Ethnic Cleansing in the USSR, 1937-1949

Book review by Debbie K. Beick, Spokane, Washington

Pohl, J. Otto. Ethnic Cleansing in the USSR, 1937-1949. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999.

In this book, Pohl addresses the issue of ethnic cleansing by the Stalin regime in Soviet Russia. During the period of 1930-1953, Stalin systematically deported entire nationalities to remote areas in Russia, one of which was the Soviet Germans or Germans from Russia. Pohl devotes Chapter 3, or 33 pages to the Germans from Russia. Other nationalities included in the book are: Koreans, Kalmyks, North Caucasians, Crimean Tatars (a copy of the chapter on the Crimean Tatars can be found at the Crimean Tatar website at, Bulgarians, Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Meskhetian Turks, Kurds, Khemshils, Ukrainians, and even briefly touches on the deportation of the former Kulaks.

Pohl states in his introduction: "The Stalin regime deported these national groups in their entirety based solely upon their ethnicity to areas whose living conditions inevitably lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths." Pohl further states: "between the years of 1941 to 1948, the Stalin regime deported 3,266,340 people from their homes to special settlements in the interior of the USSR. More than two thirds of these people were members of national groups deported in their entirety on the basis of their ethnicity...Between 1941 and 1950, more than 377,554 exiles perished in special settlements. More than one out of every ten people deported to special settlements died during their confinement. Stalin's deportation of national groups was one of the worst crimes against humanity perpetrated in the 20th century."

He goes on to address the reasons for the deportations, of which he places the Germans under the category of "immigrants to the USSR...who [Stalin] feared...were filled with spies and saboteurs awaiting orders from their ethnic homelands...Paranoia motivated the Stalin regime to deport these nationalities as a prophylactic measure against diversionist attacks."

In the specific chapter about the Germans, Pohl begins by giving a brief, but seemingly very accurate synopsis of the migration of the Germans to Russia, and includes footnotes to where further information can be obtained about the migrations, including one to the Manifesto of Catherine the Great. Pohl gives many, many facts and figures, which are all thoroughly footnoted (you'll find footnotes to almost every line on some pages). Many of these sources include information from new publications in Russian which have just recently been released based on new evidence coming out as a result of the opening of many of the previously closed Russian archives.

Pohl then briefly addresses the Russian governments violation of the pledges made to them when they migrated. He touches upon the revocation of the immunity from military conscription and the loss of the right to self-government.

Pohl continues on to address the living conditions in Russia for the Germans from the period of WWI through the beginning of WWII, addressing many of the issues that affected the lives of the GR's, including some of the laws that went into effect such as: "On 28 April, 1936 the SNK passed resolution no. 776-120ss 'On Resettling from the Ukrainian SSR for Economic Construction in Karanganda Oblast Kazakh SSR 15,000 Polish and German Households." He also addresses the time period after the deportations, and the laws, facts, and figures on the Soviet Germans still living in Russia today.

Pohl includes many tables such as Table 3.1, which gives the number of Soviet Germans in Corrective Labor camps from 1938-1947 on a year by year basis and table 3.2, which gives the numbers of Soviet Germans in various territories in the USSR as of 17 January, 1939, and table 3.12, which gives the locations of German Special Settlers as of 1 January, 1953.

If you are looking for specific information regarding laws, the dates of their passing, where to find copies of the laws, facts and figures on the deportation period (or even before or after), this book is certainly a good place to start! I was very impressed with the vast amount of information contained in a mere 33 pages, and was also very impressed that Pohl backed up his every word with footnoted documentation. I was initially concerned about the accessibility of obtaining copies of the books he cites, but I have successfully interlibrary loaned two of the Russian source books to get copies of information that I was interested in. I think this book contains a wonderfully condensed, factual synopsis of the entire time period that the Germans lived in Russia, and provides a fantastic resource for facts and figure. It also provides a detailed bibliography of books in which type printed copies of the information sources can be obtained.

Pohl has also written another book, "The Stalinist Penal System: A Statistical History of Soviet Repression and Terror, 1930-1953" McFarland & Company, Inc, Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina 28640. Tel: 336-246-4460. I have not had the opportunity to read this book yet, but a sample chapter from the book can also be found at the Crimean Tatar website at

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