Vom "Steppenmythos" zum "Revolutionsschicksal" : Wolgadeutsche Geschichte und Identität in Russlanddeutschen Erzählungen der Zwischenkriegszeit

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis analyses the literary representation of the Volga-German population group during the Third Reich, using eleven fictional historical accounts, contrasting them with respect to three aspects: their history and the real conditions of existence of this linguistic enclave, psychological and sociological issues of the identity of minorities and the intertextuality of the works and the period of their publication. The themes of the primary literature are categorised according to historical criteria, because the narrative shows a close proximity to historical reality, despite its ideological colouring. The representation of the settlement in Russia emphasises the difficulties facing the emigrants, and creates the basis for the Volga-German self-concept as a "highly productive, rural population group". The considerable disadvantages of their separatism, however, are interpreted as an advantage, a "guard for culture". A comparison with publications from the early twentieth century illustrates that the pan-germanic propaganda of all ethnic Germans as an international family (Volksgemeinschaft) has been combined with Volga-German separatism to form a ''volkisch"-nationalist discourse; without, however, demanding an "Anschluss" to Germany. Only after the bolshevist destruction of the Volga-German way of life, the characters project their hopes towards Germany. During World War One, they already experience a distinct sympathy for Germany, which is emphasised all the more in retrospective to avoid recognising the escape of individual characters to Germany, the "mother country", as sheer opportunism. Descriptions of the atrocities of the time of revolution and civil war serve to legitimate the escape, but also to set a memorial to the suffering of the Volga-Germans. Some authors attempt to find a meaning for the destruction of their home in Russia through no fault of the group, by postulating a collective fate of all Germans in the world. The reader in the Third Reich, however, would perceive this suffering of German people as anti-Soviet propaganda. The authors do not understand that the national-socialist interest in ethnic Germans was a political strategy, to which they unwittingly contributed since they were unable to place the "volkisch"-national theme in its correct position in the Reich. Early soviet-German representations of this population group emphasise the gradual rebuilding after the revolution, but attribute its success to the socialist system. Volga-German traditions are negated, while the unlimited optimism typical for Socialist Realism abounds. These accounts lack a critical analysis of the drastic changes, as shown, for instance, in the Cossack main character of the lauded novel, And Quiet flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov, making him a tragic hero, and hence they form the opposite of the conservative refugees' narratives.

Bibliography: pages 261-275.