Countries of Origin Areas of Settlement 1763-68 Hesse, Rhineland, the Palatinate,
Saxony, Wurttemberg, Switzerland
Volga area (Evangelical & Catholic) 1765 Sulzfeld,,Wurttemberg Riebensdorf (Evangelical) 1766 Hesse, Wurtemberg,
near Petersburg 1766 Hesse Belowesh (Evangelical & Cathholic) 1780 Prussia, Wurttemberg, Bavaria, Josephstal, Fischendorf,
Jamburg near Dnieper
1782 Sweden Alt Schwendorf (Evangelical) 1786 Prussia Alt-Danzig 1789-90 Danzig, West Prussia Chortiza (Mennonites) 1804-06 . a. Alsace, the Palatinate, Baden Tranzfeld, Mariental, Josefstal by Odessa . b. Wurttemberg, Alsace, the Palatinate,
Grosliebenthal, Alexanderhilf, Neuberg,
Peterstal by Odessa (Evangelical)
. c. Danzig, West Prussia Halbstadt, Molotschna (Mennonites) . d. Wurttemberg, Baden, Hesse Prischib, Molotschna (Evangelical & Catholic) . e. Wurttemberg, Switzerland Crimea: Neusatz, Zurichtal (Evangelical & Catholic) 1808-10 . a. Wurttemberg, Alsace, the Palatin-
ate, Baden, Hungary
Bergdorf, Gluckstal, Kassel,
Neudorf, Area of Odessa (Evangelical)
. b. Alsace, Baden, Poland Baden, Elsass, Kandel, Selz, Mannheim, Strassburg (Catholic) . c. Alsace, Baden, the Palatinate,
Beresan and Odessa areas (Evangelical & Catholic 1812-27 Wurttemberg, Baden, Hesse Prischib, Molotschna (Evangelical) 1814-16
Wurttemberg, Prussia, Poland, Bavaria Bessarabia, Colonies near Odessa 1817-18 Wurttemberg South Causcasus (Evangelical) 1822-31 Wurttemberg Swabian colonies near Berdjansk (Evangelical) 1823-42 Danzig, West Prussia, Rhine-Hesse, Baden Grunhau area (Planer colonies)(Evangelical & Catholic) 1853 Danzig, West Prussia Samara (Mennonites) and 1859-1862 Last emigration from Germany
The main ethnic German-Russian groups, in order of migration, are the Baltic Germans, Volga Germans, Ukrainian Germans (aka Black Sea and Odessa Germans), Volhynia Germans, and Siberian/Central Asian Germans. There are also the Polish Germans. During the Baltic Crusades, between 1096 and 1221, the north Germans and Scandinavians, through the institution of knighthood, christianized and settled in the Baltic region, now the modern countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Over 25,000 Volga Germans settled in Russia beginning in 1764. About 80,000 Germans settled in the Black Sea area between 1804 and 1850. Another 30,000 Germans immigrated to the Ukraine Black Sea region between 1830 to 1865. Over 150,000 emigrated to Volhynia between 1865 to 1875. By 1897, 1.8 million ethnic Germans were living in the Russian Empire. After post-war Russian border changes in 1918, there were 1.62 million German-Russians. After starvation, persecution, and mass repression through Communism, Slavophilism, and Germanophobia (racial war between Germandom and Slavdom) the German population dropped from 1.2 million in 1926 to 1.1 million by 1937, and to 1 million in 1945. By 1959, in spite of massive hardships, the German population managed to increase to 1.6 million.
The German-Russians were fervent Christians and were comprised mainly of Lutherans, followed by Catholics and to a lesser extent, Mennonites and Evangelical Baptists. By the 1000th century, Russia had already been converted, with the assistance of the Czars, to Christianity by the Greek Orthodox church. Greek Orthodoxy was the official church of Russia and they severely limited the growth of other Christian faiths through government laws and decrees.
