"Wir hatten nichts": The Fate of ethnic Germans Deported to Kazakhstan During World War II
J. Otto Pohl
In the fall of 1941 the Soviet government forcibly deported some 800,000 ethnic Germans from west of the Urals to desolate areas of Siberia and Kazakhstan. Upon arrival in their new places of residence the NKVD (People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs) classified them as special settlers, the same legal designation as deported kulaks, and placed them under severe restrictions. In particular they could not leave their newly assigned places of settlement without special written permission. These legal restrictions remained in place until the end of 1955. About half of these deportees ended up in Kazakhstan where the local authorities initially assigned almost all of them to agricultural labour. Settled into the already inhabited houses of Kazakh kolkhoz workers, abandoned buildings needing repair, and even earth huts the Germans suffered from a lack of proper housing. They also experienced severe shortages of food, medicine, and winter clothing. As a result large numbers of them perished from malnutrition, disease, and exposure. After 10 January 1942, the Soviet government began the forced mobilization of the deported Germans into labour columns known collectively as the labour army to work in lumber and construction camps run by the NKVD in the Urals as well as building railroads. They conscripted over 100,000 ethnic Germans from Kazakhstan to work in the labour army. The mass induction of women after 7 October 1942 meant that many of the Germans remaining in Kazakhstan were children without any adult relatives to look after them. Deaths exceeded births among the ethnic Germans in Kazakhstan and other regions of the USSR until 1948. Only after this date do material conditions for the exiled Germans begin to improve significantly.