Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet Concerning the Submission of Changes to the Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet from August 28, 1941, "On the Resettlement of Germans Residing in the Volga Region" (August 29, 1964)

Mikoyan , A. I. and M. Georgadze. “Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet Concerning the Submission of Changes to the Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet from August 28, 1941, ‘On the Resettlement of Germans Residing in the Volga Region’ (August 29, 1964).” 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: A. I. Mikoyan and M. Georgadze, “Ukaz Prezidiuma Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR o vnesenii izmenenii v Ukaz Prezidiuma Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR ot 28 avgusta 1941 goda 'O pereselenii nemtsev, prozhivaiushchikh v raionakh Povolzh’ya' (Aug. 29, 1964), in Vladimir A. Aumann and Valentina G. Chebotareva, eds., Istoriia rossiiskikh nemtsev v dokumentakh (1763-1992 gg.) (Moscow: MIGUP, 1993), pp. 178-179.


On August 29, 1964, the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet rescinded Stalin’s August 28, 1941 deportation order concerning the Volga Germans—and in effect making it applicable to all ethnic Germans in the country. The Chairman of USSR Supreme Soviet, A. I. Mikoyan, and the Secretary of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, M. Georgadze, signed this decree into law:

In the Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet from August 28, 1941, “On the Resettlement of Germans Residing in the Volga Region” with respect to the majority of the group of Germans who are Soviet citizens and who were accused of actively assisting the German-fascist aggressors:

Experience showed that these indiscriminate accusations were unfounded and appeared as a result of arbitrariness under the conditions of the cult of Stalin’s personality. In reality, during the years of the Great Patriotic War [World War II], the overwhelming majority of the German nationality group, together with our entire Soviet people, contributed to the Soviet Union’s hard-fought victory over fascist Germany, and in the postwar years, actively took part in the Communist construction [of Soviet society].

Thanks to the great help of the Communist Party and the Soviet State, the German population in recent years has firmly taken root [established itself] in the new places of residence and has taken advantage of all the rights as citizens of the USSR. Soviet citizens of German nationality conscientiously work in factories, state farms, collective farms, institutions, and actively participate in social and political life. Many of them are turning up as deputies in the Supreme and regional Soviets, working in the RSFSR [Russian], Ukrainian, Kazakh, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and other Union Republics. They are also turning up in leading official posts in industries and the rural economy [agriculture] and in the Soviet State and Party apparatus. Thousands of Soviet German citizens have been rewarded with decorations and medals of the USSR, and are held in high esteem by the Union republics. In the districts of several regions, territories, and republics with a German population, there are primary and secondary schools, where instruction is conducted in the German language, and other cultural measures are conducted for the German population.

The Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet resolves:

1. To repeal the Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet from August 28, 1941, “On the Resettlement of Germans Residing in the Volga Region” (Protocol Meeting of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, 1941, No. 9, p. 256), in the part containing the unfounded accusation with respect to the German population residing in the districts of the Volga Region.

2. Considering that the German population established itself in new places of residence in the territories of several localities, regions, and republics, and that its previous place of residence is now occupied [populated], in the goal of the future development of regions with the German population, to entrust henceforth the Soviet Ministers of the Union Republics with the rendering of assistance in economic life and cultural construction to the German population residing in the territories of the republics, in consideration of its special national features and interests.

In some respects, the “rehabilitation” decree picked up where the December 13, 1955 “amnesty” left off, introducing improvements in the ethnic Germans’ legal status as Soviet citizens. In other ways, however, it maintained previous travel restrictions in order to prevent members of the group from returning to native homelands and villages, becoming in effect a “partial rehabilitation,” as some ethnic activists and critics later called it.

