Germano-Phobia in the Russian Empire and in the Soviet Union

Krieger, Dr. Viktor. "Germano-Phobia in the Russian Empire and in the Soviet Union." Volk auf dem Weg, October 2006, 13-14.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English by
Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

NOTE: This is a continuation from the previous issue of Volk auf dem Weg


Between the Wars

The February revolution of 1917 paved the way for the restoration of civil rights to Russian citizens of German descent. In fact, the law of March 20, 1917 on the Equality of Nations and Confessions lifted all previous legal restrictions. The majority of German-Russians demonstrated respect for the civil government - in strong contrast with their relationship to the Bolsheviks
who would come into power soon thereafter. Due to their historically established economic-social and spiritual-religious development, the descendants of the original colonists were a predominantly agrarian, but also nearly entirely literate population, with a broad tier of prosperous farmers, and thus not likely to be won over to socialist utopian schemes.

Still, the founding of the Workers Commune (an autonomous region) in 1918, which in 1924 would be upgraded to the Autonomous Republic of Volga-Germans ([a German acronym:] ASSRd-WD), led to a palpable reduction of anti-German feelings of resentment in Soviet Russia, that is, in the Soviet Union. Given the high economic and cultural level of the German settlers, the new political powers were hoping that they might signal important impulses toward the reconstruction of the country. Close cooperation with Germany subsequent to the Rapallo Treaty of 1922 -- in the face of bloody wartime clashes that had finished only a few years back -- contributed to a positive image of the largest Western European nation.

However, beginning with the early 1930's, a distinct change occurred within the Soviet internal policy, namely, toward conservative, pre-Revolutionary values and standards. In addition to the comprehensive control exercised by the State over all economic, social and cultural areas, an increasing isolation from foreign states was taking place, which led to, among other things, the
concept of "enemy nations," implying that foreign states, via their diaspora nationalities, might yield harmful influence on the country. Primarily exposed to open and also subliminal accusations of potentially harmful and espionage activities were ethnic minorities such as Poles, Germans, Finns, Estonians, Latvians, Koreans, etc.; and these conveniently served toward justification of mass arrests and "prophylactic" deportations. As one can observe by means of Table 1, they would, in disproportionate fashion, fall victim to mass terror.

An NKVD report of 1937 shows that, during just the months of June through August, the secret police was said to have discovered, among the German population of the Odessa region alone, 49 Fascist diversionary and insurgent organizations amounting ca. 800 participants. Allegedly, these "agents of the Reichs-German espionage service" intended to recruit 60 to 70 percent of the adult Odessa area Germans into this anti-Soviet movement. In view of the actions carried out four years later, the suggestions of that time toward "remedies" for the deplorable state of affairs seemed rather moderate, namely, it was deemed necessary that 5,000 "counterrevolutionary" families might be resettled into the region.

Beginning with the grab for power by the National Socialists, and with [Russia's] growing rivalry with the Third Reich, the old cliches enjoyed renewed favor. Unmistakably a historic performance works such as the movie "Alexander Nevski" (1938) were critically acclaimed by serious Soviet historian like Michail Tichomirov even prior to production. The turning away from
international, class-conscious ideology -- in the face of official lip service toward it -- did actually evoke scattered individual protests. For example, the leading theater critic and convinced Bolshevik idealist, Vladimir Blyum (Blum), in a letter to Stalin dated January, 1939, wrote quite frankly about "the socialist patriotism, which here and there is beginning to take on features of
racial nationalism. The people of our generations have been raised within the struggle for internationalist ideas -- and we must not give rise to feelings of enmity toward individual peoples or races." However, such opinions no longer had any impact on the policies of the Kremlin leaders. Even long before the war, in a climate of hysterics toward class enmity, sabotage, "pests," and espionage, the descendants of the colonists, mainly on the basis of their linguistic-cultural relationship with the "capitalistic" and, later, with "Fascist" Germany, were increasingly deemed to be suspect. Numerous penal trials in the Volga-German Republic, in Ukraine, in Siberia, Leningrad and Moscow against the "agency of class enmity," "reactionary" Catholic and Evangelical clerics or "bourgeois nationalistic groups," against "members of Fascist, anti-Soviet organizations" or "Gestapo agents," not rarely associated with German or Austrian emigrants, provided in the 1930s an early taste of what Soviet citizens of German descent would have to get accustomed to in the case of a German-Soviet war.

Table 1. Persons, Listed by Nationality,
Who Were Arrested in the USSR between Jan. 1, 1936 and July 1, 1938

Nationality Number of Arrested, absolute Percent of Total Arrested (%) As Percent of Total Population of the USSR (%)
Russians 657,799 43.6 58.4
Ukrainians 189,799 13.3 16.5
Poles 105,485 7.4 0.4
Germans 75,331 5.3 0.8
White Russians 58,702 4.1 3.1
Jews 30,542 2.1 1.8
Latvians 21,392 1.5 0.1
Finns 10,392 0.7 0.1
Totals 1,420,711 100 100

War with Germany

After the attack by the Third Reich on the USSR, the Soviet leadership for a time believed to be able to count the enemy side by means of class-struggle propaganda. Initially, propaganda models stemming from the civil war were used, and great expectations were placed in hopes for solidarity of "simple workers and farmers" in Wehrmacht uniforms with Soviet soldiers. In their
speeches occasioned by the outbreak of the war, the then foreign minister, Molotov, and Stalin himself, tried to paint a differentiated image of the German population in the Reich and were evidently still being led by the hope for solidarity of the proletariat. This is evident from a radio address by Molotov on June 22, 1941: "This war has been forced upon us not by the German people, not by German workers, farmers and intellectuals, whose suffering we understand very well, but by the clique of bloodthirsty Fascist powers in Germany."

Within this still somewhat valid international propaganda scenario, the inhabitants of the Volga-German Republic in particular were to play a not unessential role. Innumerable anti-Fascist gatherings took place within the ASSRdWD during the first weeks of the war, and nearly the entire adult population took part in them. Enacted were appeals to Wehrmacht soldiers of various weaponry units, to workers, to farmers and other "working tiers" in the land of the aggressor. These appeals were sent immediately to the party leadership in Moscow, they were printed in Soviet newspapers and fliers and used in radio programs with propagandistic intent against Germany. In a speech directed "to the working people of Germany" on July 13, 1941, the chair of the Council of the People's Commissariat of the Volga Republic, Alexander Heckman, spoke as follows:

"The working class Volga-Germans, united in their Autonomous Soviet Republic, which constitutes a solid component of the Russian Federation, have our own government on the basis of a democratic constitution of the world. Take me, for example. A a weaver and son of a worker, I lived in constant poverty during the Tsarist regime. Under Soviet government I received an engineer's education and rose to statesman, the chairman of the Council of the People's Commissariat of the Republic. There are hundreds and thousands of this kind of
example. The life of Volga-Germans is free, happy, and prosperous. The life of the working people in Germany, under the rule of its Fascist clique, is full of suffering and deprivation. In the name of the peoples within the Republic of Volga-Germans, and on my own behalf, I turn to the people of Germany with this appeal: point your bayonets against those Fascist people eaters

Of course, this kind of stiff, schematic agitation, which often degenerated to insults such as "The Big Bandit Hitler," "Fascist murderous gang," "Hitler, the black, bloody dragon," "Hitler's blood-crazed gang," "Mein Kampf, bible of the people eaters," never achieved their intended goal among Wehrmacht soldiers or within the German Reich.

To be continued in the upcoming issue.

Fritz: a contemporary caricature by the Deutschen der Kuenstlergruppe "Kukryniksy" (1942) [Germans of the Artists Group "Krukryniksy"]. Rhymed text lines [in Russian] are by Samuil Marschak ]

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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