Jacob Brecht, a Collective Farm Administrator Who Guided Rosovka Through the Most Difficult Times

Wagner, Sophie, Nina. "Jacob Brecht, a Collective Farm Administrator Who Guided Rosovka Through the Most Difficult Times." Volk auf dem Weg, October, pp. 38-29, November 2018, pp. 42-43.

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


Between the two world wars, as well as during decades after World War II, there were several kolchozi [collectives] in Kazakhstan that had predominately German populations and were administered with impressive success by German directors. One of these administrators was Jacob Brecht, who conducted the Kirov Collective (in the Rosovka village) through very difficult years of Stalinist terror, war and post-war times.

The following article by Sophie Wagner is based on her presentation given at the conference of an allied group of Wiedergeburt [Rebirth] Associations of Germans in Kazakhstan. The conference was held on June 5, 2018 in Astana under the [translated] motto “Germans in Kazakhstan: People, Events, Epochs.” The conference was dedicated to important Germans who had lived0 in Kazakhstan and had experienced great suffering during various stages of life.

Until the end of the 19th Century, nomadic tribes had roamed through the steppes surrounding the river Irtysh and had used the fertile soil of the steppes as grazing land. In 1908, the first settlers, who came from the Rosenberg colony and from the daughter colony Runde Wiese [Round Meadow] in the Yekaterinoslav Gouvernement of South Russia, arrived in what later was called Rosovka.

Sophie Wagner

It was a time when German settlements in South Russia were in crisis. Land was no longer available because an inherited farm could not be divided, going only to one son, as a rule the youngest one, of the family. The other sons had once been able to obtain land from the government reserve, which by now was used up.

During the Stolypin land reform (1906-1910), the government strongly encouraged resettlement of farmers from the westerly to the easterly regions. This policy benefitted, among others, many German colonists who because of the dearth of land were looking for new settlement regions, including Kazakhstan.

Among the first settlers coming to Rosovka was a Johann Brecht, father of the future collective administrator Jakob Brecht. Officials from the land office of the city Pavlodar designated four tracts on the right side of the Irtysh River for use by the German Lutheran settlers. Settlers from Runde Wiese put their roots down on land tract #4, which consisted of broad plains of acreage under favorable conditions. Every man received 15 desyatines [just over 40 acres], five years of exemption from taxation, five subsequent years of taxes of eleven kopeks per desyatine, which would be increased to 22 kopeks for the subsequent 39 years, after which the land would finally pass to private ownership.

Jakob Brecht

The settlers divided the lands into farmsteads of 55-56 desyatines each. Further lands could also be acquired, but at full taxation rates.

To keep the memory of the original home in Ukraine, it was decided in 1910 to call the newly founded locale Rosovka. Initial housing, earthen huts, arose amidst the desolate steppes. Before the settlement was officially founded, the village had only one well.

The steppes in the Pavlodar-Irtish area were not exactly farmer-friendly. Sparse rainfall, dry winds, and heat were the rule, far and wide lacking lakes, rivers or creeks. Wells had to be dug as deep as 30 to 50 meters [ca. 100 to 165 feet]. Despite all that, especially during the first founding years the settlers brought in enormous harvests, which appeared to confirm the correctness of deciding to settle there. Still, the settlers feared that the sandy and partially salty soil, lacking nearly any humus, would yield ever decreasing harvests.

The settlers had barely conquered the initial founding years when the revolutionary upheavals also reached the Kazak steppes. Following the Civil War period, Soviet power was on the increase even in provincial regions of the former Russian Empire.

Charlotte Stumpf (1874-1960),
the first femal settler in Rosovka

By the early 1920s, the economy of the country had completely bottomed out. A further plague on the people was the so-called prodravsyorska [in English, “acquiring food through grain delivery obligation”]. What that really meant was that special raiding commandoes rendered all grain storage, cellars, and warehouses totally empty. Some German families decided to relocate to the Altai region or to Ukraine, some even fleeing overseas to North and South America.

