Undesirable Ethnic Peoples

Thoughts on the Situation of the German Russians

[Translated on 08/28/2011, the 70th Anniversary of the Decree Ordering the Mass Deportation of Volga Germans]

The Editors of the Web Site www.ornis-press.de (Berlin), August, 2011.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO. 

[Translator’s Note:
ORNIS published an article summarizing a much lengthier reflection (“Memorandum”) by Viktor Krieger. Since the summary may appear as somewhat cryptic, readers who are interested in the fully detailed reflection will soon also be able to consult a translation of that full Krieger treatise, which also contains more context than this summary. Translation of the summary article follows.]

Only a single human life span separates today’s German Russians from the time of the Great Terror our parents and grandparents suffered through. The number of contemporary witnesses is getting smaller every year. But even seventy years later, the debate about full redress and equal treatment continues.
            Berlin, August, 2011 - August 28, 1941: on the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of the decree leading to the deportation of the German minority in the Soviet Union and to decades of deprivation of rights, Viktor Krieger, the Heidelberg historian, has written a special memorandum of reflection. Therein he sketches historical backgrounds, the struggle for citizens’ rights and equal rights, the movement concerning the reestablishment of the [German] Volga Republic, and the current situation of the German minority still in Russia and of resettlers in Germany. ORNIS hereby presents the full text for debate [special link, www.ornis-press.de/unliebsame-voelkerschaften.1433.0.html]. A summary of several topics from the reflection memorandum follows.

Problem: Discrimination in Comparison with Other Ethnic Population Groups

As [so-called] “titular” nationality groups [that is, ethnic minorities] who have been granted their own territories, the Kalmyk, Yakut and Buryat minority peoples have access to considerable opportunities for being heard regarding their legitimate economic, political and linguistic-cultural needs, namely through official representatives in Moscow and at the local level. These rights represent much more than those of the numerically larger, but geographically scattered residents of the German minority without its own territory.
Consider, for example, the former Central Archive of the Volga Republic in Engels. In 2004 it was finally expanded, and its documents rescued from oblivion, but only through strong support from Germany’s Federal government. As if the Russian citizens of German origin (597,212 persons) pay fewer taxes than, say, Russian citizens of Kalmyk (173,996), Yakut (443,852) or Buryat origin (445,175).  
To use and preserve their mother tongues, the latter nationalities possess the means to conduct education, print newspapers, and air broadcast via radio and TV. In addition, they have their own national museums and archives, opera houses, research institutes for national history and culture, maintenance of memorials, professional theater and dance groups, national universities and technical institutes. All of these institutions are permanently financed and continue to be expanded—all without having to rely on assistance from abroad or special programs and projects.
            Institutions and facilities of that sort, which are of great significance for education, culture and identity, are simply not available for the German minority. Among the consequences are a diminished command of the German language, below-average educational and urbanization attainment, and restricted social mobility.

Problem: Legislation on “Compensation for the Consequences of War”

Federal German legislation of 1993, which carries the title of this subsection, was intended to provide [a new] basis for accepting [for entry into Germany] persons of German origin from the countries of the CIS and other Eastern European countries, in fact severely reduced the number of potentially entitled immigrants. According to this legislation, persons born after January 1, 1993 may not “initiate the acceptance process purely on personal rights.” Legal experts view the law as possibly unconstitutional, because the legislation de facto declares an end to the stream of [late] resettlers, in a manner that “cannot be taken as the meaning of the wording in Article 116, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution.” [This was the original justification for persons of German origin--specially the evacuated German Russians declared German citizens by the Third Reich—to be given a constitutionally anchored right to return to the country of their ancestors – Tr.]
            In the case of the German Russians, the determination of criteria for resettlement [back to Germany] should drop the outdated origin-language-culture definition of “Being German” and apply instead the only appropriate criterion as relating to a fate closely tied to consequences of war, namely, the fact of persecution and discrimination [specifically] on persons of German origin. If the applicant, parents, or grandparents were direct victims of repression and discrimination, then those affected should have a basic right of entry into Germany.
Problem: Lack of Equal Treatment

Collective rights of a minority cannot be separated from the individual citizen’s rights of its members. Whenever a national, religious or social community is discriminated against, vis-a-vis other groups, regarding basic, existential rights–in our case this concerns the restoration of territorial autonomy–there are immediate impacts on basic, constitutional rights and on the opportunity for personal development.
            The example of the German minority in the former Soviet Union and in today’s Russia provides a serious picture of this tight dovetailing. As long as the illegally dissolved Volga Republic is not restored, and the German Russian minority is not granted the same rights as other nationalities, the members of this population group must be granted a basic claim to the right to resettle in the Federal Republic of Germany [the successor state of their ancestors’ country of origin, as Krieger explains in the “Memorandum.”.– Tr.].

