Valeriy Hieronymus Gaag was born in Dudinka in 1955. He is German.
Mother: Lydia Yakovlevna Kaiser, father: Hieronymus Yakovlevich Gaag. The father from his mother’s side took part in the revolutionary movement and was even an officer of the Tsarist’s army. Later he joined Chapayev’s division. He was fighting there for some time and died at home after having been seriously wounded.
The parents lived near the town of Engels, in a German village. Until 1941 there were seven Volga-German hamlets. „In 1941, when the war broke out, it was decided to eliminate them. Obviously, the government was filled with the fear that die Germans might, all of a sudden, defect to the enemy. The people were forced to leave their homes – they deported my parents to the Far North. Mum and Dad were both 14 years old. Both were born in 1926. They were resettled to the North, to Levinskie Peski, not far from the town of Dudinka, where they began to work for a sovkhoz. They had to go fishing for the front, for victory. When my father and mother grew up they got married. In the course of time my mother gave birth to five sons. Hence we lived in the far north, until we had become adults and began looking for a job; Dad left for Ko(u)rskoye Selo located very close, and Mum later followed him, as well as the youngest brother. My other brother and me stayed in the north for a while yet – then the two of us also left“.
The attitude against the Volga-Germans was different. It occurred that they were abused and pointed a finger at. Even in the 1960s „they still used to cat-call at us „Fascists““. I never tried to conceal that I am a German. Whenever I was asked: „What nationality do you belong to?“, I always said: „German“. It was mainly the children who often tried to insult us. But all this has long since passed. Nowadays, nobody will insult us. On the contrary, people value the Germans as being industrious, because of their own hands’ work, because of everything. At that time, however, anything could happen. And they promised to assign us an apartment, but in the end they did not because we were Germans. They did not say this openly, but when Mum stood to trial, one of the lawyers said: „Where else does this German scum interfere in?“
After elimination of the special re-settlement system, they stayed in the north, as they did not have enough money to leave. „Did the people receive remuneration? Mum worked for the bakery, 2-3 shifts, in order to feed us. Mum says that they used to credit her so-called daily work modules for which she received the entrails of fish. When she came home she cooked fish soup, but the cleaned and washed fish was sent to the front as vital needs. Mum was ill with scurvy twice; but this is no wonder, if you keep standing in the ice-cold waters of the Yenissei up to your hips, in order to catch the fishing-nets out of the water“.
Later, things slightly changed for the better. „I had a good life in the north, and I had a job. The job I did was good. I worked as a rail brigade leader for the railroad company. I was valued and respected; and, of course, I received premiums and certificates of honor – even in abundance“.
The mother was Lutheran, the father Catholic.
„Up to five years of age I was not able to speak Russian at all. We spoke exclusively German within family, because of our grandmother. She did not speak Russian. Later, however, due to contacts with other children in the street, we, step by step, switched to the Russian language. Today I can still understand German, but I am not able to speak it anymore. I watch movies and understand everything they say. Even though it is the purest form of High German, I can still understand. And I notice very quickly, when they do not translate correctly. It is just a few works I am still able to speak, but I cannot handle a full conversation… Mum was able to read and write German and subscribed to German newspapers (Neues Leben). In later years Mum lived alone with the youngest brother, while I spent more and more time among Russians“.
They do not want to return to the Volga. In the 1960s the Germans were proposed to go back to the Volga Region; a few families left, but returned soon-after. They reported that they were to be assigned apartments in places, where bomb testing had been carried out earlier. The offered them a former firing range for the construction of housing. Some families stayed and did not come back (Note: presumably not far from Trotsky firing range?).
National traditions are being kept in family. The parents are always addressed by the personal pronoun “You”. Everything was controlled and directed by grandmother as the eldest of the family. „Mum and Dad surrendered all their earnings to Grandma, who then gave instructions who should buy what with the money. Later, when grandma left the place, this task was taken over by our Mum. And she, of course, cooked numerous German dishes – this is what I recall. Krautkleiß (dumplings and sauerkraut): potatoes and sauerkraut had to be steamed with meat for a long time; then little yeast dumplings were put on top. Everything was wrapped in towels, until it was well-done. She often prepared this kind of a meal. Grandmother categorically refused to buy noodles in the store. She always made the dough herself, rolled it out, cut it into pieces and dried them. It would never have occurred to her to buy quick-cook or instant noodles – no, never!“.
