Open Wound : The Genocide of German Ethnic Minorities in Russia and the Soviet Union: 1915-1949 and Beyond by Samuel Sinner
Periodically I do research on my family history. With the explosion of the internet each year I gain increasing access to information regarding the Volga German colony in Russia where my grandmother was born.
Yesterday I discovered a vast wealth of information at the The Center for Volga German Studies website at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. I clicked links and read detailed historical accounts of family history and found a request for Volga German descendants to contribute photos and artifacts to preserve what little remained of the 200 year Germanic history in Russia.
I contacted the professor and sent an MP3 file of a song written for my Volga German grandmother by Minnesota Public Radio host Jeff Horwich, after she made history becoming the second oldest person in the United States to obtain citizenship, she was 106.
The reply to my email was almost immediate, the Center for Volga German studies was thrilled to have the clip and asked for history and photos to feature my, now 108 year old grandmother, on their website.
I was very pleased to have a few items to contribute and will discuss sending additional items for historic preservation. Like my relatives and the Volga German language much of my family and our heritage has been extinguished. I grew up feeling the vacancies that I imagine children and grandchildren of refugees feel yet we look so American. It seems easier to grasp an individuals sense of displacement when the individual looks displaced but Volga Germans looked like any other American. Yet our photos were only those from America and our belongings were American, we have almost no family articles prior to our migration to the U.S.. My grandfathers home and blacksmith shop was seized by the Russian government along with everything he owned, many colonies were burned to the ground and communities were savagely murdered. All that remains is my grandmother’s childhood shawl, a couple of pictures and horrific tales of the brutality endured by members of my family.
We are not Jewish Holocaust survivors yet our lives are marked by genocide. We are not Palestinian yet we too are refugees who are affronted by that which was wrongfully taken and we intimately understand the familial scattering of statelessness.
As a child I felt what was missing, as an adult I understood why.
P. S. Upon contacting the Center for Volga German Studies the professor, knowning nothing more than my grandmothers family name, was able to accurately place us in the colony of Germans in Deitel. I was also able to find documents that traced our family history back to the 1600’s in Germany. Today, descendants of Volga German refugees are eligible for German citizenship under German “right of return” laws.