Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet “On the Resettlement of Germans Residing in the Volga Region” (August 28, 1941)
Kalinin , M. and A. Gorkin. “Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet ‘On the Resettlement of Germans Residing in the Volga Region’ (August 28, 1941).” Translated and Edited by Eric J. Schmaltz, Istoriia rossiiskikh nemtsev v dokumentakh, (Moscow: MIGUP, 1993).
Translated and edited by Eric J. Schmaltz, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, Co-Executive Director of the NWOSU-Masonic Institute for Citizenship Studies, Department of Social Sciences, Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Alva.
The original Russian source: M. Kalinin and A. Gorkin, “Ukaz Prezidiuma Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR 'O pereselenii nemtsev, prozhivayushchikh v rayonakh Povolzh’ya' (Aug. 28, 1941),” in Vladimir A. Aumann and Valentina G. Chebotareva, eds., Istoriia rossiiskikh nemtsev v dokumentakh (1763-1992 gg.) (Moscow: MIGUP, 1993), pp. 159-160.
Between 1937 and 1951, the Stalin regime uprooted and deported to the eastern territories thirteen national minority groups almost in their entirety. In chronological order, they included the Koreans, Finns, Germans, Karachai, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Crimean Tatars, Meskhetian Turks, Georgian Kurds, Khemshils (Muslim Armenians), and Pontic Greeks. Soviet authorities gave the official explanation that these actions were taken in response to their supposed “treason” and “disloyalty.” The Volga Germans in August 1941 experienced such treatment following the Nazi invasion.1
Hitler’s Germany, perhaps even more than Stalin’s Russia, caused irreversible damage to the status of German communities across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. During the “Great Patriotic War” (what Russians call World War II), the USSR applied with vigor the “fascist” label to its large German minority groups, but it meant more than simple “enemies of the state” or “traitors.” Unlike nearly all the other deported peoples, excepting perhaps the Crimean Tatars, the ethnic Germans as a nationality group became an easy target associated with—indeed an ostensible extension of—National Socialism, the deadly military invader and major ideological rival to Soviet Communism during the 1930s and 1940s. In the total war against Nazism, the ethnic Germans in the USSR received severe legal penalties and a pariah-status of the first order. It was true that some ethnic Germans in Soviet Ukraine later willingly participated in the brutal Nazi occupation, but others, especially along the Volga, had nothing to do with it. The ethnic Germans found themselves nonetheless caught between both ideological and military powers.
The Stalin regime made no exemptions for individual members of the various deported nationalities according to political affiliation. It only granted exemptions to those women members who were married to men of nationalities not selected for removal. Individuals from the Communist Party and Komsomol (Communist Youth), as well as Red Army soldiers, also were deported with their ethnic kin to the far eastern expanses; loyalty made no difference toward their fate.
Scholar Viktor Krieger estimated that the total number of Germans evacuated from the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) in late 1941 stood between 365,000 and 371,000, along with approximately 46,000 from Saratov Oblast and about 26,000 from Stalingrad Oblast. In addition, official Soviet figures revealed that by the end of 1941, nearly 800,000 ethnic Germans had been removed from the European territories of the Soviet Union to Kazakhstan and Siberia, including between 438,000 and 444,000 Volga Germans. In fact, multiple deportations against ethnic Germans took place, a process mostly completed between August 1941 and January 1942.2
Soviet authorities were incapable of relocating most ethnic Germans living in western Ukraine because of the rapid Nazi advance, however. In more limited numbers, Soviet security forces in some cases were already deporting Crimean and Ukrainian Germans living near the collapsing front about two or three weeks before the August 28, 1941, deportation decree and the formal liquidation of the Volga German republic on September 7, 1941. Nearly 350,000 ethnic Germans in Soviet Ukraine, however, avoided deportation to the east until near the end of the war. More than 200,000 of them, attempting to flee west with the Nazis, were captured by the Red Army and Soviet security forces and were forced to join the Volga Germans and other national groups in Soviet exile in 1945 and 1946. Thus about 1.2 million Soviet German exiles lived in the east by the late 1940s.3
Though the 1941 decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet called for providing deportees with land and state assistance in the eastern territories, the Volga Germans (like other deported peoples) in reality faced forced labor assignments and poor living and working conditions. The Soviet officials responsible at the time—whether they intended to commit mass murder or not is beside the point—clearly failed to recognize and prepare for the deadly consequences of deportation and resettlement policies of such a magnitude. In so doing, they expressed little concern for the welfare of the deported populations. Consequently, around 20-25% of all deported ethnic Germans, or about 300,000, perished during the time of Soviet exile (1941-1955).4
In all, about 2.75 million Soviet citizens from targeted national minorities were sent into the “special settlements” of exile between 1937 and 1951, most of them in wartime between 1941 and 1944. The ethnic Germans of the USSR, who numbered roughly 1.2 million or nearly forty percent of the total number of those eventually shipped to the east, represented the largest of the Soviet peoples to share this dark fate of exile.5 Ethnic German survivors have referred to the long exile as “the years of the Great Silence” (die Jahre des grossen Schweigens), when national rights were abrogated and few people within or outside of the Soviet Union were aware of their plight.
