Presentation by Konstantin Mayer
Germans from Russia Heritage Society Convention
Fargo, North Dakota, July, 1990
German to English interpreter is Dr. Shirley Fischer Arends, Washington, D.C.
Transcription by Jane D. Trygg and Janel Wald
Edited By: Janel Wald and Linda Haag
MM: But I do want to say that we’re privileged to have with us, first of all, Dr. Shirley Fischer Arends. I think it is a real moment for all of us when an Ashley gal becomes successful, and here she comes to Fargo to be with us for the convention. Dr. Arends, of course, will do the English translation. Then we have with us a man who has authored a very significant book for the literature for the Germans from Russia. (006; “Der way auwster steppe”). “The way of the step” is the story of the Bessarabian Germans leading with the German forces in 1940, back to Germany. I should tell you also that we are in the process of translating this book into the English language for our English speaking audience. And so I would like to recognize one of the people here tonight who has translated the first half of this book, Almer Herman. Would you please stand? I think that is quite an accomplishment for a woman of 83 to begin such a project. Now, I am going to ask Konstantin Mayer, born in the colony of (012), would you come forward, and remember this is spontaneous, would the two, Dr. Arends and Mr. Mayer, please come forward now. And it is your show from here on.
KM: (015-025) German Text
SA: He is just telling you how happy he is to be here today. He considers you his brothers and sisters, and he is here to tell you what he has been through. Also, what the life has been for those Germans from Russia who stayed behind.
SA: He is starting his story with Katherine the Great, who in 1863 asked the German pioneers to come and settle in Russia in the Eastern Territory. They were having terrible problems with the “TaTa’s”, who murdered the Russian peasants. She said that when I bring these Germans in here, they are going to own their own land, and they’re going to struggle and fight for their land. She gave them 60 hexa, which is about the same as what we got here 160 acres. And they got to take care of their property, and it worked.
SA: Alexander the first was the grandson of Katherine the Great, and he conquered the land of the Ukraine. He conquered it from the Turks in the Turkish war. He was married to a sister of the King of (Urtenberg), and he went to (Urtenberg) to visit. He saw how poor the people were and that they were hungry. And he thought I will do the same thing as my grandmother and I will bring in these people to settle the Ukraine. So he invited them to come to the Ukraine to settle and they established 3,000 villages. There were about 3 million people all together. He said that the Ukraine had become the breadbasket of the whole Russian area. It took from the beginning of the 19th Century in 1808 on; it took until about 1860 before the people really lived well. Before then, they had to suffer, struggle, and till the soil that had never been tilled. Basically, it is like our prairie story.
SA: He gets so excited about everything that happened. (137)
SA: He said that in Bessarabia, after they settled there, they
had their own schools, their own churches, their own orphanages,
and their own health plan for the people. They built themselves
up, they had wonderful communities, and everything went along beautifully
until the communist took over in the revolution. Because of the
revolution and World War I, there was a lot of confusion. The Romanians
were able to take Bessarabia away from the Russians that it had
always belonged to them, and it became a part of Romania. The people
who were on the Russian side suffered so much and they wanted to
escape and get into Romania. He tells about in 1918, when the sea
was frozen, which was a sweet water sea, not a salt water sea. And
it was frozen all the way down. The people on the Russian side of
the border tried to escape to get over to Romania, because the life
in Romania was so much better than in Russia. And as they came across
the Russians would shoot them as they came onto the ice. On the
other side the Romanians would shoot at them as they came onto the
ice. These mountains of corpses were building. And the people who
were still in Russia didn’t know that they were being shot
as they came across. So people just kept coming and just kept coming,
and you had a mountain of corpses. And after the spring thaw, and
all these bodies fell into the water, people were forbidden to eat
any fish for three or four years, because all these poor Germans
from Russia had died in that water. He said then, after Hitler took
power in Germany, Stalin said to Hitler. You know they had this
pact and agreement; they were good friends before they fought. Stalin
said, “I want Bessarabia back. It was always mine, the Romanians
took it away. I want it back.”
So Hitler said, “Well alright you can have it back. But there were 93,000 Germans living in Bessarabia. I am going to take those Germans and you’re going to get Bessarabia.” So these 93,000 people were told they had to leave Bessarabia. And 90,000 of them walked on foot out of Bessarabia. And that’s were he is now.
SA: He is speaking about 1940, but he added an after though. About
1933 there were
10 million people died in the Ukraine of hunger because they weren’t given any food, so there was this induced famine. He is speaking about 1940, (205)?
