The “Long Trek”: The SS Population Transfer of Ukrainian Germans to the Polish Warthegau and Its Consequences, 1943-1944

Dr. Eric J. Schmaltz, Associate Professor of History, Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva

Editor’s Note:  Copyright permission granted by the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia in Lincoln, NE.  The article first cited in: Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia 31:3 (Fall 2008):  pp. 1-23.  Later reprinted with copyright permission by the Germans from Russia Heritage Society in Bismarck, ND, as a slightly revised and updated version on occasion of the “Long Trek’s” seventieth anniversary in:  Heritage Review 44:1 (Mar. 2014):  pp. 7-25.  The article’s online version includes the abstract and a detailed key words section.

Abstract:  An evacuation of about 350,000 ethnic Germans from Nazi-occupied Ukraine to the Polish Warthegau occurred between late 1943 and mid-1944.  In an improvised response to the Red Army’s steady, westward advance, the SS began to integrate ethnic Germans into “Greater” Germany upon completion of racial screening at its Immigration Main Office in Lodz, which served as the Nazi equivalent of “Ellis Island” for all of Europe’s ethnic Germans (the so-called Volksdeutsche).  The “Long Trek” on foot or by wagon and train represented one part of a broader humanitarian crisis that afflicted Central and Eastern Europe under both the Nazis and Soviet Communists, including above all Hitler’s Holocaust (1941-1945) and Stalin’s mass deportation of thirteen nationality groups (including ethnic Germans) to remote special settlements in the east (1938-1951).  One distinguishing feature of the ethnic German experience in Ukraine was that this minority group found itself caught between two powerful rival ideologies and thus twice endured forced mass-population transfers.  The fate of ethnic Germans in Nazi-held Poland also highlighted the stark racial dichotomy of Hitler’s New Order.  The SS in Lodz processed ethnic Germans into the Third Reich just as that city’s Jewish population, Europe’s last major Ghetto, faced liquidation.  About 20,000-25,000 of Ukraine’s ethnic Germans died on the trek west.  After the war, more than 200,000 Soviet citizens of German nationality under Allied agreements suffered repatriation from occupied Germany to Soviet Siberia and Central Asia.  Roughly 30,000 out of the 75,000 permitted to remain in postwar West Germany chose to leave Europe after 1948 as Displaced Persons (DP’s) for destinations in the Western Hemisphere and Australia.  Jews, Poles, and ethnic German minorities comprised the three primary DP groups during this time.  Consequently, the years of upheaval, repression and even mass murder diminished Eastern Europe’s ethnic diversity and longstanding historical communities.

Key Words:  Baltic, Bessarabia, Central and Eastern Europe, Cold War, Communist, Czechoslovakia, Deportations, Displaced Persons (DP’s), ethnic cleansing, Ethnic German Liaison Office (Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle/VoMi), ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche), evacuations, Galicia, genocide, German National List (Deutsche Volksliste/DVL), Germanization, Germany (“Greater” Germany/Grossdeutschland/Third Reich), Ghetto, Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler, Holocaust, Holodomor, Hungary, Immigration Main Office (Einwanderungszentralstelle/EWZ), Jews, Erich Koch, Georg Leibbrandt, Lodz (Litzmannstadt), Long Trek (Grosser Treck), Mennonites, minorities, nationality, Nazi, Nazi-Soviet relations, New Order, NKVD, Non-Aggression Pact, occupation, Operation Bagration, Operation Keelhaul, Poland, population removals, population transfers, racial, refugees, Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories (RMO), Reich Commission for the Strengthening of Germandom (Reichskommissariat für die Festigung deutschen Volkstums/RKFDV), Reichskommissar, resettlement, Romania, Alfred Rosenberg, Schutzstaffel (SS), Second World War (World War II), Soviet Union (USSR), special settlements, Karl Stumpp, Joseph Stalin, Transnistria, Harry Truman, Ukraine, Volhynia, Waffen-SS, Warthegau, Yugoslavia. 

The “Long Trek” in an Era of Demographic Disasters for Central and Eastern Europe
A dramatic chain of events in 1943 and 1944 better known today as the “Long Trek” (Grosser Treck) signaled the closing chapter of a more than 150-year history of ethnic Germans living in Ukraine—and the beginning of a new odyssey for the wide German dispersal that resulted from it.1  The ancestors of most of these ethnic Germans came to imperial Russia starting in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, under invitation of the tsars, most notably Catherine the Great (1762-1796) and her grandson Alexander I (1801-1825).

As the tide of World War II turned against the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler’s SS responded to the Soviet Red Army’s rapid westward advance by evacuating nearly 350,000 ethnic German refugees from Nazi-occupied Ukraine to German-annexed Poland.  Between August 1943 and July 1944, SS agencies in Lodz, Poland, received and processed these refugees into “Greater” Germany (Grossdeutschland).  On the border of the Reich, Lodz served as the official gateway to the Warthe District (Warthegau), a territory in northwestern Poland which Nazi Germany incorporated in late 1939 and now used for ethnic German resettlement.  Shortly following the war, however, Joseph Stalin’s victorious USSR was able to reclaim a large majority of these refugees (more than 200,000) as Soviet citizens, deporting them to live in exile for many years in the distant expanses of Soviet Siberia and Central Asia.

The “Long Trek,” as tremendous an event as it was, did not occur in isolation, however, but rather fit into a much broader and more turbulent historical pattern of ethnic cleansing, political persecution, and even genocide that plagued Central and Eastern Europe from the early 1920s to the early 1950s.  In Europe, this was the age of political giants and potent ideologies.  Tens of millions fell under the sway of totalitarian regimes that ultimately held little regard for the welfare, liberty and dignity of individuals and certain categories of people.  Consequently, this relatively brief era of political upheaval, social dislocation and even mass murder diminished much of Central and Eastern Europe’s ethnic and cultural diversity, including significant historical communities, such as the Germans in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, and former eastern parts of historic Germany, and other longstanding cultural enclaves, such as the East European Jews.

Many historians regard the titanic Nazi-Soviet Communist rivalry as one of the driving forces behind a European-wide “civil war” during the mid-twentieth century—not as a conflict mostly confined to a single political state as such, but as part of a wider one between the competing ideological visions of nationalism, capitalism, fascism and socialism that ruptured the basic moral, intellectual and political fabric of Western civilization.  These national, political, and ideological tensions across Europe had been mounting for many years, only to explode in the three decades following World War I.  The Ukrainian Germans, of course, found themselves torn by these escalating ideological and political battles and clashes of national wills for regional and continental hegemony.2

Aside from the “Long Trek” episode of 1943-1944, a long list of drastic population policies reflected these growing tensions and conflicts, most of them taking place under the auspices of the Nazis and Soviets.  Some of the major episodes included the following:  (1) along with many fellow Soviet citizens, a disproportionately significant number of ethnic Germans in the USSR faced deportation as “kulaks” (so-called wealthy peasants) to “special settlements” in the far north and Siberia (1930-1931); (2) a disproportionate number of ethnic Germans under Stalin perished in the Ukrainian terror-famine (Holodomor), which obliterated a total of about 4-7 million men, women and children of various nationalities (1932-1933); (3) the Soviet regime out of security concerns forcibly deported many thousands of ethnic Germans in Ukraine away from the Polish border on the basis of their nationality (1935-1936)3; (4) the resettlement of more than 200,000 ethnic Germans to “Greater” Germany from the Soviet-controlled Baltic states, Bessarabia (formerly the eastern part of Romania), and eastern regions of conquered Poland under Nazi-Soviet arrangements (1939-1940)4; (5) Hitler’s Holocaust and the murder of almost 12 million, about half of them Jews, with a large majority of all victims coming from Eastern Europe (1941-1945)5; (6) the transfer of 6-7 million foreign laborers, many of them from Nazi-administered Ukraine, to the Third Reich during wartime6; (7) the removal of approximately 12-16 million German nationals from East European countries to postwar occupied Germany with Allied approval as a sweeping punishment for Nazi crimes, resulting in 1-2 million deaths (1945-1946)7; (8) the formal Soviet annexation of eastern parts of Poland after the Nazi defeat leading to a mass-population exchange of about 630,000 ethnic Ukrainians in Poland who either volunteered or were forced across the border to Soviet Ukraine as well as around 810,000 ethnic Poles who were forcibly moved from Soviet Ukraine to Poland (1946-1947)8; and (9) Stalin’s mass deportations of nearly 3 million souls from thirteen Soviet nationality groups, including about 1.2 million Volga and Black Sea Germans, to forced labor camps (the Gulag) and “special settlements” (spetsposelenie) in the east as internal enemies or fifth columns (1937-1951).9

In his recent work, What Is Genocide?, scholar Martin Shaw emphasizes the historical continuities that pervaded these extreme oscillations in Nazi-Soviet relations.  In particular, the sequence of events leading to the massive population removals and persecutions sealed the fate of various German minority groups in Central and Eastern Europe.  He observes that 

Indeed, pre-exterminatory phases of the Nazi genocide also saw vast expulsions.  Hitler’s invasion of Poland, with its grandiose plan to annex its western part to the Reich [Warthegau] and expel those Poles not suitable to be “Germanized” to easterly regions, where the Jews were concentrated in ghettoes, was an immediate precedent for Soviet and Polish campaigns against Germans [in 1945-1946].  Moreover the Soviet annexation of eastern Poland [in 1939], the push factor in the expulsion of Germans from the German regions annexed by Poland [in 1945], consolidated gains originally made by the USSR in alliance [his emphasis] with Nazi Germany in 1939-1940.  So instead of a categorical divide between different phases of expulsion, there were historical continuities that survived violent fluctuations in Nazi-Soviet relations [his emphasis].   The main difference was that the war’s outcome made larger German populations—not only minorities within Poland and Czechoslovakia but also people in the eastern regions of historic Germany—the targets of the new campaign [of forced removals in 1945-1946].  The other difference was that Great Britain and the USA, which in 1939 protested against Poland’s division, now legitimated it together with the accompanying expulsions, even if they deplored excesses.10

In the context of this horrific European drama, Ukraine’s significance as a geographical concept at the East-West and Nazi-Soviet crossroads also deserves serious scholarly consideration.  The matter of Ukraine raises questions for historians because it had long represented a multi-ethnic borderland until the end of World War II.  Historian Kate Brown in her thoughtful book, A Biography of No Place, argues that in the course of only a few decades, especially between 1923 and 1953, this troubled region underwent a form of “ethnic purification” to evolve into “a largely homogenous Ukrainian heartland.”  She notes a peculiar aspect of this demographic transformation:  “It is a puzzling case because the ethnic purification of the borderland was not carried out by one state, nor was it the fruit of one political ideology.  Rather, imperial Russia, socialist Soviet Union, fascist Nazi Germany, parliamentary Poland, and nationalist Ukrainian parties all took part in dismantling the confusing mosaic of cultures in the contested borderland.”11 She further emphasizes that it was partly the “quixotic, hard-to-pin-down quality of the borderland which inspired state officials to try to alter it radically by making it comprehensible as ethnically pure nation-space.”12

For much of this time, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union both acted as Central and Eastern Europe’s dominant power-brokers, though by no means were they the only culprits in the region.  They played quite decisive roles in pursuing an escalation of such catastrophic population policies to achieve their political goals.  Indeed, one particularly distinguishing feature of the Ukrainian German experience at the time was that two powerful rival ideologies, the Black Swastika and the Red Star, claimed this ethnic group as their own.  Thus, most of the “Long Trek” survivors, including a high percentage of women and children, twice suffered forced mass-population transfers, first in 1943-1944 and again in 1945-1946.13

Accordingly, this study seeks to incorporate various eyewitness accounts and documents with the current body of academic literature on the “Long Trek” episode.  It reflects on the refugees’ divergent fates across five continents, shedding more light on the continuing legacy of the Hitler and Stalin eras. 

