Voices From the GulagVoices from the Gulag; The Oppression of the German Minority in the Soviet Union, to be published by the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

This book, based on available sources, tells the story, by means of personal narratives, of the German settlements in Russia; their beginning under Empress Catherine the Great in 1763; their accomplishments, creating productive farming communities on previously unproductive land in the Southern steppes of Russia, and the Southern Ukraine. It covers the revocation of their special privileges in 1871 by Czar Alexander II; exile to Siberia and the confiscation of some of their properties in World War I, and above all the destruction of their communities and forced labor in Siberia and Central Asia under Stalin. It relates the harsh living conditions of the survivors in the Gulag as well as continued exile under subsequent Communist governments and finally, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the return to their ancient German homeland. Their personal stories tell of their suffering as well as their ability to overcome the hardships of the Soviet Union.. Professor Eric J. Schmaltz, in his article, Soviet “Paradise” Revisited: Genocide, Dissent, Memory and Denial, (Heritage Review, Volume 17, No.3, September 2007, page 8) estimates that 893,000 to 1,065,000 German Russians died during the Soviet period as a result, directly or indirectly, of government action.

 

The story of the Germans in Russia is a tragic one.. The ethnic Germans were subject to the worst elements of the Soviet communist system, foremost among them forced exile to the slave labor camps of the Gulag in Siberia and Central Asia. Saddest of all perhaps, this story describes, in the words of those who lived it, the destruction of a unique German society in Russia. During and after the war, the entire ethnic group was imprisoned in the Gulag. The most bitter experience was that of the 200,000 German- Russians who, having survived the Soviet system by evacuation  to Germany by the German army near the end of the war, were then repatriated to the Soviet Union because of the terms of the Yalta agreement. They were all sent to the Gulag.

 

Although many other Soviet minorities, mainly from the Caucasus, suffered repression and exile, Soviet oppression of the German minority was especially egregious. First, it was the largest ethnic group deported to the Gulag in Siberia and Central Asia. Of the approximately 2.75 million exiled members of Soviet ethnic groups, the Germans represented the largest single contingent.  Second, the repression of dissident elements in the Soviet Union was historically class or political rather than ethnically based; the oppression and exile of the ethnic Germans represented the first case of mass ethnic cleansing in the Soviet Union. The Germans were exiled to Siberia not for political or social reasons but because of their ethnicity. They suffered and died not for what they did, but for who they were (At the end of the war, however, with the reconquest of Soviet territory, other ethnic groups, particularly from the Crimea and Caucasus, were also accused of treason by the Soviet regime for cooperating with German occupation forces, and massively transported by the NKVD to the Gulag in Siberia and Central Asia.)  As distinct from most of the other repressed ethnic groups, however, the exiled Germans were not permitted to return to their old homelands by the August, 1964 Soviet political rehabilitation decree. Neither did it permit the re-establishment of the Volga Autonomous Republic

 

The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic finally acknowledged in April 1991 that the German Russian community was the victim of genocide by the Soviet government.  Because the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation would not restore to them their previous autonomous territory on the Volga, the only way to keep their German identity was to return to their historic homes in Germany because they felt that they no longer had a future in Russia or elsewhere in Central Asia..