"Germans in the Ukraine and their place in the framework
of German-Ukrainian relations: History and Perspectives"
By Peter Hilkes, Researcher at the East European Institute, Munich, Germany
Address at the convention "The Ukraine and Germany in the 20th century", organized by the German Association of Ukrainian People and the Ukrainian Free University, 13-15 March, 1996
Remarks regarding bibliography and limitation of topics
1. In 1763, Czarina Catherine II issued a decree which publicized the migration to the Czarina's empire. The first settlers from Hessia and the Rhineland came to the Volga region for the economic development of the country. In 1785, another call for the settlement of the Black Sea area, officially called "New Russia", meant accumulation of land as a result of the wars against Turkey (1768-1791). The settlers were promised several privileges, among them freedom of religion, freedom from taxes and freedom from military service. The colonists came in two leading surges (1789-1797) to the Black Sea area. The structures, based on linguistic and denominational differences between the colonies, established by them and their descendants have lasted into the 20th century; these structures can be found even today with Aussiedler in the Federal Republic.
2. After great difficulties in the initial phase the colonies recovered from the problems of the pioneer era and experienced an economic boom in the second half of the 19th century. Business people, for example from Germany, but also the colonists themselves contributed to put into operation trade and industry by creating businesses with further investments in the Black Sea region. They could depend on well trained and industrious colonists who were desired as a work force. Odessa as center enjoyed a special reputation and had an international flair. Activities in the areas of culture and education and the German Consulate General contributed. [Charkiv to 1934; Odessa to 1918, later renewed].
3. The repeal of the colonist law (by Alexander II) and the russification policy at the end of the 19th century forced the majority of the colonists to emigrate to North America. Today the descendants of many Black Sea Germans live, by the way, for example in the U.S. State of North Dakota. The First World War formed a decisive turning point. The colonists were considered a security risk by the government even though they harbored no sympathy for Germany. The mistrust and the actions towards them increased. Germans were forcefully resettled to Siberia or to the Southeast of Russia from areas along the border to the West. The up to now favorable attitude towards Russia of the colonists changed with the Revolution of 1917 because they were threatened in their existence by measures of the new government such as stripping them of their privately owned land.
4. The interest of Germany in the colonists in the Ukraine increased compared to WWI especially after seizure of power by the National Socialists. Germans living outside the borders of the Reich became a `significant factor in the geopolitical endeavors for national socialistic ideology and practices' (Meir Buchsweiler). The same study proves that the colonists did not emerge as `the fifth column' before the conquest of their area; here the Black Sea Germans and the area of Odessa are exemplary. They exercised caution towards the invading troops during the conquest. After the conquest the Germans cooperated with the occupational forces. It is to be pointed out, however, that proper criteria for analysis under consideration of the local situation are necessary for a detailed definition of cooperation. The organized evacuation (term?) of the German population by the army whereby most of them came to the Warthegau began with the retreat of the German troops. However, parts of them were caught up with on the way to the west by the Soviet army and were deported to Siberia, to the far North and to Kazakhstan.
5. Up to this day many Germans in the former Soviet Union remember the time of deportation and camps which they passed on to their children and grandchildren. They were discriminated, not allowed to use their language and could not move about freely until 1955. A first normalization of their lives was initiated with the release from the "trud army" at the end of the `40s and the 1955 law of invalidation of limitations. The rehabilitation of 1964 retracted the raised charges of collaboration with National Socialism through Stalin's decree but kept the ban to return to the old settlement areas. The Germans as a whole hardly existed for the population in the Ukraine. Their number had decreased from more than 400,000 to less than 40,000. There were no more closed settlements and the Germans restrained themselves for fear of discrimination.
6. The Ukrainian Germans became a topic for discussion in public in the Ukraine and in the Federal Republic of Germany when the Ukrainian president Kravcuk offered the Germans in Russia, in Central Asia and in Kazakhstan to resettle i.e. to return to the Ukraine. Originally one talked about 400,000 Germans. In the summer 1993, the Ukraine reduced, however, potential immigrants to those who had lived themselves or their family in the Ukraine. Thus resettlement remains largely wishful thinking. Originally, the resettlers were not only to find a new homeland but also to contribute to an improvement of the economic situation for the whole population and limiting the migration from the country. They became, however, a plaything of conflicting interests instead of "protagonists of free enterprise". Overall about 1,500 Germans moved to Southern Ukraine; most of them are living in intolerable conditions in 17 container villages. Insufficient and unrealistic planning and execution of resettlement by Germans and Ukrainians let the project almost fail. The Society for Technical Collaboration (STC) has assumed the resettlement in agreement with the joint German Ukrainian government commission after the German Ukrainian Fonds (?) the intrigues and politics of which, since 1992, benefitted the Fonds rather than the Ukrainian Germans.
