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by conducting a massive ethnic cleansing operation.
The preparation for this grand operation took over four months. The ini-
tial plans were modi¬ed numerous times, as regional Party authorities in the
Novosibirsk, Krasnoiarsk, Omsk, and Altai regions each refused to accept new
waves of deportees “ especially Chechens! In the end, Kirgizstan and Kaza-
khstan had no choice but to accommodate them. It took several more months
for the police to identify physically those to be deported, as individuals often
lived in scattered communities outside the Chechen-Ingush Republic or were
serving as of¬cers and soldiers in the Soviet army.96 Logistical preparations
were meticulously planned and personally overseen by Lavrentii Beria and his
two deputies, Ivan Serov and Bogdan Kobulov, the three of whom traveled
to Groznyi to supervise the operation. Note that several key features of this
operation “ “a hierarchy in the structure of command, a con¬ned theater of
operations, and a culture of impunity”97 “ are common to other twentieth-
century ethnic cleansings, as well.

Among numerous recent studies on wartime ethnic deportations in the Soviet Union, see N. F.

Bugai and A. M. Gonov, Kavkaz“Narody v eshelonakh; P. Polian, Ne po svoei vole (Moscow:
Memorial, 2001); Norman M. Naimark, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-century
Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), esp. 85“107.
Hirsch, 38.

P. Polian, 122“4.

J. Semelin, “Analysis of a Mass Crime: Ethnic Cleansing in the Former Yugoslavia, 1991“

1999,” in The Specters of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective, eds. Ben Kiernan
and Robert Gellately (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 353“73.
Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth

Finally, over the course of six days in 1944 (February 23“8), 119,000 soldiers
and of¬cers of the NKVD arrested over 500,000 men, women, and children98
and forcibly removed them from their ancestral homelands. Deportees had an
hour or so to gather their belongings (100 kilograms per family) before being
herded onto trucks and sealed in unheated freight cars. Because of poor weather
conditions in the mountainous and isolated regions of Chechnya, a number of
NKVD squads were temporarily stranded with their victims; thousands were
outright massacred.99 After a three- to four-week journey, during the course
of which many died from hunger and exhaustion, the deportees arrived in
Kazakhstan or Central Asia and were dispatched to kolkhozes and factories.
Uprooted from their homes, they not only suffered from appalling living con-
ditions, but faced enormous dif¬culties in adapting to a totally new, and gen-
erally very hard, social and working environment. Following this deportation,
the Chechen-Ingush ASSR was suppressed from the collective memory, as well:
its place-names were changed, its buildings destroyed, its cemeteries bulldozed,
and Chechen national ¬gures were removed from the Great Soviet Encyclope-
dia. In October 1948, a report of the Administration for Special Resettlements
calculated that of the people deported from the Caucasus and Crimea in 1943
and 1944, nearly one in four, or 200,000, had died by mid-1948.100
On November 26, 1948, a decree from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
of the USSR declared that all those deported between 1941 and 1945 would
retain that status “in perpetuity,” thus implying that the offending character-
istics of the “punished people” were “necessarily transmitted to the next gen-
eration.”101 Considering this speci¬c aspect of Stalinist ethnic cleansing, can
one argue that “racial logic was at work,” that “traces of racial politics crept
into Soviet nationalities policies”?102 In a recent debate over these issues,103
Francine Hirsch reminded us that the Soviet regime did not persecute nation-
alities because of suspected “biological weaknesses,” that it did not aspire to
eliminate races, genotypes, or racial traits. Its aim was to control and eradicate
all forms of national particularism that did not accord with the global project
of the Soviet empire of nations or delayed the realization of the Communist
utopia. Based on the conviction that nationalities, like classes, were sociohistor-
ical groups with a shared consciousness, rather than racial-biological groups,

N. F. Bugai, 153“8.

P. Polian, 123.

N. Werth, “A State against Its People: Violence, Repression and Terror in the Soviet Union,”

in The Black Book of Communism, eds. St´ phane Courtois et al. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1999), 223.
Eric D. Weitz, “Racial Politics without the Concept of Race,” Slavic Review 61, no. 1 (2002):

18. Discussing this point, F. Hirsch noted that female deportees who married men of other
nationalities in the region of resettlement and cast off their old national cultures could be
reinstated as Soviet citizens. Hirsch, 41.
Weitz, 3

Weitz, 1“29; Hirsch, 30“43; Amir Weiner, “Nothing by Certainty,” Slavic Review 61, no. 1