SA: (210) The 28th of June in 1940, they were told that the Germans were coming, and that a commission was going to be set up and that they were going to have a vote to see who wanted to leave and who wanted to go to Germany. He also said that this was not going to be a difficult question for them because before this point, 2 months before, the Soviets has already invaded and taken over Romania, and they had the Soviets there for two months before the German commission came. And in this two months, everything in their country disappeared. There was no clothing or food. He said you couldn’t even buy one gram of salt, everything had been taken out of the country. So at the time that the German commission came there and said they should vote if they want to stay or they want to go. The Soviets said, well of course people are going to vote to stay unless they are rich. Only the rich want to leave. Because you know in communism, the common man has all the rights. Well, they found out that the Germans voted 100% to leave. He said not only did they vote 100% to leave, but they would have gone barefoot. They had to walk all the way back to Germany. They would have walked barefoot to get away from the Soviet.
SA: He finished the Bessarabian story by saying, he was on the commission, Mr. Mayer, he was on the commission to bring the Germans out of Bessarabia, so he knows a lot of first hand information. He had to go to the capital of (269; Kishnef) to make all the arrangements to get the Germans out. They were only allowed to take out 85 kilo, about 130-180 pounds of personal things, no money, no gold, nothing that you could buy; only your household goods and your clothes is what you could take out. So they walked out and they were resettled in the Eastern side of Germany. And of course, then the war caught up with them. Then the men went into the army and the women had to work to support the war effort. And He said, I think I should talk about his brothers that were left behind in Russia, because they had it so much worse. They didn’t get to leave. He said in 1972, he went to Moscow to visit and he had ten cousins that came from all over Russia to see them and to talk to them. He had a room in the hotel, he and his son, and they visited with the cousins. Then he said to them, “Where are you staying, where are you spending the night?’ And then they said, under God’s free sky, that’s where we spend our night. Then he said, well let’s ask. So he went down and he said to the receptionist, I have these ten cousins here, husbands and wives, they need a room to stay. I need to rent another room. She started to curse them, and told them to get out of the hotel, and that people like that weren’t allowed to rent a room in a hotel. So he had to go with them, looking for a place. They went to the train station and he said there were at least, at the train station in 1972, 10,000 people sleeping out under the heavens that they had no where to stay. People were so mistreated even at that time yet.
SA: Some of these cousins that he has been talking about have been able to get out now, out of the Soviet Union, and in 76 a few came out. And he said he can’t tell you the stories that they brought here because they can’t tell the stories. They start to speak, they get into the third sentence and they break down and weep. They can never tell the story because they have suffered so much. He said that if you have traveled to Russia as a tourist, then you only see the tourist places. You never see a place like Leningrad. And as far as he’s concerned you haven’t been to Moscow. (330) is this place that he was talking about where 10,000 people were lying out and sleeping under the sky. He said that the reality is, and we see that now, the economic break down in the Soviet Union. The reality was that the Soviet government was only supplying one third of the food that was needed by the city of Moscow. The rest comes from these little farmers, and these are the people that you see sleeping out. They have one pig or one calf. And they bring their little province in from the country to sell in Moscow. But they are not allowed to use the train whenever they want, you can only use the train whenever you get a number. So they would bring their little province in to make a living, and at the same time to feed the people of Moscow. Then they may have to sleep out for three nights until they get a number, their number on the train lets them go home again. He said that the situation is not believable. But I think now for us it is, because when we see the Soviet Union totally breaking down economically today. Now he is going to tell you about his cousins.
SA: He is now retracing the steps going back to the Black Sea region
that we are all from, Grossliebental and those places. He said that
in 1930, the Soviets went in there and took every man between the
ages of 17 and 75. They picked them up in the middle of the night
and took them away; every last one of them. And 75,000 of them were
sent to (394) the cruit, which is an upper Siberia, the coldest
part of Siberia, and they were to work in the lead mines. In 1955,
Adenauer started the talks with Soviets to get the release of the
prisoners. They had been there since World War II. He also asked
again that the Germans be given their citizenship, and not just
be considered persons without any rights. These people from these
lead mines were to be released, and when they went there what the
Germans found was that of the 75,000 in this one area, 70,000 had
died. There were only 5,000 people left of the ones who had been
sent to this one particular area of lead mines. Of those, one of
them was his cousin. He is 84 years old and he is now living in
West Germany. Mayer says the same as his cousin who lived there.
