50 Years of the Landsmannschaft of the Germans from Russia

by Johann Kampen

50 Jahre Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland

von Johann Kampen

Published in Heimatbuch 2000, Teil II, pages 8- 20, available in German language at www.deutscheausrussland.de, LMDR e.v.

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

Johann Kampen

Johann Kampen was born on May 5, 1921, in Chortitza near Saporozhye, Ukraine, where in 1939 he concluded training in the local Pedagogical Institute. For a brief time he taught German and Russian, then became a team leader at a collective farm, later a translator during the German occupation period. In December of 1943 he was evacuated to the Sudentengau [then a German part of Czechoslovakia], was drafted and inducted into military service. Subsequent to his December, 1945 release from American war prison, he worked as a construction machine driver, then as a salesman, waiter, translator, manager, and in technical employment in Augsburg; and in his second career he was a correspondent and a pollster. Between 1982 and 1997 he worked as volunteer editor of Volk auf dem Weg. Together with his son Hans Kampen he edited seven Heimatbuecher for the Landsmannschaft from 1985 to the year 2000.

For German-Russians who have returned to Germany, the year 2000 marks the 50th anniversary of their Landsmannschaft. The founding date can be considered as either April 22 or October 15 [1950].

In April of 1950 a handful of Germans from Russia who had taken residence in the American, British and French occupation zones decided in Stuttgart to establish an organization of their own, and during October this decision was ratified at a meeting in Kassel of delegates from the entire country.

Although as a precaution, the original "baptismal name" of the organization consisted of the rather nonpolitical designation "Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Ostumsiedler [Association for Repatriates from the East]," the founding members agreed that they were in fact establishing a Landsmannschaft [Society for Compatriots of and] for Germans from Russia. Consequently, in July of 1950 the association allied itself with the federated "Vereinigten Ostdeutschen Landsmannschaften [Federated Landsmannschaften of Germans from the East]."

In practice this group really became an Arbeitsgemeinschaft [Association, literally a working group], a fact reflected in its initial statement of purpose, which set forth the following as its most important tasks:

1. Fostering of native culture and solidarity among compatriots.

2. Enforcement of the right to one's home, human dignity and justice, as well as the right to integration into the German ethnic body.

3. Maintaining and furthering awareness of social and economic concerns (pensions, occupational and professional education, concerns of the young, resettlement).

4. Participation in solutions to such problems as determination of economic loss and compensation for losses incurred as a result of war and exile.

5. Resupplying of official papers.

6. Proper oversight of emigration.

7. Aiding the search for missing persons.

8. Scientific research projects.

At the turn of the century [2000], the successor membership has remained true to this initial statement by their "founding fathers" of the work of the Landsmannschaft, even if in the Nineties a new generation's call for increased political and economic activity has become increasingly audible.

Before there was a Landsmannschaft

The history of organized Germans from Russia in Germany actually began much earlier, namely, immediately following the October Revolution of 1917. Subsequent to the First as well as the Second World War, there were those among the Germans in Russia who endeavored to seek refuge as far removed from Bolshevism as possible. For many a new home in Germany itself would not be secure enough, so they looked for salvation in the New World. There they would be received by like-minded compatriots and believers who had already pulled away from Europe. Former Volga-Germans received Volga-Germans into Argentina, former Black Sea- Germans received Black Sea- Germans into the United States, Mennonites guided Mennonites into Canada, Brazil and Paraguay. In time they founded their own societies and associations which dedicated themselves mainly to historical, genealogical, cultural and religious questions.

At various times between the two World Wars in prewar Germany itself there existed ten German-Russian organizations (Meir. Buchsweiler, "Volksdeutsche in der Ukraine am Vorabend und Beginn des Zweiten Weltkriegs [Ethnic Germans in the Ukraine on the Eve and at the Onset of World War II]," pp. 54 ff.) Before the Second World War they had already turned their attention toward social problems of their compatriots. At the same time, one must also note as a negative aspect the rivalry of these associations, even during the time when National Socialism had forced all of them into one line. Among others, there were the Committee of German Groups from Old Russia; the Association of Volga-Germans; associations for Germans from the Black Sea and the Caucasus; and Mennonite Refuge Welfare.

By 1933 there were two umbrella organizations for Germans from Russia in Germany: The "Central Committee of Germans from Russia" came under the Foreign Ministry and the "Working Group of Germans from Russia and Poland" stood under the care of the Ministry of the Interior. The effects of this division of responsibility would be felt by the Landsmannschaft well into the era after the Second World War, even in recent times. The more pronounced leaning toward the Interior Ministry by leading figures of the Landsmannschaft continued well into the government led by the Red-Green coalition of 1998, despite the appointment of a Federal Government's Cultural Representative. The main responsibility of these organizations prior to the war was assistance for compatriots who had immigrated and also those who had remained in the Soviet Union. This was especially important during the famine years of 1921/22 and 1933/34 and during the onset of collectivigation, when many Germans in the Soviet Union desired to emigrate.

