Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Death and Life in the Labor Army

At the same time that the Nazi regime was engaged in the mass gassing of Jews in death camps the Stalin regime was busy rounding up every single able bodied adult of German ancestry in the USSR for slave labor. The Soviet government condemned hundreds of thousands of men and women to work under conditions that resulted in tens of thousands of them dying from hunger, exhaustion, and exposure solely because their ancestors had immigrated to the Russian Empire from Central Europe.  During 1942 and 1943 the Soviet government forcibly mobilized over 316,000 ethnic Germans into the labor army to perform forced labor. As a result of the inhumane conditions in the labor army over 60,000 or nearly a fifth of those conscripted perished during and soon after the war (German and Silantjewa, p. 308). Below I have reproduced an excerpt from Orlando Figes The Whisperers describing the conditions experienced by Rudolf Gotman in the labor army.

Rudolf Gotman was born in 1922 to a Lutheran German family from the Crimea. The Gotmans were categorized as 'kulaks' and exiled to the wilderness near Arkhangelsk in 1931.  When the war broke out Rudolf was picked up by the NKVD as a 'German national' (in fact his ancestors had lived in Russia since 1831) and sent to work in the coal mines of the Donbass. There he was conscripted by a labour brigade made up of a hundred young men from 'German' families and sent to work in a food-processing factory in Solikamsk, in the northern Urals. In the autumn of of 1942, the men were sent to a nearby logging camp to fell timber. They lived in barracks, slept on wooden benches, and were given starvation-level rations. Made to work in freezing temperatures, more than half the brigade members died in the first winter. The NKVD guards, who supervised the brigade, showed no mercy for the 'German' boys and called them 'Fascist scum'. Rudolf survived by virtue of the fact that he was injured and taken to hospital: otherwise he would have died from exhaustion. He remained in the labour army for the next fourteen years. He worked in factories, Soviet farms and construction sites and was even sent to the Caucasus to build dachas for Stalin, Molotov and Beria. He did not receive any pay until 1948, and was not allowed to to leave the labour army until 1956, as part of the general amnesty for Gulag prisoners. (Figes, p. 424).

May those who died rest in peace.


Orlando Figes, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia, (London: Penguin Books, 2008).

A. German and O. Silantjewa, (eds.), "Vyselit' s treskom". Ochevidtsy i issledovateli o tragedii rossiiskikh nemtsev / "Fortjagen muss man sie". Zeitzeugen und Forscher berichten uber die Tragodie der Russlanddeutschen, (Moscow: MSNK-Press, 2011).


Sherrie (Gettman) Stahl said...

Otto, My family is G:ottmann from Frank/Brunnental Volga, Russia...could this Gotmann family be related? Sherrie Stahl, Village Coordinator, Brunnental, Samara, Russia

J. Otto Pohl said...

This Gotmann was from Crimea so I doubt they are directly related. But, I have no other information other than what I posted.