The Prelude to Mass Removal of Germans from Ukraine, 1939-1943
The removal of Ukrainian Germans represented one in a series of great population transfers of ethnic German minorities under the Nazis and Soviets during World War II.  Germans from parts of Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, including those in Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia and elsewhere also encountered similar fates as the war turned against Hitler.  No longer serving as German bastions on the frontiers of the Slavic East, these German minority groups now needed greater protection within an ever-shrinking Nazi empire.

Even before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, when an expanding Germany’s position seemed more than secure, tens of thousands of Baltic, Bessarabian, Volhynian, and Galician Germans had already undergone their own relatively peaceful mass relocations to “Greater” Germany.  In 1939 and 1940, Hitler and Stalin, eager for a time to share in the mastery of the continent, agreed to carve up parts of Eastern Europe between them shortly after World War II broke out.

More population transfers of East European Germans soon took place, but under far worse conditions.  In August 1941, shortly following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Stalin’s government ordered the forcible removal of nearly 400,000 Volga Germans and about 400,000-450,000 other ethnic Germans from eastern Ukraine, the Crimea, and the Caucasus by cattle car to distant settlements and slave labor camps in Soviet Siberia and Central Asia.14 The primary motivation for such immediate and sweeping state emergency actions was the Soviet Union’s fear of “fascist” collaboration.  The Ukrainian Germans, however, remained mostly untouched because the Soviet secret police forces (the NKVD) were unable to deport them in any significant numbers to the east in time; the Nazi advance was simply too rapid for that to happen.

Ukraine fell under both Nazi and Romanian occupational control after the June 1941 invasion of the USSR.  From 1940 to August 1944, fascist Romania was a Nazi ally, and it desired to regain Bessarabia and acquire other territories from the Soviet Union, including western Ukraine.  Nazi Germany only permitted its smaller partner to administer western Ukraine, but not to annex it as such.  Ukraine comprised the heart of Nazi imperial dreams in the east, as it would provide the “master race” with both “living space” and what many considered to be the “bread basket of Europe.”  Scholar Wendy Lower appropriately refers to Ukraine as Hitler’s mythical “Garden of Eden.”15

The Romanian administrative zone was called Transnistria, which today is Moldova and western Ukraine.  The SS, however, was authorized to supervise the welfare of about 135,000 ethnic Germans living there.  The zone was located just southwest of the Nazi-run civilian administration of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories (RMO) under Alfred Rosenberg, a former Baltic German.  His subordinate in Ukraine was the brutal Erich Koch, whose Reichskommissariat Ukraine held about 200,000 ethnic Germans.  By late 1942, Nazi and SS officials had compiled the initial racial classifications of all Ukrainian Germans on the now infamous German National List (Deutsche Volksliste orDVL).16

In both Romanian-administered Transnistria and Nazi-occupied Ukraine, ethnic Germans who supported their new Nazi and SS overlords reaped the political and material benefits, now that the Soviet threat had been apparently eliminated from the region.  They were to become members of the Nazi New Order and thus occupy a privileged position in the region’s racial hierarchy.17  For all that, the old Soviet system of collectivized agriculture continued to function in all the German villages during the rather brief Nazi occupation, however; desired agricultural reforms had to wait under wartime contingencies.  Transnistria’s ethnic Germans, though, enjoyed overall more religious freedom and educational opportunities than their ethnic compatriots farther east under Reichskommissar Koch, who generally did not hold the Volksdeutsche in high regard.18

For the Ukrainian Germans squeezed between two fierce ideological rivals, the fortunes of war changed hands all too quickly.  By mid- to late 1943, following the vicious battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, the surging Red Army went on the offensive.  At the beginning of 1944, the Nazi armies were in retreat along the entire eastern front.  Then the Soviets conducted “Operation Bagration” between June and August 1944, a massive assault that can be regarded as the Soviet Union’s “D-Day.”  Launched on June 22 of that year on the third anniversary of the Nazi attack on the USSR, the Red Army offensive was coordinated with the Western Allies’ Normandy landings and resulted in the decimation of Hitler’s army groups in central Russia and the liberation of the USSR.19

SS Oversight of the Evacuation of Volksdeutsche in Ukraine
As the eastern front’s collapse appeared more imminent, Nazi authorities as early as mid-1943 began to consider the systematic evacuation of sizeable ethnic German groups from occupied territories now threatened by the Soviets—those who were considered part of the German race and thus deserving of protection.  The first ethnic Germans in need of relocation included those in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea.  By mid-March 1944, as military prospects deteriorated further, SS-Leader Heinrich Himmler, Hitler’s trusted right-hand man, decided to evacuate all remaining ethnic Germans from occupied Ukraine and Transnistria to German-annexed Polish territory called Warthegau.  Many other remaining German minorities from the rest of Eastern Europe, including those from the Siebenbürgen settlements in northwest Romania, followed in short order.

It is important to consider the critical role played by the Schutzstaffel or SS (Security Staff) toward ethnic Germans (then called the Volksdeutsche) during this period.  Formed in 1925, the SS had rather modest beginnings in serving as Hitler’s personal bodyguard—the elite and loyal vanguard of Nazism.  In 1929, Hitler selected Himmler to be the new SS-Leader.  During the mid-1930s, after the Nazis took power in Germany, the SS acquired police powers, first in Bavaria and then across Germany.  As head of state security, the ultimate bureaucrat Himmler soon proved instrumental in transforming the SS into the prime weapon of Hitler’s ideological arsenal, accumulating more and more power on its behalf.  By the middle of World War II, after Hitler marched into Eastern Europe, the now all-powerful SS had evolved into a sprawling empire of security services, military units, concentration and death camps, slave-labor industries, and welfare and research institutions.  By 1944, it had become a virtual state within the state.  The ruthless SS had permeated all corners of the vast Nazi empire, which was notorious for overlapping and competing agencies, a rather chaotic form of government when compared with the highly centralized, top-down Stalinist system.20

For the SS, this immense power and prestige in the Third Reich was not least of all intended to serve a higher purpose, namely the establishment of a New Order based on race or blood.  The outbreak of war in 1939 afforded this elite organization an opportunity to extend its power beyond the confines of Germany.  Following the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939, for example, Hitler assigned Himmler with the task of resettling ethnic Germans from parts of Eastern Europe now allotted to the Soviet Union.  To meet these demands, a new SS agency under Himmler was required.  The new SS-resettlement office responsible for these efforts was the Reichskommissariat für die Festigung deutschen Volkstums (RKFDV) or Reich Commission for the Strengthening of Germandom.  Though Hitler regarded resettlement more as a diplomatic necessity, Himmler saw it as the beginning of a grand new racial project in the east.21

The SS-Leader at this time began to coordinate and even assume control over other groups and organizations devoted to the Volksdeutsche.  In addition, he began to establish contacts with ethnic associations abroad, what scholar Valdis O. Lumans refers to as Himmler’s “auxiliaries.”  One such “auxiliary” organization included the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (VoMi) or Ethnic German Liaison Office.  In 1935, the Nazi Party organized VoMi to centralize and oversee all groups and activities inside of Germany concerned with ethnic Germans living abroad.  By placing SS personnel into VoMi’s leadership, Himmler managed to draw VoMi into his expanding sphere of influence, practically making it an SS department in all but name only.22

Upon Nazi expansion into the Soviet Union, Himmler followed in a scramble for power and influence in order to realize his racial dreams for the region.  The SS and its various “auxiliaries” sought to promote the welfare of Volksdeutsche, but the SS-Leader was equally preoccupied with addressing the ethnic group’s needs as soon as possible in order to secure his position in the east.  The SS, though already receiving police and security duties behind the frontlines, continued to compete with other Nazi occupation authorities in the area, including the Wehrmacht (combined German armed forces), Hermann Göring’s exploitative economic agencies (Four-Year Plan and “Brown Portfolio”), and not least of all Rosenberg’s RMO.23   By the latter part of 1943, the SS held a firm grip over the RMO following a protracted power struggle, just as the tide of war had shifted to the Soviets’ favor.24

Meanwhile, in 1943 and 1944, the declining Nazi civilian administration in the occupied east under Rosenberg promised evacuating Ukrainian Germans that they would return home to their native villages after lost territories were recovered or at least once final victory was achieved.  SS internal reports from mid-March 1944 indicate that such assurances were already creating unrest among numerous ethnic Germans, and thereby making them more reluctant to leave their homes and villages.  For a long time, some Volksdeutsche clung to these rather hollow promises.  Many high-ranking SS officials, including Himmler, however, acknowledged the hard reality of the fast eroding eastern front.  In the SS-leader’s estimation, the Ukrainian Germans now had to be treated and resettled as permanent ethnic refugees in Warthegau and not to be left susceptible to additional Soviet incursions.25

In particular, the SS Resettlement Office had long opposed the Rosenberg Ministry’s dream of converting local ethnic Germans into “indigenous” leaders of a future Nazi empire in the east.  It had expressed little such confidence in the RMO’s strategic plan, even if Germany’s war status would have improved in the future.  Considering the group to be of lesser quality German stock, it had favored the segregation of ethnic Germans in the USSR from “genuine Easterners,” because they were still supposedly susceptible to local ethnic “contamination.”  It also had held that since the ethnic Germans “have absorbed to a large extent Bolshevik and Russian doctrine, they cannot be considered suitable persons for guidance and leadership in Russia.”26 Thus with Himmler’s approval, it was now necessary for the SS to transfer these people to Polish provinces absorbed by the Reich.27

Because of wartime conditions and the enormous scale of the task at hand, the SS often had to improvise the series of mass evacuations of ethnic Germans.  Three general cluster groups (enclaves) of German villages in western Ukraine, sometimes called “colonies,” experienced the SS mass transfer of 1943 and 1944—the Grossliebental, Kutschurgan, and Beresan.  Also, there still remained scattered German communities in Volhynia (today in northwestern Ukraine) and Mennonite settlements such as the Molotschna in south-central Ukraine.28

From late 1943 to mid-1944, a number of distinct phases of resettlement of Ukrainian Germans occurred under the SS.29 The first phase began in August 1943 with the removal of ethnic Germans from the northeastern Black Sea region and southern Ukraine, including the Crimea.  Many of these included Mennonites from the Molotschna region.30 By this time, the Soviet armies were threatening these areas.  Often removed by train, about 73,000 of these Germans were ultimately placed in Warthegau to live and work on seized Polish farms.  The second evacuation phase took place between October 1943 and March 1944, when approximately 72,000 ethnic Germans from western parts of Ukraine went to “Greater” Germany.  Many of these Germans were relocated as cheap labor for the rearmaments industry in the Third Reich.  In January 1944, a third removal action concerned about 44,600 Germans in Volhynia.  The final emergency action affected the 135,000 ethnic Germans from Transnistria, who left in mid-March 1944 and arrived in Warthegau between May and June 1944.  By July 1944, as the eastern front crumbled, nearly all Ukrainian Germans had been evacuated.31

Life, Fear and Death on the “Long Trek”
A growing body of Germans from Russia literature recounting this episode has appeared over the past thirty years in both English and German.  The literature, including the voices of a good number of women authors, has helped provide a common historical link among members of a Diaspora ethnic community crisscrossing the globe since the war.32

By most accounts, anxiety, uncertainty and fear pervaded the Ukrainian German villages as the news spread about an impending mass evacuation.  Villagers made the painful realization that the removal from Ukraine would perhaps last forever.  Having survived the Stalinist Terror only several years earlier, many of them dreaded Soviet reprisals upon capture, something perhaps far worse than leaving their traditional villages and homelands.33  On the general matter of forced population transfers (so-called “ethnic cleansing”), Shaw embraces and even expands on the remarkable scholar Raphael Lemkin’s original definition of genocide established in 1944, which also recognizes as genocidal the cultural and social destruction of particular communities, and not simply their physical annihilation.  Though acknowledging gray zones in defining such concepts, Shaw observes that

... It is difficult to conceive of conditions under which mass expulsions of established populations would be legal, and impossible to conceive that they would be just.  It is also difficult to imagine how they would not raise questions of genocide.  The most plausible prima facie exceptions are those that are perpetrated by a state claiming to protect its “own” people.  Thus prior to the destruction of German communities by the [Allied] victors [after 1945], some Germans of the Baltic states and elsewhere had already opted for German citizenship “pursuant to the population transfer treaties negotiated by Hitler’s Germany with those countries between 1939 and 1941”; others had been evacuated by the retreating German army [1943-1945].  To the extent that the people involved genuinely embraced these movements, it is difficult to see them as genocidal.  However, many movements were hardly voluntary:  local Germans also had to follow the occupiers’ orders, and their lives were put at risk by “their” state’s violence against others.34

Nervous villagers had to prepare for evacuation on relatively short notice, with perhaps a couple of days’ advance warning.  Many survivors’ accounts relate how villagers worked themselves into a near stupor following the evacuation announcement.  Women made baked goods, while the men butchered animals to make sausage.  Villagers had to work fast to procure a few basic provisions for a long and dangerous journey.

