Suffering in a Province of Asia: The Russian-German Diaspora in Kazakhstan
Diaspora Experiences: German-Speaking Immigrants and their Descendants
Waterloo Centre for German Studies, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
24-27 August 2006
By 1989, nearly a million Russian-Germans lived in Kazakhstan. They constituted the third largest nationality in the territory after Russians and Kazakhs. At almost 6% of the population, the Russian-Germans formed the largest and most important diaspora nationality in the Kazakh SSR. The Russian-Germans played an important role in Kazakhstan’s economic development in the years after World War II.
The origins of the Russian-Germans in Kazakhstan are mixed. Russian-German colonists from other regions of the Russian Empire first settled there in 1882. By 1926, Kazakhstan had over 50,000 Russian-Germans. Deportations during the collectivization of agriculture in 1930-1931 further increased this population. In 1936, the Soviet government exiled the Russian-German population near the Polish border to Kazakhstan. On the eve of World War II the Russian German population numbered over 90,000 due to these deportations and natural growth. The events of 1941 increased this number by a factor of five. By 1942, over half a million Russian-Germans found themselves confined to Kazakhstan.
The vast majority of Russian-Germans from Kazakhstan are the descendents of deportees during World War II. During the fall of 1941, the Stalin regime deported more than 850,000 Russian-Germans eastward. Close to 400,000 of these deportees ended up in Kazakhstan. Here the Soviet government subjected them to inhumane living conditions of severe material poverty and denial of basic human rights. Only in the mid-1950s, after Stalin’s death, did their status improve significantly.
Despite these improvements, the Russian-Germans continued to suffer from official discrimination. They could not return to their former places of residence, they only had access to a few token German language publications and they remained largely excluded from receiving higher education and white collar jobs. This discrimination made it impossible for the Russian-Germans to adopt Kazakhstan as a new homeland. It continued to be a land of involuntary exile and suffering.
I intend to submit a paper on the history of the Russian-Germans in Kazakhstan. The paper covers the various waves of migration to Kazakhstan with a special emphasis on the mass forced resettlements during World War II. It then deals with the legal and material conditions endured by the Russian-Germans in Kazakhstan during the 1940s and 1950s. Finally, it addresses the problems of acculturation, continued discrimination, lack of cultural autonomy and the desire to immigrate to Germany that concerned the diaspora in subsequent decades. The paper draws upon a large variety of published primary source material from the archives in Moscow and Almaty. It also makes use of recently published memoirs written by Russian-Germans from Kazakhstan now living in Germany. The paper seeks to synthesize these sources to provide a more thorough historical account of the diaspora than previously possible.