Amid commemorations marking 70 years since the 1941 deportation of the Russian Germans to Central Asia, there is a palpable sense that the community is disappearing. In Bishkek, roughly 30 people gather each Sunday to pray at the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Empty seats are abundant in a room that once was routinely filled to overflowing. Although the pastor is from Germany, services for the past 10 years have been held in Russian. Congregants say perhaps one-third of the worshippers have any German heritage, and only a handful can speak the language. According to the German Language Center in Bishkek, a partner of the German government-funded Goethe Institute in Almaty, approximately 250 ethnic Germans from across Kyrgyzstan are currently taking language lessons. “The main goal of these groups is no longer to prepare to immigrate to Germany, but not to lose their language and their culture,” said Ainagul Atakaeva, the center’s director. Geinrich Schindler is among the remaining Germans who tries to maintain a strong cultural connection, even though his grasp of the language is now tenuous.
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Nate Schenkkan is a Bishkek-based journalist.