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A Typical Volga German Life Store

by Milla Tokareva Koretnikova,  Saratov 1994

The story I heard from my German Granny and mother, is really typical of many Volga-Germans. If only a tragedy can be typical...

In the beginning of this century my Granny's family lived quietly in their Heimatdorf N.Dobrinka. My Granny Emilia Diterle /nee Quindt was born in 1912 and 'was the youngest among three sisters and two brothers. All the children helped their parents in the garden and corn, wheat and rye fields and also on their farm /3 horses, 3 cows, 12 sheep, 4 pigs, 4 geese and about 20 hens/.  Working hard they were rather well-to-do people.

Everything seemed to be well, but at those times the government began to-break the promises given by Catherine 2 in her decree from 1763. She invited the foreigners to settle down on the fertile lands of the Volga region and promised them the release of the taxes for 10 years, the duty-free trade, land, release of the army service; etc. The promises weren't kept. Many people decided to go to other countries in South and North America.

Two of my Granny's uncles Henrick and Andreas Batthauer went to America i~-1915 or so. They wrote to their sister Catherine Batthauer and in 1921 when it was a great drought and no crop at all, they sent dollars, which were of great use. Maybe due to this help nobody in the family died from starvation.

Unfortunately, later the contacts were lost. That happened in the thirties - if you received a letter from abroad, you had to explain who from. And, of course, you were forbidden to answer. In case you did it, you had very good chances to be imprisoned. But all this was nothing in comparison with what happened later. In 1941 the horrible war broke out.

The government was sure that the Volga-Germans would inevitably help the invaders. There appeared a decree according to which all the German settlers were to leave their houses in 24 hours and to move to the far-away regions in Siberia and Kasachstan. More than 380 thousand people were evicted.

Although all the Volga-Germans were hoping that this would only be a temporary event, it was hard for them to leave their beloved villages where they had spent childhood and youth.

People were allowed to take only 30 kg of cloths, food and the barest essentials for each person. Practically everything was left; in some houses warm soup and potatoes could be found in the oven, but the masters of the houses had been gone. Cattle and poultry were crying, calling for their owners. Nobody came to feed them.. .

All the inhabitants of N.Dobrinka were gathered at the station and driven into the cattle-wagons. There were so many of them in one wagon as it was possible to shove in. Difficult to imagine what my granny and her two daughters /my mother was 4 years old and her sister - only 9 months/ endured during 7 days trip to Siberia.

At last they came to the place of their destination. Cold and darkness around and several families in the field covered with snow. Only next morning there came a cart from the nearest kolkhos /collective farm/ and the homeless found a new place to live and work. It happened in September.

In several months, January 1942 all men were taken to the labor army. They had to work at the tree-felling or coal-mines. Many of them died from hard work, illnesses and underfeeding. Some found local women who fed them and stayed there. That fate overtook my granny: when she was only 30, she became a widow though her husband was alive.

In spring 1942 women over 18, who had no children under three years old, were also taken to the labor army. Children over 3 had to be placed in the special orphanages for the Germans. It was good my Granny had my aunt only one year old. My Granny's sisters left their children under her care. And for the Grandma terrible years of hard work began. She had to feed 6 people, she worked from early -morning till late at night. She also had to lay in brushwood.

My mother remembers: "We took the cart and the horse and went to the forest. I had to wait on the cart till mom brought some brushwood. Very often I heard my mummy crying bitterly /she thought I couldn't hear her/, and I began to cry too and called her halloo! halloo!"

In those terribly difficult times the German people never lost the hope for ,better and happy life in future. They wanted the war to be over ~~ soon as possible and thought that after the victory they would be able to come back home. Alas! Their hope occured to be a forlorn-one. Even after the war was over the Germans had no right to choose the place of living, every month they were to go to commandant's office and to register themselves.

My Granny and mother suffered a lot because they were of German nationality. Granny couldn't find job, they told her that she was a wrecker and didn't want to hire her. My mother was beaten at school not once and children called her a fascist. When she began to study at school she didn't know a word in Russian but then she was forced to forget her native language. Now she speaks German,

Only in 1957 my Granny came back to Saratov region, but couldn't come back to her native village, she was aware strangers lived in the house built by her father and husband.

My Granny's family was split - some of her sisters and brothers settled in Kasachstan, some - in the Urals.  Now practically all their descendants live in Germany.

In 1991 there appeared a law about rehabilitation of Volga-Germans and their republic. But many people, especially in the villages where earlier Germans lived, stood up against the restoration of the German republic in the Volga region. So now the problem of the Volga-Germans is not solved. There are two ways for the Germans - either to go to Germany or to assimilate with the local population.

Although 'now we have German House in Saratov that tries to help the Germans to preserve their language and culture, it can't change the situation considerably.

On this sad note I end my story about the fate of many Volga-Germans. Much could be added, but what was said is enough, to my mind, to understand and feel the tragic events that happened to the Germans in Russia more than half a century ago.