Sunday, October 14, 2012

Russian-Germans in anti-Nazi Partisan Units

This is the second post on my series on Russian-Germans who fought against the Nazis. While a number fought in the Red Army both before and after the orders to remove them from its ranks, others operated in the anti-Nazi underground. They resisted the Nazi occupation of the USSR by providing information to the Soviet government, engaging in sabotage and diversionary attacks, and engaging in anti-Nazi propaganda and agitation.

Ukraine was the focal point of Russian-German participation in the anti-Nazi underground. In the south west of Ukraine a significant number of Russian-Germans fought in anti-Nazi partisan units operating behind enemy lines. This was particularly true in the region around Odessa even though during 1937-1938 the Stalin regime had shot a full 18% of ethnic German men ages 20 to 59 in the region and 22.3% of ethnic German men ages 30-49 (Krieger, pp. 137-138). In fact a number of Russian-German partisans active in the anti-Nazi underground had relatives repressed in 1937-1938 by the Stalin regime. Vladimir Ottovich  (Antonovich) Mueller was active in the underground organization "Komsomol Patriots" which operated under the leadership of L.I. Katzapov from May 1942 to April 1944. His father Otto Rudolphovich Mueller had been the first secretary of the Karl Liebknecht German National Raion in Nikolaev Oblast Ukraine near Odessa until 1937 when he became one of the tens of thousands of ethnic Germans in Ukraine politically repressed during the "Great Terror." Vladimir Mueller was involved in a clash with the Gestapo on 28 March 1944 and died at age 20 a few days before the Red Army retook Odessa (Solodova, p. 36). Mueller was only one of a fairly large number of Russian-Germans to actively work in the anti-Nazi underground in occupied areas of the USSR.

The most famous group of Russian-German partisans in the Odessa area was led by N.A. Heft from September 1943 to April 1944. Another group in nearby Nikolaev Oblast  was led by V.A. Liagin. This second group included the ethnic Germans Adel Kelem, Emila Dukart, and Magdalena Dukart (Solodova, p. 34).  While Heft's group included V. Burzi and A. Berndt (German and Shulga, p. 31). Heft later led the group "Avantguard" behind German lines in Poland where he and Burzi died fighting against the Nazis in August 1944 (Solodova, p. 34 and German and Shulga, p. 31). The exploits of ethnic German saboteurs and intelligence agents working on behalf of the Soviet Union against the Nazis are quite impressive and have received almost no historical recognition in the West.

The heroism of Russian-Germans in anti-Nazi partisan units even received recognition from the Soviet government.  Moscow bestowed medals upon a number of Russian-German anti-Nazi partisan units. Aleksandr Hermann active in leading partisans in the region of Kalinin and Leningrad and Robert Klein noted for his exploits at the Dnepr in the fall of 1943 even received the award Hero of the Soviet Union (German and Shulga, p. 31). The ability of ethnic Germans to operate behind Nazi lines made them a valuable asset to the USSR and it is surprising that there were so many Russian-Germans who served in this capacity in light of the extremely brutal treatment of the group in general by the NKVD.

Of special note only because of his name is the doctor Andrei Adolphovich Pohl, a doctor who was an assistant at the surgical clinic at the Odessa Medical Institute.  He led a small group of medical workers in the anti-Nazi underground and joined a partisan detachment in Lenin Raion in April 1943 at age 37. This detachment operated in the village of Krivaya Balka from April 1942 to April 1944. Interestingly enough despite his very German surname and patronymic, Pohl's documents identified his nationality as Russian. (Solodova, p. 36). The changing of his nationality to avoid punishment at the hands of the Soviets was not unusual among Russian-Germans fighting against the Nazis. But, what is rather unusual is his failure to change his name which was a dead give away of his ethnic origins even if his nationality was listed as Russian.

 A number of Russian-Germans in the Red Army had changed their names as well as their nationality to avoid removal. These included Voledomar Karlovich Wentzel who changed his name to Vladimir Kirillovich Ventsov and was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union, Peter Lewen who changed his name to Levin, Buegehl who changed his name to Boichenko, and G. Richter who became Smirnov. In some cases like in the case of Richter Soviet military counter intelligence found out their real identities and sent them away to labor camps. In other cases such as Paul Schmidt who changed his name to Ali Akhmetov and his nationality to Azerbaijani they were allowed to return to their original German names (German and Shulga, pp. 30-31). The phenomenon of ethnic Germans passing for Russians or other nationalities by changing their names is still not well researched. The process by which they were able to forge documents and convince superior officers that they were not German or not to turn them in if they knew is still not well known.

The ethnic Germans from the USSR who fought against the Nazis as partisans such as Aleksandr Hermann, Robert Klein, and N.A. Heft played an important role in the defeat of Nazi Germany on the Eastern Front. These men and a few women have received very little attention because they are proof that the charges of treason against the entire Russian-German population are false. Despite the brutal treatment of their families, neighbors, and even themselves at the hands of the Stalin regime they bravely fought and sometimes died fighting against the Nazis in defense of their Soviet Homeland


A. German and I. Shulga, "'Ne byvat' fashistkoi svin'e v nashem sovetskom ogorode': Sovetskie nemtsy na fronte i v tylu vraga," Rodina: Rossiiskii istoricheskii zhurnal, May 2010, pp. 28-31.

V. Krieger, Rein, Volga, Irtysh: Iz istorii nemtsev Tsentral'noi Azii, Almaty: Daik-Press, 2006.

V.V. Solodova, "Dokumental'nye istochniki ob uchastii ethnicheskikh nemtsev v organizovannom dvizhenii Soprotivleniia na vremenno okkupirovannoi territorii Odesskoi i Nikolaevskoi oblastei 1941-1944 gg." in A.A. German (ed.), Grazhdanskaia identichnost' i vnuternnii mir rossiiskikh nemtsev v gody Velikoi Otechestvennoi Voiny i v istoricheskoi pamiati potomkov, Moscow: MSNK-Press, 2011, pp. 32-39.

1 comment:

The Miller/Beatons said...

Very interesting, especially in light of names. My grandfather's uncle, Wilhelm Miller (who had a son named Otto) was a lay minister, teacher, & writer who was taken away in 1937 & never heard from again. I believe the family was in Crimea though, & not Odessa, but I'm not 100% certain.

I am always curious if someone in my extended family was involved with interesting matters back in Russia. Not unusually, our family in the US lost contact with many of the family in Russia during the 20s & 30s.