Citation
An account of the life of a Volhynian German from 1915 to 1935

Material Information

Title:
An account of the life of a Volhynian German from 1915 to 1935 the memoirs of Leontina Sonnenburg (née Ulmer) as the basis for a comparison between tsarist and Soviet nationality policies and practices
Creator:
Popke, Shelley
Place of Publication:
Denver, Colo.
Publisher:
University of Colorado Denver
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
viii, 131 leaves : illustrations ; 28 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Degree:
Master's ( Master of Arts)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of History, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
History
Committee Chair:
Conroy, Mary
Committee Members:
Levine-Clark, Marjorie
Whiteside, James

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
History -- Sources -- Volhynia (Ukraine) ( lcsh )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 128-131).
General Note:
Department of History
Statement of Responsibility:
by Shelley Popke.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
122942388 ( OCLC )
ocn122942388
Classification:
LD1193.L57 2006m P66 ( lcc )

Full Text
AN ACCOUNT OF THE LIFE OF A VOLHYNIAN GERMAN
FROM 1915 TO 1935:
THE MEMOIRS OF LEONTINA SONNENBURG (NEE ULMER) AS THE BASIS
FOR A COMPARISON BETWEEN
TSARIST AND SOVIET NATIONALITY POLICIES AND PRACTICES
by
Shelley Popke
B.A., University of Colorado at Boulder, 1993
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of Masters of Arts
History
2006


This thesis for the Masters of Arts
degree by
Shelley Popke
has been approved
II -AS-riOOlp
Date


Popke, Shelley (M.A., History)
An Account of the Life of a Volhynian German from 1915 to 1935: The Memoirs of
Leontina Sonnenburg (nee Ulmer) as the Basis for a Comparison between Tsarist and
Soviet Nationality Policies and Practices
Thesis directed by Professor Mary Conroy
ABSTRACT
The memoirs of Leontina Sonnenburg provide a vivid account of the culture
and experiences of a Volhynian German colonist during the first half of the twentieth
century. Sonnenburgs narrative describes her experiences during the tumultuous
events of WW I, the Russian revolution, civil war, the formation of the USSR,
collectivization and dekulakisation. In conjunction with other sources, these memoirs
depict the Tsarist and Soviet regimes treatment of the Volhynian German ethnic
minority and provide the basis for a comparison between the nationality policies and
practices of these two ideologically antithetical political systems.
The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union were both ruled by highly
centralized, authoritarian regimes that imposed changes on their subjects at will if it
suited their political, military, economic or social aims. Although both governments
grappled with a diverse multi-ethnic population spread over a vast geographic area, as
the experiences of the Volhynian Germans demonstrates, their approaches to dealing
with this issue varied. As the Empire expanded, the Tsarist regime never abandoned
the principle that Russia was a unitary rather than a multi-ethnic state as it strove to
impose legal, administrative and cultural homogeneity on its subjects. In practice,
however, the government lacked the means and the ruthlessness to force this
uniformity on its population and instead developed a multiplicity of nationality


policies in response to the peculiarities of each situation. In contrast, even though
official Soviet nationality policy guaranteed the autonomy and freedom of all national
and ethnic minorities, as the Communist Party evolved it rigorously strove to impose
the Soviet system on its entire population, even when this implied the negation of the
rights of certain national minorities. In addition, while the Tsarist regime acted in a
paternalistic manner towards its subjects, the Soviet regime embraced a materialistic
ideology of historical determinism that allowed it to view kulaks as class enemies
and treat them as criminals. As a consequence of the measures enacted against the
Volhynian Germans by the Tsarist and Soviet governments, Volhynian German
culture has disintegrated and largely become a relic of the past.
This thesis represents the contents of the candidates thesis.
I recommend its publication.


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to my great-grandmother, Leontina Sonnenburg, for the courage,
effort and tenacity she demonstrated in composing her memoirs. I also dedicate this
thesis to my parents, Ernst and Inge Popke, and my husband David Russell, for their
unfaltering support and assistance during the writing of my thesis. Finally, I dedicate
this thesis to my daughter Isabel Russell for inspiring me to complete this translation
so that she and others can learn about their Volhynian German ancestors.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Thank you to my advisor, Mary Conroy, for contributing her invaluable expertise to
my research and for her unwavering support. I also wish to thank my committee
members James Whiteside and Marjorie Levine-Clark for their important
participation and insight. In addition, thank you to Adolph Sonnenburg for
generously sharing his photographs, maps and genealogical research on the
Sonnenburg family with me. Finally, I wish to thank my father, Ernst Popke, for his
untiring editorial and technological assistance throughout this project.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Figures.....................................................viii
CHAPTER
1. Tsarist Nationality Policy and Ethnic German Immigration to
Volhynia...................................................1
2. World War I and the Deportation of the Volhynian Germans.18
3. Revolution and Civil War..................................35
4. Soviet Nationality Policy, the Creation of the USSR and the
Treatment of the Volhynian Germans........................47
5. Collectivization, Dekulakisation, Exile and Escape........60
6. Treatment of the Soviet Germans during WWII..............116
7. Conclusion...............................................123
8. Postscript...............................................126
BIBLIOGRAPHY................................................................
128


LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1. The Geography of the Volhynian-Podolian Region.......................2
Figure 2. The Partitions of Poland.............................................3
Figure 3. The Evolution of German Settlement in Central Europe.................5
Figure 4. Map of Mennonite Settlements in Volhynia.............................7
Figure 5. Volhynian German Settlements ca. 1900...............................10
Figure 6. Map of the Village of Karlswalde....................................22
Figure 7. The Volhynian German Deportation Route to Samara During WW1........24
Figure 8. Polish-Soviet Border in 1923........................................41
Figure 9. Leontina Sonnenburgs Deportation and Escape Routes During 1930 and
1931..............................................................84
Figure 10. Adolf, Leontina and Emil Sonnenburg in Poland, 1931...............114
Figure 11. Katharina Ulmer with her granddaughters Ida, Berta and Maria in 1931
.................................................................116
Figure 12. The Ulmers, 1 to r: Theresa & Albert Karcher, Ida & Albert Ulmer, center
of back row: Martha Ulmer, Linda & Reinhold Ulmer, Olga & Adolf
Augsburger in 1935...............................................117
viii


CHAPTER 1
TSARIST NATIONALITY POLICY AND
ETHNIC GERMAN IMMIGRATION TO VOLHYNIA
Leontina Sonnenburg (nee Ulmer) was bom on June 21, 1906 in the
Volhynian German village of Karlswalde, Russia. In 1964, prompted by the urgings
of her family, she began chronicling her life experiences. Composed in Volhynian
High German, her story opens with her deportation to the Russian province of Samara
in 1915 and concludes 230 handwritten pages later with her immigration to Canada in
1950. Sonnenburgs memoirs provide a vivid account of the culture and experiences
of a Volhynian German colonist during this tumultuous period of Central European
and Russian history. In addition, her memoirs reveal both the similarities and
differences between the Tsarist and Soviet regimes treatment of the Volhynian
German national minority. In conjunction with other sources, they provide the basis
for a comparison between the nationality policies and practices of these two
ideologically antithetical political systems.
Volhynia, located in present-day northwestern Ukraine, is a region of forests,
lakes and marshlands. It runs along the Volhynian-Podolian Plateau and is bordered
by the vast Pripet Marshes to the north and the Carpathian mountains to the south.
Considered by twentieth century scholars to be part of the original homeland of the
Slavs, Volhynia derives its name from the city of Volyn which was situated along the
Western Bug River. The Primary Chronicle's entry for the year 981 describes this
area as part of the Rus principalities of Galicia and Volhynia1. United at the
beginning of the thirteenth century, Galicia-Volhynia formed one of the most
powerful principalities of the Kievan Rus period.
1 An alternate spelling of these principalities is Halych and Volodymyr.
1


Figure 1. The Geography of the Volhynian-Podolian Region2
After the disintegration of the principality of Galicia-Volhynia, the region was
divided between Poland and Lithuania in 1388. With the Polish-Lithuanian union of
1569, Volhynia became a quasi-autonomous province of Poland. During the second
and third partitions of Poland in 1793 and 1795, this region was incorporated into the
Russian Empire and in 1797 Volhynia was made a province. The Polish landed 2
2 Paul Robert Magocsi, Historical Atlas of East Central Europe (Seattle: University of Washington
Press, 1993), p.l.
2


gentry, who owned most of the land in Volhynia, was granted the status of Russian
nobility and the mostly Ukrainian peasants working their lands became serfs.
Figure 2. The Partitions of Poland3
As Russia acquired more territories and people through war, annexation and
colonization, she became a large, contiguous, multi-ethnic empire. By the end of the
nineteenth century, out of a total population of about 170 million people, Great
Russians numbered less than 75 million. In Russia in the Age of Modernization and
Revolution 1881-1917, Hans Rogger quotes Webster's Third New International
Dictionary to show that even the most neutral definition of an empire implies
problems and conflicts: an extended territory usually comprising a group of nations, 3
3 Magocsi, Historical Atlas, p.71.
3


states, or peoples under the control or domination of a single sovereign power.4 He
argues that as the empire expanded, the tsarist regime never abandoned the principle
that Russia was a unitary rather than a multi-ethnic state as it strove to impose legal,
administrative and national homogeny on its subjects. In practice, however, the
government lacked the means and the ruthlessness to force this principle of
uniformity on its increasingly diverse population.5 As Theodore Weeks argues in
Nation and State in Late Imperial Russia, rather than imposing a comprehensive
program of russification on all its conquered peoples, the Tsarist regime developed its
various nationality policies in response to the peculiarities of each situation. He
states, The tsarist government preferred to ignore the national issue rather than deal
with it and, when forced to acknowledge and face the problem, preferred sweeping
restrictive measures (often soon circumvented or ignored) to either co-optation or
cooperation.6 When the state proceeded rigorously against a particular group of
people-such as the Polish nobility after the 1863 uprising and the Volhynian Germans
during World War I-its actions were typically defensive, prompted by a real or
perceived threat to the security and integrity of the Russian Empire.
The Russian Empires German colonists initially enjoyed a high degree of
autonomy and privilege under the Tsarist regime. Although German emigration to
Russia began in medieval times, the Tsarist regimes attempt to populate newly
conquered lands with German colonists was a feature of the modem era and the Age
of European Imperialism. In The Czars Germans, Hattie Plum Williams describes
the colonization frenzy that swept through Europe during the eighteenth century as
4HansRogger, Russia in the Age of Modernization and Revolution: 1881-1917 (London: Longman
Group Limited, 1983), p.182.
5 Ibid., p. 183.
6 Theodore Weeks, Nation and State in Late Imperial Russia: Nationalism and Russification on the
Western Frontier, 1863-1914 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1996), p. 15.
4


Britain, Spain, Denmark, Hungary, Austria, Prussia and Russia aggressively tried to
populate their colonies and war-ravaged lands with foreign settlers. As governments
competed for colonists by offering increasingly alluring concessions to potential
settlers, they also tried to keep their own populations in place by closing their borders
to emigration.
Figure 3. The Evolution of German Settlement in Central Europe8
The free cities and southwest states of Germany became a rich source for
recruiting colonists, since they lacked strong centralized governments and were ruled
by princes who taxed their populations heavily to support their extravagance and 7 8
7 Hattie Plum Williams, The Czars Germans: With Particular Reference to the Volga Germans
(Lincoln: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1975), pp.23-24.
8 Magocsi, Historical Atlas, p.105.
5


wars.9 In addition, because German farmers were using more advanced agricultural
techniques at the time, they were seen as desirable settlers.
The Russian governments attempt to recruit colonists was expressed in
Catherine IIs manifesto of 1763, which provided settlers with transportation and
expense money at the time of enrollment and guaranteed, among other privileges,
freedom of religion, self-government, exemption from military and civil service,
immunity from billeting soldiers and interest-free loans for ten years. These
concessions, more generous than those offered by other governments, drew many
colonists to Russia, the majority of which were Germans. Most of these early
colonists settled in the steppe land along the lower Volga. As Fred C. Koch shows in
The Volga Germans: In Russia and the Americas, From 1763 to the Present, within
several decades and against towering odds, these rugged colonists established a
thriving agricultural community of 192 towns and villages in the Saratov and Samara
provinces.10 11 12 In 1804, Alexander I approved another round of incentives to encourage
Germans to migrate to Bessarabia, the Ukraine, Crimea and the Trans-Caucasus."
However, the high costs associated with the program, doubts about its success and
concerns about the importation of revolutionary ideas caused the government to
reconsider its colonization program. In 1819, it drafted a law forbidding Russian
19
missions abroad from issuing any more immigration visas.
9 Ibid., p.51.
10 Fred C. Koch, The Volga Germans: In Russia and the Americas, From 1763 to the Present
(University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977), p.xv.
11 Ibid., p.ll.
12 Dietmar Neutatz, Die deutsche Frage im Schwarzmeergebiet und in Wolhynien: Politik,
Wirtschaft Mentalitaeten und Alltag in Spanningsfeld von Nationalismus und Modernisierung, 1856-
1914 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1993), p.42.
6


One of the first German colonies in Volhynia was established near Ostrog in
1783 by Mennonites responding to Catherine IIs manifesto. After the Russian
government stopped sponsoring and supporting settlers, Germans continued to
migrate to Volhynia, though under vastly different circumstances than the Germans in
the rest of the empire. Rather than being recruited and supported by the Russian
government, they were attracted by the availability of land for rent or purchase, the
aid offered by individual Volhynian landlords seeking laborers to develop their
estates, and the ongoing political privileges offered to colonists. The first significant
migration of German colonists to Volhynia began in the 1830s and by 1863, about
6,000 settlers lived in 45 colonies scattered throughout central Volhynia.
Figure 4. Map of Mennonite Settlements in Volhynia13
Over ninety percent of the Volhynian German colonists came from the
primarily Polish-speaking areas of Congress Poland and East Prussia where they had 13
13 Map courtesy of Adolph Sonnenburg.
7


settled during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. A minority
emigrated directly from Wiirttemberg, Pomerania, Posen, West Prussia, Silesia and
Galicia.14 As Nikolaus Arndt points out in Die Deutschen in Wolhynien: Ein
kulturhistorischer Uberblick (The Germans in Volhynia: A Cultural History), the
overpopulation in these areas, combined with the colonists practice of not dividing
their land in inheritance, drove younger generations to seek land elsewhere.15
Volhynia was an attractive place to resettle, especially after 1863, due to the
availability of cheap land for rent or purchase. As Valentina Nadolskaia describes in
Khozaistvennaia deiatelnost inostrannykh kolonistov volynskoi gubemii: vtoraia
pol.XIX-nachalo XX vv (The Economic Activity of Foreign Colonists of Volhynia
Province: Second half of the 1 ^-Beginning of the 20th Centuries), several factors
combined to drive down land prices in Volhynia. First, many estate owners found
themselves in a financial crisis after losing their workforce due to the emancipation of
the serfs in 1861 and were forced to either sell or lease their lands. Next, in response
to the Polish uprising of 1863, the Russian government attempted to crush Polish
nationalism by punishing and reducing the power of the local nobility.16 17 Polish
landlords were executed or exiled and those whose land was not confiscated sold it.
Since the peasants in Volhynia, who were mostly Ukrainian, lacked the means to
purchase land, prices plummeted. Land in Volhynia was one tenth the price of land
in Austria Hungary and one third the price of land in Poland .
14 Edward Reimer Brandt, Before Ukraine: The Germans in Poland, Journal of the American
Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 16, no. 4 (1993): p.2.
15 Nikolaus Arndt, Die Deutschen in Wolhynien: Ein kulturhistorischer Uberblick ( Wurzburg: Adam
Kraft Verlag, 1994), p.51.
16 Weeks, Nation and State, p.71.
17 Valentina Nadolskaia, Khozaistvennaia deiatelnost inostrannykh kolonistov volynskoi gubemii:
vtoraia pol.XIX-nachalo XX w, in Sotsialnaia transformatsiia i mezhetnicheskie otnosheniia na
Pravoberezhnoi Ukraine: 19-nachalo 20 w, ed. Kimitaka Matsuzato (Moscow: Rosspen,
Sapporo: Slavic Research Center, 2005), pp.94-95.
8


