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Inside Occupied Russia

With the victorious Russian armies continuing their advance, and reclaiming territories that have been occupied by the Germans for more than a year, there is special interest in the character of life inside occupied Russia. We present herewith what is, we believe, the first account to reach America of conditions in these territories. THE EDITORS

THE GERMAN ARMIES have swept over vast areas of Soviet Russia. Besides the regions annexed by Russia in 1939-40 (with a population of about twenty-three and one-half millions), Hitler’s legions now occupy lands that before the invasions were inhabited by more than fifty million people. A part of the population was evacuated in an organized fashion; others followed the Red Army in its retreat. But the overwhelming majority remained. How are these millions living? Most of them have been under Nazi rule for more than a year. Necessarily, some new ways of life must have been established there.

I have before me a file of the Berlin Russian newspaper Novoye Slovo, from May to October 7, 1942. Novoye Slovo aims to be the leading Russian publication and to exercise a decisive influence on the local press in the occupied regions. (It may be worth mentioning that there are about seventy newspapers in the Ukraine alone, none of which is a “private” organ: all publications are issued either by “City Administrations” or—more rarely—directly by the German authorities.)

As to its ideological contents, Novoye Slovo makes an extremely poor impression. Its leading articles, as well as many short stories and memoirs, are mainly directed against the Jews, “Bolshevism being nothing but a form of Jewish supremacy.” Except for two or three incidental phrases, we find no attempt to spread general Nazi ideology among its readers—a significant fact if compared with the attitude of the greater part of the German press, or even of this same Novoye Slovo before the war, when the paper was orienting itself toward the pro-fascist elements in the Russian emigration a d trying to covert the younger generation of Russian émigrés to Nazism.

This seems to indicate that the editors of Novoye Slovo, either consciously or unintentionally, are adjusting themselves to their reading public. It suggests that the population of the occupied regions has proved to be largely immune to fascist propaganda, and that therefore Jew-baiting propaganda has become all the more violent.

Of course, no complete picture of life in occupied Russia can be formed on the basis of these newspapers alone. In particular, no mention is made of acts of hostility toward the occupying authorities, or of Nazi acts of reprisal. The treatment of these subjects is evidently forbidden. Even the attacks on the Jewish population get into the news only indirectly and in fragments. Thus, in early August, it was reported that there were “no more Jews” in Bessarabia. In Odessa also there are “no more Jews.” In Dnepropetrovsk, the census taken at the end of May, 1942, reports only 377 Jews for the entire city. It is easy to conjecture the tragedies hidden between these dry lines of print, especially when we remember that Odessa and Bessarabia where among the greatest Jewish centers in the world.

Local news is mainly devoted to urban patterns of life. In most towns, “municipal administrations” have been set up, sometimes headed by a “mayor” or “city chief” (Nachalnik). Of course, there is no question of elected city officials.

Of particular interest are the dispatches from Gorlovka and Smolensk. In Gorlovka twelve days elapsed between the disappearance of the Soviet administration and the arrival of Germano-Italian troops. “Plundering and anarchy broke out in the uncontrolled city. It is in those days that the first attempt at self-government was made,” we are told, “when the best elements of the population, putting their lives in danger, took in their hands the reins of government and began to organize a new set-up and establish order.” We are not told who these “best elements” were and what kind of “order” they established. To judge from the tone of the report, it may be concluded that a strongly pro-fascist not was struck by this first “self-government.”

But in Smolensk developments seem to have been different. The city had undergone terrible destruction. When the Germans arrived, the situation was more desperate than in most other towns in the occupied zone. This apparently obliged the Germans to show political moderation and leave some scope for local initiative. From innumerable news items and reports we can deduce that an administration was constituted from a section of the local intelligentsia: college professors, physicians and the like. Among these people it is possible that some were collaborationists in the bad sense of the word, but the unusual feature of the Smolensk experiment seems to have been quite otherwise. This volunteer administration as a whole apparently made the attempt to adopt itself to German rule without complete capitulation for the sake of the elementary needs of the local population.

In general, municipal administration has had to face two types of problems in the occupied zone: economic activities on the one hand, and education, sanitation, and social security on the other. Private trade and industry are of a limited nature, while the food supply and the greater part of production (except handicraft) are in the hands of the authorities. In some reports we even come across such phrases as “socialized trade” and “socialized sector.” This point will be treated later.

