The Lost Germans are Found: Now What?: German Officials Here to Seek Help in Aiding Those Left Behind in Russia

Herzog, Karen. "The Lost Germans are Found: Now What?: German Officials Here to Seek Help in Aiding Those Left Behind in Russia." Bismarck Tribune, 31 July 2003, sec. 1B. 
Jochen Welt, left, looks over a copy of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society journal, Heritage Review, with Edna Boardman of Bismarck. Boardman is the secretary for the international board of directors of the society. Welt is a commissioner from the German government who was visiting Bismarck and the society on Wednesday, July 30, 2003.

People from Strasburg and Napoleon, Richardton and Rapid City, S.D., and Lodi, Calif., are the lucky ones.

Their German grandparents and great-grandparents decided to come to America before the hammer and sickle fell on their colonies in the former Soviet Union.

They made lives here; most prospered. Not so lucky -- the wings of their families who stayed in the Soviet Union. Starting in the 1920s, the Germans who remained were nearly extinguished in a silent holocaust of mass starvation; they were forced onto collective farms, shot or deported to Siberian labor camps, stripped of property and possessions. Their land was confiscated, their churches destroyed or mutilated, steeples shorn. Even their gravestones were pulled up and used for paving and building.

The remnant has emerged into history's view again since the breakup of the Soviet Union but remain second-class citizens there, discriminated against in their educational and professional lives, stigmatized with the old whisper of "Nazi."

Nearly 2.2 million ethnic Germans have returned to Germany from the Soviet Union since 1950, said Jochen Welt, a high government official whose office is responsible for the immigration and assimilation of ethnic Germans back to Germany.

Germany is responsible to these ethnic siblings in the Federal Act on Refugees and Expellees. "Everybody gets a chance to come to Germany," Welt said.

Welt and two other German officials visited the United States this week to explore cooperation between the United States and Germany to help these immigrants; particular visits were made to strongholds of Germans from Russia in North Dakota and California.

They came here, he said, because of the common roots of the two groups.

At a roomful of area Germans from Russia on Wednesday at the Germans from Russia Heritage Society building in Bismarck, Welt talked, via a North Dakota State University student translator, about how the German government is helping ethnic Germans, both in Germany and those who remain in former Soviet states. Germany spends 500 million euros each year on this project, Welt said.

About 1 million ethnic Germans remain in the old Soviet Union, he said, mostly in Russia, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine; about 80,000 emigrate to Germany each year.

Assimilating them into German society wasn't as easy as officials once thought. "These are Germans" was the assumption, Welt said.

But, after generations in Russia, many, especially the young, spoke no German. Most need help learning the German language, he said. The political and social system is different. Their education and professional training may not match German standards.

In the former Soviet states, about 600 cultural centers have been established to aid ethnic Germans, working with youth programs, vocational training, medical counseling, language courses, small business loans and social aid for the especially needy.

Michael M. Miller, librarian at NDSU's Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, suggested the German government could use its influence to help gain easier access to archives in the Soviet Union, many of which are at risk in deteriorating buildings.

Also, he said, many Germans from Russia are looking for long-lost relatives; this can only be done with an Internet structure, he said.

Inna Stryukova, a professor and researcher from Ukraine, accompanied the German officials on this trip; she helps visiting Americans search for records, villages and relatives. [Note: Inna Stryukova, Ukraine, was a guest at the meeting visiting friends in Rapid City, South Dakota.]

"Rehabilitated by History," is the name of the program, which has acknowledged the history of the German people who farmed and labored in Russian territories for 200 years before being repressed, she said. The KGB interrogation records are now open -- names, dates, questions, sentences.

People are now able to research their German roots, are now "free to know the truth," she said.

Welt, Miller and the group also planned to meet with Gov. John Hoeven and visit German-Russian sites in southcentral North Dakota, including the historic Lehr Tabernacle, before leaving to meet with other German-Russian descendants in California.

Reprinted with permission of the Bismarck Tribune.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller