particularly of "Karaganda." There is a shying away from, perhaps even shame in, depicting this entire strangeness, especially the incisively formative power of everything Soviet. Who are we? Germans, or, as it seems so often, Russians, who have been tossed about by history and who were seeking a door open to the West. To illuminate this aspect requires a look at cities like Karaganda, where a permanently entangled mix of identities was created, and where the debasement of humans culminated in complete loss of self, and in endless variety.

Germans or Russians? There is no real answer, rather, the full powers of imagination are required. Imagine Karaganda! And then a Karagandan who, for the first time, ever experiences the miracle of an old city. Or one who in English class, is first touched by the grand breath of the sentence "Life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness." One who attempts to grasp the regulations of a national butchers' guild, or perhaps the Carnival in the Rhine region.

That Karagandan, as mentioned, does not exist. For that reason, unlike those from Koenigsberg or Breslau, it is hardly possibly to organize his kind into a society of compatriots. The latter were driven off ancient estates and after 1945, despite dispersal, some even with the help of a few elite folks, were able to maintain a certain collective cohesion. In contrast, Karagandans -- descendants of farmers from many, vastly diverse German colonies, tossed together and branded as proletarians, never permitted to communicate with one another about their commonness -- they are atomized beings. Their only connection is the family. In Germany this group of "people on the move" has reached the end of their meandering, and it is dissolving. Its final meeting place is the virtual room in the Internet.

The Ninth House, Koenigswinter

"They're all illegal workers," said the neighbors gloomily, naturally with some envy thrown in, too. Months passed until some realized that they were really dealing with "relatives" who on evenings and weekends show up at the construction site in Stieldorf. They comprise a good dozen -- brothers, uncles, cousins, all having come to help Waldemar Ivanenko. Any one of them can lay bricks, various trade skills are represented, for the roof trusses, for heating, for electric work. They are fortified with advice and prayers from the grandparents. Grandmother Rebeka Dyck is doing the cooking. "We must stick together, or we'll all go under," says the 32-year-old builder of his own home, a bashful, seemingly reserved man.

Waldemar Ivanenko: on one side old German, on the other Ukrainian. Names like these support the conflict. Ivanenko is one of a roughly 70-member clan of Dycks who settled in the Bonn area around the end of the 1980s. This is the ninth house they have built together. Without even being conscious of the fact, they are thereby carrying on a long-standing tradition. During the 19th Century, their ancestors were erecting houses in the great void of Ukraine and the Caucasus. Simple ones at first, followed by ever prouder ones. They represented pioneer spirit and success, but a cutting off by Germans from their Russian environment. Following the downfall of all of this, in 1941, during the deportation, they built once again. And that is where the paths of Heinrich Dyck and Rebeka Ramchen would cross.

[There is no caption for the adjacent map of Kazakhstan. It is designated as a graphic by Die Zeit.]

Try to build anything in the Kazakhian steppe! Nothing but soil, grasses, and thistles. No wood, no electricity. Animal skins in place of window panes. The very first abode for the young couple in Karaganda was a semlyanka. The second, a "Saman house" made of clay blobs. Nine children found a place inside. Once the home was expanded via a solid roof, to protect the wash from coal dust, at another time the heating method was improved. In an economy where everything is lacking, they had to be ever inventive.

With conscious determination, miner Heinrich Dyck and his wife never moved into one of the high-rise buildings, where "badness itself" resided. Within their own four walls they were able to be relatively free. Every Friday they baked "ribbelkuchen," and Rebeka Dyck would spread a blanket across the floor and tell her children stories of better and more God-pleasing times. Their house was a world with its own walls, it had its garden and a barn, cows, "chicks," and so on, thereby creating a private economy. Through Khrushchev ... Brezhnev ... Gorbachev ... it remained the center of life for the family, for daughter Pauline, a crane operator. Jobs in construction were typical for her generation. Pauline's eldest son, Waldemar, often stayed with his Oma and Opa Dyck as a child.

It was this Waldemar who, for the life of him, had not wished to go to Germany. He was 16 and, after arriving in Germany, homesick for years. In the crowded conditions of emergency quarters learning was rather impossible. Somehow, at sometime, he just left, was gone forty days without a trace. Suddenly he came back, his hair cut nearly bald, in a heavily stuffed jacket. He had gone to Karaganda. And then he came out with this scream: "Maaaamaaah, thank you for taking me to Germany!" After that he still did some "crappy" things. He also got outlived the drama over Svetlana, a German from Karaganda, whom he married at age 23. They will not, however, have truly arrived until they and their three children move into the house.

