Thursday, May 18, 2006

Stalin's Ethnic Cleansing of the Crimean Tatars: 18 May 1944

In the early hours of 18 May 1944 some 32,000 members of the NKVD and NKGB began the systematic round up of the entire Crimean Tatar population. These armed units went from house to house and rousted the still sleeping victims and informed them that the Stalin regime had decreed that they were traitors to the Soviet Motherland. This false and slanderous accusation carried a sentence of permanent banishment from Crimea to Uzbekistan as special settlers. Evicted from their homes the Crimean Tatars had only a short time to gather a few possessions with them into exile. The NKVD men then escorted them to cars and trucks and drove them to rail stations for deportation from their homeland. They rapidly stuffed the Crimean Tatar deportees into train wagons meant for the transportation of livestock. An average of 50 people found themselves crowded into each of the small wooden boxes. Thousands of families became separated during this process as the soldiers placed mothers and children in separate wagons. In a period of three days the NKVD had completed loading the vast majority of the Crimean Tatar population into cattle cars.

In total the NKVD herded over 180,000 people on train echelons bound for Uzbekistan. Women and children constituted over 80% of these deportees. Some 25,000 Crimean Tatar men had earlier gone to the front to fight in the Red Army against Nazi Germany. Eight of them had even received the title Hero of the Soviet Union for their valor in this struggle. The survivors of this conflict later found themselves stripped of their arms and sent to special settlements in Uzbekistan to join the rest of the Crimean Tatar population. The Soviet government forcibly mobilized another 11,000 Crimean Tatar men into forced labor battalions during the deportations and sent them to various sites in Russia and Kazakhstan. In total the Stalin regime forcibly resettled nearly 200,000 Crimean Tatars.

The day after completing this task, the NKVD diverted over 30,000 Crimean Tatar deportees from their journey to Uzbekistan to the Urals. These special settlers worked in lumber preparation and cellulose and paper factories. The cold and wet climate here combined with poor housing, lack of warm clothing and insufficient nourishment led to poor health. Numerous outbreaks of dysentery, mange and eczema plagued the Crimean Tatar exiles in the Urals. Only the most limited and primitive medical care existed to treat such ailments. As a result uncounted thousands perished here.

The remaining 150,000 plus Crimean Tatars continued on to Uzbekistan. They traveled for weeks in extremely unsanitary conditions. Each wagon had only a hole or bucket to serve as a toilet. The deportees had very little water for either drinking or washing. The train wagons thus quickly became infested with lice. Outbreaks of typhus and other diseases afflicted the exiles in transit. A lack of sufficient food exacerbated their ill health. Official Soviet records show an average of only 340 grams of food issued a day for each deportee while on the trains, a ration guaranteed to bring death sooner rather than later. Since the journey to Uzbekistan took an average of three weeks and those sent to Mari-El did not arrive until July many Crimean Tatars died along the way. The NKVD threw those that perished by the side of the railway tracks thus depriving them of a proper burial. The difference in the number of Crimean Tatars deported and those arriving in their assigned places of exile exceeded 6,000 people.

The Stalin regime sent the Crimean Tatars to Uzbekistan during a known malaria epidemic despite the fact that the USSR had no extra drugs to fight the disease at the time. Their immune systems weakened by malnutrition and hunger the deportees died in droves from this illness during their first years of exile. The NKVD registered over 26,000 deaths among Crimean Tatars in Uzbekistan in less than a year and a half. Most of these people died in agony from malaria.

The Soviet government placed the Crimean Tatars in Uzbekistan under special settlement restrictions and used them for hard labor in construction, mining, manufacturing and agriculture. The special settlement restrictions saddled the deportees with an onerous set of legal liabilities. They could not leave their assigned settlement without special permission from their local NKVD commandant and had to report to this commandant and register on a regular basis. These NKVD commandants administered a separate legal system over the Crimean Tatars and denied them equal rights with most other Soviet citizens. To enforce this legal inferiority the Crimean Tatars had to carry special identification documents noting their unequal status on the basis of their nationality.

The Soviet government did not remove the special settlement restrictions from the Crimean Tatars until 28 April 1956, over three years after Stalin’s death. Even then it did not lift the false accusation of treason against all Crimean Tatars until 5 September 1967. The ban on the vast majority of Crimean Tatars from returning home to Crimea remained effective into the late 1980s. For decades the Crimean Tatars engaged in peaceful demonstrations, petitions and other forms of protests against this ban. Only after 1987, however, could large numbers of Crimean Tatars again live in Crimea without being expelled back to Uzbekistan by the Soviet authorities. Today over half of the Crimean Tatar population of the former USSR lives in Crimea where they are engaged in a peaceful struggle to achieve full national, civil and political rights.


Nika said...

thank you very much for writing this and for letting me know


J. Otto Pohl said...

You are welcome. You are the first person to leave a comment on this blog in many weeks. I was starting to think nobody other than my family read it.

N.R.E. said...

Don't worry, we're out there. And yes, thanks for posting this; I'd heard of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars before, but I wasn't aware that it was a near-genocide. Why haven't more people heard of this?

Jonathan Edelstein

Anonymous said...

Were the trucks used for this atrocity Lend-Lease Fords?

J. Otto Pohl said...

Jonathan: The Crimean Tatar national movement has maintained it was a genocide since the 1960s. They made the argument in numerous petitions to the Soviet government and various samizdat publications. Official Soviet figures give the mortality rate for the Crimean Tatars from 1944 to 1948 at between 20%-25%. The Crimean Tatar national movement has claimed 46.2%. They have also been quite active since the 1960s both in the former Soviet states and elsewhere in trying to publicize this crime. There is even a small, but active Crimean Tatar community in NYC.

Grant: They used lend-lease Willy Jeeps in the Crimean Tatar deportation. They refer specifically to them in the 11 May 1944 deportation order. Many of the trucks used in the various Soviet deportations of 1943-1944 were lend-lease Studebakers. I will have to check to see specifically what vehicles other than the Willy Jeeps saw use in the Crimean Tatar deportations.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update, Otto. The make of the vehicles isn't important. I just find in interesting that at a time when Stalin was screaming for a second front and more Lend-Lease, he had the wherewithal to engage in ethnic cleaning.

It's not unlike the Nazis using precious rolling stock and other materials for the Holocaust when faced with a desparate military situation.

P.S. Even when I don't post comments, I visit often.

Unknown said...

My Name is Erol and my middle name is Otto. My Mom is a Crimean Tatar who was born in Sudak, Crimea. My Great Grandparents were wealthy wine makers in Crimea before teh Communists took over. The only reason I am here today is the decision by my Gradnfather to escape to germany during Hitler's retreat.