At the beginning of September 1862 the Russian Minister of Education Eufili Wasilivich Putiatin visited Heidelberg. He was very worried, because it “bubbled” in the heads of Russian students: The tradition of German student’s corporations was very popular in Russia as well and spread very quickly. Before Putiatin came to Heidelberg he had tried to prohibit those student´s corporations in Russia. With this intention he started a wave of protests which quickly led to mass demonstrations. As a result some of the russian universities were closed. Many students of those universities, who could financially afford it, flew to Heidelberg to escape the “Argus Eyes” of Putiatin. They continued their studies at the Heidelberg University. Here as well they continued taking part in the liberal movements.
Putiatin followed those “deserters” to Heidelberg. In order not to ruin the damaged reputation of the Russian Imperia any further, he by all means wanted to return those young deserters back home. He held a speech at the Heidelberg University Square with an enthusiastic appeal to the national feeling. The young Russian, Polish and German students listened to this speech but how the newspapers of this time reported “arranged a hang-over concert with yelling. The “brave” Heidelberg policemen hurried to help Putiatin with drawn sabres. A battle started.” Those incidents quickly became known in Russia thanks to the reports of the revolutionary magazine “Kolokol”, “The Bell”.
Who knows – possibly the idea of the Russian Revolution was born in the heads of the young free thinkers of those times, who – after the failed trial of the Russian Minister – had to sit in the Heidelberg University “Karzer“ – prison – as punishment for their strong and loud protests. Their revolutionary ideas spread quickly and showed to the world, that Russia was only but a colossus on week legs. About 50 years after those incidents the red wave of the people’s revolution destroyed the whole Russian imperia.
Around the change of centuries the Russian Social Revolutionary Party was strongly represented amongst the Heidelberg students. At that time the Russian revolutionary movement was divided into two mighty branches: The Bolchewiki on one side, who stood on marxistic ideas fighting the Czarism and on the other hand the Social Revolutionary Party, which stood for the masses of working people and wanted to achieve the coming together of workers, peasants and brain workers. Their main claim was the socializing of ground and floor. In the Constitutional Assembly of January 5th, 1918, they achieved the majority. When they did not accept the facts created by the October riot of the Bolschewiki, Lenin dissolved the Constitutional Assembly and imprisoned the leaders of the Social Revolutionary Party.
Representatives of the social revolutionaries are traced amongst the Heidelberg students. Boris Kac f.e., his pseudonym was Kamkov, was student of law and belonged to the circle of acquaintances of Gustav Radbruch. Boris Savinkov, head of the battle organization of the social revolutionaries, was also student of law. Vladimir Zensinov, Abram Goc, Il`ja Fondaminskij and his later wife Amalija Gavronskaja, matriculated in the summer semester at the Heidelberg University.
Zensitov wrote in his memories, which were published after his death in 1953 in New York, a whole chapter on Heidelberg. Here a small extract: “The summer in Heidelberg had consequences for all my life. It determined my destiny and I definitely know that the remembrance of this summer will be vivid till the last minute of my life. It was the most magnificent which I could experience in my life. The May in life blooms only once and never again. My first day in Heidelberg was like a dream. Abram met me at the station. He led me through the town and its objects of interest, just as all would be his own. Everywhere I saw colored flags. Abram told me, that they would celebrate the beginning of the new semester. The town would live through and by the University.”
For the first time Zensinov saw students of the Heidelberg Corporations with their couleur bands and caps, who were members of the student fraternities like Borussia, Rhenania or Thuringa – a tradition
that was created in the Medieval. Zensinov took a room in the “Scheffelhaus” at which place the famous Heidelberg poet Josef Victor von Scheffel lived as well.
On this story and other events out of the history of Russian students and scientists in Heidelberg you could come to know much more by booking my special tour “Russians in Heidelberg”.