and Resistance by German-Russians in the Soviet Union (Part 8)
Verweigerung, Protest und Widerstand der
Russlanddeutschen im Sowietstaat (Teil 8)
Krieger, Dr. Viktor. "Disobedience, Protest and Resistance by German-Russians in the Soviet Union (Part 8)." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2007, 12-14.
This translation from the original German-language
text to American English
is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
Subtitle: Internal Estrangement from the Soviet State:
The Emigration Movement (continued from Volk auf dem
Weger, 2007, issues 2-5, 7, and 10-11)
Circumstances Surrounding the Development
of the Emigration Problem
During the entire history of the German-Russian minority,
emigration was always considered a proven means of
getting away from the conditions that were felt to
be an entirely unreasonable and oppressive socio-economic
and political situation in the homeland. During the
time before 1914, economic and, to a lesser extent,
religious factors (for the Mennonites, for example)
might have been of the highest importance, but after
the Bolshevist Revolution, motivation for emigration
was based more on political-social considerations.
It was no longer the scarcity of land or the prospect
for better living conditions that motivated tens of
thousands to leave the country, instead it was the
persecutions and discrimination, as well as the wide-spread
lack of rights and the ruinous collectivization engendered
by the new people in power.
Rather remarkable in this situation was the geography
of the [emigration] target countries: until the end
of the 1920's, the vast majority of emigrants was
attracted to the New World, and it was in the US,
in Canada, but also in Latin-American countries, that
the mostly agrarian people eager to emigrate were
hoping to maintain or to develop further their traditional
way of life.
There was a sharp contrast during the post-war period,
when (West) Germany had become the main target country
for emigres. For one thing, this was tied to the fact
that, as a result of Bolshevist dispossessions and
deportations, the formerly independent German farmers
and tradesmen had been turned into genuine proletarians,
and the economic dynamic of the young West-German
State was offering attractive opportunities for salaried
occupations. For another thing, for German-Russians
the Soviet authorities accepted only family reunification
as justification for [allowing their] emigration.
Even so, emigration was permitted only for persons
of relatives "of the first grade" (parents,
siblings, children). As of the mid-1950's these kinds
of relatives were found almost exclusively in the
[German] Federal Republic [i.e., West Germany] only.
brochures aimed at emigrants; printed in Kazakhstan
in 1981 and in 1989 (!). The Russian-language
brochure from Bishkek was entitled "The
Foreign Sky Is Not a Warm One" [,and the
one in German carries the slogan "Homesickness
Doesn't Go Away!" - Tr.]
Primarily these were the so-called Administrative
Resettlers and their descendants. During 1941 a fourth
of all Soviet citizens of German origin had come under
German and Romanian occupation. And during 1943 and
1944, about 340,000 Black-Sea Germans fled - some
were "evacuated" by force - and were resettled
in the Warthegau [German-dominated Western Poland
- Tr.] or in the Reich itself. Following the end of
the war, the Soviet administration - in part by threat
of force, in part under false promises - forced about
210,000 Germans to be repatriated. In February, 1955,
the government of the Federal Republic officially
recognized the naturalizations [that had been engendered
by the Reich - Tr.] during wartime and thereby created
the possibility of resettlement to West Germany. Of
course, this fact might have had scarce consequences,
if the Soviet leadership had made any serious efforts
during post-war times toward reestablishing equal
rights and equal status for these people, instead
of banishing them to Siberia, bullying them for decades,
branding them as traitors of the nation, and having
them watched by the secret police. In the Novosibirsk
region alone, of the 12,000 who had been repatriated,
7,818 were subjected to intensive interrogation, and
1,007 of these were placed under "operative control"
["operative" here means as much as "strategic"
- Tr.] on suspicion of having cooperated with the
enemy. In the banishment sites these potentially German
citizens would increasingly become "in-laws"
with other groups of German-Russians, so that the
number of those becoming eligible for a return [to
Germany] in due time increased extensively.
The Communist power, placing great value on validity
in foreign politics and proclaiming world-historical
superiority of its new social order, at first viewed
any expression of wanting to emigrate as a particularly
serious anti-Soviet action. The tenacious desire of,
say, a simple milk-maid or a welder to leave the very
first Socialist "Worker and Farmer State"
on earth toward the "capitalist and revanchist"
Federal republic of [West] Germany represented, in
the thinking of Moscow Central and of the leaders
of individual Republics, more political dynamite for
the existing system than a comparable desire by intellectual
dissidents in the larger cities.
Fighting to Leave the Country
Subsequent to the assumption of diplomatic relations
with the Federal Republic and limited resumption of
correspondence with outside countries, applications
by over 100,000 people eager to emigrate were piling
up in the German embassy by 1957, although by the
end of the 1960's only a few thousand were allowed
to leave the country.