The flow of care packages from Germany into the Soviet Union slowed considerably in the Thirties, especially because recipients were increasingly subjected to severe harassment. It is important to note that after the death of Reich's President Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, the Soviet Union forbade acceptance of donations and packages from the organization "Brueder in Not [Brethren in Need]." Private mailings did continue for awhile, but did not bring their recipients much happiness. During the years of terror, 1937/38, Soviet authorities often used such mailings as incriminating evidence. Foreign correspondence by letter all too easily came to be designated as a violation of Paragraph 58, Item 6 ("espionage").

If the Germans in the Soviet Union thus became nearly completely isolated from their emigrated relatives, then the Second World War culminated in a complete bisection of all "Soviet-Germans." August 28, 1941, must be considered as the key historical date of the separation "in perpetuity" of German-Russians.

On that date the Supreme Soviet of the USSR issued the ukase [edict] "concerning the resettlement of all Germans living in the Volga region." The title constitutes a minimization and trivialization of an act that may not have its equal in world history. It is minimalizing language because it not only dealt with 450,000 Germans in the Volga area, but rather with all German-Russians. In a census of 1939 these German-Russians numbered 1.6 million. Further, God knows it was not merely a "resettlement," but a genuine deportation of an entire ethnic group, an entire people, a term still used today by some former "Soviet Germans."

The line of separation drawn on August 28, 1941, was the Dnieper River. German-Russians on the left side of the river, the largest river in Europe save the Volga and the Danube, were inescapably seized after carefully laid plans and deported to Siberia. About one-fifth of Germans in the Soviet Union were at least temporarily spared from this deportation during the first months of the war, simply because these people found themselves in the area controlled by the quickly advancing German troops. Their "ordinary" fate was that for about two relatively good war years they were allowed to live in their home villages on the Black Sea, on the Dnieper or in Volhynia. However, by 1943/44 they were no longer given a choice, except to be evacuated to Western Poland ("Warthegau [German designation for the region around the Warthe River]," ahead of the front moving toward the West, and in 1945, just like their compatriots four years earlier, most were finally "resettled" by the Soviet Union into Siberia and northern regions of European Russia. This "resettlement" was termed a "repatriation" by the Soviets, but Germany called it, more precisely Verschleppung (an abduction), literally a "dragging off."

Between 250,000 to 350,000 Germans from Russia were part of this abduction. One estimate states that there were about 150,000 Germans from Russia living in Germany following the cessation of the repatriation actions by the Soviets, a number that includes about 40,000 to 50,000 Germans who had emigrated from the USSR prior to WW II. Dr. Karl Stumpp, on the other hand, cites a total of merely 52,000 Germans from Russia living in the Federal Republic of Germany during 1955.

There are several reasons for this discrepancy, some of the more significant ones being the following:

1. From 1950 on, about 40,000 Germans from Russia imigrated overseas.

2. The "old" Germans from Russia, i.e., post-October-Revolution refugees and immigrants arriving during the 1920s, were not counted by Dr. Stumpp, since they had become German citizens long before.

3. Quite a few Germans from Russia were successful in disguising their true origins and thereby to escape being handed over to the Soviet authorities. This was especially the case for former German Soviet citizens who were born in places with German names such as Kandel, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Neuendorf, Rosental, etc.

4. Those few Germans from Russia who were actually able to remain in the former German Democratic Republic were also not included in [Stumpp's] numbers.

The Founding Years, 1950-1955

The core of the founders of the Landsmannschaft belonged nearly exclusively to Group 2 [above].

These were generally men who had been born around the turn of the [20th] century and, as young people, experienced the overthrow in Russia, but were able to follow further developments in the Soviet Union mostly only from afar, some with perhaps a two-year stay (between 1941 and 1944) in the vicinity of their former home villages. But just like many other Germans, they became part of the more recent German history. Further, their relationship with National Socialism was hardly distinguishable from that of the relationship of the majority of the German people with Hitler during his first ten years in power. But following several disappointments over happenings in the war, they dedicated themselves totally to the aid of their compatriots who had fled to Germany and were now living more or less reasonably well in Germany. In this work they relied heavily on church organizations.

The "core" of the Landsmannschaft membership per se consisted of those refugees and evacuees of Group 3 [above], who had all they could do trying to integrate professionally, who experienced great difficulties in performing their volunteer duties for the future of their ethnic group, and who put no trust, to any degree or manner, in their "great brother" in the East. Some exceptions were those few who were able to find employment in church or other welfare organizations.

