Deportation of Ukrainian Germans in 1944-1946

Ukraine has been home to ethnic Germans for over 1500 years. This long-standing presence was dramatically disrupted during the Soviet occupation [1]. Before the Second World War, the Soviet regime orchestrated mass deportations of ethnic Germans from the region. These expulsions continued even after the war ended, with many being sent to labor camps across the USSR. This article explores the second post-war wave of deportations of ethnic Germans in Ukraine.

The Background of Germans in Ukraine

On December 4, 1762, Empress Catherine II of Russia issued a proclamation encouraging rural communities from across Europe to move to the Russian Empire, specifically targeting the newly colonized regions of Ukraine. This appeal resonated with many Germans seeking refuge from the ongoing conflicts among the German principalities.

The 1939 census reported approximately 392,458 individuals of German nationality living in the Ukrainian SSR, with significant populations in the Odesa region (around 91,500), Mykolaiv region (89,400), Zaporizhzhia region (89,400), and Crimea (51,300) [3].

At this time, Soviet authorities launched an aggressive anti-German policy, baselessly accusing ethnic Germans in Ukraine of supporting Nazi Germany, the USSR’s adversary, despite their centuries-long presence and status as equal citizens.


Repressive Measures

The repressions took on a national scope, including a ban on teaching in German. The Soviet government, through various bodies such as the Politburo, the Organization Bureau, and the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CP(b)U, passed numerous resolutions leading to the “purging” and closure of German-language educational institutions. Notable resolutions include:

  • “On the contamination of the Khortytskyy German Engineering College with class-hostile elements” (April 7, 1935)
  • “On the Odesa German Pedagogical Institute” (December 4, 1937) [4, p.77].

These decisions led to the dissolution of German national educational institutions and the repression of their staff and students. Simultaneously, the autonomy of German communities was undermined, resulting in the abolition of certain German village councils and districts [5].

Furthermore, members of the National Union of Germans of Ukraine were subjected to repression, arrests, and executions, with the communist regime accusing them of sabotage, counter-sabotage, and alleged ties to the Hitler regime in Nazi Germany [6, p. 24].


The Beginning of Deportation

A report from the 8th Department of the NKVD of the Ukrainian SSR, dated May 14, 1937, discloses that in 1936–1937, a total of 224 individuals were arrested in cases related to the National Union of Germans in Ukraine. Of these, 24 were sentenced to death, and 75 received prison sentences [ibid].

With the outbreak of the German-Soviet war on June 22, 1941, ethnic Germans in the USSR found themselves in an increasingly precarious situation. Beyond previous accusations, they were now suspected of having criminal intentions. According to paragraph 2 of NKGB directive No. 127/5809, issued on the same day, which detailed the actions of state security due to the hostilities with Germany, the arrests aimed to “eliminate a counter-revolutionary and spying element,” which included ethnic Germans within the Soviet Union [5].

Following these measures, and based on directives from the NKVD’s Special Resettlement Department dated October 2, 1941, a large-scale deportation of ethnic Germans began. Specifically, 53,566 individually from Zaporizhia, 36,205 from Stalino (now Donetsk), and 12,807 from Voroshylovhrad (now Luhansk) regions of the Ukrainian SSR were slated for relocation to the Kazakh SSR. Additionally, plans were made to resettle 6,000 people from the Odesa region and 3,200 from the Dnipropetrovsk (now Dnipro) region to the Altai Republic in Siberia [7, p. 35].

The extensive deportations of ethnic Germans were only temporarily halted by the active combat of the Second World War. However, after Soviet control was reestablished in Ukraine in 1943–1944, the brutal repressions and forced relocations of ethnic Germans to distant parts of the USSR and labor camps resumed with increased severity.


Post-war Deportation 1944–1946

After the Nazi army withdrew from Ukraine, Soviet authorities systematically resettled some ethnic Germans in Poland and partially in Germany [7, p. 36]. Meanwhile, others avoided resettlement and stayed in areas already under Soviet control.

