Emigration: A German-Russian Dream
By Anton Bosch
"Nemzy - die Deutschen in der Sowjetunion" - "Die Einfüng der Wehrpflicht"
"Die Deutschen in der UdSSR - einst und jetzt", Globus Spezial, Verein für das Deutschtum im Aussland e.V. (VDA), Berlin, Germany, no date, pages 127-131.
Almost all nationalities in the Soviet Union were able to attain their territorial autonomous homeland. This is still denied to Germans.
Declassed as a fringe group in Soviet society, German-Russians had just one goal: to immigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany, where they can maintain their mother tongue for themselves and for their children, where conditions for a life as Germans exist, where the right for freedom and humaneness are ensured.
The desire for individual and political freedom is more strongly developed in Germans than in any other nationality because they know best how to appreciate the meaning of freedom after an oppression lasting for decades. As subjects of a totalitarian regime and as ethnic Germans they endured oppression twice: with body and soul. If their national autonomy in the East cannot be attained, there will only be one way out: to move where they hope to be able to attain their goals.
Besides, the desire to practice traditional religion is still unbroken. Persecution of the faithful continues in the former USSR. In many cases religious persecution takes on radical forms. Especially members of the Free Baptist Church, which is rightly called the martyr's church in the former USSR, are constantly exposed to inhuman persecution. They are thrashed by special groups of thugs; meetings and religious services are broken up. Believers are called names at work, children from faithful families are laughed at and become fall guys by order of the school administration.
As the Germans in the Soviet Union have no autonomous and cultural independence and cannot get a minimum of rights for their ethnic group for their continued national existence, they, therefore, have only one goal: To immigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany, the land of their ancestors. Paradoxically, now they want to return to that same country their ancestors had to leave because of similar inhumane living conditions.
They risk everything for this goal to return to the Federal Republic of Germany: their friends, their jobs, familiar environment, education, occupation and their meager savings they have accumulated through diligence and frugality. They are allowed to bring along only 90 rubles and personal clothing.
Upon application for immigration, hell breaks loose: Reprisals at school and at work up to termination, denial of registration with police when changing residence, confiscation of property and houses, searches of homes, arrests for petitions with the authorities to emigrate, expulsion from universities of those few who have received a place at a university, etc.
Worst of all, they are affected even morally when former friends and coworkers shun them, because persons willing to immigrate are as a rule treated as "anti-Soviet people" with all consequences. In the General Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948, which was also signed by the former Soviet Union, it is said: "Everybody has the right to leave any country including their own as well as to return to it."
In reality, this right is arbitrarily interpreted by the former Soviet Union depending on the general situation between East and West.
Only those Germans or Jews who can present an invitation (Vysov) from their relatives in the West have the opportunity to immigrate. Even a new decree which became effective on January 1, 1987, didn't change anything. To the contrary, it limits the right to apply for emigration to immediate relatives (only father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife).
After the amnesty of 1955, a large part of the German population, under strictest secrecy, drew up lists of those who wanted to immigrate and who were brought by reliable persons to the recently opened German Embassy in Moscow. Overall, of that time, there are more than 250,000 signatures of Germans who were willing to immigrate.
In the '60s a complete rehabilitation of this German ethnic group was aimed at. That's why signatures for the restoration of the German autonomy along the Volga, in the Ukraine and in the Caucasus had been collected by formed action groups and in January and June 1965, and were taken to Moscow by two delegations and submitted to the government. The former chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, A. I. Mikojan, responded briefly to the demands by the Germans: "We don't have any territory. It's impossible to continue to run the economy in Kazakhstan without the Germans ..." Another delegation who wanted to be heard by the Supreme Soviet in July 1967, was expelled from Moscow within 24 hours.
Afterwards it became obvious that it was only a matter of time until the German population disappeared from among the Soviet people. There was only one alternative left: Immigration to Germany, the historical homeland.
After signing the German-Soviet agreement of Moscow in the '70s, a new opportunity for the emigration of Germans from the Soviet Union opened up. Numerous action groups were formed in several areas; at relatives, they compiled immigration lists and made appeals to the West and to the United Nations. In 1973, the "Association der ausreisewilligen Russlanddeutschen" was founded in Estonia and was able to exist until February, 1974, and as center of this movement was able to coordinate its work with many action groups in Kazakhstan and other areas. All of its members were arrested and sentenced to prison for up to four years.
On May 18, 1973, a list of more than 7,000 families (about 35,000 persons) was handed to the Supreme Soviet requesting the start of talks regarding resettlement. All delegates were arrested, interrogated and under the supervision of the KGB were taken to their places of residence where interrogations and harassment continued. In April, 1974, several hundred ethnic Germans gathered in Karaganda to discuss actions for emigration. The houses of the Germans were surrounded by civil servants, militia and more than 400 soldiers; organizers were arrested and taken away to be interrogated.
