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The “Long Trek”: The SS Population Transfer of Ukrainian


Germans to the Polish Warthegau and Its Consequences, 1943-
1944

By Dr. Eric J. Schmaltz, Professor of History, Northwestern Oklahoma State


University in Alva

Editor’s Note: Copyright permission granted by the American Historical Society of


Germans from Russia in Lincoln, NE. The article first cited in: Journal of the American
Historical Society of Germans from Russia 31:3 (Fall 2008): pp. 1-23. Later reprinted with
copyright permission by the Germans from Russia Heritage Society in Bismarck, ND,
as a slightly revised and updated version on occasion of the “Long Trek’s” seventieth
anniversary in: Heritage Review 44:1 (Mar. 2014): pp. 7-25. The article’s online version
(as of early 2016) includes the abstract and a detailed key words section.

Abstract: An evacuation of about 350,000 ethnic Germans from Nazi-occupied Ukraine to the Polish
Warthegau occurred between late 1943 and mid-1944. In an improvised response to the Red Army’s steady,
westward advance, the SS began to integrate ethnic Germans into “Greater” Germany upon completion of racial
screening at its Immigration Main Office in Lodz, which served as the Nazi equivalent of “Ellis Island” for all of
Europe’s ethnic Germans (the so-called Volksdeutsche). The “Long Trek” on foot or by wagon and train
represented one part of a broader humanitarian crisis that afflicted Central and Eastern Europe under both the
Nazis and Soviet Communists, including above all Hitler’s Holocaust (1941-1945) and Stalin’s mass deportation
of thirteen nationality groups (including ethnic Germans) to remote special settlements in the east (1938-1951).
One distinguishing feature of the ethnic German experience in Ukraine was that this minority group found itself
caught between two powerful rival ideologies and thus twice endured forced mass-population transfers. The fate
of ethnic Germans in Nazi-held Poland also highlighted the stark racial dichotomy of Hitler’s New Order. The
SS in Lodz processed ethnic Germans into the Third Reich just as that city’s Jewish population, Europe’s last
major Ghetto, faced liquidation. About 20,000-25,000 of Ukraine’s ethnic Germans died on the trek west.
After the war, more than 200,000 Soviet citizens of German nationality under Allied agreements suffered
repatriation from occupied Germany to Soviet Siberia and Central Asia. Roughly 30,000 out of the 75,000
permitted to remain in postwar West Germany chose to leave Europe after 1948 as Displaced Persons (DP’s) for
destinations in the Western Hemisphere and Australia. Jews, Poles, and ethnic German minorities comprised the
three primary DP groups during this time. Consequently, the years of upheaval, repression and even mass murder
diminished Eastern Europe’s ethnic diversity and longstanding historical communities.

Key Words: Baltic, Bessarabia, Central and Eastern Europe, Cold War, Communist, Czechoslovakia,
Deportations, Displaced Persons (DP’s), ethnic cleansing, Ethnic German Liaison Office (Volksdeutsche
Mittelstelle/VoMi), ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche), evacuations, Galicia, genocide, German National List
(Deutsche Volksliste/DVL), Germanization, Germany (“Greater” Germany/Grossdeutschland/Third
Reich), Ghetto, Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler, Holocaust, Holodomor, Hungary, Immigration Main Office
(Einwanderungszentralstelle/EWZ), Jews, Erich Koch, Georg Leibbrandt, Lodz (Litzmannstadt), Long Trek
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(Grosser Treck), Mennonites, minorities, nationality, Nazi, Nazi-Soviet relations, New Order, NKVD, Non-
Aggression Pact, occupation, Operation Bagration, Operation Keelhaul, Poland, population removals, population
transfers, racial, refugees, Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories (RMO), Reich Commission for the
Strengthening of Germandom (Reichskommissariat für die Festigung deutschen Volkstums/RKFDV),
Reichskommissar, resettlement, Romania, Alfred Rosenberg, Schutzstaffel (SS), Second World War (World
War II), Soviet Union (USSR), special settlements, Karl Stumpp, Joseph Stalin, Transnistria, Harry Truman,
Ukraine, Volhynia, Waffen-SS, Warthegau, Yugoslavia.

The “Long Trek” in an Era of Demographic Disasters for Central and Eastern Europe
A dramatic chain of events in 1943 and 1944 better known today as the “Long Trek” (Grosser Treck) signaled
the closing chapter of a more than 150-year history of ethnic Germans living in Ukraine—and the beginning
of a new odyssey for the wide German dispersal that resulted from it.1 The ancestors of most of these ethnic
Germans came to imperial Russia starting in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, under
invitation of the tsars, most notably Catherine the Great (1762-1796) and her grandson Alexander I (1801-
1825).
As the tide of World War II turned against the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler’s SS responded to the Soviet Red
Army’s rapid westward advance by evacuating nearly 350,000 ethnic German refugees from Nazi-occupied
Ukraine to German-annexed Poland. Between August 1943 and July 1944, SS agencies in Lodz, Poland,
received and processed these refugees into “Greater” Germany (Grossdeutschland). On the border of the Reich,
Lodz served as the official gateway to the Warthe District (Warthegau), a territory in northwestern Poland
which Nazi Germany incorporated in late 1939 and now used for ethnic German resettlement. Shortly
following the war, however, Joseph Stalin’s victorious USSR was able to reclaim a large majority of these
refugees (more than 200,000) as Soviet citizens, deporting them to live in exile for many years in the distant
expanses of Soviet Siberia and Central Asia.
The “Long Trek,” as tremendous an event as it was, did not occur in isolation, however, but rather fit into
a much broader and more turbulent historical pattern of ethnic cleansing, political persecution, and even
genocide that plagued Central and Eastern Europe from the early 1920s to the early 1950s. In Europe, this
was the age of political giants and potent ideologies. Tens of millions fell under the sway of totalitarian
regimes that ultimately held little regard for the welfare, liberty and dignity of individuals and certain
categories of people. Consequently, this relatively brief era of political upheaval, social dislocation and even
mass murder diminished much of Central and Eastern Europe’s ethnic and cultural diversity, including
significant historical communities, such as the Germans in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, and former
eastern parts of historic Germany, and other longstanding cultural enclaves, such as the East European Jews.
Many historians regard the titanic Nazi-Soviet Communist rivalry as one of the driving forces behind a
European-wide “civil war” during the mid-twentieth century—not as a conflict mostly confined to a single
political state as such, but as part of a wider one between the competing ideological visions of nationalism,
capitalism, fascism and socialism that ruptured the basic moral, intellectual and political fabric of Western
civilization. These national, political, and ideological tensions across Europe had been mounting for many
years, only to explode in the three decades following World War I. The Ukrainian Germans, of course,
found themselves torn by these escalating ideological and political battles and clashes of national wills for
regional and continental hegemony.2
Aside from the “Long Trek” episode of 1943-1944, a long list of drastic population policies reflected these
growing tensions and conflicts, most of them taking place under the auspices of the Nazis and Soviets. Some
of the major episodes included the following: (1) along with many fellow Soviet citizens, a disproportionately
significant number of ethnic Germans in the USSR faced deportation as “kulaks” (so-called wealthy peasants)
to “special settlements” in the far north and Siberia (1930-1931); (2) a disproportionate number of ethnic
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Germans under Stalin perished in the Ukrainian terror-famine (Holodomor), which obliterated a total of about
4-7 million men, women and children of various nationalities (1932-1933); (3) the Soviet regime out of
security concerns forcibly deported many thousands of ethnic Germans in Ukraine away from the Polish
border on the basis of their nationality (1935-1936)3; (4) the resettlement of more than 200,000 ethnic
Germans to “Greater” Germany from the Soviet-controlled Baltic states, Bessarabia (formerly the eastern part
of Romania), and eastern regions of conquered Poland under Nazi-Soviet arrangements (1939-1940)4; (5)
Hitler’s Holocaust and the murder of almost 12 million, about half of them Jews, with a large majority of all
victims coming from Eastern Europe (1941-1945)5; (6) the transfer of 6-7 million foreign laborers, many of
them from Nazi-administered Ukraine, to the Third Reich during wartime6; (7) the removal of approximately
12-16 million German nationals from East European countries to postwar occupied Germany with Allied
approval as a sweeping punishment for Nazi crimes, resulting in 1-2 million deaths (1945-1946)7; (8) the
formal Soviet annexation of eastern parts of Poland after the Nazi defeat leading to a mass-population
exchange of about 630,000 ethnic Ukrainians in Poland who either volunteered or were forced across the
border to Soviet Ukraine as well as around 810,000 ethnic Poles who were forcibly moved from Soviet
Ukraine to Poland (1946-1947)8; and (9) Stalin’s mass deportations of nearly 3 million souls from thirteen
Soviet nationality groups, including about 1.2 million Volga and Black Sea Germans, to forced labor camps
(the Gulag) and “special settlements” (spetsposelenie) in the east as internal enemies or fifth columns (1937-
1951).9
In his recent work, What Is Genocide?, scholar Martin Shaw emphasizes the historical continuities that
pervaded these extreme oscillations in Nazi-Soviet relations. In particular, the sequence of events leading to
the massive population removals and persecutions sealed the fate of various German minority groups in
Central and Eastern Europe. He observes that

Indeed, pre-exterminatory phases of the Nazi genocide also saw vast expulsions. Hitler’s invasion of Poland,
with its grandiose plan to annex its western part to the Reich [Warthegau] and expel those Poles not suitable
to be “Germanized” to easterly regions, where the Jews were concentrated in ghettoes, was an immediate
precedent for Soviet and Polish campaigns against Germans [in 1945-1946]. Moreover the Soviet annexation
of eastern Poland [in 1939], the push factor in the expulsion of Germans from the German regions annexed
by Poland [in 1945], consolidated gains originally made by the USSR in alliance [his emphasis] with Nazi
Germany in 1939-1940. So instead of a categorical divide between different phases of expulsion, there were historical
continuities that survived violent fluctuations in Nazi-Soviet relations [his emphasis]. The main difference was that
the war’s outcome made larger German populations—not only minorities within Poland and Czechoslovakia
but also people in the eastern regions of historic Germany—the targets of the new campaign [of forced
removals in 1945-1946]. The other difference was that Great Britain and the USA, which in 1939 protested
against Poland’s division, now legitimated it together with the accompanying expulsions, even if they deplored
excesses.10

In the context of this horrific European drama, Ukraine’s significance as a geographical concept at the East-
West and Nazi-Soviet crossroads also deserves serious scholarly consideration. The matter of Ukraine raises
questions for historians because it had long represented a multi-ethnic borderland until the end of World War
II. Historian Kate Brown in her thoughtful book, A Biography of No Place, argues that in the course of only a
few decades, especially between 1923 and 1953, this troubled region underwent a form of “ethnic
purification” to evolve into “a largely homogenous Ukrainian heartland.” She notes a peculiar aspect of this
demographic transformation: “It is a puzzling case because the ethnic purification of the borderland was not
carried out by one state, nor was it the fruit of one political ideology. Rather, imperial Russia, socialist Soviet
Union, fascist Nazi Germany, parliamentary Poland, and nationalist Ukrainian parties all took part in
dismantling the confusing mosaic of cultures in the contested borderland.”11 She further emphasizes that it
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was partly the “quixotic, hard-to-pin-down quality of the borderland which inspired state officials to try to
alter it radically by making it comprehensible as ethnically pure nation-space.”12
For much of this time, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union both acted as Central and Eastern Europe’s
dominant power-brokers, though by no means were they the only culprits in the region. They played quite
decisive roles in pursuing an escalation of such catastrophic population policies to achieve their political goals.
Indeed, one particularly distinguishing feature of the Ukrainian German experience at the time was that two
powerful rival ideologies, the Black Swastika and the Red Star, claimed this ethnic group as their own. Thus,
most of the “Long Trek” survivors, including a high percentage of women and children, twice suffered forced
mass-population transfers, first in 1943-1944 and again in 1945-1946.13
Accordingly, this study seeks to incorporate various eyewitness accounts and documents with the current
body of academic literature on the “Long Trek” episode. It reflects on the refugees’ divergent fates across
five continents, shedding more light on the continuing legacy of the Hitler and Stalin eras.