It was the eventual failure of efforts toward reestablishing
an Autonomous Republic, plus the German-Soviet pact
signed in 1970, concomitant with limited permission
for family reunifications, which provided the emigration
movement with additional impetus. This "emigration
mood," as it was called in propagandist Russian,
became particularly widespread in Kirghystan and Tajikistan,
also in the southern Kazakh regions of Alma-Ata, Dshambul,
Taldy-Kurgan and Tchimkent, as well as in Karaganda
and Aktyubinsk. Here there happened to be a particularly
strong concentration of repatriates, their relatives
and descendants, plus other regional or sectarian
groups of the German minority, such as the Caucasus
Swabians and the Mennonites, the greater portion of
whom also strove to emigrate to Germany. Prospects
for a relatively easier path through bureaucracy concerning
emigration caused considerably large communities of
Germans to spring up in Estonia, Latvia, Moldova and
other regions . Those affected put everything into
forcing an emigration permit: written requests and
collective letters to party and government organs
were composed; petitions and appeals were sent to
foreign State and government chiefs, to important
media and international organizations such as the
UN; and lists of signatures were given to the German
embassy and to the German Red Cross. Persons eager
to emigrate would take their requests in person to
various government offices in Moscow as well as in
the Republic metropolises such as Almaty, Frunse (Bishkek),
Tallinn and Dushanbe. In the 1970's, Germans established
various committees and associations in an effort to
protect themselves better form persecution, to gain
the required "ear" with the appropriate
authorities, and to exercise greater pressure. In
many large cities, demonstrations and open protests
were commonplace. Photos on March 31, 1980 showing
those desiring to emigrate in a protest action on
Red Square in Moscow went around the world.
Andrey Sakharov (1978)
Between 1970 and 1979, 56,213 persons were finally
permitted to emigrate to the Federal Republic. After
this, the Soviet government throttled the emigration
stream so drastically that by 1986 only another 16,371
Germans succeeded in leaving the country. During these
two comparable time spans, 5,747 and 5,057 persons,
respectively, were permitted to emigrate to the GDR
[the "German Democratic republic," that
is, East Germany - Tr.].
At the height of the emigration wave the Kremlin
leadership began to see that it needed to take steps
toward improving the condition of the German minority.
In a memorandum of August, 1978 the then KGB chief,
Yuri Andropov, plus other high-ranking party and State
functionaries, proposed the establishment of a German
territorial autonomy region in order to "fight
against the unhealthy emigration and nationalist atmosphere."
Still, the complete lack of reaction against the ethnic
unrest of June, 1979 in Kazakhstan, where that German
region was to be established, demonstrated that the
State powers were never serious about creating real
equality for the German-Russians.
Germans would pay a steep price for their drive for
freedom. The lists of prisoners which Eduard Deibert
had put together, and partial information, indicated
that, as of 1972 a total of 89 persons prosecuted
criminally and sentenced; of these, two ended up in
a psychiatric institution, one eager to emigrate was
murdered, and another died in a penal camp. Thousands
of activists had to endure home searches, constant
surveillance, physical and psychological intimidation,
vile press campaigns, being kept from certain occupations
and studies, plus "prophylactic" measures
by KGB organs, by State attorneys, and by work colleagues
incited against them.
The Soviet Human Rights Movement and Germans
Desiring to Emigrate
A continual champion of civil rights for the repressed
Germans was the outstanding scientist, human rights
advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Andrey Sakharov.
Via several petitions to Soviet authorities, and via
appeals to foreign governments and international organizations,
he pointed out the extraordinarily difficult situation
of the German minority in the USSR.
For him, it was a fact that "German emigration
rests on a natural desire of people to settle in the
land of their forefathers and to take part in their
culture, language, economic and social achievements.
No less natural is the desire to leave a country in
which their people have been exposed to atrocious
repression - genocide, in reality - where they are
discriminated against to this day, and where they
are constrained in education and occupational choice.
Hundreds of thousands of Germans have died in the
camps and the 'reservations' (i.e., special settlements)
, and to this day they are forbidden to return to
their former places of residence; furthermore, there
is among them hardly a person of academic training,
and even now, German pupils are constantly defamed
as Fascists by their schoolmates, who have seen plenty
of war films."
Sakharov kept up enduring contacts with Friedrich
Ruppel, to whom he dedicated a few pages in his memoirs.
Furthermore, the difficult fate of individual families,
like that of Peter Bergmann of Estonia or of Johann
Wagner from Moldova, left him anything but indifferent.
At the time - just as is the case today - efforts
by Russian dissidents, who attempted to point out
the massive discrimination against German countrymen,
received very little attention by intellectuals in
the Federal Republic of Germany. During his first
meeting with Heinrich Boell in February, 1975, Sakharov
addressed the Soviet problems and levied sharp criticism
against the - in his eyes - insufficient efforts and
lack of attention by the West German press and society
in general to their far-away countrymen in the Soviet
Union. How could one demonstrate such lack of feeling
in the face of such a tragic fate, of inhuman dismissal
and continuing persecution of those who wish to emigrate?
Boell, as is well known, typically countered with
tales of numerous assimilation problems of the immigrants,
about their feeling of being lost, etc.
Sakharov's wife, Yelena Bonner, along with other
members of the Moscow Helsinki Group, also became
actively engaged, particularly during the time span
of 1976 to 1982, on behalf of the problems of those
desiring to emigrate. The courageous behavior of the
Russian dissidents found honorable continuation in
the activities of the human rights organization "Memorial,"
which contributed so much toward the social and especially
moral rehabilitation of the German minority in the
countries of the former Soviet Union.
appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.