The Rural-Urban Migration of Russian-Germans and other National Minorities between 1953 and 1982

A research project by Helene Henze (Advised by Prof. Dr. Frank Golczewski)

The history of the Soviet Union is also a history of internal migrations. Its starting point is the decree “On administrative banishment” of August 10, 1922, its first, tragic culmination the repression and the mass deportations of ethnic minorities in the 1930s and 1940s. Those who lived, surviving political “re-education”, forced resettlement and the dire conditions of the work camps, came to be the protagonists of a second wave of internal migration following the death of Stalin. Returning from their banishment into their homelands, or being thence expelled, many joined the steady flux of young people and skilled workers leaving the rural areas for the industrialized, urban centers – a third wave of people on the move pertaining to the modernization of the Soviet Union.

Against the backdrop of the decades under the Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, my thesis examines the response of ethnic minority groups to the rural-urban relocation process. My particular interest lies with the Russian-Germans and the complex interplay of bereavement, normalization and absorption within the social and cultural framework of a newly emerging Soviet society. I look at several factors that affected the social advancement of individual members including the role of social support networks, self-concept and ethnic identity and readiness to emigrate to the FRG. In doing so, my thesis contributes to a new understanding of the Russian-Germans within Soviet history.

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