Friday, August 21, 2009

Sometimes even Terry Martin makes a mistake

Last night I reread Terry Martin's, "The Russian Mennonite Encounter with the Soviet State 1917-1955," The Conrad Grebel Review, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Winter 2002). It is overall a very good summary of the history of the Mennonites under Soviet rule. But, I did find one area of confusion which upon further investigation seems to have troubled other scholars. The Soviet regime divided the deported Russian-Germans categorized as special settlers into a number of sub-categories. One of these sub-categories was "mobilized." That is Russian-Germans conscripted to work in the labor army or "mobilized work columns." While the labor army existed such a category is rather straight forward. But, the category persists in Soviet records after the abolition of the labor army in 1945-1946. That is after the Stalin regime abolished the guarded zone around their barracks, reclassified them as special settlers and granted them the formal right to reunite with their families (Berdinskikh 2005, doc. 3, p. 332 and Bugai, doc. 50, pp. 77-78 and 51, p. 78) . Martin states that the category "mobilized Germans" consisted of labor army "veterans that did not go to the exile settlements - usually because they had no family to return to - and instead continued to work in their Trudarmei job." (Martin, p. 50). I looked this up in V. I. Berdinskikh's Kandidat Nauk dissertation and he described the category as those discharged from the Red Army and then sent to the labor army (V.I. Berdinskikh 2002, p. 55). While there were many former labor army veterans that remained tied to their former places of employment and many former Red Army soldiers sent to the labor army neither of these define the term "mobilized German" after 1946.

Rather the term refers to those Russian-Germans who were conscripted into the labor army from among the population already living east of the Urals in 1941 and hence not special settlers at the time of their mobilization. I found this definition in four primary source documents reproduced by V.I. Berdinskikh in Spetsposelentsy: Politicheskaia ssylka narodov sovetskoi Rossii (doc., 3, pp. 332-333, doc. 7, p. 338, doc. 8, p. 340 and doc. 9, pp. 342-343). When the Soviet government reclassified all labor army veterans as special settlers those that had been deported simply resumed their former legal classification. These people were added back to the contingent of "exiled" Russian-Germans. But, those inducted from Siberia, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, the Urals and Far East were not special settlers in 1942 and 1943. They became the new contingent of "mobilized German" special settlers after the elimination of the labor army.

It is hard to judge exactly what the split is between "mobilized" and "exiled" that were allowed to return home versus those attached to their former labor army jobs. But, it does appear that a sizable number of those not allowed to reunify with their families were in fact those Russian-Germans conscripted into the labor army after being deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia. One of the documents mentions 26,219 such people working in Moscow, Tula, Gorky, Stalingrad and Kubishev oblasts (Berdinskikh 2005, doc. 3, p. 332). So those remaining in central Russia working in industrial enterprises consisted of a large number of "exiled" rather than "mobilized" Germans.

It is unclear to me why the category of "mobilized" did not include those who had been deported, removed from the special settlement registers during their service in the labor army, and then reclassified as special settlers upon demobilization. It is even more unclear why the category of "local" Germans did not include those Russian-Germans from east of the Urals mobilized into the labor army during the war. But, Soviet accounting categorized labor army veterans that had lived in Kazakhstan, Siberia and the Urals prior to 1941 as their own sub-contingent.

V.I. Berdinskikh, Osobennosti formirovaniia infrastruktury sistemy spetsposelenii v SSSR 1930-1940-x gg. (Kandidat Nauk dissertation, Viatskii State Humanitarian University, 2002).

V.I. Berdinskikh, Spetsposelentsy: Politicheskaia ssylka narodov sovetskoi Rossii (Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2005).

N.F. Bugai, Iosif Stalin - Lavrentiiu Berii: "Ikh nado deportirovat'": Dokumenty, fakty, kommentarii (Moscow: Druzhba narodov, 1992).

Terry Martin, " The Russian Mennonite Encounter with the Soviet State 1917-1955," The Conrad Grebel Review, Vol. 20, No. 1, (Winter 2002), pp. 5-59.

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