Before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the Germans in Russia were concentrated in three regions; 1) the Baltic provinces (now Estonia and Latvia); 2) the Volga region spreading through Orenburg, Volgograd, Saratov oblasts, Krasnodar kray, and the Republic of Kalmykiya; and 3) the Ukraine in the north - Volhynia, and the south - Odessa/Cherson (Beresan, Hoffnungstal, Gluedkstal, Kutschurgan, Liebenthal, and Bessarabia), Ekaterinoslav, Crimea, and the Caucasus. A fourth German-populated area acquired by the Soviet Union was north east Prussia on the Baltic coast (today Kaliningrad oblast), which Stalin annexed in 1945. Towns with large German communities, principally traders, were 1) Baltics: Helsingfors, Riga, St. Petersburg, Schlüsselburg, Vyborg; 2)Volga: Ekaterinenstadt (Marx), Saratov; 3) Ukraine: Kishinev, Lugansk, Odessa; 4) Caucasia: Baku, Novorossiisk, Tiflis; and 5) Poland/Volhynia: Kalisz, Pinsk, Piotrwow, Warsaw, and Zhitomir.
The first German settlements started in the 13th century, when colonies were established along the Baltic littoral. The area was controlled by knightly organizations until Sweden and Poland eclipsed them in the 15th century. German culture in the Nordic Baltic flourished under Swedish rule, but in 1720, at the conclusion of the Northern Wars, these lands were ceded to Russia. Today, the Russians (Slavic race) are a minority in Estonia, and some say they are suffering from "blatant nationalism" backed by Estonian authorities who want to create a small mono-ethnical state dependent not on Russia, which is in decline, but on Germany, which is in its prime. During WWII, many in the Baltic States supported Nazism to demonstrate their independence.
In the mid 1700's, Russia acquired territories along the Volga and in Ukraine from the Tartars and from the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The Russian government wanted to colonize these areas quickly, and Russian agents were sent throughout overpopulated Germany, soliciting settlers. Thus, a second group of Germans came under Russian rule. Catherine II issued a manifesto, which granted Germans religious freedom, self-government, local control of schools, and freedom from military and other state services. The peak years of settlement were 1764 through 1774. The German immigrants suffered great hardships. In 1767, the Germans became serfs in all but name, as a law was enacted that forbade them to engage in any craft other than agriculture. This was a clear violation of the 1764 laws. The Russian government's failure to deliver seeds on time each spring, harsh winters, and torrid summers, Tartar raids, and general homesickness, made their hardships even tougher. Many emigrated back to Germany, to the Baltic provinces, or to America.
The first good harvest of the Volga Germans appeared in 1775, and by 1940, the Volga Saratov region had in fact become Russia's bread basket.
When the Bolshevik Revolution broke out, the Germans were divided as to whether to support the Reds or the Whites. In the Baltic provinces, where most of the Germans were merchants and landholders, they generally supported the Whites, whereas in Russia proper and the Ukraine, a majority supported the Bolsheviks who promised land and peace. In 1918, the "Autonomous Communes of Volga German Workers" was established, and by 1924 it became the first autonomous ethnic region of the Soviet Union, the "Volga German Autonomous Republic" as part of the RSFSR. It was later abolished.
During Stalin's brutal collectivization in the 1930s, many Germans were exterminated as "counter revolutionaries". The most important event in shaping their Soviet destiny, however, was the Nazi-German attack on the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. All Germans in the Soviet Union were declared to be a fifth column. The Volga-Germans were deported to Central Asia, Siberia, and the North Caucasus. There were already more than 100,000 Germans in southwestern Siberia and Kazakhstan, as a result of migration during the tsarist period.
The Volga Germans made a success of the Catherine the Great's German settlement program, trekking eastward to the Volga and colonizing new land. Therefore, an identical program was used by Czar Alexander to encourage German immigration into the Ukrainian areas of Volhynia, acquired from Poland in 1772, and to areas along the Black Sea, acquired from the Ottoman Empire in 1804.
In the summer of 1803 two Germans: Ziegler and Schurter, acting as agents for the Russian Government, were actively recruiting immigrants in Southwest Germany; while in Russia itself extensive preparations were under way for their reception and settlement. The Czar himself and his Minister of Interior, Count Kotchubey, took a very personal interest in the matter. Instructions were issued to the Governors and other Crown officials in the South regarding the reception that was to be accorded to the German immigrants, financial support that was to be given them the areas in which they were to be settled, and other pertinent details. Duc de Richelieu was given the task of buying up suitable agricultural land in the given areas of Odessa region. The Governor of Taurida was instructed to find land in the Crimea for the experienced wine-growers among the immigrants. Kontenius was to supervise the subdivision of the land, the establishment of the newcomers in their village sites, the distribution of support money, and the acquisition of livestock and farm implements. Facilities for the foreign settlers was still far from ready before the end of 1803 when eight transports of more than 200 families, well over 1,000 people led by Ziegler had arrived in Odessa. In 1809, German settlers began arriving in the Beresan Valley, about 80 miles northeast of Odessa.