The NKVD units’ initial action was to identify collaborators. On December 28, 1943, Beria reported to Stalin that 184 ethnic Germans had been identified in Kyiv. Stalin’s response was to “arrest them all, detain them in a special concentration camp under special supervision, and employ them for labor.” Pursuant to Stalin’s directive, Beria issued NKVD Order No. 20/b on January 7, 1944, to arrest citizens of German ethnicity and sentence them through the Special Meeting of the NKVD. On the same day, Lavrentiy Beria signed NKVD Order No. 0013 titled “On the organization of a special Montenegrin camp in the Krasnoyarsk Territory” [Ibid]. Many Germans were sent there for labor.

This resettlement strategy aimed to utilize ethnic Germans in rebuilding liberated areas and working in enterprises and rural kolkhozes, making it essential to provide them with permanent residences. The Soviet secret services renewed their focus on these “undesirable” ethnic Germans, enforcing continuous surveillance and increased repression. The NKVD tightly controlled their repatriation, relocating them to specialized settlements known as “labor camps,” including logging brigades and coal mines in the USSR’s remote regions, primarily Siberia, and rigorously monitored their permanent settlement in these areas [7, p. 39].

The conditions in these camps were extremely harsh. Hryhorii Stein shares his father’s experience among the deported ethnic Germans: “My father hastily dug a dugout just to secure some shelter. However, he was promptly dispatched to Chelyabinskmetallurgstroy, known as ‘Trudarmiya.’ Mistreatment was common there. Individuals were stripped naked and forced to carry heavy logs for construction. My father, already ailing, lost teeth due to such harsh conditions” [9].

Olena Onoshchuk (née Bieber), the daughter of a deported German, recollects, “We resided in a stable alongside horses, where we were given a room. Despite my mother’s efforts to bathe us, the persistent foul smell led us to be scorned by our schoolmates. Every ten days, my mother had to report to the commander’s office to confirm we remained within the designated area. We continued living in that stable until 1954.”

Oleksandr Klein, a deportee’s son, reminisces, “In 1967, when I was ten, my father and I went to Odesa, to Matroska Slobidka Street. Near the church in the city center, a place that had a substantial German community before the war, my father, my grandfather, and I entered the courtyard of the house where my father was born and raised. It was a hot summer day, and we decided to quench our thirst at the tap in the courtyard. Two elderly ladies, as gray-haired as my grandfather, came over. They asked my 67-year-old grandfather about our visit. He replied, ‘I’m Emil, a German baker who lived here before the war, and I’ve come home.’ The three of them hugged and cried together in joy.”

The restrictions of the special settlements, including the prohibition on leaving, were lifted in 1955. However, the administrative ban on Germans returning to Ukraine was not officially removed until January 9, 1974 [Ibid].

The Soviet authorities’ systematic efforts to eradicate the ethnic German presence within the USSR, especially in Ukraine, are evident from the vast number of individuals subjected to deportation and the tragic loss of innocent lives under the harsh conditions of special settlements and labor camps.


Vladyslav Havrylov, author
Oleksii Havryliuk & Maksym Sushchuk, editors


Sources & References:

  • The first page of a draft memorandum from the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR V. Balytskyi to J. Stalin on the liquidation of the NSSU. April 1936 [6, p.174].
  • USSR People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs Order No. 0013 “On the Organisation of a Special Chornogorsky Camp in the Krasnoyarsk Territory”. 7 January 1944.
  • The order of the Deputy People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the USSR Chernyshev to the NKVD of the Ukrainian SSR Ryasnyi to send Germans who returned to the territory of the Ukrainian SSR to places of special settlement [11, p. 205].
  • Бараняк І. Демографічне відтворення в умовах формування та розвитку територіальних міграційних систем. Дисертація на здобуття ступеню канд.екон.наук. Вінниця, 2020. 
  • Німці України. Хто вони? URL:https://ukrainer.net/nimtsi-ukrainy/ 
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  • Дело “Национального союза немцев на Украине” 1935-1937 гг. Документы и материалы.  Київ: ТОВ “Видавництво “Кліо”, 2016.
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