Book Review by James T. Gessele, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Längin, Bernd G. The Russian Germans under the Double Eagle and the Soviet Star: Including a Pictorial History of Cities, Landscapes and People. Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University, Fargo, 2013.
Joining the growing stable of GRHC publications is Bernd Längin’s newly released The Russian Germans under the Double Eagle and the Soviet Star: Including a pictorial history of cities, landscapes and people. The softcover edition is a translation of his original work, Die Rußlanddeutschen unter Doppeladler und Sowjetstern, released in 1991.
Along with its extensive pictorial documentary, the 134-page volume is a succinct historical review of a German presence in the Russian Empire from the year 988 to 1991. Most striking about that presence is a full, seven-page chronological table of German personalities and events that came to bear upon the Empire and its Soviet successor. All the same, this is not some stuffy tome. Längin’s narration breezes along as only a veteran German journalist is capable of achieving, covering German immigrant settlements in chapters for each of the major regions: the Volga River, Ukraine, Caucasus, Bessarabia, Volhynia, Siberia/Steppe/Middle Asia. Those who pursue their German Russian heritage tend to isolate themselves into geographic interest groups. Now there is no reason not to take a closer look at the bigger picture.
Underlying the brevity of narration is a sense of nostalgia and wistfulness that Längin underscores with extensive use of the poetic. Literally every chapter is populated with verse citations that work with precision in driving home the essence and poignancy of unique life experiences throughout Russia’s German diaspora. Working hand-in-hand with the text is Hanns-Michael Schindler’s wonderful photo spread, a feature taking up fully one-third of the book. In short, this work speaks volumes beyond the printed format. And that brings us full circle to Längin’s ironic (and possibly tongue-in-cheek) Russian-language reference to the German people as Nemtsy, a borrowing from the Russian nemoy, meaning “dumb” or “mute.” It is said that the Russian mind rationalized its difficulty in understanding the foreigner Germans by placing the onus on its guests. Was this a portent of things to come?The translation is done by the Canadian authors Jack Thiessen and Audrey Poetker, both with extensive publishing pedigrees. The final English version of this Längin work is one massaged into shape by the talented editing team of Alex and Dr. Nancy Herzog of Boulder, Colorado. This work makes for a most welcome addition to any library as a reference or for casual pondering.