At this time, the regime declared that the ethnic Germans had proved themselves capable in rebuilding postwar Soviet society. It withdrew Stalin’s “indiscriminate” and “unfounded accusations” of collective treason made against the ethnic Germans. “In reality,” it stated, “during the years of the Great Patriotic War, the overwhelming majority of the German nationality group, together with our entire Soviet people, contributed to the Soviet Union’s hard-fought victory over fascist Germany, and in the post-war years, actively took part in Communist construction [of Soviet society].” In short, the 1964 document blamed Stalin’s “cult of personality” and “arbitrariness” or “despotism” for the deportation order. Attributing the blame to Stalin’s 1930s and 1940s “excesses” was consistent with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s February 1956 “Secret Speech,” in which he also assigned the regime’s crimes to Stalin in person, but not to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as a whole or to the Soviet system itself.

Though acknowledging in rather broad terms the ethnic group’s wartime contributions and its assistance with the country’s post-war reconstruction, the authorities did not mention the fact that, until 1947, hundreds of thousands had to endure the harsh conditions of the Labor Army (trudarmiia). In November 1948, the group and other deported nations also had faced formal banishment “for all time” to Soviet Siberia’s and Central Asia’s remote “special settlement” (spetsposelenie). Thus during times of war and early post-war reconstruction, indeed until late 1955, the group essentially had to live in closely guarded settlements in isolated or segregated regions. Not until the late 1980s and early 1990s did the Soviet government even begin to address formal legal steps that would give Labor Army survivors official recognition as wartime veterans and reward the survivors and their dependents with specific monetary compensation and pensions for time served in the forced labor battalions.

The Soviet government may have formally erased the ethnic Germans’ guilt from the public record, but not from public sentiment. This task remained a difficult one, even if Moscow took all the necessary steps to combat the issue. Understandably, anti-German feelings ran strong in the years immediately following the terrible war, and the Cold War only heightened concerns about West Germany and its Western allies. For public enlightenment, the effort would have demanded time, but it remained essential for authorities to make widely public the news of the “rehabilitated” status of its large German minority. For decades to come, the ethnic Germans time and again raised this concern with the Kremlin. Yet the regime exerted almost no effort to do so in the weeks, months, years, and even decades after the decree’s release. A number of motivations contributed to the government’s reluctance to make the decree too public—the fear of public opposition to this resolution, the possibility of inflaming national sentiments among the other deported peoples, and the refusal to confront fully the Stalinist past.

Though the 1964 decree lacked significant publicity inside the USSR, the decree was almost immediately known abroad. As happened with the 1955 “amnesty” declaration, foreign policy considerations and propaganda for the West had determined the new “rehabilitation” decree’s carefully timed release. Hoping to continue improving diplomatic relations with West Germany, Moscow announced it in anticipation of Khrushchev’s planned visit to Bonn in late 1964. His trip, however, was canceled because of his abrupt October dismissal from office.1

Like the earlier “amnesty,” the 1964 decree catered more to Western consumption and remained a virtual secret from the general Russian population.2 The Russian-language version of the decree was published in the December 28, 1964 issue of the Bulletin of the USSR Supreme Soviet (Vedomost’ Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR, No. 52, page 931), a relatively obscure government journal. As in 1955, even the ethnic Germans did not receive a timely verification of this significant policy change. In the days and weeks following August 29, 1964, no more than a handful of ethnic Germans with access to governmental channels learned of the groundbreaking news. A few others only received word by reading East Germany’s Communist newspaper Neues Deutschland (New Germany)—again, the foreign press and governments were already informed of policy changes.

Among the dispersed ethnic German communities, often the news about the decree spread by word of mouth. After the first German delegation of autonomy activists convened in Moscow in early January 1965, the ethnic Germans were finally permitted to publish in German the landmark decree in their quite limited number of small-circulation German-language newspapers. In Soviet Central Asia, some German-language radio broadcasts also were permitted to announce the decree. At the same time, the Russian-language press in the USSR kept coverage at a minimum,3 only “commenting” on its release.4 Not until January 10, 1990, did the central ethnic-German newspaper Neues Leben (New Life) publish in its entirety and in Russian the 1964 “rehabilitation” decree—however, with only a few thousand copies in circulation per issue for a nationality group of two million—and more than twenty-five years after it was signed.

