German Catholic Conference
Neu Ulm, Germany
June 19, 2004
Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
Dear Attendees of this German Catholic Conference,
Please let me briefly introduce myself.
My name is Maria Ibach, nee Heinz, and I am 68 years old.
My family and I arrived in Germany in 1976 and have been living in Ulm since then.
I have been asked to talk to you about my life today. I am pleased to use this opportunity to describe to you the difficult and gruesome cruel fates that befell so many German-Russians simply because they were Germans. With these personal remarks, which are representative of so many others, I wish to promote better understanding for our people.
I was born on June 9, 1936 in the beautiful Kutschurgan Valley of Neufeld, known in Russian as Novy Mir, in the Black Sea region between Odessa and the [current] Republic of Moldovia.
Long ago my ancestors followed the call of the Tsarina "Catherine the Great," who had appealed to German farmers to settle in Russia and apply their agricultural skills there. They were promised religious freedom and land. My father's ancestors came from Kandel in the Rheinish Palatinate, and those of my mother arrived from Alsace. It was thus that my ancestors emigrated from Germany in hopes for a better life, and they settled near the Black Sea. Before the October Revolution of 1917, my father, Ignatz Heinz, and my mother Regina, nee Herzog, were just simple farming people, and during Soviet times they worked on the collective farm. My parents had eight children.
During Soviet times the lives of the Germans in Russia were characterized by bitter hunger and serious deprivation.
During August of 1941 we were occupied by the German Wehrmacht [armed forces]. German soldiers arrived on motorcycles, followed by tanks. I still remember that day very well. It was a warm summer day. Across from our property there had been a cache of arms that the Russians had been unable to clear out. They had left the village in great haste and burned everything behind them in an effort to avoid leaving it to the Germans marching in behind them. At the opposite end of the village, the animals, equipment and everything else that had been part of the collective were quickly divided among the village residents of Neufeld.
Once the front had passed us by, the village became rather peaceful again. The population was exclusively German. Once again we were able to celebrate Christmas and to build houses of prayer, and Sunday was a day of prayer again. At the time it was our custom to have the entire family pray together in the evening. We children, too, were once again free to say our evening prayers -- something that had been strictly forbidden during Soviet times.
Well, the sad days arrived as well. Young German men were beginning to be forced into the war, and it didn't take very long before the first death notice for one of our villagers arrived.
Our family did not escape the serious disturbances of the war experienced by so many German immigrants in Russia. My oldest brother was drafted into military service by the Soviets and eventually was forced to fight against Germans -- his own people. Not much later, two other brothers and my father were inducted into the other side, the German Wehrmacht. The younger of the two brothers was not even seventeen years old. At 17 he was killed near Vienna. My father and the other brother were able to return at the end of the war.
In 1942 I entered school. We were taught in German because we lived in German colonies completely separated from the Russian population. We spoke German and lived our German culture. To the Russians, we Germans became a thorn in their flesh. German virtues of diligence, hard work and good order provided us with a a modest and good life, while the Russians often did not live as well.
In March of 1944 we ended up having to leave our home. Hitler had decided to designate us as ethnic Germans and to take us back to the German Reich. On horse-drawn wagons we trekked all the way to the border of Poland. It was a horrible time. Many were forced to make the trip on foot. Illness, hunger, deprivation and bombings were our constant companions. We finally arrived in the Warthegau, part of today's Poland. Already there were many German from Bessarabia who had been resettled as early as 1939. I was able to attend school again and was able to make new friends.
Only a few months later, in January of 1945, we had to take off yet again. This time we were given two hours to pack our things and to leave -- the Russians were getting much too close. Once again it meant to leave a village which we had just become somewhat used to. Mother harnessed a white horse to pull our wagon. Still rather young children, my younger brother Michael and I sat on the wagon. Our horse should have been newly shod before we took off, but there was just no time for that. It was bitter cold, and the roads were slick. Again and again the horse would slip, but somehow we kept going, anyway. That's just the way it was. You can imagine how such an experience remains forever planted in a child's memory. With her children to take care of, Mother was left entirely to her own devices, since Father was serving in the war effort.