Stuttgart must be considered the focal point of efforts toward establishing an organization for Germans from Russia. It was there that the necessity of founding a Landsmannschaft for Germans from Russia had been realized most quickly.The vicivity in around Stuttgart was home to so many Germans from other countries, who since the beginning of the "Thousand Year Reich" had been called Volksdeutsche [Ethnic Germans]. This term was not exactly a pleasant one for all Germans from Russia, but it was better than the term Russia-Germans [now Germans from or in Russia], Soviet Germans, German Russians, etc. The more positive terms such as Black Sea- Germans, Volga-Germans, Caucasus-Germans, Crimea-Germans or Volhynia-Germans were no longer quite fitting because the war, deportations, and flight had essentially melted these regional groups into one.

After the war, it was especially the church organizations, in addition to the Red Cross, that looked after the needs of the refugee "Ethnic Germans." The first initiatives came from the "Relief Action Committee for Eastern Evangelical Lutheran Resettlers," founded in 1947. Its first chairman, Friedrich Rink, was succeeded by Pastor Heinrich Roemmich in 1948, Pastor Alfred Kaercher in 1961, and the memorable Pastor Irmgard Stoldt (1912-1998) in 1969.

The initially unelected spokesman for all Germans from Russia or the Soviet Union, respectively, was the Evangelical Lutheran Pastor Heinrich Roemmich (1888-1980).

Soon after the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany on May 23, 1949, Pastor Roemmich made contact with leading German-Russian figures in churches and institutions, men such as Prof. Benjamin Unruh (Mennonites), Clemens Kiefel (Catholics), K.G. Wesel (Independent Churches), as well as Dr. Gottlieb Leibbrandt, Dr. Wilfred Schlau, R. Metzler, Andreas Mergenthaler, Julian Merling and Oscar Appel. Over the course of many years, several of them played a very significant role in the history of the Landsmannschaft and beyond.

On April 22, 1950, after a brief activity report had been given by each representative present, the group decided that a "Working Group for Eastern Resettlers" should be established, they debated a statement of purpose that had essentially been drawn up by Roemmich and Mergenthaler, and elected a provisional board that was to function until the upcoming meeting of delegates. First Chairman was Pastor Roemmich, his Vice Chairman was Dr. Leibbrandt, and the advisory committee consisted of Prof. Unruh and Preacher Wessel [sic -- see variant spelling above, tr.].

During the subsequent convention of delegates on October 15, 1950, Pastor Roemmich withdrew to his position of director of the Relief Action Committee for Eastern Evangelical Lutheran Resettlers, and Dr. Leibbrandt was elected to First Chairman and appointed as paid secretary of the Working Group.

The minutes of the founding meeting, which were probably written a few months later, state the following:

"The Landsmannschaft or Working Group for Resettlers from the East was established in April 1950, without a single penny of funding ... The final constituting act took place in Kassel at the convention of delegates during October of 1950. At the same meeting the creation of a newsletter was also decided. In October the government granted every Landsmannschaft 3,000 DM. This money was used primarily to finance our newsletter Volk auf dem Weg. So far 750 subscribers have signed up to receive the newsletter. With 1,000 subscribers, the paper can become self-sustaining ..."

This must have been documented at the beginning of 1951. The idea that an eight-page paper can sustain itself permanently with only 1,000 subscriptions was, of course, a utopian one. The subscription for one year cost 6 DM! Later the annual subscription price rose to 8 DM (1954), 12 DM (1962), 16 DM (1963), 24 DM (1972), and 36 DM (1976). In 1980, the subscription for Volk auf dem Weg actually became gratis for members of the Landsmannschaft, but a membership fee was set initially at 36 DM, raised to 48 DM in 1985 and to 54 DM in 1995. The number of pages of the paper also analogously, which, given the corresponding rise in prices in the Federal Republic of Germany, might be considered a great success story for Volk auf dem Weg.

Most recently the question has been asked ever more strongly as to whether the direct tie-in of membership in the Landsmannschaft to a subscription to Volk auf dem Weg was a successful move. The number of subscribers to Volk auf dem Weg, that is, members of the Landsmannschaft, which over 45 years had continuously risen (2,000 in 1952; 3,000 in 1954; 5,000 in 1972; 7,000 in 1976; 8,000 in 1985; 12,000 in 1992; 32,000 in 1995), has of late experienced a decline, at least since 1996. At the beginning of the year 2,000, after cleaning up the data base, there were still 26,200 members of the Landsmannschaft, 1,200 of them overseas. The blame [for the decline] foremost goes to two competing bilingual and Russian-language papers, which have no scruples about publishing material that for Volk auf dem Weg, the organ of the Association, is deemed as inappropriate or inopportune. Also, the so-called "family membership" concept has had a negative effect on the number of members of the Landsmannschaft. What family would order two or more copies of Volk auf dem Weg just for receiving correspondingly multiple voting power?

During the first years of the Landsmannschaft, beginning with the first countrywide convention on May 12, 1951, in Stuttgart-Feuerbach, getting out of the country was one of the most important topics of numerous events. By that they did not mean travel or emigration from the Soviet Union to the Federal Republic of Germany, but emigration overseas, a topic that occupied even the first federal chairman of the Landsmannschaft, Dr. Gottlieb Leibbrandt (1908-1989).