The Germans they were looking for a better life. Probably the most significant factor to the German migration came about when Napoleon Bonaparte ascended on the scene. During the early 1800's the Rhineland and southwest German states, were subjects of Napoleon. These districts were required to furnish men for his armies, give extensive financial support, and required to quarter the French troops. In addition they were heavy taxes to be paid, together with inclement weather, made conditions so unbearable for the peasants that many were eager to leave for Russia.
The journey to Russia in those days was an ordeal to try the strongest. The routes varied according to the area of origin. The hardship of journey and the first months in the new land were beyond the endurance of many. The journey by boat and wagon and often on foot, took from two to five months, and often meant wintering on the way. Upon arriving at the border the immigrants had to face a quarantine period and then lived in primitive barracks for weeks or months before the settlement site was ready. The mortality rate reached shocking proportions. Many families were almost wiped out and few reached the settlement sites intact. But many still came. When they arrived in Russia and saw the horrible conditions there, some of the families returned to Germany.
The German immigrants came to Black Sea region by the thousands, mainly from the southwestern German states of Wurttenberg, Baden, the Palatinate, the Hessian, and Alsace (now France), where the Napoleonic Wars had the greatest impact. They also came from Hungary and Poland, where some Germans had settled earlier.
In spite of many hardships of the early years; crop failure high mortality rate among children, sickness among animals, the Germans were relatively happy in their adopted land. During the first sixty years the settlers were well treated by the Russian government. Families were extremely large and thus living space in the colonies became scarce. The Germans were thrifty and were able to buy up land all over the countryside from Russian Nobles. Soon the Russians became jealous and pressure was brought to bear on the government to withdraw the special privileges, which had been granted to the settlers. Eventually the government complied with the wishes of Russian people and in the spring of 1871 the colonists were informed by the Ukase of the imperial government that their privileges were gone except for religious freedom. The colonists were astonished as to what had happened. Now they were required to give up their culture, language, and deliver their sons to the Russian army and to become Russians. Deep down in their hearts they knew that eventually they would also have to surrender their religious freedom.
Since the oppression in Russia, they then began to look elsewhere for a more stable life. They began to hear of a better life to be had in the United States. Thus began the great migration to the United States.
It is important to know that the Communist persecuted Russians as well as other ethnic groups. Many historians fail to recognize that the absolute majority of the people killed during the repression years were RUSSIAN! The Stalinist regime was not chauvinistic, it was simply anti-national and ethnic origin meant little to the regime. Loyalty to communism was the thing that mattered. Deportations of minorities are terrible acts of atrocity, but we should not forget that Russian people suffered like all others. Along with the Baltics, Volga, Ukraine, Volhynia, and Poland, the German-Russians migrated to western Russia including Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and the Kaliningrad oblast (state); the Siberian northern territories of Komi; the far east oblasts of Irkutsk and Chita, and the Republic of Buryatiya; the Urals (a group of mountains dividing European Russia and the Asian continent) in Sverdlovsk; the Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan; North and South America; and some returned to their original homeland, Germany.
After WWII, the Soviet government began a denationalization program, whereby Germans were denied the opportunity to maintain their language and culture. In 1959, only 43% of the Germans stated that they spoke German at home. By then, their situation had already started to improve, however, as Khrushchov began to loosen the old Stalinist restrictions. In 1964, Khrushchov abolished the decree by which Stalin declared the Germans to be a fifth column. In 1972, the Germans were allowed to return to the Volga-region, but no mass migration took place. Since the beginning of Russian President Gorbachov's reforms in 1985, the possibility of establishing a German Republic in the Volga region has been discussed. The Germans have shown little enthusiasm for the proposal. Germans of Kazakhstan have later made a demand to create an autonomous republic of Kazakhstan to substitute the Volga Republic. The restoration of German national districts within some of Russia's 89 federation subjects has also been discussed. A difficult issue is the question of establishing a German Republic in the Kaliningrad oblast. This idea was supported by the 1990 Convention of USSR Germans in Moscow and various German organizations in Russia. Despite restrictions, the German population in Kaliningrad is rapidly increasing (from 200 in 1989 to 4,000 in 1993).