Although Lenin’s “New Economic Policy” (1921 – 1927) made private farms possible, under his successor Stalin, prosperous farmers were dispossessed and banished to the Far North or to Siberia. In 1927, Christian Strauch, who was the most well-off farmer in the village, was dispossessed and exiled. Between 1928 and 1930, some families emigrated via Moscow, China, or Crimea. Those left behind had to submit to the new politics.

During the collectivization of Rosovka, the Bolshevik Danilov was initially designated to lead the local collective, but he experienced no success with the farmers. In 1928, the German ex-Communist Oskar Tillman led the collectivization of Rosovka and became first chair of the newly founded commune. He managed to establish the basis for farming and animal husbandry. However, the commune continued to suffer from the steep obligations to the state.


Jakob Brecht was born in 1902 in Ukraine. At the age of six, he, his parents, and four siblings moved to the Kazak steppe. Together with his three brothers he was taught at home in the German language. Father had hired teachers for that purpose.

The kolkhoz administration, each row from the left: standing
-- Waldemar Brecht (mill operator), Friedrich Baumbach
(bookkeeper); seated -- Johan Litau (vice chair),
Heinrich Platt (teacher), Jakob Brect (kolkhoz chair).

Jakob Brecht was born in 1902 in Ukraine. At the age of six, he, his parents, and four siblings moved to the Kazak steppe. Together with his three brothers he was taught at home in the German language. Father had hired teachers for that purpose.

Too early, at around eleven, he lost both parents. The family’s land reverted back to the commune. Jakob worked as a day laborer for the mill operator Brehm in the neighboring German settlement. He was always very interested in technical matters. After he completed military service, he returned to Rosovka to tend the family’s farmland. During the collectivization process, he turned his land over to the commune, where from 1936 on he worked as a field brigadier.

Following the arrest of Johann Litau, Jakob Brecht was elected president of the collective. With few words and with his own example, he was able to motivate his compatriots—a bitterly necessary factor during the next years. Jakob Brecht directed the economy of the collective, which at the end of the 1930s was renamed Kirov-kolchoz/ These were the most difficult years amidst the Stalinist terror period, in the sacrificing war years, and the post-war years that were marked with great privation.

Johann Runde and Maria Runde
building a clay hut, 1944.

One of his first acts was to have a mill built and machine farmyard established in Rosovka. A cultural building with 20 seats was also constructed. The village soon saw the first two trucks plying the streets. The kolchoz bought the first internal combustion engine. On the machine farmyard the first powered grain cleaning machines began to operate. Working the fields were tractors, acquired from the machine tractor station from the neighboring settlement of Ukrainians 14 kilometers [ca. 9 miles] away.

Until 1939, only Germans lived in Rosovka, and the official business language was German. During the following years, more and more refugees arrived in the village. In 1939, following the division of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, six refugee families came from western Ukraine. Two earthen huts were constructed just for the refugees.

After the German-Soviet war broke out in 1941, Germans in the Soviet Union soon felt the hostility and hate toward them in their own country. Many families who had left Rosovka during the period of famine were returning from Ukraine.

In 1841, Rosovka had 71 farmsteads. As many as two families lived in each clay hut. The deportation decree of August 28, 1941 led to a further wave of immigration to Rosovka. During that September, 25 deported Volga German families (212 persons) were assigned to Rosovka. And in October, another 21 German families (78 persons) arrived from the Caucasus region.

At the time, tensions were not rare between the local Germans and the deported ones. Jakob consistently listened to the complaints and worries on both sides. Again, and again he had to mediate conflicts, always sternly, but justly, so that solutions would be sought together.

Hardly had the deported families been housed when more German families from neighboring Russian settlements arrived, asking to be accepted into the community. Some had relatives in the village, others had come because in their own villages things were growing ever more painful with statements directed at them such as, “We have no place for Fascists. Our food is meant for the soldiers on the front.”

