Before WW II
Looking back over the past 300 years it can be said that the Germans were a very mobile people. By Germany and Germans in this post I mean the territory and its population that existed before the Federal Republic of Germany.
In hard times Germans were ready to leave their home country in the hope of finding a better life, religious freedom and often just a full stomach. Some countries even tried to attract German immigrants. One such country was Russia. The monarchs valued Germans for being highly skilled and advanced architects, teachers, governesses, farmers, shipbuilders, merchants, engineers and much more. The crown offered its new citizens the soil, religious freedom, diminished taxes, recognition and new opportunities. Despite such privileges, life in a new country with strange native people and traditions was not easy.
One of the best-known territories with German settlements is the Volga region. The immigrants built their new existence on a new soil but they tried to preserve the German traditions, language, rites and even education. Often German children started to learn Russian as a foreign language at German schools and used it first as students at University for example in Saint Petersburg.
During and after WW II
Between World War I and World War II the concern grew among Germans about the future in Russia because of its new political system. But only few families or sometimes only a few family members decided to leave Russia and still fewer managed to leave Russia alive. At the beginning of World War II the social and political situation changed dramatically once again. Soviets started to persecute and suppress not only Germans but also other minorities. The regime started German cleansing and displacement from western part of the USSR to Siberia and Central Asia. At this time Germans lost everything. Some of them lost all of their friends, family and had to build their existence again. They were not free to decide their destiny but became an enemy of the people because of their nationality. German families or what was left of them after this tragic period tried to protect their culture and language through decades of hard and hungry everyday life, hate and political persecution.
Return to Germany and new integration
After displacement and repression in the former USSR some Germans were looking for a way to return back to Germany. But only few families managed to leave the country between 1950s and 1980s. Starting in the 1980s, significantly more German families managed to relocate. Close family members from the former GDR could help families to move to the former GDR and only financial support from BRD families could help to corrupt the Soviet government and enable the move to BRD.
The fall of the wall and the collapse of the former USSR finally enabled mass emigration. First the German families with close family members in the BRD could emigrate with an invitation from their family. Later on the German Red Cross offered all other German families the chance to emigrate although the paper checks could take three to five years. It could take mach longer for families whose family structure had changed in the meantime because of marriage, birth or death of its members.
As time passed the German immigration laws became more and more strict and such important measures as financial support, language training or occupational retraining were radically reduced. Although in the 1990s all German immigrants were recognised as equal to the main German population, with time laws changed which often made the newcomers feel like second class Germans. Today the laws make immigration almost impossible although the German government could make use of more newcomers with German roots to counteract the demographic situation in Germany. This policy has not changed despite the statistics, which suggests that German newcomers are the best integrated minority and make a great contribution to German society and economy.
This piece was written by a member of Com Berlin’s English class. Check back soon to see more texts from other members of the class.