Another factor that motivated German colonists living in Congress Poland to
leave their settlements was the civil unrest caused by the Polish uprisings of 1831 and
1863. In his essay Before Ukraine: The Germans in Poland, Edward Reimer
Brandt asserts that the Germans in Congress Poland became objects of anti-German
hostility and suffered isolated acts of violence during this period of nationalist fervor.
Even though the uprisings were waged against the Tsarist regime, by 1863 Prussia
had begun its own efforts to forcibly Germanize its Polish population through
education policies and other measures. As nationalism took hold amongst the Polish
masses, some Poles began to view their German neighbors as enemies. Feeling
vulnerable, many Germans decided to resettle among the-at that time-less politically
nationalistic Ukrainians.18 19 Nikolaus Arndt also points out that many Germans who
had only recently settled in Congress Poland chose to move eastward to a seemingly
more peaceful region rather than endure the civil unrest of their host nation.20
Finally, the Russian government encouraged the migration of colonists to
Volhynia. Nadolskaia describes how the 1861 law that emancipated the serfs also
permitted estate owners to rent land to foreigners for thirty-six years. Another law
passed that year allowed the hiring of foreigners. Most of the settlers that responded
to these incentives were German and Czech, though people also came from
Belgium.21 In his article entitled Understanding the Russian Influence on Germans
from Russia, Jerry Frank points to the emancipation decree of March 2, 1864 as an
important motivating factor that led the Germans living in Congress Poland to
emigrate. This law was an attempt by the Russian government to weaken the Polish
18 Arndt, Die Deulschen in Wolhynien, p.51.
19 Brandt, Before Ukraine: The Germans in Poland, p.9.
20 Arndt, Die Deutschen in Wolhynien, p. 51.
21 Nadolskaia, Khozaistvennaia, pp.95-96.
9


22
gentry and secure the loyalty of the Polish peasantry. It gave Polish peasants rights
to the land they inhabited without the burden of redemption payments. The result of
the decree was that, peasants in the Kingdom of Poland were granted land on much
more favorable conditions than in any other part of the Russian Empire. An
unintended consequence of this law was that prospects for colonists were more
favorable in Volhynia than in Congress Poland.
1 -7 ' / v^
* t i x l f ^ r* \
i '* % \ Lull'# & voiH YNIA
Ritf!? 0 $
* (Rowno)
' V

v. Volhyman
f t *
-* '
i
*
, Lviv
(Shtformr) .
German* _ J
*
.-i
* "
i
\
Figure 5. Volhynian German Settlements ca. 190022 23 24 25
In a similar vein, Neutatz shows how the law of December 10, 1865 forbidding Poles
from acquiring landed property in the Western provinces made greater amounts of
land available for purchase by non-Poles. As a result of these factors, colonists
22 Weeks, Nation and State, p. 100.
23 Jerry Frank, Understanding the Russian Influence on Germans from Russia, Journal of the
American Society of Germans from Russia, 19, no. 2 (1996): p.55.
24 Magocsi, Historical Atlas, p. 105.
25 Neutatz, Die deutsche Frage," p.63.
10


flooded into Volhynia and by 1889 there were 102,139 Germans living in the
26
province.
During the reform era, Alexander IIs government attempted to respond to
criticism about the special status granted to certain sectors of society by regularizing
the Russian legal system. Between 1871 and 1884, decrees were passed related to
land administration, the tax system, education and military service. As a result, all
Germans now had to pay additional taxes, study Russian in previously all-German
schools and perform military service. Many German colonists moved to the United
States and Canada during the 1870s because of the abolition of privileges, especially
the Mennonite population whose pacifist doctrine was threatened by the compulsory
military service. Nevertheless, German migration continued into the beginning of the
twentieth century. As Brandt points out, Volhynia was the only area in the Russian
Empire where significant in-migration and out-migration occurred at the same time.26 27
Leontina Sonnenburgs grandparents, who in 1874 left their home in Congress Poland
and purchased a farm in the village of Karlswalde from Mennonites emigrating to
North America, were part of this wave of German migration. However, the enormous
population growth within the Volhynian German community did not result from
immigration alone. They also had a very high birth rate and relatively low infant
mortality. In his article The Volhynia Germans, Their Work and Their Destiny,
Friedrich Rink claims that their birth rate was higher than in any other land in
Europe.28 29 By 1897, there were 171,331 Germans living in Volhynia, making up 5.73
percent of the total population of the province.
26 Friedrich Rink, The Volhynia Germans, Their Work and Their Destiny, trans. J. M. Richey,
Heritage Review, 21, no.3 (1991): p.20.
27 Brandt, Before Ukraine, p.9.
28 Rink, The Volhynia Germans, p.23.
29 NadoTskaia, Khozaistvennaia, p.96.
11


A conservative, religious, hard working people, the Volhynia Germans lived
in independent, closed communities and had relatively little contact with their
Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, Czech and Jewish neighbors. The majority were
Evangelical Lutherans, though several Catholic and Baptist colonies existed as well.
A German language church and school stood in the center of each village. In less
affluent communities, a simple building served as both the school and church.
Wealthier communities built more elaborate wooden churches, typically in the Gothic
style, with towers, bells and organs.30 Each colony had its own local self-governing
body called the Schultz, which elected an Ortschultz as its head.31 32
Drawn to Volhynia by the same incentives as the German settlers, Czech
colonists also immigrated to Volhynia during the second part of the nineteenth and
early twentieth century. They tended to be wealthier than their German neighbors
and predominantly owned their own property. Many Czech colonists grew hops,
which was a lucrative export crop. Most of the breweries in the region were owned
by Czechs and, as a result, Volhynia became the chief hops growing sector of the
Empire. Czech colonists were also involved in horse breeding.
In contrast to the Czechs, the majority of the German colonists that arrived in
Volhynia were poor and life was difficult at first. The German colonist saying, The
first generation works itself to death, the second suffers want, only the third has
bread, rang true for many. Like their ancestors who had settled in Congress Poland,
many Volhynian Germans first lived in earth huts.33 Many individual families
30 Friedrich Rink, The German Settlements in Volhynia, trans. Adam Giesinger, Journal of the
American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 23 (1977): p. 15.
31 Paul Robert Magocsi, A History of Ukraine (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996),
p.345.
32 Nadolskaia, Khozaistvennaia, p. 110-114.
33 Arndt, Die Deutschen in Wolhynien, p.58.
12


initially leased plots of land, often paying their rent in kind rather than with money.
In addition, whole German communities often rented tracts of land. At the outset of
the twentieth century, the average plot size for a German family was 10-12
desiatiny,34 which was fairly sizable for peasants at that time.35
The Volhynian German colonists typically increased their prosperity by
improving the lands they owned or rented. Volhynia was heavily forested, so settlers
felled the trees on their plots for timber and to create arable land. The region was also
swampland, so they dug canals to lower the water level. The German colonists,
regardless of their degree of ownership, divided their plots into kitchen gardens, fields
of arable land, hay fields, common pasture and stands of timer. They primarily grew
wheat, barley, rye, oats, potatoes, flax and a variety of vegetables. Orchards and
animal husbandry were also very important. Their use of crop rotation and fertilizers
set them apart from their Ukrainian neighbors, provided them with bountiful harvests
and allowed them to be nearly self-sufficient with regard to food.36 Their productive
farms were regarded as models of agricultural and husbandry techniques. Leon
Trotsky, for one, noted the efficiency and neatness of the German farms compared to
those of the local peasantry near his home in Kherson Province.37
34 one desiatina = 1.0925 hectares = 2.7 acres
35 Nadolskaia, Khozaistvennaia, p.100.
36 Ibid., pp. 105-115.
37 Weeks, Nation and State, p.89.
13


IQ
Unlike the Volga Germans, who adopted the Russian mir system, the
Volhynian Germans typically lived on individual farmsteads. The Russian
Encyclopedia of 1886 cites that in 1884, German colonists in the Volhynia region
owned 93,477 desiatiny and held 16,971 desiatiny through rental agreements,
resulting in a total of about 120,388 hectares. Over the next thirty years, the
Volhynia Germans steadily increased their land holdings. German figures show them
owning 300,000 hectares of land and Russian figures as much as 700,000 hectares by
the outbreak of World War I.38 39 40
After improving their plots some German immigrants sold their lease rights to
newcomers for a hefty profit. Others were exclusively occupied with animal
husbandry, raising milch cows and goats. Because their animals were stabled in
clean, ventilated bams and were fed, rather then made to forage as the livestock
belonging to the native Ukrainians were, they produced good quality cheese and
butter which sold for high prices at market. Still other Germans specialized in metal
and woodworking.
The German and Czech colonists were also more productive than the native
peasant population because they built steam and wind mills. For example, there were
63 steam and wind mills in the German colonies in the late nineteenth century. In
addition, the Germans and Czechs had their own slaughterhouses, brick works, iron
foundries and workshops for repairing agricultural machines, specializing in bicycle
38 The mir is a system of community organization and administration, land ownership and distribution
used by the majority of the peasantry in European Russia. In the mir, communally held lands are
divided into strips based on such factors as the quality of the soil and the distance from the village.
The commune provides each household with the number of land allotments it can farm effectively
and periodically redistributed these strips to accommodate for changes in family size and
composition.
39 Rink, The Volhynia Germans, p.22.
40 Ingeborg Fleischhauer and Benjamin Pinkus, The Soviet Germans: Past and Present (New York:
St. Martins Press, 1986), p.21.
14


and motor repairs. Further, nearly one half of the textile factories in Volhynia
belonged to foreigners, predominantly Germans.41
As Paul R. Gregory argues in Before Command: An Economic History of
Russia from Emancipation to the First Five-Year Plan, there was substantial growth
in per capita agricultural output throughout Russia during this period. From 1883 to
1901 agricultural output grew at 2.55 percent per annum, which was twice the 1.3
percent population growth rate. Although the unrest caused by the 1905 revolution
resulted in a temporary dip in agricultural output, growth resumed after 1905 until the
outbreak of World War I.42 Nevertheless, the relative prosperity and sheer numbers
of German colonists in Volhynia caused some Russian officials to view the Volhynia
Germans as a threat to the local peasantry. In an attempt to stem the tide of German
migration and land acquisition in Volhynia and surrounding areas, the Russian
government drafted legislation restricting land acquisition and the rights of usufruct
for foreigners. The law of March 14, 1887 forbade all subjects of foreign states from
purchasing or renting land in Congress Poland, the three Southwest Provinces (Kiev,
Polodia and Volhynia), the three Northwest Provinces (Vilna, Grodno and Kovno),
Minsk, Vitebsk, Kurland, Livland and Bessarabia. Neutatz avers that although the
German colonists were not explicitly mentioned, this legislation was primarily
directed against them. 43
By early 1892, the Germans in Volhynia were also perceived as a threat to the
security of Russias western borderlands. On March 14, 1892, a law was passed
forbidding all persons of foreign lineage, including those with Russian citizenship,
from settling, buying or renting land outside of urban areas in Volhynia. This
41 Nadolskaia, Khozaistvennaia, pp. 121-127.
42 Paul R. Gregory, Before Command: An Economic History of Russia from Emancipation to the First
Five-Year Plan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp.43-44.
43 Neutatz. Die deutsche Frage, pp.76-77.
15


legislation excluded those already living in Volhynia and gave the Governor of
Volhynia the authority to expel anyone caught defying this rule.44 Even though the
laws of March 14, 1887 and March 14, 1892 were repealed on May 1, 1905 and
March 19, 1895 respectively, attempts to restrict the rights of Germans on the western
borderlands continued to be brought before the Russian government. In addition, as
Mary Schaeffer Conroy points out in Peter Arkadevich Stolypin: Practical Politics
in Late Tsarist Russia, P. A. Stolypin, who was Minister of Internal Affairs and a
quasi prime minister as Chair of the Council of Ministers between 1906 and 1911,
admired the farmers in Prussia. However, he was concerned about a peaceful
invasion of foreigners, particularly Germans, into the southwestern provinces of the
Empire. As a result, in October 1910 he presented the State Duma, the lower house
of the Russian parliament, with a government proposal prohibiting the purchase of
land by foreigners in the provinces of Volhynia, Podolia and Kiev.45
Several local Russian authorities also questioned the political reliability of the
German settlers in the western borderlands. Some claimed that the German Kaiser
had instigated and funded the immigration of Germans to Volhynia and called the
colonists spies and traitors. An article written by A.E. Vitovich, a Russian Bailiff for
the district judge in the Volhynia region during the late nineteenth century, illustrates
this antagonism towards the German colonists. Vitovich asserts that the German
settlers were able to create magnificent farms in sandy and depressed, swampy
places.. .thanks to the capital received by the colonists by the German government.46
None of the available evidence supports these claims, though they do illustrate the
44 Ibid., p.120.
45 Mary Schaeffer Conroy, Peter Arkadevich Stolypin: Practical Politics in Late Tsarist Russia
(Boulder: Westview Press, 1976), pp.6,118.
46 A.E. Vitovich, The German Colonies in Volhynia, trans. William Lewus, Heritage Review 11,
no.4 (1981): p.36.
16


feelings of animosity and distrust that existed towards the Volhynian Germans in
certain segments of Russian society.47 These fears mounted during the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries, stoked in particular by the Russian nationalist press.48
Nevertheless, during this period the Russian government was consumed with more
pressing political, military, economic and social concerns and viewed the German
colonists in its western borderlands as a minor problem.
47 Arndt, Die Deutschen in Wolhynien, p.64.
48 Neutatz. Die "deutsche Frage, p.80.
17


CHAPTER 2
WORLD WAR I AND THE DEPORTATION
OF THE VOLHYNIAN GERMANS
The outbreak of World War I dramatically altered the lives of the Volhynian
Germans. Russian patriotism frequently took the form of vilifying the German
enemy. In his book Patriotic Culture in Russia during World War I, Hubertus Jahn
reproduces satirical cartoons depicting Kaiser Wilhelm as a satanic, sausage eating,
beer guzzling aggressor. He points out that these images played upon cultural
stereotypes and pictured Germany as the main threat to the security of Mother Russia
and her people.49 Because of their ethnicity, the Volhynian Germans were associated
with the enemy, perceived as being loyal to the German Emperor and labeled as an
internal hazard. However, as Arthur Janke points out in his essay Russian Germans
Between the Black Swastika and the Red Star, most German colonists felt no
allegiance to the German state which did not exist until 1871, long after the colonists
had left one of the numerous German principalities for a better life in Congress
Poland and Russia. The idea of a greater Germany composed of all German people
arose during the 1880s and was the creation of extreme nationalists who later
developed into the Nazi party.50 Nevertheless, the pan-Slavic movement and Russian
nationalist press continued to spread rumors that the German colonists were spies
planted by the German Kaiser as part of an elaborate conspiracy to infiltrate and
dominate Russian economic and political life.51
49 Hubertus Jahn, Patriotic Culture in Russia during World War 1 (Ithica: Cornell University Press,
1995), pp. 172-173.
50 Arthur Janke, Russian Germans Between the Black Swastika and the Red Star, Journal of the
American Society of Germans from Russia 12, no.3 (1989): pp 54-55.
51 Rink, The Volhynia Germans, p.24.
18


As early as August of 1914, the Russian high command and the Ministry of
the Interior drew up plans for the relocation of ethnic Germans living along the
western borderlands. In A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia During
World War I, Peter Gatrell asserts that the Russian government exploited popular
anti-German sentiment to pursue its plans to not only relocate but also expropriate the
property of German settlers. He quotes the governor of Tula province who in his
annual report for 1914 stated, the people have formed the view that Germans, even
those who are Russian subjects, are enemies of the fatherland, that there is no place
for them on Russian soil and that the land that belongs to them here should be given
to Russian peasants.52 53
These sentiments culminated in the Liquidation Law issued by Nicholas II on
February 2, 1915. This law called for the expropriation of all land belonging to
German, Austrian, and Hungarian minorities living along the frontier zone. The
colonists were given ten to sixteen months to dispose of all rights and titles to their
property. According to this decree, they were to be compensated for the loss of their
land holdings through various certificates that could be redeemed no sooner than
twenty-five years after their issuance.54 However, as German troops rapidly
advanced into western Volhynia during the summer of 1915, General Ianushkevich,
the chief of staff of the Russian army, ordered the relocation of the German colonists
to designated destinations in Siberia and Central Asia.55 Gatrell points out that the
Russian army deliberately targeted vulnerable minorities such as Jews and Germans
for deportation, using them as scapegoats for their military failures. German families
52 Peter Gatrell, A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia During World War I (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1999), p.23.
53 Ibid., p.24.
54 Rink, The Volhynia Germans, p.25.
55 Gatrell, A Whole Empire Walking, p.21.
19


with fathers serving in the Russian military could remain in their villages and the rest
were given only several days to prepare for their journey.
More than 200,000 German colonists were deported from Volhynia. Their
farms were taken over by Ukrainian refugees relocated from Galicia with the
understanding that they would turn over part of their harvest to the Russian
government.56 Unlike most refugees in Russia during World War I who left their
homes of their own free will, the Volhynian Germans were classified as vyselentsy,
or those who have abandoned their homes and deserted their property, not of their
own volition but as a result of orders and under pressure from the authorities.57 58 The
government did not provide any compensation for the materials the colonists were
forced to leave behind. The crops in the fields, ready for harvest, could not be sold.
The Volhynian Germans were forced to sell their material belongings at greatly
CO
devalued prices to raise money for their deportation journey.
Although the few historical accounts of this event focus on the cruelty of the
Tsarist regime and the suffering of the deportees, Sonnenburgs account shows that
the Russian government did provide the Volhynian Germans with food, lodging and
money. They received cooked meals and tea during the trek, were lodged with
Russian families in Kursk and were given medical care and financial aid when they
settled in Samara province. As the economic situation of the Russian government
deteriorated, so did the aid offered to the German deportees. When the Provisional
Government repealed the Liquidation Law on March 11, 1917, allowing the
Volhynian Germans to return to their farms, most deportees left as soon as they
56 Ibid., p.24.
57 Ibid., p.91.
58 Rink, The Volhynia Germans, p.25.
20


could.59 The German Occupation Authorities restored the returning Volhynian
German landowners to their farms and the Ukrainians who had been settled on these
farms were sent back to Galicia. However, those colonists who had been former
renters lost all rights to their land and most immigrated to Germany where they
became laborers.60
Leontina Sonnenburgs memoirs open in the Volhynian German village of
Karlswalde as her parents, Jakob and Katharina Ulmer, and fellow villagers are
receiving their deportation notices from the Russian authorities during World War I.
Her narrative vividly describes the events that accompanied the implementation of
this policy and shows how her family coped with their circumstances after being
relocated to the town of Melekes in the province of Samara.
The First World War erupted when I was nine years old. In 1915, the Russian
authorities gave us two days notice that all ethnic Germans were to be deported deep
into Russia. Most Germans in our village owned their farms and there was much
misery and crying amongst the people as we were forced to leave our possessions and
our homeland behind. Even the Germans who lived in the cities had to leave. Only
those families with a father or son serving in the Russian military could stay, but only
for a few months and then they had to leave as well.
59 Gatrell, A Whole Empire Walking, p. 180.
60 Rink, The Volhynia Germans, p.25.
21


