Open Wound: The Genocide of German Ethnic Minorities in Russia and
the Soviet Union, 1915-1949 and Beyond
Book review by J. Otto Pohl, Sacramento, California, author
of the book, Ethnic Cleansing in the USSR, 1937-1949.
Sinner, Samuel D. The Open Wound: The Genocide of German Ethnic Minorities in Russia and the Soviet Union, 1915-1949 and Beyond. North Dakota State University Libraries, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, Fargo, North Dakota, 2000.
Samuel Sinner's new book is a welcome addition to a growing body
of literature on the subject of genocide. Sinner describes the various
phases of the genocide perpetrated against the Russlanddeutschen
and calculates the resulting excess mortality from each of these
phases. The whole process of this genocide encompassed 34 years
(1915-1949) and three different rulers; Tsar Nicholas II, Lenin,
and Stalin. During World War I, Tsar Nicholas II deported close
to 200,000 ethnic Germans from Volhynia, Bessarabia, and other western
regions of the Russian Empire to Siberia. Sinner estimates that
between one third and one half of those deported perished. During
the Russian Civil War (1917-1921) Bolshevik forces massacred over
60,000 ethnic Germans in the Volga, Ukraine, Crimea, and Caucasus.
These atrocities occurred in the context of forced grain requisitions
that left the German communities of the Volga and other areas without
any food. Sinner calculates that the famine resulting from these
requisitions claimed the lives of 300,000 Russlanddeutschen, 150,000
of them in the Volga region. Under Stalin, the mass deportation
of peasants branded as kulaks, executions, and the 1932-1933 Holodomor
(Murder Famine) killed another 300,000 Russlanddeutschen by 1937.
Finally, Stalin's forced dispersal of virtually the entire German
population of the USSR to special settlements and labor army work
sites during the 1940s brought the total death toll of the Russlanddeutschen
due to the policies of the Russian and Soviet governments from 1915-1949
up to around one million. This final phase also permanently destroyed
the centuries old German communities of the Volga, Ukraine, Crimea,
Sinner's book has two roughly equal parts, one in English and
one in German. The two parts are similar, but not identical. The
German section has considerably more statistical information regarding
demographics than does the English part. In the German portion there
are 14 tables regarding population statistics, whereas the English
section has no tables. In contrast, the English portion of the text
deals more extensively with placing the Tsarist and Soviet policies
towards the Russlanddeutschen within the context of comparative
genocide studies. Sinner manages to comment on almost the entire
English language historiography dealing with the subject. He even
devotes several pages to the writings of the present author.
Sinner firmly establishes that the Russlanddeutschen were victims
of genocide as defined by the system of international law established
after World War II. He also makes the first tentative, but necessary
steps of comparing the genocide against the Russlanddeutschen to
other more well known crimes against humanity. In particular he
highlights some important similarities and parallels between the
genocide against the Russlanddeutschen and the Aghed (Armenian Genocide).
In many ways this is Sinner's most valuable contribution. He brilliantly
demolishes the too often heard argument from some academics that
the Soviet government never targeted specific groups for mass murder
on the basis of their ethnicity. By showing the historical errors
inherent in such arguments, he has greatly advanced the discipline
of comparative genocide studies.
A great deal of research still remains to be done regarding this
dark chapter of history. But, Sinner's book has established the
broad outlines of the genocide against the Russlanddeutschen. He
presents the historical narrative of these events and puts them
in the proper theoretical and comparative context. His work is a
very important contribution to both the scholarship on the Russlanddeutschen
and comparative genocide studies.