In late 1943, the SS often transported the initial refugee groups, especially Mennonites, from eastern parts of Ukraine and the Crimea by train (even in cattle cars filled with straw), since the Soviet military threat was most pressing in these areas.  The accommodations were hardly first-class, but it was faster than and preferable to walking or traveling by wagon at that critical time.  Those who were allowed on the trains in the first phase of evacuations still had to contend with bitter winter weather and various delays as they approached German-occupied Poland through the Carpathian Mountains.  Problems on this leg of the journey included typhoid fever, lice, and a lack of proper heating, among other things.

Subsequent German groups who departed from Ukraine on foot or by wagon as late as mid-March 1944 also faced many challenges.  Upon receiving the order to evacuate, they hurried to repair wagons and harnesses.  With the specter of advancing Soviet troops seeking revenge on all Germans looming over them, the villagers’ trepidation can only be imagined, especially when they saw long wagon trains from neighboring eastern communities already streaming past them.35 Amid the frenzy, they often could only take with them basic necessities and perhaps a small number of livestock for such a long journey.  One female survivor from the village of Strassenfeld reminisces:  “We ourselves started out with our cow, but had to leave her behind on the road; we milked her and left the bucket of milk standing next to her so that she and her calf could survive for a while or until someone else might take care of them.  She bellowed after us as if she knew that we were leaving, as if she did not want to be left behind like that.”36

For those who went on foot or by wagon, the trek’s first stage usually passed through Romania and sometimes into Hungary or Yugoslavia.  This part of the evacuation typically lasted about two to three months.  Village mayors often directed the wagon trains, thus keeping people together on a village basis as much as possible.  The SS provided itineraries to the village leaders, informing them on where the trek was to proceed.37

Sometimes refugee families had to share the few available wagons.  Wherever possible, the children were placed in the heavily laden wagons, and the adults proceeded on foot.  At other times, the children had to walk alongside the wagons with the adults.  On the roads, the village caravans were now quite exposed and vulnerable to the harsh natural elements.  It is not hard to imagine the many inconveniences and difficulties involved for pregnant women, children, the sick, and the elderly.  Occasionally, refugees had to set up make-shift shelters or find abandoned farms and barns in which to stay.  Sometimes they even slept under the stars.  Depending on the terrain, weather, and other factors, a typical day’s journey on foot and by wagon covered between 5 to 15 miles, but sometimes more.

The winding wagon caravans stretched out for miles, slithering their way westward. Accompanying the flood of refugees were small groups of armed SS-men as well as “self-defense units” (Volksdeutsche Selbstschutze) formed among the few remaining able-bodied ethnic German males.  Following the Nazi military conscription of most eligible young Ukrainian German men after February 1943, a large percentage of refugees included the elderly, women, and children.  Also, the 1930s Stalinist repression and terror had exiled or killed off many of the adult males from the ethnic German villages, depleting the presence of grandfathers, fathers, uncles, and older brothers.  According to scholar Hans Werner, “by World War II, one-half of [ethnic German] families [in the Soviet Union] had no fathers.”38

One trek survivor recalls that when wagons broke down, fellow refugees or other wagon trains would not necessarily stop to help repair a broken spoke or wheel.  In some cases, SS-men or German soldiers assisted them and got them on their way.  Under such dire circumstances, when people’s minds and bodies were practically in tethers, sometimes the best and the worst came out in people.39 Some eyewitnesses also remember the random acts of kindness as well as generous offerings of food and shelter on the part of local ethnic Germans and other nationality groups, including Romanians, Bulgarians, and Turks, as they made their way.  Others, however, recall the Romanians’ relatively cool reception to the incoming refugees.40

Refugees, however, also had to contend with certain local nationalities who hated the Nazi occupiers.  In western Ukraine, for example, Soviet partisans shot at them.  Sometimes refugees who wandered off the main routes during a pause in the journey in order to feed their livestock, gather firewood, or secure food simply never returned, picked off by guerrillas.  Not least of all, the menacing shadow of the Soviet Army always pursued the caravans.  At times, refugees could even hear the sound of distant guns on the fluid battle front.

Unexpected heavy rains, sleet, and even blizzards struck parts of Romania in March and April 1944, impeding the advance of later evacuations.  Poor roads and steep hills, especially as refugees approached the great Carpathians, also presented hurdles along the route, not to mention the constant worry of finding enough fodder for the draft horses and livestock.  Many survivors frequently recall the terribly thick mud and slime on the primitive roads, and it was not uncommon for wagons to get stalled in the omnipresent muck.  Wagon caravans at times had to stop at Romanian or other ethnic villages for a number of days because of bad weather and other logistical problems.  The local village populations—including groups as diverse as ethnic Turks and ethnic Bulgarians—were obliged by Nazi authorities to make accommodations for refugees in their dwellings.  Some locals were quite hospitable with their German guests, expressing genuine curiosity about the most recent war news.  Other locals contemplated their own dark future under possible Soviet occupation, especially Romanians in Bessarabia who already had their first taste of Communist “paradise” in 1940-1941.41  In other cases, wagon trains in Romania stopped overnight in the still empty villages once inhabited by the Bessarabian Germans—an almost eerie atmosphere for these temporary lodgers.

In the spring of 1944, some of the more unfortunate wagon caravans fell victim to intermittent Soviet attacks and even capture.  For instance, Red Army forces fired upon and took prisoner most of the villagers from Selz of the Kutschurgan Enclave who were delayed in their motorized ferry crossing on April 6-7, 1944, along the Dniester River.42

Refugees, exhausted and mud- or dust-covered at certain stops, in some instances made locals mistakenly believe that they were Gypsy (Roma) caravans passing through the area.  They halted along the routes to eat and rest, whenever possible, but sometimes it was essential to prepare food and eat on the moving wagons.  One trek survivor recalls in her published memoirs eating Zwieback as a staple food that her mother had prepared for them before the journey.  It was an egg-bread roll, sliced and even dried, a staple in her people’s diet.  Sometimes dried fruit, such as apples, were brought along for the winter journey, she remembers, but no vegetables.  Malnutrition and outright hunger remained persistent problems, making worse the refugees’ overall anxiety, as rumors, fears, and misguided hopes spread by word of mouth among the villagers, German soldiers, and Nazi officials meeting along the way.43

According to a number of personal accounts, some “elite” SS men held a rather low opinion of the impoverished ethnic German refugees, especially those who came from the Soviet Union, as they were believed to be “Bolshevized” (i.e., socially “backward” and lacking personal initiative) and of lesser racial or ethnic value than German groups leaving other parts of Eastern Europe, such as Romania.44  Various SS welfare officers and civilian administrators indeed expressed sincere concern for the refugees, but the sprawling Nazi empire also employed less than receptive authority figures.  For instance, in his trek diary entry for May 1, 1944, refugee Walter Hornbacher expresses a pervasive ambivalence between certain officials and the refugees during the trek.  He writes, “So as not to get consumed by the bears [the Soviet Russians], we had to remain among the wolves [the SS].”45 In other diary entries, he relates disturbing incidents of SS harassment of non-German locals during the journey, such as whipping people and shooting at farm animals.  In one recorded incident, a trek leader even made disparaging remarks in front of a refugee group about how he as one SS man in Germany was worth more than the thousands of them.46

As the final waves of humanity moved west in the spring of 1944, a more than 150-year history of Germans in Ukraine ended.  Personal accounts tell how villagers, men and women of all ages, cried and could not look back as they departed their traditional villages and homelands. Adding to the growing despair and homesickness were the odd scenes of chickens, pigs, goats, and cows set free and running loose in house yards and village streets.  Rafael Jundt, a refugee from the village of Selz in the Kutschurgan Enclave, captures this sentiment of pain and loss in his 1994 poem, “Farewell to My Hometown, Selz, Fifty Years Ago”: 

One final time I stood there
Peering into the Kutschurgan Vale.
Below me lay Selz, my village
Like a queen, though in travail.

With her vineyards and fruitful fields
Where the Liman does glide,
There was the village, Selz,
Known far and wide.

With its beautiful church and its dwellings
In fun magnificence it lay.
There, as in a dream
My youth had passed away.

Then came the days of hardship,
I had to leave you there.
From place to place I wandered
It was more than I could bear.

And you, my beloved Selz,
You stayed behind me alone.
You could not come along with me
And I could not go home.47

Many German village main streets like Selz’s fell silent by March 1944.  Soon Ukrainian nationals moved into the abandoned German villages and homes, where their descendants reside today.

At locations in Romania and Hungary, such as the city of Dej, which Romania had to cede to Hungary until the end of the war despite that both countries were Nazi allies, the trek’s last stage was completed by train.  Depending on the general routes taken, other departure sites by train were located in Yugoslavia.  Again, travel accommodations on crowded trains often proved less than satisfactory, and just as with the wagon caravans, there always remained the threat of Allied bombing attacks or sabotage of rail lines by local partisans.

Refugees Anton Bosch and Josef Lingor, who at the time were children from the village of Kandel in the Kutschurgan Enclave, recount a touching story about their unforgettable experience at Dej in mid-May 1944.  Here the weary German refugees stepped off the wagons and had to transport their baggage to the city’s train station.  A German army commission awaited them at the station and announced that all draft horses and wagons were to be requisitioned for military purposes.  The soldiers then issued the farmers receipts for future reimbursement.  Indeed, both the Soviet and German armies utilized hundreds of thousands of draft horses in World War II; not everything was mechanized in those days.  Because people traditionally tied to the land often grow quite attached to their livestock and draft horses, Bosch and Lingor describe how so many of the elderly Kandel farmers wept bitterly with the departure of their beloved animals, which had served them well not only in the old village, but on the long, difficult trek to Dej.  Refugees from other villages detail similar emotional outbursts, when people had to part from their trusted draft horses.  Bosch and Lingor also recall that just a few hours after the exchange, the refugees from their village proceeded by train in the direction of Budapest, Hungary, arriving days later at the final destination of Lodz, Poland.48

Arrival and Processing in Lodz, Poland (Litzmannstadt)
From January 1940 until January 1945, the Polish city of Lodz (which the Nazis renamed Litzmannstadt) served as the EWZ headquarters.49 One among many countless and overlapping Nazi “alphabet-soup” organizations, the EWZ stood for Einwanderungszentralstelle (Immigration Main Office), falling under SS oversight.  In view of the long journey to Poland, Maria Kreiser later reflected that she and her fellow refugees “appropriately translate these three letters as ‘Eternally Wandering Zigeuner’ (Gypsies).”50 As the Third Reich’s “Ellis Island,” the EWZ at Lodz functioned as the central distribution point, welfare office, and archival repository for all ethnic Germans from across Europe, above all the occupied eastern territories.

