Settlement and Banishment Regions of the Germans in Russia to ca. 2000

The Editors. "Settlement and Banishment Regions of the Germans in Russia to ca. 2000." Volk auf dem Weg, May 2013, 16-17.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO.

The following comments regarding the map on the previous page are taken from the book Flucht, Vertreibung, Aussiedlung, Integration.  Vertriebene erzählen ihre Schicksale [Flight, Banishment, Resettlement, Integration. Refugees Tell their Stories] by Hans Mirtes and Gerolf Fritsche. (ISBN: 978-3-98159330206). The map is also taken from the book.

Deportations began as early as during the Tsarist Empire, namely, the banishment from Volhynia of subjects of the Empire who were of German nationality. The same fate befell members of the elite among Volga Germans (teachers, pastors, attorneys, etc.), who were banished to Siberia simply because they decided to continue to speak their mother tongue in public. In the case of the Volhynia Germans, the government feared disloyal behavior by those Germans during the incursion by German troops, because that rural settlement region was situated close to the front. Their deportation might thus have been classified as a tactical war action. Those who were robbed of their homes in this manner were in 1921 allowed to return to the part of Volhynia that remained under Russia following the Peace of Riga.

However, in 1939, having barely become used to their old environment again, some of them became subject to a resettlement action stemming from a German-Soviet agreement, a part of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of August 23, 1939, and were resettled in Germany. Those remaining Volhynia Germans who had not been resettled in this manner were deported to Siberia in 1941, thus marking the beginning of the dissolution of all settlement regions of Germans in Russia within the European and Trans-Caucasus Soviet Union. The impetus for deportations in 1941 came from the August 28, 1941 decree by the Supreme Soviet, which initially applied only to the Volga Germans, but designated Siberia and Kazakhstan as the l areas of banishment for all groups.

In their places of banishment, other residents and administration officials often denounced them as “Fascists” and discriminated against them. Before World War II, they had been tolerated fairly well due to their proverbial diligence and work ethic. And now, in the truest sense of the word, they were forced to fight for their lives. It meant the most difficult corporal work for minimal remuneration, simply to save their skins, and usually without fathers being around, for most German Russian men were called up to the “Trud-Armiya,” a forced-labor “army,” where conditions as a rule were much like those of a labor concentration camp. Later on, ethnic German women without children under the age of three were also called up.

Not until 1956 was the so-called “Kommandantur” regime cancelled, which meant that around 1.5 million people were finally allowed to live without the regular [monthly – Tr.] obligatory report to the local police, and being allowed to travel without restriction [previously having been ordered never to leave their places of banishment without the local NKVD commander’s permission – Tr.]  However, this explicitly prohibited any return to the Volga region or to other original settlement areas. Peculiarly, this ban did not apply across the board for deported minorities. The Chechnyans, for example, were actually allowed to return to their homeland. This demonstrates that the Germans in Russia lacked sufficient lobbying power with the Supreme Soviet.

Although return to the homelands was not allowed, changing locales, provided the economic and job opportunities were there, was permitted, a situation which especially those banished to inhospitable northern regions took advantage of by moving to more southern regions such as Kazakhstan, where the number of ethnic Germans increased substantially.

The map shows the part of the former Soviet Union containing the places of residence of Germans in Russia before as well as after deportation (1926 vs. 1941). Dissolved areas of residence are shown by geographic placement and by number. The settlement areas following deportation correspond to the 1980 situation affecting Germans in Russia, regionally and numerically. The latter is not always apparent for the time in 1942 or just after WW II. Not only the number of deportees grew after that, despite the relatively small number who emigrated to Germany, but the geographic concentration also shifted gradually to the South from Siberia to Central Asia (such as Kazakhstan).

The Supreme Soviet’s decree of 1955 freeing (as mentioned) German Russians from the ban on leaving their places of deportation, gradually led to the “drift” toward the South, which, although not people-friendly per se, was at least friendlier in a climate sense. The various parts of the map depicting individual and groups of columns show an instant view of the situation in 1980, which barely changed by 1988. It was about that time when a political development began that is now (2012) definitely ending and will likely terminate any and all settlements of Germans in what one could call the Tsarist part of “Russia.”

The latter process is clear from the graph in the upper right corner. It indicates that emigration from Russia was almost at a standstill in 1986, while by 1988 an abruptly increasing emigration wave to Germany set in, which during the 1993-1995 timespan exceeded 200,000 Germans per year, but decreased continually after that. By 2005, it did not even come up to 50,000. During the timespan shown in the diagram the total amounted to around two million people.

Teachers, can make these dimensions of the emigration process even clearer to their students by pointing out, for example, that fewer people are living in five of the 27 EU countries than the total number of German Russians who came to Germany after 1986. After World War II, the overall sum amounted to 2.5 million -- 200,000 people more than the number of Latvia’s residents, whose total stands at 20th in the EU.

Finally, it should be pointed out what is not seen on the map. To the east, it does not even include Lake Baikal. But deportation had indeed brought some German Russians there and as far as where the Amur flows into the Kolyma at the Russian Polar Circle. Those numbers, however, remained small. Had we tried to depict the current situation in the deportation regions, the German population in Central Asia and Western Siberia would today be hardly noticeable.

MR 2  Former and Current Settlement Areas of the Germans in the Former Soviet Union.

Other Literature on this Subject:

  • Eisfeld, Alfred. Die Russlanddeutschen [The Russian Germans]. München 1992.
  • Literaturkreis der Deutschen in Russland [Literary Circle of the Germans in Russia] (publ.), Kindheit in Russland [Childhood in Russia]. Vechta-Langförden 2005, Geest-Verlag.
  • Polian, Pavel. Against their Will. Budapest 2004.
  • Visnievski, Rosvitha (publ.,), Frierende Hände – erfrorene Hoffnungen. Berichte deutscher Deportierter [Freezing Hands – Frozen Hopes. Reports by German Deportees]. Augsburg 2006, Waldemar-Weber Verlag.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation and to Dr. Nancy Herzog for editing this article.

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