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Fall 1994 · Vol. 23 No. 2 · pp. 54–56 

Aussiedler and the German People: An Uneasy Journey

Pt. of series, Ethnicity and Assimilation: The Shape of the Problem.

Heinrich Klassen

A couple was traveling by train. Soon they were comfortable and enjoyed having the train compartment to themselves. This room belonged to them. At the next train station, two women entered their compartment. The couple felt antipathy toward these strangers. Knowing that they had to travel with these two women for a whole day, the couple opened conversation. They soon discovered that they had more similarities than differences. Their mothers were both born in the same town; their fathers fought in the same regiment during the war, and they all enjoyed playing golf. Soon all were comfortable with each other. At another train stop a man opened the door, and entered their compartment. He stood alone as the couple and two women glared up at him. He hesitated uncomfortably for a moment, but entered the compartment which he had booked weeks in advance. The four travelers fell silent harboring their hostile feelings. This stranger had entered their compartment, which they had come to view as their own, and had disturbed their peace and warm fellowship.

Imagine Germany as the train and the Aussiedler 1 as new travelers. This scenario describes the present situation in Germany. People who have lived for some time in a state or city do not look favorably on the new arrivals. Aussiedler arriving in a new place often feel strange, uncomfortable, and not accepted. One’s hope is that Aussiedler as well as the German people can open their hearts and tell each other their stories. Listening to each other will help in processing hostile feelings and may lead to mutual acceptance, peace, and freedom.

The following are examples of the “rough spots” in the acculturation process as Christians from the Confederation of Independent States (CIS) arrive and settle in Germany.

FAULTY PERCEPTIONS ABOUT THE “WAY OF LIFE” IN GERMANY

From the representative questionaire of POLIS, Gesellschaft fur Politik und Sozialforschung in 1988 and 1992, analysts have concluded that the sympathy and openness of the German people toward immigrants has drifted to the negative side. Now imagine that you arrive in a country where you have always wanted to live. You sell everything to move to this new {55} city. Arriving there, you find out that the people dislike you and don’t want to treat you as a German. In Russia you were always treated as a German; in Germany you are treated as a Russian!

Furthermore, the economic situation in Germany has changed rapidly. As a result, it will take months to find a job. In addition, your whole family will have to live in one room; it may take two to four years to find an apartment. Shocked, you soon come to feel that nobody needs you, wants you, or cares about your experiences. Such faulty perceptions about Germany become some of the “rough spots” in the acculturation process of Aussiedler.

FRUSTRATION WITH MORALITY STANDARDS

The morality standards of the state and community in Germany easily lead the Aussiedler to a closure of heart and mind. Entering a store that sells newspapers, one usually finds at least 30 to 40 different journals and magazines. Approximately 70% of these journals or magazines picture naked persons often on the cover. When the Aussiedler thinks back to discussions about sex at home, such exposure was clearly taboo. Now, however, children and adults see naked people pictured in journals, magazines, books, films, and on posters on the wall.

In the public schools the teachers are required to teach sex education beginning in the third grade. The public schools hold that if this is done improperly, personality problems might result in these small children. Recently a teacher of an eight-year-old told the parents about the many problems related to the sexual understanding of boys and girls in the second grade. As a result, the school board decided to teach the children sexual behavior at the age of seven.

How can Aussiedler, who come from a Christian background, wish for their children to become part of the German culture, especially when they as parents hear about the classes their children are actually taking in school? This is another “rough spot” in the acculturation process!

HELP REFUSED

In some cases, the Aussiedler create their own “rough spots.” For example, too many Aussiedler have moved at the same time to the same region. The small town of Espelkamp, with a population of 30,000 and widely known in the CIS, is an example. The German people have made a joke about this town: “Do you know where Berlin or Hamburg are?” “Yes,” answers one Aussiedler, “Close to Espelkamp”!! One can imagine with what difficulty families in a setting like Espelkamp acculturate to the German culture. Reinhard Günnewig, columnist of the Frankfurter Rundschau, deals with integration {56} problems. He writes a one-page article on the subject of the government and society’s integration concerns and tells about Espelkamp, where political parties, sport clubs, and even store managers try to help the Aussiedler integrate but without success. 2

CHOKED ON DENOMINATIONAL DIFFERENCES

Denominational differences create another problem. The Aussiedler, raised in a Christian setting, find themselves in a highly complicated situation in Germany. There are some German churches who to some degree accept the Aussiedler as members. Although many different denominations exist in Germany, still new denominations have been formed by the Aussiedler Christians. Some of these are influenced by the Russian culture and have nothing to do with the confessions of faith. A spirit of separatism is at work among the Mennonites, Mennonite Brethren, Baptists, Lutherans, Evangeliums Christen, 3 and others--even to the point where churches will call themselves “Free Evangelical Christian Baptist Brethren Church.” This strikes one as nonsense. The groups are searching for their own identity; they also have a desire to lead many German people to Christ. Yet how can one lead persons to Christ and the church when the church has its own “Aussiedler-Denominational” problems? This is another “rough spot” in the acculturation process!

In the next decade, the German people won’t become Aussiedler and the Aussiedler German. But they need to come closer to each other and learn to accept one another. When there is no communication between these two groups, then as with the people in the train, feelings of antipathy will arise. The problem of ethnicity and assimilation could be minimized through a new openness of both the German people and the Aussiedler to one another—at work, in the neighborhood, and in church. As long as this does not happen, greater tensions will arise. Together they need to learn to enjoy their travel time on life’s train.

ENDNOTES

  1. Aussiedler” refers to German people who have been uprooted elsewhere and have moved to Germany. They are also called Umsiedler or Rußlanddeutsche.
  2. “Eure Rede sei: Ja. Die rußlanddeutsche Mennonitengemeinde von Espelkamp.” Frankfurter Rundschau am Wochenende. Samstag, den 01.06.91.
  3. Evangeliums Christen is a movement under the leadership of a Russian named Prochanow. He organized his group, which stays close to the Russian Baptists, at the end of the 19th century.
Heinrich Klassen is a pastor of the Heepen Mennonite Brethren Church in Bielefeld, Germany.

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