In drawing a national connection between its own ethnic Germans and the foreign invaders of Nazi Germany, the 1941 decree (signed by M. Kalinin and A. Gorkin) for the Volga Germans states:
According to reliable facts, which were obtained by the military authorities, among the German population residing in the districts in the Volga Region, there are thousands and tens of thousands of diversionists [saboteurs] and spies, who, at a signal given from Germany, must commit sabotage in the districts which are populated by the Germans in the Volga Region.
Concerning the presence of such a great number of saboteurs and spies among the Germans in the Volga Region, none of the Germans residing in the Volga Region informed the Soviet leadership that the German population of the districts in the Volga Region is hiding in its vicinity the enemy of the Soviet people and Soviet regime.
In order that acts of sabotage and bloodshed do not take place, which were planned according to Germany’s order given to the German diversionists [saboteurs] and spies in the Volga German republic and adjoining districts, the Soviet government, according to martial law, will adopt punitive measures against the entire German population in the Volga Region.
In order to avoid such undesirable occurrences and for the prevention of serious bloodshed, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR deems it necessary to resettle the entire German population residing in the districts in the Volga Region and other districts, and that the resettlers be allotted land and receive state assistance in the new districts.
For this purpose, the abundance of arable land in the districts of Novosibirsk, the Omsk Region, the Altai Region, Kazakhstan, and other neighboring regions is to be distributed to the resettlers.
In connection with this, the State Committee of Defense is instructed to execute urgently the removal of all Germans in the Volga Region and to allot land in the new regions to the resettled Germans of the Volga Region.
For the ethnic group as a whole, the subsequent removal of the swastika’s black stain was not so easy a task. So devastating was this guilt by association or stigmatization that the post-Stalinist regime, even when it tried to bury some of the old animosities during the Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Gorbachev eras, discovered on certain occasions the immense difficulty in erasing from the public consciousness this virulent form of anti-German sentiment.6
1. J. Otto Pohl, “Stalin’s Genocide against the ‘Repressed Peoples,’” Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 2, No. 2 (June 2000): pp. 267-93.
2. See Pohl’s quite detailed and well-referenced Blog Site: <http://jpohl.blogspot.com>. Cf. Viktor Krieger’s Website: <http://www.viktor-krieger.de/>.
3. Eric J. Schmaltz, “‘The Long Trek’: The SS Population Transfer of Ukrainian Germans to the Polish Warthegau and Its Consequences, 1943-1944,” Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Fall 2008): pp. 1-23.
4. Samuel D. Sinner, The Open Wound: The Genocide of German Ethnic Minorities in Russia and the Soviet Union, 1915-1949/Der Genozid an Russlanddeutschen 1915-1949 (Fargo, ND: Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, 2000).
5. Stéphane Courtois, ed., et al., The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, trans. Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1999 ), p. 255.
6. Schmaltz, “Reform, ‘Rebirth,’ and Regret: The Early Autonomy Movement of Ethnic Germans in the USSR, 1955-1989,” Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2002.