Collectivization in the Soviet Union: German Letters to America, 1927-1932

Compiled (with Commentary) by Janice Huber Stangl

Glueckstal Colonies Research Association in cooperation with the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, North Dakota, 2012, 314 pages, hardcover.

Janice Huber Stangl, Ashburn, Virginia, a native of Bowdle, SD, autographs at the Eureka, SD, 125th event the 2012 hardcover book she compiled.

This work presents a more humanistic view of life in the former German colonist villages of South Russia during the earliest years of the Soviet Union. Most of the letters were written by village correspondents to German-language newspapers published in the United States. The earlier letters contain many names, places and family events. Censorship by the Soviet regime in the late 1920s and early 1930s had become ever more oppressive. Metaphors were often used to disguise descriptions of events that would not have passed the eye of the censor. Most of the letters published in this work were written by Jakob Ahl (1873-1936) from Bergdorf, a German colony in Odessa Province, South Russia. His language and subject matter indicates that he had an extensive classical education in religion and philosophy. He was an Evangelical Lutheran lay minister/sexton and teacher in numerous villages in South Russia for more than 37 years. Ahl was able to capably discuss current world events and apply his logic and knowledge to an intelligent discussion about them. While he was free with his strongly stated opinions, he often used humor to soften his language. His adages and poems were often based on folklore and the text of German hymns dating back to pre-colonial times.

As a newspaper correspondent Ahl was falsely accused of being a spy by spreading secret information and conspiring with a foreign secret service attempting to overthrow the Soviet regime. As the political situation changed, suspicion and hostility reigned, and many people did not want their names to be published. It is then that Ahl's talent for "pulpit pounding pontificating" comes to the fore. His essays on matters of American prohibition, Christianity, foreign missions, modern science and nature, women's fashions, and the human condition provided much food for thought and debate. The American newspaper readers of that time often chimed in with their own views, and soon a transatlantic debate in letter writing occurred via the newspapers.

Between 1920-1923, due to a policy of forced requisition of grain from the farmers, a Great Famine had occurred in the Soviet Russia, in which about 300,000 German villagers had starved to death. Severe drought and crop failure continued into the late 1920's. The systematic terror of the Communists led to the establishment of many prisons and concentration camps for political prisoners and uncooperative kulaks. By the end of 1930, more than 320,000 kulak families had been forcibly banished, or as the Soviets said – "resettled" – to forest or mining slave labor camps near Archangelsk or in Siberia.

During Stalin's "Five Year Plan" (1928-1933), the productivity of the collectives and the state-owned farms was a failure. Stalin's "reward" for the brutal liquidation of more than one million kulak families and the economic failure of the collectives was the mass starvation of the Second Soviet Famine in 1932-1933. Today, this man-made disaster is known in Ukraine as the Holodomor. The adage "After the Wolf Comes the Bear!" became a reality as matters became worse. "Stalin's Terror Years" began, reaching their height in 1936-1938. The NKVD arrested many ethnic Germans, who were subjected to extrajudicial punishment for imagined subversive, "counter-revolutionary" offenses, and either executed or sent to the Gulag for five to ten years. Few survived their sentences. Factual descriptions of NKVD repression of two of my great uncles, Emanuel Seefried and Philipp Mainhardt, recently obtained from the KGB archives in the State Archive of the Odessa Region, are included in the Appendix of the book. These cases provide details about the repression of the Germans of South Russia from 1937 to the 1950's, when the survivors were released from the Gulag camps in the Urals and Siberia.

The terror tactics and the less than human debasing serfdom for the kulaks was disastrous! Whereas the former German colonists were once well-to-do with large herds of livestock, productive grain fields, gardens full of fruits, vegetables and grape vines; all had been destroyed. The Germans' lament was, "Now we are all equal – equally poor!" – Janice Huber Stangl.


About the Author

Janice Huber Stangl was born on a homestead near Bowdle, South Dakota. Her paternal ancestors came to America from Glueckstal and Kassel; her maternal ancestors came from Nesselrode and Neu-Beresina. She attended Bowdle schools for 12 years, and attended Northern State Teachers College in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She taught elementary school and music for grades 1-12 in Selby and Dupree, South Dakota, and Gordon, Nebraska. She retired from public teaching when she had her children; she then privately taught piano lessons.

Janice is a member of AHSGR, GRHS, and GCRA. Her interest in Germans from Russia research encouraged her and her husband, Tom, to take the Journey to the Homeland Tour in 1998 to Ukraine, Moldova and Trans-Dniester, to visit villages of her ancestors. The tour included a day at the Bundestreffen in Stuttgart, Germany. It was there she met her Seefried cousins, whom her family presumed had died in WWII, because all contact had been lost since the late 1920s. The cousins were former residents of the village of Marienberg, Ukraine, where Janice's great grandmother had lived in the 1918 to 1922 time period. The cousins gave her a copy of a 40-page German-language chronicle, which was authored by Johann Bollinger, a former resident of Marienberg, Ukraine, who was then living in Wuestenrot, Germany. In 2000, Janice Huber Stangl and Johann Bollinger co-authored the book, Marienberg: Fate of a Village, which was published in both English and German in the same volume. This book includes translations of letters to America from Germans living in Ukraine during the 1916 to 1926 time period.

Janice continued to work on translations of more letters to America, which had been published in American German-language newspapers. These translations are contained in her new book, Collectivization in the Soviet Union, German Letters to America, 1927-1932.

Collectivization in the Soviet Union: German Letters to America, 1927-1932

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