Rakovets’ through Germany to London, Ontario
Anna came from the village of Rakovets’ near Pidhajtsi in Ukraine, but in 1944 it was Poland. Anna is a prime example of a Ukrainian person who in the eyes of the western world is really homeless. This is her story. “They took us from our “selo” village we were barefoot and started chasing us to the next village and the next and the next until we got to Pidhajtsi” I asked her “what, who chased you , how , where and why?” and the story began.
The Germans were then the occupying force. The Nazi’s were on the run from Stalin and they were still rounding up workers for Germany. Many Ukrainian people had no citizenship at all. It was war and the occupying country at the moment was providing travel and documents for whatever reason. In this case it was for labor in German factories, farms, coal mines and whatever was needed. This is how they did it. They came with their arms and dogs and literally chased people (herded them together like cattle) from their homes, churches, schools, fields etc. Age did not matter. Anna was 8 at the time and had a mother. The father had died. Their group kept getting bigger and bigger as they were chased from village to village until they reached Pidhajtsi which was a town and had a train station. Here they were given a coat and wooden shoes, put on the train and off they went never to return.
Anna and her mother ended up in Mettman to work laying railroad tracks. It was cold, there was almost nothing to eat, and Anna contracted TB and her mother asthma. It took years to cure and was the cause of her not being able to emigrate out of Germany until the late 60’s. By 1945 the war ended and the people ended up in the British zone.
The English like the Americans had the task of sorting out all the people in the labor camps. They realized these were Eastern Europeans but what were they going to do with them? The Soviets had moved all the way into Berlin and were demanding that their citizens be returned. Poland had become communist as well as the other Eastern European countries and many of the these people had been involved in certain activities in their homelands and were simply afraid to be sent back. As a matter of fact many committed suicide rather than be returned to the soviets.
In order to resolve this chaotic situation, both the British and the Americans used old German army barracks to form Displaced Persons camps DP camps. Anna and her mother ended up in Reine. It was huge. The Ukrainian people immediately formed schools, theater groups, clubs, churches and had a community structure almost immediately. They kept being shifted from camp to camp. As people left to other continents, the ones that remained moved on into Augustdorf, then Lintorf and by the late 1950s little neighborhoods had been built with tiny apartments or tiny one family houses. This area of Germany is the Ruhrgebiet and was heavily bombed so there simply was no housing.
The disbursement of the Ukrainian people from the camps was cleverly done. The neighborhoods were far from one another, there wasn’t one church or one school, there would be many little ones with traveling priests and teachers. By 1958 the Dusseldorf /Wersten “oselia” block was built. Anna and her mother moved into an apartment, and other families moved into small houses. They the community continued to live together as a family and Anna became the Ukrainian school teacher and traveled between the neighborhoods as did the Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox priests.
Another family she was very close was that Mykhajlo Chomiak was the leader of the local TSPUN ( central’ne predstavnytstvo ukrajintsiv nimechchyny) the Ukrainian Community in Germany group. Together they realized that as people were emigrating out something had to be done for those that stayed.
The status of these people was created in Geneva in 1951. Unlike other countries where they became citizens, Ukrainian people left in Germany were not stateless, because they had no Ukrainian state when they were kidnapped from their villages so they became the legal homeless population of the world. They became known in Germany as the “Heimatlose Auslander”. They had this status literally until the wall went down in Germany in 1989.
The Geneva Convention of 1951 issued a travel document called Heimatloseauslander. This literally translates to Homeless Foreigner. So Anna , her mother the Chomiak family and every single Ukrainian person left in Germany now got this new document. It was actually a travel document and stated that the people holding it had all the rights of a German Citizen, but could not vote, serve in the military or government, and when traveling Germany would not be responsible for him.
So a new life began with a new status. People had jobs, were traveling to meet one another, and organized summer youth camps through an organization called CYM. These camps were held in Bavaria, namely Shongau and for several weeks many people got intensive training in Ukrainian history, culture and politics. Some of the famous lecturers were Bandera, Lenkavskyj, Witoshynskyj, Kushpeta to name a view. The OUN B thrived and was highly respected. In order to be a member one had to have gone through intensive classes in what is means to be Ukrainian and how they were going to return and continue the struggle for independence. There was no talk of ever getting German citizenship or going elsewhere.
