Young Germans from Russia
Junge Russlanddeutsche

By Kurt Reinelt

Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, Stuttgart, Germany, 2001

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

Translator's note: Especially in the context of this article, the usual translation for "Russlanddeutsche" as "Germans from Russia" actually makes sense, whereas the same designation for ethnic Germans actually in Russia, i.e., in the former Soviet Union, can sometimes be confusing.

1. Human rights as relating to religious instruction of young Germans from Russia.

Preservation of human rights is an important topic as it relates to instruction in religion and social science. Young Germans from Russia have come to know [former] classmates their own age who are serving out their military conscription and must perhaps count on being deployed in Chechnya. If they had not come to Germany, they would be faced with the same possibility. A few of these young Germans from Russia are actually being deported because they have not at least passed a repeated language aptitude test. According to the magazine, Menschenrechte [Human Rights], (Number 2/2000, p. 18, also see numbers 1 and 9), about 1500 families or a total of 4000 people were affected by this forced return, even though while still in their countries of origin they had received permission to enter. And now they must also pay back money involved in welfare assistance, rent, costs for language courses, occupational training assistance, and return transportation, the consequence being financial ruin for these families. More and more, many who wish to emigrate experience immediate failure due to failing the language test in the country of origin.

Normal privileges of human rights and school-based religious instruction were never part of the experience of ethnic Germans in large parts of Russia: particularly the Stalinist cleansing 1934-1937 and forced banishments in 1942 brought immeasurable suffering and innumerable deaths, especially to almost all the German pastors in Russia. Those Germans in Russia were debased as Germans or Nazis. And here, Germans from Russia have often been discriminated against, not recognized as Germans, or simply ignored. This fate befell me personally, so I decided to seek contacts and look for recourse. For three years I have been pursuing a volunteer pilot project, providing "religious instruction" and helping in occupational training for unemployed Germans from Russia. They manage to pass courses beneficial to occupational training and often get their substitute high school diplomas, but usually are offered no opportunities (even in Bavaria) to receive religious instruction. In comparison, by this time in their lives, and even before they enter occupational instruction, native youth will have had as many as nine years of instruction in religion. In contrast, Germans from Russia, following their "re-immigration," will often have had two to four years at best. Thus many young Germans from Russia are not familiar with the basic principles of our society and state, ecclesial opportunities, self-control vis-à-vis rules regarding life in general, and taking control of their occupational future in particular. This should be where religious instruction could be of great help. Very few voluntarily take advantage of instruction in occupational ethics, and as a result they tend to miss opportunities for social and religious integration. However, direct pastoral contact with autonomous individuals is certainly desirable and urgently needed.

2. Did you know?

In Germany there are more young Germans from Russia than young Turks or even young nationals from other European Union (EU) countries. Since 1990, over 1.75 million Germans from Russia have been repatriated into Germany. The total since January 1, 1950, amounts to over 4.2 million, over half of them from the former Soviet Union, i.e., from the successor nations to the USSR or Czarist-Communist Russia. Until 1942, most of their families had--due to war or policies of specific regimes--been forcefully deported from the Volga and Black Sea areas to Siberia and Kazakhstan. The number of foreigners in Germany in 1999 totaled 7.3436 million people, of which 2.0536 million (among them Aramaic and Kurdish people) had Turkish passports, and 1.8587 million stemmed from EU nations.

Furthermore, the percentage of juveniles and children among Germans from Russia is remarkably high, i.e., double that of the native populace. For other foreigners, e.g., the Turks, this percentage lies somewhere in between. Therefore, the percentage in schools is (often not so obviously) higher for Germans from Russia than among pupils of Turkish or other EU nationalities. Additionally, each year brings another 100,000 "late repatriates," and thereby many youngsters, from the former Soviet Union states to the Federal Republic of Germany. In contrast, the number of Turks has actually diminished within one year by 56,600 people.

The following circumstances make these "official" numbers problematic or at least subject to misunderstanding: there are Turks and Turkish juveniles who call themselves Turks even though they possess German citizenship only. Counted among Germans from Russia, on the other hand, are spouses and their descendants, as well Jewish refugees. Some Germans from Russia still possess only a Russian, Kazakh, or other passport. Also, all repatriates before 1992 still count as Germans from Russia, independently of how well they can speak German. German-Russian parents consider even their children who were born in Germany as Germans from Russia, if not immigrants.

Yet, problems with these details hidden in the numbers must not obscure consideration for human beings and their integration. Still it is important to emphasize the fact that the number of young Germans from Russia (especially in the extended sense) has exceeded that of young Turks. The resulting qualitative consequences, e.g., in the area of juvenile employment and schooling, are often overlooked. The so-called Shell Youth Study 13 indicates that of the overall total of youths in Germany of ages 15-24, exactly 5.838 percent (or 528,222) are Turks, but there is no official designation at all of the percentage of young Germans from Russia.

