Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Prussian Past

In October 1947, the Soviet leadership decided that only by expelling every last German from the recently conquered lands of northern Prussia could they bring lasting stability to the newly proclaimed Kaliningrad region.

Heinz Godau, 63, and Franz Reich, 66, were among the 110, 000 Germans ordered to relocate to the Soviet-occupied zone in eastern Germany. Both decided not to go. They adopted false identities and denied their German heritage. For nearly half a century, they lived clandestinely, never speaking their native tongue, two of only about 25 former Germans of old Prussia still in the region.

"I only started to say I was German in 1991", Godau says. "My own wife did not know I was a German, to say these things was forbidden back then".

Today, Godau and Reich are no longer so isolated. About 4, 000 ethnic Germans are moving into the region annually, and a few radical political voices predict that mass resettlement will ultimately reestablish a German Republic in this part of former Prussia. Though small, the growing German influence has triggered old fears and raised new hopes.

"This is German land", said Engel Hoffman, president of the Moscow-based association of Russian Germans called "Freiheit", or Freedom. "Germany has closed the door to emigration, so we have nowhere to go and we are gathering on our own land. We are hoping that it will definitely fall under German jurisdiction over time".

Even the arrival of a small number of ethnic Germans is welcome news for Godau, who recalls dressing up as a Hitler Youth to see the Fuhrer on his visits to the Prussian capital, then called Konigsberg, before it was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946.

Despite the hardships the original residents suffered here since World War II, Russia's ethnic Germans - descendants of those who settled in 18th-century Russia at the invitation of Catherine the Great - are increasingly drawn to the region, officials say.

"They come here perhaps with the idea that Germany will give them some help", said historian Alexei Gubin. "Perhaps it's just an easier trampoline to get to Germany".

Compared to the estimated 1 to 2 million Germans scattered across Kazakhstan, Siberia, the Volga region, Ukraine, and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, Kaliningrad still boasts very few Germans. Yet because of fighting in the former Soviet republics in Central Asia and political agitation to move to old Prussia, the migration - which began only after Kaliningrad lost its states as a closed region in 1991 - is expected to grow, according to Galina Lobacheva, assistant head of the regional Nationality Affairs Department.

"Many Russian Germans believe the propaganda of the German society, Freiheit, that this is a core part of Germany and that a German Republic should be founded here", Lobacheva said. "Many come with the hope that they will find a compact German population who can speak their own language and form their own culture".

These immigrants do find prewar brick buildings scattered across the province, with lovely tree-lined motorways from earlier this century connecting Kaliningrad with the provinces. They typically settle in the countryside, far from the beer halls, opera houses and literary cafes that make up typical urban German society.

Former German residents of Konigsberg are also frequent visitors to Kaliningrad, returning for nostalgic tours, and Germans have rapidly set up businesses across the region. The old Berlin-Konigsberg rail and air links have been restored this year, and a superhighway to the German capital is set for completion by 1994. A German-language newspaper and a German pastor also recently appeared in the city.

Another Prussian-born German delighted to see a growing German presence in the Kaliningrad region is Lydia Nowas, 67, who says life under Kremlin rule was torturous. Because she never hid her Teutonic identity, she said, she and her mother were gang raped twice after the war, and she has been cursed at as a Nazi for decades.

"I have suffered so all these 45 years", she said at her Soviet high-rise apartment in downtown Kaliningrad. But "we are no longer alone".

Since its foundation in 1125 by Teutonic Knights, Konigsberg and neighboring Prussia have often played an important role in German military and political affairs. In the 17th century it was the seat of the Kingdom of Prussia, and, in 1871, it formed part of the unified German state.

A fierce battle in the closing days of World War II left the Red Army victorious in Konigsberg with 42, 000 German casualties and 84, 000 prisoners of war. The "Great Powers" at the 1945 Potsdam conference split Prussia - birthplace to writers such as Immanuel Kant and Hannah Arendt - between the Soviet Union and Poland.

Between 1947 and 1948, the Kremlin expelled nearly all 110, 000 former inhabitants, just a fraction of the approximately 13 million Germans moved out of Eastern Europe after the war.