Work in the fields of education, sanitation and care for the homeless and needy apparently arouses increased interest among local men—a kind of public safety valve in times of stress. The Germans often tolerate such attempts, but the means at disposal of the frequently extremely needy communities are greatly limited. Yet necessity is the mother of invention. In Nikolayev, in order to provide funds, the Department of Social Security has opened a “great industrial and commercial business” which comprises “eleven industrial workshops, three stores, fourteen bar-luncheon-ettes,” etc. In Smolensk, the Regional Mutual Aid Committee (in this case not a municipal, but a regional body) has asked voluntary contributions, and is now organizing “industrial, agricultural and cultural enterprises.” 

Besides such communal activities the local cultural forces find another outlet. Despite extreme suffering and poverty, many men have dedicated themselves to the reconstruction of the scientific institutes destroyed during the first months of war, the rebuilding of schools and colleges from ruins. During the past winter intensive work has continued, often when the temperature was below freezing. Theatres are open, and in some cities (Kiev, Dnepropetrovsk, Odessa, Simferopol) exhibitions of works of art of local origin are organized. 

Sometimes a note of collaborationism can be heard—yet this is exceptional. Thus, in Dnepropetrovsk, a local writer, Konstantin Shvekh, has written a satire entitled “Soviet Kaleidoscope.” Or, in Dnepropetrovsk again, the schools are helping in the collection of non-ferrous-metal scrap for German industry and the army (according to the paper, quire successfully). Or in Pskov, the anniversary of the “Liberation” (i.e., German occupation) is celebrated by a servile speech of Mayor V. M. Cherepenkin, who, “according to the olden Russian fashion,” expresses “threefold gratitude” to “the great leader of the German people,” to “the great German people,” to “the invincible German army” without whose assistance “the Russian people would have ceased to exist as a nation, since liberation from within was impossible.” The Nazi paper naturally registers all such happenings with care. If there are only a few such reports—and, indeed, there are very few—it means that the Cherepenkins are only exceptions.

Obviously reports of the attitude of the population and especially the “intelligentsia” of the occupied regions have reached Moscow, where such accounts have apparently produced a change in the official attitude toward men engaged in public work under the conditions of Nazi rule. The Moscow periodical Novy Mir for August, 1942, contains Leonid Leonov’s play “The Invasion.” Its action takes place in a small Russian town immediately before and during the German occupation. The main characters are the family of an old physician, head of the local hospital, Dr. Talanov. The Germans are about to enter the town. Talanov is given the opportunity to depart in time, but he refuses: “I am no bale of merchandise, nor a piece of art. I was born in this town, and I belong to it, like its fire hose. And in the high degree of this ‘belonging’ I see a particular honor for myself.” In the play the doctor’s decision to stay is present as an act of heroism. A year ago such an interpretation of this behavior in the Moscow press would have been unthinkable. But let us return to the Russian Berlin paper.

The democratic convictions of the population have proved to be considerably deeper, their immunity to Nazi propaganda has shown itself more organic, than was expected in Berlin offices and fascist editorial departments. All this seems greatly to trouble the editorials of Novoye Slovo; reality differs from what “was to be”! One of the staff of the Berlin paper found the courage to publish a sincere account of his experiences in the occupied zone. In early August, Victor Larionvo spent some time in Smolensk and later described his travels in a series of articles in Novoye Slovo. He was amazed by the “high cultural standards of the masses”:

At first contact, you will be amazed by many a thing, and above all by the language which the simple country woman uses in talking to you. The revolution has brought into use many words that before it were a monopoly of the “intellectual” classes, unknown in the factory and in the country…
You will notice no trace of humility in the average Russian, who has acquired some kind of political inward self-consciousness of his own, in most case quite different from the official tenets of the fanatical government.

Larionov was equally struck by the appearance of the Russian peasant-woman, by her “internal force”: “If you look into her suffering, all-understanding eyes, you will be sleepless and restless for a long time.”

“With great amazement,” the author has encountered the seemingly resurrected (only considerably older) type of the “sympathetic representative of the Russian pre-revolutionary intelligentsia,” “a type of Chekhov intellectual no longer known abroad.” But what amazed him still more was the youth and the new intelligentsia:

It is hard to describe the young people and the new intelligentsia in a few words. They form the most intricate, the most complex problem… They do not believe anybody they come across, and, tried by life under the Soviets, they know how to hide their true thoughts and emotions.

Larionov is equally surprised by the average girl from the provincial town:

This will probably come as a surprise to all those who have believed the Soviet girl to be immoral. It so happens that she is a straight, natural, sanely chaste girl even though she has frequently had a hard life. Anti-religious propaganda has not made militant atheists of these young Russian women; it is true that will rarely meet one in the Cathedral—but that is no reflection upon their moral standing. There are other reasons for this fact, reasons that cannot be properly discussed at this time.

