McDaniel, Laura. "Recent Events Make This Exciting Time for German-Russians." Forum, 25 February 1990.
Changes sweeping across Europe and the Soviet Union make this "the most exciting period in German-Russian history," according to North Dakota State University's Timothy Kloberdanz, an associate professor of anthropology who has researched Germans from Russia for the past 20 years.
After decades of brutal mistreatment, the Soviet government last November apologized for its actions and has taken steps to re-establish an autonomous Soviet German republic.
Thousands of Germans from Russia have emigrated to the United States since the 1870s, and North Dakota has the largest population of German-Russians of any state. But the largest emigration of Germans from Russia occurred last year, when more than 87,000 Soviet Germans were permitted to leave the Soviet Union and settle in West Germany.
A course on Germans from Russia, first offered at NDSU in 1976 and scheduled for Monday evenings spring quarter 1990, takes on new meaning in light of current events. The Soviet government's official apology, for example, marks the first public recognition for the more than two million Soviet Germans who were forcibly deported to Siberia and Central Asia during World War II.
The Germans from Russia developed as a distinct ethnic group when Germans emigrated to czarist Russia during the late 1700s and early 1800s. The czars promised the German people if they established villages in Russia and worked the land, they would, in return, be able to retain their German heritage and enjoy privileges, including exemption from military service.
Hundreds of German colonies were established, and the people did retain their heritage, more vigilantly than many German people in Germany.
But in the late 1870s, the czar Alexander II began to force the German colonists to serve in the army. Many people then left for North and South America. The people who stayed faced famine in the 1920s. Stalin's repressive measures in the 1930s and in 1941, as Russia feared the emigres would be sympathetic to Germany during the war, forced deportation. Thousands were sent to remote areas with no housing, little water or food.
Kloberdanz has interviewed and corresponds with survivors of the ordeal. "Maria," for example, somehow survived the war years, and suffered the hatred of Russians who blamed all Germans for the war. Maria stayed in Russia and hoped for better times until 1970, when her 11-year-old son was poisoned and killed by his Russian classmates. After that, she began to do all she could to relocate her entire family to West Germany.
It took Maria until last year to get out. She's been in West Germany for a year, and still has found no permanent housing and no job. But, she writes, she and her family are free.
Kloberdanz says there are thousands like Maria, and their recollections are as painful to hear. "The stories they tell are hair-raising, almost unbelievable," Kloberdanz says. "But if you look at the haggard faces of the people, you know they're telling you the truth."
The NDSU course, Germans from Russia, will be offered Monday evenings spring quarter.
Reprinted with permission of The Forum.