The SS compiled meticulous records of vital statistics of all individuals who entered the Third Reich, as the Hitler regime considered itself the guardian of a clearly defined racial community.  More than 400,000 applications by ethnic Germans living outside of the Third Reich between 1939 and 1945 have survived the war.  The US Third Army under General George S. Patton captured most of the EWZ records near Nuremberg, Bavaria, in April 1945, though about 70,000-80,000 documents were already lost or destroyed by that time.  The US Government held these records until shortly after German unification in 1990, when it agreed to transfer control to the Berlin Document Center.51  As many as 8,000 microfilm rolls of all surviving EWZ records remain accessible for viewing through the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Maryland.52  Since the 1990s, many researchers have combed these records now made available to surviving family members and the general public, revealing in detail how the refugee application process for German naturalization worked.

In Lodz, all new arrivals first took a bath or shower for “delousing,” soon followed by screening, registration, and ultimately final resettlement.  The Immigration Main Office consisted of various departments, such as administration, planning, accounts and registration, health and nationality matters, and it also created branch offices.53 Sometimes, particularly as the scope of the evacuations grew, “roaming” review boards or commissions (Fliegende Kommissionen) were established to help process individuals and families in surrounding refugee camps.54 Each roving panel consisted of 40 to 70 staff members.55

Extensive registration procedures were involved with the EWZ at Lodz.  Usually six to nine staff members conducted each screening session, which normally lasted three to four hours.  Over time, as workloads increased, a session was extended to six hours, then two days.  Though families were always processed together, all individuals aged 15 and over were registered separately.56

EWZ processed each family at a total of eight stations.  In his detailed analysis, Lumans describes the initial stages of its screening procedure:

...At the first station, a policeman scrutinized the family’s papers and added any missing forms.  The second station prepared identification papers and compiled all personal information.  After a photographing session at station three, the family proceeded to station four, at which all property matters were settled.  The amount of property left behind was ascertained, and the resettlers were issued receipts stating how much and what type of compensation they were to receive.57

The primary EWZ form included sections to fill in one’s name, age, place of origin, date of entry, and two photos (full face and profile).  Each individual file also established an applicant’s German background through a so-called “national passport” (Volkstumausweis) or “resettler status form” (Umsielderausweis), which often had been issued to ethnic Germans during the Nazi occupation of the east in 1942.  In addition, the “family form” (Stammblatt) identified the ethnic backgrounds of an applicant’s parents, spouse, and children.  Family histories were extensive, sometimes going back as far as four generations to prove German ancestry.  Finally, individuals filled out a naturalization application form (Einbürgerungsantrag).  Upon processing the application, the SS issued a declaration of naturalization (Einbürgerungsverfügung or Vfg. in abbrevation).  EWZ officials also inserted related correspondence into an applicant’s file.58

“The fifth stop,” according to Lumans, “was the most important.  Designated as the physical examination station, it in fact performed racial examinations.  The examiners had instructions to be discreet, since Himmler wanted the resettlers to think that these inspections were medical, not racial.”59   Indeed, this physical probing and measuring almost always represented nothing more than phrenology or the pseudo-scientific practice of skull measurements and related racial profiling.  Lumans uncovers one documented case where the SS examiner grew annoyed with a group of refugees (it is unclear whether they came from Ukraine) who had found the whole procedure so comical that they had broken out laughing.  According to the report, the examiner scolded them:  “Don’t laugh.  If you knew how important this examination was for you, you would trouble yourself to be serious.”60

In many respects, the arrival of Ukrainian Germans into Warthegau revealed the stark racial dichotomy of the Nazi New Order.  The city of Lodz by mid-1944 contained the last major Jewish Ghetto in all of Europe; only the Warsaw Ghetto had been larger before the Nazis liquidated it just a year earlier.  As the EWZ processed the final waves of the Ukrainian German flood, a last SS “special action” deported nearly all of the remaining 74,000 Jews to Auschwitz’s gas chambers.  More than 200,000 Jews had lived in the Lodz Ghetto as of 1942.61

At station six, a family’s political status faced scrutiny from the SS security police services (Sipo-SD).  In particular, this matter concerned the documentation of previous political activities, and reliable witnesses from the old home country often attended here to verify the family’s political past.  Interestingly, most of the refugee cases from the eastern territories, including the Soviet Union, passed these political examinations, unlike the majority of Volksdeutsche from the west.62  Perhaps the SS factored in the more repressive and extreme features of political life under Stalinism.  Indeed, the EWZ records give us a better sense of the extent of persecution during the Stalinist era.  Many Soviet Germans—especially during the worst periods of state persecution in 1930, 1937 and 1938—fell victim to Stalin’s collectivization drives and mass political purges.  On the forms, the SS often simply listed the refugees’ missing family members from this period as “deported” or “evacuated” (verschleppt).63

Station seven decided a refugee’s occupation and final placement.  In consideration of racial and political factors, this stage determined whether a family was assigned to work in agriculture, industry, or other trades.  Most of these refugees were rural folk, however.  Before the war turned against the Reich, Himmler had envisioned racially and politically acceptable Volksdeutsche buttressing the eastern expanses as “peasant-soldiers,” while the inferior or more ethnically susceptible ones would be relocated to the “Old Reich” (Altreich) as farm laborers who would in time become “Germanized.”  Lumans notes that “unless someone possessed a particularly crucial skill, racial and political considerations took precedence in determining a family’s final placement.”64

The eighth and final station consisted of a review panel that evaluated all the examination results in order to establish a family’s classification, upon which it provided refugees with identification cards and documentation.  Lumans’ careful examination of Lodz indicates two fundamental categories prevailing among the refugees:  “O-cases (Ost), those selected as colonists in the east, and the A-cases (Altreich), those designated to remain in the Reich.  The primary consideration for both was racial quality.”65

Four racial classifications determined the O- and A-cases.  Racial categories I and II included those families who were “above average” and “average” respectively.  Meanwhile, racial category III consisted of those deemed “below average,” while group IV pinpointed those who were “unacceptable.”  Categories I and II, including some cases in group III, were intended to remain in the occupied east, since they were considered racially stronger (i.e., the O-cases), while the lower classifications were designated for the Reich to undergo “Germanization” (i.e., the A-cases).  Those cases from groups III and IV where the families were considered to be “non-German,” however, received the “S” designation, which meant either returning to the country of origin or settlement in the General Government of Poland with other “undesirables.”  In this hierarchical, unequal racial system, the identification card colors gave the sole indication of the category to which a family now belonged.66 In short, a family’s future status rested much upon the findings of a relatively brief classification procedure at Lodz.

According to Marianne Wheeler’s findings, the EWZ by the beginning of 1944 had registered about 771,000 ethnic Germans from all parts of Europe, with most coming from the USSR.  Out of that total number, the SS resettled roughly 403,000 into eastern occupied areas like Warthegau (O-cases), more than 70,000 received jobs in Germany proper (A-cases), and about 18,000 were not permitted to resettle at all (S-cases).  Finally, another 279,000 at this time were either still undergoing the screening process or were awaiting final placement.67

Deceptive as it might seem, Nazi ideology gave rise to these EWZ genealogical records, as they comprised one part of a vast and deliberate racial record-keeping system to separate the so-called “master race” or “Aryans” from supposed “mixed” and “inferior” races.  To understand this racial dichotomy, which meant life or death in the New Order, we need only compare the fate of the Lodz Jews in mid-1944 with that of the EWZ refugees.  Without denying the enormous educational or factual value of these archival records, we should nonetheless pause to remember their historical context and original political purpose.  Indeed, behind all the documents, names, dates, and statistics are human stories.68

By July 1944, the last of the Ukrainian Germans had stepped off the trains in Lodz.  During the final year of the war, the refugees were now integrated into the ever-shrinking Third Reich.  Upon completion of processing in Lodz, the SS sent them to observation camps until a suitable permanent destination was secured.  The SS referred to the process of transferring screened German refugees to new locations in Warthegau as Durchschleusung (“dispersal”).  Nazi authorities in Warthegau also issued each refugee a preliminary identification card called a Bescheinigung.  It is indeed quite remarkable that the SS bureaucratic machinery continued to implement the naturalization guidelines almost until the end of the war, even when it was becoming increasingly evident to authorities and refugees alike that such formalities were ultimately futile.69

As wartime conditions only worsened, some groups of ethnic Germans resettled in “Greater” Germany felt compelled to post official complaints to SS-leader Himmler about the sometimes harsh working conditions and inadequate living accommodations.  For example, on May 1, 1944, a complaint signed by 35 resettled German refugees from Ukraine was submitted to him.  Their background was probably in agriculture and other related skilled trades, and they were working by this time as cheap labor for a German-run factory called Firm Robot (Machine Factory).  In this letter, they describe daily life for the 230 ethnic Germans working there.  Highlights of their urgent appeal, which later appeared as Allied evidence against the SS during the Nuremberg Military Tribunals, follow:

Dear Herr Himmler,

We, the German resettlers from Ukraine, who have been put to work with the Firm Robot, are in difficulties and request assistance and help.

We are quartered in three barracks and in a large room in the factory building.  In each room in the barracks, there are 24 persons and 70 in the large room (in the factory building).  The barracks have more the appearance of warehouses than homes for human beings.  There are no ceilings and the walls and roofs are full of holes.

They were previously inhabited by Eastern workers and many children died there. The rooms are overcrowded and, therefore, the workers from both shifts have no facilities to rest and to collect their strength for work.  Not even the most elementary sanitary facilities exist in the camp (no hot water, no washrooms, no toilets).  Almost all our children are already sick.

...All our people are used as unskilled laborers in spite of the fact that there are people among us who have professions, many years of practice, and experience.  They would be of much better use to the Reich if they were working in their profession.

...We are being fed in the plant kitchen but we receive staple food for the whole week according to ration cards.  In spite of our requests, the firm has not given us our Reich ration cards and has only promised to give us these cards in June in spite of the fact that the firm already received them for us in April.

...It is still worse as far as the children’s food is concerned....  For supper, the children as well as the adults usually receive the remains of the noon meal diluted with water.

They conclude:

We are all refugees from combat areas who have lost everything; our children have no shoes and are ill-clad; we ask for an opportunity to live the lives of human beings; we turn to you in our distress because the firm promised us so much and kept so little; we ask you to visit us after 1800 hours [6 p.m.] because we are working in the plant from 0600 to 1800 hours [6 a.m. to 6 p.m.].

Heil, Hitler.70

The Firm Robot episode poses deeper questions about the overall impact of resettlement on large segments of the refugee population, who had traditionally practiced agricultural and related professions.  In many respects, the events of 1943-1944 helped destroy not only the Ukrainian Germans’ old villages and homelands, but ultimately many of the remaining vestiges of the peasantry’s traditional way of life.  The psychological and emotional impact of both Nazi and Soviet policies on ethnic German peasants and workers during this period of massive social dislocation deserves further exploration, as do the effects of the Nazis’ forced removal of local Poles from their communities and homes.  Even before their arrival in Poland, Hornbacher contemplates this issue in his trek diary entry for June 4, 1944, recognizing the increasing stress factors—fear, helplessness, confusion, doubt, and discontent—that weighed on many refugees, especially the women:

The head down, they trudge ahead, not turning back—farther along day by day.  The facial expressions betray that these shadowy figures, their previous life rolling past their eyes like a film, are dreaming of the future.  The people themselves have changed.  They have become quite something else.  They drag silently along.  They are very quickly irritated and quite nervous.  An unmistakable spiritual and moral pressure burdens the people.  That is also the reason for the nervousness and irritability and probably the source for the ever-increasing quarreling and fighting among the people.  Today, two women again have been getting on each other’s nerves.  On these occasions, people lose their heads.71

In his entry for June 14, 1944, he writes further on the subject:  “Over the course of time, the men increasingly lost spiritual and moral balance.  And always the results are frequently growing friction and conflict.  Today, two men who got into a scuffle were the exception.  They are mostly women.”72

We can only speculate on the refugees’ flood of thoughts and feelings at this time.  Perhaps in part they were seeking survival and redemption in the “ancient homeland” (Urheimat) of Germany, but they were also running away from the painful hardships and memories experienced under Lenin and Stalin.  Perhaps they now knew that they were not only heading into an uncertain future, but that their departure from their native lands was the final, bitter acknowledgment that their missing loved ones swept away into the night by Stalin and his henchmen only a few years earlier were indeed gone forever; the last shreds of hope for joyous family reunions were now discarded for good.  Also lurking in the back of their troubled minds was perhaps the fundamental desire to flee from Nazism’s unwashed crime scenes that stained the entire region.

