Report of a Visit to the Heimkehrlager at Frankfurt at the Oder
By Raymond Ullmann, member of the Executive Committee of the Catholic Welfare Service for Russia.
(Translated by Hugh Lichtenwald from Clemens Blatt: 1 August 1924)
Homecoming Camp Frankfurt at the Oder: The place of refugees of our beloved compatriots who have fled the hearth and home of their native land in Russia. Whose heart is not stirred to some extent and will not admit to sympathy for the path these refugees have chosen and the dying and suffering of our brothers and sisters? And at the same time filled with admiration for all their strength, perserverance, courage and stamina that they put forth daily in the struggle with every emerency and renunciation?
There is perhaps nowhere as right here an abundance of material required by the historian for a tale of woe about the refugees from Russia. Future generations will probably place a laurel wreath here where they are resting in their final sleep in the cemetery of the Homecoming Camp, and in this quiet place they will rest forgotten in the two hemispheres of the world.
But the purpose of my article is not to write the above mantioned history or to collect material for it, but only to clearly describe my last visit to the Homecoming Camp which I undertook on behalf of the Catholic Welfare Service with Rev. Fr. Alois Kappes who recently arrived from Russia and wanted to see “his people,” the dear children, previously of his Parish, to greet them, to bless and encourage them in the struggle for their existance and their future.
And following the call of the Executive Committee, I drove with the Rev. Fr. Kappes to the Frankfurt at the Oder Homecoming Camp on Friday the 27th of June around 5 in the afternoon. We arrived around 8:30 the same day and received a cordial welcome from all the inmates who had been eagerly awaiting Fr. Kappes. After Fr. Kappes had paid a visit to the camp clergyman providing clergy support to the refugees we were graciously offered overnight lodging by Mr. Jankowski who lives a distance of 10 minutes from the camp and which we gratefully accepted.
The next morning, Saturday, the 28th of June at 7 o’clock, Rev. Fr. Kappes celebrated a High Mass in the camp church and delivered a moving lecture in which he urged the refugees to remain firm in their faith and not waver in the face of all their emergencies and suffering, to remain true and cling to their mother, the Catholic Church.
I have to say that there wasn’t a dry eye among the listeners and many, many tears were shed, bringing relief to aching hearts.
After the service a meeting was announced in which not only the catholic inmates but also the protestant denomination were free to participate. This meeting which began at 10 o’clock in the morning, had an unusually high number of attendees because everyone wanted to hear something about their old homeland, their relatives and friends.
Fr. Kappes began to speak, describing in living colors the life as it is now on the Volga, the economic conditions of the Germans there, the hopeless outlook of this year’s harvest in the Volga region, the despair of our compatriots and the inevitable consequences of the harvest failure: Hunger, the poverty and the diseases.
Fr. Kappes will shortly begin his journey to America at the request and on behalf of the Catholic Welfare Service in order to receive donations for the catholic compatriots in the Volga and Black Sea regions. He gladly and readily explained relative questions addressed to him by individuals at the meeting, also that money from protestants in America would be forwarded to Russia by the Catholic Welfare Service as soon as money was offered to it for this purpose. His willingness to do this was greeted with great applause and many of the refugees expressed their most heartfelt thanks for it.
After Fr. Kappes, I addressed the meeting and in a short speech explained the program and activities of the Catholic Welfare Service and its current situation, due to which the Executive Committee is not capable, even with its best efforts to fulfill the many and varied demands made upon it and help with measures as much as they would like and want.
Following my report I turned to those present, for their part, to urgently request their friends and relatives in America to transfer cash donations to the Catholic Welfare Service for the support of the scattered refugees living in Germany and those in the Volga and in the Black Sea regions.
At the same time I turned to the women whose husbands were shipped to Canada through arrangements by the Cathollic Welfare Service working together with the St. Raphael’s Association, as agricultural workers, and taken there as such. In their letters addressed to the Catholic Welfare Service they mentioned a promise allegedly made by the Catholic Welfare Service to them that we would send their wives to Canada in, at most, 3 to 4 months, which affair I corrected and clearly explained to their general satisfaction.
In conclusion, I again highlighted the activities of the Catholic Welfare Service, its untiring work on behalf of our comrades and their unshakeable hope that their industriousness, untiring efforts for the well-being of their suffering, starving compatriots in Germany and in Russia, with God’s help and owing to the generosity of those with means will produce the necessary success.
After another short address by Fr. Kappes and from myself, Mr. Roth, a member of the Refugee Committee asked to address the meeting and expressed his thanks to Fr. Kappes for his highly commendable willingness to travel to America and organize the above mentioned collections.
One got the glad impression that those present at the meeting were satisfied with the discussion which was plain to see from the many who proclaimed their thanks to Rev. Fr. Kappes.
Since I had received an order from the Executive Committee of the Catholic Welfare Service to make a photograph of those refugees still present in the camp, a photographer was admitted who photographed all those present in two group pictures without regard to denominatiion.
May this ordinary photo be an enduring reminder of the time they lived in the camp, that in which these days, all camp inmates are abandoned, however, according to the orders of the government all camps must be dissolved and camp inmates accommodated in individual municipalities in Germany. At the same time may this photo be a remembrance of the bonds which the “Catholic Welfare Service for Russia” have embraced and connected with their dear and valued brother countryman, brothers and sisters in faith, and act as a reminder in the future of their high task to forever and always, more and more strengthen.
For the truly affectionate, cordial and hospitable reception the Rev. Fr. Kappes and I found in the camp from all of the inmates, without exception, I say in this place, in the name of the Catholic Welfare Service, my warmest thanks. I, for myself, do not regard the outward epression of cordiality as being directed to my person but rather as an expression of the all-around deep confidence in the “Catholic Welfare Service for Russia,” those that follow the call of brotherly love, continuing to walk the thorny path with a firm uncompromising will to intervene everywhere with help and support where only one possibility of assistance is at hand, and the confidence of the Executive Committee of the Catholic Welfare Service, its entire strength has begun a beneficial work for the lost and distressed.
After cordial partings from all of our dear compatriots, many of whom were Parish children of the Rev. Fr. Kappes, each expressed in their own words, one after another their love, gratitude and attachment to their dear religious Father. At 5 o’clock in the afternoon Fr. Kappes and I, in the friendly company of the Refugee Committee of the Frankfurt Homecoming Camps, drove across Frankfurt at the Oder to Berlin.
The deep impression left on us by this camp visit could not easily be erased and we quietly sat in our compartment on the train, every one of us deep in thought, seeing again in our mind’s eye the pictures pulling us back with memories of the difficult lives and survival of our dear countrymen with all of their great worries. We ourselve have already drunk from this cup of sorrows, although perhaps in smaller measuer, the cost of which we share with those who lost their homeland, their fortunes, peace and freedom, and all their friends and who for this or that essential reasons have left their distand homeland in order to create a new, safer, quieter hearth. So far however, many still face an uncertain future.
What fate will hold in store for them, whether they will finally be assigned the desired and well-deserved peace and allowed a new homeland and a safe new home? Who can predict it, who can look into the future and fathom that which fate has reserved for us?
I thought, perhaps as a way to banish the feeling of nostalgia creeping over me, of the words of the poet: “Life’s undiluted joy is not granted to a mortal.”
(Translation courtesy of Hugh Lichtenwald)