A Visit in the Refugee camp Frankfurt/Oder
(This article, translated from the original, was published in the German-language publication “Heimkehr”, No. 2, 1923.)
It is well known that a year ago, when the unmercifulness of hunger was felt more every day by the Volga settlers, a mad despair came over the unfortunate inhabitants of the German colonies, more and more Volga settlers left their homes and fled in every direction, trying to escape their ill fate. Some went westwards since they were hoping that their journey to reach Germany would not take them too long. It is still imprinted in everybody’s memory the cruel expectations of most refugees were crushed: they were held back in the forests of Minsk for over half a year. The first refugees to arrive in Germany via White-Russia got here in 1922. So far, the largest transport of about 1000 people (222 men, 295 women and 436 children under the age of 16) reached the homecoming camp Frankfurt on the Oder on December 9, 1922, to find a temporary residence in the barracks which used to house prisoners of war.
The impression the refugees give the visitor is at first unexpectedly good. The children are merrily playing ball on the grounds between the barracks, and the elders are not at all displaying a depressed state of mind, but are readily willing to answer any questions. When one considers the terrible conditions the refugees escaped, then it really doesn’t come as a surprise that they are feeling pretty good in this desolate town of barracks. As our pictures are showing, there is a big diversity in their clothing. Besides the men’s long sheepcoats and the women’s kerchiefs, you see very fashionably dressed folks. When we visited, we were greeted by Dr. Rothermel from the Society of the Volga Germans, a young, Volga-German doctor who devoted his energy to his unfortunate fellow countrymen. Then, Mr. Alexander Bier from Warenburg showed us around the barracks and related, from his own experiences and the lists he compiled what the refugees had gone through.
Beginning of last year, about 7000 Volga-Germans started out to Minsk, some with horse and wagon, some on foot or by train. In Saratov most of them had to go by train since the horses couldn’t go on anymore. The way to White-Russia took several months, therefore it was March/April until the refugees arrived there. A lot of people were dying on the train already, and it got worse when everybody had to leave the train in Minsk. Women, men, children, the healthy and the sick were cramped in lonely houses and sheds without windows, tables, chairs and beds, and it wasn’t long until the sick outnumbered the healthy. The typhoid fever was especially bad. One has to assume that more than half of the refugees died in Minsk.