Disobedience, Protest and Resistance by German-Russians
in the Soviet Union (Part 6)
Verweigerung, Protest und Widerstand der Russlanddeutschen im Sowietstaat (Teil 6)
Krieger, Dr. Viktor. "Disobedience, Protest and Resistance by German-Russians in the Soviet Union (Part 6)." Volk auf dem Weg, October 2007, 12-13.
This translation from the original German-language text to
is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
NOTE: In Exile under Special Regime (Continuation from issues 02-06/2007 of Volk auf dem Weg)
The August 28, 1941 edict issued by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and then made in the Volga-Republic, deeply shocked the Germans and evoked complete bewilderment and indignation, yet there was no open revolt. In other regions as well, the forced resettlements went off largely trouble-free.
The secret service recorded the following statements by some of those affected: "What the Tsarists dreamed of - exiling the Germans to Siberia - is now become reality." "This was to be expected. Hitler is beginning to push Russia ever more into a corner, and soon the German armies will penetrate all the way to Stalingrad and Engels, so that's why we are being taken away." In the city and region of Moscow four persons attempted suicide following the announcement of the expulsion order. A couple took their lives because the wife could not move due to a serious illness.
This sort of slander and humiliation without regard to individual
"merit" after 1917 brought especially deep disappointment
to the party and Komsomol [Commjnist youth organization - Tr.] members,
German functionaries and larger portions of the "new"
intelligentsia. Painful disillusionment drove some leadership members,
despite the usual party discipline, to protest
actions. The chief of government of the Volga-Republic, Alexander Heckmann, who just a few weeks prior had lauded the "happy and prosperous life" of his countrymen in a nation with rights equal to others and with a "fraternal link among Soviet people," before his own departure drove to the city market in Engels, where he began"demonstratively" to offer household goods and clothing for sale. "Even the prime minister has been forced to sell private belongings for sale on the market," Heckmann was reported to have stated. In the face of this "anti-Soviet" action he was immediately expelled from the Party.
November 7, 1949: Some Youthful Believers from Orenburg
In the city of Naltchick, a metropolis of the North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, after the announcement of the resettlement, Heller, a German candidate for the Party, turned to the Secretary of the city's Party Committee and tossed his candidature certificate at him with these words: "Why are you debasing us and destroying innocent people? I am not leaving, so I may as well be shot." Still, even verbal disobedience was the exception. The overwhelming majority of the Germans bowed to their fate without any resistance. In the banishment locales, German families with a large number of children would struggle for their naked survival; but any resistant action or even verbal expression of dissatisfaction would be brutally suppressed by the security organs. Only by the end of the war was there a degree of diminished repression from the State and any noticeable improvement in living conditions. Concurrently, various forms of disobedience and resistance now began to arise.
Letters of Protest
One of the lightly researched forms of individual protest by the
Germans against their status as persons with diminished rights consists
of numerous letters to those in power at different levels, to various
organs of the press, and predominantly to prominent representatives
of the regime. These were by no means submissive letters of petition.
Rather, they contained open criticism
of the unacceptable attitudes and behavior by local Party and Soviet officialdom and by the general population, plus an enumeration of many, personally experienced violations of existing laws. They did not shrink from reminding the Party leadership of basic constitutional tenets, and they asked for the basis of such policies, even demanding immediate equal status with other
Soviet peoples. The writers of these letters distinguished themselves with their personal courage, because any such accusations could easily be denounced as anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, with all the corresponding consequences.
For example, in July, 1946, Eduard Likay of Nizhni Tagil wrote
to Stalin concerning the rabble-rousing against German workers,
about the pressure on Russian women to separate from their German
husbands, concerning brawls with soldiers from the front and the
administrators who instigated such behavior. He closed the letter
with the following suggestion: "It is time that those
leaders be replaced who here in the hinterlands mask and enrich themselves and then assert, "We were fighting the Germans.'"