AN ACCOUNT OF THE LIFE OF A VOLHYNIAN GERMAN
FROM 1915 TO 1935:
THE MEMOIRS OF LEONTINA SONNENBURG (NEE ULMER) AS THE BASIS
FOR A COMPARISON BETWEEN
TSARIST AND SOVIET NATIONALITY POLICIES AND PRACTICES
by
Shelley Popke
B.A., University of Colorado at Boulder, 1993
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of Masters of Arts
History
2006


This thesis for the Masters of Arts
degree by
Shelley Popke
has been approved
by

James Whiteside
\) ~A8'JC)OQ>
Date


Popke, Shelley (M.A., History)
An Account of the Life of a Volhynian German from 1915 to 1935: The Memoirs of
Leontina Sonnenburg (nee Ulmer) as the Basis for a Comparison between Tsarist and
Soviet Nationality Policies and Practices
Thesis directed by Professor Mary Conroy
ABSTRACT
The memoirs of Leontina Sonnenburg provide a vivid account of the culture
and experiences of a Volhynian German colonist during the first half of the twentieth
century. Sonnenburgs narrative describes her experiences during the tumultuous
events of WW I, the Russian revolution, civil war, the formation of the USSR,
collectivization and dekulakisation. In conjunction with other sources, these memoirs
depict the Tsarist and Soviet regimes treatment of the Volhynian German ethnic
minority and provide the basis for a comparison between the nationality policies and
practices of these two ideologically antithetical political systems.
The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union were both ruled by highly
centralized, authoritarian regimes that imposed changes on their subjects at will if it
suited their political, military, economic or social aims. Although both governments
grappled with a diverse multi-ethnic population spread over a vast geographic area, as
the experiences of the Volhynian Germans demonstrates, their approaches to dealing
with this issue varied. As the Empire expanded, the Tsarist regime never abandoned
the principle that Russia was a unitary rather than a multi-ethnic state as it strove to
impose legal, administrative and cultural homogeneity on its subjects. In practice,
however, the government lacked the means and the ruthlessness to force this
uniformity on its population and instead developed a multiplicity of nationality


policies in response to the peculiarities of each situation. In contrast, even though
official Soviet nationality policy guaranteed the autonomy and freedom of all national
and ethnic minorities, as the Communist Party evolved it rigorously strove to impose
the Soviet system on its entire population, even when this implied the negation of the
rights of certain national minorities. In addition, while the Tsarist regime acted in a
paternalistic manner towards its subjects, the Soviet regime embraced a materialistic
ideology of historical determinism that allowed it to view kulaks as class enemies
and treat them as criminals. As a consequence of the measures enacted against the
Volhynian Germans by the Tsarist and Soviet governments, Volhynian German
culture has disintegrated and largely become a relic of the past.
This thesis represents the contents of the candidates thesis.
I recommend its publication.


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to my great-grandmother, Leontina Sonnenburg, for the courage,
effort and tenacity she demonstrated in composing her memoirs. I also dedicate this
thesis to my parents, Ernst and Inge Popke, and my husband David Russell, for their
unfaltering support and assistance during the writing of my thesis. Finally, I dedicate
this thesis to my daughter Isabel Russell for inspiring me to complete this translation
so that she and others can learn about their Volhynian German ancestors.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Thank you to my advisor, Mary Conroy, for contributing her invaluable expertise to
my research and for her unwavering support. I also wish to thank my committee
members James Whiteside and Marjorie Levine-Clark for their important
participation and insight. In addition, thank you to Adolph Sonnenburg for
generously sharing his photographs, maps and genealogical research on the
Sonnenburg family with me. Finally, I wish to thank my father, Ernst Popke, for his
untiring editorial and technological assistance throughout this project.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Figures.....................................................viii
CHAPTER
1. Tsarist Nationality Policy and Ethnic German Immigration to
Volhynia...................................................1
2. World War I and the Deportation of the Volhynian Germans.18
3. Revolution and Civil War..................................35
4. Soviet Nationality Policy, the Creation of the USSR and the
Treatment of the Volhynian Germans........................47
5. Collectivization, Dekulakisation, Exile and Escape........60
6. Treatment of the Soviet Germans during WWII..............116
7. Conclusion...............................................123
8. Postscript...............................................126
BIBLIOGRAPHY.................................................................
............................................................128
vii


LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1. The Geography of the Volhynian-Podolian Region.......................2
Figure 2. The Partitions of Poland.............................................3
Figure 3. The Evolution of German Settlement in Central Europe.................5
Figure 4. Map of Mennonite Settlements in Volhynia.............................7
Figure 5. Volhynian German Settlements ca. 1900...............................10
Figure 6. Map of the Village of Karlswalde....................................22
Figure 7. The Volhynian German Deportation Route to Samara During WWI........24
Figure 8. Polish-Soviet Border in 1923........................................41
Figure 9. Leontina Sonnenburgs Deportation and Escape Routes During 1930 and
1931..............................................................84
Figure 10. Adolf, Leontina and Emil Sonnenburg in Poland, 1931...............114
Figure 11. Katharina Ulmer with her granddaughters Ida, Berta and Maria in 1931
.................................................................116
Figure 12. The Ulmers, 1 to r: Theresa & Albert Karcher, Ida & Albert Ulmer, center
of back row: Martha Ulmer, Linda & Reinhold Ulmer, Olga & Adolf
Augsburger in 1935............................................. 117
viii


CHAPTER 1
TSARIST NATIONALITY POLICY AND
ETHNIC GERMAN IMMIGRATION TO VOLHYNIA
Leontina Sonnenburg (nee Ulmer) was bom on June 21, 1906 in the
Volhynian German village of Karlswalde, Russia. In 1964, prompted by the urgings
of her family, she began chronicling her life experiences. Composed in Volhynian
High German, her story opens with her deportation to the Russian province of Samara
in 1915 and concludes 230 handwritten pages later with her immigration to Canada in
1950. Sonnenburgs memoirs provide a vivid account of the culture and experiences
of a Volhynian German colonist during this tumultuous period of Central European
and Russian history. In addition, her memoirs reveal both the similarities and
differences between the Tsarist and Soviet regimes treatment of the Volhynian
German national minority. In conjunction with other sources, they provide the basis
for a comparison between the nationality policies and practices of these two
ideologically antithetical political systems.
Volhynia, located in present-day northwestern Ukraine, is a region of forests,
lakes and marshlands. It runs along the Volhynian-Podolian Plateau and is bordered
by the vast Pripet Marshes to the north and the Carpathian mountains to the south.
Considered by twentieth century scholars to be part of the original homeland of the
Slavs, Volhynia derives its name from the city of Volyn which was situated along the
Western Bug River. The Primary Chronicles entry for the year 981 describes this
area as part of the Rus principalities of Galicia and Volhynia1. United at the
beginning of the thirteenth century, Galicia-Volhynia formed one of the most
powerful principalities of the Kievan Rus period.
1 An alternate spelling of these principalities is Halych and Volodymyr.
1


Figure 1. The Geography of the Volhynian-Podolian Region2
After the disintegration of the principality of Galicia-Volhynia, the region was
divided between Poland and Lithuania in 1388. With the Polish-Lithuanian union of
1569, Volhynia became a quasi-autonomous province of Poland. During the second
and third partitions of Poland in 1793 and 1795, this region was incorporated into the
Russian Empire and in 1797 Volhynia was made a province. The Polish landed 2
2 Paul Robert Magocsi, Historical Atlas of East Central Europe (Seattle: University of Washington
Press, 1993), p.l.
2


gentry, who owned most of the land in Volhynia, was granted the status of Russian
nobility and the mostly Ukrainian peasants working their lands became serfs.
Figure 2. The Partitions of Poland3
As Russia acquired more territories and people through war, annexation and
colonization, she became a large, contiguous, multi-ethnic empire. By the end of the
nineteenth century, out of a total population of about 170 million people, Great
Russians numbered less than 75 million. In Russia in the Age of Modernization and
Revolution 1881-1917, Hans Rogger quotes Websters Third New International
Dictionary to show that even the most neutral definition of an empire implies
problems and conflicts: an extended territory usually comprising a group of nations, 3
3 Magocsi, Historical Atlas, p.71.
3


states, or peoples under the control or domination of a single sovereign power.4 He
argues that as the empire expanded, the tsarist regime never abandoned the principle
that Russia was a unitary rather than a multi-ethnic state as it strove to impose legal,
administrative and national homogeny on its subjects. In practice, however, the
government lacked the means and the ruthlessness to force this principle of
uniformity on its increasingly diverse population.5 As Theodore Weeks argues in
Nation and State in Late Imperial Russia, rather than imposing a comprehensive
program of russification on all its conquered peoples, the Tsarist regime developed its
various nationality policies in response to the peculiarities of each situation. He
states, The tsarist government preferred to ignore the national issue rather than deal
with it and, when forced to acknowledge and face the problem, preferred sweeping
restrictive measures (often soon circumvented or ignored) to either co-optation or
cooperation.6 When the state proceeded rigorously against a particular group of
people-such as the Polish nobility after the 1863 uprising and the Volhynian Germans
during World War I-its actions were typically defensive, prompted by a real or
perceived threat to the security and integrity of the Russian Empire.
The Russian Empires German colonists initially enjoyed a high degree of
autonomy and privilege under the Tsarist regime. Although German emigration to
Russia began in medieval times, the Tsarist regimes attempt to populate newly
conquered lands with German colonists was a feature of the modem era and the Age
of European Imperialism. In The Czars Germans, Hattie Plum Williams describes
the colonization frenzy that swept through Europe during the eighteenth century as
4 Hans Rogger, Russia in the Age of Modernization and Revolution: 1881-1917 (London: Longman
Group Limited, 1983), p.182.
5 Ibid., p. 183.
6 Theodore Weeks, Nation and State in Late Imperial Russia: Nationalism and Russification on the
Western Frontier, 1863-1914 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1996), p. 15.
4


Britain, Spain, Denmark, Hungary, Austria, Prussia and Russia aggressively tried to
populate their colonies and war-ravaged lands with foreign settlers.7 8 As governments
competed for colonists by offering increasingly alluring concessions to potential
settlers, they also tried to keep their own populations in place by closing their borders
to emigration.
Figure 3. The Evolution of German Settlement in Central Europe8
The free cities and southwest states of Germany became a rich source for
recruiting colonists, since they lacked strong centralized governments and were ruled
by princes who taxed their populations heavily to support their extravagance and
7 Hattie Plum Williams, The Czars Germans: With Particular Reference to the Volga Germans
(Lincoln: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1975), pp.23-24.
8 Magocsi, Historical Atlas, p.105.
5


wars.9 In addition, because German farmers were using more advanced agricultural
techniques at the time, they were seen as desirable settlers.
The Russian governments attempt to recruit colonists was expressed in
Catherine IIs manifesto of 1763, which provided settlers with transportation and
expense money at the time of enrollment and guaranteed, among other privileges,
freedom of religion, self-government, exemption from military and civil service,
immunity from billeting soldiers and interest-free loans for ten years. These
concessions, more generous than those offered by other governments, drew many
colonists to Russia, the majority of which were Germans. Most of these early
colonists settled in the steppe land along the lower Volga. As Fred C. Koch shows in
The Volga Germans: In Russia and the Americas, From 1763 to the Present, within
several decades and against towering odds, these rugged colonists established a
thriving agricultural community of 192 towns and villages in the Saratov and Samara
provinces.10 In 1804, Alexander I approved another round of incentives to encourage
Germans to migrate to Bessarabia, the Ukraine, Crimea and the Trans-Caucasus.11 12
However, the high costs associated with the program, doubts about its success and
concerns about the importation of revolutionary ideas caused the government to
reconsider its colonization program. In 1819, it drafted a law forbidding Russian
1
missions abroad from issuing any more immigration visas.
9 Ibid., p.51.
10 Fred C. Koch, The Volga Germans: In Russia and the Americas, From 1763 to the Present
(University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977), p.xv.
11 Ibid., p.ll.
12 Dietmar Neutatz, Die "deutsche Frage im Schwarzmeergebiet und in Wolhynien: Politik,
Wirtschaft Mentalitaeten und Alltag in Spanningsfeld von Nationalismus und Modernisierung, 1856-
1914 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1993), p.42.
6


One of the first German colonies in Volhynia was established near Ostrog in
1783 by Mennonites responding to Catherine IIs manifesto. After the Russian
government stopped sponsoring and supporting settlers, Germans continued to
migrate to Volhynia, though under vastly different circumstances than the Germans in
the rest of the empire. Rather than being recruited and supported by the Russian
government, they were attracted by the availability of land for rent or purchase, the
aid offered by individual Volhynian landlords seeking laborers to develop their
estates, and the ongoing political privileges offered to colonists. The first significant
migration of German colonists to Volhynia began in the 1830s and by 1863, about
6,000 settlers lived in 45 colonies scattered throughout central Volhynia.
Figure 4. Map of Mennonite Settlements in Volhynia13
Over ninety percent of the Volhynian German colonists came from the
primarily Polish-speaking areas of Congress Poland and East Prussia where they had 13
13 Map courtesy of Adolph Sonnenburg.
7


settled during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. A minority
emigrated directly from Wiirttemberg, Pomerania, Posen, West Prussia, Silesia and
Galicia.14 As Nikolaus Arndt points out in Die Deutschen in Wolhynien: Ein
kulturhistorischer Uberblick (The Germans in Volhynia: A Cultural History), the
overpopulation in these areas, combined with the colonists practice of not dividing
their land in inheritance, drove younger generations to seek land elsewhere.15
Volhynia was an attractive place to resettle, especially after 1863, due to the
availability of cheap land for rent or purchase. As Valentina Nadolskaia describes in
Khozaistvennaia deiatelnost inostrannykh kolonistov volynskoi gubemii: vtoraia
pol.XIX-nachalo XX vv (The Economic Activity of Foreign Colonists of Volhynia
Province: Second half of the 1 ^-Beginning of the 20th Centuries), several factors
combined to drive down land prices in Volhynia. First, many estate owners found
themselves in a financial crisis after losing their workforce due to the emancipation of
the serfs in 1861 and were forced to either sell or lease their lands. Next, in response
to the Polish uprising of 1863, the Russian government attempted to crush Polish
nationalism by punishing and reducing the power of the local nobility.16 17 Polish
landlords were executed or exiled and those whose land was not confiscated sold it.
Since the peasants in Volhynia, who were mostly Ukrainian, lacked the means to
purchase land, prices plummeted. Land in Volhynia was one tenth the price of land
in Austria Hungary and one third the price of land in Poland .
14 Edward Reimer Brandt, Before Ukraine: The Germans in Poland, Journal of the American
Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 16, no. 4 (1993): p.2.
15 Nikolaus Arndt, Die Deutschen in Wolhynien: Ein kulturhistorischer Uberblick ( Wurzburg: Adam
Kraft Verlag, 1994), p.51.
16 Weeks, Nation and State, p.71.
17 Valentina Nadolskaia, Khozaistvennaia deiatelnost inostrannykh kolonistov volynskoi gubemii:
vtoraia pol.XIX-nachalo XX w, in Sotsial naia transformatsiia i mezhetnicheskie otnosheniia na
Pravoberezhnoi Ukraine: 19-nachalo 20 w, ed. Kimitaka Matsuzato (Moscow: Rosspen,
Sapporo: Slavic Research Center, 2005), pp.94-95.
8