Based on available testimony, some groups of resettled ethnic Germans in Warthegau received kinder treatment, better shelter, and more food than others, depending on local circumstances.  Of course, this was wartime, and it was a widespread refugee crisis.  Sympathetic Nazi officials on the ground like Georg Leibbrandt and Karl Stumpp—post-World War I German émigrés from Ukraine—went out of their way to assist the refugees, as far as it was humanly possible.73  In the final stages of the war, Stumpp had even grown depressed, disillusioned and isolated, seeing his ethnic compatriots increasingly as pawns of the vast Nazi administrative apparatus.74  In one case, a group of settlers from the Ukrainian German village of Mariental was assigned to live in a mortuary chapel (morgue) in a Catholic cemetery in Warthegau.  For two months, they lived among the graves until a better location was found.75

During the trek and in Warthegau, refugees sometimes received mail from their sons already serving in the Third Reich’s various military branches.76  Some families also had the misfortune to get military death notices.77  To add to the heartache, beginning in September 1944 Nazi authorities conscripted the last remaining able-bodied men among ethnic Germans between the ages of 16 and 60 into the Wehrmacht (combined German armed forces) or Waffen-SS (the military wing of the SS).  Most of the younger men went into the SS legions, however, revealing just how powerful Himmler had become.  Many of these soldiers never returned home to their families.78

The Ethnic German Diaspora:  1945 and Beyond
In January 1945, the Soviets unleashed their last great military offensive.  They advanced into Warthegau and pierced the original boundaries of the crumbling Third Reich.  Mass panic set in among resettled ethnic Germans and native German residents alike, who now comprehended just how dire their predicament had become.  A tidal wave of humanity raced westward, as now millions feared capture and even death at the hands of the understandably vengeful Soviets.  Even before the war’s conclusion, many German officials and civilians had already learned where the Allies planned to establish their respective occupation zones.  For the most part, Germans sought to move as far west as possible in order to come under American and British control.79

What was the trek’s legacy, and what was the fate of nearly 350,000 refugees?  Brown concludes correctly that “[t]he German army came to bring order and Germanic civilization to the barbaric East, but it left behind an emptied and ravished terrain.  In just two years of occupation, German forces killed or transplanted nearly all of the Jewish and German communities of Ukraine.”80 This traumatic ordeal was not least of all a human struggle against primitive living conditions, uncompromising natural elements, and a hostile wartime environment.  An estimated 20,000-25,000 Ukrainian Germans died during the trek and SS resettlement process, or roughly 6-7% of the group total.81

By late 1945, shortly after the war, Communist authorities had captured or reclaimed most Soviet citizens of German nationality who fled during the conflict.  Even in the western occupation zones, Allied officials ended up returning about 25,000 or one-quarter of their 100,000 refugees to Soviet officials, in accordance with Allied agreements at Yalta and Potsdam (unofficially called “Operation Keelhaul”).82 According to the Mennonite Historical Atlas, “In all at least 23,000 of the 35,000 Mennonites [about two-thirds] who started on the Great Trek were sent back to the Soviet Union, mostly to the far north or Siberia.”83  In fact, these transfer policies not only applied to ethnic Germans from the USSR, but to all Soviet citizens of any nationality found in occupied Germany and the liberated countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including POW’s, slave laborers, and others.  Sometimes the Soviets sent out posses or made brief incursions into the western zones.  In other instances, they made false promises to Soviet citizens of German background that they would be returned to their native villages in Ukraine.  In the immediate postwar period, many Germans from the Soviet Union now living in the western occupation zones had to be careful not to disclose their identity for fear of seizure by the Soviets.84

Consequently, more than 200,000 of these valuable Soviet citizen-workers of German nationality, about two-thirds of the total, endured yet another deportation, this time packed into box cars from occupied Germany to Soviet Siberia’s and Central Asia’s remote labor camps called “special settlements.”  Of this total number captured and returned, almost 70,000 or about one-third were minors under age 17.  For both economic and ideological reasons, Soviet authorities were most possessive of their valuable German labor pool, and the western Allies often had no choice but to oblige them.  Upon their departure eastward, the ethnic German men were segregated from the women and children, but they all now joined the Volga Germans and other groups in official banishment until the mid-1950s—and beyond.85

Most scholars give a conservative estimate of 10-25% for the death rate of all ethnic Germans exiled by the Soviets during the immediate postwar period, a quite substantial number, but some figures go even higher.  Exact calculations remain elusive, however.  A good share of these deportation survivors now found themselves separated from relatives still living in the west.  Moreover, they continued to carry the “fascist” stigma inside the USSR long after their exile concluded.  On the whole, these deportations constituted the ethnic group’s defining formative experience in the USSR.86

When Cold War relations temporarily improved during détente, several thousand Ukrainian German exiles, only a trickle, received Soviet permission to emigrate to West Germany in the 1970s based on a policy of family reunification.  Many tens of thousands more had to wait until the early 1990s with the end of the Cold War before they could rejoin family members in a new, united Germany.87

More than 70,000 Ukrainian German refugees, or about 20% of the total SS transfer, were permitted to remain in postwar West Germany.  Amid the devastation across much of Europe, they received much-needed assistance through the International Red Cross and various international religious charities and organizations (i.e., Mennonite, Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, Adventist, and Methodist).  They also hoped to locate, if possible, family members and friends lost or missing as a result of the wartime chaos.

Many refugees of various nationalities who ended up in the western occupation zones of Germany applied to become Displaced Persons (DP’s), a new legal category established by the late 1940s for Europeans dislocated by the war.  For instance, President Harry Truman (1945-1953) signed the United States’ first refugee law, the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, allowing the legal entry of people dislocated by World War II into the country.  As the Cold War began, he expanded the policy in 1950 to include those who came from Communist-dominated countries and feared persecution if they should ever return.  In addition, DP’s had to receive sponsorship from individuals, businesses, or organizations abroad capable of providing them with gainful employment, as government welfare was not permitted.
The three primary groups of DP’s into the United States consisted of Jews (Holocaust survivors), East European nationalities (especially Poles), and ethnic Germans from different parts of Eastern Europe.  Between 1948 and 1951, one-third of those admitted into the country were Poles, with ethnic Germans in second place.  Around this time, other Western countries adopted similar refugee policies.88

In particular, many Ukrainian Germans refugees who qualified as DP’s sought new economic opportunities and political liberties outside of war-ravaged Europe.  Some of them also expressed a perpetual fear of Communism as a result of their hard years spent in the USSR; they desired to move as far away as possible from Europe.89  After 1948, DP’s of Ukrainian German background often received support and sponsorship from church groups, charities, and even family members and friends who had migrated abroad decades earlier.90  With promises by sponsors that gainful employment was available to DP’s, about 30,000 or roughly 40% of all Ukrainian Germans living in postwar West Germany primarily left for the United States, Canada, South America, and even Australia.  Most of them arrived in their adopted homelands by the mid-1950s and were determined to establish new lives.91

From Ukrainian Borderlands to North Dakota Prairies:  The DP Case of Emma (Schmalz) Rieger
Emma (Schmalz) Rieger’s (1918-2008) dramatic personal chronicle was in many respects a microcosm of the social and political vicissitudes then taking place in Ukraine.  The oldest of seven children, she was born in the German village of Kandel in the Kutschurgan Enclave along the Dniester River, entering a world already shaken by profound political change and deep social turmoil.  She survived the Russian Civil War (1918-1920) and the Stalinist mass famines and purges of the 1930s.  Village witnesses and recently opened Soviet archival records report that Communist authorities at the height of Stalin’s Terror in 1937 sentenced to death her widowed mother, Barbara (1899-1937).  The Soviet government performed the execution in retaliation for Barbara’s taking personal care of Roman Catholic Bishop Antonius Zerr (1849-1932) in his final days and for her engaging in clandestine religious activities.92

Following Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Emma and her village witnessed the Romanian occupation of Transnistria under Nazi supervision, beginning in early August 1941.  The SS soon established its area headquarters in the nearby village of Selz to the north, and ample evidence shows that its death squads (Einsatzgruppen) and local auxiliaries executed Jews, Communists, and other political “unreliables” (including some ethnic Germans) in the area.  In 1943, during the Nazis’ last great military conscription drive in the war93, Emma’s husband and two younger brothers, like many young men in Kandel and surrounding German villages between the ages of 18 and 35, were conscripted into the Waffen-SS.94

As the war turned against Hitler, the SS ordered the evacuation of Emma’s village on March 19, 1944.  More than 3,500 Kandelers had to make the long march of many hundreds of miles on foot and by wagon through most of Romania.  When boarding the train at the city of Dej in Romania, they had to deliver their horses and wagons to the German army.  From there, their train passed through Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and on May 22, 1944, after a two-month exodus, they arrived at the EWZ in Lodz, Poland.  After processing the refugees, the SS resettled the Kandelers onto confiscated Polish farms in Warthegau, near the city of Jarotschin, on May 28, 1944.95

By the end of 1944 or at the very beginning of 1945, before the last great Soviet military drive, Emma and her two children at the time were able to leave Warthegau for Bavaria in Germany.  Details for this part of the story, however, become murky, but apparently she and her children stayed with either her sister or sister-in-law, who was already living there.  Between November 1944 and January 1945, Nazi officials also decided to transfer about half (around 1,500-1,750) of her fellow Kandel villagers across the Oder River into the “Old Reich” (Altreich), placing many of them in villages in Saxony and on farms in Thuringia.  As for the remaining half of Kandel refugees left behind in Warthegau, by April and May 1945 the Soviets had seized and deported them to Siberia.96  Emma and her children in the American occupation zone therefore escaped the Red Army’s rapid advance and capture.  In addition, her husband and one of her sisters managed to stay out of the reach of Soviet authorities.

In what became West Germany, Emma soon sought a way out of war-ravaged Europe.  She pursued Schmaltz family contacts abroad, because she was already aware of relatives on her father’s side who had left Russia many years earlier.  She contacted a North Dakota relative who knew of John Schmaltz, Sr. (1879-1951).  In 1898, Mr. Schmaltz had emigrated from their native Kandel, becoming a successful businessman in Strasburg, North Dakota.  By the late 1940s, he had retired to nearby Linton.  She proceeded to write three letters to him, and he responded in kind around 1948 or 1949.  Though their exact family relationship remains unclear, he agreed to sponsor Emma, her husband, and their three children at the time to come to the United States as DP’s.  John died, however, just a few months before the Riegers’ arrival in March 1952.

 Emma and her family stayed for a month with John’s widow, Clara (Bullinger) Schmaltz (1884-1953).  After pursuing other Schmaltz family contacts outside of Linton, the Riegers moved in April 1952 to Minot, North Dakota, where her husband worked for 28 years at the Westlie Motor Company.  The Minot Steam Laundry employed her for several years as a laundress until her retirement in 1964.

Decades later, Emma mused in an oral history project interview with North Dakota State University in Fargo that she had produced four children in four countries, reflecting the many profound transitions in her life:  The first, Barbara, was born in Ukraine (the Soviet Union); the second, Bernhardt, in Transnistria; the third, Frieda, in postwar Germany; and William in the United States.  All of the children could speak German well, save William who was American-born.97

“Flotsam of World History”
The Riegers, like so many other wartime refugees, began a new life in a new world.  One of Emma’s sisters decided to stay with her young family in West Germany, while her various friends and relatives from Kandel endured the exile in remote Soviet Siberia and Central Asia, scattered like leaves in the wind.98

German from Russia historian and refugee, Richard H. Walth, calls the former Soviet Union’s ethnic Germans the “flotsam of world history”—that is, they have lived as humanity tossed about on the ocean of space and time.99 It is but one chapter of a greater tragic story.  Millions of European peoples found themselves caught between the Nazis and Soviets during this time of tribulation and destruction.  It is only appropriate, therefore, to conclude with respected historian Michael Burleigh’s insightful remarks on this most troubled era:  “Our lives may be more boring than those who lived in apocalyptic times, but being bored is greatly preferable to being prematurely dead because of some ideological fantasy.”