By far the greatest part is accomplished through their own efforts. Capital is as good as not available, and bank loans are a frightful matter. It is a project of an untrained worker and a nurse who works with the aged. Not unlike the way that those traumatized have-nots built homes in the far East 40 - 50 years back.

Children of the Steppes, Wolfsburg and Werl

Cafe Wallenstein, Wolfsburg. Miss Niedersachsen [Lower Saxony] enters. Linna Hensel, just as it says in the newspaper, is coming, but never alone, always accompanied by her elder sister Alexandra. They're both pretty. Their faces mirror two continents, Alexandra the more Asian, and Linna the more European. Linna's name is actually Lina: "The second 'n' was added by our Korean father, otherwise the name was too German for him. - "Our family was completely scattered," laughs Alexandra. "And how," smiles Linna, and Alexandra adds; "Your head will be spinning!"

"We," -- they always speak in plural, with mother being the third in the gang -- "Mamma, skashi, what was that? Since when is our Oma deaf?" they yell into the cellphone. With apparent pleasure, they walk me through the torture chambers of the 20th Century, with somewhat the following result: Their grandmother, Lina Hensel, born in 1935 in Darmstadt/Ukraine, became deaf at age two as a result of an infection. In 1941, the Hensels tried to avoid deportation by moving to Asia, but because the German Wehrmacht arrived too soon, they were [detained for three years and] later settled in the Warthegau [in Poland]. Lina's father was killed in the war, and in 1945 the rest of the family was "repatriated" back to the Soviet Empire. On the way, Lina and her older sister had to bury their mother. Final destination: Karaganda. Two orphans, two of so many others in a wild, miserable city. Hunger, early pregnancy, drunken Russian husbands. Oma Lina, mute due to the deafness, eventually was forced to raise three children by herself.

"There must have been nothing nice in your childhood, Mama?" asked Alexandra via the cellphone, "but when the renetki were blooming, that was nice!?" "Renetki are apple trees," explained Linna. Their mother had no better luck later in life, with the Korean, because he simply left her. Yet, after two generations of complete lack of familial normalcy, mother was able to provide the two with a "happy childhood."

Family closeness in a one-room residence in Karaganda of the 1980's. When mother happened to be home from the cheese factory, the three would brood together like hens, and mother would read from whatever pleased her, Romeo and Julia, Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. Outside, beyond the door of the new building, was the steppe. There was skating, sledding on the dangerously steep Terekonik, a slag pile outside the mines. In the summer the girls would run far into the grass land. "Children here don't have such a thing -- such freedom!"

Emigration in 1992, along with their German Oma, was mostly another childhood adventure. Accompanied by mother ("Head held high, go!") they conquered the strange school, were able to deal with whistles and teasing quite well. Admirers they had plenty, at least one per finger, and that helped, too. By the time of final exams, their German was perfect, perhaps with a minor North German accent. Very soon after that, a triumph: Linna's victory at the Miss Niedersachsen competition, a success for both of them. Alexandra acted as Linna's coach -- diet, physical training, makeup -- she designed and sewed the phantasyful, delicate robe.

They do like Germany a lot, and "that residents can get help." The local Germans, who "are so reticent, living so much as individuals," they felt a bit sorry for. The way the two are sitting there and smoking away -- I trust they're capable of anything.

There is often a thin line between success and failure. Michail Z., of a similar age, who had emigrated at the same time, even had a father, a German stepfather, "A good one! The family is not to blame" the prisoner in the place of detention in Werl wants to make clear right away. He is diminutive, his eyes dart around constantly, quickly changing direction. "I miss my country!" he adds.

"What exactly do you miss?" -- "The air." -- "What's it like?" -- "Sooty, from the coal." -- "Nothing further?" -- "It smells good." -- "Like bitterness?" -- "Yes." And then he really gets going telling his story, about the steppe and what the steppe meant to him. "I was never a good boy, even in those days ..."

Michail Z. entered school in 1985, the year Gorbachev came to power. The child experienced the breakup and downfall of the Soviet Union as a loss of authority of the adults. What was left for them to say to him? "Just get out of school, toss my bag out the window, and me after it." He boarded the next bus and rode aimlessly through the city and the steppe. He might "go hunting for mushrooms." Or he might crawl around in Stari Gorod, the old part of the city that had long sunk into the ground over neglected mineshafts, roaming through ruins and tunnels. In the winters he skipped school entirely. "Onto the roof and diving into the snow." It appears that Michail has become a slave to the steppe, a wild man.