Another factor that motivated German colonists living in Congress Poland to
leave their settlements was the civil unrest caused by the Polish uprisings of 1831 and
1863. In his essay Before Ukraine: The Germans in Poland, Edward Reimer
Brandt asserts that the Germans in Congress Poland became objects of anti-German
hostility and suffered isolated acts of violence during this period of nationalist fervor.
Even though the uprisings were waged against the Tsarist regime, by 1863 Prussia
had begun its own efforts to forcibly Germanize its Polish population through
education policies and other measures. As nationalism took hold amongst the Polish
masses, some Poles began to view their German neighbors as enemies. Feeling
vulnerable, many Germans decided to resettle among the-at that time-less politically
nationalistic Ukrainians.18 19 Nikolaus Arndt also points out that many Germans who
had only recently settled in Congress Poland chose to move eastward to a seemingly
more peaceful region rather than endure the civil unrest of their host nation.20 21
Finally, the Russian government encouraged the migration of colonists to
Volhynia. Nadolskaia describes how the 1861 law that emancipated the serfs also
permitted estate owners to rent land to foreigners for thirty-six years. Another law
passed that year allowed the hiring of foreigners. Most of the settlers that responded
to these incentives were German and Czech, though people also came from
Belgium. In his article entitled Understanding the Russian Influence on Germans
from Russia, Jerry Frank points to the emancipation decree of March 2, 1864 as an
important motivating factor that led the Germans living in Congress Poland to
emigrate. This law was an attempt by the Russian government to weaken the Polish
18 Arndt, Die Deutschen in Wolhynien, p.51.
19 Brandt, Before Ukraine: The Germans in Poland, p.9.
20 Arndt, Die Deutschen in Wolhynien, p.51.
21 Nadolskaia, Khozaistvennaia, pp.95-96.
9


22
gentry and secure the loyalty of the Polish peasantry. It gave Polish peasants rights
to the land they inhabited without the burden of redemption payments. The result of
the decree was that, peasants in the Kingdom of Poland were granted land on much
more favorable conditions than in any other part of the Russian Empire.22 23 An
unintended consequence of this law was that prospects for colonists were more
favorable in Volhynia than in Congress Poland.
*
y >
.y
% /
f't iV

'V
$\ Luti^ % VOLHYNIA
' (tXM JL , ' +
- W1 RrJt* # I \*r
% ^ (Rowvno)^ g- 91 \
. Vothynian P ZhytoHGr* 1
s * & (Shhomir) \
w * Germanv _
'"* L'VIV
ul_____t______

% +
* *
\
Figure 5. Volhynian German Settlements ca. 190024 25
In a similar vein, Neutatz shows how the law of December 10, 1865 forbidding Poles
from acquiring landed property in the Western provinces made greater amounts of
land available for purchase by non-Poles. As a result of these factors, colonists
22 Weeks, Nation and State, p. 100.
23 Jerry Frank, Understanding the Russian Influence on Germans from Russia, Journal of the
American Society of Germans from Russia, 19, no. 2 (1996): p.55.
24 Magocsir Historical Atlas, p.105.
25 Neutatz, Die deutsche Fragef p.63.
10


flooded into Volhynia and by 1889 there were 102,139 Germans living in the
26
province.
During the reform era, Alexander IIs government attempted to respond to
criticism about the special status granted to certain sectors of society by regularizing
the Russian legal system. Between 1871 and 1884, decrees were passed related to
land administration, the tax system, education and military service. As a result, all
Germans now had to pay additional taxes, study Russian in previously all-German
schools and perform military service. Many German colonists moved to the United
States and Canada during the 1870s because of the abolition of privileges, especially
the Mennonite population whose pacifist doctrine was threatened by the compulsory
military service. Nevertheless, German migration continued into the beginning of the
twentieth century. As Brandt points out, Volhynia was the only area in the Russian
Empire where significant in-migration and out-migration occurred at the same time.26 27 28 29
Leontina Sonnenburgs grandparents, who in 1874 left their home in Congress Poland
and purchased a farm in the village of Karlswalde from Mennonites emigrating to
North America, were part of this wave of German migration. However, the enormous
population growth within the Volhynian German community did not result from
immigration alone. They also had a very high birth rate and relatively low infant
mortality. In his article The Volhynia Germans, Their Work and Their Destiny,
Friedrich Rink claims that their birth rate was higher than in any other land in
Europe. By 1897, there were 171,331 Germans living in Volhynia, making up 5.73
29
percent of the total population of the province.
26 Friedrich Rink, The Volhynia Germans, Their Work and Their Destiny, trans. J. M. Richey,
Heritage Review, 21, no.3 (1991): p.20.
27 Brandt, Before Ukraine, p.9.
28 Rink, The Volhynia Germans, p.23.
29 Nadolskaia, Khozaistvennaia, p.96.
11


A conservative, religious, hard working people, the Volhynia Germans lived
in independent, closed communities and had relatively little contact with their
Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, Czech and Jewish neighbors. The majority were
Evangelical Lutherans, though several Catholic and Baptist colonies existed as well.
A German language church and school stood in the center of each village. In less
affluent communities, a simple building served as both the school and church.
Wealthier communities built more elaborate wooden churches, typically in the Gothic
style, with towers, bells and organs.30 31 32 Each colony had its own local self-governing
31
body called the Schultz, which elected an Ortschultz as its head.
Drawn to Volhynia by the same incentives as the German settlers, Czech
colonists also immigrated to Volhynia during the second part of the nineteenth and
early twentieth century. They tended to be wealthier than their German neighbors
and predominantly owned their own property. Many Czech colonists grew hops,
which was a lucrative export crop. Most of the breweries in the region were owned
by Czechs and, as a result, Volhynia became the chief hops growing sector of the
Empire. Czech colonists were also involved m horse breeding.
In contrast to the Czechs, the majority of the German colonists that arrived in
Volhynia were poor and life was difficult at first. The German colonist saying, The
first generation works itself to death, the second suffers want, only the third has
bread, rang true for many. Like their ancestors who had settled in Congress Poland,
many Volhynian Germans first lived in earth huts.33 Many individual families
30 Friedrich Rink, The German Settlements in Volhynia, trans. Adam Giesinger, Journal of the
American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 23 (1977): p. 15.
31 Paul Robert Magocsi, A History of Ukraine (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996),
p.345.
32 Nadolskaia, Khozaistvennaia, p.l 10-114.
33 Arndt, Die Deutschen in Wolhynien, p.58.
12


initially leased plots of land, often paying their rent in kind rather than with money.
In addition, whole German communities often rented tracts of land. At the outset of
the twentieth century, the average plot size for a German family was 10-12
desiatiny,34 which was fairly sizable for peasants at that time.35
The Volhynian German colonists typically increased their prosperity by
improving the lands they owned or rented. Volhynia was heavily forested, so settlers
felled the trees on their plots for timber and to create arable land. The region was also
swampland, so they dug canals to lower the water level. The German colonists,
regardless of their degree of ownership, divided their plots into kitchen gardens, fields
of arable land, hay fields, common pasture and stands of timer. They primarily grew
wheat, barley, rye, oats, potatoes, flax and a variety of vegetables. Orchards and
animal husbandry were also very important. Their use of crop rotation and fertilizers
set them apart from their Ukrainian neighbors, provided them with bountiful harvests
and allowed them to be nearly self-sufficient with regard to food.36 37 Their productive
farms were regarded as models of agricultural and husbandry techniques. Leon
Trotsky, for one, noted the efficiency and neatness of the German farms compared to
7
those of the local peasantry near his home in Kherson Province.
34 one desiatina = 1.0925 hectares = 2.7 acres
35 Nadolskaia, Khozaistvennaia, p.100.
36 Ibid., pp. 105-115.
37 Weeks, Nation and State, p.89.
13


Unlike the Volga Germans, who adopted the Russian mir system, the
Volhynian Germans typically lived on individual farmsteads. The Russian
Encyclopedia of 1886 cites that in 1884, German colonists in the Volhynia region
owned 93,477 desiatiny and held 16,971 desiatiny through rental agreements,
resulting in a total of about 120,388 hectares. Over the next thirty years, the
Volhynia Germans steadily increased their land holdings. German figures show them
owning 300,000 hectares of land and Russian figures as much as 700,000 hectares by
the outbreak of World War I.38 39 40
After improving their plots some German immigrants sold their lease rights to
newcomers for a hefty profit. Others were exclusively occupied with animal
husbandry, raising milch cows and goats. Because their animals were stabled in
clean, ventilated bams and were fed, rather then made to forage as the livestock
belonging to the native Ukrainians were, they produced good quality cheese and
butter which sold for high prices at market. Still other Germans specialized in metal
and woodworking.
The German and Czech colonists were also more productive than the native
peasant population because they built steam and wind mills. For example, there were
63 steam and wind mills in the German colonies in the late nineteenth century. In
addition, the Germans and Czechs had their own slaughterhouses, brick works, iron
foundries and workshops for repairing agricultural machines, specializing in bicycle
38 The mir is a system of community organization and administration, land ownership and distribution
used by the majority of the peasantry in European Russia. In the mir, communally held lands are
divided into strips based on such factors as the quality of the soil and the distance from the village.
The commune provides each household with the number of land allotments it can farm effectively
and periodically redistributed these strips to accommodate for changes in family size and
composition.
39 Rink, The Volhynia Germans, p.22.
40 Ingeborg Fleischhauer and Benjamin Pinkus, The Soviet Germans: Past and Present (New York:
St. Martins Press, 1986), p.21.
14


and motor repairs. Further, nearly one half of the textile factories in Volhynia
belonged to foreigners, predominantly Germans.41
As Paul R. Gregory argues in Before Command: An Economic History of
Russia from Emancipation to the First Five-Year Plan, there was substantial growth
in per capita agricultural output throughout Russia during this period. From 1883 to
1901 agricultural output grew at 2.55 percent per annum, which was twice the 1.3
percent population growth rate. Although the unrest caused by the 1905 revolution
resulted in a temporary dip in agricultural output, growth resumed after 1905 until the
outbreak of World War I.42 Nevertheless, the relative prosperity and sheer numbers
of German colonists in Volhynia caused some Russian officials to view the Volhynia
Germans as a threat to the local peasantry. In an attempt to stem the tide of German
migration and land acquisition in Volhynia and surrounding areas, the Russian
government drafted legislation restricting land acquisition and the rights of usufruct
for foreigners. The law of March 14, 1887 forbade all subjects of foreign states from
purchasing or renting land in Congress Poland, the three Southwest Provinces (Kiev,
Polodia and Volhynia), the three Northwest Provinces (Vilna, Grodno and Kovno),
Minsk, Vitebsk, Kurland, Livland and Bessarabia. Neutatz avers that although the
German colonists were not explicitly mentioned, this legislation was primarily
directed against them. 43
By early 1892, the Germans in Volhynia were also perceived as a threat to the
security of Russias western borderlands. On March 14, 1892, a law was passed
forbidding all persons of foreign lineage, including those with Russian citizenship,
from settling, buying or renting land outside of urban areas in Volhynia. This
41 Nadolskaia, Khozaistvennaia, pp. 121-127.
42 Paul R. Gregory, Before Command: An Economic History of Russia from Emancipation to the First
Five-Year Plan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp.43-44.
43 Neutatz. Die deutsche Frage, pp.76-77.
15


legislation excluded those already living in Volhynia and gave the Governor of
Volhynia the authority to expel anyone caught defying this rule.44 Even though the
laws of March 14, 1887 and March 14, 1892 were repealed on May 1, 1905 and
March 19, 1895 respectively, attempts to restrict the rights of Germans on the western
borderlands continued to be brought before the Russian government. In addition, as
Mary Schaeffer Conroy points out in Peter Arkadevich Stolypin: Practical Politics
in Late Tsarist Russia, P. A. Stolypin, who was Minister of Internal Affairs and a
quasi prime minister as Chair of the Council of Ministers between 1906 and 1911,
admired the farmers in Prussia. However, he was concerned about a peaceful
invasion of foreigners, particularly Germans, into the southwestern provinces of the
Empire. As a result, in October 1910 he presented the State Duma, the lower house
of the Russian parliament, with a government proposal prohibiting the purchase of
land by foreigners in the provinces of Volhynia, Podolia and Kiev.45
Several local Russian authorities also questioned the political reliability of the
German settlers in the western borderlands. Some claimed that the German Kaiser
had instigated and funded the immigration of Germans to Volhynia and called the
colonists spies and traitors. An article written by A.E. Vitovich, a Russian Bailiff for
the district judge in the Volhynia region during the late nineteenth century, illustrates
this antagonism towards the German colonists. Vitovich asserts that the German
settlers were able to create magnificent farms in sandy and depressed, swampy
places.. .thanks to the capital received by the colonists by the German government.46
None of the available evidence supports these claims, though they do illustrate the
44 Ibid., p.120.
45 Mary Schaeffer Conroy, Peter Arkadevich Stolypin: Practical Politics in Late Tsarist Russia
(Boulder: Westview Press, 1976), pp.6,118.
46 A.E. Vitovich, The German Colonies in Volhynia, trans. William Lewus, Heritage Review 11,
no.4 (1981): p.36.
16


feelings of animosity and distrust that existed towards the Volhynian Germans in
certain segments of Russian society.47 These fears mounted during the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries, stoked in particular by the Russian nationalist press.48
Nevertheless, during this period the Russian government was consumed with more
pressing political, military, economic and social concerns and viewed the German
colonists in its western borderlands as a minor problem.
47 Arndt, Die Deutschen in Wolhynien, p.64.
48 Neutatz. Die deutsche Fragep.80.
17


CHAPTER 2
WORLD WAR I AND THE DEPORTATION
OF THE VOLHYNIAN GERMANS
The outbreak of World War I dramatically altered the lives of the Volhynian
Germans. Russian patriotism frequently took the form of vilifying the German
enemy. In his book Patriotic Culture in Russia during World War I, Hubertus Jahn
reproduces satirical cartoons depicting Kaiser Wilhelm as a satanic, sausage eating,
beer guzzling aggressor. He points out that these images played upon cultural
stereotypes and pictured Germany as the main threat to the security of Mother Russia
and her people.49 Because of their ethnicity, the Volhynian Germans were associated
with the enemy, perceived as being loyal to the German Emperor and labeled as an
internal hazard. However, as Arthur Janke points out in his essay Russian Germans
Between the Black Swastika and the Red Star, most German colonists felt no
allegiance to the German state which did not exist until 1871, long after the colonists
had left one of the numerous German principalities for a better life in Congress
Poland and Russia. The idea of a greater Germany composed of all German people
arose during the 1880s and was the creation of extreme nationalists who later
developed into the Nazi party.50 Nevertheless, the pan-Slavic movement and Russian
nationalist press continued to spread rumors that the German colonists were spies
planted by the German Kaiser as part of an elaborate conspiracy to infiltrate and
dominate Russian economic and political life.51
49 Hubertus Jahn, Patriotic Culture in Russia during World War I (Ithica: Cornell University Press,
1995), pp. 172-173.
50 Arthur Janke, Russian Germans Between the Black Swastika and the Red Star, Journal of the
American Society of Germans from Russia 12, no.3 (1989): pp 54-55.
51 Rink, The Volhynia Germans, p.24.
18