The high proportion of young people among Germans from Russia is often considered a rather positive aspect, especially concerning welfare, and as an advantage to the German nation. For example, the proportion of pensioners and people over 65 years of age among Germans from Russia is only half--and the number of youth under 25 is double--that of the native population. They thereby actually contribute to stabilization of the pension system, because even with their lower starting wages they pay more into the system than they receive out of it. Germans from Russia desire to remain in Germany permanently and really want to master the language sooner or later. Their children who were born here hardly ever speak Russian and nearly exclusively German. A return to Kazakhstan or Siberia doesn't make sense for them, economically or ethnically. A few might become economically successful in the long run by working as mediators between two cultures, working perhaps in the foreign office or as engineers and commercial representatives for German companies in the former Soviet nations.

3. "Germans from Russia" are Germans, not Russians, because across generations they have tended to preserve German traditions, were treated as Germans, and now wish to become German citizens.

Following their forced settlements, and after 1950, they are conceptually thought of as resettlers, but before that as returnees or refugees. For these emigrants, Russia primarily means not the "Russian Republic," but rather the boundaries of Czarist Russia and, subsequently, the USSR, or CIS. It was the czars or czarinas who, beginning in 1763, advertised for German farmers and skilled craftsmen. Thus it came about that German Protestants (at the time about 65%), German Mennonites, and German Catholics (30%) arrived [in "Russia"] to colonize, in ethnic-linguistic-confessional unity, entire regions and to preserve their own traditions. In fact, in 1847 it was possible to find a German-speaking Catholic diocese of Tiraspol with its seat in Cherson/Saratov. The privileges of self-government and freedom from conscription for the colonists were not seriously threatened or canceled until 1871 and 1874, respectively. Between 1918/1924 and 1939/1941 there even existed an autonomous Socialist Volga Republic with its capital in Engels (now called Pokrovsk) on the Volga. However, the increasing power of the German Reich and the two World Wars led to many anti-German measures: programs; "collectivization, dekulakization, and closing of churches" of 1928; arrest of all German priests and members of religious orders in 1937/38; in 1938 the German language was "banned in all German schools outside of the Volga-German Republic"; elimination of all locally autonomous administration in 1939/39; "as of July 1942, deportation of Germans from all westerly parts of the Soviet Union." Many ethnic Germans in Russia found their death during the transports to Siberia and Kazakhstan, in banishment and in forced labor camps (Trud Army). Not a few Germans took advantage of any opportunity for settling in anonymity in large cities, or sought salvation within ethnically "mixed" marriages. Discrimination began to lessen only about 1955, partial rehabilitation followed in 1964. Return to the settlement areas of 1763-1942 and emigration were still impossible. Starting with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the number of repatriate emigrants grew dramatically and currently hovers around 100,000 per year. The successor states of the USSR are all mired in economic and political problems, they favor their own ethnic majorities, and are not able to provide a secure future for young people. In the meantime, a majority of ethnic Germans in the former USSR has emigrated to the Federal Republic.

As a consequence of WWII, article 116, paragraph 1 of the German Constitution assures that Germans living outside of even the current Federal Republic have a right to return. Germans from Russia put their trust in the constitution and in the contractual loyalty of the Federal Republic and have not been disappointed in that regard. These rights do not, in reality, constitute a financial privilege over those of the native populace.

Financial and integration startup aid of 6000 DM for people born up to 1945 and 4000 DM per person for those born up to April 1, 1964, were intended as compensation for possessions left behind. These transition payments correspond roughly to sums paid to recipients of welfare and unemployment assistance. Anyone who has seen the living conditions in transition quarters will no longer envy German Russians for their allegedly favorable rent payments. Employment offices and a surety fund (cut to a third since 1991) do provide opportunities for six months of instruction in German, for retraining and toward initiatives for work applications. These courses provide assistance for only a brief period. As a rule there is massive occupational down-leveling as compared to occupations practiced in countries of origin. For example, doctors work as nurses, engineers as technicians, and teachers even as cleaning personnel. Germans from Russia prefer to start making some money as quickly as possible instead of being a burden to the state, which is why they are willing to accept such initial loss of occupational image. Unemployment among recent repatriate immigrants had, by year's end 1998, fallen to 121,400, or below 20 percent. A language course over an entire year would be of great help in integration and on the job market.