Communism could never work because there are no human perks involved; it is just a system with no humanity. And there is no reward for working, there is any reward for being a human being. There is no Christian ethic the way we know it. He said the communist system was invented by the devil and belongs to the devil and that there is no way that this could ever work. Of course we are seeing this now. And he also said that his cousin told him that despite the fact that Khrushchev is so liberal there has never been less food available to buy then there is right now.
SA: He says you may wonder why the Germans, who left Russia, didn’t
do more to help the ones who stayed behind. They tried, for example
in his family, his mother sent money to their cousin, the one who
came out now, to help them. The Russians saw that she had sent money
so they came out, arrested the entire family and sent them to Siberia
because they were spies for Germany because they got money in the
mail. And when his cousin came out he said “You caused me
that entire problem, I had to go to Siberia because of you.”
And he said of course they said, “Well look at it, we tried
to help, we didn’t mean to cause you these problems.”
And he said he wanted to tell you about how the Germans are always blamed for everything, no matter what the circumstances. In the present they are very unfair to the Germans. He said that he was in the German army because he wanted to fight against the Soviet. He was an officer in Poland, and they were staying in a place in an officer school in Kakea. Because he spoke Russian, growing up there, a Russian hunter, or a person who takes care of the grounds of the forests, came to see him and said I have to tell you about something I found. I was walking in the forest with my dogs and they started to dig. I went to see what they were doing. It was under sapling trees that were about three years old and I dug and I found Polish officers. [They had] their boots on, their uniforms on, their hats; they had all been killed. Now for us Americans this is the (532; Kakin) forest area where all of the Polish officers had been killed, then entire Polish officer Corps was killed and buried. And all these years the Germans were blamed for this, they said the Nazis did it. But now with the opening of the Soviet Union, the Soviets themselves, it’s been in all the papers, have admitted now that they killed all the Polish officers and buried them in the Kakin forests. But at this time, he was one of the first people to find it and he wrote an article about it which was published in 1955. He said the first thing that had happened was that the intelligence people arrived at his door and said why did you write this, this isn’t right and you are not allow to publish this and we will arrest you. So he had to retract it and he says he has all the papers that he received at the time when he was in Kakin in Poland. And he said then they came back at some other point and they said now we’re more interested in what you have to say. (cut off tape)
SA: And Napoleon had built a bridge at Borisas and over the bridge
had fallen down in the middle but the main parts that hold the bridge
were still there. The Russians were on his honor route with their
T34 core tanks waiting for the Germans. The Germans went around
them and went to where this old bridge was 10 km further up the
road and rebuilt Napoleon’s bridge with pontoons, came around
the back and attacked the Russians and took them. When the Russians
had to give up they tried to turn these huge tanks around before
they gave up and they ended up in the sand because it’s along
a river, that’s why there’s a bridge. They ended up
in the sand and when they went down to see where these tanks had
ended up in the sand, all these legs and arms were sticking out
of the sand. They investigated and it turned out that 250,000 people
had died building this other route, while they were working. They
were all people who had hand chains and leg chains and they just
worked them until they fell. He says it is just one of the typical
stories you never hear about what went on under Stalin.
KM: (556- 593)
SA: He is speaking about his own family and what happened. He said the Germans were resettled in the western side of Poland, and as the war came to an end and the Russians were moving toward the west. The Germans started to flee ahead of the Russians, but the Russians caught up with them and took them. If you were from Bessarabia, you had a chance to get away because Stalin had given them the right to be German citizens. If you were from the Russian side, from the Black Sea to the Bolgia, they had the right to kill you. They had the right to take you back and they dragged everybody back. His wife was dragged back; she couldn’t prove she was taken along. She had three little children and she was given to Polish families basically as a slave. She lived in the chicken coop with the three little children. She had work in the field all day, had to milk the cows at night, and she had to work like a slave. And then they would sell her from one Polish farmer to the other, and she would work at the other place. They just kept selling her until she was skin and bones and was unable to work anymore. They sent her and her little children and his parents to a concentration camp where they sent them to kill them at (605; Loots) and put them out of the way. But meanwhile, he was in the west trying to find his wife in Poland. One of his friends received a care package, and said a thank you again America for all the care packages and what they meant to us. That care package, this man came and said to him, “Don’t you have a relative named Odenback who lives in Minnow, SD?”
And he said, “Yah, he is a minister, he is my relative”.
And he said, “Well he sent a care package so he has that address for that relative”.