Some demonstrations on the Red Square and in front of the German Embassy in Moscow as well as in front of governmental buildings in Alma-Ata, Frunse, Dushanbe and other towns were on the agenda. All these actions as well as pressure from the outside on the Soviet government and the end of the KSZE-conference in 1975, in Helsinki resulted in a constantly increasing number of immigrants. In 1976, immigration reached a record number of 9,652 people.
After the failure of the policy of detente through the invasion of the Soviet army into Afghanistan, the process of reuniting families went literally downhill until it came to a complete standstill. In 1985, only 460 persons came while in 1986, there were only 760 persons. Reunification of separated families was stopped because of the third change in government in Moscow and because of constantly deteriorating relations with the West. In order to achieve a positive trend in the reunification, in the Federal Republic of Germany all political parties and the government in Bonn mobilized everything for the Germans in Russia during this difficult period. For the first time the demand for improvement of reuniting families of ethnic Germans from the USSR was included in the federal announcement of 4 May 1983. Chancellor Kohl announced during his visit to the Kremlin:
"In the long history the humanitarian question occupying us these days touches us also. Germans and Soviet citizens of German nationality want to immigrate to their families and relatives in my country. This opportunity must be preserved in the spirit of humanity. To us this is an important matter in interrelations. It is important to stop the tendencies of the last years and to return to a positive practice. We would welcome very much, if speedy progress on the question of immigration were possible. Beyond that, we remain interested in a great improvement of living conditions and the opportunity for cultural self-realization of the ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union."
Several debates concerning the situation of the ethnic Germans in the USSR were held in the European Parliament in Straßburg and in the Lower House of the German Parliament. All representatives of all the political parties, unions and governments who traveled to Moscow supported the interests and the relief of the situation at the Kremlin. The question of human rights and the situation of the ethnic Germans had been the focus of discussions at all following conferences of the KSZE in Ottawa, Madrid, Belgrade and Vienna.
For the first time, the Soviet government allowed again more ethnic Germans to immigrate just prior to the state visit by the President of the Federal Republic, Richard von Weizäcker, to Moscow in early July, 1987. If in the first months of 1987 only 80 to 100 persons per month received an exit permit, an increase in the average number of approximately 2,000 people per month could be observed by the end of the year. A record number of 14,290 was reached in 1987.
The new policy of Glasnost and Perestroika introduced by Gorbatshov showed its effects even in this problem. It was nothing new to the government in Moscow that ethnic Germans in the USSR would leave in groves but the sense of a new era and the inundation effect of emigration became a problem for the powers particularly in Kazakhstan and other regions where ethnic Germans are the backbone of the economy.
They tried to retain the Germans by means of a new Glasnost policy or rather by preventing their effort to leave on the pretext of difficulties concerning their integration in the West.
In the past, the existence of ethnic Germans in the Soviet Empire had been hushed up. Presently, it seems all taboos would fade away. Because of this development, German-Russians increasingly become the focal point of public discussion both here and there. In 1986, the ARD aired the film Wir sind aus Siberiens Weiten which showed German-Russians talking about their life. A second film Das Buch von Olga und Johann followed on ZDF in 1987. Furthermore several short reports were broadcast in the news and current television broadcasts. The German press reacted mainly positively.
For the first time, WDR correspondent Lutz Lehmann filmed the life of ethnic Germans in Kazakhstan. The film with the title Heimat in der Fremde was broadcasted on April 13, 1987. In August of last year, a Soviet television team arrived and filmed the life of Aussiedler throughout Germany. The film aired nationwide on the Central Television station in Moscow found a wide response among Germans as well as other nationalities in the Soviet Union because for the first time the viewer was informed that two million Germans were living there and that there was a phenomenon of mass migration. If this kind of Glasnost policy will reach its true objective, is questionable. Quite the contrary, it seems that the sense of a new era to emigrate was rather strengthened by this telecast.
An ethnic German, who had experienced all kinds of harassment of deportation, assimilation and annihilation in the former Soviet Union during the last decades, is not held back by means of propaganda. As long as autonomy along the Volga and in other areas of South Russia is not returned, there will be only one way out to escape the uncertainty and fear of their future: their immigration to the Federal Republic of Germany, to the land of their ancestors, to their historical German homeland, where they hope to be able to live without fear among Germans and as Germans with equal rights able to realize their goals for their future.
Translation from German to English by Claudia Müller, Halle, Germany