[Ger-Poland-Volhynia] Convention success story

Richard Benert benovich at imt.net
Tue Sep 5 13:15:13 PDT 2006

About 15 years ago I wrote an article for the AHSGR Journal on the Volhynian 
German Baptists who settled in St. Paul, Minnesota and attended the First 
German Baptist Church there.  One thing that struck me then, and has 
continued to interest me, was the apparent reluctance of these families to 
make anything of their Russian background.  They did not try to celebrate 
their heritage, but rather had their hearts set on assimilating themselves 
into American life and into the generally-German atmosphere of the church, 
dominated as it was by immigrant Reich Germans.  Some of them seemed to be 
somewhat embarrassed about having come from such a backward place--at least 
so it seemed to me.  I could be wrong.  But to some extent this does fit 
into what Jerry said about this. He said:

> Further to Dave's comment explaining why the Volhynians might not
> consider themselves as being from Russia, there are at least 2 other
> factors that can explain some of this separateness.
> 1.  The Volhynian Germans arrived in Russia under greatly different
> circumstances than those in other regions.  Coming to work for Polish
> landlords there, they did not receive the same privileges and perks
> as those in other parts of Russia.  While they shared a common ethnic
> origin, their culture and history was different.
> 2.  The Volhynian Germans were ignored, or at best marginalized, by
> German researchers such as Stumpp, Liebrandt, and others who were
> instrumental in the early origins of the Russia German groups in
> Germany.  Their books contain very little information about the
> Volhynian Germans or their history.  I don't know if this was
> intentional, a result of ignorance about them, or what.  It did
> however contribute to a lack of a sense of belonging and therefore
> low participation of the Volhynia Germans with the other GR groups in 
> Germany.

Perhaps this is too big and complex a subject to make any brief comments on, 
but nevertheless I'll make a few  comments.  With Jerry's first point I 
basically agree. I'm sure it helped the Volga and Black Sea Germans' sense 
of Russian identity to have urban areas largely run by fellow-Germans, a 
fairly advanced culture and representatives participating in the Russian 
government.  Volhynian Germans, with some exceptions, didn't have these 
advantages.   After W.W. II, of course, Aussiedlers from all parts of Russia 
had been reduced to conditions similar to, or worse than, those of the 
Volhynian Germans, and they've been correspondingly reluctant to prate about 
their Russian background.

It's also true that, in some respects, Volhynian Germans were largely 
overlooked by the Black Sea Stumpp and the Baltic Leibbrandt, but don't 
forget that Stumpp worked very hard in 1941 and 1942 to write glowing 
reports about the Germans in Volhynia.  I'm also not sure that one can say 
that Volhynian Germans were ignored or marginalized by German researchers. 
It's true that they were mostly ignored before W.W. I, but after the war and 
the peace settlement that took several territories from Germany and Austria 
and gave them to Poland, interest in Volhynia's German farmers began to 
grow.  Young men like Walter Kuhn, Kurt Lück, Alfred Karasek and Viktor 
Kauder, all of them from either Posen, Silesia or Galicia began to worry 
about the lowly condition of Germandom in Poland and began to investigate 
the various German Sprachinseln ("language islands") in Poland to see if 
anything could be done to save and possibly unite them in some way.  So 
during the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s (and greatly aided after 1933 
by National Socialist ideology and money), PolishVolhynia did become an 
object of study.  The picture that emerged was of a people of admittedly low 
cultural attainment (over 50% illiterate) but given to Wanderung (like the 
ancient German tribes), hard work on the soil and the production of 
offspring.  (Stumpp did write an article in the late 1930s glorifying the 
Volhynian fertility rate).  They had made a great start in Russia up to W.W. 
I, but their rewards had been stolen by the Russian government.  Now they 
were in a condition of starting over, a young, potentially vibrant, Stamm of 
the German biological tree, if only conditions were right.  It was a matter 
of saving them from the Polonizing efforts of the Polish government.  All 
this has recently been written about by several scholars, most recently by 
Wilhelm Fielitz, Das Stereotyp des wolhyniendeutschen Umsiedlers (The 
Stereotype of the German Resettlers [of 1939-40]), in which he shows how the 
relatively innocent early studies of the "language islands" morphed into the 
fullfledged Nazi propaganda associated with the resettlement into the 
Warthegau, Posen and Danzig during W.W.II.

In the end, of course, it's doubtful that the Volhynian Germans found in 
these studies any source of pride, unless possibly they read and believed 
the Nazi press accounts of the magnificent specimens of the German race that 
were being resettled in 1939-40.   Their experiences under the Nazi 
resettlement program could hardly have made most of them proud of being 
German.  Nor was this anything new.  The Volhynian Germans who had lived for 
a time in Germany after W.W. I and suffered under the treatment given them 
by German landowners and factories who considered them to be mere "Roosians" 
had already learned to seek their identity in something other than 

Sorry this got so long.  It's a big subject and it defies brevity.  We owe 
much of our knowledge about Volhynia to this group of researchers, but they 
may as well have written nothing for all the good they did for the 
self-image of Volhynia's Germans.  In this sense, Jerry's point No. 2 is 
entirely valid.  I think.

Dick Benert 

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