1955 -- a Course Change

The September 1955 trip by Federal Chancellor Adenauer to Moscow became the most significant topic for all of Germany and for all German-Russians. Of primary concern was the resumption of diplomatic relations and the release of the remaining 10,000 German men from more than ten years in prisoner-of-war camps. The act found very strong resonance among German-Russians. However, their hopes were also accompanied by fears, which were increased by Chief Soviet Khrushchev, who in return demanded to get back "his" 100,000 Soviet citizens still living in Germany. According to Soviet assumptions, this included even those former Soviet citizens who had acquired a German passport long before. Furthermore, "repatriation commandos" began to reappear in the Western Zones. Although they no longer took anyone away by force, their presence alone provided many a sleepless night among weaker souls. "Have no fear," wrote Johannes Schleunig in October of 1955 in a strong article in Volk auf dem Weg. At the time he was "spokesman" and thereby the leading figure of the Landsmannschaft. Although the Landsmannschaft repeatedly published similar articles until at least 1957, the German-Russian soul would not find calm for years to come.

The results achieved by Adenauer, at the base level, did not kindle the kind of euphoria that was claimed in later times. Unfortunately, its assessment depended on who happened to be in power in Bonn. Witness, for example, the comment by the federal chairman of the Landsmannschaft during the time of the social-liberal coalition in Bonn in 1974, Joseph Schnurr: "The truth about Adenauer's visit is simply that nothing in the contract mentions the German-Russians, but subsequent correspondence (between Bonn and Moscow) does reveal that the Russians have promised to examine with benevolence the question of the German-Russians."

The fact is that in 1955 one should not have expected more. During the year 2,000 one might remind oneself that even Gorbachev was quoted in Pravda as late as 1988,"These are our Germans."

For the German-Russians, the most significant political result from Adenauer's visit to Moscow was the rescinding of the so-called Kommandatur [the mandatory subservience of all Germans to the local military command, tr.]. During preparations for the visit, the Landsmannschaft had given the Chancellor a number of lists with names involved in special hardship cases of family reunification, and it appears that many of these found positive resolution.

The Landsmannschaft was able to consider as a further success the February 22, 1955, decision by the Bundestag [lower house in Germany, tr.] to recognize within the Federal Republic all acts of naturalization that had taken place during the war [usually, by the German army, affecting ethnic Germans previously considered Soviet citizens, tr.].

In both cases the Landsmannschaft had played an active role, but deliberately without fanfare. As in the case of many other problems, the leadership of the Landsmannschaft had placed itself on the side of "quiet diplomacy" rather than large demonstrations and marches.

From a purely self-interested viewpoint of the Landsmannschaft, the third federal congress of Germans from Russia, together with its unforgettable rally on May 29, 1955, in the tradition-rich St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt, must be counted among the most important milestones in its history. In a moving appeal, the Landsmannschaft addressed the federal government and the German public in demanding the reunification of German families who had been separated by the war:

"It is our sacred obligation to assume onto our hearts and consciences the difficult fate of our people who were deported to Siberia and, in the name of humanity, to carry this message to the world: release our family members, our wives, our husbands, our children; reunite those who were separated by no fault of their own and who, by all human and divine rights, belong together."

On that same day in Frankfurt, the final renaming of the "Arbeitskeises der Ostumsiedler [Working Group for Resettlers from the East]" into the "Landsmannschaft der Seutscher aus Russland [Landsmannschaft of Germans from Russia]" was carried out.

Of course, it took a long while until Moscow recognized the significance of this humanitarian act. However, initial emigration statistics still did not reveal any evidence of real change. In fact, within the next 15 years, a mere 20,537 Germans in the Soviet Union received permission, as part of the consideration for reuniting families, to imigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany.

This was nothing more than a drop in the bucket. Only by 1972 did the number of emigrants from the Soviet Union climb discernibly and reach their first high points in the years 1976 and 1977, with 9,704 and 9,274 emigrants, respectively. Today we realize that these numbers are insignificant in comparison to the numbers as of 1990, when as a rule more arrived monthly than had arrived yearly prior to that period.

After 1965, the Year of Human Rights

The year 1965 was designated as the "Year of Human Rights." Twenty years after the end of World War II, the intent was to draw the world's conscience to increased awareness of the victims of flight and deportation.

The conventions of the Landsmannschaft served most of all to inform the public about the fate of the Germans in the Soviet Union. Even the main media were beginning to deal with the topic. On January 7, 1965, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung carried the following translated excerpt from the London Times,"The rehabilitation of those exiled from the Volga region could be considered a friendly gesture toward Germany, giving a signal that the war hatchet might be buried. Even if they can't be sent to their original homes, they should at least be cleared of the rap of having been Nazi sympathizers."

