Magazine article Russian Life

The Deportation of Peoples: 1943-1944

Magazine article Russian Life

The Deportation of Peoples: 1943-1944

Article excerpt

THE SOVIET AUTHORITIES never saw people as human and therefore did with them as they saw fit. Deportation of entire segments of the population was no rarity. During collectivization, thousands upon thousands of peasants were rounded up and sent from the land they had farmed for generations to far-off Siberia. In 1934, after Kirov was murdered, a terrible blow was delivered to Leningraders with "incorrect backgrounds," and thousands of those who had once been members of the nobility or clergy or who had engaged in business were expelled from the city along with their children and grandchildren.

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But for a long time in the land that called on the proletariat of all countries to unite, and that preached internationalism, nobody was deported due to their ethnic origins.

And so it was until the second half of the 1930s, when the Soviet Union suddenly discovered that not just individuals, but entire ethnic groups could be enemies of the people.

In 1935 the Soviet government started to deport ethnic Finns from Leningrad Oblast and Karelia, Poles and Germans from the western oblasts of Ukraine; in 1937 they deported ethnic Koreans, who looked suspiciously like the increasingly hostile Japanese. When the war began, they of course dealt with the Volga Germans, who had settled there in the 18th century and had not realized that anyone might see them as agents of the Third Reich. They were sent to Kazakhstan and the Altai, Siberia.

But the most devastating blows against entire peoples--proclaimed guilty to the last man, woman, and child--came when the war was reaching its conclusion, in late 1943 and early 1944.

In November 1943, the Karachais were deported from the Northern Caucasus for "behaving in a traitorous manner, joining detachments organized by the Germans to fight against Soviet authority ... and, after the occupiers were expelled, resisting measures by the Soviet authorities ..."

Approximately 80,000 people were deported to Central Asia. During the first two years of exile alone, 35 percent of the population died. Out of 25,000 children, 22,000 perished. Those who survived were allowed to return home in 1957.

There is a belief among the Karachais that one of the party leaders of the Brezhnev era, Mikhail Suslov, nurtured a personal animosity toward their people. Supposedly in his youth he had been invited to a wedding in Karachai and had insulted an elder, for which he was beaten. The Karachais believed that this animosity is what prevented their people from being completely rehabilitated.

Within the USSR and later the Russian Federation, the Karachais, beginning in 1922, have shared a single autonomous oblast and later a single republic with the Cherkess, who belong to a different linguistic and ethnic group, In recent years confrontations have erupted between the Karachais and the Cherkess, but fortunately these eruptions have yet to escalate to the level of armed conflict.

Right before the New Year of 1944 there was a decision to deport the Kalmyks, who were also accused of wholesale collaboration with the Germans.

The Kalmyks are Mongol-speaking Buddhists who lived primarily in the steppe lands around the lower reaches of the Volga. During the war, their homeland, which is not far from Stalingrad, was occupied by the Germans. A portion of nomadic Kalmyks left for unoccupied territory, but this did not save them from being labeled as Fascist collaborators. Approximately 134,000 Kalmyks were deported to Siberia, where their animal husbandry skills were of no use, and the exiles worked primarily in the fishing industry. The Kalmyk deportation was particularly cruel, since it took place in the dead of winter, leading to an exceptionally high number of deaths. According to various estimates, anywhere from one-third to half of all the deportees died. After Stalin's death, the Kalmyks were permitted to return to their homeland, but until the 1990s a few absurd limitations were still in force. …

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