1941 - 1955
Immediately after the German attack on the Soviet Union the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR issued a decree that classified all Germans as potential enemies and initiated their deportation to central Asia and Siberia.
With the edict »On the resettlement of the Germans from the Georgian, Azerbaijani and Armenian SSRs« of 8 October 1941, the number of people to be relocated were 23,580 from Georgia, 22,741 from Azerbaijan and 212 from Armenia and a further 1,842 had already been seized and imprisoned as »anti-soviet elements«.
From 15–30 October 1941, all these people, under the supervision of the military, had to hand over all their possessions apart from »portable luggage« and were deported via Tbilisi, Kirovabad, Baku and Kraznovodsk to Kazakhstan. Up to 25 December 1941 the respective numbers of individuals were 20,527, 24,133 and 433. Between October and November 1941, after weeks of travelling by ship and rail covering thousands of kilometres, the Germans from Georgia arrived predominantly in the regions of Dzhambul, Alma Ata, Pavlodar, Semipalatinsk and in South Kazakhstan, those from Azerbaijan in the regions of Akmolinsk, Kostanay and other territories of East Kazakhstan, and those from Armenia in the regions of Pavlodar. German women who had married into non-German families were allowed to stay. Children and young people with German fathers and non-German mothers were allowed to live with their mothers up to their 16th year and were then deported after that.
The Caucasus Germans left their homeland just after the grape harvest, still in the warmth of autumn. The long journey across the Caspian Sea, in overcrowded railway trucks and on the River Irtysh, cost numerous human lives as a result of the climatic and hygienic conditions.
For all of the families, the year 1941 signified being separated for years, and for many of them forever …
Once the German Soviet citizens had reached their regions of exile, the host kolkhos (collective farms), sovkhos (state farms) and factories were expected to supply them with accommodation and food. At the same time the Germans were distributed among them as labourers and placed under the control of the local security agencies – from 1944 this was the special commandant of the Soviet secret service.
In 1941/1942 all ethnic German men between the ages of 17 and 50 were transferred from the regular army or the reserves into forced labour camps. With the decree of October 1942, this was extended so that 15 and 16 year-olds and 51 to 55 year-olds as well as German women aged between 16 and 46 were called up to serve in the labour army, so long as they were not married to a Russian partner or had children under the age of three. Malnutrition, sickness and death, the separation of hundreds of thousands of families, with tens of thousands of children becoming orphaned, and total disenfranchisement from civil society were the results of this act of violence. Heavy physical labour such as tree felling, coal mining and the construction of railways, along with minimal food supplies led to above average losses. From 1946/1947 forced labour was gradually removed; for those gaining permanent employment in a factory it was even permitted to be reunited with their families. This was however often delayed until the abolition of the special settlements in 1956.
The initial hopes of a return after the defeat of the Third Reich proved to be an illusion. In the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet on 26. November 1948 their right of return to their previous settlements was disallowed, and they were subjected to strict reporting obligations, movement restrictions and discrimination. In 1954/1955 the deported »kulaks« along with German members of the communist party and their family members were released from the special settlements. It was only after negotiations with the German federal government that the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union decided on 13 December 1955 to abolish the special settlements from 1 January 1956 for all those who had been deported and for the »repatriated« Russian Germans, but at the same time denied them a return to the places where they had lived before the war.
On 29 August 1964, there was a rehabilitation of the Russian Germans through a decree of the Supreme Soviet – albeit one that was not made public at the time. The right of return remained further limited and this was only lifted with a decree of the Supreme Soviet on 3 November 1972. Up to 1979 there were 2,053 Germans deported from Georgia who returned.
Guilt and atonement
Long before the Second World War, the Soviet Germans had already been categorised as »untrustworthy« and »potential enemies« on account of their close relationship with Germany and the linguistic connection, but now the events of the Second World War brought together the fate of totally different people in the most tragic way: In 1941 all the remaining Soviet citizens of German origin were deported from the European areas of the USSR under the accusation of »collective guilt through collaboration« – if they had not already been re-settled between 1939 and 1941 as »ethnic Germans« in accordance with the German-Soviet Frontier and Friendship Treaty of 28 September 1939 and its supplementary protocol, or otherwise caught up in the effects of the war. Innocent citizens lost their homeland and were disenfranchised and criminalised.
Up to 1955 there were about 1.1 million Soviet Germans who were deported to Siberia and Central Asia, despite being totally uninvolved in the events of the war, and held as de facto forced labourers in so-called special settlements. At the same time, because of the war there were German soldiers coming from the German Reich to the Caucasus as members of the army and the SS special forces, or as prisoners of war. An advance by the German army into the North Caucasus in 1942 had already been halted and the first temporary prisoner-of-war camps were established on the Caucasian front. In 1943 there followed prisoners from the Southern area and in 1944 there was a big inflow after the collapse of the German Army Group Centre (Heeresgruppe Mitte) and from Romania. In 1945 there was a further large contingent of prisoners after the capitulation. They were sent to serve in the mines, in oil extraction, in the building of the industrial city of Rustavi and of the Mingachevir dam, or were put to work on building roads, houses and bridges, or in factories, hydroelectric power plants, ports, sawmills and stone quarries. All of this opened up a completely new chapter of a »German presence« in the South Caucasus and of a remembrance of »Germans« in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. But even with all this they were not able to redeem the war debt of Nazi Germany.
The development of Rustavi in the last century began with the accelerated industrialisation of Georgia from the mid-1940s. From 1944 to 1948 the largest steelworks in the Caucasus was constructed. Prisoner-of-war camp 181 for German prisoners was situated in the city. The design plans for the city centre were the handiwork of German architects in the prison camp. German prisoners of war were also called on for the building of the first city districts.
In exile in Germany, individual Caucasian Germans together with Georgians and Azerbaijanis and other representatives of Soviet ethnic groups were drawn towards National Socialist positions or fought in special army units. Baron Walter von Kutzschenbach, (taken prisoner 1944, on the left in this picture) was married to Olga (1910–2003) daughter of Field Marshal Paulus, and served as a special officer in the »Bergmann« special unit under Th. Oberländer. The »father of the Caucasian Germans«, Theodor Hummel (1869–1944), made repeated approaches to the Reich authorities to plead on behalf of the »Caucasian Germans of pure race«, before he was himself killed in a bomb attack, along with his daughters, Lilli and Helene, and his wife Helene Kehrer. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The railway station in the Georgian town of Zestaponi lies on the line from Poti/Batumi to Baku, crossing the Caucasus from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, the building of which was carried out by German prisoners of war. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
One of two Cemeteries for German prisoners in former Helenendorf, which was also site of a military hospital. Photo: Eva-Maria Auch
Altogether there were 111 camp administrative units with 116 individual camps in the South Caucasus, including among others Baku (No. 6468), Helenendorf (later Khanlar, today Goygol, No. 1552), Mingachevir (No. 7444), Molotovka (7441), Rustavi (No. 7181), Salyan (No. 6509), Sumgayit (No. 7328), Tiflis (Tbilisi, Nos. 7236, 1563, 6496), Tkvibuli (No. 7518). In addition, there were GULAGS in the region, filled with prisoners of war.