Ethnic Germans

After having read Magdelene Redekop’s book, Making Believe, which describes the differences amongst the Mennonites of Manitoba (mostly centered on the Kanadier and Russländer distinction), I reflected on differences amongst other Germans in this province. Germans are the second largest immigrant group in Manitoba, second only to the English and ahead of the Scots. Here’s an interesting fact: according to Alexander Freund, in a 2012 Winnipeg Free Press article, he wrote: “most German-Manitobans were born outside of Germany.”  

Assembly of Volksdeutsche in Lodz
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J09396 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

These are what is known as “ethnic” Germans or Volksdeutsche. These are people who were born outside of Germany, but continued to identify with the German culture. For example, my mom’s family immigrated from West Prussia (Gdansk area) to Volhynia in Ukraine, in the 1860s. Those Germans built schools, churches, established newspapers and communities in a Russian and/or Ukrainian dominated country. When Ukraine became part of the USSR, my mom ended up going to a Soviet school where she learned Russian, beside her Ukrainian classmates. So, until the age of twelve, Mom could speak in any of three languages without too much trouble. German at home, Russian at school, and Ukrainian amongst schoolmates. After the war, Mom’s language skills helped her survive in the forced labour camps. 

My Volksdeutsche mom
and Reichsdeutscher dad
Later, Mom was proud and relieved to marry a “real” German. Maybe he didn’t have quite the right Christian faith, but as a Reichsdeutscher, he helped her establish a citizenship that had eluded her most of her life. Having gone through the purges of the Second World War, establishing citizenship outside of the Soviet grasp would have been so important to her.

One of Hitler’s goals was to repatriate all the ethnic Germans, or Volksdeutsche, into German-occupied lands. This was done, under the slogan, “Heim ins Reich.” For the Nazis, it was all about race. To be able to establish that you were a proper Aryan, meant that you were one of the them. (Unless of course, like my character, David, in Tainted Amber, you have an inherited disease. Then you were not such a perfect Aryan, after all.) 

It goes without saying that the Nazi policies regarding race were flawed and it’s incredible that they could flout such an idea in a place like Europe which had such fluid borders. After all, even Nazis saw Aryan features in some Polish children and deemed them as trainable subjects for the Third Reich. 

The Heim ins Reich motto allowed one of my older friends here in Winnipeg to leave the Soviet Union before Operation Barbarossa—the June, 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. As a young girl, she lived in what the Nazis called Litzmannstadt . . . Lodz in Polish, west of Warsaw. Lodz was part of the Nazi’s Warthegau region (an occupied part of Poland).  As a Volksdeutsche, my friend’s mother received a house that had been forcibly taken from its Polish owners. 

Hitler’s insistence on racial segregation and his perceived threat of all things non-Aryan, had a huge impact on my parents’ generation. In my growing-up years, my dad—once a Luftwaffe pilot—expressed only shame about how he let himself get manipulated by the Nazi vision of world domination. 

Volksdeutsche in Lodz, Public Domain

So when is a German, not a German? I have a reichsdeutscher father, a volksdeutsche mother, a husband with a Scottish-born mother and a Canadian-born father and 3 Canadian-born children. I live in a country where Indigenous People were pushed onto reserves, not unlike what Hitler did to the Poles. Maybe I’m just another European colonist looking for Lebensraum (living space) and maybe we have something to learn from the Indigenous People:  we don’t own the land, we share the land. That could prevent wars. 

This blogpost was written here in Winnipeg which is located within Treaty No. 1 Territory, the traditional lands of the Anishinabe (Ojibway), Ininew (Cree), Oji-Cree, Dene, and Dakota, and is the Birthplace of the Métis Nation and the Heart of the Métis Nation Homeland.

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