Southwestern Siberia Distribution: Altay Republic, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Kemerovo, Tyumen, Tomsk oblasts, Krasnoyarsk kray and Republic of Khakassiya. The first German settlements in Altai, Siberia appeared in the 1890's. The basic reason of German resettlement in Altai was land (high cost in Privolzje and the Ukraine), and starvation. The mass resettlement to Siberia began at the end of 19th, and the beginning of 20th, centuries. A transfer law was passed on September 19, 1906 in the Altay district for settlers from the European part of Russia, In November 9, 1906 there was a land reform decree. In the Kuludinskaja steppe (prairie) the government allotted 60 thousand dessiations of land for settlers. Settlers received an allowance and loan, were released from having state duty for three years, and from taxes for five years. With the presence of free and inexpensive land, and the privileges, many settlers were enticed to move to Altai. The following villages were established: 1894 - Podsosnovo; 1906 - Canes, Nikolaevka; 1907 - Protasovo, Elizavetgrad, Telmanovo, Krasnoarmejka, Marjanovka; 1908 - Gljaden, Udalnoe, Grishakovka, Orlovo, Kusak, Boronsk; 1909 - Cloroshee, Mixajlovka; 1910 - Sambor, Shoomanovka, Nikolaevka; 1912 - Ananjevka, Ekaterinovka, Serebropolje; and 1913 - Kamishenka. In total, the Slavgorodsk District had 14 German settlements by 1907 and 16 by 1909. By 1914, the German population in the district had more than 17 thousand men.
The first German settlements experienced religious segregation. The Catholics settled in Olgino, Otradnoe, and Barskoe, and the Lutherans lived in Novenkoe, Kruglenkoe, Podsosnovo and Prishib. Among the settlers were Altai Mennonites. Altay Mennonites basically came from the earlier based affiliated colonies of Orlovo-Zagradovskoi, Ufa, Samara, Orenburg, and the Crimeas. In 1910, the German villages were incorporated into Oryol volosts (small rural districts). In 1916, one more volost was formed with Xorise as its center, which completed the formation of German settlements in Altai. The settlers who arrived later were placed in the existing occupied villages.
In the beginning of 1920's many Germans tried to emigrate from Soviet Russia. In 1928, steel commune settlements appeared, followed by collective farms. In 1929 there was a new attempt to emigrate, Some managed to leave for America and Canada, but the majority of the emigrants had to return. In 1930, a significant portion of the inhabitants moved to the Far East, and there, whole villages, due to winter across-freezing in Amur, left for China, and from there to America. In the years 1937-1938, many were arrested. Soon after, war began.
In 1941, there were exiled Germans from Povolzie in the Altay territory. In 1942 all Germans, both men and women, were taken away from the villages and sent to army labor camps. Because of the heavy work conditions, many were lost (died). Till 1956, Germans who came back from army labor were under supervision of a special commandant's office. In 1950's the amalgamation of collective farms began, which liquidated many German villages, and their inhabitants were moved into larger collective farms. Now the German villages of the Altay territory are experiencing a period of heavy emigration to Germany in masse.
There is an excellent research article, "The Deportation and Destruction of the German Minority in the USSR" by J. Otto Pohl at feefhs.org: "From July 1990 to December 1997, 65,000 Aussiedler (literally "settlers from abroad", the term refers to ethnic Germans from the former USSR and Eastern Europe) took the federal German language test. Only 60% of them, however, knew German well enough to pass the test. A 1995-1996 survey by Barbara Dietz and Heike Roll of Aussiedler arriving in Germany from the former Soviet Union from 1990 to 1994 clearly showed the effects of Russification on this group. According to the survey, only 8% of the Germans from the former USSR in Germany lived in exclusively German language households."
Physical conditions in the labor army proved to be deadly. The Germans in the labor army worked long hours with meager rations under dangerous conditions. Frequently they worked 14 hours a day felling trees, mining coal, extracting oil, building industrial complexes, and other physically demanding tasks. Often this work took place in frigid temperatures. In Chelyabinsk the temperature frequently dropped to -40 degrees C and lower.