But even the combined efforts of the Red Army, Stalin's secret police, and other forces could not locate every last German, and about 100 to 200 stayed behind, regional officials estimate.

Godau, who remained, was separated from his family at the age of 15 during the war; he adopted a Lithuanian name, Ijonas Gudoroas, and learned both Lithuanian and Russian. "You had to be very careful; if you wanted to live you had to be silent", he said.

His first wife never learned of his true identity, and he told his incredulous second wife only two years ago when he again allowed his German pride to flow forth.

"In my heart, I was born a German and I'll always be a German", said Godau, a retired merchant marine. "I live in Germany. This is my land".

Nowas did leave Prussia for East Germany after the war, but returned to the U. S. S. R. to collect her sick mother and sister in Belarus. She and her family were denied the right to leave the Soviet Union, she said. She has remained a Soviet subject ever since, separated from her husband and children whom she left behind in East Germany.

In 1954, the government allowed her to return to Kaliningrad, where she was repeatedly cursed because other nationality.

"People would say: 'They have chased out all the fascists. How did she remain? ' Only perestroika began to improve things", she said.

Reich, who never saw his family again after the chaotic closing days of the war, is highly assimilated into Russian society.

"For some reason they didn't kill me, I don't know why; I asked them to take me in and they did", said Reich, who was also a Hitler Youth member. "I live as a Russian and I don't complain. I was born here, and I'll be buried here".

The possibility of growing German migration sparks both hope and fear among regional leaders, who seek distance from excessive German influence, yet, at the same time, also want new, skilled workers to improve the economy.

"Germans are considered good workers, good organizers, and so on; you simply want to have them in your neighborhood, and that applies to Kaliningrad oblast as well", said Enno Barker, spokesman for the German Embassy.

Yet politically, it is difficult for local leaders to show too much warmth to Germans, who are often still resented for World War II.

"No one can politically support large-scale resettlement of these Germans", said Gennady Sablin, local correspondent for Russian Television. "Such an embrace would spark very significant criticism of pro-German sympathies".

He said local leaders informally speak about accommodating up to 30, 000 Germans in a region of 1 million that already has significantly larger Belarussian, Ukrainian and Lithuanian minorities.

"It's a touchy area because people fear change with regard to German influence", said Eugenius Tchayauskas, head of the regional Nationality Affairs Department.

The German government - which renounced all territorial interests in the area in the 1990. Two-plus-Four Treaty just prior to German reunification - is not officially encouraging migration to the region, but said it will help those Germans who do move here. With the country already struggling with the costs of reunification, it simply does not want another flood of ethnic Germans at its doorstep.

"Our basic notion is that whatever you can do to improve the position of ethnic Germans in this country is preferable to having them all come to Germany", said Barker of the German Embassy. "We try to encourage the setting up of local autonomy for Germans; to the extent that there are enough ethnic Germans in Kaliningrad oblast we would certainly consider the question of doing something for them".

Hoffmann, the president of Freiheit, believes, perhaps somewhat unrealistically, that Germany will eventually call for Prussian reunification with the fatherland, perhaps after 300, 000 to 500, 000 ethnic Germans settle in the area.

"Look at how the Japanese are agitating for the Kuril Islands. Why does German officialdom not say a word about Konigsberg? " he asked. "It's for the simple reason that in Germany there are 270, 000 Russian soldiers. After August, 1994, when they leave, then Germany will have its say".

Yet for every radical voice like Hoffman, there are many more who dismiss the likelihood that Russia would give up the region without a fight. The reason most often cited is the area's strategic importance to Russia, as Kaliningrad boasts the country's only warm-water Baltic port.

Many also condemn firebrands like Hoffman and say Germans and Russians should live together, peacefully and prosperously, under a Russian flag.

"Our new generation in the oblast have a European understanding of civilization and tolerance", said Igor Sherepov, chairman of "Eintract" or Agreement, a group promoting Russian-German cooperation. "Germans and Russians have had contacts for 1, 000 years and not always in war".