Tuesday, August 15, 2006

65 Years Since the Uprooting of the Crimean Germans

At 10:00 pm 14 August 1941, Stavka issued Directive VGK No. 00931 under the signatures of Stalin and Shaposhnikov. It ordered, “Purge quickly the territory of the peninsula of all local residents – Germans and other anti-Soviet elements.” The next day the NKVD began the rapid and chaotic removal of the Crimean Germans by train to Ordzhonikidze (Stravopol) Krai and Rostov Oblast. The vast majority of the Crimean Germans, more than 50,000, found themselves initially sent to Ordzhonikidze Krai in the North Caucasus. Many families became separated during the evacuation. The NKVD only allowed the forced evacuees three to four hours to pack and limited their baggage to a maximum of 50 kg per person. Many people could not manage to bring much more with them into exile than some summer clothing a few days worth of food.

Most property had to be simply abandoned without compensation. Unlike deportees from other regions, the Crimean Germans did not receive any vouchers or receipts for the loss of their homes, buildings, livestock and most importantly grain stockpiles. The lack of these documents would make the later acquisition of food in Kazakhstan extremely difficult. The Soviet government was supposed to issue vouchers for abandoned and confiscated livestock, grain and other property to the resettled Russian-Germans. These vouchers could then be redeemed in their new locations. In Kazakhstan and Siberia the local authorities had orders not to issue any food to deportees without receiving vouchers in exchange. This situation left the Crimean Germans in an extremely desperate position.

In most cases the Soviet authorities failed to inform the Crimean Germans of their destinations or the fact that they needed to bring substantial amounts of food with them for the journey. As a result the majority of city dwellers completely ran out of food after only two to three days on the way to their new destinations. They also failed to pack winter clothing. This deficiency would later greatly add to their mass suffering and death in Kazakhstan.

The Stalin regime temporarily resettled some 50,000 Crimean Germans in Ordzhonikidze Krai and another 3,000 in Rostov Oblast. They remained in these locations only long enough to assist with the fall 1941 harvest. The NKVD then deported the Crimean Germans along with the rest of the Russian-Germans living in these territories to Kazakhstan and Siberia. The Soviet authorities carried out the deportations from Rostov Oblast during 15-20 September and those from Ordzhonikidze Krai between 25 September and 10 October. The NKVD assisted by the Red Army and regular police forcibly loaded these men, women and children into freight cars. The Crimean Germans had little other than what they had hastily packed in August. They arrived in their new locations hungry and totally impoverished.

Most of the more than 53,000 Crimean Germans deported by the NKVD from Ordzhnokidze Krai and Rostov Oblast ended up in Kazakhstan. Over 15% of the Russian-German deportees in Kazakhstan during World War II came from Crimea. The presence of such a large number of people without food and no legal means to immediately acquire any food created a serious humanitarian crisis. Many of them took to begging in an attempt to feed themselves and their families. Malnutrition and starvation quickly began to take a heavy toll among the Crimean Germans deported to Kazakhstan.

The Soviet authorities assigned the Crimean Germans to work on collective farms. Here they performed fieldwork including the harvest of beets. In exchange for their labor they received between 200 and 1000 grams of bread for each day worked. Family members who did not work including children got nothing. Some families had large numbers of minor children and only one or two workers. Many women capable of working did not receive work assignments further exacerbating the food shortage among the exiles. A lack of winter clothing prevented the Crimean Germans from working and earning bread during this season. The Stalin regime also placed the deported Russian-Germans under special settlement restrictions. These restrictions prevented them from leaving their assigned farms without special permission from the NKVD. Among other things these restrictions impeded the ability of the Crimean Germans to acquire food in Kazakhstan. During the fall and winter of 1941-1942, the Crimean Germans suffered from extreme hunger. It was a major cause of premature death among the group.

In addition to suffering from famine like conditions, the deportees also endured extremely poor housing conditions. The Soviet government housed the Crimean German deportees in already inhabited houses on the same collective farms on which they worked. They lived under extremely compact conditions. With few exceptions they shared these cramped quarters with ethnic Kazakhs. Many of the buildings used to house Russian-Germans in Kazakhstan had no glass windows or working doors. A shortage of construction materials prevented most necessary repairs. As a result the deportees lacked adequate shelter to protect them from the cold winter winds of Kazakhstan.

Poor nutrition and living conditions led to outbreaks of typhus, tuberculosis and other diseases that preyed upon the weakened immune systems of the exiles. Medical treatment for special settlers in Kazakhstan barely existed. Many Crimean Germans thus perished from the poverty related illnesses that thrived among the Russian-German special settlers.

Very few of the deported Crimean Germans ever managed to return to Crimea. The survivors remained exiled to Kazakhstan during the Soviet era. Their former homes, farms, churches and cemeteries lost forever.


V.M. Broshevan and V.K. Renpening, Bol’ i pamiat’ krymskikh nemtsev: 1941-2001 gg. Istoriko-dokumental’naia kniga (Simferopol: Tarpan, 2002).

N.F. Bugai, ed., Deportatsiia narodov kryma: Dokumenty, fakty, kommentarii (Moscow: Insan, 2002).

O.L. Milova, ed., Deportatsii narodov SSSR (1930-e-1950-e gody). Chast’ 2. Deportatsiia nemtsev (Sentiabr’ 1941 – Fevral’ 1942 gg.) (Moscow: RAN, 1995).

A. Shtraus and S. Pankrats, eds., Svidetel’stva prestuplenii (Bishkek: Ilim, 1997).

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