According to the 1964 document, three primary motivations led to the Kremlin’s decision to keep the Germans in the places to which they had been exiled. In subsequent years, the regime made a point of reiterating such reasons for not restoring the group’s national statehood (pre-1941 status). First, non-Germans now populated the group’s former settlements in the Volga Region—and elsewhere, for that matter. The occupation of the villages by locals was only partly true, however, as whole villages were also left abandoned along the Volga and other places.

Second, Moscow believed that the ethnic Germans would have found it difficult to move from their new homes, the reason given that “[t]hanks to the great help of the Communist Party and the Soviet State, the German population in recent years has firmly taken root in the new places of residence and takes advantage of all the rights as citizens of the USSR.” Not until subsequent decades did this notion gain wider credibility, however, when increasing numbers ethnic Germans, no longer truly expecting to return to native homelands and villages, had already lived for more than two generations in Soviet Siberia and Central Asia. By that time, the children and grandchildren of the German deportees had grown more attached to their new communities. By then, it was indeed much more difficult for many to pack up and move from established homes and communities, excepting, of course, the growing number of cases in which they took the risk of migrating to Germany at the end of the Cold War. Into the early 1990s, a large number of ethnic Germans, especially the older generations, would still have been willing to consider resettling along the Volga and other traditional homelands, if the government made clear provisions and guarantees to return the politico-cultural institutions and other legal protections lost under Stalin.

Associated with the idea that the Germans “had established” themselves in the East, the third and perhaps most compelling reason for the Kremlin to keep the Germans in exile was economic. Expressing perhaps too much optimism about their more recent handling of ethnic Germans, the authorities made it all too evident—no doubt that this sentiment was sincere—that they prized this large and productive labor pool living on the developing eastern steppes.

Though the 1964 decree painted perhaps too rosy a picture about the status of ethnic Germans in the USSR, a degree of truth also rested behind these official claims. By Soviet economic standards—despite the many early hardships and virtually no governmental assistance up to that point—many resettled ethnic Germans had managed in more recent years to establish new lives for themselves. In Siberia and Central Asia, they had begun to enter into the agricultural, mining, industrial, and engineering fields and to restore their traditional reputation as sober and productive Soviet workers. Their own success in labor and industry in part resulted from an overwhelming desire to prove themselves again to a society that had once ostracized them as “foreigners, fascists, and Fritzes.”

The decree’s claim about German-language instruction and accommodations was also partly true, but misleading. In the late 1950s, as an early, but indirect, consequence of the 1955 “amnesty,” some limited educational opportunities for children in the group to learn German as a second or foreign language also had been implemented in a few remote parts of the USSR. Such courses were open to Soviet citizens of all nationalities and were not intended to provide Germans with native- or primary-language instruction. These limited educational provisions coincided with the creation in 1957 of two small-circulation newspapers, Neues Leben in Moscow and Rote Fahne (Red Banner) in Slavgorod, Russia. In matters of education, the media and the press, however, the regime could use these cultural provisions as tools of Communist indoctrination. The official use of propaganda in the native German language was most necessary for the older generations of ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union.5

Unlike some of the deported Soviet peoples of the period, such as the Chechens, Ingush, and Kalmyks, the ethnic Germans and others, including the Crimean Tatars and the Meskhetian Turks, never received the opportunity to restore their previous national and cultural status in the USSR.