On March 18, 1944, a German soldier snapped this photograph of the Nazi mass evacuation of 400 households with 1,900 ethnic Germans from the village of Glückstal in Ukraine.   Image provided to Dr. Eric J. Schmaltz, courtesy of Mr. Ken Flemmer.
Example of EWZ personal information page with attached photograph in summer 1944.
In 1948, President Harry Truman signed the Displaced Persons Act, making it possible for many thousands of postwar European refugees to establish new lives in the United States.

1.  Such designations as “Germans from Russia,” “Volga Germans,” “Ukrainian Germans,” “Black Sea Germans,” and “the Soviet Union’s ethnic Germans” are often interchangeable.  For the sake of clarity, this presentation tries to use as often as possible either “ethnic German” or “Ukrainian German” in reference to the mass transfer of 1943 and 1944.  This reflects sometimes the difficult challenge in accurately identifying what was in fact a multinational region that often experienced dramatic and sudden territorial and political realignments.

2.  For example, consult several recent major studies on this issue of a divided Europe during the mid-twentieth century:  Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain:  The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 (New York:  Anchor Books, 2012); Keith Lowe, Savage Continent:  Europe in the Aftermath of World War II (New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 2012); and Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands:  Europe between Hitler and Stalin (New York:  Basic Books, 2010).

3.  I. L. Shcherbakova, ed., Nakazannyi narod:  Repressii protiv rossiiskikh nemtsev v Sovetskom Souize v kontekste sovetskoi natsional’noi politiki (Moscow:  “Zveni’ia,” 1999).

4.  Valdis O. Lumans, Himmler’s Auxiliaries:  The Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle and the German National Minorities of Europe, 1933-1945 (Chapel Hill and London:  The University of North Carolina Press, 1993), pp. 158-175.

5.  Yehuda Bauer, A History of the Holocaust (Danbury, CT:  Franklin Watts, 1982).

6.  See the classic study by Edward L. Homze, Foreign Labor in Nazi Germany (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1967).

7.  Cuban-American émigré, lawyer, human rights activist and scholar Alfred M. DeZayas was one of the first to write extensively on the subject of ethnic cleansing in postwar Eastern Europe:  Nemesis at Potsdam:  The Anglo-Americans and the Expulsion of the Germans:  Background, Execution, Consequences, 2nd rev. ed. (London:  Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979); and A Terrible Revenge:  The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-1950, trans. John A. Koehler (New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 1994).  See also R. M. Douglas, Orderly and Humane:  The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War (New Haven and London:  Yale University Press, 2012); Steffen Prauser and Arfon Rees, eds., The Expulsion of the “German” Communities from Eastern Europe at the End of the Second World War, European University Institute (Florence, Italy), Department of History and Civilization, EUI Working Paper HEC No. 2004/1.

8.  Kate Brown, A Biography of No Place:  From Soviet Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Cambridge, MA, and London:  Harvard University Press, 2004), p. 224.

9.  The thirteen Soviet nationality groups deported between 1937 and 1951 to Siberia and Central Asia follow:  Koreans, Germans, Leningrad Finns, Karachays, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Crimean Tatars, Georgian Kurds, Hemshins, Ahiska (Meskhetian) Turks, and Greeks.  Many of the deportations occurred in 1944 during the latter part of World War II, around the same time that the SS removed the Ukrainian Germans to Poland.  See J. Otto Pohl, ed., “From the Guest Editor,” Journal of Genocide Research, vol. 4, no. 3 (Sept. 2002):  p. 323, part of special issue:  “Stalin’s Policy of Mass Deportation as Genocide”; Pohl, Ethnic Cleansing in the USSR, 1937-1949, Contributions to the Study of World History, No. 65 (Westport, CT, and London:  Greenwood Press, 1999); Pohl, The Stalinist Penal System:  A Statistical History of Soviet Repression and Terror, 1930-1953 (Jefferson, NC, and London:  McFarland and Co., Inc., Publishers, 1997); Pohl, “Stalin’s Genocide against the ‘Repressed Peoples,’” Journal of Genocide Research, vol. 2, no. 2 (June 2000):  pp. 267-293; and Samuel D. Sinner, The Open Wound:  The Genocide of German Ethnic Minorities in Russia and the Soviet Union, 1915-1949 and Beyond/Der Genozid an Russlanddeutschen 1915-1949, prefaces by Eric J. Schmaltz and Gerd Stricker (Fargo, ND:  Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, 2000).  As of the early 1950s, the Soviet Union’s Germans represented the largest group deported to the east, nearly 40% or about 1.2 million out of the 2.75 million “special settlers.”  See Nicolas Werth in Stéphane Courtois, ed., et al., The Black Book of Communism:  Crimes, Terror, Repression, trans. Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer (Cambridge, MA, and London:  Harvard University Press, 1999 [1997]), p. 255.100

10.  Martin Shaw, What Is Genocide? (Cambridge, UK:  Polity Press, 2007), p. 57.  Cf. Prauser and Rees, eds.

11.  Brown, p. 2.

12.  Ibid., p. 2.  Cf. Karel C. Berkhoff, Harvest of Despair:  Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule (Cambridge, MA, and London:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004), pp. 300-313.

13.  The diminishing numbers of older Ukrainian Germans in particular still harbor much emotional and psychological baggage as a result of their vulnerable position between the Black Swastika and Red Star.  It is understandable.  By choice or not, ethnic members had been complicit with one or the other regime, sometimes even with both at various times.  The group’s efforts to remove the political and moral taint of both regimes have been difficult, even after several decades.  Indeed, ethnic Germans of the former USSR are still conducting what could be termed a double Vergangenheitsbewältigung (reconsideration or mastery of the past).

14.  Idgar Biereigel, et al., Lindenblätter:  Die Deutschen in Russland:  Teil III:  Der Einfluss der Sowjetherrschaft und des Deutschen Reiches auf die Russlanddeutschen (1917-1945) (Berlin:  Bildungsverein für Volkskunde in Deutschland DIE LINDE, e.V., 1999), pp. 102-124, 132-146; N. F. Bugai, ed., Iosif Stalin – Lavrentiiu Berii.  “Ikh nado deportirovat’,” Dokumenty, fakty, kommentarii (Moscow:  Druzhba narodov, 1992), docs. 43 and 44, pp. 74-75; O. L. Milova, ed., Deportatsii narodov SSSR (1930-1950-e gody).  Chast’ 2.  Deportatsiia nemtsev (Sentiabr’ 1941-Fevral’ 1942 gg.) (Moscow:  RAN, 1992), doc. 9, pp. 63-69, doc. 47, pp. 147-148.

15.  Wendy Lower, “Hitler’s ‘Garden of Eden’ in Ukraine:  Nazi Colonialism, Volksdeutsche, and the Holocaust, 1941-1944,” in Jonathan Petropoulos and John K. Roth, eds., Gray Zones:  Ambiguity and Compromise in the Holocaust and Its Aftermath (New York and Oxford:  Berghahn Books, 2005), pp. 185-204.

16.  Eric J. Schmaltz and Sinner, “The Nazi Ethnographic Research of Georg Leibbrandt and Karl Stumpp in Ukraine, and Its North American Legacy” in Michael Fahlbusch and Ingo Haar, eds., German Scholars and Ethnic Cleansing, 1920-1945, foreword by Georg G. Iggers (New York and Oxford:  Berghahn Books, 2005), pp. 51-85.

17.  Eric Conrad Steinhart, The Transnistria’s Ethnic Germans and the Holocaust, 1941-1942, M.A. Thesis in History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2006; Steinhart, Creating Killers:  The Nazification of the Black Sea Germans and the Holocaust in Southern Ukraine, 1941-1944, Ph.D. Dissertation in History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2010.  Cf. Brown, pp. 192-225; “Clothed with the Dead:  Directives from Himmler to Pohl and Lorenz, 24 October 1942, Concerning the Delivery to Ethnic Germans of Consignments of Clothing from Lublin and Auschwitz Warehouses,” comp. and ed. Eric J. Schmaltz, Heritage Review, vol. 42, no. 4 (Dec. 2012):  pp. 12-13; Stephanie Hoffman, The Experiences of Soviet Germans of German Ethnicity during and after the Second World War (Lincoln, NE:  American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 2003).

18.  Berkhoff, pp. 210-211.

19.  Paul Adair, Hitler’s Greatest Defeat:  The Collapse of Army Group Center, June 1944 (London:  Rigel, 2004 [1994]); Samuel W. Mitcham, Crumbling Empire:  The German Defeat in the East, 1944 (Westport, CT:  Praeger, 2001).  The Soviet military drive into Romania, however, suffered various setbacks in April and May 1944, buying the Ukrainian German refugees a little additional time.  Cf. David M. Glantz, Red Storm over the Balkans:  The Failed Soviet Invasion of Romania, Spring 1944 (Lawrence:  University of Kansas Press, 2006).

20.  Heinz Höhne, The Order of the Death’s Head:  The Story of Hitler’s SS, trans. Richard Barry (London:  Penguin Books, 1969).  Cf. Lumans.

21.  Robert L. Koehl, RKFDV:  German Resettlement and Population Policy, 1939-1945:  A History of the Reich Commission for the Strengthening of Germandom (Cambridge, MA:  Cambridge University Press, 1957).

22.  Lumans, pp. 9-30.

23.  Ibid., p. 244.

24.  Schmaltz and Sinner, pp. 66-73.

25.  See translation of Document No. 5328, Prosecution Exhibit 830, of the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, vol. IV, at the Mazal Library, an online Holocaust resource:  <> (pp. 820-821) (accessed September 27, 2005).

26.  The SS-RMO jurisdictional disputes over the Ukrainian Germans are cited in Alexander Dallin’s seminal work:  German Rule in Russia, 1941-1945:  A Study of Occupation Policies (New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 1957), pp. 292-293.  The Nazis’ overall disappointment in the material and psychological condition of German settlements in the Soviet Union is also treated in:  Brown, pp. 192-225; Meir Buchsweiler, Volksdeutsche in der Ukraine am Vorabend und Beginn des Zweiten Weltkriegs - ein Fall doppelter Loyalität? (Gerlingen:  Bleicher Verlag, 1984); Lower, Nazi-Empire Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 2005); Schmaltz and Sinner, pp. 51-85.

27.  Dallin, pp. 292-293.

28.  Deutsche aus Odessa und dem Schwarzmeergebiet, ed. Berufsbildungszentrum Augsburg der Lehmbaugruppe (Augsburg:  Druckerei Kessler, Bobingen, 1996).

29.  Smaller evacuations of ethnic Germans from other parts of the Soviet Union already took place between January 1942 and August 1943:  about 3,800 from the Leningrad area (January-March 1942); approximately 10,500 from White Russia (January-July 1943); and around 11,500 from the North Caucasus (February 1943).  See Hans Werner, Imagined Homes:  Soviet German Immigrants in Two Cities (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada:  University of Manitoba Press, 2007), p. 29.

30.  William Schroeder and Helmut T. Huebert, Mennonite Historical Atlas, rev. 2nd ed. (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada:  Springfield Publishers, 1996), pp. 68, 139-140.  Cf. Horst Gerlach, “Mennonites, the Molotschna, and the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle in the Second World War,” trans. John D. Thiesen, Mennonite Life, vol. 41, no. 3 (Sept. 1986):  pp. 4-9.