Neither editor may have been aware that on August 29 of the prior year a halfhearted attempt at rehabilitation of the Volga-Germans and the rescinding of the deportation decree of August 28, 1941, had actually taken place. Of course, the German-Russians could hardly be cognizant of it. They merely registered complete bitterness over the fact that were still forbidden to return to their original homes. A related new ukase was actually issued by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, but not until eight years later, on November 3, 1972. In its own wisdom, it did not publicize it, as evidenced by the fact that very few were aware of its existence.

The year 1968 went down in German history as the year of student unrest. However, these events, save perhaps a few public statements by academics, hardly registered among the German-Russians, who had been formed as lifelong flesh and blood opponents of public demonstrations. However, some new ways of thinking did find their way into the working group's agenda and would remain an almost necessary "source of friction." A leading representative of these views was Eduard von Sarnowski (1942-1989), who in his high academic position really had no need to delve into the "humiliations" of his ethnic group, yet he received more criticism rather than gratitude. In addition to his normal professional life, "Edi," as his friends affectionately called him, found the time to work as the editor of Volk auf dem Weg and of two editions of the Heimatbuch of the Landsmannschaft. In addition, he distinguished himself especially by his volunteer work in the areas of culture and youth, where he effected several initiatives.

The fact that after 1968 the Landsmannschaft began to experience a certain generational change made it apparent that time had not failed to leave its mark on our elder statesmen. The most significant change took place in the social sector, which increasingly became the most important pillar for the Landsmannschaft to base its work on, and which received decisive impulses from a man who was largely responsible for the successes and setbacks for the largest organization for Germans from Russia during the 1970s and 1980s. His name was Franz Usselmann. As national chairman of the Landsmannschaft, he continued to cover the same areas of concern that had previously occupied Pastor Roemmich and a number of social science experts.

However, the "magic word" in the Landsmannschaft at that time was the term "vysov." At the onset of 1968 the German Red Cross attempted to explain the meaning of this word as follows, "A vysov, as some may know, has been the key item required by Soviet police as proof that an applicant has relatives in the Federal Republic and is therefore always required for every application. However, this procedure has nothing to do with the granting of a visa by the embassy. In our opinion, mention in your home newspaper of 'vysov' might as well be replaced with the more explicit term 'demand.'"

Apparently in those days the tendency to replace simple German expressions with complicated foreign terms was not as common as it is today. However, the term vysow did become a commonly used term, whether it dealt with a "visitor's visa" or even a "vysov for permanent residence."

During the national convention of June 15-16, 1968, some compatriot attendees complained that the Federal Government had not sent a federal minister, but merely an assistant secretary, to Wiesbaden. The suspicion among the attendees in the Rhein- Main- Halle of the Hessian capital city was that the federal government did not wish to irritate the East. The then newly elected president of the Association of Refugees, Otto Rehs, did not hold back. Soon after his introductory "Dear comrades in fate, dear Germans from Russia," the man who was known to be an SPD member began to speak openly, just as his predecessors and successors in office had done and did, most of whom were members of the so-called "C-parties":

"You are aware that subsequent to the 20th Congress of the [Soviet Communist] Party, which introduced de-Stalinization, many people who had been deported and exiled were allowed to return to their original homes. Only the German-Russians and Crimean Tatars are still not allowed to do so. Of the 350,000 German-Russians who had been evacuated from the south of Russia to the Warthegau, about 75,000 still reside in the Federal Republic today. The majority of them, however, namely 250,000, were dragged back into the Soviet Union. We observe that this constitutes a fateful history of suffering by the German-Russian ethnic group. The tragedy continues today, because families still remain separated far away from home; they desire only one thing, a reasonable existence."

The KSZE Final Agreement Document -- Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe

On August 1, 1975, the so-called KSZE Final Agreement by 33 European countries as well as the USA and Canada was signed in Finland's capital city of Helsinki. (Today the organization [with the German acronym] KSZE is called "Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe," with the new German acronym OSZE. [KSZE stands for "Konferenz zur Sicherheit und Zusammenarbeit in Europe, tr.]. Since the Soviet Union was one of the signatory states, German-Russians were especially interested in significant clauses of the agreement dealing with human rights, basic freedoms, family ties and opportunity for travel. The document clearly stated that participant states set as their goal to ease toward freer movement and contact between individuals and groups, to examine travel requests benevolently, and to deal in a humanitarian and positive manner, and as expeditiously as possible, with requests for family reunification.

The signing of the KSZE Final Agreement occurred almost on the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Charter for Refugees of August 5, 1950. So one could say that 1975 was a doubly successful year for the displaced and their Landsmannschaft ...

However, reality in the Soviet Union looked quite different. Bad news outweighed any other. Those desirous of emigration experienced harassment and were dragged into court for arbitrary reasons. The trial against Erich Abel, who was sentenced to three years in prison merely because of his desire to emigrate, was only the tip of the iceberg.

