Forcible Deportations of the Ukrainian Germans in 1935-1941

Before the Soviet occupation, Ukraine was a multi-ethnic country. Greeks, Turks, Germans, Poles, Jews, Armenians, and other ethnic groups inhabited the land. With the Bolshevik ideology of “pure Soviet man” this diversity was wiped out. The Soviet occupation authorities drew different reasons for each ethnic group to be eliminated from the territory of Ukraine, but the procedure was always the same — forcible deportation. In this article, we will draw upon the extraction of ethnic Germans from Ukraine.

First, let’s see how and when Germans appeared on the territory of Ukraine. Historically, there were two migration waves. In the times of the Kyivan Rus’ and the Galicia-Volhynia principality (10–12 centuries) ethnic Germans were coming to these territories because of the rich and fertile lands. They settled among other ethnicities living there, or rarely founded new settlements. Though, the first migration wave was not as big as the second, which started at the end of the 18th century during the division of the territory of modern Ukraine between the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. [1, с. 112].



On December 4, 1762, Russia Empress Catherine II issued a declaration inviting the rural population of European countries to move to the Russian Empire, primarily to inhabit the territories of just colonized Ukraine. Many Germans seeking refuge from wars between German principalities migrated to Ukraine. First of them founded eight colonies: Khortytsia, Khortytsia Island, Neuendorf, Rosenthal, Einlage, Neuburg, Kroneweide, and Schönhorst. Germans also settled in the Kherson and Tavriya provinces, Volyn, Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Chernihiv regions. Thus, the first census in the Russian Empire (1897) recorded 377.8 thousand Germans living on the mentioned above territories of modern-day Ukraine [2, p. 88].

In 1923, there were 206 German farms, colonies, and villages in the Odesa province alone. 162 in Dnipro, 147 in the Donetsk, and 143 in the Volyn provinces. In addition, there were several dozen village councils (consisting of 3–5 settlements each) with a predominantly German population. More detailed data on the number and places of residence of the German population were obtained during the 1926 census. During this period, 393.9 thousand Germans (1.36% of the population of Ukraine) lived in Ukraine. Of these, over 360 thousand people lived in rural areas (93.2% of the German population); it should also be noted that 40% of the German population of the USSR lived in Ukraine [2, p. 91].

According to the 1939 population census, there were about 392,458 people of German nationality in the Ukrainian SSR (including about 91,500 people in Odesa region, 89,400 people in Mykolaiv region, 89,400 people in Zaporizhzhia region, and 51,300 people in Crimea)  [6].



The forcible deportations of Germans began in the first years of the World War II. Though long before that, the Soviet authorities were conducting an active anti-German campaigns, the first of which date back to the 1920s. At that time, German engineers and specialists began arriving in the Soviet Union to work at industrial facilities and participate in future industrialization as German-Soviet trade and economic relations intensified. The Soviet security forces and political leadership, on the contrary, considered them and the whole German population living in the USSR to be part of German intelligence and anti-Soviet activists. Circular letter No. 7/37 of the OGPU of the USSR “On German Intelligence and the Fight Against It” (July 9, 1924), stated: “After the conclusion of the Treaty of Rappal, German industry and trade were provided the opportunity to expand their activities on the territory of our republic. From that moment on, there has been a considerable influx of German concessionaires, industrialists, and all kinds of individuals who founded commercial and industrial enterprises, transport associations, travel agencies and concessions” [3, p. 123]. The wording of that circular letter was quite specific:  “The basis for German intelligence in Russia is the multimillion population of German origin (kulaks and “intelligentsia” elements of the German colonies in villages and cities), which is the main source of information for German intelligence…” [3, p. 124].

All of these statements about German “spies” and “kulak elements” reinforced chauvinistic attitudes against the German population in the Soviet Union. Thus, the Politburo, the Organizational Bureau, and the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CP(b)U adopted dozens of resolutions to liquidate centres of German residence.  Besides, the Soviet authority adopted two resolutions: “On the contamination of the Khortytske German Engineering College with class-hostile elements” (April 7, 1935) and “On the Odesa German Pedagogical Institute” (December 4, 1937). In accordance to them, German national educational institutions were closed, and some teaching staff and students were subjected to repressions. Along with this, national administrative-territorial units, including German national districts and village councils, were reorganized [9, p. 77]. There are also documents, in particular, the Minutes of the meeting of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CP (B) U, in which the Soviet authorities directly call ethnic Germans “fascists” and “fascist nationalist elements”, accusing them of the collapse of collective farming [10, p. 178].



