Life in the German Villages around Shitomir
[Translator's Note: The following information is taken from a file folder of DAI (Deutsches
Ausland-Institut) documents captured in Germany during World War II which contains
documents dealing with ethnic Germans from Russia between 1940 and 1941. The 7 page
document is superscripted as document of 1941, 37/I-VII. This document is a DAI assistant's
report about the ethnic Germans in the area around Shitomir, Volhynia, what life was like on the
collective farms, in school, the years of famine and banishment, and the arrival of the German
troops in World War II. Information is square brackets indicate translator's comments.]
1. Type of Settlement and House
The outward appearance of the settlement of German villages changed completely after the
introduction of the collective. As opposed to the Volga and Black Sea Districts, here, before the
World War, there were no German settlements where all lived close together, but, on the
contrary, the German farmers put up their living quarters on their land. For that reason, the
houses were situated far apart and the settlements spread out over a wide area. The mode of
settlement impeded the realization of the collective (Kolchos) system. The Soviets abruptly
ordered that the houses be torn down and rebuilt on a prescribed place. Again and again one
would hear from the ethnic Germans the expression: "This is a transplanted house." The new
settlements were rebuilt with completely different layouts. The Ukrainians and the Germans,
and also some Polish yards, were all mixed together. The church steeple of the villages
disappeared and the churches were, without exception, converted into clubs or granaries, if
indeed they were not demolished as, for an example, it happened in Heimtal. Typically, the
collective buildings in all the settlements were long barns for cattle and horses and a spacious
room for the farm machinery. The buildings stood mostly all in one location. It fell to every
settlement to have a high, long, narrow building, constructed in front of a heated room, made of
red brick, which served to dry ("Hopfendarre") the hops. Typical also is the windmill. To every
house there belonged a yard from 30-60 hectares (Hundertstel) [1 hectare = 2.47 acres, or 10,000
square meters]. Most of the locals occupied 60 hectares, the new folks coming in got 30
hectares. (The Volhynian Germans are always talking about 30 to 60 Sotjen.)
The houses all look alike. They are constructed of lumber measuring 30 cm [11.8 inches] wide
and 8 cm [3.2 inches] thick. The whole house consists of three inner rooms: a living room,
kitchen and barn. A bed is located in the living room and, at best, a couch made of plain boards.
You very seldom see a clothes cupboard. A whole family lives in this room. The wife sleeps in
the bed with one or two children, the husband on a framework of boards. If there are more
children, they sleep on the floor, or, if they are already a little older, in the kitchen. Housing is
relatively simple and, for instance, the toilet utterly primitive. The people have very few eating
utensils and very primitive forks and knives.
2. Collective Farms
Collectivization got started in 1929 and everything else that came along with it (banishment, the
imposition of unbearable taxes, etc.). The forced gathering together of people and the work in
the collective had brought with it, in every respect, a complete transformation and worsening of
the way of life. The German people became slaves to the job.
Throughout the whole pay off system (Entlohnungsystem), people were bled to death. Day after
day, without a pause for rest, from morning until late, they had to work and labor to earn their
bread. The axiom "he who does not work should also not eat" was foolishly clung to. If the
husband was exiled, and there were only small children, the wife had to earn a livelihood all on
her own. It was up to her, where time permitted, to raise the children, to rear them or feed them
as best as possible. The children had to accompany her to the field, even if they were still
nursing. The people had to give their all, as much as possible, to put in many work-days
("Trudodjen"). The work-day was figured according to a complicated system. For that reason,
every village had its own system. There was also no unified pay off system because in each
community it was different. First of all the grain had to be delivered to the state and provided for
the horses, pigs and cattle. What was left over was handed out to the people according to the
work-days entered in the workbook. The quantity of grain handed over to the people for a workday
fluctuated between 150 grams and 2.5 kg [1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds], cash payments between
.3 and 2 rubles, potatoes between .5 and 2.5 kg. Bogoljubowka (Gotthilfsdorf) community had
two years where they received neither grain nor cash.
The assessment of taxes is a gloomy chapter. The various taxes, deductions and loans ("Sajomi")
depended on the size of the acreage, wages and receipts. In one village, for example, the salary
of a teacher amounted to 240 rubles [1.95 rubles = 1 US$ in 1930], from which 46 rubles were
deducted. Thereby, for example, an average deduction for that teacher amounted to 700-800 and
on the high side from 1,000-1,500, even as much as 2,000 rubles. Shoes with rubber soles cost
60 rubles, with leather soles, 200-300 rubles. A teacher's family was able to live only if the wife
also worked in the collective. In addition to the taxes paid in cash, the farmers had to deliver up
foodstuffs from their private cow, chickens and pigs. From the cow 110 liters [1 liter = .26 US
gallons] of milk was required plus meat. The quantity of meat could be delivered up in the form
of chickens, geese, ducks. Every family had a cow, 5-15 chickens and 1-3 pigs. There were no
horses in private hands.
The general complaint was that the collective system required far too many administrative
officials. These were always well dressed and had enough to eat, worked very little, but, on the
contrary, frequently drank too much. In the little village of Feodorowka, with a population of
303, there were 40 administrative officials.