The Prelude to Mass Removal of Germans from Ukraine, 1939-1943


The removal of Ukrainian Germans represented one in a series of great population transfers of ethnic
German minorities under the Nazis and Soviets during World War II. Germans from parts of Nazi-occupied
Eastern Europe, including those in Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia and elsewhere also encountered similar
fates as the war turned against Hitler. No longer serving as German bastions on the frontiers of the Slavic
East, these German minority groups now needed greater protection within an ever-shrinking Nazi empire.
Even before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, when an expanding Germany’s position
seemed more than secure, tens of thousands of Baltic, Bessarabian, Volhynian, and Galician Germans had
already undergone their own relatively peaceful mass relocations to “Greater” Germany. In 1939 and 1940,
Hitler and Stalin, eager for a time to share in the mastery of the continent, agreed to carve up parts of Eastern
Europe between them shortly after World War II broke out.
More population transfers of East European Germans soon took place, but under far worse conditions. In
August 1941, shortly following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Stalin’s government ordered the
forcible removal of nearly 400,000 Volga Germans and about 400,000-450,000 other ethnic Germans from
eastern Ukraine, the Crimea, and the Caucasus by cattle car to distant settlements and slave labor camps in
Soviet Siberia and Central Asia.14 The primary motivation for such immediate and sweeping state emergency
actions was the Soviet Union’s fear of “fascist” collaboration. The Ukrainian Germans, however, remained
mostly untouched because the Soviet secret police forces (the NKVD) were unable to deport them in any
significant numbers to the east in time; the Nazi advance was simply too rapid for that to happen.
Ukraine fell under both Nazi and Romanian occupational control after the June 1941 invasion of the USSR.
From 1940 to August 1944, fascist Romania was a Nazi ally, and it desired to regain Bessarabia and acquire
other territories from the Soviet Union, including western Ukraine. Nazi Germany only permitted its smaller
partner to administer western Ukraine, but not to annex it as such. Ukraine comprised the heart of Nazi
imperial dreams in the east, as it would provide the “master race” with both “living space” and what many
considered to be the “bread basket of Europe.” Scholar Wendy Lower appropriately refers to Ukraine as
Hitler’s mythical “Garden of Eden.”15
The Romanian administrative zone was called Transnistria, which today is Moldova and western Ukraine.
The SS, however, was authorized to supervise the welfare of about 135,000 ethnic Germans living there.
The zone was located just southwest of the Nazi-run civilian administration of the Reich Ministry for the
Occupied Eastern Territories (RMO) under Alfred Rosenberg, a former Baltic German. His subordinate in
Ukraine was the brutal Erich Koch, whose Reichskommissariat Ukraine held about 200,000 ethnic Germans.
By late 1942, Nazi and SS officials had compiled the initial racial classifications of all Ukrainian Germans on
the now infamous German National List (Deutsche Volksliste or DVL).16
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In both Romanian-administered Transnistria and Nazi-occupied Ukraine, ethnic Germans who supported
their new Nazi and SS overlords reaped the political and material benefits, now that the Soviet threat had
been apparently eliminated from the region. They were to become members of the Nazi New Order and
thus occupy a privileged position in the region’s racial hierarchy.17 For all that, the old Soviet system of
collectivized agriculture continued to function in all the German villages during the rather brief Nazi
occupation, however; desired agricultural reforms had to wait under wartime contingencies. Transnistria’s
ethnic Germans, though, enjoyed overall more religious freedom and educational opportunities than their
ethnic compatriots farther east under Reichskommissar Koch, who generally did not hold the Volksdeutsche in
high regard.18
For the Ukrainian Germans squeezed between two fierce ideological rivals, the fortunes of war changed
hands all too quickly. By mid- to late 1943, following the vicious battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, the surging
Red Army went on the offensive. At the beginning of 1944, the Nazi armies were in retreat along the entire
eastern front. Then the Soviets conducted “Operation Bagration” between June and August 1944, a massive
assault that can be regarded as the Soviet Union’s “D-Day.” Launched on June 22 of that year on the third
anniversary of the Nazi attack on the USSR, the Red Army offensive was coordinated with the Western Allies’
Normandy landings and resulted in the decimation of Hitler’s army groups in central Russia and the liberation
of the USSR.19

SS Oversight of the Evacuation of Volksdeutsche in Ukraine


As the eastern front’s collapse appeared more imminent, Nazi authorities as early as mid-1943 began to
consider the systematic evacuation of sizeable ethnic German groups from occupied territories now
threatened by the Soviets—those who were considered part of the German race and thus deserving of
protection. The first ethnic Germans in need of relocation included those in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea.
By mid-March 1944, as military prospects deteriorated further, SS-Leader Heinrich Himmler, Hitler’s
trusted right-hand man, decided to evacuate all remaining ethnic Germans from occupied Ukraine and
Transnistria to German-annexed Polish territory called Warthegau. Many other remaining German
minorities from the rest of Eastern Europe, including those from the Siebenbürgen settlements in northwest
Romania, followed in short order.
It is important to consider the critical role played by the Schutzstaffel or SS (Security Staff) toward ethnic
Germans (then called the Volksdeutsche) during this period. Formed in 1925, the SS had rather modest
beginnings in serving as Hitler’s personal bodyguard—the elite and loyal vanguard of Nazism. In 1929, Hitler
selected Himmler to be the new SS-Leader. During the mid-1930s, after the Nazis took power in Germany,
the SS acquired police powers, first in Bavaria and then across Germany. As head of state security, the
ultimate bureaucrat Himmler soon proved instrumental in transforming the SS into the prime weapon of
Hitler’s ideological arsenal, accumulating more and more power on its behalf. By the middle of World War
II, after Hitler marched into Eastern Europe, the now all-powerful SS had evolved into a sprawling empire of
security services, military units, concentration and death camps, slave-labor industries, and welfare and
research institutions. By 1944, it had become a virtual state within the state. The ruthless SS had permeated
all corners of the vast Nazi empire, which was notorious for overlapping and competing agencies, a rather
chaotic form of government when compared with the highly centralized, top-down Stalinist system.20
For the SS, this immense power and prestige in the Third Reich was not least of all intended to serve a
higher purpose, namely the establishment of a New Order based on race or blood. The outbreak of war in
1939 afforded this elite organization an opportunity to extend its power beyond the confines of Germany.
Following the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939, for example, Hitler assigned Himmler with
the task of resettling ethnic Germans from parts of Eastern Europe now allotted to the Soviet Union. To
meet these demands, a new SS agency under Himmler was required. The new SS-resettlement office
responsible for these efforts was the Reichskommissariat für die Festigung deutschen Volkstums (RKFDV) or Reich
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Commission for the Strengthening of Germandom. Though Hitler regarded resettlement more as a
diplomatic necessity, Himmler saw it as the beginning of a grand new racial project in the east.21
The SS-Leader at this time began to coordinate and even assume control over other groups and
organizations devoted to the Volksdeutsche. In addition, he began to establish contacts with ethnic associations
abroad, what scholar Valdis O. Lumans refers to as Himmler’s “auxiliaries.” One such “auxiliary” organization
included the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (VoMi) or Ethnic German Liaison Office. In 1935, the Nazi Party
organized VoMi to centralize and oversee all groups and activities inside of Germany concerned with ethnic
Germans living abroad. By placing SS personnel into VoMi’s leadership, Himmler managed to draw VoMi
into his expanding sphere of influence, practically making it an SS department in all but name only.22
Upon Nazi expansion into the Soviet Union, Himmler followed in a scramble for power and influence in
order to realize his racial dreams for the region. The SS and its various “auxiliaries” sought to promote the
welfare of Volksdeutsche, but the SS-Leader was equally preoccupied with addressing the ethnic group’s needs
as soon as possible in order to secure his position in the east. The SS, though already receiving police and
security duties behind the frontlines, continued to compete with other Nazi occupation authorities in the
area, including the Wehrmacht (combined German armed forces), Hermann Göring’s exploitative economic
agencies (Four-Year Plan and “Brown Portfolio”), and not least of all Rosenberg’s RMO.23 By the latter part
of 1943, the SS held a firm grip over the RMO following a protracted power struggle, just as the tide of war
had shifted to the Soviets’ favor.24
Meanwhile, in 1943 and 1944, the declining Nazi civilian administration in the occupied east under
Rosenberg promised evacuating Ukrainian Germans that they would return home to their native villages after
lost territories were recovered or at least once final victory was achieved. SS internal reports from mid-
March 1944 indicate that such assurances were already creating unrest among numerous ethnic Germans, and
thereby making them more reluctant to leave their homes and villages. For a long time, some Volksdeutsche
clung to these rather hollow promises. Many high-ranking SS officials, including Himmler, however,
acknowledged the hard reality of the fast eroding eastern front. In the SS-leader’s estimation, the Ukrainian
Germans now had to be treated and resettled as permanent ethnic refugees in Warthegau and not to be left
susceptible to additional Soviet incursions.25
In particular, the SS Resettlement Office had long opposed the Rosenberg Ministry’s dream of converting
local ethnic Germans into “indigenous” leaders of a future Nazi empire in the east. It had expressed little such
confidence in the RMO’s strategic plan, even if Germany’s war status would have improved in the future.
Considering the group to be of lesser quality German stock, it had favored the segregation of ethnic Germans
in the USSR from “genuine Easterners,” because they were still supposedly susceptible to local ethnic
“contamination.” It also had held that since the ethnic Germans “have absorbed to a large extent Bolshevik
and Russian doctrine, they cannot be considered suitable persons for guidance and leadership in Russia.”26
Thus with Himmler’s approval, it was now necessary for the SS to transfer these people to Polish provinces
absorbed by the Reich.27
Because of wartime conditions and the enormous scale of the task at hand, the SS often had to improvise
the series of mass evacuations of ethnic Germans. Three general cluster groups (enclaves) of German villages
in western Ukraine, sometimes called “colonies,” experienced the SS mass transfer of 1943 and 1944—the
Grossliebental, Kutschurgan, and Beresan. Also, there still remained scattered German communities in
Volhynia (today in northwestern Ukraine) and Mennonite settlements such as the Molotschna in south-central
Ukraine.28
From late 1943 to mid-1944, a number of distinct phases of resettlement of Ukrainian Germans occurred
under the SS.29 The first phase began in August 1943 with the removal of ethnic Germans from the
northeastern Black Sea region and southern Ukraine, including the Crimea. Many of these included
Mennonites from the Molotschna region.30 By this time, the Soviet armies were threatening these areas.
Often removed by train, about 73,000 of these Germans were ultimately placed in Warthegau to live and
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work on seized Polish farms. The second evacuation phase took place between October 1943 and March
1944, when approximately 72,000 ethnic Germans from western parts of Ukraine went to “Greater”
Germany. Many of these Germans were relocated as cheap labor for the rearmaments industry in the Third
Reich. In January 1944, a third removal action concerned about 44,600 Germans in Volhynia. The final
emergency action affected the 135,000 ethnic Germans from Transnistria, who left in mid-March 1944 and
arrived in Warthegau between May and June 1944. By July 1944, as the eastern front crumbled, nearly all
Ukrainian Germans had been evacuated.31

Life, Fear and Death on the “Long Trek”


A growing body of Germans from Russia literature recounting this episode has appeared over the past
thirty years in both English and German. The literature, including the voices of a good number of women
authors, has helped provide a common historical link among members of a Diaspora ethnic community
crisscrossing the globe since the war.32
By most accounts, anxiety, uncertainty and fear pervaded the Ukrainian German villages as the news
spread about an impending mass evacuation. Villagers made the painful realization that the removal from
Ukraine would perhaps last forever. Having survived the Stalinist Terror only several years earlier, many of
them dreaded Soviet reprisals upon capture, something perhaps far worse than leaving their traditional villages
and homelands.33 On the general matter of forced population transfers (so-called “ethnic cleansing”), Shaw
embraces and even expands on the remarkable scholar Raphael Lemkin’s original definition of genocide
established in 1944, which also recognizes as genocidal the cultural and social destruction of particular
communities, and not simply their physical annihilation. Though acknowledging gray zones in defining such
concepts, Shaw observes that