Hardly had the deported families been housed when more German families from neighboring Russian settlements arrived, asking to be accepted into the community. Some had relatives in the village, others had come because in their own villages things were growing ever more painful with statements directed at them such as, “We have no place for Fascists. Our food is meant for the soldiers on the front.”


(Article then concluded in the November 2018 issue)

It did not take long before all Germans, locals and deported ones, were placed at the same level. German men were inducted into the so-called work army, and the same fate soon befell women as well. On February 6, 1942, 106 men of Rosovka were forced to join the work army, and another 34 men shortly later. [The Soviets called it the Trud Armya in Russian, and the Germans used the term Trudarmee. Tr.]

Kolchoz leader Jakob Brecht not only had to supply those being “mobilized” with food and winter clothing, but he also had to tend to their families. For many of them the situation meant famine, for others even death.

By the end of 1942, 68 women who did not have children below the age of three were inducted. During the following spring and fall, young people between fifteen and sixteen years of age were also taken into forced-labor camps. Not even God could have dried the many tears and fulfilled the pleas that were left to the kolkhoz leader to handle.

Jakob Brecht was forced to employ women full-time in the collective, including those with small children. Grandmothers, when available, made it possible for the women to drive tractors in the fields. The majority of the harvest had to be given up to the State. The motto was “everything for the front!” The kolkhoz farmers also had to pay state and war taxes, so that almost nothing was left over. The worst-off families received left-over products and bran. For those weakened by hunger and hard work it was barely enough to survive.

For the kolkhoz leader, every funeral was like running the gauntlet, barely able to endure the sad, accusing looks of mothers who had to bury their children. Guilt and responsibility rested heavily on his shoulders, a load he could never shift from himself. Even though he realized that, given the dire situation, he could not save everyone, he often asked himself whether he had done everything possible or even impossible.

Volga German children

His special care was directed to orphaned children. There were not just a few in the village, and every day that number grew by children form other villages coming on a begging tour. Good-hearted Frieda Gruß, who had her own three children and two of her brother’s to take care of, took in a few orphaned children, caring for them just like her own.

Jakob Brecht supported those kinds of compatriots wherever and however he could. He allowed older children to work in the fields in the summer, where they helped the tractor drivers and thus got something to eat. For the winter they had to be in the orphanage.

During the 1944-1945 winter, 90 Ingush families were assigned to Rosovka. They knew neither Russian nor German. Three houses were freed up for the newcomers, their German residents having to be given quarters with relatives. At the same time, 19 Volga German families, 14 Caucasus German families, and 4 from Ukraine, arrived from Russian villages after hearing that only Germans lived in Rosovka, and they would not let anyone die of hunger. Jakob Brecht could tell them only this: “I can give you work, but you’ll have to find shelter yourselves. If we stick together, we’ll manage somehow.”

1944 was particularly disastrous. After the arrival of the Ingush families, a typhus epidemic broke out in the village. Many children and adults died, some of dysentery. Some couples lost all of their children, and each death became an unbearable burden for the kolkhoz leader.

By about 1947, the first “mobilized” people returned or arrived in Rosovka, some having been dismissed for health reasons, some having escaped and searching for possible family reunification.

This, too, was a dilemma for Jakob Brecht. On the one hand he was always looking for able workers, and on the other hand he was in danger of being called on the carpet for harboring if he did not inform the authorities of escaped compatriots and instead employed them in the collective. This was especially serious because the regime forced people to live like “inmates” under strict military supervision, a policy that was restated by a 1948 decree to be in effect “in perpetuity.”

Seventy returning work army members who had been reunited with family members in Rosovka begged the kolkhoz leader for permission to stay. Brecht accomplished diplomatic magic by convincing the rayon [district] administration and, even more importantly, a military commander, to give the returnees permission to stay. For fourteen years, Jakob Brecht was the leader of the Kirov-Kolchoz, which under his leadership produced harvest goods worth millions and became the best economic operation in the entire Pavlodar region. For his extraordinary accomplishments he received the Order of Lenin, a Communist order, and the order “Sign of Honor.”

