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

Germanophobie im Russischen Reich und in der Sowietunion

Krieger, Dr. Viktor. "Germano-Phobia in the Russian Empire and in the Soviet Union." Volk auf dem Weg, November 2006, 17-19.

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

NOTE: This is a continuation of a series of installments of this article, continued from the October 2006 issue of Volk auf dem Weg, page. 13-14.


As is well known, the Soviet side experienced catastrophic results during the initial months of the war [with Germany]. During the course of the first two months [1941], the Wehrmacht pushed as far as Kiev and the Dniepr River, with hundreds of thousands of casualties, including soldiers and officers. By the end of August, 1941, one and a half million Red Army personnel either became prisoners of war or, swayed by German propaganda, switched over to the German side. Additionally, among the populace in the newly occupied areas there were obvious instances of collaboration with the enemy.

A typical anti-German poster by the painter Mariya Nestrova (1897 - 1965) from the year 1942: "Papa, kill the German."

Following the failure of initial attempts to influence the approaching enemy with class-struggle slogans proclaiming international solidarity with the workers and farmers, official propaganda quickly crossed the line of unrestrained tirades of hate and cruelty. The words "German" and "Fascist" thereby increasingly took on symbolism -- a fact that was to have fatal consequences for German-Russians. In the face of this reversal stood the Autonomous Soviet Social republic of Volga-Germans, even with its formal, constitutional rights, with its own representatives in the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and the Russian Federation, and with its own people working within State and Party apparatuses. But for an all-out propaganda war, characterizing Germans as "two-legged animals," "people eaters," or "rabid dogs," the existence of a recognized minority with documented autonomous rights certainly represented an important impediment.

Just as during World War I, numerous system-conforming intellectuals and culture-makers voluntarily joined in the service of a patriotic, i.e., primarily strong Germano-phobic, mobilization effort. The loyal "court poet," Alexey Tolstoy, laid out the programmed attitude in a Pravda article of July 28, 1941, namely, that the main mission of the Soviet mass media would now be the fomenting of hatred toward the attacking enemy. Additionally, he was prominently joined in this campaign by a whole series of talented literati such as Leonid Leonov, Michail Solokov, Konstantin Simonov, and others. Poems such as Simonov's "Kill him" and Sukorov's "I hate" were used in serving to lift the fighting spirit of the troops and the staying power of the populace. Anyone expressing even the slightest doubt in the credibility of publicized reports and descriptions of "German acts of cruelty" was immediately confronted with the secret police. This was experienced, for example, by the well-known antifascist director and theater manager Bernhard Reich -- he had resided in the Soviet Union since 1925 -- who in conversations and stage productions characterized German soldiers as "thinking people," not only as "stupid, thieving and animalistic creatures." These views went counter to propaganda guidelines, and they became one of the components of legal accusations against him, and on August 16, 1943 he was sentenced to several years' imprisonment in a penal camp.

The task given by Stalin to the propagandists did not just stick to slogans such as "Kill the Enemy!" or "Death to the Fascists," but specifically climaxed in "Kill the Germans!" The question of who issued this extreme, hate-filled sloganeering most directly is actually of secondary importance. But the sheer depth to which the culture-makers descended can be deduced from such despicable statements as: "The war has developed in us not only hatred, but contempt, for the Germans ... they are not human, but Fritze." The well-known author Perez Markisch, in his own version of intellectual blindness, suggested that a Jewish republic be established to replace the liquidated Volga-German one -- an act that he considered as one of "greatest historical justice." In the visual arena, one should mention especially the poster by the painter Maria Nersterova, "Papa, kill the German," of which hundreds of thousands of copies were posted all over the country.

An article dealing with Volga-German farmer: "Topple Fascism ..." in the Soviet-published propaganda rag "Die Wahrheit [The Truth]" and its July 17, 1941 issue, intended for Wehrmacht soldiers.

Germano-phobic Propaganda and the German Minority

With the exception of newspapers in the former Volga-German Republic and the difficult to access "News of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR," the August Decree remained totally without mention in Soviet mass media, in printed legal records, or in Soviet scientific literature -- during the war and after it. The regime could not admit to a widely available announcement that a people that had for decades had been exposed to attempts at ideological influence suddenly consisted "in totality" of enemies of the Soviet system. Still, numerous party and Soviet functionaries within central officialdom and even at the deportation sites did somehow learn of the official "reason" for the dissolution of the Volga-Republic

It was via word of mouth propaganda that the broad public learned of the "political" peril their [German] neighbors presented. There were frequent occurrences of rather grotesque situations. For example, when deportees arrived at Siberian or Kazakh villages, locals would rip the deportees' head coverings off in order to see whether they might hide horns under their hats. That had been one result from dehumanizing and caricature-like descriptions of Germans in newspapers, on posters, or in products such as the propaganda film "Alexander Nevski." One did not shrink from the seemingly racist generalization and hints, like those on posters with the heading "Young Fritz," that all Germans from childhood on were sadistic, without culture, and given to drink and to violence. This particular poster consisted of six pictures, each accompanied by two-liners: The supplier of the texts was the well-known poet and translator Samuil Marshak; and it was signed by party-loyal caricaturists under the single pseudonym of Kukryniksy (Vasil Kupriyanov, Porfiri Krylov, Nikolay Sokolov.)