"Germany is boring. All the large cities are the same. Guetersloh is small, Hannover large, and life is always the same: "Work, watch TV, go to bed, ever saving your money." He is sorry for his parents, his father slaving away all the time, mother cleaning for others. Relatives who "are always building" -- he speaks the words contemptuously. Here and there he tried to study, but in his school there were just too many Russian speakers, and even after two years of special subsidized training, there were no jobs to be had, anyway, "not for Auslaender." Since his stepfather did not fully adopt him, he did not have a German passport. Michail simply took what he was unable to buy, he stole, he cheated. He was given time in an insitution for youth, and later, he was put in prison for three years, for an offense he would not discuss.

In April Michail Z. will be released from prison and deported back to Kazakhstan. He is deliriously looking forward to seeing Karaganda again. "Stay here? Never. Everything kaputt. Everyone is leaving." All he wants to do is to get a driver's license and then make a living driving a truck "in Europe." Expanding, borderless Europe is for him an ideal space for a puteshestvennik, an adventure.

Deutschland. Friedland.

For Adenauer, the Asiatic steppes began at the Elbe. Who would have imagined that our small Federal Republic would someday push its horizon so far East? Today Germany reaches as far as the Oder, and within our view once again are cities like Breslau and Riga. As of immediately, the EU's borders are as far away as the Ukraine. Our minds are filled to bursting, and still there isn't enough: now we are forced to look even beyond the Ural.

In 1986, when Gorbachev's new passport law opened the door at least slightly to those willing to emigrate and who had close relatives in Germany, experts figured with an arriving total of 30,000 to 80,000 people. Karaganda alone had that many people of German descent. But in those days, literally nothing was known of cities like that. The same lack of knowledge also harbored the illusion that the unexpected masses of people would, at least to some extent, allow themselves to be diverted to settle in one of the former settlement areas, such as the Volga region. In Germany, which had just been reunited again, a watchword appeared to be: "Reestablishment of the Volga Republic" (which had existed from 1924 on, a well known creation of Lenin himself).

The Exodus was at first explained with the title "Returning home." Perhaps these words intersected with a longing that Maria Pauls or the elder Dycks had harbored. To return to the Schwabia or Westprussia of earlier centuries was not possible. No one has described more accurately what emigration was like than the Russian singer Veronika Dolina. Her song is called Lufttransport [Transport by Air]:

"Travel in the air, earthly emotions: 'Karaganda to Frankfurt ...,' from one pole to another. Women and children, the old ones, are returning home to Ithaca. My heart feels terrible, even if the destination is not Exile."

She continues: "Goethe forgot them, Rilke abandoned them, they learned Russian, Kazakh." Once on the jetway they felt as if they were flying into outer space: "Karaganda to Frankfurt, Karaganda to the cosmos."

Reasons for and how the exodus occurred will be analyzed by future historians; for Karaganda an initial assessment is as follows: On September 30, 1973, about 400 Germans met for an illegal demonstration. Arrests ensued. Entire families, enemies of things Soviet for mainly religious reasons, cleared out toward Moldavia or to the Baltic region, where applications for emigration appeared to have a better chance to be accepted. After years of waiting, many -- a vanguard -- were permitted to move to Germaniya.

Similarly courageous people, like the Dycks and the Pauls, attempted immediately to take advantage of the new passport regulations. Not too soon after, the movement had become unstoppable. For one thing, because people were allowed to speak freely again, the past became public -- deportation, forced labor, the entire nightmare of their history. Also to light now came the dangerous situation the city of Karaganda was in: Karaganda is situated between Semipalatinsk (atomic test site), Baikonur (cosmodrome site) and Stepnogorsk (bio-weapons site). At the same time, a societal earthquake was beginning to rumble. The Kazakhs demanded their own rights, since the Soviet colossus appeared to be wobbling. It was all more a feeling than a clear conscious idea: Get out before something worse might happen to you! Once the process was in gear, the result was something akin to a chain reaction.

In 1989, Karaganda, with its 800,000 residents, was still a modern metropolitan city of the Soviet model. By 1991 it, along with the Empire, tumbled into nothingness. Its descent was almost as dramatic as its rise 70 years back. 36 mines were closed. Coal, the cause for Karaganda's founding, was no longer needed. Anyone who was able, Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, etc., escaped into the old home country. Heating fuel supplies failed in the wintertime, electricity did not flow, empty blocks of apartments fell into ruin as if in time-lapse tempo. "The steppe," said those who had remained, "will win over the city again." That was the situation when the Gudi family and the Hensels left it.