Lacking proper winter clothing, many Germans in the labor army froze to death. Insufficient food also burdened the labor army. Gulag set the rations for the labor army according to a differentiated system. This system linked the food rations of members of the labor army to their fulfillment of fixed work quotas. During 1942 and 1943, bread rations ranged from 300 to 800 grams a day depending on how well they fulfilled these quotas.
Often Germans in the labor army received little else other than bread. In April 1942, the labor army contingent in Tagillage received only 3% of their normal rations of vegetables and potatoes. This lack of vitamin rich foods resulted in a mass outbreak of pellagra and scurvy. Exhaustion, hunger, and malnutrition constantly plagued the Germans in the labor army. During 1942 and 1943, these conditions defined and frequently ended the lives of the Germans conscripted into the labor army.
The material conditions of the labor army often lacked even the most basic standards of hygiene. Mobilized Germans in the Bakalstroi camp and the Chkalov oil fields lived in earth huts. Others lived in unheated and unsanitary barracks. This was the most common form of housing for the labor army.
Often these barracks lacked ventilation, boiling water, and wooden floors. Overcrowding and the lack of clean linen and other basic sanitary measures led to repeated outbreaks of typhus, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. The lack of proper medical care made these diseases particularly deadly.
The poor sanitary conditions, lack of food, and exhausting physical labor the Stalin regime intentionally imposed upon the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans in the labor army killed a large portion of them. Labor army battalions in some camps had mortality rates exceeding 50% a year.
At the Bogoslav labor camp, more than 12,000 out of 15,000 (80%) Germans in labor army battalions sent there in February 1942 perished before 1943. This level of mortality is comparable to the death rate for Jews at Auschwitz.
The intent of the Stalin regime to partially physically destroy the German-Russians through deportation and toil in the labor army can be inferred from the deliberate imposition of deadly conditions upon them. The Soviet government consciously engaged in acts that it knew would inevitably result in mass mortality among its German minorities.
The deportations to deadly conditions and mobilizations under starvation rations were not accidental. The deaths that inevitably occurred as a result of these actions must thus also be regarded as having been intentionally inflicted.
The intent of the Stalin regime to assimilate the surviving German-Russians into Russian culture is also clear from its actions. The physical destruction of the traditional communities of the ethnic Germans and their dispersal across the USSR made them extremely vulnerable to cultural assimilation.
The ethnic Germans of the USSR no longer lived in compact traditional all German rural settlements. Instead they lived scattered among a variety of peoples across a vast state whose common language of communication as well as the language of prestige and advancement was Russian. The Stalin regime actively sought to further the natural Russification inherent in such conditions by banning the German language from public expression in the USSR.
The Soviet government eliminated all German language education and publications in the USSR after the deportations. Russian-Germans could not even speak German in public for fear of persecution during the 1940's and early 1950's. The loss of German language education and media greatly promoted the loss of German language competency among the descendants of those who survived the special settlements and labor army. The loss of these institutions ensured that the assimilationist trends set in motion by the deportation remained unimpeded.
The lack of sufficient German language media and educational programs continued throughout the Soviet era. The Soviet government never re-instituted schools using German as the primary language of instruction. Instead they only allowed a few token German language newspapers and German as a foreign language classes.
Moscow never contemplated a program to rescue the ethnic Germans of the USSR from cultural dissolution by reintroducing real cultural autonomy for the German-Russians. Both the Soviet government and many ordinary Russians viewed the disappearance of the ethnic German minorities in the USSR as a desirable outcome. Results
The deportations, special settlements, and labor army succeeded in fulfilling Stalin's goal of physically eliminating a large percentage of the Soviet Union's ethnic Germans and traumatizing the surviving remainder. The total excess mortality among the ethnic Germans during the 1940's is difficult to determine exactly.
NKVD data on the group's population is incomplete, contradictory, and may in some cases be inaccurate. NKVD data on the population dynamics of the ethnic Germans is extremely sparse for the years 1942 through 1944. Hence those years with the highest mortality rates for the Germans also have the least available statistical information from the Soviet archives.
One clue to the scale of the demographic loss of the Germans is a report on the 1948-1949 re-registration of all special settlers. The report is titled, "On the Number of Exiles and Special Settlers, Initially Resettled in Special Settlements and the Number of Exiles and Special Settlers, in the Last Recount in 1948-1949."