In 1937, massive punitive actions were carried out against the German population of the Odesa region, which was home to about 120,000 ethnic Germans, of whom 50,000 lived in three German national districts — Spartakiv, Zeltsia, and Karl-Libknechtiv. Based on the decision of the Odesa regional committee of the CP(B)U, 5,000 families of “anti-Soviet fascist activists” were deported to Kazakhstan, Siberia, and other “remote regions” of the Soviet Union [2, p. 92].

There were also cases of relocation to Germany. On September 15, 1940, a joint Soviet-German resettlement commission arrived in the town of Sarata, Odesa Region. An official appeal to the population was published in German and Russian, which stated that all Germans over the age of 14 were subject to deportation to Germany [5, p. 148].

The most difficult situation of ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union and the most massive deportations occurred after the outbreak of the German-Soviet war on June 22, 1941. In addition to the previous charges mentioned above, Germans were accused of criminal intentions. In accordance with paragraph 2 of the NKGB Directive No. 127/5809 on measures of the state security agencies in connection with the outbreak of hostilities with Germany [12, p. 35], the reason for the arrest was “the removal of a counter-revolutionary and spy element,” which, according to Soviet security forces, were the ethnic Germans living in the Soviet Union. 

On August 12, 1941 the USSR Council of People’s Commissars and the Central Committee of the CPSU adopted a joint resolution No. 2060-935ss “On the Resettlement of Germans of the Volga Region in Kazakhstan.” Two days later, Directive No. 00931 of the Supreme Command Staff “On the Formation and Tasks of the 51st Separate Army” in Crimea proposed: “To immediately clear the territory of the peninsula of residents — Germans and other anti-Soviet elements”. Within a few days, about 60,000 Germans in Crimea were deported to the Ordzhonikidze region [11, p. 34].

On August 31, at the suggestion of the NKVD, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) adopted a resolution “On Germans Living in the Ukrainian SSR,” which initiated the total deportation of Germans from the part of the republic that was not yet under German occupation. According to the order of the Special Resettlement Department of the NKVD of the USSR of October 2, 1941, 53,566 Germans from Zaporizhzhia, 36,205 from Stalin, and 12,807 from Voroshilovgrad regions were to be deported to the Kazakh SSR. It was planned to resettle 6,000 people from Odesa region and 3,200 people from Dnipropetrovs’k region to the Altai region in Russia [11, p. 35]. The deportation processes of ethnic Germans were stopped only by the active warfare of the German-Soviet war. However, in 1944, the Soviet government returned to the lost territories and deportation processes continued, with the additional reason being the accusation of collaboration with the Nazis.

Liliia Shpilman, daughter of a deported ethnic German, recalled: “From November 1942 to December 1945, my father was in the labour army… My father was in the labour army in the Tula region in the town of Uzlova, he mined coal in the mines. As a result, he weighed 35 kilograms, a grown man. I don’t know how he survived, his body must have been strong. He lived like that after the war, under curfew supervision until 1956.”

Alla Krukovska (Shetle), daughter of a deportee, mentioned: “In 1941 there is a record here: Dismissed in connection with moving to another republic (looking through her father’s documents). This is how the deportation began. We were placed with the Kazakhs in a passage room, in a random house. Behind the stove was a tuberculosis patient… My father was very creative, always coming up with something, he worked in a plantation there, invented a plough that would dig up seedlings. But very little time passed, and my father was taken to work in the labour army” [8].

In total, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans living in the territory of Ukraine were forcibly deported by Soviet authorities. They were taken to Central Asia and Siberia. Men between the ages of 16 to 60 and women between the ages of 17 to 55 were mobilized into labour armies in NKVD work columns and special settlements. In fact, one in three of them died of starvation and backbreaking labour. The regime of special settlements was abolished in 1955, and the administrative ban on returning to Ukraine, from where ethnic Germans were deported, was lifted only on January 9, 1974 [8]. Not many returned to Ukraine. Some remained where they were deported generations ago, while others attempted to move to Germany.



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