... It is difficult to conceive of conditions under which mass expulsions of established populations would be
legal, and impossible to conceive that they would be just. It is also difficult to imagine how they would not
raise questions of genocide. The most plausible prima facie exceptions are those that are perpetrated by a state
claiming to protect its “own” people. Thus prior to the destruction of German communities by the [Allied]
victors [after 1945], some Germans of the Baltic states and elsewhere had already opted for German citizenship
“pursuant to the population transfer treaties negotiated by Hitler’s Germany with those countries between
1939 and 1941”; others had been evacuated by the retreating German army [1943-1945]. To the extent that
the people involved genuinely embraced these movements, it is difficult to see them as genocidal. However,
many movements were hardly voluntary: local Germans also had to follow the occupiers’ orders, and their
lives were put at risk by “their” state’s violence against others.34

Nervous villagers had to prepare for evacuation on relatively short notice, with perhaps a couple of days’
advance warning. Many survivors’ accounts relate how villagers worked themselves into a near stupor
following the evacuation announcement. Women made baked goods, while the men butchered animals to
make sausage. Villagers had to work fast to procure a few basic provisions for a long and dangerous journey.
In late 1943, the SS often transported the initial refugee groups, especially Mennonites, from eastern parts
of Ukraine and the Crimea by train (even in cattle cars filled with straw), since the Soviet military threat was
most pressing in these areas. The accommodations were hardly first-class, but it was faster than and preferable
to walking or traveling by wagon at that critical time. Those who were allowed on the trains in the first phase
of evacuations still had to contend with bitter winter weather and various delays as they approached German-
occupied Poland through the Carpathian Mountains. Problems on this leg of the journey included typhoid
fever, lice, and a lack of proper heating, among other things.
Subsequent German groups who departed from Ukraine on foot or by wagon as late as mid-March 1944
also faced many challenges. Upon receiving the order to evacuate, they hurried to repair wagons and
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harnesses. With the specter of advancing Soviet troops seeking revenge on all Germans looming over them,
the villagers’ trepidation can only be imagined, especially when they saw long wagon trains from neighboring
eastern communities already streaming past them.35 Amid the frenzy, they often could only take with them
basic necessities and perhaps a small number of livestock for such a long journey. One female survivor from
the village of Strassenfeld reminisces: “We ourselves started out with our cow, but had to leave her behind
on the road; we milked her and left the bucket of milk standing next to her so that she and her calf could
survive for a while or until someone else might take care of them. She bellowed after us as if she knew that
we were leaving, as if she did not want to be left behind like that.”36
For those who went on foot or by wagon, the trek’s first stage usually passed through Romania and
sometimes into Hungary or Yugoslavia. This part of the evacuation typically lasted about two to three
months. Village mayors often directed the wagon trains, thus keeping people together on a village basis as
much as possible. The SS provided itineraries to the village leaders, informing them on where the trek was
to proceed.37
Sometimes refugee families had to share the few available wagons. Wherever possible, the children were
placed in the heavily laden wagons, and the adults proceeded on foot. At other times, the children had to
walk alongside the wagons with the adults. On the roads, the village caravans were now quite exposed and
vulnerable to the harsh natural elements. It is not hard to imagine the many inconveniences and difficulties
involved for pregnant women, children, the sick, and the elderly. Occasionally, refugees had to set up make-
shift shelters or find abandoned farms and barns in which to stay. Sometimes they even slept under the stars.
Depending on the terrain, weather, and other factors, a typical day’s journey on foot and by wagon covered
between 5 to 15 miles, but sometimes more.
The winding wagon caravans stretched out for miles, slithering their way westward. Accompanying the
flood of refugees were small groups of armed SS-men as well as “self-defense units” (Volksdeutsche Selbstschutze)
formed among the few remaining able-bodied ethnic German males. Following the Nazi military conscription
of most eligible young Ukrainian German men after February 1943, a large percentage of refugees included
the elderly, women, and children. Also, the 1930s Stalinist repression and terror had exiled or killed off
many of the adult males from the ethnic German villages, depleting the presence of grandfathers, fathers,
uncles, and older brothers. According to scholar Hans Werner, “by World War II, one-half of [ethnic
German] families [in the Soviet Union] had no fathers.”38
One trek survivor recalls that when wagons broke down, fellow refugees or other wagon trains would not
necessarily stop to help repair a broken spoke or wheel. In some cases, SS-men or German soldiers assisted
them and got them on their way. Under such dire circumstances, when people’s minds and bodies were
practically in tethers, sometimes the best and the worst came out in people.39 Some eyewitnesses also
remember the random acts of kindness as well as generous offerings of food and shelter on the part of local
ethnic Germans and other nationality groups, including Romanians, Bulgarians, and Turks, as they made their
way. Others, however, recall the Romanians’ relatively cool reception to the incoming refugees.40
Refugees, however, also had to contend with certain local nationalities who hated the Nazi occupiers. In
western Ukraine, for example, Soviet partisans shot at them. Sometimes refugees who wandered off the
main routes during a pause in the journey in order to feed their livestock, gather firewood, or secure food
simply never returned, picked off by guerrillas. Not least of all, the menacing shadow of the Soviet Army
always pursued the caravans. At times, refugees could even hear the sound of distant guns on the fluid battle
front.
Unexpected heavy rains, sleet, and even blizzards struck parts of Romania in March and April 1944,
impeding the advance of later evacuations. Poor roads and steep hills, especially as refugees approached the
great Carpathians, also presented hurdles along the route, not to mention the constant worry of finding
enough fodder for the draft horses and livestock. Many survivors frequently recall the terribly thick mud and
slime on the primitive roads, and it was not uncommon for wagons to get stalled in the omnipresent muck.
9

Wagon caravans at times had to stop at Romanian or other ethnic villages for a number of days because of bad
weather and other logistical problems. The local village populations—including groups as diverse as ethnic
Turks and ethnic Bulgarians—were obliged by Nazi authorities to make accommodations for refugees in their
dwellings. Some locals were quite hospitable with their German guests, expressing genuine curiosity about
the most recent war news. Other locals contemplated their own dark future under possible Soviet
occupation, especially Romanians in Bessarabia who already had their first taste of Communist “paradise” in
1940-1941.41 In other cases, wagon trains in Romania stopped overnight in the still empty villages once
inhabited by the Bessarabian Germans—an almost eerie atmosphere for these temporary lodgers.
In the spring of 1944, some of the more unfortunate wagon caravans fell victim to intermittent Soviet
attacks and even capture. For instance, Red Army forces fired upon and took prisoner most of the villagers
from Selz of the Kutschurgan Enclave who were delayed in their motorized ferry crossing on April 6-7, 1944,
along the Dniester River.42
Refugees, exhausted and mud- or dust-covered at certain stops, in some instances made locals mistakenly
believe that they were Gypsy (Roma) caravans passing through the area. They halted along the routes to eat
and rest, whenever possible, but sometimes it was essential to prepare food and eat on the moving wagons.
One trek survivor recalls in her published memoirs eating Zwieback as a staple food that her mother had
prepared for them before the journey. It was an egg-bread roll, sliced and even dried, a staple in her people’s
diet. Sometimes dried fruit, such as apples, were brought along for the winter journey, she remembers, but
no vegetables. Malnutrition and outright hunger remained persistent problems, making worse the refugees’
overall anxiety, as rumors, fears, and misguided hopes spread by word of mouth among the villagers, German
soldiers, and Nazi officials meeting along the way.43
According to a number of personal accounts, some “elite” SS men held a rather low opinion of the
impoverished ethnic German refugees, especially those who came from the Soviet Union, as they were
believed to be “Bolshevized” (i.e., socially “backward” and lacking personal initiative) and of lesser racial or
ethnic value than German groups leaving other parts of Eastern Europe, such as Romania. 44 Various SS
welfare officers and civilian administrators indeed expressed sincere concern for the refugees, but the
sprawling Nazi empire also employed less than receptive authority figures. For instance, in his trek diary
entry for May 1, 1944, refugee Walter Hornbacher expresses a pervasive ambivalence between certain
officials and the refugees during the trek. He writes, “So as not to get consumed by the bears [the Soviet
Russians], we had to remain among the wolves [the SS].”45 In other diary entries, he relates disturbing
incidents of SS harassment of non-German locals during the journey, such as whipping people and shooting
at farm animals. In one recorded incident, a trek leader even made disparaging remarks in front of a refugee
group about how he as one SS man in Germany was worth more than the thousands of them.46
As the final waves of humanity moved west in the spring of 1944, a more than 150-year history of Germans
in Ukraine ended. Personal accounts tell how villagers, men and women of all ages, cried and could not look
back as they departed their traditional villages and homelands. Adding to the growing despair and
homesickness were the odd scenes of chickens, pigs, goats, and cows set free and running loose in house yards
and village streets. Rafael Jundt, a refugee from the village of Selz in the Kutschurgan Enclave, captures this
sentiment of pain and loss in his 1994 poem, “Farewell to My Hometown, Selz, Fifty Years Ago”:

One final time I stood there


Peering into the Kutschurgan Vale.
Below me lay Selz, my village
Like a queen, though in travail.

With her vineyards and fruitful fields


Where the Liman does glide,
10

There was the village, Selz,


Known far and wide.

With its beautiful church and its dwellings


In fun magnificence it lay.
There, as in a dream
My youth had passed away.

Then came the days of hardship,


I had to leave you there.
From place to place I wandered
It was more than I could bear.

And you, my beloved Selz,


You stayed behind me alone.
You could not come along with me
And I could not go home.47

Many German village main streets like Selz’s fell silent by March 1944. Soon Ukrainian nationals moved into
the abandoned German villages and homes, where their descendants reside today.
At locations in Romania and Hungary, such as the city of Dej, which Romania had to cede to Hungary
until the end of the war despite that both countries were Nazi allies, the trek’s last stage was completed by
train. Depending on the general routes taken, other departure sites by train were located in Yugoslavia.
Again, travel accommodations on crowded trains often proved less than satisfactory, and just as with the
wagon caravans, there always remained the threat of Allied bombing attacks or sabotage of rail lines by local
partisans.
Refugees Anton Bosch and Josef Lingor, who at the time were children from the village of Kandel in the
Kutschurgan Enclave, recount a touching story about their unforgettable experience at Dej in mid-May 1944.
Here the weary German refugees stepped off the wagons and had to transport their baggage to the city’s train
station. A German army commission awaited them at the station and announced that all draft horses and
wagons were to be requisitioned for military purposes. The soldiers then issued the farmers receipts for
future reimbursement. Indeed, both the Soviet and German armies utilized hundreds of thousands of draft
horses in World War II; not everything was mechanized in those days. Because people traditionally tied to
the land often grow quite attached to their livestock and draft horses, Bosch and Lingor describe how so many
of the elderly Kandel farmers wept bitterly with the departure of their beloved animals, which had served
them well not only in the old village, but on the long, difficult trek to Dej. Refugees from other villages
detail similar emotional outbursts, when people had to part from their trusted draft horses. Bosch and Lingor
also recall that just a few hours after the exchange, the refugees from their village proceeded by train in the
direction of Budapest, Hungary, arriving days later at the final destination of Lodz, Poland.48

Arrival and Processing in Lodz, Poland (Litzmannstadt)


