On 31 August 1941, the Soviet Politburo issued a resolution entitled “On Germans, living on the territory of the Ukrainian SSR.” This decree ordered the mobilization of all Russian-German men aged 16-60 in Ukraine into construction battalions. The NKVD rounded up these men under the pretext that their ethnicity made them “anti-Soviet elements.” By 3 September 1941, the NKVD had formed 13 forced labor battalions with a total 18,600 men. The NKVD sent these Russian-German men to the Ivdel, Solikamsk and Bogoslav labor camps in the Urals without trial. In Ivdel they felled trees. In Solikamsk and Bogoslav they built large factory complexes. These men formed the first wave of Russian-Germans forcibly inducted into the labor army (trudarmiia).
The legal conditions of the Ukrainian born Russian-Germans mobilized into construction battalions rapidly deteriorated during the fall of 1941. On 11 September 1941, the NKVD reorganized these battalions into work colonies and assigned responsibility for their supply and organization to GULag. By 20 November 1941, they had come under GULag discipline. The NKVD housed them in barracks and prohibited them from leaving their assigned labor columns. They had to carry special ID cards noting this legal prohibition. On 2 January 1942, the NKVD again intensified the regimentation of these forced laborers. They issued new instructions for organizing the life and work of the mobilized Russian-Germans. These instructions created a special zone around their barracks patrolled by armed guards and dogs to prevent escapes. They also established a minimum ten-hour workday with only one day off every ten days. A large part of the instructions dealt with punishment for failure to fulfill work quotas, violating discipline or damaging state property. Administrative punishments ranged from a verbal dressing down to ten days of solitary confinement with only a half hour exercise break each day under armed escort. Men in solitary confinement had to sleep on the naked floor. Special NKVD boards tried serious and habitual offenses. These boards had the authority to impose the death penalty. The men in what later became the labor army occupied a social and legal position in the USSR not significantly above that of convicted prisoners.
Material conditions in the labor camps for the mobilized Russian-Germans proved to be deadly. They lacked warm clothing, blankets, shoes, bedding and sufficient food. Frostbite and exposure afflicted and even killed many men working outside during the winter. Malnutrition related maladies such as scurvy and pellagra became common due to a lack of protein and vitamins. Overpopulated, damp and unsanitary barracks led to epidemics of typhus, tuberculosis, dysentery and other diseases. These poor material conditions led to massive excess mortality. Between January and July 1942, the NKVD recorded the death of 17.6% of the mobilized Russian-Germans in Solikamsk and 12.6% in Bogoslav. Many of the men sent from Ukraine to the camps in the Urals in September 1941 never returned.
N.F. Bugai, ed., Mobilizovat’ nemtsev v rabochie kolonny…I. Stalin” : Sbornik dokumentov (1940-e gody) (Moscow: Gotika, 1998).
A.A. German and A.N. Kurochkin, Nemtsy SSSR v trudovoi armii (1941-1955) (Moscow: Gotika, 1998).