The Soviet State Defense Committee issued GKO Order 1123ss “On the Orderly Use of German-Resettlers of Conscript Age 17-50” on 10 January 1942. Signed by Joseph Stalin this decree provided the legal basis for the first mass induction of Russian-German civilians into the labor army. It made all able bodied Russian-German men between 17 and 50 deported to Novosibirsk Oblast, Omsk Oblast, Krasnoiarsk Krai, Altai Krai and Kazakhstan eligible for mobilization into work colonies for the duration of the war against Germany. The NKVD estimated that this population numbered between 125,000 and 130,000 men. The decree called for the mobilization of 120,000 of them into labor detachments to fell trees (45,000), build metallurgy factories (35,000) and lay rail lines (40,000). The Stalin regime began the military style conscription of these men into forced labor brigades immediately.
The Peoples Commissariat of Defense (NKO) sent draft notices to the Russian-Germans called up for labor service. They were required to report to specified collection points with winter clothing, bedding, eating utensils and ten days worth of food. The NKO then turned the draftees over to the NKVD and NKPS (Peoples Commissariat of Transportation). The call up itself lasted 20 days and the NKVD and NKPS had until 10 February 1942 to deliver the inducted men to their assigned work sites. Special boards of the NKVD had the authority to try those who failed to appear at the collection points. The punishment for such disobedience included the death penalty. Despite this power, the initial draft of Russian-German men into the labor army failed to meet its goal by almost 30,000 people. It only inducted 40,000 men to work in six lumber camps and 28,000 to work on four construction sites in the Gulag. It mobilized another 25,000 Russian-German deportees to work on seven NKPS railway projects. The total number of Russian-Germans conscripted into the labor army between 10 and 30 January 1942 fell just short of 93,000 men. The NKVD and NKPS then transported most of these men by rail to Gulag camps in the Urals.
These men joined the nearly 21,000 Russian-Germans already conscripted into work colonies by the NKVD in Ukraine or discharged from the Red Army and sent to Gulag camps as “labor mobilized Germans” during the fall of 1941. The Stalin regime condemned these men to forced labor in Gulag camps without charge or trial, but rather on the basis of their German ancestry. The Soviet government did not count these men as prisoners despite the fact that they lived in conditions almost identical to those of convicts. Rather it publicly represented this system of forced labor aimed at a specific ethnic group as an alternative to military service. The men and later women subjected to this modern form of slavery referred to the institution as the labor army or in Russian trudarmiia a contraction of trudovaia armiia.
N.F. Bugai, ed., “Mobilizovat’ nemtsev v robochie kolonny…I. Stalin”: Sbornik dokumentov (1940-e gody) (Moscow: Gotika, 1998), doc. 18, pp. 39-40, docs. 30-36, pp. 53-60, doc. 39, pp. 62-63, doc. 47, pp. 70-71.
A.A. German and A.N. Kurochkin, Nemtsy SSSR v trudovoi armii (1941-1955) (Moscow: Gotika, 1998), pp. 48-56.