From January 1940 until January 1945, the Polish city of Lodz (which the Nazis renamed Litzmannstadt)
served as the EWZ headquarters.49 One among many countless and overlapping Nazi “alphabet-soup”
organizations, the EWZ stood for Einwanderungszentralstelle (Immigration Main Office), falling under SS
oversight. In view of the long journey to Poland, Maria Kreiser later reflected that she and her fellow refugees
“appropriately translate these three letters as ‘Eternally Wandering Zigeuner’ (Gypsies).”50 As the Third
Reich’s “Ellis Island,” the EWZ at Lodz functioned as the central distribution point, welfare office, and
archival repository for all ethnic Germans from across Europe, above all the occupied eastern territories.
11

The SS compiled meticulous records of vital statistics of all individuals who entered the Third Reich, as
the Hitler regime considered itself the guardian of a clearly defined racial community. More than 400,000
applications by ethnic Germans living outside of the Third Reich between 1939 and 1945 have survived the
war. The US Third Army under General George S. Patton captured most of the EWZ records near
Nuremberg, Bavaria, in April 1945, though about 70,000-80,000 documents were already lost or destroyed
by that time. The US Government held these records until shortly after German unification in 1990, when
it agreed to transfer control to the Berlin Document Center.51 As many as 8,000 microfilm rolls of all
surviving EWZ records remain accessible for viewing through the U.S. National Archives in College Park,
Maryland.52 Since the 1990s, many researchers have combed these records now made available to surviving
family members and the general public, revealing in detail how the refugee application process for German
naturalization worked.
In Lodz, all new arrivals first took a bath or shower for “delousing,” soon followed by screening,
registration, and ultimately final resettlement. The Immigration Main Office consisted of various
departments, such as administration, planning, accounts and registration, health and nationality matters, and
it also created branch offices.53 Sometimes, particularly as the scope of the evacuations grew, “roaming”
review boards or commissions (Fliegende Kommissionen) were established to help process individuals and
families in surrounding refugee camps.54 Each roving panel consisted of 40 to 70 staff members.55
Extensive registration procedures were involved with the EWZ at Lodz. Usually six to nine staff members
conducted each screening session, which normally lasted three to four hours. Over time, as workloads
increased, a session was extended to six hours, then two days. Though families were always processed
together, all individuals aged 15 and over were registered separately.56
The EWZ processed each family at a total of eight stations. In his detailed analysis, Lumans describes the
initial stages of its screening procedure:

. . . At the first station, a policeman scrutinized the family’s papers and added any missing forms. The second
station prepared identification papers and compiled all personal information. After a photographing session
at station three, the family proceeded to station four, at which all property matters were settled. The amount
of property left behind was ascertained, and the resettlers were issued receipts stating how much and what
type of compensation they were to receive.57

The primary EWZ form included sections to fill in one’s name, age, place of origin, date of entry, and
two photos (full face and profile). Each individual file also established an applicant’s German background
through a so-called “national passport” (Volkstumausweis) or “resettler status form” (Umsielderausweis), which
often had been issued to ethnic Germans during the Nazi occupation of the east in 1942. In addition, the
“family form” (Stammblatt) identified the ethnic backgrounds of an applicant’s parents, spouse, and children.
Family histories were extensive, sometimes going back as far as four generations to prove German ancestry.
Finally, individuals filled out a naturalization application form (Einbürgerungsantrag). Upon processing the
application, the SS issued a declaration of naturalization (Einbürgerungsverfügung or Vfg. in abbrevation). EWZ
officials also inserted related correspondence into an applicant’s file.58
“The fifth stop,” according to Lumans, “was the most important. Designated as the physical examination
station, it in fact performed racial examinations. The examiners had instructions to be discreet, since
Himmler wanted the resettlers to think that these inspections were medical, not racial.”59 Indeed, this
physical probing and measuring almost always represented nothing more than phrenology or the pseudo-
scientific practice of skull measurements and related racial profiling. Lumans uncovers one documented case
where the SS examiner grew annoyed with a group of refugees (it is unclear whether they came from Ukraine)
who had found the whole procedure so comical that they had broken out laughing. According to the report,
12

the examiner scolded them: “Don’t laugh. If you knew how important this examination was for you, you
would trouble yourself to be serious.”60
In many respects, the arrival of Ukrainian Germans into Warthegau revealed the stark racial dichotomy of
the Nazi New Order. The city of Lodz by mid-1944 contained the last major Jewish Ghetto in all of Europe;
only the Warsaw Ghetto had been larger before the Nazis liquidated it just a year earlier. As the EWZ
processed the final waves of the Ukrainian German flood, a last SS “special action” deported nearly all of the
remaining 74,000 Jews to Auschwitz’s gas chambers. More than 200,000 Jews had lived in the Lodz Ghetto
as of 1942.61
At station six, a family’s political status faced scrutiny from the SS security police services (Sipo-SD). In
particular, this matter concerned the documentation of previous political activities, and reliable witnesses
from the old home country often attended here to verify the family’s political past. Interestingly, most of the
refugee cases from the eastern territories, including the Soviet Union, passed these political examinations,
unlike the majority of Volksdeutsche from the west.62 Perhaps the SS factored in the more repressive and
extreme features of political life under Stalinism. Indeed, the EWZ records give us a better sense of the
extent of persecution during the Stalinist era. Many Soviet Germans—especially during the worst periods of
state persecution in 1930, 1937 and 1938—fell victim to Stalin’s collectivization drives and mass political
purges. On the forms, the SS often simply listed the refugees’ missing family members from this period as
“deported” or “evacuated” (verschleppt).63
Station seven decided a refugee’s occupation and final placement. In consideration of racial and political
factors, this stage determined whether a family was assigned to work in agriculture, industry, or other trades.
Most of these refugees were rural folk, however. Before the war turned against the Reich, Himmler had
envisioned racially and politically acceptable Volksdeutsche buttressing the eastern expanses as “peasant-
soldiers,” while the inferior or more ethnically susceptible ones would be relocated to the “Old Reich”
(Altreich) as farm laborers who would in time become “Germanized.” Lumans notes that “unless someone
possessed a particularly crucial skill, racial and political considerations took precedence in determining a
family’s final placement.”64
The eighth and final station consisted of a review panel that evaluated all the examination results in order
to establish a family’s classification, upon which it provided refugees with identification cards and
documentation. Lumans’ careful examination of Lodz indicates two fundamental categories prevailing among
the refugees: “O-cases (Ost), those selected as colonists in the east, and the A-cases (Altreich), those designated
to remain in the Reich. The primary consideration for both was racial quality.”65
Four racial classifications determined the O- and A-cases. Racial categories I and II included those families
who were “above average” and “average” respectively. Meanwhile, racial category III consisted of those
deemed “below average,” while group IV pinpointed those who were “unacceptable.” Categories I and II,
including some cases in group III, were intended to remain in the occupied east, since they were considered
racially stronger (i.e., the O-cases), while the lower classifications were designated for the Reich to undergo
“Germanization” (i.e., the A-cases). Those cases from groups III and IV where the families were considered
to be “non-German,” however, received the “S” designation, which meant either returning to the country of
origin or settlement in the General Government of Poland with other “undesirables.” In this hierarchical,
unequal racial system, the identification card colors gave the sole indication of the category to which a family
now belonged.66 In short, a family’s future status rested much upon the findings of a relatively brief
classification procedure at Lodz.
According to Marianne Wheeler’s findings, the EWZ by the beginning of 1944 had registered about
771,000 ethnic Germans from all parts of Europe, with most coming from the USSR. Out of that total
number, the SS resettled roughly 403,000 into eastern occupied areas like Warthegau (O-cases), more than
70,000 received jobs in Germany proper (A-cases), and about 18,000 were not permitted to resettle at all
13

(S-cases). Finally, another 279,000 at this time were either still undergoing the screening process or were
awaiting final placement.67
Deceptive as it might seem, Nazi ideology gave rise to these EWZ genealogical records, as they comprised
one part of a vast and deliberate racial record-keeping system to separate the so-called “master race” or
“Aryans” from supposed “mixed” and “inferior” races. To understand this racial dichotomy, which meant life
or death in the New Order, we need only compare the fate of the Lodz Jews in mid-1944 with that of the
EWZ refugees. Without denying the enormous educational or factual value of these archival records, we
should nonetheless pause to remember their historical context and original political purpose. Indeed, behind
all the documents, names, dates, and statistics are human stories.68
By July 1944, the last of the Ukrainian Germans had stepped off the trains in Lodz. During the final year
of the war, the refugees were now integrated into the ever-shrinking Third Reich. Upon completion of
processing in Lodz, the SS sent them to observation camps until a suitable permanent destination was secured.
The SS referred to the process of transferring screened German refugees to new locations in Warthegau as
Durchschleusung (“dispersal”). Nazi authorities in Warthegau also issued each refugee a preliminary
identification card called a Bescheinigung. It is indeed quite remarkable that the SS bureaucratic machinery
continued to implement the naturalization guidelines almost until the end of the war, even when it was
becoming increasingly evident to authorities and refugees alike that such formalities were ultimately futile.69
As wartime conditions only worsened, some groups of ethnic Germans resettled in “Greater” Germany
felt compelled to post official complaints to SS-leader Himmler about the sometimes harsh working
conditions and inadequate living accommodations. For example, on May 1, 1944, a complaint signed by 35
resettled German refugees from Ukraine was submitted to him. Their background was probably in
agriculture and other related skilled trades, and they were working by this time as cheap labor for a German-
run factory called Firm Robot (Machine Factory). In this letter, they describe daily life for the 230 ethnic
Germans working there. Highlights of their urgent appeal, which later appeared as Allied evidence against
the SS during the Nuremberg Military Tribunals, follow:

Dear Herr Himmler,...


We, the German resettlers from Ukraine, who have been put to work with the Firm Robot, are in difficulties
and request assistance and help.
We are quartered in three barracks and in a large room in the factory building. In each room in the barracks,
there are 24 persons and 70 in the large room (in the factory building). The barracks have more the appearance
of warehouses than homes for human beings. There are no ceilings and the walls and roofs are full of holes.
They were previously inhabited by Eastern workers and many children died there. The rooms are
overcrowded and, therefore, the workers from both shifts have no facilities to rest and to collect their strength
for work. Not even the most elementary sanitary facilities exist in the camp (no hot water, no washrooms,
no toilets). Almost all our children are already sick.
...All our people are used as unskilled laborers in spite of the fact that there are people among us who have
professions, many years of practice, and experience. They would be of much better use to the Reich if they
were working in their profession.
...We are being fed in the plant kitchen but we receive staple food for the whole week according to ration
cards. In spite of our requests, the firm has not given us our Reich ration cards and has only promised to give
us these cards in June in spite of the fact that the firm already received them for us in April.
...It is still worse as far as the children’s food is concerned.... For supper, the children as well as the adults
usually receive the remains of the noon meal diluted with water.