He wrote to him right away and he told him please get in touch with the U.S. government, and this relative did. The U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Occupation forces and U.S. Military forces could give him the papers to bring his wife out of Poland because this American was sponsoring her. They went to look for her and she had been sold from place to place and they finally found her in the concentration camp. When the Poles found out that they had the papers to get out, that night they gave a shot into his father’s arm to kill him. It took everything he had and threw his naked body into a ditch. The mother, his wife, and his three little children got out and got back to West Germany. He said I have many more stories to tell you about how people died in the Ukraine and what we suffered but he doesn’t want to hold you up any more. You can come and talk to him, it is up to you.
MM: What we are going to do is, first of all I want to mention that we have the cassette tape order forms up here, and this tape wasn’t on the order forms because of the interest, so when you come up here and up a form, this will be here right under form. Cassette tape number 23 will be of course Mr. Konstantine Mayer. I think it is quite an experience for all of us to have a man like him here. It is a document that few of us will have experienced at a Germans from Russia convention. If there are any questions now, we will take them. Yes. But you have to speak loudly, and we would prefer if you could speak German, speak German, not to me but to Mr. Mayer. Stand up please.
(636; somebody from crowd asks question)
SA: He said 80% of the Russian people are good people, but the 20% who are in power who are the communist in control, basically their necks have to be cut and they have to be gotten rid of. What he means is that the tops have to be cut off; that those people not be trusted, that the system is false. As long as Gorbachev says I’ll make changes but not in the system, the system stays. We cannot help them as long as the system stays and as long as the proletarian of the world comes together to rid themselves of the rest of us. He said he supports Bush because Bush said, “Yes, we will help you but we have to see that the system is changed and we will not just give you money but we will build factories and we will employ people. He said that will take 15, 20, and maybe even 30 years because they don’t have a way, they don’t even know how to work. They need the western nation’s command to build factories and hire the people and make this system work, but as long as they don’t change from communism there is no way to help them.
SA: He said he doesn’t know how many of you know this, but even before 33, Stalin killed 50,000,000 people. He killed all of the ministers, he destroyed the church, he killed all of his own generals, he killed all of the farmers who owned anything, and he got rid of the entire intelligence of the country so that Russia never could develop. He didn’t want Russia to develop. And he asks one other question.
(Question from crowd)
SA: He wanted to know if (Kishneh) is larger than Odessa. And he said that Odessa has 500,000 population and (Kishneh) has 250,000.
MM: I am going to ask him a question. (696-697)
SA: Mike’s question was what is the situation on the Germans from Russia coming out of Russia today to Germany? Mr. Mayer said that we really don’t need to be concerned because West Germany is doing such a good job of taking people in. Just like they took him in and the Bessarabian Germans, they take of all of the German folks in and they pay their trip to Germany and they give them an apartment to live, money to get settled. If they are old people and they had a pension in Russia, even if it was just a little pension, maybe they got 150 rubles in Russia, in Germany they will get at least 1,200 marks to live with. The Germans take wonderful care of the Russians that are coming out if they can just come out.
SA: Michael asks him well how you found it here, what were your experiences here with us. He said well like I said before, thank you Michael for inviting and thank you people for having me here. I cannot put into words what it’s meant for me to be here and to find you here and to find the incredible attitude, the caring nature of people. The interest that you take in the Germans from Russia and the interest that you take in your own ancestors are what their lives were. He said one can’t even find that in Germany to the extent that one finds it here. He is so impressed with everyone and he said not to worry about your language, so many people come up to him and say, “I cannot speak high German”. He said I speak your dialect, I speak (Svatish), speak (Svatish) to me and I will understand every word you say. Be proud of your language, be proud of yourself. He is going to write articles when he gets back to Germany. He invites you if you come to Germany to come to Schutgart, come to your home in Urtenburg, they have a museum called the High Mont Museum, the museum of your homeland, and he wants you to come there. They have all kinds of books and records that they brought when they got out of Bessarabia and you can find many things there and they would be so happy to have you. And he thanks you so much for being so kind and caring.
SA: He just wanted to add for those of you that he was talking about the Bessarabian High Mont Museum and also the Black Sea Germans have their own High Mont museum. There are two places that you can go and he said he is sure that you are not only welcome in his museum but that you are welcome in the other museum.
MM: If any of you would like to come up and visit Mr. Mayer, you are welcome to. This closes our very interesting and emotional session. Thank you so much. We have the forms up here is you would want to come up and order a tape. Come up and ask him individually questions now.