Which country is good for Indian nurses

Indian nurses in Germany in the 1960s

Nursing staff desperately wanted - that sounds like a current story, but in this case it is not. It has been 50 years since many hospitals in Germany suffered from massive staff shortages. They called for help - and thousands of young Indian women came.

Indian filmmakers went looking for these women for a documentary and found a number of examples of successful integration. "Translated Lives - A Migration Revisited" will be shown at the 11th Indian Film Festival in Stuttgart - on Malayalam with subtitles.

6,000 Indian trainees

Winter 1964: Machines with young women from Kerala in southern India regularly land at Frankfurt Airport. In the end it will be a good 6,000, the youngest just 16, the oldest barely 20. The Federal Republic is desperately looking for nurses. The Indian women have the courage to use the "Green Card" and hope to be able to offer their families financial security back home.

Post is a luxury, telephone or modern means of communication hardly existed. The young women described their impressions from their new home as follows: "In Germany trees have no leaves and cotton falls from the sky."

Baden-Württemberg, for example, started training Indian nurses at its state psychiatric hospitals in Tübingen, Heidelberg, Wiesloch and Rottweil from 1964 onwards. There were also groups of Indian nurses in church houses. In Baden-Württemberg there were around 200 in total.

Half returned

Documentary director Shiny Jacob Benjamin and producer Mathew Joseph went in search of the emigrants. About half of the nurses returned home at some point, estimates Joseph, himself one of almost 67,500 Indians in Germany at the moment. His parents married him to one of the nurses in 1973. He came to Germany and earned some money washing dishes at the airport. Today he lives with his family in Mettmann near Düsseldorf, is politically active and well integrated.

An estimated 75 percent of the women who stayed here in Germany would have married Indian country people, reports Joseph from his research for the film. Many others married Germans and are now German citizens and already retired. They founded their "Samajams" (associations) in various places - for example in the Stuttgart-Pforzheim area or in and around Heidelberg - where they cultivate their culture and language.

Language as the key to integration

"I settled for four years," recalls Gracekutty Pflug, now 67 years old, who lives with her German-Indian family in Fellbach near Stuttgart. In retrospect, she is certain: "The language was my key to integration." But she was also a good student, and learning was easy for her.

Joseph sees key number two in the church. "It played a very important role." Even before they left for foreign West Germany, which they mainly associated with war. "The Church reassured the girls and assured them that those days were over, that they didn't need to be afraid," said Joseph.

But the church also played a decisive role in the integration here, remembers his wife Saramma. But it would have been easy for the very young Indian women. "People had a lot of empathy for us." It cannot be compared with the problems that foreigners sometimes have today.

Then there was no turning back

Many contacts were only possible through the church. Nevertheless, she thought about a return for a long time. Only when the children came, "I knew: there is no turning back". Her daughter is 36 and lives in London, her son is 29 and studies in Cologne. At home in Mettmann they speak Malayalam - alternating with German.

by Roland Böhm, dpa