They conclude:
14

We are all refugees from combat areas who have lost everything; our children have no shoes and are ill-
clad; we ask for an opportunity to live the lives of human beings; we turn to you in our distress because the
firm promised us so much and kept so little; we ask you to visit us after 1800 hours [6 p.m.] because we are
working in the plant from 0600 to 1800 hours [6 a.m. to 6 p.m.].
Heil, Hitler.70

The Firm Robot episode poses deeper questions about the overall impact of resettlement on large segments
of the refugee population, who had traditionally practiced agricultural and related professions. In many
respects, the events of 1943-1944 helped destroy not only the Ukrainian Germans’ old villages and
homelands, but ultimately many of the remaining vestiges of the peasantry’s traditional way of life. The
psychological and emotional impact of both Nazi and Soviet policies on ethnic German peasants and workers
during this period of massive social dislocation deserves further exploration, as do the effects of the Nazis’
forced removal of local Poles from their communities and homes. Even before their arrival in Poland,
Hornbacher contemplates this issue in his trek diary entry for June 4, 1944, recognizing the increasing stress
factors—fear, helplessness, confusion, doubt, and discontent—that weighed on many refugees, especially
the women:

The head down, they trudge ahead, not turning back—farther along day by day. The facial expressions betray
that these shadowy figures, their previous life rolling past their eyes like a film, are dreaming of the future.
The people themselves have changed. They have become quite something else. They drag silently along.
They are very quickly irritated and quite nervous. An unmistakable spiritual and moral pressure burdens the
people. That is also the reason for the nervousness and irritability and probably the source for the ever-
increasing quarreling and fighting among the people. Today, two women again have been getting on each
other’s nerves. On these occasions, people lose their heads.71

In his entry for June 14, 1944, he writes further on the subject: “Over the course of time, the men
increasingly lost spiritual and moral balance. And always the results are frequently growing friction and
conflict. Today, two men who got into a scuffle were the exception. They are mostly women.”72
We can only speculate on the refugees’ flood of thoughts and feelings at this time. Perhaps in part they
were seeking survival and redemption in the “ancient homeland” (Urheimat) of Germany, but they were also
running away from the painful hardships and memories experienced under Lenin and Stalin. Perhaps they
now knew that they were not only heading into an uncertain future, but that their departure from their native
lands was the final, bitter acknowledgment that their missing loved ones swept away into the night by Stalin
and his henchmen only a few years earlier were indeed gone forever; the last shreds of hope for joyous family
reunions were now discarded for good. Also lurking in the back of their troubled minds was perhaps the
fundamental desire to flee from Nazism’s unwashed crime scenes that stained the entire region.
Based on available testimony, some groups of resettled ethnic Germans in Warthegau received kinder
treatment, better shelter, and more food than others, depending on local circumstances. Of course, this was
wartime, and it was a widespread refugee crisis. Sympathetic Nazi officials on the ground like Georg
Leibbrandt and Karl Stumpp—post-World War I German émigrés from Ukraine—went out of their way to
assist the refugees, as far as it was humanly possible.73 In the final stages of the war, Stumpp had even grown
depressed, disillusioned and isolated, seeing his ethnic compatriots increasingly as pawns of the vast Nazi
administrative apparatus.74 In one case, a group of settlers from the Ukrainian German village of Mariental
was assigned to live in a mortuary chapel (morgue) in a Catholic cemetery in Warthegau. For two months,
they lived among the graves until a better location was found.75
During the trek and in Warthegau, refugees sometimes received mail from their sons already serving in
the Third Reich’s various military branches.76 Some families also had the misfortune to get military death
15

notices.77 To add to the heartache, beginning in September 1944 Nazi authorities conscripted the last
remaining able-bodied men among ethnic Germans between the ages of 16 and 60 into the Wehrmacht
(combined German armed forces) or Waffen-SS (the military wing of the SS). Most of the younger men went
into the SS legions, however, revealing just how powerful Himmler had become. Many of these soldiers
never returned home to their families.78

The Ethnic German Diaspora: 1945 and Beyond


In January 1945, the Soviets unleashed their last great military offensive. They advanced into Warthegau
and pierced the original boundaries of the crumbling Third Reich. Mass panic set in among resettled ethnic
Germans and native German residents alike, who now comprehended just how dire their predicament had
become. A tidal wave of humanity raced westward, as now millions feared capture and even death at the
hands of the understandably vengeful Soviets. Even before the war’s conclusion, many German officials and
civilians had already learned where the Allies planned to establish their respective occupation zones. For the
most part, Germans sought to move as far west as possible in order to come under American and British
control.79
What was the trek’s legacy, and what was the fate of nearly 350,000 refugees? Brown concludes correctly
that “[t]he German army came to bring order and Germanic civilization to the barbaric East, but it left behind
an emptied and ravished terrain. In just two years of occupation, German forces killed or transplanted nearly
all of the Jewish and German communities of Ukraine.”80 This traumatic ordeal was not least of all a human
struggle against primitive living conditions, uncompromising natural elements, and a hostile wartime
environment. An estimated 20,000-25,000 Ukrainian Germans died during the trek and SS resettlement
process, or roughly 6-7% of the group total.81
By late 1945, shortly after the war, Communist authorities had captured or reclaimed most Soviet citizens
of German nationality who fled during the conflict. Even in the western occupation zones, Allied officials
ended up returning about 25,000 or one-quarter of their 100,000 refugees to Soviet officials, in accordance
with Allied agreements at Yalta and Potsdam (unofficially called “Operation Keelhaul”).82 According to the
Mennonite Historical Atlas, “In all at least 23,000 of the 35,000 Mennonites [about two-thirds] who started on
the Great Trek were sent back to the Soviet Union, mostly to the far north or Siberia.”83 In fact, these transfer
policies not only applied to ethnic Germans from the USSR, but to all Soviet citizens of any nationality found
in occupied Germany and the liberated countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including POW’s, slave
laborers, and others. Sometimes the Soviets sent out posses or made brief incursions into the western zones.
In other instances, they made false promises to Soviet citizens of German background that they would be
returned to their native villages in Ukraine. In the immediate postwar period, many Germans from the Soviet
Union now living in the western occupation zones had to be careful not to disclose their identity for fear of
seizure by the Soviets.84
Consequently, more than 200,000 of these valuable Soviet citizen-workers of German nationality, about
two-thirds of the total, endured yet another deportation, this time packed into box cars from occupied
Germany to Soviet Siberia’s and Central Asia’s remote labor camps called “special settlements.” Of this total
number captured and returned, almost 70,000 or about one-third were minors under age 17. For both
economic and ideological reasons, Soviet authorities were most possessive of their valuable German labor
pool, and the western Allies often had no choice but to oblige them. Upon their departure eastward, the
ethnic German men were segregated from the women and children, but they all now joined the Volga
Germans and other groups in official banishment until the mid-1950s—and beyond.85
Most scholars give a conservative estimate of 10-25% for the death rate of all ethnic Germans exiled by
the Soviets during the immediate postwar period, a quite substantial number, but some figures go even higher.
Exact calculations remain elusive, however. A good share of these deportation survivors now found
themselves separated from relatives still living in the west. Moreover, they continued to carry the “fascist”
16

stigma inside the USSR long after their exile concluded. On the whole, these deportations constituted the
ethnic group’s defining formative experience in the USSR.86
When Cold War relations temporarily improved during détente, several thousand Ukrainian German
exiles, only a trickle, received Soviet permission to emigrate to West Germany in the 1970s based on a policy
of family reunification. Many tens of thousands more had to wait until the early 1990s with the end of the
Cold War before they could rejoin family members in a new, united Germany.87
More than 70,000 Ukrainian German refugees, or about 20% of the total SS transfer, were permitted to
remain in postwar West Germany. Amid the devastation across much of Europe, they received much-needed
assistance through the International Red Cross and various international religious charities and organizations
(i.e., Mennonite, Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, Adventist, and Methodist). They also hoped to locate, if
possible, family members and friends lost or missing as a result of the wartime chaos.
Many refugees of various nationalities who ended up in the western occupation zones of Germany applied
to become Displaced Persons (DP’s), a new legal category established by the late 1940s for Europeans
dislocated by the war. For instance, President Harry Truman (1945-1953) signed the United States’ first
refugee law, the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, allowing the legal entry of people dislocated by World War
II into the country. As the Cold War began, he expanded the policy in 1950 to include those who came from
Communist-dominated countries and feared persecution if they should ever return. In addition, DP’s had to
receive sponsorship from individuals, businesses, or organizations abroad capable of providing them with
gainful employment, as government welfare was not permitted.
The three primary groups of DP’s into the United States consisted of Jews (Holocaust survivors), East
European nationalities (especially Poles), and ethnic Germans from different parts of Eastern Europe.
Between 1948 and 1951, one-third of those admitted into the country were Poles, with ethnic Germans in
second place. Around this time, other Western countries adopted similar refugee policies.88
In particular, many Ukrainian Germans refugees who qualified as DP’s sought new economic opportunities
and political liberties outside of war-ravaged Europe. Some of them also expressed a perpetual fear of
Communism as a result of their hard years spent in the USSR; they desired to move as far away as possible
from Europe.89 After 1948, DP’s of Ukrainian German background often received support and sponsorship
from church groups, charities, and even family members and friends who had migrated abroad decades
earlier.90 With promises by sponsors that gainful employment was available to DP’s, about 30,000 or roughly
40% of all Ukrainian Germans living in postwar West Germany primarily left for the United States, Canada,
South America, and even Australia. Most of them arrived in their adopted homelands by the mid-1950s and
were determined to establish new lives.91

From Ukrainian Borderlands to North Dakota Prairies: The DP Case of Emma (Schmalz)
Rieger
Emma (Schmalz) Rieger’s (1918-2008) dramatic personal chronicle was in many respects a microcosm of
the social and political vicissitudes then taking place in Ukraine. The oldest of seven children, she was born
in the German village of Kandel in the Kutschurgan Enclave along the Dniester River, entering a world already
shaken by profound political change and deep social turmoil. She survived the Russian Civil War (1918-
1920) and the Stalinist mass famines and purges of the 1930s. Village witnesses and recently opened Soviet
archival records report that Communist authorities at the height of Stalin’s Terror in 1937 sentenced to death
her widowed mother, Barbara (1899-1937). The Soviet government performed the execution in retaliation
for Barbara’s taking personal care of Roman Catholic Bishop Antonius Zerr (1849-1932) in his final days and
for her engaging in clandestine religious activities.92
Following Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Emma and her village witnessed the Romanian occupation
of Transnistria under Nazi supervision, beginning in early August 1941. The SS soon established its area
headquarters in the nearby village of Selz to the north, and ample evidence shows that its death squads
17

(Einsatzgruppen) and local auxiliaries executed Jews, Communists, and other political “unreliables” (including
some ethnic Germans) in the area. In 1943, during the Nazis’ last great military conscription drive in the
war93, Emma’s husband and two younger brothers, like many young men in Kandel and surrounding German
villages between the ages of 18 and 35, were conscripted into the Waffen-SS.94
As the war turned against Hitler, the SS ordered the evacuation of Emma’s village on March 19, 1944.
More than 3,500 Kandelers had to make the long march of many hundreds of miles on foot and by wagon
through most of Romania. When boarding the train at the city of Dej in Romania, they had to deliver their
horses and wagons to the German army. From there, their train passed through Hungary and Czechoslovakia,
and on May 22, 1944, after a two-month exodus, they arrived at the EWZ in Lodz, Poland. After processing
the refugees, the SS resettled the Kandelers onto confiscated Polish farms in Warthegau, near the city of
Jarotschin, on May 28, 1944.95
By the end of 1944 or at the very beginning of 1945, before the last great Soviet military drive, Emma and
her two children at the time were able to leave Warthegau for Bavaria in Germany. Details for this part of
the story, however, become murky, but apparently she and her children stayed with either her sister or sister-
in-law, who was already living there. Between November 1944 and January 1945, Nazi officials also decided
to transfer about half (around 1,500-1,750) of her fellow Kandel villagers across the Oder River into the “Old
Reich” (Altreich), placing many of them in villages in Saxony and on farms in Thuringia. As for the remaining
half of Kandel refugees left behind in Warthegau, by April and May 1945 the Soviets had seized and deported
them to Siberia.96 Emma and her children in the American occupation zone therefore escaped the Red Army’s
rapid advance and capture. In addition, her husband and one of her sisters managed to stay out of the reach
of Soviet authorities.
In what became West Germany, Emma soon sought a way out of war-ravaged Europe. She pursued
Schmaltz family contacts abroad, because she was already aware of relatives on her father’s side who had left
Russia many years earlier. She contacted a North Dakota relative who knew of John Schmaltz, Sr. (1879-
1951). In 1898, Mr. Schmaltz had emigrated from their native Kandel, becoming a successful businessman
in Strasburg, North Dakota. By the late 1940s, he had retired to nearby Linton. She proceeded to write
three letters to him, and he responded in kind around 1948 or 1949. Though their exact family relationship
remains unclear, he agreed to sponsor Emma, her husband, and their three children at the time to come to
the United States as DP’s. John died, however, just a few months before the Riegers’ arrival in March 1952.
Emma and her family stayed for a month with John’s widow, Clara (Bullinger) Schmaltz (1884-1953).
After pursuing other Schmaltz family contacts outside of Linton, the Riegers moved in April 1952 to Minot,
North Dakota, where her husband worked for 28 years at the Westlie Motor Company. The Minot Steam
Laundry employed her for several years as a laundress until her retirement in 1964.
Decades later, Emma mused in an oral history project interview with North Dakota State University in
Fargo that she had produced four children in four countries, reflecting the many profound transitions in her
life: The first, Barbara, was born in Ukraine (the Soviet Union); the second, Bernhardt, in Transnistria; the
third, Frieda, in postwar Germany; and William in the United States. All of the children could speak German
well, save William who was American-born.97

