Luxembourg photographer Marc Schroeder met and photographed 40 survivors.
Translated and edited by Nick Tullius. Published at DVHH 24 Feb 2020 by Jody McKim Pharr.
75 years ago the Romanian government deported 70,000 Romania-Germans fit to work to the USSR on the orders of Soviet leader Stalin. The reason: the alleged co-responsibility for the Second World War.
The exhibition is a current piece of visual memory of a chapter in post-war European history little known in Germany and other countries.
In January 1945, four months after Romania cancelled the alliance with Hitler and sided with the Allies, the Romanian government complies with Stalin's request to send Romania-Germans to the USSR. The Soviet leadership ascribes to them a collective complicity in World War II and the crimes of National Socialism. Working men between 17 and 45 years and women between 18 and 30 years are affected. The deportation follows a plan prepared by the Romanian authorities in close cooperation with the Soviet occupiers. Many people die because of difficult working conditions, extremely low temperatures and hunger. The survivors are released in 1949. Around 70,000 Germans from Romania were
deported to the USSR in early 1945 and had to contribute to the reconstruction of the Soviet Union through their forced labor.
The exhibition in Berlin shows a selection from the photographer's documentation about the traumatic experiences in Soviet labor camps, such as photographs, letters, postcard from a camp.
The pictures and eyewitness accounts provide a common reminder of the deportations. "Most of them may have told me more than they told their own families. Such catastrophic events are rarely discussed in the family, I think. It was the greatest suffering, the most incurable thing that happened to people," says photographer Schroeder. The focus is on motifs such as arrest, journey to the USSR, homesickness and returning home.
"My mother-in-law told me I had to go, otherwise they would take her"…. "At the station we had to get into a cattle wagon, and there were boards for us to lay down on. There was nothing on the boards, we just put our clothes on them." One of the victims of the deportation, whose memories were documented in the exhibition, was pregnant when she was deported. Her baby had died in the camp and she had adopted another woman's child because the mother did not want it. In this way she was able to travel back to Romania with a group of sick people and mothers with infants which were sent home. But the second baby also died on the way.
Staggering individual fates, captured in pictures and text. Camp and forced labor, death and hunger again and again. "When I had nothing to cook, the smoke meandered through my mouth. I pulled my tongue in, chewed empty. I ate saliva with evening smoke and thought of bratwurst" writes Nobel laureate Herta Müller in her novel" Atemschaukel ", which is based on the experience of the poet Oskar Pastior. The events accompanying the Berlin exhibition also include a reading from the novel about the terror in Stalinist labor camps.
During the communist dictatorship in Romania discussion of the deportation of the Romania-Germans was not permitted. The deportation was known in the Federal Republic, but had seldom attracted the necessary attention in public discourse. It was only with the disintegration of the Ceausescu regime that it became possible to break the taboo.
The culture of remembrance has changed over the decades. Many archives have been opened, commemorative events for the Russia deportation are regularly organized today in Bucharest and other Romanian cities. Contemporary witnesses, historians, journalists, artists and politicians want to keep the memory alive and to inform the general public about the extent of the consequences of Stalin's "Order 7161". According to the Romanian media, 20 percent of the deportees never returned. According to reports, 180 victims of the deportation still live in Romania today.
Marc Schroeder has also presented his photo project in various Romanian cities.
Translated and edited by Nick Tullius 2020.02.17.
Based on the report by Deutsche Welle: