|From the Early Days of Stalin's Great Terror
RAGAS Report [Russian American Genealogical Archival
Soshnikov, Vladislav Y. "From the Early Days of Stalin's Great Terror." RAGAS Report, Winter 1999, 3-7.
Review by Vladislav Y. Soshnikov
"From the Early Days of Stalin's Great Terror: Repression
of Those Researching the Local History of the German Colonies",
by Galina Malinova, Candidate in History (PH.D.) The rout of the
so-called anti-Soviet German Organization of Teachers from the Odessa
Pedagogical Institute. (1934)
One of the chief areas of persecution by Stalin's regime in the
1930s was against those who participated in national underground
anti-Soviet organizations. Many villages in the Odessa region carry
German names and German colonists have played a significant role
in the history of the area. During the 1930s Stalin's secret police
carried out a series of repressions against ethnic Germans resulting
in a succession of court trials. Many people were forced to plead
guilty to various offenses and were sentenced to punishments varying
from imprisonment, usually in the early 1930s, to execution in the
late 1930s. The officials instigated many cases in which they accused
simple farmers, industrial workers, educators, teachers, students
and clergy of being "German spies and terrorists."
One such case (archival number 15879-P) in 1934 was brought against
many persons and included accusations against the teachers in the
German branch of the Odessa Pedagogical Institute. Some outstanding
scientists, including the world famous Leningrad academician, V.M.
Zhirmunsky, were among the accused.
At the beginning of 1934, the Odessa regional branch of the Soviet
Secret Police (GPU) brought charges against a German fascist anti-revolutionary
organization, which they declared "had planned the distribution
of rebel cells, the separation of the ethnic German population from
the Soviets, sabotage and subversive activities, and had prepared
an armed revolt against Soviet authority."
The GPU named the leaders of this organization: professors of the
teachers college, Robert Karlovich Mikwitz and Alfred Nicolayevich
Strem: and the manager of the department of the Central Scientific
Library and employee of the Archeological Museum, Herbert Danielovich
Steinwandt. Also among the accused were scientist Franz Franzevich
Mazur-Mazov; teachers of Odessa high schools Franz Petrovich Adler,
Wihelm Mikhailovich Fritz, Albert Johannovich Reich, Eduard Gottliebovich
Beitelspacher, Sebastian Josephovich Untemach, Otto Yakovlevich
Zwicker, Herman Johannovich Bachman, Edgar Ludwigovich Trompeter:
and factory employee Albert Emmanuilovich Fichtner. The criminal
investigation was conducted by GPU inspectors Brinner, Nilov, Sperling,
Shayev, Markevich and others. The final verdict was announced on
the 26th of February, 1934, by a GPU board of three. It appeared
to be a rather minimal verdict when compared with the times of the
"Great Terror." All members of the "criminal band"
were sentenced to 3 to 5 years imprisonment in labor camps.
However, the story did not end at that time. Later, many of the
accused received additional terms of imprisonment and died in exile.
New arrests continued in 1937-1938, and criminal proceedings were
instituted against 100 persons, 19 of whom were executed (included
was a 24 year old teacher, Edite Edmundovna Volmer-Konel). An overwhelming
number of the accused were ethnic Germans, but also in the group
was Alexander Ryabinin-Sklyarevsky, an employee of the regional
archive since the early 1920s. He was a former officer of the Russian
Imperial Army and was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment in
labor camps from which he did not return.
In 1941, Victor Maximovich Zhirmunsky, a famous Russian academician
was repeatedly arrested for similar "criminal cases" in
Leningrad. The first time the Leningrad branch of the GPU arrested
him, on February 25, 1933, it was as the leader of an "anti-revolutionary
fascist organization" which was said to exist among students
and artist in Leningrad. Zhirmunsky was kept under guard until March
22, 1933, and then released under orders to remain in Leningrad.
On the 20th of April, 1933, the criminal case against him was dropped.
The absurdity of the accusations was obvious. However, the story
was repeated in 1941. By the end of his life, Zhirmunsky held doctorates
at four universities, including Oxford University, and was a member
of four academies of science.
Many years later, almost all of the above-mentioned people were
established as innocent by order of the court, and some of their
executioners were condemned. The Odessa Regional Court on December
25, 1968, recognized that members of the "German band had been
falsely arrested. The formal verdict of the GPU trial was reversed
for lack of evidence.
The following is a closer look at the case. According to police
documents, the "creation of the organization" was attributed
to German subject Georg Leibbrandt, a native of the village of Torosovo
(Hoffnungsfeld), Zebrikovo district, Odessa region. Leibbrandt left
Odessa for Germany in 1918, where he received a degree in theology,
and at the same time studied philology and history. Leibbrandt visited
the USSR in 1926, 1928 and 1929. During his visits, he was variously
represented as a doctor of philosophy, a post-graduate student,
a professor of history from Leipzig University, and an employee
of the Institute for the Study of Germans Abroad (Deutsches Ausland
Institute) in Stuttgart. The official purposes of Leibbrandt's visits
were the study of the history of the development of German colonies
in the Black Sea coastal region and the gathering of historical
information. In 1928 he traveled to the German colonies in the Odessa
region, Crimea, and the Caucasus, and visited Rostov-on-Don, the
German colonies of the Donetsk, and German colonies in Azerbaijan.
Leibbrandt reported that the inhabitants of these colonies were
quite prosperous farmers, sometimes appearing to be rich, but that
they were dissatisfied with Soviet authority because they believed
Soviet politics deprived them of their civil rights.
It was Leibbrandt's opinion that these claims were unreasonable,
and he declared that German colonists in the USSR lived much better
than peasants in Germany. Leibbrandt did not make anti-Soviet statements
during his trips. As a result of Leibbrandt's work, a book concerning
the emigrant movement of the Germans was published in Germany. In
1929, Leibbrandt arrived in the Soviet Union once again as the representative
of the Deutsches Ausland Institute and as a member of the committee
working on an edition of an encyclopedia about Germans living outside
of Germany. According to the testimony of the defendants during
the trial, Leibbrandt had offered the opportunity to contribute
to the creation of the encyclopedia to several Odessa scientist,
in particular to Strem, Mikwitz, Steinwandt and Tauberg. Strem promised
to write articles concerning language dialects in the German colonies.
Stinwandt was to prepare a bibliography of works about Russian Germans.
Mikwitz refused to participate in the encyclopedia project and thought
that there would be no support in Germany for the idea of scientific
cooperation with the USSR. It is interesting to note that prior
to his arrest, Mikwitz pointed to "Leibbrandt's sympathies
toward the Soviets," while Leibbrandt reported unfavorably
that Mikwitz's works were done according to the notoriously dogmatic
Before his return to Germany, Leibbrandt appeared to be nervous,
suspecting that he was being shadowed by GPU agents. At the same
tine he said that he occupied a good position in the Berlin archives
and even bragged that he had taken original records and bibliographic
publications about the German colonists from the Odessa archives.
Among them Leibbrandt described manuscripts about savings institutions
in German colonies, Prokhanov's scholarly work about the Bessarabian
colonies, three church chronicles for the years after 1825, a 100-year
history of the German colonies of the Melitopol region, the archives
of the editorial board of the Odessa Zeitung newspaper for the years
1859-1914, and other materials.
In 1928, Leibbrandt made a visit to the Odessa Regional Archive
where he met the archivist Ryabinin-Sklyarevsky who showed him archival
documents. Leibbrandt had official permission for archival research
from the central archival administration in Moscow and was accompanied
by representatives of the Odessa government and diplomatic department.