Meanwhile in Germany, representatives to a conference of delegates of the Landsmannschaft intensified their efforts toward allowing imigration for also those without relatives in Germany. A modicum of success was achieved during the subsequent five years, as can be seen in our statistics that appear at the end of this article [I was unable locate these statistics, tr.].

Apart from all that, a kind of "musical chairs" was taking place at the top layer of the Landsmannschaft. The position of "cultural chief" of the Landsmannschaft passed from Dr. Stumpp to Joseph Schnurr, while yet another Volga-German, Dr. Matthias Hagin, was pressed into the research work of the Landsmannschaft, which due to heavy representation in the original founders group had been dominated by "Black Sea-German" oriented members.

In 1976 the Missing Persons Tracing Service celebrated 30 years of existence. A "by- product" of the search activities was the capturing of data regarding Germans living in the Soviet Union who desired to emigrate. Due to the excellent collaboration between the tracing service and the Landsmannschaft those seeking assistance found very able help in getting visas, in receiving counseling, and with practical assistance in individual cases. Correspondingly, at conferences of the Landsmannschaft, appropriate stands or desks would be available, and ads for assistance in locating lost relatives often took up more than half the pages of issues of Volk auf dem Weg.

Sponsorship via the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg

An important step for the future of Germans from Russia and their Landsmannschaft was taken in 1979 via the acceptance of it sponsorship by the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg. The official certificate of sponsorship was issued on January 30, 1979. This occurred during a real identity crisis among Germans from Russia. Pastor Irmgard Stoldt captured this crisis in verses that quickly made the rounds:

Who am I?

A German foreigner, an ethnic German,
a German-Russian, a Soviet-German,
a Soviet citizen with German ancestry,
a Russian- German as well?
And what else?
Yes, there is more:

Ordered into exile, forced to leave,
integrated and assimilated.
To some an immigrant, to others a resettler,
emigrant and immigrant,
immigrant and emigrant,
a Russian citizen speaking the German tongue,
deportee and refugee.
Yes, a deported prisoner to boot,
finally released from the clutches
of a foreign state.

What do they want of me?
What will they do with me here?
What will be recorded, set down
in important papers?
These are milestones that marked
and determined my fate forever!
It was the decisions by high-level politics,
actions by authorities,
which created this distance.

Why am I not accepted?
Am I not returning to my old home --
I'm a German, nothing else!
A German who, on behalf of others,
was forced to suffer the brunt of
hatred and revenge towards Germans.
Starving in slavery.
My parents barely escaped death.
Sworn at, held back in school
and career, I finally tore away.
All of the young who overcame their fears
pushed for a return to their old home,
no matter what it may cost!
Only few have succeeded in reaching heir goal.

But now -- I'm here!
And thank you, thank you, thank you!
But who am I now?
Not a foreign guest who may decide to leave at some time,
no, a Landsmann [compatriot] who
has finally reached home
and searches church records
for his ancestors' names, whose
fatherland's woes once forced them
to emigrate.

During those times of an identity crisis for Germans from Russia and of rapidly sinking numbers of resettlers, the sponsorship provided a safe haven for decisions that were of great importance for the future. One of these was the acquisition of a house by the Landsmannschaft, made possible through donations from the members and a by grant from the sponsoring Land [state]. The date of this purchase was March 12, 1982. At the time, the main objective of the Landsmannschaft was to smooth the way toward integrating newly arrived compatriots. Even though the number of resettlers was getting close to zero -- the absolute bottom was reached in 1985, with only 460 resettlers during the year -- optimists did not give up hope and knocked on many doors, not without success.

The Usselmann Era (1978 - 1991)

The federal chairman of the Landsmannschaft at that time, Franz Usselmann, happened to be an expert on social questions. His presidency marked the final end of the founding era. The delegates in 1978 had voted for him when younger representatives of the leadership echelon, such as Albin Fiebig and Eduard von Sarnowski, were forced through professional reasons to decline this great responsibility, and when it became apparent that the older members would no longer be capable of it. Together with his "governor" Alexander Rack, the managing federal secretary of the Landsmannschaft, Usselmann performed his work exactly the way most village groups and the leaders of a representative group of Germans from Russia could expect. Any criticism of the "Usselmann Era," expressed much later, can easily be explained by the fact that the work of the Landsmannschaft grew so rapidly, and within such a very short time, that no one could have solved all the problems entirely satisfactorily. The same can be said for Usselmann's successor, Alois Reiss, who has been directing the fortunes of the Landsmannschaft since 1991 and possesses similar strengths in the area of social questions and beyond. The first years of Usselmann's term at the helm saw the founding of a sister organization and of a daughter organization of the Landsmannschaft. The "daughter" organization was the "Kulturrat der Deutschen aus Russland [Cultural Council of Germans from Russia]," its "sister" organization was the "Internationale Assoziation der Deutschen aus Russland [International Association of Germans from Russia]." The Cultural Council [German acronym:] (KDR) was established on October 11, 1981, and the Association on September 5, 1982. Soon after their founding, both organizations suffered from insufficient membership and financial woes. The Association, for one, was too dependent on one man, Dr. Matthias Hagin, and practically went into a deep slumber following his death in 1990. With representatives from only six countries (Germany, USA, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Canada) it did not amount to much, especially since the most important country besides Germany, the Soviet Union, was not represented.