This report gives the number of each nationality originally counted at the time of the deportation, the number discovered living in special settlements at the time of the recount, and a column of notes. In this third column most of the deported nationalities have a notation on the number of deaths recorded among them in the special settlements up until 1 July 1948.
For most of the nationalities the number of recorded deaths is close to the difference between the number originally deported and those found in the recount. The NKVD recorded deporting 608,749 Karachays, Chechens, Ingush, and Balkars in winter of 1943-1944.
In 1948, there were 450,034 North Caucasians in special settlements, a difference of 158,715. During this time the NKVD recorded 144,704 deaths among this group in special settlements. The NKVD initially deported 228,392 Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Armenians, and Greeks and recounted 185,707 in 1948 for a loss of 42,685. Recorded deaths in the special settlements among this contingent number 44,125. Similar figures are noted in this report for the Kalmyks and Ahiska (Meskhetian) Turks.
The Germans, however, do not have a number of recorded deaths listed in the third column. Instead they have a notation that the number of German special settlers increased by 210,600 in 1945 due to the forced repatriation of many of those who had earlier escaped to Germany. The total number of Germans originally deported plus those later repatriated to special settlements is 1,235,322. Only 1,063,041 German special settlers, however, appear in the 1948 recount.
Thus 172,281 ethnic Germans disappeared between 1941 and 1948. This number, however, is incomplete. It only counts ethnic Germans either deported or repatriated to special settlements. The figure does not include the approximately 226,000 Germans already living in the Urals, Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia in 1941. The NKVD also confined these Germans to special settlements, but they are not counted among those "deported" in the document under scrutiny.
The actual number of special settlers missing from the NKVD figures is thus nearly 400,000. Not all of this loss, however, can be attributed to deaths due to the deportations and labor army. The NKVD recorded the release and escape of over 50,000 Germans from the special settlements during this time. This leaves 350,000 ethnic Germans missing from the statistics of the special settler count in 1948.
The problematic issue of natural deaths that would have occurred absent the deportations further reduces the number of deaths directly attributable to Stalin. Samuel Sinner concludes on the basis of much statistical work on this question that the excess unnatural mortality of the group for the years 1941 to 1949 is between 200,000 and 300,000 (14%-21%). This figure is less than the losses suffered by some of the other deported groups.
The NKVD recorded 23.7% of the exiled North Caucasians perishing in special settlements between 1944 and 1948. In Kazakhstan between 1944 and 1949, the NKVD recorded 101,036 North Caucasian deaths in special settlements (23.3% of the total for the republic) and 19,501 German deaths (8.9% of the total for the republic). Nevertheless, the huge loss of life suffered by the ethnic Germans certainly serves to categorize the deportations, special settlements, and labor army as crimes against humanity.
Despite the mass mortality resulting from the deportations, conditions in exile, and the labor army, most deportees physically survived these travails. This, however, did not ensure the cultural survival of the group. The dispersal entailed in the deportations permanently destroyed the traditional communities of the German-Russians and their ability to maintain their culture and ethnic identity.
Even today the ethnic Germans of the former Soviet Union have been unable to return to the areas from which Stalin deported them, primarily the Volga and Ukraine. Instead they remain dispersed throughout Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia.
Only a little over 1,500 Germans have returned to Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1939, there were nearly 400,000 ethnic Germans in Ukraine. The figures for the Volga region are even worse. A briefly lived movement to reestablish German autonomy in the Volga led by Wiedergeburt (Rebirth) from 1989 to 1993 was unsuccessful and largely collapsed due to internal strife. One of the fundamental weaknesses of the recent ethnic German political movements in the former Soviet Union is their lack of an ethnically conscious mass base.
The descendants of those who survived Stalin's deportation have lost much of their German culture as a direct result of government policies aimed at eliminating a German ethnic presence in the USSR. Most ethnic Germans in the former USSR speak Russian better than German and many know very little or no German at all. The damage caused to the German-Russians as a distinct and viable cultural group by Stalin and his successors appears at this point to be irreparable.
Dispersed amongst much larger Slavic and Turkic populations and deprived of even the right to publish and receive education in German for decades, the ethnic Germans of the former Soviet Union have undergone considerable assimilation into the larger Russian culture. A large factor in this assimilation is the high rate of intermarriage between ethnic Germans and Russians in the last fifty years.
