By Karen Herzog, Bismarck Tribune
Bismark, North Dakota, July 31, 2003
People from Strasburg and Napoleon, Richardton and Rapid City, S.D., and
Lodi, Calif., are the lucky ones.
Their German grandparents and great-grandparents decided to come to
America before the hammer and sickle fell on their colonies in the former
Soviet Union [including Ukraine].
They made lives here; most prospered. Not so lucky -- the wings of their
families who stayed in the Soviet Union. Starting in the 1920s, the Germans
who remained were nearly extinguished in a silent holocaust of mass
starvation; they were forced onto collective farms, shot or deported to
Siberian labor camps, stripped of property and possessions. Their land was
confiscated, their churches destroyed or mutilated, steeples shorn. Even
their gravestones were pulled up and used for paving and building.
"Beat the Kulaks", 1931
(Click on images to enlarge them)
The remnant has emerged into history's view again since the breakup of the
Soviet Union but remain second-class citizens there, discriminated against
in their educational and professional lives, stigmatized with the old
whisper of "Nazi."
Nearly 2.2 million ethnic Germans have returned to Germany from the Soviet
Union since 1950, said Jochen Welt, a high government official whose office
is responsible for the immigration and assimilation of ethnic Germans back
Germany is responsible to these ethnic siblings in the Federal Act on
Refugees and Expellees. "Everybody gets a chance to come to Germany,"
Welt and two other German officials visited the United States this week to
explore cooperation between the United States and Germany to help these
immigrants; particular visits were made to strongholds of Germans from
Russia in North Dakota and California.
They came here, he said, because of the common roots of the two groups.
"Enemies of the 5-Year Plan"
Poster by Deni
At a roomful of area Germans from Russia on Wednesday at the Germans
from Russia Heritage Society building in Bismarck, Welt talked, via a North
Dakota State University student translator, about how the German government
is helping ethnic Germans, both in Germany and those who remain in former
Soviet states. Germany spends 500 million euros each year on this project,
About 1 million ethnic Germans remain in the old Soviet Union, he said,
mostly in Russia, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine; about 80,000 emigrate to
Germany each year.
Assimilating them into German society wasn't as easy as officials once
thought. "These are Germans" was the assumption, Welt said.
But, after generations in Russia, many, especially the young, spoke no
German. Most need help learning the German language, he said. The political
and social system is different. Their education and professional training
may not match German standards.
In the former Soviet states, about 600 cultural centers have been
established to aid ethnic Germans, working with youth programs, vocational
training, medical counseling, language courses, small business loans and
social aid for the especially needy.
Michael M. Miller, librarian at NDSU's Germans from Russia Historical
Collection, suggested the German government could use its influence to help
gain easier access to archives in the Soviet Union, many of which are at
risk in deteriorating buildings.
Also, he said, many Germans from Russia are looking for long-lost relatives;
this can only be done with an Internet structure, he said.
Inna Stryukova, a professor and researcher from Ukraine, accompanied the
German officials on this trip; she helps visiting Americans search for
records, villages and relatives.
"Rehabilitated by History," is the name of the program, which has
acknowledged the history of the German people who farmed and labored in
Russian territories for 200 years before being repressed, she said. The KGB
interrogation records are now open -- names, dates, questions, sentences.
People are now able to research their German roots, are now "free to know
the truth," she said.
Welt, Miller and the group also planned to meet with Gov. John Hoeven and
visit German-Russian sites in southcentral North Dakota, including the
historic Lehr Tabernacle, before leaving to meet with other German-Russian
descendants in California.
By Karen Herzog, Bismarck Tribune, Bismark, North Dakota, July 31, 2003
Karen Herzog, 250-8267 or email@example.com
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