Crimean Germans - who are they?
Germans before deportation

Crimean Germans – who are they?

Crimean Germans - who are they?
Administrative division of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. German national districts are highlighted in red (6 – Biyuk-Onlarsky, 24 – Telmansky (center Kurman-Kemelchi)

Is an antonym to an ethnonym possible? It turns out that in the everyday Russian language the antonym to the word “Russian” is the word “German”. Who are they, the Germans of Crimea? German Russians or Soviet Germans? Do many Crimeans know that the village of Kolchuhyne was called Kronental until 1941, and the Golden Field was called Zurichtal?

Why was Colonel Bolbochan’s raid so successful? And why did the withdrawal of his regiment from the Crimea become so hasty? In both cases – due to the presence of a powerful German army.

Why on medieval maps the southern coast of Crimea from Chembalo to Kafa, inhabited by Italian (first Venetian and then Genoese) colonies, was officially called the Captaincy of Gothia? Why do Crimean Tatars still call children by non-Turkic names like Ernest and Erwin?

The Goths ruled in the Northern Black Sea region from the third century AD. It is well known that Theodoro, a state that existed in the XII-XV centuries in the Crimea, was inhabited by people of the Byzantine religion, who spoke a language very similar to German. Information about this is preserved thanks to the Western diplomat de Busbeck, who in 1562 recorded a song in Gothic and 96 words heard from the Goths with Theodore, with whom he communicated in Constantinople. Apel (apple), hus (house), handa (hand) – words similar to the corresponding German and English, and above all – to Swedish. But this was after the fall of Theodore, after the Turks killed 15,000 mangupts. There is no mention of the Gothic language since the 17th century, although the Goths are mentioned.

The Germans, descendants of the militant Goths, in many countries enlisted in the army, fighting for their new homeland, sometimes even against the “fatherland”. Thus, in World War I, the American army that fought against Germany and Austria was led by the ethnic German Pershing, and in World War II by the ethnic German Eisenhower. The defeat of Saddam’s Iraq in 1991 was successfully carried out by General Schwarzkopf.

Crimean Germans - who are they?
Germans before deportation

The Germans – not just one of the peoples who let the shoots around the world. Germans, wherever they lived, always won the respect of other peoples and became an example for those peoples. And in Ukraine as well. Writer Olga Kobylyanska, for example, was of mixed German-Ukrainian descent and wrote her first works in German.

The Orthodox Goths-Crimeans, whose last mention dates back to 1779, namely the resettlement of Christians from the Crimean Khanate, barely made history, as the German language reverberated on the peninsula. German Queen Catherine II invited the Germans to move first to the lands of Tavria, and only after the final annexation of the Crimea – in 1805 – the Germans began to settle here. Thirty thousand Germans moved to the peninsula in several waves during the 19th century. The colonists received sixty tenths of land, were exempt from dues and had the right to self-government.

These were mainly peasants and artisans. The former grew grapes or potatoes, the latter made furniture, equipment and carts. Their products were famous for their high quality.

Germans in the Crimea before World War II accounted for 6% of the population. There were national German villages and even two German districts: Telmanivsky and Biyuk-Onlarsky – now it is one Kurmansky (Krasnogvardeysky) district. Many Germans also lived in the Simferopol, Seitler (Nizhny Novgorod) and Ichkin (Soviet) districts.
Adolf Hitler had his own plans for the Crimea. The peninsula was to be called Gotland, and its German population was to be increased, in particular at the expense of the Germans from South Tyrol, a region which, after the redistribution of lands after the First World War, had reached Italy. Sevastopol was named Theodoricshafen (Port Feodoro), and Simferopol was named Gottenberg.

Crimean Germans - who are they?
P. Bolbochan with German officers

The Soviet leadership knew or did not know about it, and the Germans from the Ukrainian SSR and the Crimea were sent in advance for “prevention.” Unlike the Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Greeks, and Armenians, the Crimean Germans were not formally deported from the Crimea. The documents of August 15, 1941, speak only of “evacuation.” More than 60,000 people were deported to Stavropol and the Rostov region. Later, when Hitler’s troops moved on Baku and Stalingrad, these unfortunate people were sent to Siberia and Kazakhstan.

The living conditions of the “evacuees” cannot be called anything but horrible. Added to the statelessness, slave labor in the Gulag or the Labor Army was hatred, which was easier and safer for Soviet people to apply not to Gestapo, Nazi, or Wehrmacht soldiers, but to fellow citizens born with the “wrong” nationality. For a long time, even in the postwar period, Germans in the USSR were afraid to speak German on the street – so gradually the language of their ancestors was forgotten.

Although all charges and restrictions were lifted after 1955, there was no mass return, and only two and a half thousand Germans now live in Crimea, twenty fewer than before the so-called “evacuation.” None of the districts, but settlements of compact residence of Germans were restored, the vast majority of residents of the former USSR with the entry in the fifth column “German” chose the future in the historical homeland, not in the Crimea.

“Wiedergeburt”, which means “Renaissance”, is the name of the organization of the Germans of the Crimea, established in 1993. Since 1995, there has also been a Fellowship of Deported Germans in Crimea. The newspaper Hoffnung (“Hope”) is published in German and Russian. There are three Lutheran churches: in Simferopol, Sudak and Yalta. By 1917, there were only 186 Lutheran churches in the Crimea, as well as German Catholics, Mennonites, and Congregationalists.

Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea in 2014 came as a surprise. Due to the fact that the Germans were officially “evacuated” and not deported, they have to prove in Russia their right to the same status as the Crimean Tatars, Greeks, Bulgarians and Armenians. Descendants of deportees born in places of deportation, according to Russian notions, are considered to be residents of those “places of deportation”, and only now there is talk of changes in legislation that would make life easier for people affected by deportations, and which have long been the norm in Ukraine.

And the latest news, which could be called sensational: Russian Germans from Germany, where they went in the 1990s, have expressed a desire to move to the Crimea. The head of Wiedergeburt, Yuri Hempel, talks about several thousand ethnic Germans who are now happy to return to Crimea. Is history repeating itself?

Photos from open sources

Valery Verkhovsky, “Crimean Room” № 13, 2017

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Valery Verkhovsky

Author of culturological articles, journalist of the newspaper "Crimean svitlytsia"

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