The collective system brought with it the serious neglect of the fields. While in earlier times an
individual farmer, supplied with horses, consequently had fertilizer for his field, but now few
collectives had sufficient fertilizer. As a result of this the harvest yields were significantly less
and the fields became overgrown with weeds and looked neglected. Frequently, one saw
potatoes completely overgrown with weeds. The same held true here for the vast plantings of
buckwheat. If the work plan was not able to be carried out, these fields then just remained
As a substitute for the absence of fertilizer, every community was supposed to make use of the
"Semipolke" system, which meant a seven year crop rotation: wheat, rye, flax, barley, oats,
clover and black fallow.
The harvest here, as compared to the Lemberg and Starokonstatino districts, is considered
average and at times bad. In many communities, due to the present war, considerable harm is
inflicted (over-grazing, trenches, damage by tanks, etc.). In addition to the customary
cultivation, such as wheat, rye, buckwheat, oats and barley, are flax, hops and (india)-rubber
(Kautschuk). The people eat rye bread and buckwheat grits almost exclusively. The wheat goes
entirely to the state. Conspicuous in the landscape are the many dark green hop fields.
Hundreds of German women are working on the hop fields. To be sure, it takes a lot of effort to
work the hops, but, on the other hand, they also bring in the most revenue.
3. The school and the ethnic biological situation
Since 1938, the school has been conducted entirely in the Ukrainian language, up until then the
lessons were taught in German. It was in this year that a large portion of the German teachers
were exiled or relocated. Today, there are only a few German teachers here, most are Ukrainian.
The German language is used for instruction only in the upper classes. Controls over the
educational system are getting ever more strict, so much so that an intelligent lesson in German
is entirely impossible.
In the last three years, there are hardly any children that can read or write German. Instead, they
have to learn Bolshevik songs and poems. What must a student think, whose parents were exiles or
starving, or what must a poorly clothed and famished child experience when it, by chance, hears the
Of course, poems interject just like Goethe's Mailied (MayDay Celebration) and Sah ein Knab' ein Röslein (If a boy saw a little rose). The German school children are much better clothed than the Ukrainian children, but they also appear very tattered and go barefooted in cooler and wetter weather. One often meets up with school children on the country road, coming from neighboring towns, with their books and shoes under their arms.
The common religious life is lost. The churches are, without exception, shut down and now
function as clubs or granaries. All the church steeples have been taken down. Generally
speaking, there is no more German spirituality. Most of the children here are also not baptized.
Funeral services, as thought of in earlier times, are the exception. Just about no one dares to
carry out a burial according to the religious practices of his family's church. Here and there,
brave old men or women can be found who, at the graveside, come up with something from the
Bible or the hymnal. The cemeteries have become overgrown and seldom does one see a cross.
Despite distress and persecution, the Volhynian Germans maintain their ethnicity. German is
spoken exclusively in the home of one's parents. It is only in the towns that Ukrainian is
frequently spoken in the home of one's parents. The youth still sing German songs. The strict
old morals have suffered a decline. Still, the cases of divorce are quite rare. Although the
Germans live mixed together with other nationalities, a relatively small number of mixed
marriages occur. In most cases, it is where a German woman married a Ukrainian or Polish man.
First of all, because of the banishment, men escaping to find some peace;
Secondly, due to the apprehension that the German husband would be sent away and so she
would be left without a husband; Thirdly, due to a lack of German men because most have been
sent into exile.
The number of children, compared to earlier times, has decreased:
It is alarming to consider how poorly even the German people are clothed. The men especially
often go in torn and patched pants and shirts. Everyone goes barefooted from spring time until
4. Famine and Banishment
The Volhynian Germans withstood fairly well the famine of 1921-1922, and especially 1933-1934, in which 10,000 starved to death in the Black Sea and Volga Districts. Cases of starvation did show up in a few communities. At the same time, hundreds died of hunger in the neighboring Ukrainian villages. The ethnic Germans give these as the reasons:
The following periods of banishment are to be distinguished:
As a result of this banishment, the best families and, above all, the men are gone. A majority of
families are without family head of households. Those men who remained are, for the most part,
old or in some way or another frail.
Due to these banishments, many families, for all kinds of reasons, left their home villages and
found themselves in neighboring towns or villages, or were resettled into the interior of Russia,
as far as into Siberia.
The Volhynians Germans have, comparatively speaking, exhibited little pain and sacrifice in this
present war. For them, the entry of the German troops happened so suddenly that the planned
executions of the ethnic Germans, who were included on special lists, were not able to be carried
Concerning the destiny of those called into military service (averaging from 6-10) and those
arrested, nothing is known about them. The following was the overall plan to be carried out in
every community, by order and under the threat of the death penalty:
The Volhynian Germans were fortunate, in this difficult years, to have experienced the entry of
the German troops. The emotional and physical agony of the past decade has left behind deep
tracks. Now a new life enters again and new hope. People once again feel free. Now, when
they speak about the past, their faces are serious and tears are in their eyes. Again and again one
hears the joy over the fact that we have given back to them the Sunday and the church. Now,
they can not only get some rest, but above all, they can spend time with their families on Sunday.
Naturally, there are always burning questions in their hearts and they have special desires.
What is going to happen to us next? Are we going to be resettled? Will we get back our land again?
As for their desires, one hears again and again:
[End of Translation]