Russian emigration in Germany – Post 1917

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Russian emigration in Germany – Post 1917

Many Russian emigrants left Germany in 1933, or soon after; among them were Simon Dubnov, Grigorii Landau, Semen Frank, Leonid Pasternak, Roman Gul’ and Vladimir Nabokov. Many others put their faith in the anti-Bolshevism of the new regime and did not reject it until much later, as was the case with the philosophers Ivan Il’in and Boris Vysheslavtsev. A good number offered their services as Russian National Socialists to various organizations of the new order – not always to their satisfaction, as the Third Reich viewed the emigrants as moaners and schemers, an egoistical bunch who needed watching and bringing into line. But a good many of them collaborated with the Nazi authorities up to the bitter end, while dozens of those who had once sought refuge in Berlin were later hunted down and killed all over Europe – this was the fate of Mikhail Gorlin and Raisa Bloch in Paris, and of Simon Dubnov in Riga, to name but three.

For the majority of the emigrants the onset of Nazi rule merely meant that life went on, with community activities, functions, balls, anniversaries, job-hunting and the like. Even Russian Jews in Berlin were long unaware of the seriousness of their situation. In 1936 the ‘Russian Intermediary Office’ was reconstituted under the direction of General Biskupskii, above all, in order to sort out the rival emigrant organizations. It also meant that it had to accept a number of language directives, such as those issued after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939 and the invasion of Poland, under which they had to agree that the pact was entirely in the interest of the Russian people.

The decisive turning point did not, of course, come until the start of the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. Now many emigrants saw themselves presented with the opportunity to return home and to turn the slogan of the ‘anti-Bolshevik struggle’ into deeds – alongside the Wehrmacht, the SS and the Special Units.

A good number of emigrants collaborated with the Germans in order to work towards this goal. Russian emigrants in countries occupied by the Wehrmacht reported to the Russian Intermediary Offices in Paris, Warsaw and Brussels, took the oath of loyalty to the Third Reich (as Generals Golovin, Kusonskii and von Lampe did) and then reported to their units, while suspicious or uncooperative members of the emigrant community were harassed and sometimes even imprisoned. The attitude of the German authorities to the emigrants was, though, inconsistent and ambivalent: on the one hand the emigrants were needed, on the other hand they were regarded as unreliable – after all, it was Hitler’s watchword that ‘none but Germans should be allowed to bear arms.’ The deployment of Russian emigrants was therefore subject to various limitations: emigrants of the first generation and former members of the Red Army found it difficult to agree on things, some German organizations had great suspicion of the ‘Russians’ as such, while the competing plans of the Germans lacked uniformity. The idea of forming a Russian Liberation Army under General Andrei Vlasov, who had been captured in July 1942, was postponed time and again because of German anxiety about arming foreigners, and it was not deployed until spring 1945. Emigrants from the inter-war years joined the Vlasov army and the Wehrmacht as translators, specialists and commanders of Russian voluntary units; about 1,500 Russian emigrants from France joined the Wehrmacht, while ca. 1,200 from Germany were assigned to it as translators. As a precautionary measure lists were put together of emigrant experts who would be able to take part in the administration and reconstruction of the occupied territories. Hundreds of Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian and other emigrants worked as translators in the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, the Organizations Todt and Speer, in German counter-intelligence and the Reich Propaganda Ministry. Senior officers from the White Russian emigration (Generals Arkhangel’skii, von Lampe, Dragomirov, Golovin, Kreiter, Cossack atamans Abramov, Balabin and Shkuro) joined the Vlasov movement, as did representatives of new organizations that had only been formed in exile, but this too was not without its problems, as the suspicious Gestapo followed the emigrants’ every step.

Some of the leading representatives of emigration who collaborated with the Wehrmacht were captured after the victory of the Red Army in the East, deported and tried in Moscow or Kharkov, and subsequently executed. Those who could flee to the Western zones of Germany after the War disappeared in the second wave of refugees.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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