31.  Biereigel, et al., pp. 158-159.  Cf. Lumans, pp. 184-198, 243-262.  A small number of wagon trains left eastern Ukraine in late 1943, but some of them were held up during the winter months and did not arrive in Lodz until as late as May 1944.  Also, some records document that a few ethnic Germans in Ukraine refused to leave with the Nazis, and these individuals were subsequently taken into custody and deported to Siberia and Central Asia once the Soviet authorities and the NKVD reasserted their control over the region.

32.  Much of the “Long Trek” literature—i.e., mostly memoirs, diaries and biographies—appeared nearly two generations after the events in question, beginning in the 1970s.  In part, it emerged after the successful integration of Ukrainian Germans into West German society, and because of the raised public awareness stemming from the migration of a few thousand people of Ukrainian German background from the Soviet Union to West Germany during the détente period.  Also, some Displaced Persons (DP’s) of Ukrainian German heritage, after establishing themselves in North America, began to document their remarkable experiences.  More literature and scholarly attention arose following the Cold War, especially with the opening up of EWZ archival records.  On the whole, the quality and sometimes even the reliability of the corpus of émigré memoir and biographical literature vary, but the moving stories of survival by ordinary people, most notably women, in extraordinary circumstances remain most informative of the general plight of the refugees.  In addition, the authors’ or biographical subjects’ deep religiosity is often quite pronounced in their stories, understandably in view of the series of near “apocalyptic” or “exodus-like” political events experienced under both the Communists and Nazis.  This reaction stems from the fact that the ethnic Germans had long expressed strong traditional ties to their resilient Catholic and Protestant faiths.  See, for example:  Philomena (Keller) Baker and Kathryn Olmstead, Flight to Freedom:  World War II through the Eyes of a Child (Rockland, ME:  Maine Authors Publishers, 2013); Gertrud Braun, “Flucht aus Landau,” in 200 Jahre Ansiedlung der Deutschen im Schwarzmeergebiet (Stuttgart:  Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, 2004), pp. 20-21; Allyn Brosz, ed., et al., The Glückstalers in New Russia, the Soviet Union, and North America (Redondo Beach, CA:  Glückstal Colonies Research Association, 2008), pp. 470, 477, 489, 493, 509, 511-515, 545, 548, 554, 569, 665-667, 673-675; Nelly Däs, ed., Gone without a Trace:  German-Russian Women in Exile, trans. Nancy Bernhardt-Holland (Lincoln, NE:  American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 2001), pp. 33-38, 62-73, 90-94, 110-115, 126-140, 145-150, 154-159; Anna Fischer, Looking Back (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada:  Friesen Press, 2013); Alex Herzog and Mike Herzog, eds., “Step by Steppe:  Exodus from the Ukraine,” Heritage Review, vol. 38, no. 1 (Mar. 2008):  pp. 2-8; Marjorie Knittel, The Last Bridge:  Elvera (Ziebart) Reuer, Her Own True Story (Aberdeen, SD:  Quality Quick Print, 1984); Maria Kreiser, Though My Soul More Bent:  Memoir of a Soviet German, trans. and ed. James T. Gessele (Bismarck, ND:  Germans from Russia Heritage Society, 2003); Elizabeth Lenci-Downs, I Heard My People’s Cry:  One Family’s Escape from Russia:  The True Story of Lise Huebert Toews Gerig (St. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada:  Trafford Publishing, 2003); Mela (Meisner) Lindsay, ed., A Window into the Iron Curtain:  A Series of Interviews with Russian-German Displaced Persons (DP’s) Who Fled Russia during World War II, 1941 (U.S.:  Self-published, 1972); Johannes Lutz, “The Trek of the Hoffnungsfelder,” in Joseph S. Height, ed., Memories of the Black Sea Germans:  The Odyssey of a Pioneering People (USA-Canada:  Associated German-Russian Sponsors, 1979), pp. 151-158; Elly Matz, It Was Worth It All (Jasper, AK:  Engeltal Press, 1979); John Philipps,  The Germans by the Black Sea between the Bug and Dnjestr Rivers, 3rd rev. ed. (Fargo, ND:  Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, 2003), pp. 137-145; Philipps, The Tragedy of the Soviet Germans (A Story of Survival) (Bismarck, ND:  Richtman’s Press, 1991 [1983]), pp. 133-145; Florence Schloneger, Sara’s Trek (Newton, KS:  Faith and Life Press, 1981); Immanuel Weiss and George F. Wieland, Bessarabian Knight:  A Peasant Caught between the Red Star and the Swastika (Lincoln, NE:  American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1991).  One of the best professional-quality publications to date featuring the refugee experience of 1944 is an English- and German-language family history compilation:  Peter Goldade, The Jundt Family History with Memories of the Village of Selz and Russia/Die Geschichte der Familie Jundt mit Erinnerungen an das Dorf Selz und an Russland (Philadelphia, PA:  Xlibris, 2005).  See also an excellent early overview of the “Long Trek” and its legacy written by Height, who was well-acquainted with former Nazi occupation officials, notably Dr. Georg Leibbrandt (Alfred Rosenberg’s protégé) and Dr. Karl Stumpp (Leibbrandt’s subordinate during Ukraine’s wartime occupation):  Paradise on the Steppe:  The Odyssey of a Pioneering People (Bismarck, ND:  North Dakota Historical Society Germans from Russia, 1973), pp. 376-399.

33.  Regarding the Ukrainian Germans’ travails under Stalin, please consult translator and editor Ronald Vossler’s groundbreaking compilation:  “We’ll Meet Again in Heaven”:  Germans in the Soviet Union Write Their American Relatives, 1925-1937 (Fargo, ND:  Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, 2001).  See also Goldade, ed., Our Relatives, The Persecuted (Philadelphia, PA:  Xlibris, 2006).  Goldade’s study contains verified NKVD records of the murder of about 4,700 ethnic Germans from 1937 to 1938 in the Odessa District of Soviet Ukraine.

34.  Shaw, p. 60.

35.  A number of powerful visual images also record the events of the mass transfer of 1943-1944.  The German authorities—SS and civilian administration—as well as soldiers took most of the photographs concerning this episode.  The vast majority of ethnic German refugees was either too impoverished or in no position to record their own evacuation.  Cf. Brosz, ed., et al., The Glückstalers, p. 569.

36.  Trek survivor Elisabeth Herzog’s recollection in Herzog and Herzog, eds., “Step by Steppe,” p. 5.

37.  Philipps, The Germans under the Tsars, Lenin and Stalin, trans. Alex Herzog, ed. Stephen M. Herzog (Fargo, ND:  Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, 2006), pp. 74-75.

38.  Brief discussion of this overall gender imbalance during the trek is found in Werner, p. 28.

39.  For example, refer to Lenci-Downs, pp. 185-199.

40.  See, for instance, Kreiser, p. 51.

41.  For instance, refer to trek survivor Walter Hornbacher, “Auszug aus der Heimat:  Ein miterlebter Tatsachenbericht, verfasst und niedergeschrieben vom Autor über die Evakuierung der Volksdeutschen aus dem Schwarzmeergebiet der Ukraine nach Deutschland im Frühjahr 1944,” in Anton Bosch, ed., Russland-Deutsche Zeitgeschichte:  Unter Monarchie und Diktatur:  Band 4, Ausgabe 2004/2005 (Nuremberg:   Historischer Forschungsverein der Deutschen aus Russland, 2004-2005), pp. 434-436,
439-440, 443-444.  Actual conditions outside of the Soviet Union much impressed the Ukrainian German refugees, who had become used to life in Communist “paradise.”  Advancing Red Army soldiers in Eastern Europe later discovered for themselves just how much better life truly could be in the “corrupt” and “impoverished” West.  Cf. Catherine Merridale Picador, Ivan’s War:  Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945 (New York:  Metropolitan Books, 2006).

42.  For example, refer to Rafael Jundt at the North Dakota State University Libraries’ Germans from Russia Heritage Collection Website:  <> (accessed August 27, 2008).

43.  For example, see Lenci-Downs, p. 190.

44.  Lumans, p. 252.

45.  Hornbacher, “Auszug aus der Heimat,” pp. 438-439.  For the complete diary translation, consult:  Hornbacher, “Removal from the Homeland:  A Surviving Eyewitness Documentary Report on the Evacuation of Ethnic Germans from the Black Sea Region of Ukraine to Germany in Early 1944 (Part I),” trans. Eric J. Schmaltz, Heritage Review, vol. 38, no. 1 (Mar. 2008):  pp. 9-25, 38; and Hornbacher, “Removal from the Homeland (Part II),” trans. Schmaltz, Heritage Review, vol. 38, no. 2 (June 2008):  pp. 35-39.

46.  Hornbacher, “Auszug aus der Heimat,” pp. 438-439, 443-444.

47.  The Selz poem is found at the North Dakota State University Libraries’ Germans from Russia Heritage Collection Website:  <> (accessed August 27, 2008).

48.  Bosch and Josef Lingor, Entstehung, Entwicklung, und Auflösung der deutschen Kolonien am Schwarzen Meer:  am Beispiel von Kandel von 1808 bis 1944 (Stuttgart:  Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, 1990), pp. 185-186.  For their village history of Kandel, both refugee survivors wrote a detailed and extensive history of the trek.  Similar emotional incidents among refugees about turning over their draft horses to German officials are related in:  Hornbacher, “Auszug aus der Heimat,” p. 455; Brosz, ed., et al., The Glückstalers, pp. 548, 667.

49.  The city of Gotenhafen served as the EWZ’s first administrative center starting on October 12, 1939, but it was moved in November of that year to Posen.  Nearby offices also appeared in Stettin and Lodz in December 1939.  By late 1940, Cracow and Lublin held EWZ offices as well.  In mid-January 1940, Lodz became EWZ headquarters, run by various SS and RKFDV offices. The first commander was SS-Lt. Col. Sandberger, followed by SS-Col. Lambert von Malsen-Ponikau.  See Bosch and Lingor, p. 191.

50.  Kreiser, p. 54.

51.  Brosz, “Using the Records of the Berlin Document Center for Genealogical Research,” AHSGR Clues (1996 Edition—Part 2):  pp. 28-32; “Einwandererzentralstelle (EWZ)” available on the Website of the Center for Volga German Studies at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, at:  <> (accessed August 27, 2008); Marianne Wheeler, “Unite Your Family with the Berlin Document Center Records,” Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, vol. 20, no. 3 (Fall 1997):  pp. 7-8.

52. Dave Obee, “Einwandererzentralstelle (EWZ) Microfilms” available online at: <> (accessed August 27, 2008).

53.  Ibid.

54.  Bosch and Lingor, pp. 186-196.  Cf. Lumans, pp. 182-198.

55.  Obee.

56.  Ibid.

57.  Lumans, p. 190.  Ethnic German refugees never received the promised property compensation from the Nazi regime because of worsening wartime conditions and Germany’s ultimate defeat in the war.  That matter was left for the future West German government after the early 1950s.

58.  Regarding the EWZ’s functions within the SS empire, consult precise findings and samples in Brosz, “Using the Records,” pp. 28-32.  Cf. Wheeler, pp. 7-8.  Also, refer to one refugee’s recollections of her experience with the EWZ in Lodz in Kreiser, pp. 54-56.

59.  Lumans, p. 190.

60.  Ibid.

61.  Bauer, pp. 157-160; Isaiah Trunk, Lodz Ghetto:  A History, trans. Robert Moses Shapiro (Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 2006).  Also, refer to the Jewish Virtual Library’s online article on the Lodz Ghetto: <> (accessed August 27, 2008).

62.  Lumans, pp. 190-191.

63.  Einwanderungszentralstelle (EWZ) Anträge (Immigration Center Applications),” at the Website: 
<> (accessed August 27, 2008).  Also see published examples of EWZ forms in Grossliebental District Odessa Newsletter, vol. 4, no. 1 (Nov. 2004):  pp. 1-8.
64.  Lumans, p. 191.