As early as August of 1914, the Russian high command and the Ministry of
the Interior drew up plans for the relocation of ethnic Germans living along the
western borderlands.52 53 In A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia During
World War I, Peter Gatrell asserts that the Russian government exploited popular
anti-German sentiment to pursue its plans to not only relocate but also expropriate the
property of German settlers. He quotes the governor of Tula province who in his
annual report for 1914 stated, the people have formed the view that Germans, even
those who are Russian subjects, are enemies of the fatherland, that there is no place
for them on Russian soil and that the land that belongs to them here should be given
53
to Russian peasants.
These sentiments culminated in the Liquidation Law issued by Nicholas II on
February 2, 1915. This law called for the expropriation of all land belonging to
German, Austrian, and Hungarian minorities living along the frontier zone. The
colonists were given ten to sixteen months to dispose of all rights and titles to their
property. According to this decree, they were to be compensated for the loss of their
land holdings through various certificates that could be redeemed no sooner than
twenty-five years after their issuance.54 However, as German troops rapidly
advanced into western Volhynia during the summer of 1915, General Ianushkevich,
the chief of staff of the Russian army, ordered the relocation of the German colonists
to designated destinations in Siberia and Central Asia.55 Gatrell points out that the
Russian army deliberately targeted vulnerable minorities such as Jews and Germans
for deportation, using them as scapegoats for their military failures. German families
52 Peter Gatrell, A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia During World War I (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1999), p.23.
53 Ibid., p.24.
54 Rink, The Volhynia Germans, p.25.
55 Gatrell, A Whole Empire Walking, p.21.
19


with fathers serving in the Russian military could remain in their villages and the rest
were given only several days to prepare for their journey.
More than 200,000 German colonists were deported from Volhynia. Their
farms were taken over by Ukrainian refugees relocated from Galicia with the
understanding that they would turn over part of their harvest to the Russian
government.56 Unlike most refugees in Russia during World War I who left their
homes of their own free will, the Volhynian Germans were classified as vyselentsy,
or those who have abandoned their homes and deserted their property, not of their
own volition but as a result of orders and under pressure from the authorities.57 58 The
government did not provide any compensation for the materials the colonists were
forced to leave behind. The crops in the fields, ready for harvest, could not be sold.
The Volhynian Germans were forced to sell their material belongings at greatly
co
devalued prices to raise money for their deportation journey.
Although the few historical accounts of this event focus on the cruelty of the
Tsarist regime and the suffering of the deportees, Sonnenburgs account shows that
the Russian government did provide the Volhynian Germans with food, lodging and
money. They received cooked meals and tea during the trek, were lodged with
Russian families in Kursk and were given medical care and financial aid when they
settled in Samara province. As the economic situation of the Russian government
deteriorated, so did the aid offered to the German deportees. When the Provisional
Government repealed the Liquidation Law on March 11, 1917, allowing the
Volhynian Germans to return to their farms, most deportees left as soon as they
56 Ibid., p.24.
57 Ibid., p.91.
58 Rink, The Volhynia Germans, p.25.
20


could.59 The German Occupation Authorities restored the returning Volhynian
German landowners to their farms and the Ukrainians who had been settled on these
farms were sent back to Galicia. However, those colonists who had been former
renters lost all rights to their land and most immigrated to Germany where they
became laborers.60
Leontina Sonnenburgs memoirs open in the Volhynian German village of
Karlswalde as her parents, Jakob and Katharina Ulmer, and fellow villagers are
receiving their deportation notices from the Russian authorities during World War I.
Her narrative vividly describes the events that accompanied the implementation of
this policy and shows how her family coped with their circumstances after being
relocated to the town of Melekes in the province of Samara.
The First World War erupted when I was nine years old. In 1915, the Russian
authorities gave us two days notice that all ethnic Germans were to be deported deep
into Russia. Most Germans in our village owned their farms and there was much
misery and crying amongst the people as we were forced to leave our possessions and
our homeland behind. Even the Germans who lived in the cities had to leave. Only
those families with a father or son serving in the Russian military could stay, but only
for a few months and then they had to leave as well.
59 Gatrell, A Whole Empire Walking, p.180.
60 Rink, The Volhynia Germans, p.25.
21


Figure 6. Map of the Village of Karlswalde61
I can still vividly remember how our dear parents packed our belongings into
a large wagon that Papa had acquired. There were eight children in our family at the
time and Mama was pregnant. Two of my brothers, Emil and Gustav, had emigrated
in 1912 and 1913 to Detroit, USA.
The next morning we awoke and our village was filled, cart after cart, with
62
Russian refugees from Galicia. They had been evacuated because of the threat of
war in their region. Everything on our fields and meadows had been in perfect order, 61 62
61 Map courtesy of Adoph Sonnenburg.
62 These refugees were actually of Ukrainian ethnicity.
22


but that was of no concern to them. They set up their camps on anything. How heart
wrenching it was for our dear parents and all our dear Germans to see the fruits of
their hard work go to waste.
The Germans tried to sell their possessions that they had to leave behind, but
no one in our village wanted to buy anything. They knew that we were about to be
deported and that the Galician Russians were going to move into our farms. Since the
Germans did not want to just leave their belongings behind, they were forced to sell
everything to Jewish merchants for next to nothing. You can well imagine what
happened to our beautiful farms in just two days.
Then we received the order: Everyone out of Karlswalde!63 The Germans
were told to be out of their village by evening and to gather in a place about one
kilometer outside of Karlswalde. There we all spent the night. I will never forget the
weeping of our beloved parents and all the other dear people. Everyone peered
yearningly towards our homeland. We had been ordered to evacuate and leave
behind our wonderful homeland, yet everyone felt that they were innocent of any
wrongdoing.
63 Karlswalde, also known as Karolswalde, Sloboka/Gelendri and currently as Prikerdonne, is located
approximately 8 km south of Ostrog.
23


Figure 7. The Volhynian German Deportation Route to Samara During WWI64
The next morning we received the order: Harness the horses, get ready,
were moving forward. When we were all ready, a Russian policeman rode in the
lead and we followed, wagon after wagon, in a procession after him. We continued
like this the entire day, moving as commanded and stopping only to feed the horses.
Before evening we arrived in a little town named Hanopol,65 where we were
to spend the night. All the wagons and people were ordered to gather in an open area
in the town and stay there. During the night it started to rain. Then a thunderstorm
rolled in and lightning struck all around us. The sky was aflame with lightning and
the thunder was the loudest I had ever heard. The large trees that lined the street
made such frightening creaking sounds that we all thought they were going to break
54 Map courtesy of Adoph Sonnenburg.
65 Hanopol, also known as Anapol, is located approximately 40 km north east of Ostrog.
24


in two. All the while, it rained so hard it seemed like the sky was emptying itself out
on us.
All the mothers and children started to scream and cry from fear. Our dear
Papa had fortunately bought a large tarpaulin that he covered our entire wagon with,
so we all remained dry. Mamas youngest sister, Kristine, had four small children.
During the night she brought her innocent little children to our wagon, shedding bitter
tears. Then she gathered more small children, as many as could fit into our cart, so
that they could have shelter as well. I will never forget that night, even though I was
only nine years old at the time.
The next morning we received another order to continue onwards. Our
parents had prepared ahead and packed enough food so that we could still eat well, no
matter what difficulties we encountered. The Russian government had also prepared
for us and we were provided with cooked food and boiling water for tea at every
place that we stopped. We lived like this for seven weeks, traveling by horse and
wagon, spending day and night outside. Reading this, you can well imagine how
much heartache there was in those times. The ill and weak died along the way and
they were simply buried on the side of the road when we were allowed to stop.
After seven weeks of traveling we arrived in Kursk66 and there we were
placed in private homes. The Russian people lived in rather tight quarters
themselves, but they had to give up a room for us. Our parents also received money
for provisions from the Russian government based on the number of people in our
family. Soon thereafter, we received the order to sell our horses and wagons. We
would continue onward, but from now on by train.
We stayed in Kursk for three weeks. Then we received another command to
pack up and get ready to go to the train station. The mayor provided horses and
66 Kursk in located approximately 1,000 km east of Karlswalde
25


wagons to transport the Germans who were living in Russian homes to the train
station. There we were loaded into plain cargo cars, not passenger cars. These had
already been lined with crude wooden bunks on both sides from top to bottom for
sleeping. Then as many families as could possibly fit were loaded in, so that
everyone was lying right next to each other. There was also a little iron stove in each
train car for heat. We were given some food by the government and at that time one
could buy almost anything to eat or drink at the train stations in Russia. Our parents
had money, so we never had to go hungry.
One experience will remain unforgettable to me all my life. It took place on
September 15, 1915, a wonderful Sunday. As I have already mentioned, our dear
Mama was pregnant. Around afternoon the train stopped in an open field and Mama
was already in labor. Then Papa gathered us small children and brought us to Oma,67
a few cars away. My youngest brother Oskar was three years old, Adolf was five,
Jacob was seven, I was nine, Albert was eleven, Reinhold was thirteen, Ida was
fifteen, Ewald was seventeen years old and on that day our little sister Martha was
bom into our family. The train stood still for a few hours. Shortly before evening the
conductor bellowed out, All aboard, since the people would go outside when the
train stopped. I can still see today how our dear Oma did her best to keep us with her
in the train car and to keep us from crying and trying to go to our Mama. Then the
conductor blew the hom again and by the third time the train started moving.
The next day our father brought us back to our train car. We were happy to
have a little sister, but when I later became a mother myself, I realized how much
suffering Mama had managed to endure at that time. The women in our car nestled
the child in their bosoms to keep her warm and they cleaned and dried her diapers.
We rode on for three days like this. The little child could not be washed because
there was no opportunity and because it was too cold. How difficult and heart
67 Grandmother Anna Karcher.
26


wrenching this was for our dear Mama, who was also very ill from the strain of the
labor and the harsh conditions.
On September 18, 1915 we arrived at a place where we were supposed to stay.
We received the order, Everyone out of the train! This was in the province of
Samara and the town was named Melekes. At the train station there was a wide
platform where each family lined up with their belongings. Then the mayor, the
Russian priest and the doctor of the town arrived. Horses and wagons were already
waiting there to transport all the Germans to the town of Chmilovka, which lay
another thirty-five kilometers further.
The healthy families were immediately loaded onto these wagons. By the
time the three men reached our family, it was already evening. Mama was sitting on
the ground wrapped in a down comforter with the three-day-old child in her arms and
she was very ill. After taking a look at her, the doctor said, This woman cannot
make the journey, she is too ill. However, the priest insisted that Mama should
travel to Chmilovka with all of us. They debated the issue and then the mayor and the
doctor said, If anything, the father and the children should go ahead to Chmilovka
and the mother and the infant should go to the hospital. When the mother regains her
health, then she can be sent after them. As we stood there huddled around our dear
Mama with our Papa, the hearts of the mayor and the doctor softened. They said, It
would be too much of an emotional strain to separate a mother from so many young
children. The whole family will stay together and when the woman regains her
health, then the entire family will be sent to Chmilovka.
The town had also provided horses and wagons for the sick. A cart pulled up
in front of us. Then poor Mama, all of us children, Papa and our belongings were
loaded onto the cart. We drove off and stopped in front of a small house in the town 68
68 Melekes, renamed Dmitrovgrad in 1972 after the Bulgarian leader Georgi Dimitrov, is located
approximately 1,200 km east of Kursk.
27


ofMelekes. That was where our home was going to be. It all seemed so foreign,
because in deep Russia everything was much different than what we were used to in
our homeland. The two rooms in the house were nice and warm. We had no beds to
sleep on, only an area where from one end of the room to the other boards had been
nailed up, so we all slept next to each other.
Once we had settled in our new home, Mama asked Ewald and Ida to go to the
neighbors and borrow a Molde69 to bathe the newborn child. They walked over and
since they could both speak Russian fluently, they asked the neighbors for a Molde.
The woman who lived there asked, What do you want a Molde for? Well give it to
you, but what do you want to use it for? They replied, We have a small child and
our mother wants to wash her in it. Then the woman said, Go on home, well come
right over. Shortly thereafter, two very friendly women came into our house and
asked, Where is the little child? They immediately went into the room where
Mama and the infant lay, but they had not brought a Molde with them. The two
Russian women told her, We didnt bring a Molde, but we came and we will wash
the child for you. They also wanted to take our mother along to bathe, but she was
too ill.
In this part of Russia, the people had small bathhouses for women and
separate ones for men. These bathhouses were heated to a very high temperature and
there was both warm and cold water in them. They were built so that higher up it
would be very hot and lower down somewhat cooler. The Russians had a habit of
staying in the steam for as long as possible and letting their bodies get as hot as they
could stand. They made little bundles of birch branches and whipped their bodies
with them to aid their circulation. Even during the winter the Russians would take
such a bath once a week and these bathhouses were usually located next to a stream.
During the winter it was very cold there and the people dressed in long fur coats and
69 A multi-purpose tub, used for baking as well as bathing small children.
28


felt boots after their baths. The small children would be pulled along in sleighs,
dressed very warmly, and they never even noticed the cold.
Deep in Russia they had the habit of drinking large quantities of tea upon
arriving home. Every Russian house had a special teapot with a metal tube in the
middle that was surrounded by water. They would put wood coals into the tube and
then ignite them so that the water came to a boil. Then they sat down, put a piece of
hard sugar in their mouths and drank a few glasses of tea through the sugar. Tea was
only consumed out of glasses and they did not drink any fruit tea, only black tea. The
people there were fresh and healthy.
So these two women wanted to take Mama and the three-day-old child to the
bathhouse. Since our mother was too weak, our sister Ida went with them. She had
never seen such a thing in her life. In the front room they removed all their clothes
and went stark naked into the bathroom. It was completely filled with steam. Ida
later described to us how well the women treated her. She did not want to undress in
front of them, because we were not used to such things at home, but they said to her,
Do not be ashamed before us, no men will come in here. Then one of the women
sat down on a bench and washed the child. Ida still tells this story, describing how
interesting it all was, even though she is now already sixty-four years old.
When the women and Ida returned to our new home, we were all so interested
in hearing about what had taken place, but first she laid the child down next to Mama.
When they opened the blankets that our sister was swaddled in, the heat wafted up
from her. I can still see it as if it were today. Our dear Mama was so thankful and
happy that her child had finally been bathed after three days.
A few days later Martha began to scream, day and night, so that our dear
parents did not know what to do any more. All their efforts were fruitless. Then
boils appeared over her entire body and they were so severe that Mama could not
dress the poor child, only wrap her in diapers and blankets. I do not remember
whether or not a doctor came to visit, but no one expected Martha to survive her
29


illness. She was ill for several weeks and then she regained her health. I still
remember what our dear parents said: If those two women hadnt warmed the child
through with that bath, and if the cold from those three days on the train had stayed
within her, she surely would not have stayed alive.
In the town of Melekes there were many Ukrainian refugees from Grodno.70
The war had moved through that region, so the people were cleared out and relocated.
They all lived in a three-story house on the comer of a street. The kitchen was
located in the basement and had three large kettles in which the food for these people
was cooked. We lived about a kilometer away, but we also had to get our meals
there. Our father and brother Ewald made sure that we always had enough to eat.
The cook from the kitchen took notice of Ewald, since at that time we were
the only Germans in the town. One day the cook said to Ewald, Would you like to
come to the kitchen and help? Our brother replied immediately, Yes. Ewald had
to wake up very early every morning and build the fire under the large kettles, so that
when the cook arrived, everything was ready to go. In the winter it was very cold.
After a while, when the cook found Ewald to be trustworthy, he said to Ewald, Tell
your parents that there are two rooms in the basement and ask them if they would
they like to move in there. Then you dont have to walk so far in the cold every
morning. Here you can open the door and you are at work. Our parents agreed
immediately and moved into the two rooms with us children. This new living
situation was much better for us. The older siblings could help Ewald and the cook
was very satisfied with their work. He always took good care of us and made sure
that we had enough to eat.
I can still remember so well how each of us wanted to go and get the food for
the family. Mama already had the right sized pot, since the food was dished out
70 Grodno, also known as Hrodna, is located 300 km west of Minsk in Belarus.
30


according to the amount of people in each family. Everyone had to stand in an
orderly line to get their food. However, because Ewald worked in the kitchen, we
could go straight to the front of the line. The cook said to our parents, When I move
on to the second kettle, then come right up and get your food. We would wait and
watch the cook. When he moved on to the second kettle, one of our older two
brothers, Ida or our parents would go and get our meal. The cook dished out a good
amount of food for us so that we were always nice and frill. Ewald would divide up
the meat, since we received a little piece of meat for every person in the family. If
there was any meat or any soup left over, then the good cook would send it to us with
Ewald, so that our parents were always able to feed us well.
After a while, I cannot recollect the number of weeks or months, when Mama
and the baby were healthy again, Ewald and Ida wanted to move to Chmilovka. They
were lonely in the town, where everything was so foreign, while all the young people
were in Chmilovka. They entreated Papa and Mama repeatedly to move there, so that
we could be with all our dear people again and our parents let themselves be talked
into it. We did not have to pay for the move ourselves, so father went to the
municipal council to get a horse and wagon for our move to Chmilovka. When father
stated his request to the man working there, the man looked at him and said, I will
give you the horse and wagon to move over there, but you will regret it. You have a
large family and children that are old enough to work. You will always fare better
here in the town than in the village, where you will have to try and live off of the little
money that you receive from the government. Our father accepted this advice with
thanks, came home, related his experience to our mother and said, We are staying
here. I will never forget that day.
After a while the work of cooking for the Ukrainian refugees ended. Then our
parents received a sum of money based on the number of persons in our family from
the government and we had to feed ourselves. Father, Ewald and Ida all found work.
In the years 1915, 1916 and 1917 one could buy most anything in Russia and things
31


