The Soviet Germans: Past and Present

Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota

Fleischhauer, Ingeborg and Benjamin Pinkus. The Soviet Germans: Past and Present. Edited by Edith Rogovin Frankel. New Yor: St. Martin’s , 1986.

Fleischhauer, Ingeborg and Benjamin Pinkus. The Soviet Germans: Past and Present. Ed with an Intro by Edith Rogovin Frankel. NT, St. Martin's Press (In association with the Marjorie Mayrock Center for Soviet and East European Research at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem). 1986.

Two scholars study the documents, many in German and Russian, that would let them know what became of the German population that lived in Russia from the Bolshevik revolution to the time of the book's publication. Though they clearly understand the historical and cultural differences between the Germans who settled in the Baltic countries and those who established their homes in the Ukraine, they generally, in this book, regard the German population of Russia as a whole. They approach their subject with an attitude of objectivity and have produced a book with the best numbers, dates, and facts they could muster. In the process, they answer many questions posed by the members of the German-Russian community, and to which we often presume there are no answers.

In 1929, for example, it is interesting to learn that 2000 Germans belonged to the rabidly atheist group called The Union of the Godless. Also at this time, there were 140,000 Germans in the 6 German national districts of the Ukraine, but only 324 subscribed to German language anti-religion newspapers. We may be surprised that any German at all was interested in belonging to this group or subscribing to the papers, but are relieved to know that the percentage was very small. The relatively few Germans who had become communists were badly hit during the purges of 1936-1938 in the Volga and elsewhere because the Russians did not trust them. Almost no Germans ever were members of the KGB.

Want to know the percentage of mixed marriages among Germans in the 1920s? There were 7.52% out of every 100 in 1925; 12.97% among men in 1927. If persons contracting such marriages do not turn up in our genealogies, that means we don't have them right.

The German government under Hitler took an great deal of interest in ethnic Germans living in Russia. They wanted to know who they were and just how "German" they were because they expected to gain control of the areas in which they lived. The lives of many received a new dimension when they moved west into Germany during World War II, some for just awhile, because they had had no contact with Germany for some 200 years. Today, many thousands of ethnic Germans have moved from Russia to Germany, reversing the migration of old.

The authors refer to the deportation of 70,000 Volhynians in 1915 (which seems to have told the Russian government that it could be done and how to do it), tells the story of the Decree of August 28, 1941, which authorized the deportation of the Volga Germans en masse to the north and east, and refers to the easing of restrictions through several directives issued from the 1950s on. (Stalin died in 1953.) The largest deportation, in the fall of 1941, was accomplished as expeditiously as it was because a thorough census taken in 1934, using as a ruse the issuing of passports, identified very specifically persons of various ethnic groups. When roundup time came, the KGB could work off accurate lists.

Since the book was done under the auspices of a division of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, one would expect that the authors would be interested in the fate of Jews who lived among the German colonists. This is true, but here again, objectivity rules. A young woman Jewish lawyer dreamed up the passport idea as a way to identify ethnic Germans. A few Germans helped Hitler's special military forces round up Jews, kill them, and bury them in mass graves. There is no effort to affix group blame or cover up ethnically-motivated crime on any side. There were always problems getting accurate facts, the authors found, because both Russian and German sources had reason to distort them for their own purposes.

For someone interested in the Germans from Russia, this is not really a book to read first. There are many undefined specialized words in the text and the authors refer to events and situations that one can understand only if one has read other material. But it is an excellent addition to the Germans from Russia bookshelf, it contains facts not found elsewhere, and for those who like documentation, there are lots of footnotes.

Added note by Roland Wagner, PhD., San Jose State University, San Jose, California:

Good review, Edna. I would like to add that my impression is this 1986 work in English was a sort of condensation, designed to make their information available to a broader English-speaking audience -- but much was left out. I've found much useful information in the other German works, and they shouldn't be ignored by anyone interested in serious research.

The other major works include:

1) Ingeborg Fleischhauer, Das Dritte Reich und die Deutschen in der Sowjetunion", Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1983, 257 pages, in German language. Institute Room Germans from Russia D411 V5 Nr 46. (not available on interlibrary loan).

2) Ingeborg Fleischhauer, "Die Deutschen im Zarenreich: swei Jahrhunderte deutsch-russische Kulturgemeinschaft". Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1986, 670 pages, in German language. Institute Room Germans from Russia DK34.G3 F63 1986. (not available on interlibrary loan).

3) Benjamin Pinkus and Ingeborg Fleischhauer, "Die Deutschen in der Sowjetunion: Geschichte einer nationalen Minderheit im 20, Jahrhundert, Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, 1987, 599 pages, in German language. Institute Room Germans from Russia DK34.G3 P55 1987. (not available on interlibrary loan).

As you can see from their titles, each volume covers a slightly different time period: czarist era, Third Reich era, soviet era.

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