The destruction of cities wrought by the war is indirectly brought out in the striking decrease in population figures. Thus in Smolensk, where destruction was 25,000 in October, 1941 (i.e., more than two months after the cessation of warfare in that sector); by the middle of December, it was only 40,000—that is, about 25 percent of the pre-war population. In Nikolayev, the figures are 80,000 for July, 1942—more than nine months after the arrival of the Germans—as compared with 167,000 in 1939. In Dnepropetrovsk, with its pre-war population of over half a million, only 152,000 remained at the end of May, 1942. Only Mariupol, relatively little hurt by the war, showed 167,00 in May, 1942, as compared with 222,000 in 1939. 

As a whole, the urban population has apparently decreased by far more than 50 percent. Of course, this decline was partly due to the planned evacuation of a section of the urban population; but generally the decrease is a symptom of destruction and a spontaneous flight from the towns, as well as the result—in particular in the case of the Jews—of direct annihilation of the population by Hitler's firing squads.

The people are hungry. Hardly any money is being earned. There is very little food. Bread is rationed. After August 1, 1942, bread rations for Kiev consisted of three pounds, five ounces (1,500 grams) a week. In addition, workers and employees received supplementary rations of 500 grams at their places of work. That made up the bulk of the population's food. But even this sounds miraculous in comparison with the regulations before August 1, when a person was allowed only 700 grams a week.

We have no corresponding data for other localities and other commodities, but it is hardly likely that the food rations in Kiev are worse than elsewhere In the Ukraine. The Germans allow no variations on their themes.

The extent of the famine in Kiev can be judged from the development of public (municipal) free soup kitchens: “Special dining-rooms have been opened for the wounded war veterans, pensioners and aged people without relatives. Several dozens of such establishments through Kiev serve about 15,000 persons daily, providing free meals and bread."

This goes on in spite of the extremely precarious state of municipal finances. In Nikolaev, “all workingmen—about 25,000—eat in public dining rooms” (where they pay), 115 suchplaces in this one locality.

Commerce and industry are in a pitiful state. The core of local production consists of handicraft and artisan workshops, as well as small factories. The large enterprises (with the exception of the food industries) are in almost all cases at a standstill. Even the manganese mines of Nikopol, occupied by the Germans m August, 1941, were not working as late as in the summer of 1942. Yet for the German war economy they constitute the most valuable acquisition of the entire Russian campaign. At the time of the occupation of the fields by the Nazis, technical journals had expressed the belief that the exploitation of the ore mines could begin in no more than six months. Nevertheless, Novoye Slovo for July 19, 1942, announces—almost a year after the occupation—only that “reconstruction work is being carried on in the manganese ore mines of Nikopol. The destroyed pits are being reinforced, a ventilation system constructed. Soon the mines of Nikopol will give their first load of manganese ore.” Yet the files of Novoye Slovo up to October 7, 1942,contain no mention of an actual start on the exploitation of Nikopol. 

Of the industrial centers, Mariupol alone seems to have more or less maintained its productive capacity. Mariupol was seized by the Germans on October 8,1941, by a flanking movement, almost without a fight, so that the city remained virtually intact. There “the greatest metallurgical plants are at work—Azovstal and the Ilyich plant as well as the Kuibyshev Chemical Coke Works. A great number of small mills and cooperative associations are also working. The power station is in use, so that the whole city is supplied with electricity.” It may be that the Berlin correspondent has seen things a little too rosily. Yet, even allowing for the reporter’s optimism, there can be no doubt as to the difference in status between Mariupol and most other localities.

The reader will notice that the Mariupol works have maintained their Soviet names. This seems to be an almost universal feature. One report from Dnepropetrovsk mentions the Komintern plant; and one item included the Lenin Works in Odessa (“the former Lenin plant” in the dispatch). In most cases the new Soviet names of cities have been maintained, such as Kirovgrad (formerly Elizavetograd), Dnepropetrovsk (Ekaterinoslav), Voroshilovgrad (Lugansk), etc. On the other hand, Stalino has returned to its former name of Yuzovka, Dneprodzerzhinsk to Kamensk, Ordzhonikidzegrad to Bezhitza. 

Evidently, not deeming themselves able to reconstruct the whole of industry, the Germans are concentrating their attention on food production. The entire control of this branch lies in the hands of German officials. The transfer of control of even the least part to persons is out of the question; only here and are bread mills and smaller food enterprises put municipal control. For the administration of the industry, the Germans have created “centralized ions,” modeled on the Soviet trusts, subordinated to the Department for Food and Agriculture of the Reichskommissariat for the Ukraine.