(2002): 44“53; Alaina Lemon, “Without a ˜Concept™?: Race as Discursive Practice,” Slavic
Review 61, no. 1 (2002): 54“61.
State Violence “ Violent Societies 161

the Soviet regime™s treatment of targeted nationalities may best be understood
as “a form of ethno-historical excision.”104 Rather than the physical existence
of each and every member of the targeted community, it was the national, cul-
tural, and historical identities that the regime sought to eradicate. This might
explain why a regime that had the capacity to launch and implement genocidal
campaigns did not operate death camps and exterminate entire ethnic groups.
It would seem that Soviet and German ethnicity-based resettlements were
of different types: German policies concerned settling Germans; Soviet policies
concerned deporting minorities from strategically important areas. One could
indeed say that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union represent two types of
nation-building: one, an expanding homogeneous nation-state; the other, a
multinational state attempting to discipline brutally its ethnic minorities.105
The Soviet Union pursued a policy in which security considerations, reed-
ucation, and assimilation were critical elements in the resettling of domestic
minorities. Entire ethnic communities came under the suspicion of being poten-
tial spies, agents, supporters of foreign powers, or obstacles to progress and
socialism. If not outright racism, nationalism and ethnic stereotypes seem to
have played a signi¬cant role, especially in the treatment of the people of the
Caucasus and the Crimean Tatars. In contrast, German forced resettlements
were intimately linked to imperial expansion, and those based on ethnicity were
largely con¬ned to those territories it annexed. Such measures aimed to incorpo-
rate, develop, and homogenize more ef¬ciently the territories concerned. Even
those Soviet political persecutions that most closely resembled German poli-
cies “ such as the treatment of the annexed territories (for example, the Baltic
republics or eastern Poland) and policies that targeted political, economic,
and intellectual elites “ were not based on similar intentions. That is, Soviet
intentions never included the wholesale removal and replacement of native
populations in the longer run. Yet, both Germany and the Soviet Union fought
and suppressed native nationalisms in annexed areas, especially in Poland. In
the end, political, individual, and armed resistance limited Germany™s ability
to carry out its resettlement plans. Instead, military failure forced it to evacu-
ate hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans from Eastern and Southeastern

Prisoners of War
Even prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union, the German civilian and military
leadership made provisions to separate and kill selected categories of Soviet
POWs and to provide the remainder with grossly insuf¬cient provisions and
supplies. While this policy would undergo a number of modi¬cations over

Hirsch, 40.

This difference tends to get lost if both cases of enforced resettlements are subsumed under the

term “ethnic cleansing.” Norman M. Naimark, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-
Century Europe (Cambridge, MA, and London, 2001), 104“6.
Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth

time, it was never completely revised. In the end, of the 3.3 million Red Army
soldiers captured before the end of 1941, nearly 2 million died in German
custody. Of the 5.7 million Soviet troops captured over the course of the entire
war, between 2.5 million and 3.3 million perished.106 By 1945, mass graves
for Soviet POWs littered Europe™s war-ravaged landscape; mass graves were
found in Norway and France, in Germany and Poland “ although most Soviet
POW victims died while still on Soviet soil.
Plans to undersupply Soviet POWs systematically initially arose in the frame-
work of a general policy of starvation directed at those populations living in
Soviet territories occupied by the German army, designed in early 1941. These
plans, intended both to ameliorate the critical supply situation on the Eastern
Front and to buttress Germany™s own limited food supplies, primarily targeted
populations living in northern and central Russia, Byelorussia, and urban envi-
ronments.107 It was, of course, tremendously na¨ve to imagine that these popu-
lations would peacefully starve to death. With only skeletal occupation forces
policing these areas, it was virtually impossible to prevent Soviet citizens from
“illegally” procuring food (with the notable exception of besieged Leningrad,
where approximately 600,000 civilians died). In the end, it was pressure from
regional occupation authorities “ who required a pliable urban workforce and
a functioning infrastructure and who wished to avoid epidemics and public
unrest “ that led to the abandonment of the original starvation scheme. Given
the enormous and growing supply needs of the German military on the Eastern
Front, however, policy was not fully reversed in practice. Supplies allocated
to the civilian populations remained grossly insuf¬cient. It was in this context
that from September 1941 on, a policy of selective extermination emerged. The
largest group affected were prisoners of war. Soviet POWs viewed as “un¬t for
work” were, quite simply, left to die of starvation: they were physically sepa-
rated from other POWs and placed on greatly reduced diets. Largely unable to
attain food outside their rations, they had little chance of survival. The death
rate among prisoners quickly skyrocketed; and, from October 1941 on, larger
POW camps witnessed up to four hundred prisoners™ deaths per day “ a rate

Still the most persuasive calculations of victim ¬gures are from Streit (higher) and Streim