By 1964 more that half of all those left continued to emigrate out. Stalin had died, the Hungarian revolution was suppressed and there was little hope of any kind of uprising in Ukraine. After having millions of people together for years in these DP camps only a few thousand remained in Germany as heimatloseauslanders. They continued their ways, they were proud of their documents, they knew who they were and who they were not. But people being people always think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. In 1966 three families from Dusseldorf Wersten, got visas to go to Canada. Anna Kekish, her husband Ivan and their baby Natalia moved to London Ontario. They joined the church, looked into the existing organizations and tried to include themselves. These were three families who were very important to the community in North Rheine Westphalia, but not here in Canada. They continued their ways in the beginning. They didn’t speak English. In church people pointed their fingers at them and called them the “Nimtsi”. So they would visit each other on Sunday afternoons, sing songs play tysiachka and cook together. Then the people in church said they were unsociable. So Anna tells me “we started to do as the local people did. We worked in CYM and liga”, and Ivan Anna’s husband was very active. He had held a certain position in the structures of OUN in Germany, and soon he found that everything had changed in Canada. The top ranking members were part of a masonic lodge. This shocked him at first, and he had no one to turn too. Anna said to me at that point his idealism was shattered. They continued to do the best they could in their new home London Ontario. They bought a house and a car and created debt like the other people in church. This was very difficult for them because in Germany if you didn’t have money for something you simply didn’t buy it in those days. After 2 years Anna wanted to go back to Dusseldorf but learned she couldn’t. When they accepted Canadian emigration they turned in that magical document from Geneva, thus giving away their right to ever going back to Germany. It was a very sad moment. She said now she is Canadian like her neighbors, but after spending 2 days with her I don’t think so.
I moved to Dusseldorf Wersten in 1977. So I continued to tell Anna what happened there. We continued to go to church and sing songs in the afternoon and play tysiachka with my father in law. He often beat us. We had a brief Ukrainian revival when I got there with my New York ideas. Europe was collapsing from the cold war and Ukrainian life was vibrant. Her eyes sparkled as I told her about the times from 1977 to 1996. We shared many memories. Anna and I are examples of Euro/American Ukrainians. She grew up Ukrainian in German labor and DP camps. From 1944 when she was 8 till 1966 when she was 30 her formative years were either in labor camps or dp camps in post war Germany. A post script to this is that when my children were born we had the choice for them to be heimatloseauslander or US citizens. This is a large group of Ukrainians that have been forgotten about. These are people who never bought any property. Not one church, not one domiwka, not one tabir or ploshcha. Everything was provided by the Germans for their use. Coming from America I quickly saw this was another plan to rid Germany of all the Ukrainian people as soon as possible.
By the year 2003 when we went back for a visit, Dusseldorf was full of Ukrainians. But they were not Christian they were Jewish. The Jews applied for visas to Germany on the the Ukrainian quota. So 85% of the new Ukrainian emigration who was subsidized by German funds were not ethnic Ukrainians and did join our Ukrainian community in Germany. As a matter of fact they tended to identify themselves as such; Ich bin von Kiev, Russland.
Then in 2006 when we visited Germany again for the Welt Meisterschaft (world cup) we saw something different. Germany was full of young educated people from the Lviv University who spoke German and Ukrainian beautifully. They had learned in Lviv. We were very pleased. That year was the first time I had been in Poland as well. Actually in Poland and not just driving through to go to Ukraine.
By this time no one in the community was a heimatloseauslander. All had become German citizens. But there was no longer a vibrant Ukrainian Community waiting to go back to Ukraine. After being occupied and persecuted by Poland, Germany, and Russia, even the Hungarians, they finally lived in peaceful united communited in the DP camps. This is where the Ukrainian Hromada was born and it thrived from 1945 from Germany and Austria where the DP camps were to the rest of the world until now. Those that started these communities and gave birth to “Ukrainian Hromada” had all died. Those that were in Germany were going no where. The huge oseredky Bielefeld, Hannover, Hamburg, Dusseldorf/Essen, Stuttgart have all just about disappeared. The new ones are found all over Germany since unification.
November 13, 2013