Monday, April 11, 2011

Stabbing People in the Back is an Old Soviet Trick

The official Soviet decision to deport the Volga Germans came from the Council of Peoples Commissars and the Central Committee of the Communist Party on 26 August 1941. This document which was secret at the time starts out with "The Council of Peoples Commissars Union of SSRs and C[entral] C[ommittee] of the A[ll Russian] C[ommunist] P[arty] (b[olshevik]) resolves:

1: To resettle all Germans from the Republic of Germans of the Volga and from the oblasts of Saratov and Stalingrad to the following krais and oblasts:"
It then lists Krasnoiarsk Krai, Altai Krai, Omsk Oblast, Novosibirsk Oblast, and a number of oblasts in Kazakhstan (German, Ilarionova, and Pleve, doc. 8.31., pp. 254-257). This resolution was followed up on 28 August 1941 with a public decree decree by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet with the title "On Resettling Germans Living in the Region of the Volga." This decree unlike the one two days earlier which had no justification listed accused the Volga Germans of harboring "thousands and tens of thousands of saboteurs and spies" awaiting orders from Germany (German, Ilarionova, and Pleve, doc. 8.3.2, pp. 257-258).

What is interesting about these two decrees that I just really noticed is their very sudden timing in relation to the official Soviet line regarding the Volga Germans. It is true that the NKVD had already forcibly evacuated the Crimean Germans. But, the Volga Germans were still an official Soviet nationality with their own territory and administrative structures. They were also still being promoted as a loyal part of the Soviet war effort against Nazi Germany just days before the Stalin regime ordered their deportation.

On 21 August 1941, the Communist Party leadership of the Volga German ASSR had passed a resolution recommending a number of Volga German communists for political work in the Red Army. The list included thirty men for organizational work, twenty men for editorial work, and three men to be held in reserve if needed (German, Ilarionova, and Pleve, doc. 8.21., pp. 249-252). So a mere five days before the official decision to deport the Volga Germans was made the Soviet government was still soliciting their assistance in its fight against Nazi Germany.

Even more shocking is the article run in Komsomol'skaia Pravda on 24 August 1941, two days before the decision. This article was devoted to the heroism of Heinrich Hoffmann, a  twenty year old Volga German Komsomol member who had been tortured to death by the Nazis. This article stresses the heroism of Hoffmann and highlights both his German nationality and Soviet patriotism in fighting against the Nazis (German, Ilarionova, and Pleve, doc. 8.2.2., pp. 252-253). Unlike other Soviet martyrs in the struggle against Nazi Germany, Hoffmann quickly became forgotten after the Soviet government ordered the deportation of his entire nationality two days after Komsomol'skaia Pravda praised his bravery.

The rapid change in the public official Soviet line towards the Volga Germans between 24 August 1941 and 28 August 1941, leads me to believe that the actual decision was made long before 21 August 1941. But, that in order to maintain the element of surprise the Soviet government continued to pretend to treat the Volga Germans as fully equal Soviet citizens until the eve of the deportation. Hence the one day trumpeting of Hoffmann's martyrdom just days before forcibly dispersing the entire Volga German population across Siberia and Kazakhstan.

Source: A.A. German, T.S. Ilariovona, I.R. Pleve, eds., Istoriia nemtsev Rossii: Khrestomatiia (Moscow: "MSNK-Press", 2005).


Gabriele Goldstone said...

Or, could it possibly be that the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing? The Soviets were always a very disorganized bunch. Just a thought.
Interesting post!

StunningDiary said...

Ive always found it important, in the case of the deportation of the Volga Germnans and some other Soviet minorities, to point out the difference between deportation and evacuation. There were people who were evacuated during the war. But the Volga Germans were not temporarily evacuated but permanently dispossessed, both in terms of their homes, houses, lands, culture and in terms of their human rights. Stalin's collective deportation and labor camp internment of the Russian Germans was against basic human rights. And the excuse is cynical. Firstly, there cannot be an entire minority (which in most cases felt Soviet citizens) punished by labor camp and deportation for a war that another country (Germany) started. Furthermore, even the cynical excuses and "justifications" by Stalin would as a maximum point to temporary evacuation (without labor camp internment) and return after the war. This however, as it seems, was never planned. So yes, one can definitely speak of genocide of this minority.

J. Otto Pohl said...


I think the Soviet leadership knew what it was doing. It obviously did not inform many lower level officials. But, that was deliberate not a result of disorganization.


Yes, the Volga Germans were deported not evacuated. I used the term forcibly evacuated with regards to the Crimean Germans because in August 1941 they were temporarily resettled in the North Caucasus to assist with the harvest. It was only in October 1941 that the Stalin regime deported them to special settlements in Kazakhstan along with the Russian-German population already resident in the North Caucasus.