4. Adjustment problems hit young Germans from Russia particularly hard.

Seen from a view toward personal development, the emigration affects young people during a radical transition phase and during the time of a desire to be independent of their parents, which they have actually been tied to more strongly during the emigration process. In this sense, the strong break in one's whole way of living, additionally exacerbated by separation from friends, hits especially hard. Also weighing heavily is the experience of witnessing the collapse of the Soviet Union, with all its economic and social consequences in the successor nations. Even if the parents' generation is still ready to make sacrifices in favor of their children, the youth are now increasingly claiming the consumer life for themselves. Despite everything, the young Germans from Russia do overcome their problems, they find solace and refuge among others with a similar fate, and in rather conservative life principles. They have come to the Federal Republic "of their own free will" and necessarily have had to leave their friends behind. They made a personal decision in favor of the Federal Republic, for greater freedoms, for economic opportunities, and for their German relatives. About a fifth of them do not complete a school level they had already mastered in their own countries; thus they become losers in an educational sense; and only a third is able to work their way up via achievements through education or in business.

5. Involvement in crime by emigrants is, despite their problems, about as low as by their native counterparts.

This statement is the result of several studies. Negative influences include having to leave friends and a way of life; unsatisfactory work in low paying jobs; threat of unemployment; not infrequent lack of acceptance by the native population; as well as the feeling of uncertainty that comes from changing values and authority. Positive influences include the support from a usually large family and from other Germans from Russia; the desire to achieve with decency; and justified pride in the fact that Germans from Russia have always proven themselves in overcoming and surviving very difficult times. Even in the drug scene, Germans from Russia, with one exception, do not stand out; new users of drugs often underestimate their effect and thus overdose, often with deadly consequences. Even in prisons and among prisoners awaiting trial Germans from Russia and genuine Russians often tend to group together, with problems similar to those of other ethnic groups, but also with the knowledge that prisons in the CIS are quite "different."

6. Religion and parish communities provide special opportunities for integration.

It is now the case that German-from-Russia churchgoers in certain urban Evangelical Lutheran parishes constitute the majority of the membership. For Catholics the situation is somewhat different, only due to their lower percentage (25%) among Germans from Russia. Yet very few among the German immigrants from Rumania or Upper Silesia, and even fewer Germans from Russia, have taken a foothold in committees or ecclesiastic groups. They are sometimes even refused the use of parish meeting rooms and gathering spaces for youth, often with flimsy reasons. Greater sensibility is certainly needed in this area. Financially the Germans from Russia are good business for the churches: most pay their church taxes obediently, yet tend to receive little in return relative to native church members. Of course, the latter did build the parish centers and volunteer organizations. Immigrants do not wish to curry favor and are, given their socialist past, rather shy toward state and institutions and therefore have not risen toward membership in councils. It would be helpful if parishes appointed outreach people for the immigrant members and did a bit of visiting. Participation at weddings and funerals is also needed as bridge-building activities. These areas certainly leave room for improvement in the churches in order to take advantage of the somewhat hidden yet deeply rooted religiousness of the Germans from Russia. Lord, please send workers into this vineyard!


[The following are notes by the author, section numbers apparently referring to those in the body of the article:]

1. Data Sources: published by the Federal Office for Statistics--Statistical Yearbook 2000 of the Federal Republic of Germany, pages 65 and 82. Also on p. 223: 2,110,233 Turkish citizens in Germany. Information regarding political formation 267, 2nd quarter 2000, "Repatriate Immigrants" ["Aussiedler"], p. 37 ff. Also published by the official responsible for repatriate immigrants, Jochen Welt: Info-Service Deutsche Aussiedler, Bonn, p. 104.4 ff., 105.9 and 107.12 ff. Volk auf dem Weg, "Germans in Russia and in the CIS 1763-1997," p. 32. P. Eugen Reinhard SVD, "Catholic Aussiedler Among Us," Koenigstein 1999, p.12 ff.

2. The 13th Shell Study on Youth does distinguish (e.g., p. 1, 353-357) Turkish and Italian foreigners of Turkish significant groups, but does not distinguish the numerically larger group of Germans from Russia as such. It merely introduces one German from Russia, "Eduard," p. II, 93-105, but also 9 Turkish, and 20 youth overall (11 of 22, p. II. 8, 28 of 48).

3. Source: VadW = Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland e.V., among others (publishers). Volk auf dem Weg, "Deutsche in Russland und in der GUS 1763-1997," [see title translated, note one], p. 40 ff. Ossipova, Irina, "Wenn die Welt euch hasst...Die Verfolgung der katholischen Kirche in der UdSSR" ["When the World Hates You...Persecution of the Catholic Church in the USSR"] in Anweiler 2000, Kathe, Hans-Joachim und Winfried Morgenstern (publishers), Lexicon of the Germans from Russia, Part I, "On the History and Culture," Berlin 2000, Moll, Helmut, "Zeugen fuer Christus" ["Witnesses for Christ"], vol. II, Paderborn 1999, pp. 915-958.