As an example, let us take the sugar industry. Before the war, of the 189 sugar plants of the USSR, 147 located in the Ukraine. Most of these were partly ruins when they came under German control. Their reconstruction has proceeded with difficulty. For the season of 1941-42, from thirty-five to forty factories operating in the occupied Ukraine. Moreover, “the beets were mostly frozen by the time processing began. Even though not all beets could be dug up, the factories were unable to process the available supply. Therefore, beet roots were transferred to alcohol and plants.” Naturally, a much better production could be organized for the next season: “Out of 17 plants the Regional Association for Kiev has reconstructed 14; out of 19 plants in the Proskurov region, 17 will be ready for use In the next season. All in all, 93 factories will be working, 73 of them being on the right on the bank of the Dnieper.”

Taken purely numerically, the higher number of Plants seems to represent a success. But evidently their output will not be in any way comparable to their pre-war production. This can be illustrated by the following significant example: “the sowing plan” for the Ukraine—the Germans have copied that, too—prepared "^y the Central Agricultural Direction at the Reichskommissariat provides for increases of sown areas for many agricultural commodities, yet the sown area for beets is reduced from 773,000 hectares in 1941 to 350,000 in 1942—a reduction of almost 55percent. “This [temporary] reduction is due solely to reduction is due solely to the bolshevistic methods of destruction of sugar plants in the Ukraine,” the fascist paper gloomily observes.

In the villages, the political and public aspects of life are even more strained than in the cities. The German authorities seem to have abandoned all hope of squeezing anything out of the impoverished cities. This may explain their restraint about intervening in the cities’ local affairs. The situation is different in the country— there the Germans must get their bread. The villages (inparticular, in the Ukraine) must feed a large armyofoccupants and, according to the long-range plan, even feed at least part of Germany.

Sporadically we find reports of district or village administrations, but their importance is far inferior to that of the municipal bodies. In particular, all agricultural questions and their solutions are up to the German Regional Land Offices. Everywhere, “MTS” machine and tractor stations are being maintained or reconstructed, under control of the Regional Land Offices; and special courses for future MTS directors and mechanics are being given at the Dnepropetrovsk University.

That the hopes for millions of tons of Ukrainian wheat have been far from realization is now being openly admitted by the German authorities. In Novoye Slovo of June 17, 1942, we read:

The publication of the German Ministry for Food is warning against undueenthusiasm and hopes concerning theUkraine. Many people see in the black earth zones a country of miracles where wheat and fodder grass grow without labor and care. Many people believe that the agriculture of this richest of countries will make the task of assuring adequate food supplies for the Reich easier for the German peasant. But whoever has seen that country, knows how erroneous such views are! . . . Doubtless, the measures adopted by the German government will eventually make the Ukraine the actual bread basket of Europe, but a certain period of transition must be allowed tor, and until such time the responsibility for the supply of food for our own people remains on the shoulders of the German peasantry.

Before the war, the Nazis placed great hope on the prospect of winning over the Russian peasant by therestoration of individual private ownership of the land. The measures adopted by the German government, however, have never gone beyond nominal abolition of collective farms. They continue to provide for the establishment of a “communal economy” with communal cultivation of the soil and prescribed internal organization, completely controlled by the German Regional Land Offices. To be sure, the farmers are given the prospect of a future transformation from commontilling to “fully or partly individual cultivation.” But such breaking-up of the communal farms can take place only if the Regional Land Offices grant special permission and only “if it can be ascertained that a better crop will be obtained than under conditions of common cultivation.”

This agrarian order was established in February-March, 1942. For the whole Spring and summer, Novoye Slovo had been speaking of “the breaking-up of the kolkhozes,” of the “dissolution of collective farms,” etc. But what really occurred? The collective farms were indeed broken up wherever they included several village; every village is now organizing its own “communal economy" to be given the name of the village, provided it is not some “specifically Soviet name.” Tolerated in the towns, these “specifically Soviet names” are utterly unacceptable to the Nazis on the farms. This is probably a further sign of the greater strain in the rural areas than in the cities.

The communal economy, the Nazi authorities repeat, is only a “temporary” arrangement, to be replaced by an individualistic economy but this has to be “earned.” In the meanwhile, however, here and there steps are being taken nominally in the direction of the private economy, through the designation of individual sections in the common field; although both tilling and harvesting are done in common. Apparently the German authorities themselves are afraid of such a mocking symbolism, only rare mention being made in the press. In return, they celebrate the more triumphantly the return “to the peasants the homestead land to ownership,” which in fact also amounts to a symbolic act, the transfer of peasant lauds from “possession” to “ownership” being of no practical significance whatever at the present time.

Thus in the village as in the city, it seems clear from an analysis of this Russian fascist newspaper that collaboration is making no progress, that neither the food nor raw materials are being obtained for Germany in great quantities, and that the reconciliation of the population to the regime of occupation holds no future promise of success.