Pastorisierung ja propaganda 1915. Plaanid eesti sõjavangide poliitiliseks mõjutamiseks Saksamaal [Pastorisierung and propaganda in 1915. Plans to politically influence Estonian prisoners-of-war in Germany]

Mart Kuldkepp


One of the great paradoxes of World War I was the fact that it took place in an era of blooming nationalism, yet was primarily fought by multinational empires. Ultimately, this contradiction led to major changes in the European political landscape. But already during the first years of the war, the national question was never far from the minds of the belligerents. Whether a threat or an opportunity, nationalism was certainly a force to be reckoned with.

The recognition that many Russian POWs were only nominally Russian, and actually belonged to various Russian minority nationalities –many of which had their own anti-Russian interests – came early on to the German authorities. Already in the autumn of 1914, the Gesellschaftzur Förderung der inneren Kolonisation, presided over by Friedrich Ernst von Schwerin, made contact with the German ministries of the war and internal affairs with the intention of separating German-speaking Russians from the rest of the POWs in order to facilitate their use in the best German interests. Soon, similar ambitions were extended to Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian POWs, as well as those of many other Russian nationalities.

This article takes a closer look at the early plans directed at influencing Baltic POWs in Germany. These plans ranged from making pastoral care (Pastorisierung) available in their native languages to the recruitment of couriers to be sent back to Russia, and even the creation of a Baltic foreign legion as a part of the Finnish light infantry battalion (Jägerbataillon) in Germany. Mostly, such ambitions were confined to 1915, and should be seen against the background of optimism that resulted from German successes on the Eastern Front. The actors involved included German and Baltic German organizations, Finnish activists residing in Berlin (especially Fritz Wetterhoff) and certain representatives of the nationalities in question.

In the end, the plans mostly failed due to a lack of suitable individuals who could disseminate propaganda among the POWs, as well as various bureaucratic hindrances. It seems that by autumn 1915, this original initiative was largely abandoned and its ambitious plans left unfulfilled. However, it is very likely that attempts to politically influence Baltic POWs continued in the later war years, even if championed by other circles. Their success or failure will, however, be a question for future research to investigate.

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ISSN 2228-0669 (trükis / print)