By 1979, 47.5% of all married ethnic Germans in the USSR had non-German spouses, mostly Russians and Russified Ukrainians. Removed from the all-German rural communities of their ancestors, the increasingly urban and industrialized Germans found themselves a small minority in a Russian dominated society. Ethnic Germans were thus far more likely to seek mates outside their nationality after the deportations than they were before the dispersal. Children of such mixed marriages usually ended up being raised in households more Russian than German.
The rapid assimilation of the German-Russians into Russian culture is most evident in Soviet census data regarding language ability. In 1926, 94.9% of all Germans in the USSR spoke German as their native language. By 1989, only 48.7% of Germans in the USSR reported German as their native language. The actual situation is even worse than the numbers indicate. The percentage of native speakers refers to those Soviet citizens who identified German as both their nationality and native language. It does not indicate any degree of fluency.
Many German-Russians with poor German language skills may have identified German as their native language out of a sense of ethnic solidarity. The failure of Wiedergeburt and other ethnic German organizations in advancing the goal of political and cultural autonomy for the German-Russians has prompted most ethnically conscious Germans in the USSR to emigrate to Germany. Even among this contingent, German language ability is quite often poor.
From July 1990 to December 1997, 65,000 Aussiedler (literally "settlers from abroad", the term refers to ethnic Germans from the former USSR and Eastern Europe) took the federal German language test. Only 60% of them, however, knew German well enough to pass the test. A 1995-1996 survey by Barbara Dietz and Heike Roll of Aussiedler arriving in Germany from the former Soviet Union from 1990 to 1994 clearly showed the effects of Russification on this group. According to the survey, only 8% of the Germans from the former USSR in Germany lived in exclusively German language households.
In contrast, 45.6% lived in exclusively Russian language households. The remaining 46.4% lived in bilingual German and Russian households. Another survey concluded that only 57% of the Aussiedler from the former USSR spoke fluent German. The more heavily Russified Germans remaining in the USSR have even worse German language skills. In many cases, the only thing that identifies them as being of German rather than Russian descent is their surname.
Between 1987 and the end of 1997, more than a million and a half Germans from the former Soviet Union emigrated to the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1989, the German population of the Soviet Union was a little over two million. This recent emigration thus represents a significant majority of the German population of the former Soviet Union. These emigrants are immersed in a German culture very different from the one that existed in the Russian Empire and USSR for more than 200 years.
After perestroyka, more and more Germans emigrated to Germany.
According to data from 'Recent Demographic Developments in Europe' published in 1996 by the Council of Europe, net migration from Russia to Germany was as follows:
The assimilation of these Spaetaussiedler (late settlers from abroad) into modern German culture is an official policy of Berlin. This policy combined with the assimilationist pressures inherent in a modern capitalist society are already having an effect. It is doubtful that the unique cultural characteristics of the Spaetassiedler acquired from life in the Russian Empire and USSR will survive more than a few generations.
The Germans remaining in the former USSR will undoubtedly continue to assimilate into Russian culture at an even more rapid rate as the number of ethnically conscious individuals continues to decrease through emigration, natural attrition, and assimilation of newer generations.
In several years the ethnic German population of the former Soviet Union which once numbered more than two million people will be negligible due to the combined forces of emigration and assimilation. Unlike Hitler's attempt to eliminate the Jews as a people which failed, Stalin and his successors' policy of eliminating the German-Russian as a people has been largely successful.
The success of the Soviet regime in destroying the German-Russian as viable national minorities is not unique. Other extra-territorial national minorities in the USSR subjected to similar patterns of repression have also lost much of their cultural vitality as a result. Ethnic Koreans, Greeks, and Finns have all experienced rates of linguistic assimilation into Russian similar to that of the Germans.
The deportations, experiences in exile, loss of native language media and education, Russification, and persistent discrimination all contributed to the disintegration of these ethnic groups and the absorption of their members into the dominant Russian culture of the USSR.
This result is perhaps not surprising given the extreme nature and lengthy duration of national repression these groups experienced. But, there is a reason these groups proved so susceptible to assimilation in the wake of the deportations and others did not.
The Stalin regime subjected eleven national groups to deportation in their entirety with the result that large numbers of them died from the deadly conditions in their places of exile. It then sought to dissolve the cultural identity of the surviving portions of these groups. The destruction of the cultural identity of the deported peoples was very successful in the case of extra-territorial minorities.
