By P. Aloys Kappes, Pastor.
(Note: Translated from the German publication “Clemens-Blatt” September 1, 1924, Number 9. The author, a Catholic priest, later returned to Russia and was arrested. Soviet authorities had him shot in November of 1937.)
On August 11th I traveled from Berlin to Hamburg to be helpful to some of our dear Volga-German refugees, who on August 14th will begin their sea journey to Canada.Since the German government’s Heimkehrlager have been closed, our refugees lived in various parts of Germany. Today 18 of these refugees from various districts of Germany are to meet in Hamburg. Today I was to visit again with these poor, cast-off people. I was over-joyed with this visit! I arrived in Hamburg at 1:45 P.M. and went directly from the train-station to the hotel where the refugees were to be taken. They were gathered there in groups when I met them. Renunciations and privations of all kinds flashed from their faces. Worries and doubts about being successful in America also were on their minds.Other worries were if their sea-traveling papers were in order, and if the ship’s surgeon might eject them! I greeted them with these words as I suddenly walked among them:”Jesus Christ be praised.” Their response was: “In Ewigkeit, Jesus, Maria unser Vater ist ja da.” Great was the joy on both sides during this reunion.
These poor ones were delighted that their clergyman came to see them and to be helpful at their departures. All of them when they departed (via ship from Hamburg) did so without added worries upon their limited comprehension. I rejoiced that I was able to help these unfortunates.
I know all too well what they once were, what they suffered and experienced because of their escape and flight. Moreover, several of them even for years were my parishioners and school children. While I enjoyed seeing them and smilingly clasping their hands my heart was bleeding. Had not all who were here stood a round me and kindly looked at me, formerly also had a home in far-off Russia on the Volga strand? Had not all refugees formerly felt satisfied and lucky in the circle of their family? And today? A husband or a wife, a father or a mother; so many of them died during their flight; their bodies fading in graves in the distant Russian steppe. These dear ones here with me are scorned by many as beggars and deportees as they are about to travel to America in search of a new home. Can America replace their old home? Will they now remain true to their faith and trust in Germanism as they and their ancestors had done in the past 160 years in Russia?
Such and similar thoughts occupied my mind during the few moments before their departure. It is unclear to me that and why my heart should bleed; I a son of the Volga, who loves his homeland and his people with his entire soul. It would have been an offense on my part if I had expressed these weighty thoughts to them in their departing hour, thereby making their parting more grievous. Therefore I lovingly made inquiries about their feelings and sought words to comfort them where it was needed. Then in childlike love they all opened their hearts to me and shared their various experiences until it got to be very late in the evening when we parted, wishing each other a “good night”. The next morning at 6:30 all of the refugees in spite of the heavy rain met in the chapel of the St. Raphael Society where I celebrated a high mass for them. At its end I gave a short speech to them, my dear ones, demanding them to always trust God and never be unfaithful to the Catholic church. I told them that God would always protect them. At the very end I gave them my priestly blessing.
After the breakfast I proceeded with my work of doing many things for these refugees, some with the consulate and some with the shipping company, to settle anything that needed it. At 1:30 P.M. all of the emigrants had to gather at a specified place and then go to the Canadian Pacific Shipping Company’s steamship, the Empress of Scotland, which would take them to their destination in Canada. I also accompanied them to the ship, after which came a few more moments of parting. With tears in all of our eyes, everything good was wished for all, and good-byes were said as I parted from my poor, dear Volga-Germans. It all happened in high time because in only one-half hour my train to take me back to Berlin was due to leave. At 4: 15 P.M. I traveled from Hamburg to Berlin with heavy and sad thoughts.
Now again some of our German population had been torn from the Volga area and transferred to Canada. Many were already living in Argentina, and others were scattered and managed to live in all parts of Germany. And those who still lived in Russia had suffered former years of famine and many of them again faced certain starvation. Shall this continue? Shall we Volga-Germans become scattered allover the world? “Oh God in Heaven, You alone know. You are the good Father of all humans, and therefore I now again dedicate to you our Volga-German people.”