Report and Letter about the Refugees at Frankfurt a.O., Lockstedt and Lechfeld
From: Deutches Leben aus Russland (Berlin) , No. 1, 1923
Translation courtesy Hugh Lichtenwald
My friends and acquaintances in America expressed an interest in learning details of the refugee experiences and asked me to visit the refugees. I visited all three of the above named camps and their refugees. There are refugees from all over Russia. One finds people from Volhynia, Cherson, from the Crimea, from the Don region, from Siberia and from the Volga.
History will not forget these three camps. Hundreds and Thousands of forsaken, persecuted, exhausted, starving and homeless refugees have found their first accommodation and acceptance here in Germany. It is to Germany’s honor that it has “broken bread” with these refugees in their crowded barracks and shared its meager supplies during this time of its own great distress and poverty.
The above camps were once Prisoner of War Camps. Today in each of them live 4 to 5,000 refugees. A large organization is necessary to provide accommodations and supply food for these people. Three times a day, meals are delivered to all the refugees. Each camp has its own Administration, Police force, Employment Agency, Post Office and Telegraph, Sanitation Department, Hospital, Doctors, Sisters of Charity (Nuns), a church and a school. For entertainment there are libraries and reading rooms. Every Sunday there are Lutheran and Catholic church services, as well as various lectures.
A first-time visitor to such a camp will certainly get a strong impression of the over-all prevailing orderliness and likewise the large organization that is necessary to regulate life here. However, whoever goes just once into the barracks and sits down amongst the refugees who are compelled to live their lives crowded together here, will nevertheless be shaken by the unspeakably heart wrenching misery, poverty and suffering that one is up against here. The refugees are grateful for each visit and each bit of help they receive. The Volga German Society has established a Counseling Office in the Frankfurt a.O. camp where most of the Volga Germans are, headed by a countryman, Dr. Rothermel, who is likewise a physician, to assist in speeding up the process.
The refugees from the Volga Colonies can easily be divided into three groups. To the first belong those who have received tickets for passage and travel documents from friends and relatives in America and who will leave very soon (July 31st). They will be met by their friends and have the opportunity to earn a living and make a new home. We wish them happiness on their imminent journey, a joyful reunion with their friends, and better, easier times in the new land.
To the second group belong those who wish to return to the Volga. They have perceived that the times have also changed in America and one no longer sees gold lying in the streets in California and that it would be difficult for a poor man to better himself. So they want to return again to their old homes where at least they still have their work, where they get free land, where they are familiar with conditions and can work together with their friends in the place where they were nurtured. Most would have already gone back if they had the funds or could be taken back to their Volga Colonies by the Soviet government with incurring a large debt.
To the third group belong a large number of people who have friends in America and would have already left for there except that they haven’t received help from their friends. A number of these want to seek another homeland because the terrible experiences of the last few years weigh heavily on them. This group has for some time thought of emigrating to Mexico. Representatives of the Volga German Society became interested in this idea and recently some of our traveling countrymen have taken on the problem and solved it. In this case however, the people cannot emigrate and settle in this strange new country if the whole thing, the settlement and passage, is not financed. The Mexican government could surely do that with ease and possibly provide support for a Volga German settlement in Mexico. However, before such a settlement is attempted, the refugees want to send representatives to study the country and conditions in detail and bring back a report. Any of our American friends who might be interested in this important question and wish to assist the lot of the homeless refugees can send donations to the Volga German Society for a settlement or for the delegation to Mexico, or additionally for refugees who want to return to their old homes, who during their flight left everything behind and after were compelled to trade their last bits of clothing for food and now necessarily require support for their journey home.
If on looks closely at the refugee families and their fate, it lessens the burden of giving. Some months ago a woman from the Volga Colonies who had lost her husband and 4 children on the way, came to the Frankfurt camp. She had cried so much that she had lost her eyesight. An operation restored her sight and tattered and torn she was taken in by a family of good people. In the same camp was a young man who during his flight had frozen his feet and nearly half had to be cut away and he was barely able to move about. In order to enable this man to work again an apparatus had to be constructed. Now he can move about independently. Likewise, there were six Volga German children lying in the hospital with tuberculosis. From the donations sent to me from America I was able to improve the diet of these poor children and thus within a short time we were able to save two of them. These are only some of the cases, but there are many such miseries in the camp. How the future will turn out for these poor ones, we do not know, but we can help them all if we so choose. We can give so much love to the sick and homeless who are forsaken that it will illuminate their dark path. It is not enough to know of the emergency. Whoever is aware of the emergency is jointly responsible as an accessory and as a christian for its alleviation. “Whosoever knows of a good deed to be done and does it not, has committed a sin.”
Those of you alone, or perhaps together with your families in your own homes, able to eat fully every day, should remember and support all of your sick relatives, the hungry, poor, abandoned and homeless. They are dependent on our love and wait for it daily.
A. Schneider, Pastor