“Flotsam of World History”


The Riegers, like so many other wartime refugees, began a new life in a new world. One of Emma’s
sisters decided to stay with her young family in West Germany, while her various friends and relatives from
Kandel endured the exile in remote Soviet Siberia and Central Asia, scattered like leaves in the wind.98
German from Russia historian and refugee, Richard H. Walth, calls the former Soviet Union’s ethnic
Germans the “flotsam of world history”—that is, they have lived as humanity tossed about on the ocean of
space and time.99 It is but one chapter of a greater tragic story. Millions of European peoples found
themselves caught between the Nazis and Soviets during this time of tribulation and destruction. It is only
18

appropriate, therefore, to conclude with respected historian Michael Burleigh’s insightful remarks on this
most troubled era: “Our lives may be more boring than those who lived in apocalyptic times, but being bored
is greatly preferable to being prematurely dead because of some ideological fantasy.”100

*Endnotes
1. Such designations as “Germans from Russia,” “Volga Germans,” “Ukrainian Germans,” “Black Sea Germans,” and “the Soviet
Union’s ethnic Germans” are often interchangeable. For the sake of clarity, this presentation tries to use as often as possible either
“ethnic German” or “Ukrainian German” in reference to the mass transfer of 1943 and 1944. This reflects sometimes the difficult
challenge in accurately identifying what was in fact a multinational region that often experienced dramatic and sudden territorial
and political realignments.
2. For example, consult several recent major studies on this issue of a divided Europe during the mid-twentieth century: Anne
Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 (New York: Anchor Books, 2012); Keith Lowe, Savage
Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012); and Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe
between Hitler and Stalin (New York: Basic Books, 2010).
3. I. L. Shcherbakova, ed., Nakazannyi narod: Repressii protiv rossiiskikh nemtsev v Sovetskom Souize v kontekste sovetskoi natsional’noi
politiki (Moscow: “Zveni’ia,” 1999).
4. Valdis O. Lumans, Himmler’s Auxiliaries: The Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle and the German National Minorities of Europe, 1933-1945
(Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993), pp. 158-175.
5. Yehuda Bauer, A History of the Holocaust (Danbury, CT: Franklin Watts, 1982).
6. See the classic study by Edward L. Homze, Foreign Labor in Nazi Germany (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967).
7. Cuban-American émigré, lawyer, human rights activist and scholar Alfred M. DeZayas was one of the first to write
extensively on the subject of ethnic cleansing in postwar Eastern Europe: Nemesis at Potsdam: The Anglo-Americans and the Expulsion
of the Germans: Background, Execution, Consequences, 2nd rev. ed. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979); and A Terrible Revenge:
The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-1950, trans. John A. Koehler (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994). See
also R. M. Douglas, Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War (New Haven and London: Yale
University Press, 2012); Steffen Prauser and Arfon Rees, eds., The Expulsion of the “German” Communities from Eastern Europe at the
End of the Second World War, European University Institute (Florence, Italy), Department of History and Civilization, EUI Working
Paper HEC No. 2004/1.
8. Kate Brown, A Biography of No Place: From Soviet Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard
University Press, 2004), p. 224.
9. The thirteen Soviet nationality groups deported between 1937 and 1951 to Siberia and Central Asia follow: Koreans,
Germans, Leningrad Finns, Karachays, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Crimean Tatars, Georgian Kurds, Hemshins, Ahiska
(Meskhetian) Turks, and Greeks. Many of the deportations occurred in 1944 during the latter part of World War II, around the
same time that the SS removed the Ukrainian Germans to Poland. See J. Otto Pohl, ed., “From the Guest Editor,” Journal of
Genocide Research, vol. 4, no. 3 (Sept. 2002): p. 323, part of special issue: “Stalin’s Policy of Mass Deportation as Genocide”; Pohl,
Ethnic Cleansing in the USSR, 1937-1949, Contributions to the Study of World History, No. 65 (Westport, CT, and London:
Greenwood Press, 1999); Pohl, The Stalinist Penal System: A Statistical History of Soviet Repression and Terror, 1930-1953 (Jefferson,
NC, and London: McFarland and Co., Inc., Publishers, 1997); Pohl, “Stalin’s Genocide against the ‘Repressed Peoples,’” Journal
of Genocide Research, vol. 2, no. 2 (June 2000): pp. 267-293; and Samuel D. Sinner, The Open Wound: The Genocide of German Ethnic
Minorities in Russia and the Soviet Union, 1915-1949 and Beyond/Der Genozid an Russlanddeutschen 1915-1949, prefaces by Eric J.
Schmaltz and Gerd Stricker (Fargo, ND: Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries,
2000). As of the early 1950s, the Soviet Union’s Germans represented the largest group deported to the east, nearly 40% or about
1.2 million out of the 2.75 million “special settlers.” See Nicolas Werth in Stéphane Courtois, ed., et al., The Black Book of
Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, trans. Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University
Press, 1999 [1997]), p. 255.
10. Martin Shaw, What Is Genocide? (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2007), p. 57. Cf. Prauser and Rees, eds.
11. Brown, p. 2.
12. Ibid., p. 2. Cf. Karel C. Berkhoff, Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule (Cambridge, MA, and London:
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004), pp. 300-313.
13. The diminishing numbers of older Ukrainian Germans in particular still harbor much emotional and psychological baggage
as a result of their vulnerable position between the Black Swastika and Red Star. It is understandable. By choice or not, ethnic
members had been complicit with one or the other regime, sometimes even with both at various times. The group’s efforts to
remove the political and moral taint of both regimes have been difficult, even after several decades. Indeed, ethnic Germans of the
former USSR are still conducting what could be termed a double Vergangenheitsbewältigung (reconsideration or mastery of the past).
19

14. Idgar Biereigel, et al., Lindenblätter: Die Deutschen in Russland: Teil III: Der Einfluss der Sowjetherrschaft und des Deutschen Reiches
auf die Russlanddeutschen (1917-1945) (Berlin: Bildungsverein für Volkskunde in Deutschland DIE LINDE, e.V., 1999), pp. 102-
124, 132-146; N. F. Bugai, ed., Iosif Stalin – Lavrentiiu Berii. “Ikh nado deportirovat’,” Dokumenty, fakty, kommentarii (Moscow:
Druzhba narodov, 1992), docs. 43 and 44, pp. 74-75; O. L. Milova, ed., Deportatsii narodov SSSR (1930-1950-e gody). Chast’ 2.
Deportatsiia nemtsev (Sentiabr’ 1941-Fevral’ 1942 gg.) (Moscow: RAN, 1992), doc. 9, pp. 63-69, doc. 47, pp. 147-148.
15. Wendy Lower, “Hitler’s ‘Garden of Eden’ in Ukraine: Nazi Colonialism, Volksdeutsche, and the Holocaust, 1941-1944,” in
Jonathan Petropoulos and John K. Roth, eds., Gray Zones: Ambiguity and Compromise in the Holocaust and Its Aftermath (New York and
Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2005), pp. 185-204.
16. Eric J. Schmaltz and Sinner, “The Nazi Ethnographic Research of Georg Leibbrandt and Karl Stumpp in Ukraine, and Its
North American Legacy” in Michael Fahlbusch and Ingo Haar, eds., German Scholars and Ethnic Cleansing, 1920-1945, foreword by
Georg G. Iggers (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2005), pp. 51-85.
17. Eric Conrad Steinhart, The Transnistria’s Ethnic Germans and the Holocaust, 1941-1942, M.A. Thesis in History, University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2006; Steinhart, Creating Killers: The Nazification of the Black Sea Germans and the Holocaust in Southern
Ukraine, 1941-1944, Ph.D. Dissertation in History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2010. Cf. Brown, pp. 192-225;
“Clothed with the Dead: Directives from Himmler to Pohl and Lorenz, 24 October 1942, Concerning the Delivery to Ethnic
Germans of Consignments of Clothing from Lublin and Auschwitz Warehouses,” comp. and ed. Eric J. Schmaltz, Heritage Review,
vol. 42, no. 4 (Dec. 2012): pp. 12-13; Stephanie Hoffman, The Experiences of Soviet Germans of German Ethnicity during and after the
Second World War (Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 2003).
18. Berkhoff, pp. 210-211.
19. Paul Adair, Hitler’s Greatest Defeat: The Collapse of Army Group Center, June 1944 (London: Rigel, 2004 [1994]); Samuel W.
Mitcham, Crumbling Empire: The German Defeat in the East, 1944 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001). The Soviet military drive into
Romania, however, suffered various setbacks in April and May 1944, buying the Ukrainian German refugees a little additional time.
Cf. David M. Glantz, Red Storm over the Balkans: The Failed Soviet Invasion of Romania, Spring 1944 (Lawrence: University of Kansas
Press, 2006).
20. Heinz Höhne, The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS, trans. Richard Barry (London: Penguin Books, 1969).
Cf. Lumans.
21. Robert L. Koehl, RKFDV: German Resettlement and Population Policy, 1939-1945: A History of the Reich Commission for the
Strengthening of Germandom (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1957).
22. Lumans, pp. 9-30.
23. Ibid., p. 244.
24. Schmaltz and Sinner, pp. 66-73.
25. See translation of Document No. 5328, Prosecution Exhibit 830, of the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, vol. IV, at the Mazal
Library, an online Holocaust resource: <http://www.mazal.org/archive.nmt/04a/NMT04-T0820.htm> (pp. 820-821)
(accessed September 27, 2005).
26. The SS-RMO jurisdictional disputes over the Ukrainian Germans are cited in Alexander Dallin’s seminal work: German
Rule in Russia, 1941-1945: A Study of Occupation Policies (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1957), pp. 292-293. The Nazis’ overall
disappointment in the material and psychological condition of German settlements in the Soviet Union is also treated in: Brown,
pp. 192-225; Meir Buchsweiler, Volksdeutsche in der Ukraine am Vorabend und Beginn des Zweiten Weltkriegs - ein Fall doppelter Loyalität?
(Gerlingen: Bleicher Verlag, 1984); Lower, Nazi-Empire Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine (Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 2005); Schmaltz and Sinner, pp. 51-85.
27. Dallin, pp. 292-293.
28. Deutsche aus Odessa und dem Schwarzmeergebiet, ed. Berufsbildungszentrum Augsburg der Lehmbaugruppe (Augsburg:
Druckerei Kessler, Bobingen, 1996).
29. Smaller evacuations of ethnic Germans from other parts of the Soviet Union already took place between January 1942 and
August 1943: about 3,800 from the Leningrad area (January-March 1942); approximately 10,500 from White Russia (January-
July 1943); and around 11,500 from the North Caucasus (February 1943). See Hans Werner, Imagined Homes: Soviet German
Immigrants in Two Cities (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: University of Manitoba Press, 2007), p. 29.
30. William Schroeder and Helmut T. Huebert, Mennonite Historical Atlas, rev. 2nd ed. (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada:
Springfield Publishers, 1996), pp. 68, 139-140. Cf. Horst Gerlach, “Mennonites, the Molotschna, and the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle
in the Second World War,” trans. John D. Thiesen, Mennonite Life, vol. 41, no. 3 (Sept. 1986): pp. 4-9.
31. Biereigel, et al., pp. 158-159. Cf. Lumans, pp. 184-198, 243-262. A small number of wagon trains left eastern Ukraine
in late 1943, but some of them were held up during the winter months and did not arrive in Lodz until as late as May 1944. Also,
some records document that a few ethnic Germans in Ukraine refused to leave with the Nazis, and these individuals were
subsequently taken into custody and deported to Siberia and Central Asia once the Soviet authorities and the NKVD reasserted
their control over the region.
20