The formerly respected image of the "inland" German would soon be "scientifically" undermined. The Central Archival Administration of the NKVD in 1942 issued a collection of sources for German espionage during Tsarist Russia. This documentation was intended to support the contention that Russian citizens of German descent, i.e., farmers, specialists of all kinds, entrepreneurs, high-ranking officials and officers, had participated en masse in activities
of agents for the benefit of Germany. These kinds of assertions appeared several times in the preface of the report, which would soon be published as its own document with repeated editions. The documentation -- clearly without any basis of critical research -- would serve as the basis for the composition of further writings concerning secret German service activities in Russia during the WW I and WW II.

In addition to the Checkists, numerous literati "earned" great "achievements" in stirring up resentment against their German fellow citizens. In early 1943, the future literary historian Alexander Dementyev authored the book "The Reactionary Role of Germans in Russian History" (published in Leningrad with an initial printing of 10,000 copies even while the city was still under
siege!). A year later a carefully selected collection appeared under his name, and it dealt with the possibly most negative description of "native" Germans among the works of classical Russian literature, accompanied by disparaging commentary. Rabble-rousing pamphlets, composed along the model of anti-Semitic writings, were filled with prejudice, suspicion, and libel of every imaginable sort.

By August of 1941 the popular author Pavel Bashov began to publish writings entitled "Traditions Concerning Germans" (scazy o nemcach) accompanied by nasty caricatures and which first appeared in some newspapers, but later became brochures and books printed in massive numbers. In them he made use of the most primitive of cliches and common stereotypes to emphasize the incredibly advanced spiritual and moral superiority of Russian masters and workers over German administrators, miners and specialists, who in great numbers had been active since the 18th century in the iron works in the Urals. A majority of these anti-German stories enjoyed great popularity within the USSR and, later on, in Russia.

Untold numbers of articles appeared, their distorted and caricature-like images delivered via leaflets and newspapers, books and periodicals, radio programs and films, in which the primary emphasis was to foment aggressively a hatred toward Germans (and not just the enemy or the Fascists), noticeably positioned relationships between other nationalists and German-Russians. Of course, the Soviet officials were not about to make any distinction between them [the German-Russians] and the aggressor nation. Likewise, in the forced-labor camps, which were effectively shielded from the outside world, local leading Communists of the administration and the secret police would stir up their free employees and the surrounding Russian population against the imprisoned laborers.

A poster by the painter Leonid Golovanov (1904 - 1980) from the year 1943: "Let us keep Soviet children safe from the Germans!"

During the further course of the war, antipathy and embitterment toward Germany, German culture and the German language, along with the steadily rising number of human and material casualties, also increased steadily. Announcements by the NKVD from the exile sites demonstrated a desperate situation for the German-Russians, with numerous deaths due to malnourishment and illness, intentional denial of the allotted food rations, insults from village residents and local leaders, and denial of medicines. For example, a May, 1943 report by regional administrative officials of the Ministry of the Interior of the Krasnoyarsk area reads as follows:

" ... In the Sharypovo rayon, Kimsarenko, the president of the kolchos 'Proletarian Labor,' in talking about taking care of the special resettlees, declared: 'All Germans must die a rotten death; I would not give them any bread at all [...]' A female kolchos farmer, Tchurilova told the German woman Schmidt: 'Why have they brought you to our rayon? It would be better if they had beaten you to death where you came from. You are traitors of the homeland, and you should be left to die of hunger and be sent out into the cold so that you Fascists might get to really feel it.' [...]

"Of 7,396 children, only 2,403 are attending school. This can be explained by the fact that the majority of children lack shoes and warm clothing, as well as school supplies. Children twelve years or older do not attend school because they work in farm operations or must work for someone else. [...] In the schools of this rayon, German children are downright terrorized and
insulted as 'fascists.' For that reason they stop going to school.

However, even in the face of such grave violations of existing Soviet laws, the responsible party and Soviet officials did not deem it necessary to take any countermeasures. In fact, statements of dissatisfaction with living and residential conditions in the new locales, and complaints about nationalist discrimination were not rarely considered and acted against as anit-Soviet agitation and propaganda, debased as libel of measures by the party and government, and prosecuted. Many contemporary witnesses were already plagued by omens of a dire and dark future. "If the Soviet powers are to continue to exist, we shall have no normal life. Children of fallen soldiers will point an accusing finger at our children and say: 'it is because of you that our own fathers have fallen.' What kind of life is that?"


Careful people recognized early on the disastrous connection between unbridled hatred of everything German and a surging enmity toward everything foreign. Well-known literary historian Sergei Bondi stated as early as June, 1943: "I regret in the deepest sense the antidemocratic shift one must observe on a daily basis. Consider our nationalistic chauvinism. How has it been evoked? Most particularly through the atmosphere within the army that is characterized as anti-Semitic, anti-German, and aiemd at all national minorities."

The disastrous ideological development following the victory over Germany, with its Greater- Russia chauvinism and its anit-Western slogans, its struggle against the so-called "rootless Cosmopolitans" and against "Creepers from the West" is hardly conceivable without its preceding history and cliches that were developed and "tested" between 1941 and 1945. Even the corresponding caricatures were similar to the point of being indistinguishable. It is a
bitter irony of history that some protagonists of the anti-German patriotic mobilization effort would eventually themselves become the victims of Stalinist anti-Semitic policies.

Overt and covert Germano-phobia, a substantial constituent component of interior and foreign policy, proved for the Kremlin leadership to be an indispensable means for stabilization of Soviet postwar society. The massive discrimination toward the German minority, which lasted until at least the end of the 1980s, can essentially be traced back to those policies.

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