65.  Ibid.

66.  Ibid.  Cf. Christian Böttger, et al., Lexikon der Russlanddeutschen:  Teil I:  Zur Geschichte und Kultur, eds. Hans-Joachim Kathe and Winfried Morgenstern (Berlin:  Bildungsverein für Volkskunde in Deutschland DIE LINDE, e.V., 2000), pp. 88-89; Koehl, p. 88.
67.  Wheeler, pp. 7-8.  Dave Obee also estimates that during its almost six-year existence, the EWZ processed about one million ethnic Germans, most of them from the Soviet Union.

68.  Since the mid- to late 1990s, relatives of refugees in Germany, North America and elsewhere, along with the general public, have enjoyed legal access to the EWZ records, which were opened up after the Cold War.  For example, the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia in Lincoln, NE, and the Germans from Russia Heritage Society in Bismarck, ND, in recent years have acquired from its members donations of a significant number of microfilm records.  For example, see Brosz, “Using the Records,” pp. 28-32; Alfred Eisfeld, “Genealogy and Family History of the German Russians:  Archive Sources and Their Accessibility,” trans. Tracy Lauritzen-Wright, Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, vol. 23, no. 2 (Summer 2000), pp. 5-9; Wheeler, pp. 7-8; Elli Wise, “EWZ Questions and Answers,” Heritage Review, vol. 37, no. 4 (Dec. 2007):  pp. 46-48.

69.  Bosch and Lingor, pp. 187-188; Lumans, pp. 191-192.

70.  See translation of Document No. 5057, Prosecution Exhibit 294, of the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, vol. IV, at the Mazal Library, an online Holocaust resource:  <> (pp. 822-824) (accessed September 27, 2005).

71.  Hornbacher, “Removal from the Homeland (Part I),” pp. 23-24.

72.  Hornbacher, “Removal from the Homeland (Part II),” p. 36.

73.  For example, according to Johannes Lutz of the village of Hoffnungsfeld, Leibbrandt even visited with ethnic refugees in Warthegau during the latter part of 1944.  See Lutz in Height, ed., Memories of the Black Sea Germans, p. 158.
74.  Ingeborg Fleischhauer, Das Dritte Reich und die Deutschen in der Sowjetunion (Stuttgart:  Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1983), pp. 100-101.  Cf. Brown, pp. 192ff.

75.  Magdalene (Volk) Zeiler, “The Sorrows of a Refugee Mother:  Reminiscences of My Life in the Soviet Union, Germany and Western Canada,” in Height, ed., Memories of the Black Sea Germans,pp. 177-178.

76.  Based on his interviews with several former Waffen-SS men of Ukrainian German background living now on the West Coast of the United States, scholar Ronald Vossler has concluded that a number of these soldiers might have fought in the 8th SS Cavalry Division “Florian Geyer.”  This unit saw heavy action in the Balkans and met its fate against the Soviets in Budapest, Hungary, in early 1945.  Many ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe served in this unit toward the end of the war.  Also, a small number of Ukrainian Germans might have also participated in the 22nd SS Volunteer Cavalry Division “Maria Theresa.”  From the author’s conversations with Vossler and Samuel D. Sinner in Fargo, ND, in mid-March 2002, and again with Vossler in Casper, WY, in early August 2008.

77.  Hornbacher, “Auszug aus der Heimat,” p. 454.

78.  Various sources have cited this age bracket for military conscripts.  Cf. Bosch and Lingor, pp. 194-196, 284.

79.  DeZayas, Anmerkungen zur Vertreibung:  der Deutschen aus dem Osten, 3rd rev. ed. (Stuttgart:  Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 1993), pp. 62ff.  German civilian fears were not completely unfounded, as many Red Army soldiers, after fighting a brutal ideological war for nearly three years in their home country, sought revenge by raping and murdering thousands of women and girls of their Nazi enemy.  The first documented case of Soviet atrocities against German civilians took place in Nemmersdorf, East Prussia, in mid-October 1944, when the Red Army first crossed the border.  After repulsing the Red Army for a brief time, Nazi authorities were able to survey the carnage.  A young Russian artillery officer (later famous novelist) Alexander Solzhenitsyn witnessed and subsequently wrote about similar or even worse episodes that occurred elsewhere in East Prussia in January 1945.  Instead of instilling the German population with the resolve to continue fighting the war, Nazi propaganda on the Nemmersdorf incident served only to inflame civilian fears even further.  For all that, the conflict dragged out until May 1945.  To be fair to the Soviet side, some controversy later arose about the extent of the Nemmersdorf atrocities, as well as differing eyewitness accounts.  It was true that other nearby German villages were also attacked in October 1944.  For some historians, this incident comes down to a disagreement over the matter of degree or severity—was it 10 or 100 civilians who were killed?  At any rate, some atrocities took place, that much is known, and the incident foreshadowed what was soon to come.   In some instances, it is also documented that Red Army soldiers even molested and raped female concentration camp survivors liberated toward the end of the war.  Cf. Picador.

80.  “At the same time,” Brown continues, “a smaller, fraternal war broke out between Polish and Ukrainian nationalist partisans.”  Brown, p. 10.

81.  Böttger, et al., pp. 129-130.

82.  Cf. Franz Usselmann, “Die Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland,” in Bernd G. Längin, ed., Die Deutschen in der UdSSR—einst und jetzt (Berlin and Stuttgart:  Verein für das Deutschtum im Ausland and Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, 1989), p. 104.

83.  Schroeder and Huebert, p. 140.

84.  Usselmann, p. 104.  For a quite detailed, but particularly critical, analysis of the Western Allied response to Soviet repatriation demands, see Height, Paradise on the Steppe, pp. 384-390.

85.  A significant number of exiled Germans in the Soviet east worked in the mines or the forestry service.  In 1945-1946, the Soviet government also deported many captured Ukrainian Germans deemed incapable of heavy labor in the far north and Siberia to the cotton kolkhozes of Tajikistan in Central Asia.  Conditions early on in Tajikistan were nonetheless quite difficult.  For the first time, Tajikistan claimed a significant ethnic German minority population, though almost all 40,000 migrated to Germany (also some to Russia) during the 1990s amid civil war in the region.  See Viktor Berdinskikh, Spetsposelentsy:  Politicheskaia ssylka narodov sovetskoi rossii (Moscow:  Novoe Literaturnoe Obozenie, 2005), doc. 8, pp. 339-343; Eisfeld and Viktor Herdt, eds., Deportation, Sondersiedlung, Arbeitsarmee:  Deutsche in der Sowjetunion 1941 bis 1956 (Cologne:  Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, 1996), doc. 312, p. 319, and doc. 341, p. 361; Bugai, ed., doc. 45, pp. 75-76.  Cf. Böttger, et al., pp. 129-130, 284-285.

86.  Däs, ed.; Irina Mukhina, “‘The Forgotten History’:  Ethnic German Women in Soviet Exile, 1941-1955,” Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 57, no. 5 (July 2005):  pp. 729-752; Mukhina, The Germans of the Soviet Union (London and New York:  Routledge, 2007).

87.  Informationen zur politischen Bildung Nr. 222:  Aussiedler (Bonn:   Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 1991):  pp. 15-22.

88.  Regarding DP’s, please consult the American Immigration Law Foundation (AILF) Website’s “A Short History of U.S. Immigration Policy”:  <> (accessed August 27, 2008).  Cf. Werner, pp. 53-76.

89.  At a conference presentation in Des Moines, IA, on July 30, 2006, the author talked with one family of Ukrainian German heritage.  The fear of Stalinism remained so palpable that one older relative, who as a survivor of the period came over as a DP, still refuses to set foot in post-Communist Russia, even to visit the country as a tourist.

90.  The more than thirty years of memoir and biographical literature have made quite evident the generous assistance provided to DP’s by church groups, international organizations, relatives, and others.

91.  Usselmann, p. 104.  See also an interesting comparative study of two migrations of ethnic Germans from the USSR during the Cold War era in Hans Werner, Imagined Homes:  Soviet German Immigrants in Two Cities (2007).  Werner, a child of ethnic German DP’s in Canada, shows how different expectations influenced each group’s integration process into urban centers—Winnipeg, Canada, in the late 1940s and early 1950s and Bielefeld, Germany, during the 1970s.  He concludes that the ethnic German immigrants to Canada adapted better and assimilated more quickly because they were prepared to receive a new language and culture.  Despite their German heritage, the ethnic immigrants to West Germany, however, found it more difficult to enter society because their imagined idea of what “home” would be like differed from the realities.  In addition, Canada’s established immigrant history and multi-ethnic character made the overall public reception of these new arrivals easier.  By contrast, the populace of West Germany, who traditionally did not consider their country to be one of immigration, often viewed ethnic Germans as different and distinct from themselves.  This general perception in Germany about not being an immigrant country still prevails, despite the massive influx of ethnic Germans, asylum-seekers, and guest-workers since the mid-twentieth century.

92.  Bosch and Michael Wanner, “Excerpt from Odessa Book of Mourning:  Stalin’s State Terror against the Germans in Odessa and Nikolajew Districts of Ukraine, 1928-1953 (Part I),” trans. Merv Weiss, Heritage Review, vol. 37, no. 3 (Sept. 2007):  p. 12; Goldade, ed., Our Relatives, The Persecuted, p. 488.  Additional information comes from the author’s written notes from a tape recording of Prof. Michael M. Miller’s German-language interview in 1993 with Mrs. Emma (Schmalz) Rieger in Minot, ND.  The cassette tape is available at the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at the North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo.  The Rieger family’s sponsor, Mr. John Schmaltz, Sr., of Linton, ND, is the author’s late great-grandfather.  Not until the mid- to late 1990s did the author begin to learn the full story surrounding Emma’s amazing journey to the United States.  Before his repatriation from occupied Germany to Soviet Siberia in 1945, village historian and author Anton Bosch as a child had known Emma and her family during their time in Kandel.  In 1974, he received permission to immigrate to Nuremberg, Germany.

93.  Nazi mass conscription of all eligible ethnic German males for active military service (i.e., into the traditional armed forces as well as the Waffen-SS) began in February 1943.  Most ethnic Germans, however, served in the SS military wing.  Perhaps it was no coincidence that shortly thereafter, on March 19, 1943, Germany started to grant German citizenship to naturalized ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) who were now expected to fight for their new homeland.  At the same time, male ethnic Muslims in Bosnia (then Yugoslavia) also began to serve in Waffen-SS units.  These actions occasioned the Third Reich’s last great military mobilization drive that could achieve relative parity with Allied (especially Soviet) levels of military manpower.

94.  Bosch and Lingor, p. 283.

95.  Consult Bosch and Lingor’s detailed trek maps (with routes and dates listed) in their Appendix.

96.  Rieger interview; Bosch and Lingor, p. 284.

97.  Rieger interview.

98.  Ibid.

99.  Richard H. Walth, Flotsam of World History:  The Germans from Russia between Stalin and Hitler, trans. Alex Herzog and Michael Herzog (Essen:  Klartext Verlag, 1996).  In the past decade, the transnational idea of Diaspora has gained considerable attention and credence in migration studies, not least of all for ethnic Germans.  The concept indicates an ongoing real or imagined tie with a “homeland” despite physical dislocation and personal loss.  It also connotes an individual’s sense of being in two places at once (i.e., transnational).  According to many scholars, the notion of an “imagined” or “mythic homeland” remains essential for migrants of all stripes across time and space, particularly for refugees who must survive and adapt in the face of great change, physical removal and personal trauma.  Regarding transnational identities for German migrants from the Soviet Union, especially after World War II, please consult Werner, “‘Germans Only in Their Hearts’:  Making and Breaking the Ethnic German Diaspora in the Twentieth Century,” in Alexander Freund, ed., Beyond the Nation?:  Immigrants’ Local Lives in Transnational Cultures (Toronto:  University of Toronto Press, 2012), pp. 211-226.

100.  Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich:  A New History (New York:  Hill and Wang, 2000), p. 812.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller