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The Russian Germans in the Interwar German National Imaginary

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 August 2007

James E. Casteel
Carleton University


In September 1929, a group of Russian German farmers who were dissatisfied with conditions under Soviet rule traveled to the suburbs of Moscow and demanded that they be allowed to emigrate. The gathering of ethnic Germans, most of whom were Mennonites, grew rapidly and numbered more than 13,000 people at its height. Their demands were widely reported in the German press and brought the subject of Soviet collectivization into the public eye in Germany. The effect of this event on German-Soviet diplomatic relations, which became increasingly strained as Stalinism took hold, is well known. Although studies of the gathering mention the public outcry in the press, they have generally assumed that the German public's identification with the Russian Germans was self-evident and not in need of explanation. In fact, public interest in and government concern for the Russian Germans was a relatively recent phenomenon. In the post-World War I era, Germans came to understand the Russian Germans as emblematic of Germany's fate—as innocent, hard-working farmers who were loyal to Germanness and who worked tirelessly to expand German culture in the world. The Russian Germans also came to represent the larger crisis of legitimacy that affected the Weimar Republic in which parliamentary government was increasingly perceived as not being able to protect the German people and its interests, whether in Germany or abroad.

Research Article
© 2007 Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association

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