Problem: The so-called “Freeing Decree”

In the “Freeing Decree” of December 13, 1955, one can read unmistakably that those formerly banished “do not have the right to return to locales” from which they were resettled [deported – Tr.] The decree states further that the cancellation of their “Special Settler” status will not result in “the return of properties confiscated during resettlement.” The fact that the Soviet Union could indeed act otherwise is evident from the manner in which it dealt with other minorities which had also been deported and slandered, such as the Chechens, the Kalmyks, the Karatchis and the Ingush.
            In November of 1956 the [Communist] Party leadership decided to restore territorial autonomy for these peoples, remarkably citing the following ground for its action: measures already undertaken toward equal juridical status and social integration have not been sufficient “because they have not completed the task of final rehabilitation of peoples who had been baselessly and forcibly deported and have not received restoration of their full rights among other nationalities of the Soviet Union.”

Problem: Turning Away from the State and from Society

In comparison, the restrictive attitude of the Soviet leadership demonstrated specifically toward the German minority led to genuine resignation among a majority of German Russians. Some sought refuge in religious communities or simply withdrew into the private sphere. Additionally, the government’s consistent attitude of denial brought about a far-reaching transformation among the German minority from thoroughly loyal Soviet citizens to potential emigrants.
            This forced turning away was exemplified in an underground document of 1973 with the incisive title “From Thoughts of Autonomy to Thoughts of Emigration” and with the sarcastic sub-title “Das Sein bestimmt das Bewusstsein. Karl Marx.” [This appears to be a deliberate play on the word “Sein = being or existence,” also part of the word “Bewusstsein,” which literally means “conscious being” or “consciousness”, thus the sub-title may be translated as “Existence Determines Consciousness. Karl Marx.”]

Problem: National-Cultural Autonomy

A further attempt of avoiding the granting of fundamental redress for past injustices is the concept of national-cultural autonomy, which the government in Russia cited and praised as the “guarantee for national-cultural self-determination.” A corresponding law was enacted in 1996, its aim being to overcome [get past] the “territorial fixation” in trying to solve current and future nationality problems.
            However, the legislators left unspecified the manner in which this was to be put into practice, where only the territorial administrative units (Republics, regions and districts) possessed full creative power in the political, economic and socio-cultural spheres. Still, on December 20, 1997 the Ministry of Justice nominally registered a “Federative National-Cultural Autonomy of German Russians.”
            Its status as a publicly recognized association of persons, yet without binding financial commitments and without any political say, was in reality equivalent to any kind of registered club or association which merely plays the role of a begger regarding projects of limited duration. 

Problem: National Rayons and Culture as Folklore

One can certainly doubt that the two [eventually established] administrative [German] Rayons—the German rural county of Halbstadt in the Altai, and Asovo near Omsk can provide any realistic perspective for the German Russians there, most of whom are living in cities. Consider the oppressive dominance from the agricultural sector and a total lack of anyone representing of their interests, barely realizable socio-economic development opportunities, and an archaic folklorization of cultural life,

Problem: Historically Blind in One Eye

A greatly disconcerting feeling was engendered by a joint communique issued after the latest session of the German-Russian governmental commission for matters concerning German Russians, held in May of 2011 in the West Siberian city of Tomsk:

            Both sides have pleaded for an honest and responsible look at the events of seventy years ago.
            In a historical context, the deportation of the Soviet Germans must be viewed as a
consequence of the attack on and occupation of territories of the USSR by Hitler-Germany.  

Here, reasons, consequences and causes are being mixed up. How, then, can one explain the deportation of the Korean minority in 1937, the banishment of the Kalmyks, the Chechen people and the Crimean Tatars between 1943 and 1944? Results of international academic research, based primarily on earlier work by Russian historians and archivists, are in unanimous agreement: for the Stalin regime, the attack by Hitler-Germany was actually a welcome occasion [excuse] for getting rid of an undesirable minority.
            Then, too, the 1991 law enacted by the Federation of Russia, “Regarding the Rehabilitation of Repressed Peoples” speaks unequivocally of “policies of arbitrariness and lawlessness” by the Soviet Nation’s leadership, policies that led to forced resettlements of numerous ethnic groups in the 1930s and the 1940s.

Link to full article in German

Remains of the dilapidated Lutheran church in Messer, a former Volga German settlement in the Saratov region. ID-card for Alexander Heckmann (1908-1994), Representative of the Volga German Autonomous Republic to the Supreme Soviet; issued after the dissolution of the Volga Republic]    
German Russian forced laborers along with Kalmyk comrades in suffering An appeal issued by farmers of the Volga German village Schwed, which was published in the propaganda organ “Die Wahrheit [The Truth]” [This appeal is clearly pro-Soviet – Tr.]

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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