ENDNOTES

1. Despite the relatively close proximity of dates, there appears to be no connection between the August 1964 document’s release and Nikita Khrushchev’s abrupt dismissal in October of that year. On the matter of political fate, however, there is an odd parallel between Khrushchev in late 1964 and Mikhail Gorbachev in late 1991. About four months after the release of the April 1991 “rehabilitation” decree for the “deported and repressed Soviet peoples,” Kremlin hardliners tried to oust Gorbachev from office. In August 1991, preparations for the First All-Union Congress of Germans in the USSR were also to take place in Moscow with the goal of legally restoring autonomy for the nationality group inside the country. Because of the attempted coup d’état against Gorbachev, the Congress had to be rescheduled for October of that year. Two months after the Congress convened, the Soviet Union disbanded in December 1991, when the last pillars of the political legitimacy of the Soviet regime and Gorbachev collapsed quickly. Also consult the memoirs of ethnic activist Adolf Bersch, Zwischen Leiden und Hoffen: Das Schicksal eines Wolgadeutschen (Erinnerungen) (Augsburg: Negele-Druck, 1997).

2. Soviet foreign policy considerations figured in the drawing up of the August 1964 “rehabilitation” decree. Owing to strained Soviet-West German relations after the construction of the Berlin Wall in late 1961, Khrushchev sent his son-in-law on a state visit to Bonn in July 1964. Consequently, the decree opened further talks between the USSR and West Germany. Then at the 1965 Vienna Conference, both countries discussed the issue of German families separated during the war. See Sidney Heitman, “Soviet Emigration Policies Toward Germans and Armenians,” in Henry R. Huttenbach, ed., Soviet Nationality Policies: Ruling Ethnic Groups in the USSR (New York and London: Mansell Publishing Limited, 1990), pp. 246-247; Benjamin Pinkus, “The Germans in the USSR Since 1945,” The Soviet Germans: Past and Present, ed. Edith Rogovin Frankel (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), p. 110.

3. Meir Buchsweiler, ed., A Collection of Soviet Documents Concerning Germans in the USSR, Research Paper No. 73 (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Marjorie Mayrock Center for Soviet and East European Research, Dec. 1991), p. 5; Alfred Eisfeld, Die Russlanddeutschen, rev. ed. (Munich: F.A. Herbig Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1999 [1992]), pp. 139-141; Boris Levytsky, “Germans in the Soviet Union: New Facts and Figures [Jan. 1975 issue of Osteuropa],” trans. LaVern J. Rippley, Work Paper of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia No. 22 (Winter 1976): p. 3; Ann Sheehy, The Crimean Tatars, Volga Germans and Meskhetians: Soviet Treatment of Some National Minorities, Report No. 6 (London: Minority Rights Group, 1973), p. 26.

4. In a personal letter addressed to Anastas I. Mikoyan, the second delegation of ethnic German activists to convene in Moscow in mid-July 1965 reported that they were only aware of two “shameful” articles about the August 1964 decree published in the Russian newspaper Trud (Labor)—in its issues of January 31, 1965, and June 22, 1965. These articles appeared after the first delegation of ethnic activists in early January of that year had pressed for newspaper coverage of the decree. In both instances, the Trud articles simply reported briefly on the decree, but did not reprint it in full. Both articles appeared more or less in response to the group’s demands to publicize the decree. See “Pis’mo A. I. Mikoyan [July 9, 1965],” in Vladimir A. Aumann and Valentina G. Chebotareva, eds., Istoriia rossiiskikh nemtsev v dokumentakh. Tom II: Obshchestvenno-politicheskoe dvizhenie za vosstanovlenie natsional’noi gosudarstvennosti (1965-1992 gg.) (Moscow: Verein für das Deutschtum im Ausland [VDA], 1994), p. 39.

5. Created in 1957, the Slavgorod, Russia newspaper Rote Fahne (Red Banner), later renamed Zeitung für Dich (Newspaper for You), was the sole ethnic German newspaper to be published entirely in German. Unfortunately, since its inception, it had also been one of the smallest circulating newspapers for the ethnic group, so much so that many ethnic Germans for years did not even know about its existence. Before the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, this declining newspaper finally ceased operation.


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