While the men were in the army, fields
were tended exclusively by women.

Nevertheless, he could not escape the evils of capricious and envious authorities and in 1952, he was accused of being a:” German Nationalist” and sentenced to several years in prison, but following Stalin’s death in 1953 he was granted amnesty and released.

His daughter Nelli Brecht remembers: “It was my teacher who gave me the news that my father was freed, and she released me from class. Our yard was filled with people. It seemed the entire village had assembled there to welcome my father.”

After this, village residents kept coming to the former collective leader to ask for advice and support. This did not please the new administration. Brecht was advised to leave Rosovka. He resettled in Pavlodar and worked as a carpenter in a furniture cartel. A year later he was named the director of the entire operation, which in a short while he made one of the best in the city.

In 1955 Brecht was ordered to lead the then backsliding collective “30 years of Kazak SSR.” There he immediately ordered construction of a mill and, in order to upgrade the farming operation, he acquired new technical equipment. He also went in search for young people with various expertise. In this endeavor, in 1956 he discovered Jakob Häring, graduate of an agricultural technical institute in Pavlodar, whom he hired as a zoological expert.

By 1958, when Brecht’s health declined rapidly, young Jakob Häring became his successor. Subsequent years demonstrated that Brecht’s decision was the right one. Within the quarter-century from 1959 to 1984, Häring and his associates transformed the once backsliding collective into an exemplary operation and blooming oasis in the sparse landscape of the steppes.

Mother and children of the Stumpf family.

By 1958, when Brecht’s health declined rapidly, young Jakob Häring became his successor. Subsequent years demonstrated that Brecht’s decision was the right one. Within the quarter-century from 1959 to 1984, Häring and his associates transformed the once backsliding collective into an exemplary operation and blooming oasis in the sparse landscape of the steppes.


A decree of December 13, 1955 finally released the Germans from military supervision and control, but continued the ban on returning to their original homes. Across the country, deported Germans were seeking family members, and thus more and more came to Rosovka. People eventually adjusted to their home away from home, built houses, and let down roots.

Other kolkhoz leaders in Rosovka were Georg Stumpf (1953-1968), Viktor Reitenbach (1968-1976) and, finally, Viktor Rudi (1976-2004).

The then Soviet Secretary, Nikita Khrushchev, paid a visit to the village on August 26, 1956, after which the press reported that he had visited a village in Kazakhstan which had 50 percent Ukrainian and Russian residents. In reality, the village population was 98 percent German. As workers, the Germans were welcome to the Soviets, but as a people (that achieved remarkable economic success) they would continue to be treated publicly as if they did not exist.

Thanks to the residents’ diligence, and despite the general stagnation in the country, German collectives grew stronger and more prosperous year by year. Gorbachev’s perestroika and newly gained freedoms such as travel, would become important factors in Rosovka as well.

By December, 1989, the first two large families left for Germany, and another 362 families between 1992 and 1994. Altogether, within a brief span of time, a total of 444 families, or 98 percent of its German population, emigrated. In 1997, Rosovka was transformed into an agricultural association, which Viktor Rudi administered until 2004. He, too, then left the village, and since then its economy has been going downhill.

In 2009, the author, along with a group of former local Germans, visited her birthplace. They all wished to see the place where Germans in Russia had once lived. Unfortunately, the visitors hardly recognized anything of the former German village of Rosovka. In 2004, the farm operation had been purchased by a newly rich Kazak, and in 2009 it was sold to a Frenchman.

The author’s relatives integrated well in Germany, but for 444 emigrated families Rosovka had been their home for a long time. As such, it must not be forgotten. The author has collected memories, photos, life stories, newspaper articles, historical data, and much more and put it all together in the book ROSOWKA – unsere Heimat in der Fremde [ROSOVKA, our Home in Foreign Parts]. The book was self-published in 2007 in commemoration of the 100th birthday of the former German settlement. (Orders may be placed via this telephone number: 49-40-7925502.)

Photos in this article are by the author.

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


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