Friday, May 26, 2006

The German Family One Year On: "Gott ist mit uns"

When I first received an e-mail message from Vladimir German asking for my assistance in his family’s asylum case I agreed to help them free of charge. Despite seeking to do everything in my limited power to prevent the deportation of the Germans back to Kazakhstan I was not optimistic. The same Germanophobia that motivated Stalin’s brutal deportation of the Russian-Germans had also infected the US during World War II. The hatred of all Germans including women and children took deep roots in the US. This extended even to the Russian-Germans who had overwhelmingly been loyal Soviet citizens opposed to Nazi Germany. Yet like in the USSR the US government and intellectual leadership considered all people of German nationality to be tainted by Naziism, a prejudice that still continues today.

The Soviet government itself publicly admitted that its charges of treason against its citizens of German descent had been false on 29 August 1964. This admission is still not well known and even many people among the US intellectual elite still believe the libel that the Russian-Germans were traitors to the USSR. Over 30,000 Russian-Germans fought in the Red Army in defense of the USSR before being removed to forced labor camps by the Stalin regime. Nearly half of them perished due to this inhumane treatment. Many Russian-Germans died fighting to defend Brest against the Nazis. One young soldier and Komsomol member, Heinrich Hoffmann died under extreme torture rather than betray the Soviet Union. Despite such acts of heroism the Soviet government considered all Russian-Germans to be disloyal and punished them accordingly.

The US to its great shame cooperated with Stalin in this punishment. Between 1945 and 1946, the US along with the UK and France forcibly repatriated most of the nearly 300,000 Russian-Germans they found in their occupation zones back to the USSR. The NKVD recorded receiving over 200,000 repatriated Russian-Germans including nearly 70,000 children during these two years. The US armed forces often used violent force against these defenseless refugees in order to compel them into Soviet custody. The NKVD sent all surviving repatriated Russian-Germans to engage in forced labor under special settlement restrictions in the Urals, Siberia, the Soviet Far East and Tajikistan. Here they worked in mines, shipyards, heavy industry and cotton farms. Russian-German repatriates in Kurgan-Tyube, Tajikistan had almost no food, soap or linen in January 1946 according to one report from the Peoples Commissariat for Health. As a result they suffered from massive starvation and death. By October 1948, nearly 50,000 Russian-German repatriates worked in Gulag camps including over 28,000 in the Kolyma camps, 4,700 in the Norlisk camps and 1,500 in the Vorkuta camps. All of these mining camps lay north of the Arctic Circle. The only crime committed by these tens of thousands of men and women was their German ancestry.

The US government has never publicly acknowledged yet alone apologized and offered compensation to the survivors of the forced repatriations to the USSR. Instead the myth that US forces never engaged in atrocities during World War II and that the Germans were a uniquely evil people deserving of no quarter even for women and children continues to have currency in America. This Germanophobia still has a strong legal basis in US immigration law with regards to the Russian-Germans. The Lautenberg Amendment is the primary law that governs the acceptance of refugees and asylum seekers from the former Soviet states into the US. It deliberately excludes Russian-Germans from the categories eligible for either status. As a result it is extremely difficult for persecuted individuals of Russian-German heritage from places like Kazakhstan to receive asylum in the US. In most cases they have to prove that they will be killed, tortured or suffer other bodily harm from their government for their political opinions, religious beliefs or ethnicity. Systematic denial of employment and education as a result of ones nationality is generally not considered sufficient grounds for asylum in the US. Thus I remained extremely pessimistic about the Germans’ chances of winning their appeal in Seattle after the Department of Homeland Security denied their initial petition filed almost 13 years earlier.

While waiting over 12 years for the US government to decide on their asylum petition the Germans worked hard, paid their taxes, purchased a house and learned fluent English. The two children Pavel and Oksana had gone almost all the way through US high schools. Oksana who maintained a 4.0 will be starting university this fall. I knew that if she was deported back to Kazakhstan that she would never have an opportunity to go to college. Honestly, I am quite sure that I would have been haunted by this fact for my entire life. I felt that my government was going to commit a horrible injustice against these people just as it had against their ethnic kin in 1945 and 1946.

Thus when I got a message from Vladimir’s attorney telling me that they had won I felt great joy. Despite the continued existence of a widespread and deep-rooted Germanophobia among the US elite, the judge had done what was morally right. The influence of a Germanophobia that is every bit as irrational as Nazi anti-Semitism is so prevalent among the ruling class of the US that I only have one explanation for the Germans’ victory. It was a miracle from God. Sometimes the saying “Gott ist mit uns” really is true.

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