With regard to membership and financial problems, the Cultural Council fared similarly to the Association. The fact that it still exists must be attributed to its close ties with the Landsmannschaft, which signifies a measure of dependence, but can always be expected to serve as a source of support.

1983 -- A Quarter till Twelve

An enormous dip in the number of arriving resettlers appeared as of about 1983. The total for that year was 1447, for the following three years it was 913, 460, and 751. On May 4, 1983, the Federal Republic's Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, personally took up this topic in a statement at "a quarter till twelve":

"We shall push to make it possible for more Germans to emigrate from the Soviet Union." It is possible that the Chancellor might have been thinking about numbers that had been bandied about around 1976/77 -- numbers that no one could possibly imagine in 1983, not even within the Landsmannschaft. Even when the Soviet delegation chief at the Third KSZE Conference in Vienna during January of 1987 attempted to promise that tens of thousands of German citizens of the Soviet Union would receive permission to emigrate, most deemed it as a mere propaganda move by Moscow. Yet, Volk auf dem Weg and both Landsmannschaft representatives at the Vienna conference, Anton Bosch and Helmut Kremser, were inclined to be more optimistic and advised others to take Gorbachev at his word.

On an "intra-political" basis during the 1970s and 1980s, the Landsmannschaft was primarily pushing for making previous accomplishments available also for those compatriots who were still waiting in vain for permission to emigrate.

Political opposition was formidable. With hindsight we now know that there were pervasive powers, in all political parties, which were trying to fend off the thinking of the Landsmannschaft. In fact, the federal chair of the Landsmannschaft was forced to struggle energetically against false accusations of "a lack of pressuring," against clearly incompetent statements by individual politicians, and against the ignorance of the German public concerning the fate of the Germans from Russia.

Resettler Numbers on the Increase

Gorbachev's representative at the KSZE Conference in Vienna had not been bluffing after all. An avalanche began to roll in midyear 1987. By year's end there had been 14,488 resettler immigrants, nearly twenty times the previous year's total. When by 1992 the year's number of arriving resettlers had risen to 195,576, our ethnic group became the victim of an effort to pass laws intended to resolve or clean up problems resulting from the war. Only a few years later did the resettlers, by then having carefully been legally dubbed as Spaetaussiedler "[a difficult term, best translated as "Late resettler immigrants," tr.], begin to realize that those laws actually included massive restrictions for the "new ones." Alois Reiss, federal chairman of the Landsmannschaft from 1991 until 2000, frequently found himself stating publicly that those laws had not been good laws for the Germans from Russia. However, they were the best possible given the political circumstances of the times.

Small wonder, then, that the leaders of the Landsmannschaft would attempt to forge ties with the governing political parties. They had broken completely with one system and had little choice now but to trust the other with their very lives. That way, at least Paragraph 116 of the federal Constitution, a paragraph that was absolutely necessary for the continued existence of Germans from Russia, was retained. And clarifications were made. Some of the new clarity was hard to take, but one knew what was what.

Many German-Russians [in the Soviet Union], still trusting earlier promises, and still not believing that even within rich Germany there were the unemployed, the poor and weak, and little money for application to general cultural problems, were still packing their bags confidently. Too glibly did they ignore the real truth in carefully hedged statements by diplomats and even in open and frank words from their own friends who were beginning to give out the warning that it might just be best to stay where one grew up. "There," it is true, large sums of money were still flowing in from Germany, and German regions were being established. Furthermore, on February 21, 1992, President Yeltsin of Russia issued a decree that hinted at a stepwise reestablishment of the Volga Republic that had been dissolved in 1941. Yeltsin, however, very quickly changed his mind after a survey within the Saratov area indicated that a majority of residents was completely against Volga-German autonomy.

The fruitless debate over autonomy had meanwhile splashed over into the Federal Republic of Germany. A speaker of a Soviet-German association called "Wiedergeburt [Rebirth]" that had been founded in March of 1989 initially effected a kind of euphoria, but in Stuttgart and Bonn it soon became clear that autonomy would simply not be forthcoming. For the Germans in Russia, only two alternatives remained: emigrate and become German by force of Paragraph 116 of the Constitution or remain and hope for a miracle. After all, our compatriots in the German Democratic Republic had also waited it out ...

During this phase, the Landsmannschaft as well as German politicians had to face this dilemma: bring more resettler immigrants into the country or [at least] make things better. The barely hidden message was: the more who still come in, the less they'll get. The secret formula was simply this: "A times E = K," where A stands for Aussiedler [resettling immigrant], E for individual benefits per Aussiedler who makes it here, and K for the totality of funds available for all arriving Aussiedler. And, of course, the sum K has been steadily decreasing since 1996.