were not very expensive. If one had money one could live pretty well. I can still
remember vividly how one day our uncle and another man from Chmilovka came for
a visit. They saw how well our parents were able to make a life for themselves and
their many children in the town of Melekes. They said, You can count yourselves
lucky that you stayed in this town. We cannot earn any money in Chmilovka and the
government subsidy is hardly enough to live off of.
In the spring of 1916 an illness infected us younger children. Our three-year
old brother Oskar was the first to fall ill. In the three-story house that we lived in
there was a hospital for refugees, but the doctor there decided that Oskar would be
better off at home. He came to examine him every day and mother nursed him well.
On Sunday morning, eight days after Oskar had fallen ill, all of us children
were in the room with our dear brother. Since becoming ill, Oskar had not opened his
eyes. Then all of a sudden he opened his eyes, looked at us all, his face radiant, as if
he wanted to smile. We ran to Mama, crying, Mama, Mama, Oskar is already
healthy. His eyes are open and hes smiling. She immediately followed us into the
room and Oskar still had his eyes open. We spoke with him and were filled with joy,
but I can still see Mamas expression and it was not one of happiness. She had
noticed something about her child that had eluded us. After a short while Oskar
closed his eyes and he died. Our parents cried and cried for their child. He was
buried in the Russian cemetery and the grave was temporarily covered so that more
caskets with children could be placed in the same grave.
Right after Oskar died, Adolf, who was five years old, became ill. Our
parents called the doctor and after he had examined Adolf, he said, I will take him to
the hospital. They brought Adolf to the hospital room and Papa, Mama, Ewald and
Ida took turns nursing him day and night.
One night Papa was watching Adolf. In the middle of the night we were
awoken by a knocking on the window followed by Papas voice saying, Open the
door. Mama cried out, Our dear Adolf must be dead! Then Papa came inside and
32


laid his second dead son, swaddled in blankets, down on the bed. Forty-nine years
have passed since then, but I will never forget how much we all cried that night.
Adolf was buried in the same grave as his brother Oskar. Then right after Adolf died,
Jacob, who was seven years old, also became ill. Our parents decided, We will not
put him in the hospital. We will nurse him here. The doctor came to our home
every day, but Jacob also died. All three brothers had died within three weeks. I will
never forget the pain that our dear parents endured during those dreadful days.
At that time a Russian boy was buried alongside Oskar and Adolf in the grave,
which was deep enough to fit four caskets. Jakob was the last to be placed in that
grave, so all three brothers we buried in the same grave. Our dear parents placed a
cross at the head of the grave with a plaque upon which their ages and dates of death
were written. Reading this, you can well imagine how heart breaking such an
experience was for our parents. I fell ill and thought that I would die as well, but my
life had not yet reached its end. I regained my health and on June 21st I will be
celebrating my fifty-eighth birthday.
We stayed in Melekes and our parents managed to create a good life for us six
children. They did not have to pay for our apartment, since the Russian government
provided it for free for refugees. Papa, Ewald and Ida worked, while Reinhold,
Albert and I went to school. Mother stayed at home with Martha.
Then in the year 1917 we were allowed to return to our beloved homeland.
All of the Germans from our village that were in Chmilovka journeyed home
immediately, since life in Chmilovka was so difficult. Our parents, as well as the
other Germans, had been receiving letters from people in Karlswalde, since only the
Germans had been forced to leave. The Ukrainians, Jews and Poles had all remained
in the village. They informed us that our entire village and all the houses on the
beautiful farms were still occupied by the Galician Russians that were relocated
because of the war. The Galician people did not want any Germans to return to the
village, but the Russian government interfered and issued an order that any Germans
33


returning to the village would become the owners of their farms again. Frequently
the police had to intervene, because many Galicians did not let the Germans back into
their homes. As our dear parents continued to hear this news, they said to them
selves, We dont have it so bad here. We will stay until everything has settled down
at home.
When we had first arrived in Melekes, theft was something that did not occur.
The marketplace was filled with wagons from which the farmers of the villages sold
their goods. These wagons were just covered over night with a tarp to protect the
goods from rain or dogs and in the morning the tarps were removed and they
continued selling. I can still remember how our dear parents discussed this and said
how much they liked it. Even in the town one never heard of any dangers.
However, when the Revolution erupted in 1917 we were plagued by one
misery after another. No one dared go outside at night any more. Every day people
were killed and in the night we often heard machine gun fire. A new world had
emerged with thievery and stores being broken into at night. There were barely any
goods available for purchase and if one managed to buy something, it was only
through personal connections. I can still remember vividly how the people, including
our parents, discussed this with each other. They wondered aloud, What in the
world will happen next?
34


CHAPTER 3
REVOLUTION AND CIVIL WAR
From 1917 to 1920, life in Volhynia was defined by revolution and civil war.
The February Revolution of 1917 was ignited by a series of popular demonstrations
that gave voice to widespread discontent with the war and the economy. These mass
demonstrations combined with the withdrawal of elite support for the autocracy
resulted in the overthrow of the Tsarist regime and the takeover by the Provisional
Government. The authority of the self appointed Provisional Government, composed
of elite liberals, was considered a temporary measure until democratic elections to the
Constituent Assembly could take place. It ruled alongside the Petrograd Soviet,
which was composed of revolutionary socialists who claimed to represent the voice of
the people. However, as the Provisional Government struggled with the reigns of
power, failing to schedule elections and change the course of the war, popular
discontent continued to mount. In their coup of October 1917 the Bolsheviks,
heretofore a marginal socialist party advocating a Marxist proletarian revolution,
ousted the Provisional Government and seized control by assuming all central
government positions in the Petrograd Soviet.
Historians have attributed the startling success of the Bolsheviks in the
October 1917 Revolution to a variety of factors. Helene Carrere dEncausse asserts
in Lenin that during the summer of 1917, Russian society was agitating on the behalf
of particular interests-peace, bread, land, and national self-determination-rather than
competing political systems. Lenin recognized the potential for revolution in the
combination of these demands. dEncausse asserts, with no hesitation he [Lenin]
followed along behind all these spontaneous movements and made his party their
spokesman...Tactical concerns trumped everything else, or rather were inseparable
35


from the [Marxist] theory which could not be imposed in the absence of appropriate
tactics.71 Even though the interests that Lenin advocated contradicted his orthodox
Marxist beliefs, he was principally concerned with the political aspect of Marxism
and was willing to temporarily set aside ideology to bring about the revolution
required for the implementation of that doctrine. This politically pragmatic stance
also allowed Lenin to overcome the disdainful and fearful attitude towards the
Russian peasantry that plagued his Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary (SR)
counterparts.72 73 In Lenin and the Problem of Marxist Peasant Revolution, Esther
Kingston-Mann points out that during 1917 Lenin embraced the peasantry as
revolutionary allies and presented himself as a spokesman for the peasant revolution.
He called for the abolition of private property, advocated peasant participation in
rural Soviets and encouraged peasant unrest as a step towards true socialism through
the destruction of the old oppressive social order. By the fall of 1917, the Bolsheviks
had gained strong support among this essential constituency.
Another important group that the Bolsheviks appealed to directly was the
Petrograd garrison, which had grown to between 215,000 and 300,000 troops by the
summer of 1917. In Prelude to Revolution: The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July
1917 Uprising, Alexander Rabinowitch describes how the Petrograd garrison, which
had suffered enormous losses during the war, was replaced almost entirely with
recruits from the countryside. These left leaning soldiers shared the political, social
and economic dissatisfaction of the majority of the population and were resistant to
going to the front. During February 1917, the downfall of the Tsar was clinched
when these troops joined the popular rebellion. While all the political parties
71 Helene Carrere dEncausse, Lenin, trans.George Holoch (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers,
Inc. 2001), p.324.
72 Esther Kingston-Mann, Lenin and the Problem of Marxist Peasant Revolution (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1983), p. 190.
73 Ibid., pp. 140-144.
36


competed for influence over the Petrograd garrison during the spring of 1917, the
Bolsheviks devoted more time and energy to this cause. V.I. Nevsky, the Bolshevik
Military Organization leader, stressed the vital importance of armed troops in
overthrowing the bourgeoisie and viewed the spread of Bolshevik ideas amongst the
troops as a way of gaining a foothold in the countryside. To achieve the loyalty of the
troops, the Bolsheviks established Club Pravda, a non-party soldiers club in the
basement of the Kshesinskaia mansion which also served as the Bolshevik
headquarters from April to the summer of 1917. They also staged rallies and
published a soldiers newspaper called Soldatskaia pravda, which focused on
political issues of interest to the troops, served as a Bolshevik propaganda mechanism
and quickly attained a circulation of 50,000. As the Bolshevik party extended its
influence over key divisions of the Petrograd garrison these troops soon began to
agitate on behalf of overthrowing of the Provisional Government.74
In addition to fostering civil unrest and building their political base by
cultivating key elements of the population, the Bolsheviks concentrated on winning
the elections to the Soviets. In The Russian Revolution, Sheila Fitzpatrick asserts
that, While other socialists and liberal groups jostled for positions in the Provisional
Government and Petrograd Soviet, the Bolsheviks refused to be co-opted and
denounced the politics of coalition and compromise.75 Instead, the Bolsheviks
focused on winning a majority in the key Soviets by directly appealing to peasants,
workers and soldiers. As Donald J. Raleigh describes in Revolution on the Volga:
1917 in Saratov, after winning majorities in the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets, the
Bolsheviks also won in the Saratov Soviet in September 1917.76 With control over
74 Alexander Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution: The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July 1917
Uprising (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968), pp.47-53.
75 Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp.42-
43.
76 Donald J. Raleigh, Revolution on the Volga: 1917 in Saratov (Ithaca: Cornell University Press,
1986), p.233.
37


the key Soviets secured, the Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917, declaring All
Power to the Soviets.
Lenin and the Bolshevik party continued to be guided by this political and
pragmatic approach during the Russian Civil War and the consolidation of Bolshevik
power that followed the October 1917 Revolution. dEncausse shows how, once the
Bolsheviks had seized power, Lenin switched from being a revolutionary who
advocated spontaneity and chaos to a ruler who insisted on authoritarian state
centralism and party unity. She asserts that for Lenin, the Bolshevik party changed
roles and became the ideological guardian of the new state. The party would
legitimate the government, the reconstituted state, and its violence as well.77 Lenin
and many of his fellow Bolsheviks depicted themselves as the guardians of orthodox
Marxist ideology and used the dictates of historical determinism to justify their brutal
treatment of their opponents. As Richard Pipes asserts in The Unknown Lenin,
behind his self-righteous rhetoric, Lenin was a cynical and aggressive leader who
loved humanity not as it really was but as he believed it would become when the
revolution triumphed and produced a new breed of human beings.78 79
The Bolsheviks willingness to use violence to achieve their political ends
also proved to be an important factor in their eventual victory during the civil war.
As Geoffrey Swain demonstrates in The Origins of the Russian Civil War, the civil
war was not only a conflict between the Red Bolsheviks and the White generals.
Instead, it was also fought between the Bolsheviks and their socialist opponents the
Greens who were led by the pro-peasant Party of the Socialist Revolutionaries
(SRs). Even though the SRs had the support of the majority of the population and
77 dEncausse, Lenin, p.325.
78 Richard Pipes, The Unknown Lenin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), p.l 1.
79 Geoffrey Swain, The Origins of the Russian Civil War (London: Longman Group Limited, 1996),
P-2-
38


achieved several significant military victories during the fall of 1918, Lenin and his
isolated regime were able to hold onto power by unleashing a campaign of mass
arrests and executions. Figures range between 10,000 to 50,000 people executed
during the fall of 1918. Swain shows how much of this violence was directed at
eliminating the SR opposition and quotes the British Foreign Secretary A.J. Balfour
who stated, the people they [the Bolsheviks] had treated the worst were people
SO
whom we should regard in this country as blood-red socialists.
These mass arrests strained the already overcrowded Bolshevik prisons. As
Mary Schaeffer Conroy notes in Health Care in Prisons, Labour and Concentration
Camps in Early Soviet Russia, 1918-1921, in addition to filling their prisons with
political opponents during this time, the criminalization of private trade and
production resulted in vast numbers of people being incarcerated. Reports to the
Commissariat of Justice and other agencies from prison doctors and local sanitation
committees detailing conditions in prisons and camps from 1918 to 1921 describe
severe overcrowding, a lack of basic necessitiessoap, beds, bed linen personal
linen, food, medicine, and poor hygiene. These conditions led to the spread of
disease and caused epidemics that threatened not only the inmates but also the
o 1
surrounding civilian population.
In addition to the Reds, Whites and Greens, several other forces competed for
dominance in Volhynia and throughout the Ukraine during the civil war. Ukrainian
nationalists formed the Central Rada and in 1917 proclaimed the existence of the
autonomous Ukrainian National Republic. The Soviet Ukrainian government in
Kharkov was supported and directed by the Bolshevik party, now in control of the
central government in Petrograd. Following the signing of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk 80 81
80 Ibid., 252.
81 Mary Schaeffer Conroy, Health Care in Prisons, Labour and Concentration Camps in Early Soviet
Russia, 1918-1921, Europe-Asia Studies 52, no.7 (2000): pp.1259-1261.
39


on February 9, 1918, the German army deposed the Central Rada and established the
German controlled Hetmanate, which crumbled in December 1918. The years 1919
and 1920 were defined by utter chaos, as Richard Pipes describes in The Formation of
the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism 1917-1923:
The year 1919 in Ukraine was a period of complete anarchy. The
entire territory fell apart into innumerable regions isolated from
each other and the rest of the world, dominated by armed bands of
peasants or freebooters who looted and murdered with utter
impunity. In Kiev itself governments came and went, edicts were
issued, cabinet crises were resolved, diplomatic talks were carried
on but the rest of the country lived its own existence where the
only effective regime was that of the gun. None of the authorities
which claimed Ukraine during the year following the deposition of
Skoropadskyi [the Hetmanate leader] ever exercised actual
sovereignty. The Communists, who all along anxiously watched
the developments there and did everything in their power to seize
control for themselves, fared no better than their Ukrainian
82
nationalist and White Russian competitors.
Various political factions struggled for dominance in this area: the Directory of the
Ukrainian National Republic; the Bolshevik party in Russia and in Dnieper Ukraine;
the peasant revolution; the anti-Bolshevik White Russians; the Entente; the West
Ukrainian National Republic; and Poland. As Paul Robert Magocsi describes in A
History of Ukraine, after returning to Volhynia, the German settlers attempted to
maintain their tradition of living in independent communities and having little contact
with their neighbors. Nevertheless, they were swept up in the chaos reigning in their
midst and became the victims of attacks, especially during 1919 at the height of
peasant leader Makhnos military devastation. As a result of their deportation during
World War I and the destruction wrought during the Revolutionary era, the number of 82 83
82 Richard Pipes, The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism 1917-1923, 2nd ed.
(Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1964), p. 137.
83 Magocsi, Ukraine, p.494.
40


ethnic Germans in Dnieper Ukraine decreased from 750,000 in 1914 to 514,000 in
1926.84
By the fall of 1920, the Soviet Ukrainian government, backed by the Red
Army, had control of most of the Ukrainian territory that had formerly been part of
the Russian Empire, including the eastern part of Volhynia. With the signing of the
Treaty of Union between the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic and the
Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic on December 28, 1920, eastern Volhynia was
incorporated into the USSR. Western Volhynia did not officially become a part of
Poland until March 1923, when the Council of Ambassadors established the Soviet-
Polish border along the Zbruch River.85 86
iVA 'wl ^
P o
7
N

l>Ngak
/'
/
Figure 8. Polish-Soviet Border in 192386
However, as Leontina Sonnenburg relates, already in 1920 an unofficial Soviet-Polish
border was drawn along the Zbruch River dividing the Volhynian colonies between
two states. Although the border was not heavily patrolled at first, as the Soviet
84 Ibid., p.508.
85 Ibid., p.525-526.
86 Ibid., p.524.
41


government became more oppressive throughout the 1920s, the Soviet side became
increasingly strongly patrolled.
Leontina Sonnenburgs memoirs continue with her familys return to
Volhynia after the Russian Revolution. She describes their arduous journey home
which involved imprisonment in two concentration camps, provides a personal
account of the desperate conditions that reigned throughout the Russian countryside
during the Civil War and shows how her family coped with their plight.
At that point [in 1918] Mama and Papa decided to return to our homeland
with us six children. We traveled for one night by train and the next day we were
ordered to get off the train. Here we had our first encounter with the misery that
defined this journey. We spent three weeks in the train station sleeping on the floor
and were not able to travel any further. Our dear parents had packed provisions for
the journey, but they soon ran out. Then Papa and Ewald took the train to Melekes to
buy food, since they still had contacts to the black market there. At that time train
travel was very difficult and dangerous. People traveled on the roofs of train cars and
while riding, they often fell off. Papa and Ewald, after they had been able to buy
some flour for bread and a few other provisions, were also forced to travel on the roof
of a train car on their way back. Thankfully, our dear God protected them and they
were returned to us safely.
After three weeks of waiting we continued on by train. I cannot remember
exactly how long that part of the journey lasted. Then we received the order,
Everyone out of the train. There were many refugees underway at that time and we
were put into a camp that was mostly filled with families like us. This camp was
named Osovetz. It was surrounded by high barbed wire and patrolled by guards at 87
87 Osovetz, also known as Ostrovets, is located near Drogichin, approximately 150 km east of Brest in
Belarus.
42