(lower); Christian Streit, Keine Kameraden: Die Wehrmacht und die sowjetischen Kriegsge-
fangenen 1941“1945, 4th ed. (Bonn: Verlag J. H. W. Dietz Nachf., 1991); Alfred Streim,
Die Behandlung sowjetischer Kriegsgefangener im Fall Barbarossa (Heidelberg and Karlsruhe:
Muller, 1981). The discovery of new sources in Russia and Germany (many of the German
personal ¬les of Soviet POWs were located) allows the conclusion that the death toll was lower
than assumed in camps inside the German Reich. See Reinhard Otto, “Sowjetische Kriegsge-
fangene: Neue Quellen und Erkenntnisse,” in “Wir sind die Herren dieses Landes”: Ursachen,
Verlauf und Folgen des deutschen Uberfalls auf die Sowjetunion, ed. Babette Quinkert
(Hamburg: VSA Verlag, 2002), 124“35; Rolf Keller and Reinhard Otto, “Das Massenster-
ben der sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenen und die Wehrmachtburokratie: Unterlagen zur Reg-
istrierung der sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenen 1941“1945 in deutschen und russischen Insti-
tutionen,” Militargeschichtliche Mitteilungen 57 (1998): 49“80. It is still uncertain whether
general estimates of victim numbers will have to be revised downward, too.
Aly and Heim, Vordenker, 365“93; Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, 46“76.
State Violence “ Violent Societies 163

nearly as high as those achieved by the individual Einsatzgruppen during this
same period. Between September and December 1941, an average of 15,000
Soviet POWs lost their lives each and every day “ according to numerous
reports, malnutrition was the leading culprit; disease was a distant second.108
Only in the spring of 1942, which brought an increased urgency to the utiliza-
tion of forced labor, did the situation ease somewhat. Yet, even then, Soviet
POWs did not receive adequate nutrition.
Only a minor portion of all Soviet POWs killed died in large-scale execu-
tions. According to the secret “Commissar Order” of June 6, 1941, political
of¬cers among Red Army POWs were to be murdered. Practically, such special
treatment meant that political of¬cers either were shot by the troops who cap-
tured them, were killed by POW camp guards, or were handed over to police
authorities, who either shot them themselves or sent them to concentration
camps. The concentration camp, itself, was virtually equivalent to a death sen-
tence: most perished within a few months under particularly harsh conditions
reserved for political POWs or were outright murdered in gas chambers or
gas vans or through other methods. It is estimated that 120,000 Soviet POWs
were handed over to the SS and police during the course of the Second World
War.109 Because the data are highly fragmentary, however, no reliable esti-
mates exist for the total number of political of¬cers murdered. In addition to
political of¬cers, there were also attempts to single out and murder Jewish and,
until September 1941, “Asian” Soviet POWs. At varying times and in vary-
ing regions, other select POW groups also became the target of exterminatory
policies: most notably, Red Army of¬cers and female Red Army soldiers.110
Whereas the “Commissar Order” was largely abandoned by May 1942, as
it inadvertently strengthened military resistance whenever Red Army soldiers
were aware of such policies, other killings of Soviet POWs continued unabated:
up to several hundred thousand Soviet POWs were shot by German guards
during exhausting forced marches, while ¬ling through the streets of occupied
Soviet cities, or while being loaded and unloaded at railway stations. In these
cases, the perpetrators were regular German soldiers, often on orders from
low- or mid-ranking of¬cers. On a typical forced march, for which insuf¬cient
provisions of food, beverage, and carts were provided, only a handful of of¬cers
and rank-and-¬le guards were allocated to accompany the prisoners. As senior
of¬cers usually planned these marches, the relatively junior of¬cers and rank-
and-¬le guards assigned to them were placed in a rather unenviable position.
With a demanding schedule and vastly inadequate supplies, it was inevitable
that many POWs would be unable to ¬nish the journey, and, with so few

Streit, Keine Kameraden, 128“90.

Streim, Behandlung, 244; cf. Reinhard Otto, Wehrmacht, Gestapo und sowjetische Kriegs-

gefangene im deutschen Reichsgebiet 1941/42 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1998). The estimate of
580,000 to 600,000 given by Streit, Keine Kameraden, 354, seems by far exaggerated.
For women, see Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, 777“8; an oral history compilation about the

800,000 female Red Army soldiers is Swetlana Alexijewitsch, Der Krieg hat kein weibliches
Gesicht (Berlin: Henschelverl. Kunst u. Gesellschaft, 1987).
Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth

guards, some would try to ¬‚ee. In any event, a situation developed in which
guards often chose to execute POWs unable to continue along the route “
a strategy perhaps designed both to motivate the marchers onward and to
forestall possible resistance. In occupied Ukraine, there were even army-level
orders to shoot POWs who could not continue.111 Taking this practice into
consideration, we must conclude that the German military was responsible for
the direct murder of most Soviet POWs, not the SS or the police.
While it is broadly accepted that there existed a high-level extermination


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( 115 .)