Ten years ago, the decision was made in favor of more immigrants, a decision that today one can probably criticize. But what would the 1.6 million German-Russian immigrant resettlers who were actually permitted to come into Germany between 1990 and 1999 say had the Landsmannschaft decided in a contrary fashion?

More Resettlers, more Problems

Responsibility for struggling with this set of problems rested with the leadership of the Landsmannschaft, mostly unchanged since 1991, with Alois Reiss at the top. In many locales, new organizations for Germans from Russia began to emerge, some with pithy names such as "Heimat [Homeland"], "Initiative," "Semlyaki" [Russian term for Landsleute, Compatriots], and various others. Their anger was first directed toward higher politics. But since some were unable to accomplish much due, for example, to insufficient linguistic skills, some former Germans formerly from the Soviet Union then directed their anger toward the Landsmannschaft. Was it not, after all, supposed to make possible for them in Germany what they had not been able to get in the Soviet Union or the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]?

The Landsmannschaft certainly did not have the time or the means to counteract these arguments aggressively. Their almost exclusively volunteer workers were fully occupied with "classical" tasks of the organization, which by now definitely included the language problems of a new generation of German-Russian Spaetaussiedler.

This classical work continues to be provided with great energy and success by the many counselors, youth leaders, and cultural consultants of the Landsmannschaft. One unsolved problem is the matter of language difficulties, which practically tears the ethnic group apart. One group wants no part of the Russian language, the others still, or at least for the time being, have great difficulty with the German language.

The arguments of either group are clear: Those who speak the German language point to the lack of acceptance by the German populace of those who claim to be Germans but can't even speak their mother tongue; and the "Russophiles" seem resigned to say, "They will never acknowledge us as Germans, no matter what we speak."

Somewhere between these two extremes is the great majority of Germans from Russia, actually comfortable with both cultures and willing to be tolerant of the others. It is here where the potential lies for a considerably larger organization in the future. The potential is enormous, provided Germans from Russia work together.

Organizations Sympathetic to or Affiliated with the Landsmannschaft for Germans from Russia

The Kulturrat der Deutschen aus Russland (KDR) [see translation above] is a successor organization of the "Freundeskreis zur Erforschung des europaeischen und aussereuropaeischen Russlandsdeutschtums [Circle of Friends for Research into the Question of German-Russians Inside and Outside of Europe]," which existed between June 11, 1976, and October 11, 1981. The chairman of the KDR has automatic membership on the federal board of the Landsmannschaft, which in turn has membership on the board of the KDR.

The Arbeitskreis der Wolgadeutschen [Working Group of Volga-Germans] has existed with a few interruptions since 1918. Since 1966, and more concertedly in 1981, it has become more visible. In 1985, the federal state of Hesse assumed partnership for Volga-Germans. [Translator's note: many original Volga-Germans, possibly most of them, originated from Hesse.]

DJR -- Deutsche Jugend aus Russland [German Youth from Russia] constitutes a successor organization of earlier youth groups of the Landsmannschaft. During its countrywide conference in October of 1999, this group forged a greater degree of independence for itself. Membership on the federal board of the Landsmannschaft is like that of the KDR.

Der Russlanddeutsche Autorenkreis [Circle of German-Russian Authors] is a strong proponent of bilingualism among Germans from Russia and provides an opportunity to succeed via the Russian language for young authors who have not yet mastered the German language.

Der Historische Forschungsverein der Deutschen aus Russland [Historical Research Society for Germans from Russia] has been in existence only since January 20, 1999, with Nuremberg as its headquaters.

The Landsmannschaft has traditionally enjoyed good relationships with the German Red Cross, with the Bund der Vertriebenen [Association for Refugees], with Caritas, Internal Missions and Workers' Welfare, with the DJO (Deutsche Jugend in Europe [German Youth in Europe]), as well as with organizations of Germans from Russia in the United States. Contact with German-Russian societies in the CIS currently consists of an information gathering nature.

Appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

Front row at the national meeting of 1978 in Wiesbaden. Seated to left of Dr. Karl Stumpp (third from the right) are Pastor Heinrich Roemmich, Gertrud
Braun, Franz Usselmann and Joseph Schnurr.
At a 1981 conference of the Landsmannschaft in Stuttgart.
At the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Landsmannschaft in 1990, German-Russian choirs flourished as they had never done before. [The banner in the picture reads, "Landsmannschaft of Germans from Russia: Our Home -- Germany]
Leading representatives of the Landsmannschaft of recent years, appearing together with the current national chair, Alois Reiss (front row, 5th from the left).
Active representatives of the youth organization of the Landsmannschaft (left to right): Albina Nazarenus, Eduard Lauer, Albert Vetter, Johannes Hoerner and Lilia Antipow.

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