32. Much of the “Long Trek” literature—i.e., mostly memoirs, diaries and biographies—appeared nearly two generations after
the events in question, beginning in the 1970s. In part, it emerged after the successful integration of Ukrainian Germans into West
German society, and because of the raised public awareness stemming from the migration of a few thousand people of Ukrainian
German background from the Soviet Union to West Germany during the détente period. Also, some Displaced Persons (DP’s) of
Ukrainian German heritage, after establishing themselves in North America, began to document their remarkable experiences.
More literature and scholarly attention arose following the Cold War, especially with the opening up of EWZ archival records.
On the whole, the quality and sometimes even the reliability of the corpus of émigré memoir and biographical literature vary, but
the moving stories of survival by ordinary people, most notably women, in extraordinary circumstances remain most informative
of the general plight of the refugees. In addition, the authors’ or biographical subjects’ deep religiosity is often quite pronounced
in their stories, understandably in view of the series of near “apocalyptic” or “exodus-like” political events experienced under both
the Communists and Nazis. This reaction stems from the fact that the ethnic Germans had long expressed strong traditional ties to
their resilient Catholic and Protestant faiths. See, for example: Philomena (Keller) Baker and Kathryn Olmstead, Flight to Freedom:
World War II through the Eyes of a Child (Rockland, ME: Maine Authors Publishers, 2013); Gertrud Braun, “Flucht aus Landau,” in
200 Jahre Ansiedlung der Deutschen im Schwarzmeergebiet (Stuttgart: Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, 2004), pp. 20-21;
Allyn Brosz, ed., et al., The Glückstalers in New Russia, the Soviet Union, and North America (Redondo Beach, CA: Glückstal Colonies
Research Association, 2008), pp. 470, 477, 489, 493, 509, 511-515, 545, 548, 554, 569, 665-667, 673-675; Nelly Däs, ed., Gone
without a Trace: German-Russian Women in Exile, trans. Nancy Bernhardt-Holland (Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of
Germans from Russia, 2001), pp. 33-38, 62-73, 90-94, 110-115, 126-140, 145-150, 154-159; Anna Fischer, Looking Back
(Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Friesen Press, 2013); Alex Herzog and Mike Herzog, eds., “Step by Steppe: Exodus from
the Ukraine,” Heritage Review, vol. 38, no. 1 (Mar. 2008): pp. 2-8; Marjorie Knittel, The Last Bridge: Elvera (Ziebart) Reuer, Her Own
True Story (Aberdeen, SD: Quality Quick Print, 1984); Maria Kreiser, Though My Soul More Bent: Memoir of a Soviet German, trans.
and ed. James T. Gessele (Bismarck, ND: Germans from Russia Heritage Society, 2003); Elizabeth Lenci-Downs, I Heard My
People’s Cry: One Family’s Escape from Russia: The True Story of Lise Huebert Toews Gerig (St. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada:
Trafford Publishing, 2003); Mela (Meisner) Lindsay, ed., A Window into the Iron Curtain: A Series of Interviews with Russian-German
Displaced Persons (DP’s) Who Fled Russia during World War II, 1941 (U.S.: Self-published, 1972); Johannes Lutz, “The Trek of the
Hoffnungsfelder,” in Joseph S. Height, ed., Memories of the Black Sea Germans: The Odyssey of a Pioneering People (USA-Canada:
Associated German-Russian Sponsors, 1979), pp. 151-158; Elly Matz, It Was Worth It All (Jasper, AK: Engeltal Press, 1979); John
Philipps, The Germans by the Black Sea between the Bug and Dnjestr Rivers, 3rd rev. ed. (Fargo, ND: Germans from Russia Heritage
Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, 2003), pp. 137-145; Philipps, The Tragedy of the Soviet Germans (A Story of
Survival) (Bismarck, ND: Richtman’s Press, 1991 [1983]), pp. 133-145; Florence Schloneger, Sara’s Trek (Newton, KS: Faith and
Life Press, 1981); Immanuel Weiss and George F. Wieland, Bessarabian Knight: A Peasant Caught between the Red Star and the Swastika
(Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1991). One of the best professional-quality publications to
date featuring the refugee experience of 1944 is an English- and German-language family history compilation: Peter Goldade, The
Jundt Family History with Memories of the Village of Selz and Russia/Die Geschichte der Familie Jundt mit Erinnerungen an das Dorf Selz und
an Russland (Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris, 2005). See also an excellent early overview of the “Long Trek” and its legacy written by
Height, who was well-acquainted with former Nazi occupation officials, notably Dr. Georg Leibbrandt (Alfred Rosenberg’s
protégé) and Dr. Karl Stumpp (Leibbrandt’s subordinate during Ukraine’s wartime occupation): Paradise on the Steppe: The Odyssey
of a Pioneering People (Bismarck, ND: North Dakota Historical Society Germans from Russia, 1973), pp. 376-399.
33. Regarding the Ukrainian Germans’ travails under Stalin, please consult translator and editor Ronald Vossler’s
groundbreaking compilation: “We’ll Meet Again in Heaven”: Germans in the Soviet Union Write Their American Relatives, 1925-1937
(Fargo, ND: Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, 2001). See also Goldade, ed.,
Our Relatives, The Persecuted (Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris, 2006). Goldade’s study contains verified NKVD records of the murder of
about 4,700 ethnic Germans from 1937 to 1938 in the Odessa District of Soviet Ukraine.
34. Shaw, p. 60.
35. A number of powerful visual images also record the events of the mass transfer of 1943-1944. The German authorities—
SS and civilian administration—as well as soldiers took most of the photographs concerning this episode. The vast majority of
ethnic German refugees was either too impoverished or in no position to record their own evacuation. Cf. Brosz, ed., et al., The
Glückstalers, p. 569.
36. Trek survivor Elisabeth Herzog’s recollection in Herzog and Herzog, eds., “Step by Steppe,” p. 5.
37. Philipps, The Germans under the Tsars, Lenin and Stalin, trans. Alex Herzog, ed. Stephen M. Herzog (Fargo, ND: Germans
from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, 2006), pp. 74-75.
38. Brief discussion of this overall gender imbalance during the trek is found in Werner, p. 28.
39. For example, refer to Lenci-Downs, pp. 185-199.
40. See, for instance, Kreiser, p. 51.
41. For instance, refer to trek survivor Walter Hornbacher, “Auszug aus der Heimat: Ein miterlebter Tatsachenbericht, verfasst
und niedergeschrieben vom Autor über die Evakuierung der Volksdeutschen aus dem Schwarzmeergebiet der Ukraine nach
21

Deutschland im Frühjahr 1944,” in Anton Bosch, ed., Russland-Deutsche Zeitgeschichte: Unter Monarchie und Diktatur: Band 4, Ausgabe
2004/2005 (Nuremberg: Historischer Forschungsverein der Deutschen aus Russland, 2004-2005), pp. 434-436,
439-440, 443-444. Actual conditions outside of the Soviet Union much impressed the Ukrainian German refugees, who had
become used to life in Communist “paradise.” Advancing Red Army soldiers in Eastern Europe later discovered for themselves
just how much better life truly could be in the “corrupt” and “impoverished” West. Cf. Catherine Merridale Picador, Ivan’s War:
Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945 (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006).
42. For example, refer to Rafael Jundt at the North Dakota State University Libraries’ Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
Website: <http://www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/grhc/history_culture/poetry_music/farewelltoselz.htm> (accessed August 27,
2008).
43. For example, see Lenci-Downs, p. 190.
44. Lumans, p. 252.
45. Hornbacher, “Auszug aus der Heimat,” pp. 438-439. For the complete diary translation, consult: Hornbacher, “Removal
from the Homeland: A Surviving Eyewitness Documentary Report on the Evacuation of Ethnic Germans from the Black Sea Region
of Ukraine to Germany in Early 1944 (Part I),” trans. Eric J. Schmaltz, Heritage Review, vol. 38, no. 1 (Mar. 2008): pp. 9-25, 38;
and Hornbacher, “Removal from the Homeland (Part II),” trans. Schmaltz, Heritage Review, vol. 38, no. 2 (June 2008): pp. 35-39.
46. Hornbacher, “Auszug aus der Heimat,” pp. 438-439, 443-444.
47. The Selz poem is found at the North Dakota State University Libraries’ Germans from Russia Heritage Collection Website:
<http://www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/grhc/history_culture/poetry_music/farewelltoselz.htm> (accessed August 27, 2008).
48. Bosch and Josef Lingor, Entstehung, Entwicklung, und Auflösung der deutschen Kolonien am Schwarzen Meer: am Beispiel von Kandel
von 1808 bis 1944 (Stuttgart: Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, 1990), pp. 185-186. For their village history of
Kandel, both refugee survivors wrote a detailed and extensive history of the trek. Similar emotional incidents among refugees
about turning over their draft horses to German officials are related in: Hornbacher, “Auszug aus der Heimat,” p. 455; Brosz, ed.,
et al., The Glückstalers, pp. 548, 667.
49. The city of Gotenhafen served as the EWZ’s first administrative center starting on October 12, 1939, but it was moved in
November of that year to Posen. Nearby offices also appeared in Stettin and Lodz in December 1939. By late 1940, Cracow and
Lublin held EWZ offices as well. In mid-January 1940, Lodz became EWZ headquarters, run by various SS and RKFDV offices.
The first commander was SS-Lt. Col. Sandberger, followed by SS-Col. Lambert von Malsen-Ponikau. See Bosch and Lingor, p.
191.
50. Kreiser, p. 54.
51. Brosz, “Using the Records of the Berlin Document Center for Genealogical Research,” AHSGR Clues (1996 Edition—Part
2): pp. 28-32; “Einwandererzentralstelle (EWZ)” available on the Website of the Center for Volga German Studies at Concordia
University in Portland, Oregon, at: <http://www.volgagermans.net/cvgs/ewz.html> (accessed August 27, 2008); Marianne
Wheeler, “Unite Your Family with the Berlin Document Center Records,” Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans from
Russia, vol. 20, no. 3 (Fall 1997): pp. 7-8.
52. Dave Obee, “Einwandererzentralstelle (EWZ) Microfilms” available online at:
<http://www.volhynia.com/ewzmain.html> (accessed August 27, 2008).
53. Ibid.
54. Bosch and Lingor, pp. 186-196. Cf. Lumans, pp. 182-198.
55. Obee.
56. Ibid.
57. Lumans, p. 190. Ethnic German refugees never received the promised property compensation from the Nazi regime
because of worsening wartime conditions and Germany’s ultimate defeat in the war. That matter was left for the future West
German government after the early 1950s.
58. Regarding the EWZ’s functions within the SS empire, consult precise findings and samples in Brosz, “Using the Records,”
pp. 28-32. Cf. Wheeler, pp. 7-8. Also, refer to one refugee’s recollections of her experience with the EWZ in Lodz in Kreiser,
pp. 54-56.
59. Lumans, p. 190.
60. Ibid.
61. Bauer, pp. 157-160; Isaiah Trunk, Lodz Ghetto: A History, trans. Robert Moses Shapiro (Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 2006). Also, refer to the Jewish Virtual Library’s online article on the Lodz Ghetto:
<http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/lodz.html> (accessed August 27, 2008).
62. Lumans, pp. 190-191.
63. Einwanderungszentralstelle (EWZ) Anträge (Immigration Center Applications),” at the Website:
<http://wiki-en.genealogy.net/wiki/Einwanderungszentralstelle_%28EWZ%29_Antr%C3%A4ge> (accessed August 27,
2008). Also see published examples of EWZ forms in Grossliebental District Odessa Newsletter, vol. 4, no. 1 (Nov. 2004): pp. 1-8.
64. Lumans, p. 191.
22