all hours. No one was allowed to leave the compound and we almost starved to death
there. I will never forget that place. Every person received one tiny piece of bread
and when Mama gave us our portion, we all stood around and made sure that no one
received more than anyone else. When a crumb fell on the ground, we all quickly
grabbed for it. Not the smallest speck went to waste there. This was during the
summer and the old potatoes were already black. We often received them as our
meal, cooked with the skins on and completely dark and rotten. We ate them just like
that and wished that we could have had enough to settle our rumbling stomachs.
We spent about five or six weeks in the camp in Osovetz. Then we received
the order, Continue on. I cannot remember how long we rode for before we heard
again, Everyone get out! The train cannot continue on. We were put into another
camp. This one was named Baranovitch and was also surrounded by guards and
high barbed wire. There we endured starvation again. When we were very lucky, we
received horsemeat to eat.
Ewald and some of the other boys soon figured out a way to escape from the
camp. They watched the guards and when the coast was clear, they wound a strand of
the barbed wire around a stick until it was taught enough that they could crawl
through the gap. Then, one after the other, they snuck into the forest that surrounded
the camp. They walked ten to fifteen kilometers to the nearest villages to buy bread,
flour, potatoes or any other provisions that were available for purchase. The danger
always loomed that the guards would catch them once they neared the camp and
confiscate everything. The boys were sharp and swift though and they always
managed to elude the guards.
Every family set up a comer for themselves in the camp and our area was
right next to a window. Three levels of barbed wire surrounded the camp, but outside 88
88 Baranovitch, also known as Baranovichi, is located approximately 150 km north east of Drogichin in
Belarus.
43


of our window the third strand had broken, so there was a gap. Whenever Ewald left
the camp, he set up a return time with our parents, who watched from their window
until they spotted him in the woods. Then they opened the window and Ewald threw
in the provisions, which were quickly hidden in the beds under our few belongings.
Once the provisions had made it inside, they were safe. One time the guards noticed
that the boys had thrown something through the window. They pursued it right away,
came into our barrack and demanded to see where the package was. Everyone
remained silent and the provisions were well concealed, so the guards could not do
anything.
We spent several weeks in the camp Baranovitch and then we received the
familiar order, Continue on. I can still remember how our parents and the other
people were so glad that we were moving closer to our homeland. From Baranovitch
we continued through to Karlswalde. The journey from Melekes to Karlswalde had
taken us three months and for the people from our village that had left in early 1917 it
had only taken two weeks. That is what the Revolution had brought. To think what
our parents with us six children were forced to endure! It is impossible to fully
describe what hardships a person is capable of bearing.
When we arrived in Karlswalde, all of the other Germans were already there.
Our parents were the last ones to return. When we entered our village, there was so
much joy and the greetings from our relatives and friends were so heart warming.
Karlswalde was laid out like a triangle. Our parents lived in the middle of the village
and a lush orchard surrounded our house. When we reached our house, it was barely
recognizable. The barn had fallen down, since the Galicians that had lived in our
house had sawed beams out of the bam when they ran out of wood. One time when a
storm moved through, the barn collapsed. These people were still living in our house,
but they did not cause us any problems when we returned and left peacefully. I
believe it was in September 1918 that our parents with us six children arrived in
Karlswalde.
44


It was another difficult beginning for our dear parents. Our money had almost
run out, since in those three months where ever there were provisions for sale our
parents bought them to keep us all alive. Famine already reigned in Russia at that
time. Our parents still had a little money left and they borrowed some more to buy a
cow. We children harvested potatoes and through our work earned enough potatoes
to get us through the winter. So life continued on. After two or three years our
parents had their farm going again.
In 1920 a new border was drawn between Russia and Poland that cut right
through our village along the Vilna River. The worst thing, however, was that the
Tsar had been overthrown after the Revolution and there was no longer a stable
government in Russia. Different governments assumed power all the time:
Bolsheviks, Petliures89, Heidomaken90 and a variety of others. One day one
government was in power, the next morning another. During this time our father was
the Ortschultze of our village. One often heard stories about soldiers entering a home
and not revealing their party affiliation. Then they would run down their own party
and if the people were not wise enough and joined in the protestations, the soldiers
would murder the people.
One night while we were all sleeping someone knocked on the window and
said, Open up! We had no choice but to let them in and we were all shaking with
fear. When Papa opened the door, seven soldiers dressed in Bolshevik uniforms and
carrying guns came into our house. Papa turned on the light in the bedroom. One
after another, the soldiers went through the kitchen into the bedroom where our
parents slept. Then they started asking all sorts of questions and denouncing the
89 Supporters of the Ukrainian Communist leader Symon Petliura.
90 The haidamak movement (haidamak is a Turkish word meaning thief or pillager) dates back to the
18th century and consisted of small bands of discontented Ukrainian peasants and Cossacks who
engaged in guerrilla warfare against large estate owners. During the civil war, the haidamaks were
Ukrainian peasant commanders and recruits that sought to free the masses from oppression, though
they mostly engaged robbing and pillaging from all sectors or society.
45


Petliures, but Papa and Ewald did not say a bad thing about anyone. They said, We
dont have anything against anyone. What we have to give we will give you. It
doesnt make a difference to us which government is in power. I can still remember
so well how we all laid in bed shivering with the fear that they would murder us all.
Since they could not provoke Papa or Ewald into saying something incriminating,
they went away. One of the soldiers stayed behind and wanted to drink some water.
As Ewald gave him the water, he said, We are not Bolsheviks, we are Petliures. If
Papa and Ewald had not been so wise in their speech, who knows what would have
happened to us at that time.
The Petliures hated and severely persecuted the Jews. Across the street from
us lived a Jewish family and those soldiers went into their house that same night. As
the seven soldiers pretended to be Bolsheviks and railed at the Petliures, the old Jew
also started denouncing the Petliures. They complained for a while with him and
when they had had enough, they grabbed him by his beard and started beating him.
He had a wife and three grown daughters and they all wailed and cried with fear. The
owners of the house, since the Jews rented their place, also started screaming. Then
the soldiers dragged the Jew outside and beat him severely, but fortunately they left
him alive.
Those were horrible years, from 1918 to 1920. Then the Bolsheviks gained
the upper hand. The different parties dispersed and life became somewhat better.
Our dear parents, as well as the other people, worked hard to make their farms orderly
and productive. As you can well imagine, these were hard times for the German
people. When they journeyed back in 1917 and 1918 from deep within Russia, they
returned to empty, ravaged farms. Then all the different political parties ruled the
countryside and everyone stole from the people. Whatever they demanded had to be
turned over to them immediately, or else they beat and murdered people. Then, when
the Bolsheviks dominated, the other parties turned into bandits that lived in the woods
for another few years and terrorized the people.
46


CHAPTER 4
SOVIET NATIONALITY POLICY, THE CREATION OF THE USSR AND THE
TREATMENT OF THE VOLHYNIAN GERMANS
Soviet nationality policy theoretically advocated the autonomy and free
development of all national and ethnic minorities. Lenin articulated this position in
his article The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, published in 1914. In it,
Lenin identifies two types of nationalism: that of an oppressing nation engaged in the
rivalry for colonial markets with other oppressing nations and that of an oppressed
nation exploited by such imperial regimes. He asserts that oppressed nations must
separate from their oppressors through the formation of independent national states.
He concludes with a call for, Complete equality of rights for all nations; the right of
nations to self-determination; the unity of the workers of all nationssuch is the
national programme that Marxism, the experience of the whole world, and the
experience of Russia, teach the workers.91 92 This position appealed to Russias
multiple nationality movements and was an important factor in the Bolsheviks
ultimate success in gaining the reigns of power. However, as Robert C. Tucker points
out in The Lenin Anthology, Lenins nationality policy was simply a tactic designed to
promote revolution and the disintegration of the Russian Empire by espousing the
right of minority peoples to self-determination. Instead of honoring this right, the
Bolsheviks forcibly suppressed the separatist movements in Ukraine, Georgia,
Armenia and elsewhere under the leadership of Stalin who was the commissar for
92
nationality affairs.
91 Robert C. Tucker, ed. The Lenin Anthology (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1975), p.180.
92 Ibid., p. 153.
47


The ideological foundations of the Communist Party, the constitutions and
proclamations of independence of the various Soviet republics, and the multiple laws,
decrees and regulations passed by the Soviet government laid out in clear terms the
right to independence and freedom for the various national and ethnic minorities
living in the former Russian Empire. However, in The Great Challenge:
Nationalities and the Bolshevik State 1917-1930, Helene Carrere DEncausse asserts
that Lenins predominant concern was consistently to separate the ends (unity of the
working class, which would erase national diversity) from the means (making
temporary use of such diversity).. .Lenins concessions to the nation were temporary,
limited, and conditional. She describes how by 1923 the organization and
governing principles of the Communist Party took priority over the rights guaranteed
to the national minorities. DEncausse explains, The partys function was to cement
national divisions into an ideologically and organizationally centralized state. The
sovereignty or national autonomy guaranteed by the state could only be exercised
within the given framework of the unitary party.93 94 As the Communist Party evolved
it strove to impose the Soviet system on all its subjects, even when that system
conflicted with the values of the national minorities.
The Soviet Union initially consisted of four and by 1929 of nine republics
whose names reflected the state or dominant nationality living within its borders. In
addition to the Soviet republics, there were other administrative subdivisions, also
based in principle on the criteria of nationality or ethnicity: autonomous republics,
autonomous oblasts, autonomous regions, nationality districts and nationality village
soviets. Nationality districts and village soviets were theoretically designed to
enhance the status of minorities in places where they formed a majority of the
93 Helene Carrere DEncausse, The Great Challenge: Nationalities and the Bolshevik State 1917-1930,
trans. Nancy Festinger (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1992), p.40.
94 Ibid., p.152.
48


population. As members of these official institutions, minorities were allowed to use
their own languages in education, administration and local government and were
guaranteed representation in all the general Soviet elected institutions. As figures
from circa 1930 show, the German minorities in Soviet Ukraine were organized into 7
nationality districts and 254 village soviets.95
Although in theory these policies and institutions guaranteed the autonomy
and free development of all national and ethnic groups in the USSR, the experience of
the Volhynian and other Soviet Germans is one example of how minorities were
actually treated by the Soviet government. After returning to their villages in 1917
and 1918, the Volhynian Germans reestablished and governed their communities
according to their traditional methods. The Soviet constructs of nationality districts
and village soviets appear to have had little effect on their social organization. The
Volhynian Germans already used their own language in local government and
education and the right to political representation in Soviet institutions was of little
interest to them. However, as Ingeborg Fleischhauer and Benjamin Pinkus point out
in The Soviet Germans: Past and Present, the central government saw these
institutions as a way to convert the population to Communism by spreading
propaganda in the German language and bringing class warfare to their villages.
Two groups formed on a national level in the spring of 1918 to realize this
goal: the German National Commissariat and the German section of the Communist
Party. However, from their inception, neither institution was headed by German
Russian colonists or even representatives of the German Social-Democrats in Russia,
but rather by German and Austrian prisoners of war who had embraced the
Communist Party. Both groups were hampered in their activities by a shortage of
trustworthy Soviet German Communists to spread propaganda and fill various
95 Magocsi, Ukraine, pp.572-573.
49


government posts on a local level. Instead, German and Austrian Communists,
unfamiliar with the cultures of the German colonists, worked among an at best
indifferent and at worst an overtly hostile population. Membership within both of
these groups remained small and plummeted in the early 1920s when most of the
prisoners of war returned to their homes. Party records show that the German section
of the Communist Party consisted of 2,850 members in 1920 and only 705 members
in 1925.96 97
The particular social and cultural characteristics of the Volhynian Germans
an economically broad stratum of peasants living in independent, closed communities
with a strong attachment to traditional religious values and political conservatism
made them resistant to the process of accelerated and forced sovietisation that began
in the mid-1920s. Already in 1918, the Communist party enacted outright anti-
religious legislation. As Glennys Young describes in Power and the Sacred in
Revolutionary Russia: Religious Activists in the Village, the clergy was explicitly
targeted in the Bolshevik Constitution of July 1918. They were deprived of legal
rights, subjected to limits on rations and housing, made to pay higher taxes, obliged to
serve in a nonmilitary capacity and not allowed to vote or hold public office.
Nevertheless, from the earliest day of the Soviet Union villagers valued the
administrative experience and literacy that the clergy had to offer and elected them to
97
serve in the rural soviets.
Fleischhauer and Pinkus also describe in The Soviet Germans how the
Bolsheviks anti-religious stance took the form of Communist propaganda attacking
religion on a Marxist-Leninist ideological level, denouncing religious festivals and
the clergy. However, when these strategies failed, the Soviet government forced
96 Fleischhauer and Pinkus, The Soviet Germans, pp.34-37.
97 Glennys Young, Power and the Sacred in Revolutionary Russia: Religious Activists in the Village
(University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), pp.61-63.
50


priests and lay people active in congregations to abandon their religious activity
willingly or through arrest, torture or execution. According to Young, from 1923-
1926, 50 bishops were killed and by the winter of 1924-25, 66 bishops were either in
exile or in prison. Although parish clergy were not as likely as bishops to suffer
such a fate, they still had to live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether they
would fall prey to persecution that Nikolai Berdiaev characterized in 1926 as
haphazard, inconsistent and illogical." As Sonnenburg describes, this agenda also
affected the Volhynian German communities when in 1925 Soviet officials forced
their minister to forsake his religious responsibilities. Even though this anti-religious
campaign did not directly deprive the Volhynian Germans of any political rights, by
eliminating an integral part of their community it clearly interfered with their cultural
freedom of development guaranteed by Soviet nationality policy.
Soviet economic policy also directly affected the ability of Volhynian
Germans to engage in their traditional pursuits of farming and commerce. The
Bolshevik economic policy of War Communism began with the distribution of large
estates among the peasantry through the Land Decree of November 8, 1917 and
ended with the implementation of the NEP (New Economic Policy) in March 1921.
As Gregory points out in Before Command, War Communism was largely a
transitional economic policy dictated by the hyperinflation caused by the civil war
crisis which changed the monetary economy to a barter economy. As a result, the
Bolsheviks found it difficult to obtain supplies, especially food, through the market.
In response, under War Communism peasant agricultural surpluses were confiscated
by force, virtually all businesses were nationalized and private trade was declared
illegal. Although this policy was an important factor in allowing the Bolsheviks to
win the civil war, agriculture, industry and transportation collapsed under the 98 99
98 Fleischhauer and Pinkus, The Soviet Germans, p.52.
99 Young, Power and the Sacred, p. 149.
51


inefficiencies of War Communism and popular discontent swelled, leading to its
replacement with the NEP.
The introduction of the NEP, which lasted from 1921 to 1928, was an attempt
to stimulate the devastated Soviet economy through a combination of socialism and
private trade. Under this system, the state continued to control the commanding
heights, heavy industry, banking, transportation and wholesale trade, while a
relatively free market directed agriculture, retail trade and small-scale industry. The
NEP replaced forced grain requisitioning with a proportional tax, allowed peasants to
sell surpluses in agricultural markets, reintroduced the use of money, established a
stable currency and decentralized retail trade, small-scale industry and handicrafts.100
Although the economy recovered quickly after the introduction of the NEP, the
conflict between this policy and Communist doctrine soon became evident as private
traders, or Nepmen, came to be seen as enemies of the state. As early as 1923,
policies were enacted to curtail the activities of the Nepmen and increase state control
over private trade. By 1926, making evil intentioned increases in prices through
speculation was punishable by imprisonment and the confiscation of property.101
These restrictions interfered with the ability of individual Volhynian Germans to
engage in private trade, as the Sonnenburgs experience demonstrates.
Leontina Sonnenburgs narrative continues with her marriage to Adolf
Sonnenburg, her move to neighboring Grunthal, and their efforts to establish their
own farm and have a family. She describes the effect of the newly established Polish-
Soviet border on their divided community and shows how this period of sovietisation
impacted their way of life, including the imprisonment of her husband and a neighbor
in 1937 for engaging in private trade across state lines.
100 Gregory, Before Command, pp.84-87.
101 Ibid., p.98.
52