Viktor Schneider permitted himself a significantly deeper degree
of criticism. From his place of banishment in the Molotov region
(now known as Perm) he wrote several letters to leading Soviet functionaries
and [parliamentary] representatives. Not having received a reply
from any of them, in 1951 he directed himself to Stalin and sent
a copy of his letter to the newspaper
"Pravda." In it Schneider sharply criticized the Soviet policies regarding nationalities and raised a series of fundamental questions:
"1. Why was our national group placed under a special military
supervisory command? ... 3. Why am I, a Soviet citizen, forbidden
to settle in some other Republic or region of the Union? Why am
I worse than other citizens? 4. Isn't Chapter X, Article 123 of
the USSR Constitution still valid and, if it is [valid], why does
our national minority not have its own autonomous Republic? It was
expunged from the maps - is that just? One can erase it from the
maps, but its people are still here and will remain here, so they
must be recognized and granted equal status with other nationalities
... 6. The DDR [German Democratic Republic, in other words, East
Germany - Tr.] is recognized by our State, and that is as it should
be, but our German people are not, how can that be explained? 7.
If among the former leadership of the German Republic
there were enemies of the people who allegedly entered into conspiracy with Hitler, it should not be that the entire five-million-strong people should suffer."
This letter was handed over to Georgiy Malenkov on November 18. Unfortunately we do not know of any reaction of this member of the Politburo, nor about the subsequent fate of this Volga-German.
An anonymous letter from a German "special settler" to Lavrenti Beriya constitutes a kind of historical curiosity, in which the lying nationality policies in the Soviet Union is seriously criticized and the unbearable condition of German deportees is described. After Stalin's death, the world-wise MVD chief took every opportunity to profile himself as a reformer. Multiple copies were made of the letter, and on May 27, 1953 it was given to all members of the Politburo with a personal comment by Beriya on the "importance of the question of the special settlers," and his own suggestions pertaining there to accompanied the letter. His arrest soon after and his subsequent shooting indefinitely put on ice any further serious changes in the GUlag system.
A strengthening turn toward religious values was a visible expression
of widespread dissatisfaction among the German minority with their
deprivation of political rights and with their ostracization from
normal society. Following the gradual normalization of everyday
life and the beginnings of family reunification with relatives who
were being released from the work camps,
nearly everywhere this led to the founding of secret prayer circles and other religious groups, who from 1947 onward came under increasingly strong surveillance by the organ for State security, the MGB, and by the Council for religious matters.
During the 1950s: Believers before a Meeting, in Pervonmayski,
The special settlers could not hope for official registration; individual requests, for example, one in Kirgistan in 1947, were brusquely denied by the authorities. But to many believers, any and all contact with State offices was considered a suspect action, because they feared, not without basis, strong influence over and regulation of their community life.
In an atmosphere of a strong anti-German attitude by society that existed during post-war times, the faith communities offered the only place of security, not only for religious people, but also for those who were rather indifferent concerning religion. Being a member of such communities constituted a conscious defiance of Soviet ideology, of Communist morals, atheistic education, linguistic Russification, and ruthless assimilation.
Rejection of what they considered as an inimical, godless and altogether amoral environment at times went so far as to some parents forbidding their children to attend school and the cinema, as well as the reading of "wordily" books. However, given the State's monopoly on education, nothing of an equivalent substitute was available to them, and many a talented youth would thus be denied further training or education.
During the years 1951 and 1952, a punitive wave of persecutions
drastically shook up the just recently established prayer or brethren's
circles;there followed searches of homes, arrests, and show trials
in Kirgistan (among these a court proceeding of May 1951 against
14 Mennonites from Leninpol), in the Osmk region (among others,
court proceedings against eight brethren in
February of 1952), Karaganda, etc., all of which paralyzed the previously organized community life. Not until after the death of the Dictator and the canceling of the special military supervision was there a great "awakening."
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.