The exodus reached a temporary final phase during the mid-1990s. After the Federal Republic limited immigrations to 100,000 per year and introduced language tests, waiting periods jumped to from 3 to 7 years. Meanwhile, the situation in Karaganda had stabilized somewhat. According to a plan by President Nasabayev, in order to transform the North -- which had been overhwelmed by Russaians settlers -- into a Kazakh region, a new capitol city, Astana, was established. Settlement programs were established. Kazakhs who had been set free in the collectives moved to the cities of the North, and so did formerly exiled Kazakhs from Mongolia. Today Karaganda's population is 45 percent Kazakh, earlier it had been 3 percent. The people of nomads and semi-nomads that after 1917 had been catapulted into modernity and, barely like any other, had lost its identity, its traditions, its language, the Islamic faith, wants to overcome the tragedy with all its might. And within this new order, even if it develops remarkably peacefully, there is no room for those who are waiting for emigration.

The family Onodalo is from Abai, a "sputnik" of Karaganda. After 5 tough years of waiting, they have arrived in Friedland, leaving behind 27 degrees minus [about minus 16 degrees Fahrenheit] in pre-spring. "I a-m fe-ar," Ida Onodalo tries to spell while showing deep furrows in her forehead under her brown locks. Her husband Alexander and their grown son have disappeared. There are just the two of us in the sleeping ward with its whitewashed walls. In broken German, she says "I can't tale, o gospodi [My God!]." She appears near fainting.

Her recent past includes weeks of taking leave, from their elder son and his family, from her best friend Safat, a Kazakh woman, from her students. She is a teacher who is suddenly speechless. She, Ida, daughter of Volga-Germans, will now have to rely on her husband, a Ukrainian, for whom things will be even more difficult. His entire large clan remained behind in the steppes, his culture has nearly zero chance for surviving in Germany.

"I do have a head and hands. I work, I do anything." Translation: she'll work as a maid. Ida Onodalo is in her early fifties and has no illusions whatsoever. "Shto budyet, to budyet [What will be, will be.]!"

On a piece of paper, I draw a sketch of Eurasia for her, in it there's Germany, a large dot designating Friedland. "This is where you are now." I tell her of September, 1945, when the high British officer, Perkins, commandeered the cow stalls of the experimental station of Friedland and settled the first refugees in them on heaps of heather. "This is a cow barn, Ida!" She cries. I draw lines with arrows showing the paths of millions from Eastprussia, Silesia, of those returning from the war, of my father-in-law, who came from Karaganda in 1949, of refugees from the German Democratic Republic, etc.. Ida does not really grasp my attempt to console her. We are about the same age, born in 1951. She was born two years before Stalin's death, I was born six years after Hitler's. Our biographical coordinates have just intersected for the first time today.

On leaving, I get kisses and, as usual, Tormosok for the journey.

Final Years of Life, Kehl.

Maria Pauls, who was the first to bring Karaganda closer to me, has fallen silent. Her retreat from the world occurred slowly, in stages. After years of a satisfying life -- her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are all close by and appear to be finding their way in Kehl -- the past caught up with her. A fall on icy stairs, a broken hip, anesthesia -- no one knows exactly, how and when, but she seems certainly transformed. Everywhere she suspected the KGB, at night she was dismembered children lying around, catlike animals. The only thing that helped her over her dread was her favorite song: "Defenseless and abandoned, my heart often longed for quiet peace." It is one of the famous hymns of comfort of the Mennonites, and it has been a companion throughout her life.

These fearsome times lasted for years, and then her mind began to wane. Gradually she became calmer. Once in a while she said, out of the blue: "I want to be with my sister." That meant the cemetery. Sister Anna had been the first out of the whole family to be buried in Kehl. Apparently her grave was a fixed point in Maria's mind, a place that, along with the metaphysical "eternal home," she really needed. The others who had died were all far away, their graves usually without a place or a name, like that of her husband, who was hastily buried somewhere in the steppes of Karaganda. Or that of her grandparents, impossible to find because nothing much is left of Lysanderhoeh.

Maria Pauls did not leave her bed during the past winter. She simply lies there, peacefully, without the headscarf she had always worn. Words, even the most loving, be they in German or dialect, appear not reach her any longer. Only when the nurse Larissa, a compatriot, asks her, in Russian, to turn over when she makes her bed, does she seem to perk up. Maria Pauls is still reacting to the language of orders she had been given in Karaganda.

Ulla Lachauer's documentary novel also takes place in Karaganda:

Ulla Lachauer: "Rita's Folks. History of a German-Russian Family."Rowolt TB, Reinbek 2003; 432 pages. 9.90 Euros.

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