Christmas was celebrated on the 25th of December,; Easter was also celebrated earlier than usual in Russia. Nowadays they celebrate both feasts twice. Their children have no command of the German language anymore.
Two cousins and one of the bothers left for Germany. The lived in Kirgisia before, not far from Bishkek. The people there lived in harmony - Russians, Kirghizes and others. And then, when the perestroika came, when the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, serious national problems arose. Even in the far north of Krasnoyarsk territory they said that we lived on their territory. „Everybody decided to leave. I was also sent an invitation. But I rejected. In this place I am a German bastard, in Germany a Russian. It does not make any difference. My friend left the dairy farm and deeply regretted his decision during the first years. He comes for a visit almost every year. He does not seem to have quite assimilated in Germany yet. Despite everything the people would like to come back to Russia. This is nostalgia, you see. He says it is much cheaper to travel to Italy, Spain or some other place, instead of going to Russia for a visit. A trip to Russia is twice as expensive; nonetheless he comes back here regularly“.
When the whole country began to break up, many left the dairy sovkhoz in order to emigrate to Germany; kolkhoz farms were sold and abandoned. „Five farms, cattle, milk, everything went under the hammer. Well, nobody wanted to stay and live in this neighborhood afterwards. The whole process took its course with the outbreak of the revolution; we destroy the entire world by violence, and afterwards we build ourselves a new world in our own style! In the same way they destroyed it at that time, we are doing it again today! There was a repair and building authorities, 2 sawing mills. They were self-sustaining, but in the end, they went under the hammer, as well. Who felt annoyed by the butter factory? Milk resources right next door. Nowadays we need to transport it all the way up to Shushenskoe, where the butter is beaten. Did they really think that this approach was the right way? They also used to produce sweets at that time; they had a factory in this place. All of a sudden everything went under the hammer, everything was sold“.
„A lot depends on the State. If the State wants to impose something – take Kazakhstan as an example, Nazarbaev. He has been sufficiently clever to initiate German collective farms. For this reason he founded a German kolkhoz farm in Kazakhstan, where only Germans live, who industriously work for a living. Strange to say, but he was sufficiently intelligent to follow this idea. Why were they not allowed to doing the same here? Let us take this dairy collective farm. For example. The only people who lived here were Germans! You could have perfectly well... – you could have....! They could have created conditions that would have encouraged the people to stay in Russia, to work for this country, but they haven’t“.
The number of Germans is getting smaller, most of them are married to Russian partners.. „My parents had no choice, they were deported to the far north. They had to catch for a commercial enterprise; all those who worked for this enterprise, were Germans. They remained among their own kind, stayed away from the Russians, who did not accept them either. Anyway, there were only one-two Russians there at that time. This was all! They had to go and get registered regularly, of course. Mum reports that they had to be registered with the commandant’s office every day. Every day, show them that you were still there, every evening– after work. As far as I remember Dudinka, the settlement is situated up the hill, while the town center is further below. At that time I went to school in the first class, as far as I recall, mainly Russians lived in the center. On top of the hill there were continuous barracks. There was a little store, a movie theater – also located in one of the barracks; and the people were accommodated in the same kind of barracks. The area was called prohibited zone. And this was exactly the place, where the Germans lived. In earlier times, when I had not been born yet, there had even been a barbed wire fence, which was supposed to keep away Russians from Germans“.
Place of interview: the house of the Gaag family
Historical research: Yevgenia Aleksandrovna Franz
Total duration of interview: 30:43 minutes
Expedition of the State Pedagogic V.P. Astafev University Krasnoyarsk on the project "Ethnic groups in Siberia: Conditions for preserving cultural memory", 2017. Districts of Karatus and Kuragino.