4. Informationen zur politischen Bildung 267 ["Information toward Political Formation 267"], 2nd Quarter 2000, "Aussiedler," pp. 390-443. See also Der Aussiedlerbeauftragte, Jochen Welt (publisher), Info-Dienst Deutsche Aussiedler, Bonn, 98, 1-13.

5. Informationen zur politischen Bildung 267, 2nd Quarter 2000, "Aussiedler," p. 45.

6. Cf. Hilkes, Peter, Zur Situation jugendlicher Aussiedler aus den Nachfolgestaaten der Sowietunion in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Topics: In: Die Heimstatt, Koeln 1997, pp. 75-77. Cf. Mario Kaiser, Deutsch aber nicht ganz ["German, But Not Quite"] in: Die Zeit vom 30. Maerz ["The Time as of March 30"] und in Informationen zur politischen Bildung 267, 2nd Quarter 2000, "Aussiedler" p. 35: DtaR [Deutschen aus Russland] sollen nicht scheitern, weil sie dann anderen auf der Tasche liegen und sie duerfen nicht erfolgreich sein, weil sie dann zur Konkurrenz werden. ["Germans from Russia must not fail, because then they'll be a burden, but they also must not succeed, because then they'll become the competition."] [Tr. cont.:] "Good grades in school of Germans from Russia are doubted and irritate the natives. For that reason, Germans from Russia frequently, and despite getting good grades, tend not to want to study, but rather to work and to make some money first."

7. Elsner, Hans, Untersuchung zur Wirkung instituionalisierter Sozialisationsanbegote fuer die Integration jugendlicher Spaetaussiedler, ["Investigation of the Effect of Institutionalized Offerings for Socialization toward the Integration of Recent Immigrant Repatriates' Young People"], in: Jahrbuch fuer Jugendsozialarbeit XIX, Koeln 1998, pp. 6-30, esp. p. 19; cf. Eva Schmitt-Rodemund and Rainer K. Silbereisen, University of Jena, in: Informationen zur politischen Bildung 267, 2nd Quarter 2000, "Aussiedler," p. 43.

8. Luff, Johannes, Kriminalitaet von Aussiedlern ["Criminality of Repatriate Immigrants"], Muenchen 2000. Hirschauer, Paul A. and (Prof.) Christian Pfeiffer and (Dr.) Peter Wetzels, Gewalt im Leben Muenchner Jugend ["Violence in the Lives of the Youth of Munich"], in: Bayerischer Wohlfahrtsdienst [Bavarian Welfare Service], Heft 12 Dez. 1999, pp. 123-126. Page 125: [tr.:] "It is not that young immigrants are merely registered more frequently, rather it must be stated that they are more frequently involved in violent acts. Of interest is the fact that this involves especially the youth from Turkey, from the former Yugoslavia, and from Southern Europe." Breuer, Wimar, and others, Intensivsprachkurs Deutsch in Verbindung mit Jugendwohnheimen ["Intensive Course in German, in Connection with Homes for Youth"], in: Die Heimstatt 1997, pp. 94-101; cf. p. 97 on criminality of young Germans from Russia. Marina Mai, "Kein Russisch an der Bushaltestelle" ["No Russian at the Bus Stop"], in: die Tageszeitung of January 1999 and in: Informationen zur ..., p. 37. "Aber auch Frauen wuerden ohne Kopftuch und mit Hosen in die Kirche kommen" ["Women would go to church without head cloth and in pants"] and Frauen als Pfarrerinnen werden von vielen abgelehnt ["Opposition by Many to Women Pastors"] cf. p. 35. Retterath, Hans-Werner, Zur kulturellen Integration russlanddeutscher Aussiedler im Raum Freiburg ["On the Cultural Integration of Germans from Russia Repatriate Immigrants in the Freiburg Region"], in: Jahrbuch fuer Deutsche und Osteuropaeische Volksskunde. vol. 40/1997, Marburg, pp. 307-322; p. 337: [tr.:] "The significance of religious aspects for integration is often overlooked. Germans from Russia find great importance in religion. Even those Germans from Russia who do not practice their faith emphasize the importance of their confessional identity...The often obvious, deep religious chasm between Germans from Russia and native [Germans] forms, because of its radical extent, a significant obstacle to integration--often affecting young people in particular." On p. 315: [tr.:] "Obtaining information concerning religious persons is at best very difficult." Compare: Schnurr, Joseph, "Die Kirchen und das religioese Leben der Russlanddeutschen, Evangelischer Teil" ["The Churches and the Religious Life of Germans from Russia--Evangelical Section"], published by the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, 2nd edition, Stuttgart 1978; also cf. the Catholic Section. 2nd edition, Stuttgart 1980.

Appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for the translation work.

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