65. Ibid.
66. Ibid. Cf. Christian Böttger, et al., Lexikon der Russlanddeutschen: Teil I: Zur Geschichte und Kultur, eds. Hans-Joachim Kathe
and Winfried Morgenstern (Berlin: Bildungsverein für Volkskunde in Deutschland DIE LINDE, e.V., 2000), pp. 88-89; Koehl,
p. 88.
67. Wheeler, pp. 7-8. Dave Obee also estimates that during its almost six-year existence, the EWZ processed about one
million ethnic Germans, most of them from the Soviet Union.
68. Since the mid- to late 1990s, relatives of refugees in Germany, North America and elsewhere, along with the general public,
have enjoyed legal access to the EWZ records, which were opened up after the Cold War. For example, the American Historical
Society of Germans from Russia in Lincoln, NE, and the Germans from Russia Heritage Society in Bismarck, ND, in recent years
have acquired from its members donations of a significant number of microfilm records. For example, see Brosz, “Using the
Records,” pp. 28-32; Alfred Eisfeld, “Genealogy and Family History of the German Russians: Archive Sources and Their
Accessibility,” trans. Tracy Lauritzen-Wright, Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, vol. 23, no. 2 (Summer
2000), pp. 5-9; Wheeler, pp. 7-8; Elli Wise, “EWZ Questions and Answers,” Heritage Review, vol. 37, no. 4 (Dec. 2007): pp. 46-
48.
69. Bosch and Lingor, pp. 187-188; Lumans, pp. 191-192.
70. See translation of Document No. 5057, Prosecution Exhibit 294, of the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, vol. IV, at the Mazal
Library, an online Holocaust resource: <http://www.mazal.org/archive.nmt/04a/NMT04-T0822.htm> (pp. 822-824)
(accessed September 27, 2005).
71. Hornbacher, “Removal from the Homeland (Part I),” pp. 23-24.
72. Hornbacher, “Removal from the Homeland (Part II),” p. 36.
73. For example, according to Johannes Lutz of the village of Hoffnungsfeld, Leibbrandt even visited with ethnic refugees in
Warthegau during the latter part of 1944. See Lutz in Height, ed., Memories of the Black Sea Germans, p. 158.
74. Ingeborg Fleischhauer, Das Dritte Reich und die Deutschen in der Sowjetunion (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1983), pp.
100-101. Cf. Brown, pp. 192ff.
75. Magdalene (Volk) Zeiler, “The Sorrows of a Refugee Mother: Reminiscences of My Life in the Soviet Union, Germany
and Western Canada,” in Height, ed., Memories of the Black Sea Germans, pp. 177-178.
76. Based on his interviews with several former Waffen-SS men of Ukrainian German background living now on the West Coast
of the United States, scholar Ronald Vossler has concluded that a number of these soldiers might have fought in the 8th SS Cavalry
Division “Florian Geyer.” This unit saw heavy action in the Balkans and met its fate against the Soviets in Budapest, Hungary, in
early 1945. Many ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe served in this unit toward the end of the war. Also, a small number of
Ukrainian Germans might have also participated in the 22nd SS Volunteer Cavalry Division “Maria Theresa.” From the author’s
conversations with Vossler and Samuel D. Sinner in Fargo, ND, in mid-March 2002, and again with Vossler in Casper, WY, in
early August 2008.
77. Hornbacher, “Auszug aus der Heimat,” p. 454.
78. Various sources have cited this age bracket for military conscripts. Cf. Bosch and Lingor, pp. 194-196, 284.
79. DeZayas, Anmerkungen zur Vertreibung: der Deutschen aus dem Osten, 3rd rev. ed. (Stuttgart: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 1993),
pp. 62ff. German civilian fears were not completely unfounded, as many Red Army soldiers, after fighting a brutal ideological war
for nearly three years in their home country, sought revenge by raping and murdering thousands of women and girls of their Nazi
enemy. The first documented case of Soviet atrocities against German civilians took place in Nemmersdorf, East Prussia, in mid-
October 1944, when the Red Army first crossed the border. After repulsing the Red Army for a brief time, Nazi authorities were
able to survey the carnage. A young Russian artillery officer (later famous novelist) Alexander Solzhenitsyn witnessed and
subsequently wrote about similar or even worse episodes that occurred elsewhere in East Prussia in January 1945. Instead of
instilling the German population with the resolve to continue fighting the war, Nazi propaganda on the Nemmersdorf incident
served only to inflame civilian fears even further. For all that, the conflict dragged out until May 1945. To be fair to the Soviet
side, some controversy later arose about the extent of the Nemmersdorf atrocities, as well as differing eyewitness accounts. It was
true that other nearby German villages were also attacked in October 1944. For some historians, this incident comes down to a
disagreement over the matter of degree or severity—was it 10 or 100 civilians who were killed? At any rate, some atrocities took
place, that much is known, and the incident foreshadowed what was soon to come. In some instances, it is also documented that
Red Army soldiers even molested and raped female concentration camp survivors liberated toward the end of the war. Cf. Picador.
80. “At the same time,” Brown continues, “a smaller, fraternal war broke out between Polish and Ukrainian nationalist
partisans.” Brown, p. 10.
81. Böttger, et al., pp. 129-130.
82. Cf. Franz Usselmann, “Die Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland,” in Bernd G. Längin, ed., Die Deutschen in der
UdSSR—einst und jetzt (Berlin and Stuttgart: Verein für das Deutschtum im Ausland and Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus
Russland, 1989), p. 104.
83. Schroeder and Huebert, p. 140.
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84. Usselmann, p. 104. For a quite detailed, but particularly critical, analysis of the Western Allied response to Soviet
repatriation demands, see Height, Paradise on the Steppe, pp. 384-390.
85. A significant number of exiled Germans in the Soviet east worked in the mines or the forestry service. In 1945-1946, the
Soviet government also deported many captured Ukrainian Germans deemed incapable of heavy labor in the far north and Siberia
to the cotton kolkhozes of Tajikistan in Central Asia. Conditions early on in Tajikistan were nonetheless quite difficult. For the first
time, Tajikistan claimed a significant ethnic German minority population, though almost all 40,000 migrated to Germany (also
some to Russia) during the 1990s amid civil war in the region. See Viktor Berdinskikh, Spetsposelentsy: Politicheskaia ssylka narodov
sovetskoi rossii (Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozenie, 2005), doc. 8, pp. 339-343; Eisfeld and Viktor Herdt, eds., Deportation,
Sondersiedlung, Arbeitsarmee: Deutsche in der Sowjetunion 1941 bis 1956 (Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, 1996), doc. 312,
p. 319, and doc. 341, p. 361; Bugai, ed., doc. 45, pp. 75-76. Cf. Böttger, et al., pp. 129-130, 284-285.
86. Däs, ed.; Irina Mukhina, “‘The Forgotten History’: Ethnic German Women in Soviet Exile, 1941-1955,” Europe-Asia
Studies, vol. 57, no. 5 (July 2005): pp. 729-752; Mukhina, The Germans of the Soviet Union (London and New York: Routledge,
2007).
87. Informationen zur politischen Bildung Nr. 222: Aussiedler (Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 1991): pp. 15-22.
88. Regarding DP’s, please consult the American Immigration Law Foundation (AILF) Website’s “A Short History of U.S.
Immigration Policy”: <http://www.ailf.org/ipc/policy_reports_1996_pr9613.htm> (accessed August 27, 2008). Cf. Werner,
pp. 53-76.
89. At a conference presentation in Des Moines, IA, on July 30, 2006, the author talked with one family of Ukrainian German
heritage. The fear of Stalinism remained so palpable that one older relative, who as a survivor of the period came over as a DP,
still refuses to set foot in post-Communist Russia, even to visit the country as a tourist.
90. The more than thirty years of memoir and biographical literature have made quite evident the generous assistance provided
to DP’s by church groups, international organizations, relatives, and others.
91. Usselmann, p. 104. See also an interesting comparative study of two migrations of ethnic Germans from the USSR during
the Cold War era in Hans Werner, Imagined Homes: Soviet German Immigrants in Two Cities (2007). Werner, a child of ethnic German
DP’s in Canada, shows how different expectations influenced each group’s integration process into urban centers—Winnipeg,
Canada, in the late 1940s and early 1950s and Bielefeld, Germany, during the 1970s. He concludes that the ethnic German
immigrants to Canada adapted better and assimilated more quickly because they were prepared to receive a new language and
culture. Despite their German heritage, the ethnic immigrants to West Germany, however, found it more difficult to enter society
because their imagined idea of what “home” would be like differed from the realities. In addition, Canada’s established immigrant
history and multi-ethnic character made the overall public reception of these new arrivals easier. By contrast, the populace of West
Germany, who traditionally did not consider their country to be one of immigration, often viewed ethnic Germans as different and
distinct from themselves. This general perception in Germany about not being an immigrant country still prevails, despite the
massive influx of ethnic Germans, asylum-seekers, and guest-workers since the mid-twentieth century.
92. Bosch and Michael Wanner, “Excerpt from Odessa Book of Mourning: Stalin’s State Terror against the Germans in Odessa
and Nikolajew Districts of Ukraine, 1928-1953 (Part I),” trans. Merv Weiss, Heritage Review, vol. 37, no. 3 (Sept. 2007): p. 12;
Goldade, ed., Our Relatives, The Persecuted, p. 488. Additional information comes from the author’s written notes from a tape
recording of Prof. Michael M. Miller’s German-language interview in 1993 with Mrs. Emma (Schmalz) Rieger in Minot, ND. The
cassette tape is available at the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at the North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo.
The Rieger family’s sponsor, Mr. John Schmaltz, Sr., of Linton, ND, is the author’s late great-grandfather. Not until the mid- to
late 1990s did the author begin to learn the full story surrounding Emma’s amazing journey to the United States. Before his
repatriation from occupied Germany to Soviet Siberia in 1945, village historian and author Anton Bosch as a child had known Emma
and her family during their time in Kandel. In 1974, he received permission to immigrate to Nuremberg, Germany.
93. Nazi mass conscription of all eligible ethnic German males for active military service (i.e., into the traditional armed forces
as well as the Waffen-SS) began in February 1943. Most ethnic Germans, however, served in the SS military wing. Perhaps it was
no coincidence that shortly thereafter, on March 19, 1943, Germany started to grant German citizenship to naturalized ethnic
Germans (Volksdeutsche) who were now expected to fight for their new homeland. At the same time, male ethnic Muslims in Bosnia
(then Yugoslavia) also began to serve in Waffen-SS units. These actions occasioned the Third Reich’s last great military mobilization
drive that could achieve relative parity with Allied (especially Soviet) levels of military manpower.
94. Bosch and Lingor, p. 283.
95. Consult Bosch and Lingor’s detailed trek maps (with routes and dates listed) in their Appendix.
96. Rieger interview; Bosch and Lingor, p. 284.
97. Rieger interview.
98. Ibid.
99. Richard H. Walth, Flotsam of World History: The Germans from Russia between Stalin and Hitler, trans. Alex Herzog and Michael
Herzog (Essen: Klartext Verlag, 1996). In the past decade, the transnational idea of Diaspora has gained considerable attention
and credence in migration studies, not least of all for ethnic Germans. The concept indicates an ongoing real or imagined tie with
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a “homeland” despite physical dislocation and personal loss. It also connotes an individual’s sense of being in two places at once
(i.e., transnational). According to many scholars, the notion of an “imagined” or “mythic homeland” remains essential for migrants
of all stripes across time and space, particularly for refugees who must survive and adapt in the face of great change, physical removal
and personal trauma. Regarding transnational identities for German migrants from the Soviet Union, especially after World War
II, please consult Werner, “‘Germans Only in Their Hearts’: Making and Breaking the Ethnic German Diaspora in the Twentieth
Century,” in Alexander Freund, ed., Beyond the Nation?: Immigrants’ Local Lives in Transnational Cultures (Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 2012), pp. 211-226.
100. Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000), p. 812.