The border between Russia and Poland became increasingly strongly guarded
and in the year 1922 or 1923 no one was allowed cross into Poland any more.
Whoever still dared had to take his life into his own hands. On the Russian side there
was hardly any fabric or other goods available for purchase and anything on the black
market was prohibitively expensive. However in Poland, everything was plentiful.
Before the border became so heavily guarded, people went over to Poland to do then-
shopping. If the guards on the Russian side caught someone, they were always
prepared. They gave the guard a bribe and were allowed to continue on. That only
lasted for a few years, though. Then the border was heavily patrolled and no one
dared to cross over to Poland. We constantly heard that deep within Russia the
persecution of the people had become terrible and that there was much suffering, but
here along the Polish border it was still possible to make a decent life for oneself.
In the year 1924 I married Adolf Sonnenburg. He was from Griinthal, which
was twenty kilometers from Karlswalde and also split by the border. And so we
started our life together. When we were married, Adolfs parents built a house for us.
They had five children in addition to my husband. When the new house was ready,
we all moved in there and in the mean time we all worked together to build my in-
laws a house. We had planned to live together for one year, but my husbands brother
Leonhard died in 1925 at the age of 21, my father-in-law became ill and the other two
sons, Friedrich and Emil, were too young to help, so the house was not completed in
one year. We lived together for two years and in the fall of 1926 my in-laws moved
into their new home. By that time we already had a little daughter, Marichen, who
was bom in August 1925. We worked diligently to get ahead in life, but the times
became increasingly difficult because of Communism. There was nothing we could
do to change that though and we focused instead on making a life for ourselves.
Around this time the Communists started attacking the churches. It all
happened so automatically. In Griinthal the preacher also ran a farm to support
himself and his family. An order was issued that this man could not be a preacher
53


and a landowner at the same timehe would have to give up one of the two. Then
the man told the congregation, I have a wife and children. If I only preach, then I
will not be able to stay with my family for long. I must work on my farm, there is no
other way. One often heard of Russian and other priests simply vanishing in the
night, never to be heard from again. We discussed the issue and decided that every
Sunday a different woman should read the sermon and lead the songs in a private
home. Under Communism, women were not punished as severely as men. Since the
people were forbidden to go to church at that time, they went to these homes for the
service instead. We worshiped like this for a long time.
One morning in 1927 while we were finishing our work in the stable, a young
man crept out of our bam. I did not know the man, but my husband recognized him
immediately. My husband and his brother, the one who had died in 1925, had dealt in
fabric and other various things before the border became so heavily guarded. The
stranger was one of the men my husband had done business with. He had hidden a
sack of fabric amongst the straw in our bam. My husband and I were very worried,
since the Russians dealt severely with people that had anything to do with the Poles.
But what could we do? The man was at our home and the fabric was supposed to be
delivered to a place twelve kilometers away. We said to the man, We will not
deliver the fabric with our horse and wagon, because it is too dangerous. Then my
husband said to him, I will try and maybe I can find someone who is willing take it
for you.
My husband went to our third neighbor, Mr. Krebs, and described the
situation to him. The man agreed to do it, since he would get paid very handsomely
for his efforts and he was willing to take the risk. The fabric was delivered safely to
its destination and the buyer was also there on time. Everything went smoothly and
Krebs, whose heart was pounding with fear all day long, returned home safely. That
was a big relief for us. We told the man from Poland not to come to us again. We
54


did not want anything to do with bringing goods across the border, since the penalty
for smuggling was too severe at that time in Russia.
Late evening came and the cloak of darkness pulled over. The man tried to
return to Poland, but the Russian border guards caught him and he was taken to the
border post. At first he did not want to confess, but the Russians held him there over
night. He told them that he had hidden in Sonnenburgs bam and that Krebs had
delivered the fabric. The next morning two soldiers with guns appeared, arrested my
husband and took him away. Then they also arrested Krebs. We figured out
immediately that the Russians had caught the man from Poland and that he had
confessed. The Russians took all three men to Slavute, which lay twelve kilometers
from our village, and held them there for their hearing. I was allowed to bring my
husband clean clothes and some provisions, but we could not see each other. The
three men were held for over five weeks in the prison in Slavute and were brought out
almost every day for their hearing.
I felt that we were innocent of these charges and feared a grim verdict for my
husband, so I drove immediately to Slavute. The laws dealing with the border were
very severe and it was difficult to get to the Russians officials that oversaw such
cases. However, with the help of God I managed to reach the proper authorities. I
prayed to find the right words to move the hearts of these men, since the Russian
government put harsh men in charge of implementing and executing the Communist
laws. Yet I cannot say that I was treated unjustly. I said to them: Place your selves
in our shoes. What were we supposed to do with this man? He crept into our bam
during the night and without our knowledge. The next morning he came into our
house and said that he had hidden a sack of fabric in our bam. We asked him why he
had done such a thing, since in Russia it is strictly prohibited to trade with Poland.
But what were we supposed to do with the man, he was in our house? My husband
said to him, 'I will not deliver your wares, but since you are already here, I will try to
find someone for you who will. So my husband went to Krebs and Krebs delivered
55


it. We told the man that he should never come back to our house. The men let me
speak and did not treat me harshly. I went there from time to time to inquire about
my husbands situation. The men did not leave me without hope, but they told me
that as long as the hearing process was still underway, it was impossible to tell what
would happen.
After five weeks they transferred my husband, Krebs and the man from
Poland to the central prison in Zaslav, which was thirty-five kilometers from our
village. I went to Slavute again and begged the man who was processing my
husbands papers to tell me about his situation. The man said that unfortunately he
could not help me and suggested that I go to Zaslav and try there. He also told me
where my husbands papers were being processed. That time I drove to Zaslav by
horse and wagon, which took me two days. Afterwards I usually traveled by train
and then it took three days, because the train traffic was so bad.
When I traveled by train, I left the house by two in the morning and walked
the three kilometers to the train station. I had to arrive at the station on time, because
if I missed my train to Shepetovka, I would have to wait until the next day for
another. I rode the train to Shepetovka, which was twenty-five kilometers from our
village, and arrived there mid-morning. I waited there the whole day and at four
thirty in the afternoon the train to Zaslav departed. By the time I arrived in Zaslav,
everything at the prison was already closed, so I spent the night there. The next
morning I brought my husband clean clothes and food. I often had to wait outside of
the prison for several hours before I was let in. I was only allowed to see my husband
for a few minutes, but despite all the strain, it was better to see each other for a short
time than not at all. Then I went to the men that were processing my husbands
papers. Reading this, I am sure you can imagine how many hurdles stood in the way
of reaching such men. Yet our dear God had mercy and I was able to present the
issue to them with the hope of moving their hearts and convincing them that we were
innocent in this matter. During those years, when the Russians found someone guilty
56


of an offense, they kept the person in prison for months and then deported him to
Siberia. There the men did not survive for long; there their life was over.
My husband remained in prison for several months and I did not let the matter
rest. I regularly traveled to Zaslav and after visiting my husband in prison I went to
the officials, always with the plea that they should take pity on us. Then one day one
of the officials told me that the situation with Krebs and my husband was looking
good and that I need not worry any more. Their case was going in front of the
peoples court in Hanopol and there the punishment would not be very severe. He
told me that my husband and Krebs would be transferred to the prison in Hanopol, but
he did not know when. I thanked God and was so happy after I received that news.
All the difficulties that I had endured during those eight months had not been in vain.
I went to the peoples courthouse in Hanopol and described the entire situation
to the judge. He also had a good heart and tried to comfort me. He said, As soon as
I receive your husbands papers from Zaslav, I will try and do what I can for you.
Soon thereafter the judge received the papers stating that my husband would be
delivered to the prison in Hanopol.
I can hardly describe the hardships I endured during this time. There was no
train connection to Hanopol, so I had to travel the eleven kilometers by foot or with a
horse and wagon. Every time that 1 came in front of the judge he would tell me that
as soon as my husband arrived in Hanopol, he would let him go straight to court.
That was such wonderful news to hear, yet I was confronted with another problem. I
did not know which day the prisoners would be transferred to Hanopol and I was
overwhelmed with work. I was responsible for looking after the farm at home and
tending to our small child. We had one fifteen-year-old boy working for us and my
in-laws lived next door, so I had some help. Marichen, who was not yet a year old,
was thankfully taken care of while I was gone. Nevertheless, the majority of the
work fell on my shoulders.
57


The nearest train station to our village was three kilometers away at Krevihn,
where the train from Poland pulled in every evening. From Krevihn the train
continued on to the central station at Shepetovka. For my husband to get transferred
to Hanopol, he first had to ride from Zaslav to Shepetovka and then transfer to the
train that went through Slavute and Krevihn and then on to Poland. However, the
prisoners were first put into the prison in Slavute. There they were dealt with
individually, deciding whether to send them on to Hanopol or prosecute them in
Slavute. To find out when my husband would be transferred to Hanopol, I went to
Krevihn every evening and asked the train conductor if the prisoners from Zaslav had
arrived yet. Occasionally I would send the boy who worked for us, but the answer
was always, No, no. Then one day we received the answer, Yes, we transferred
them in Slavute.
The next morning we rose early. My in-laws, our small child and I departed
for Slavute. Since there was no train route from Slavute to Hanopol, the prisoners
walked the rest of the way. When we arrived at the train station, we could already see
in the distance a long line of men under the watch of guards. We were filled with
such joy that my husband was finally out of the huge prison and that he would not be
deported to Siberia. As the prisoners approached, my husband recognized us from far
away. We were allowed to greet each other and then they continued on to Hanopol,
which was about twelve kilometers away. I asked the policemen if my husband and
Krebs could ride with us in our wagon to Hanopol, which they allowed and we all
appreciated so much.
We arrived in Hanopol by late afternoon and all the men were imprisoned
again. I went straight to the judge to tell him that my husband had arrived in
Hanopol, since I knew that they were holding a trial that afternoon. When the judge
saw me he sent a man over to tell me that I should be patient. We waited for several
hours and it was starting to get late. I said to my in-laws, Who knows if we will get
them out today.
58


After the sun had already set, the judge came out to me personally and said,
They will not go to trial tonight, since it is already so late. But we are almost
finished here and then I will go with you and we will get them out. It started to get
very dark, the streetlights were already on, and time passed very slowly for us with
such a young child. Finally the court disbanded and people started leaving for the
day. Then the judge came to us and said, Now come, we will get them out so that
they can still head home with you tonight.
The prison was not very far from the courthouse. The judge went into the
prison and we stayed outside. After a short wait we saw my husband and Krebs
heading towards us with smiles on their faces. They had been released until their
trial! After a few weeks we received a notice from the courthouse in Hanopol that the
peoples court had reviewed our case. My husband and Krebs were cleared of any
charges. We were so thankful and happy when we received that news.
59


CHAPTER 5
COLLECTIVIZATION, DEKULAKISATION, EXILE AND ESCAPE
The Volhynian Germans were severely affected by Stalins programs of
collectivization and dekulakisation. In Before Command, Gregory describes how in
August of 1927 the state announced a reduction in state grain procurement prices.
This action combined with the increased price of grain on the private market due to
inflationary forces caused many peasants to sell their grain on the free market and
focus on other more lucrative crops such as livestock and industrial crops instead.
This gap between market prices and state prices resulted in a drop in state grain
procurement in 1927. The central government responded to this by enacting
emergency measures of grain requisitioning against the peasantry in 1928 and
1929. Building on this initiative, a program to coerce or force the peasantry to join
collective farms, or kolkhozy, was put into practice beginning in 1929.102
As Lynne Viola, V.P. Danilov, N.A. Ivnitskii and Denis Kozlov describe in
The War Against the Peasantry 1927-1930: The Tragedy of the Soviet Countryside,
Stalin came to view collectivization as a solution to many of the problems he was
facing. He saw collectivization as a control mechanism for efficiently taking grain
from the peasantry, since it would be simpler to, administer several hundred
thousand collective farms than to attempt each year to procure grain from some 25
million individual peasant households. It would also increase agricultural
productivity by turning kolkhozes into model agricultural factories using modem
farming methods and technology. The resulting expansion of grain exports would
provide the capital funding for industrialization and by extension the nations
102 Gregory, Before Command, pp. 108-111.
60


military. Even though collectivization in practice did not achieve these ends, the
perception that it could do so provided the impetus for implementing the program.103
Although recruitment into kolkhozy had already begun in 1929 on a local
level, on January 5, 1930 the Central Committee enacted a decree on wholesale
collectivization entitled On the Pace of Collectivization and State Assistance to
Collective Farm Construction. The decree established a timetable for the initiative:
the most important grain producing regions of the Lower Volga, Middle Volga, and
Northern Caucasus were to complete collectivization by the fall of 1930 or the spring
of 1931 at the latest; the remaining grain-producing areas were to follow suit by the
fall of 1931 or the spring of 1932 at the latest.104 Considering the ambitious goals and
broad sweep of the collectivization program, there was little instruction as to how it
should be implemented. As the editors of The War Against the Peasantry point out,
the decree was based on a Stalinist mind-set that was loath at this point to organize
everything in advance lest what Molotov called the tumultuous mass movement be
stifled.105 This lack of a clear central directive lent an arbitrary and improvised
character to the implementation of collectivization and allowed for wide scale abuse
of the peasantry, village intelligentsia and priests.
Collectivization was accompanied by an equally chaotic and shockingly brutal
campaign to purge the wealthy peasant class, or kulaks, from the areas slated for
collectivization. The property of people deemed to be kulaks was seized and they
were imprisoned, exiled or executed. The threat of dekulakisation provided a major
impetus for the peasantry to sign up for the kolkhozy. The program was also a way to
103 The War Against the Peasantry 1927-1930: The Tragedy of the Soviet Countryside, ed. Lynne
Viola, V.P. Danilov, N.A. Ivnitskii and Denis Kozlov, trans. Steven Shabad (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2005), p. 124.
104 Ibid., p.172.
105 Ibid., p. 175.
61


seize the means of production from the kulak class and redistribute these to the
collective farms.106 Finally, as Oleg V. Khlevniuk asserts in The History of the
Gulag: From Collectivization to the Great Terror, the exile of kulaks was seen as a
way to isolate the regimes opponents and develop remote regions using forced
labor.107 *
On December 27, 1929 at a conference of Marxist agronomists Stalin called
for the kulak to be liquidated as a class, and declared that, to advance on the kulak
means to get down to business and strike at the kulak, yes strike him, so he will never
be able to get back on his feet again. Kulaks had already been purged in
conjunction with the emergency measures of 1928 and 1929. However, as a result
of Stalins comments and the directives of the January 5 decree, dekulakisation was
stepped up radically at the provincial level. In early January, reacting to the rapidly
developing provincial campaigns against the kulaks, the OGPU [Unified State
Political Administration (state security and successor to Cheka)] stepped in and
attempted to control the implementation of the program.109
Dekulakisation was formally initiated on January 30, 1930 with the decree
entitled, On Measures for the Liquidation of Kulak Farms in Raions of Wholesale
Collectivization.110 This resolution established a quota of 49,000-60,000 kulaks to
be sent to concentration camps and 129,000-154,000 to be exiled. The families of
these 200,000 people were also slated for exile, culminating in a total of around
106 Ibid., p. 176.
107 Oleg V. Khlevniuk, The History of the Gulag: From Collectivization to the Great Terror (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), p.18.
mThe War Against the Peasantry, p. 177.
109 Ibid., p.207.
110 Ibid., p.208.
62


1,000,000 people being targeted by this campaign.111 Officially kulaks were defined
as members of the wealthy peasant class. The January 30 Politburo decree divided
kulaks into three categories, each facing a different fate: the counterrevolutionary
kulak activ," to be imprisoned or executed; the remaining kulak activ,' to be exiled
to remote areas; and kulaks, allowed to remain in their district but not to join the
kolkhoz.112 However, as Anne Applebaum points out in her book Gulag: A History,
the term kulak was, so vague that nearly anyone could qualify. The possession of an
extra cow, or an extra bedroom, was enough to qualify some distinctly poor peasants,
as was an accusation from a jealous neighbor.113 Consequently, dekulakisation also
became a political exercise, aimed at eliminating village leaders, rural elites and
anyone who opposed the regimes policies.114
Second category kulaks and their families were destined for deportation to
spetsposelki or special settlements, the term used for villages that the exiles were to
construct for themselves in the frozen tundra.115
As Oleg Khlevnyuk points out in The Economy of the OGPU, NKVD and
MVD of the USSR, 1930-1953, the special settlements were an outgrowth of the
policy expressed in the Politburo resolution of June 27, 1929 entitled, On the Use of
the Labor of Convicted Criminals. This decree called for the creation of a network
of camps in, the countrys remote areas to colonize them and develop natural
resources by using prison labor. The flood of exiles created by dekulakisation
111 Khlevniuk, The History of the Gulag, p. 11.
112 Ibid., pp.209-210.
113 Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History (New York: Anchor Books, 2003), 47.
114 The War Against the Peasantry, p.177.
115 Ibid., 269.
63