In contrast it was a resounding failure in regards to ethnic groups native to the USSR. The North Caucasians, Kalmyks, Crimean Tartars, and Ahiska (Meskhetian) Turks retained their native languages and cultures despite the traumas of exile and subsequent Russification. Despite remaining dispersed in exile without full rehabilitation for a period of time equal to that of the Germans, both the Crimean Tartars and Ahiska Turks underwent very little assimilation into other cultures.
Despite never possessing a national territory and remaining scattered across the former USSR, in the 1989 Soviet census 91% of the Ahiska Turks listed Turkish as their native language. The dividing line between those deported nationalities that experienced high levels of assimilation and those that did not is between extra-territorial minorities and nationalities native to the USSR.
The reason for this difference lies in the comparatively weaker national cohesion of the extra-territorial minorities prior to their deportation. The various German settlements that established themselves in the Russian Empire from 1763 to 1861 did not think of themselves as part of a single German-Russian identity. Indeed, they did not think of themselves as being part of a greater German identity prior to settling in the Russian Empire. They emigrated to different regions of the Russian Empire at different times from different German states. They spoke different dialects of German and had different religious denominations.
Various German settlements in the Russian Empire were Lutheran, Catholic, or Mennonite. Germany did not yet exist as a national state during the founding of the German colonies in the Russian Empire. German nationalism did not even exist for most of this period. The immigrants from the various German states to the Russian Empire left Germany during a pre-national era.
They preserved this pre-national mentality along with their traditional culture in their isolated settlements. The various colonies had little contact with each other or with Germany. German life and culture in the colonies remained frozen in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
This is reflected, for instance, in the German dialects spoken by the German-Russians. The various German settlements possessed different local identities based upon the local culture of the region of Germany they came from at the time they emigrated to the Russian Empire.
The preservation of this culture depended largely upon the compact and isolated nature of the settlements. The fairly recently arrived pre-national Germans generally had no deep ties to the land itself. The creation myths linking the origins of a particular people to the particular piece of territory they inhabited common among many cultures obviously had no counterparts among the German settlements in the Russian Empire.
Nor did the settlers think of themselves as part of a greater cultural entity beyond their local villages. Rather they viewed themselves first as part of their local communities with their distinct cultures and folkways. Secondly they viewed themselves as loyal citizens of the Russian Empire. The German colonists received their various rights and privileges from the Russian government beginning under Catherine II. This dependence upon the Russian government greatly shaped German-Russian attitudes to the central authorities.
Under the Soviet regime this pattern continued. German cultural autonomy in the USSR during korenzatsiia depended upon the Soviet authorities. Hence individual ethnic Germans in the USSR often had no ties beyond their own immediate communities and a misplaced sense of loyalty towards the Soviet government. These attitudes were still prevalent at the time of the deportations.
The lack of a single historical national territory inside the USSR with a compact homogenous population meant that the various German minorities of the Soviet Union had a considerably weaker ethnic identity than the Karachays, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Crimean Tartars, Kalmyks, and Ahiska (Meskhetian) Turks. This much weaker ethnic identity was for less able to successfully resist the assimilationist pressures of dispersal, Russification, and modernization.
There have been few successful attempts at genocide in modern times. Usually the victimized group manages to out-survive the perpetrator regime and reconstitute its national existence. Both the Armenian genocide (Aghed) and Holocaust (Shoa) failed to eradicate the victimized peoples. Despite the massive destruction of human life and cultural artifacts involved in both these events, neither the Armenians nor Jews are in danger of cultural extinction today.
They have both reconstituted strong and culturally vibrant nation-states in the territory of their ancient homelands. The same can not be said of the German minorities in the former USSR. The German-Russians are currently on the brink of cultural extinction. They unfortunately share this fate with several other extra-territorial minorities in the former Soviet Union.
The Russian-Greeks, Russian-Koreans, and Russian-Finns as well as the Russian-Germans are all in danger of disappearing as distinct cultural groups. Not since the 19th century elimination of the Tasmanian aboriginal peoples and several native groups in California have whole ethnic groups been successfully destroyed. Stalin's legacy in this matter has left both the former USSR and world much poorer. The destruction of the German-Russians and their unique culture can not be reversed. It can only be memorialized.