In February we reached Streuznaundorf near Halle in Saxony. There we were given housing with a farming family. The farmer himself was also in the military, so his wife managed the farming operation single-handedly. However, following war's end the town of Streuznaundorf was occupied by Soviet forces, and for the sole fact that we were Germans from Russia, starting on August 13, 1945, we were deported to Siberia.
Great misery met us there. For "housing," we were forced to dig into the ground to make a hole covered with wooden beams and dirt. This in frigid Siberia!
Everyone -- men, women, and children, no matter how strong or weak, young or old, healthy or not, mostly without proper clothing -- was forced to perform excruciatingly heavy work, day in and day out. The Russians called our settlement "New Berlin."
Unfortunately, this was not the end of our odyssey. In June of 1946 my family was once again loaded on a truck and dragged off again. No one knew the destination. Two of my sisters, along with their small children, had to remain behind, mainly because their husbands had been in the [German] army and subsequently had become prisoners of war by the Americans and would therefore probably never be able to return to their families.
We were taken to a collective farm. My parents and siblings had to work raising pigs. In 1946 I was able to go back to school there, but this time around it was in a Russian school, so I had to start at the first grade level again because, despite being ten years old, I did not know a word of Russian. "Fascist" was the only word familiar to me.
I was a good student, I learned the Russian language, and I mastered it. By 1953, I graduated successfully and was planning to attend a pedagogical school. I had always wanted to become an elementary school teacher. However, my application papers were not even given a glance -- simply because I was German. Deeply disappointed over my unfulfilled dream, I decided to study at an agricultural institute. Although I easily passed the qualifying test, I was rejected once again -- all German applicants were automatically eliminated from the list of applicants.
Finally I had a bit of good fortune. Two months later, the female director of the agricultural institute was dismissed, and the new [female] director decided to allow all German applicants to attend. Four years later, in 1957, I successfully completed my studies as an accountant for agricultural operations.
I was also fortunate that my father was able to return earlier than many others. Many other girls were forced to help their mothers raise younger siblings or to take a job. Following graduation from the institute, I was able to work the books at the collective farm operation. In 1956, thanks to Adenauer's efforts, we were released from military command control and allowed to move around the Soviet Union. With my family I ended up in Kirgistan.
I married in 1959. In his childhood my husband had experienced the same fate as other Germans had. Each of our three daughters was born in Kirgistan. As early as possible, my husband and I made the effort necessary toward emigrating to Germany, just because we wanted to provide our children with an opportunity for a better life.
In 1976 we finally received permission to emigrate. Together with our children we returned to our German home. Mother died at the age of 91, but until then she was still not able to speak Russian adequately despite having lived in Russian most of her life. Yet, despite her difficult life she had retained her trust in God and was able to sing German songs that almost nobody remembers these days. She knew by heart the order of the Mass and all the church holidays.
Starting life in Germany was full of difficulty for us. However, my husband and I both found jobs, I myself even in my own profession of accounting. We were grateful for every act of assistance. Thanks to the habits of German diligence and endurance that we had acquired as children we were able to establish a new home for ourselves and to provide our children and grandchildren with a better and, hopefully, a very good future free of discrimination.
I am very grateful to God that everything has gone well for us here in Germany, and now I look forward to every new day. We are doing well, but I never forget the times when we were doing very badly.
I wish that all new arrivals among our people may have the necessary
courage and strength to be able to adapt to different, but also
better, conditions. Of utmost importance for them, especially the
young people, is that they learn the German language so that they
will be able to integrate into our society. No one can do this for
someone else -- every individual must do it by
himself or herself.
I suffer personally whenever I read in the newspaper that certain young Germans from Russia let themselves be involved in drug crimes, brawls, or various other crimes. I find such things to be a great lack of gratitude toward the German state and German society, which have provided them with a chance to build a new life. They must not exclude themselves from normal society. I am very aware that they need to make a special effort to receive acceptance. To Germany and Germans alike, we need to offer gratitude for being received here and for any assistance granted to us.
I must now conclude my remarks. Given the limited time available to me, I have tried to provide a measure of insight into my life that is, in many ways, representative of so many lives of German-Russians who, through their faith in God, were always able to discover renewed hope, against all odds.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this text.