Meetings with Leibbrandt was one of the charges against archivist
Ryabinin-Sklyarevsky upon his arrest in 1937. He was accused of
having been recruited by Leibbrandt to be an agent of the Deutsches
Ausland Institute. Ryabinin-Sklyarevsky denied the accusation but
was sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
During the rehabilitation process in 1960, court authorities conducted
a special investigation of Leibbrandt and requested many records
from archives in Moscow and Ukraine, including the super-confidential
Special Archive in Moscow which has "trophy" material
taken from Germany. Some witnesses were questioned. In an investigation
of documents of the German Foreign Ministry, the National-Socialistic
Labor Party (Nazi Party), and the Ministry of East Territories,
it was revealed that there was a certain Georg Leibbrandt, Ph.D.,
who was an employee of the Foreign Ministry in 1931, the chief of
a department of the Nazi Party in 1934-1935, chief of the "East"
department in the 1940s, chief of the Principal Department I of
the Ministry of East Territories in 1941, and author of anti-Soviet
causes. However, all the confidential officials involved in this
investigation have emphasized that it is not possible to identify
clearly that the above-mentioned Nazi is the Leibbrandt who appeared
in Odessa. In reality, the similarity is very likely, but officials
pointed out that according to "trophy" documents from
French counter-intelligence, it was specified that the official
Nazi Leibbrandt received education in America. It was considered
a small but crucial distinction in Identifying Leibbrandt.
On the other hand, it is clear that Dr. Leibbrandt took archives
from the USSR legally by permission of a special commission of the
Soviet Ministry of Education. It appears that Leibbrandt demonstrated
enterprising talents in negotiation with Soviet authorities, but
it was also a period when the Soviets sold not only archival documents,
but even treasures from the Imperial Hermitage Museum. Soviet investigators
were unable to find any evidence of hostile activities by the Deutsches
Ausland Institute in the USSR. While it is likely that Leibbrandt-historian
and Leibbrandt-Nazi were the same person, a witness reported the
true testimony of another person that during the war Leibbrandt
had visited his native village wearing an SS officer's uniform.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that he joined the Nazi Party much after
his last visit to Odessa.
Why were the Odessa teachers accused of crime? Was it because it
was convenient for them to do sabotage and organize armed revolt
by methods of scholarly linguistics? This was the charge placed
against these scholars by Stalin's executioners.
The above article gives interesting details and raises questions
concerning the biography of Dr. Georg Leibbrandt, one of the prominent
scholars of the history and culture of the German colonists in South
Russia (Ukraine). For the period 1941 to 1943, Georg Leibbrandt
held a higher position in the German military along with Dr. Karl
Stumpp, the famous scholar of the history and genealogy of ethnic
German colonists in the former Russian Empire/USSR.
Leibbrandt's biography is described in Dr. Richard Walth's book
of World History: The Germans from Russia between Stalin and Hitler,
Essen, Germany: Klartext, 1966): "Leibbrandt was a Black Sea
German born on September 5, 1899 in the settlement of Hoffnungsfeld
near Odessa. He came from a large farm family of Swabian settlers."
However, this biography does not mention his visits to the Soviet
Union in the 1920s. Walth wrote only the following: "His obvious
general aptitude and his gift for languages led to studies which
he began in Russia but later continued in Germany, where he and
friends settled because of the confusion of the early Soviet times.
A Rockefeller scholarship made it possible for him to resume his
studies from 1931 to 1933, in Paris and in the United States, where
he established many contacts with groups of Germans from Russia
in America. Rosenburg [the notorious Alfred Rosenburg, tr.] asked
him to return to Germany in 1933 and named him the director of the
Eastern Division of the Foreign Policy Office of the NSDAP [National
Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or the National Socialistic
Worker Party of Germany, tr.] and when the Reich's Ministry for
the Eastern Occupied Territories was set up in 1941, he made him
Director of the Political Department [Principal Office I: Politics].
In this capacity he also became the liaison for Ukrainian, Caucasian,
Russian, and other gropes of emigres. In the post-war period, Dr.
Leibbrandt resumed research on the subject of the Germans from Russia
and made expert contributions to the Association of Germans from
Russia until his death in Bonn on June 16, 1982."
It is obviously necessary to compare facts mentioned in Malinova's
article with other accounts about Dr. Leibbrandt. We hope scholars
and members of historical association of Germans from Russia will
find this interesting.
Vladisav Y. Soshnikov, Historian/Archivist/Translator
Reprinted with permission of RAGAS Report, Washington, D.C.