Construction and promotion of trade and industry which were to benefit the population as a whole are in the forefront in three remaining locations of the Odessa region. If the Germans had agreed to the proposal in 1992 instead of in 1994 to include the string of the formerly German villages near Odessa, not quite so many immigrants would have left the Ukraine as Aussiedler because here the conditions for a resettlement were i.e. are comparatively more favorable than in the nowhere of the steppe. There will be Ukrainian Germans even if the wave of migration continues. Their present situation, their ties within family as well as the economic situation in the Ukraine are considered important criteria.
7. Ukrainian scientists have discovered the Ukrainian Germans since the independence of the Ukraine and since the beginning of the resettlement program. They are increasingly interested in history and the present situation of the Ukrainian Germans. Frequently they hope for stipends in Germany i.e. in other countries of the EC. Frequently publications from the Federal Republic are not reciprocated as it was already customary in the Soviet era. Common plans to benefit Ukrainian and German scientists are to be supported separately.
8. Like the Germans in the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Kirgisia the Ukrainian Germans were reason for increased activities of German mediating organizations in the Ukraine (Goethe Institute, Zentralstelle für das Auslandsschulwesen, Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, Inter Nationes; associated: Pädagogischer Austauschdienst). Although all mediators (?) do not pursue any minority programs they had their chances and the order to expand their activities via German settlement areas within the framework of the special program for German language and culture for Eastern Europe which was delivered in 1992. All mediators and other institutions active in this area in the Ukraine strive to fill the gaps generated after the end of the GDR especially regarding teaching materials, training and continuing education for teachers as well as in the area of geography. The Ukrainian German Teacher Association (UGTA) is an important partner on the Ukrainian side. The affected teachers and college professors feel especially encouraged by the mutual exchange of information and ideas as well as new access to teaching materials; the last conference of the UTGA in November 1995 in Odessa made this especially clear. Meanwhile there is agreement that Ukrainian Germans and any other interested persons profit from the activities in the area of German language and culture. After a comparatively short period of time the UGTA and its German partners can show significant results even under consideration of conditions of the difficult framework. As the topic "Social Reform And Reconciliation With Europe" is closely tied to the knowledge of foreign languages, they constitute, long term, main contacts for German-Ukrainian relations.
9. Today the Free State of Bavaria, of all the federal states, demonstrates especially close ties because of its partnership with the Ukraine. Due to that and continually increasing contacts projects are being developed with which the participating parties identify themselves to a large degree; by the way, the Consulate General of the Ukraine in Munich gives great support. Bavaria protects federal interests with the express permit of the Federation. In 1992, through means for cultural activity by the Bavarian Dept. of State for work, social order, family, women and health reaching beyond borders a "Bavaria House" was opened as a meeting place, cultural and information center which enjoys increasing demand since its opening in 1993. The open concept of the house which is open to anyone interested includes language courses, concerts, exhibits and informational evenings. The Kindergarten founded by BHO which partially works with German as the communicating language and new processing methods has already stirred interest in other states of the former Soviet Union. BHO, which, as of 1997, is to constitute the foundation for a German Center in Odessa with further activities and partners, is considered a model for German i.e. Bavarian-Ukrainian collaboration; many successors are wanted.
10. After the collapse of the Soviet Union a vacuum, which has to be filled, arose also in the Ukraine. Free churches from North America and Germany have begun doing missionary work in the Ukraine. They have become a firm foundation in selected places and especially in educational institutions. They are a "competition" for the activities of the Catholic and Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Germany. Especially the latter concentrates especially on the Ukrainian Germans and those newly created communities i.e. those communities remaining in the Ukraine. According to experiences since 1992, community life is especially supported by sending pastors from the Federal Republic. The task of these pastors is solving the question on the return of church buildings and church property to the Ukrainian Germans (=UD?). By activating existing communities increasingly Non-Germans attend church besides the Ukrainian-Germans; especially active are those in Kiev and Odessa. Long term, an important field of operation stands out from simultaneous emigration of Ukrainian German community members. Pastors and other members of the community have hope in the future because especially the young generation turns towards the communities.
[Peter Hilkes visited North Dakota in October, 1993, with sponsorship by the North Dakota Humanities Council and the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries. He made presentations about immigration of the ethnic Germans to Germany in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union. His presentations included the communities of Bismarck, Dickinson, Fargo, Jamestown, Richardton and Strasburg, ND and Eureka, SD.]
German to English translation by Brigitte von Budde, Germans
from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries, Fargo.
Reprinted with permission of Peter Hilkes, East European Institute, Munich, Germany.