17 May 2018

German Captured Documents Collection

There is nothing like working with a primary source.

A primary source is the original of something, be it an object, a photograph, a document, a firsthand account of an event, object, person, or work of art, presented without comment, explanation, or interpretation. Primary sources include historical documents,  legal documents, letters, eyewitness accounts, interviews, maps, fieldwork, results of experiments, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, audio and video recordings and art objects. Modern-day primary sources also include emails, blogs, tweets, YouTube videos, posts to social media that get dated and archived instantaneously.  

Digitally captured, nothing ever really goes away on the internet. Physical primary sources are a different story. Digitization efforts of these sources as a part of their overall preservation plan enables them to be made available for anyone to use from anywhere.  This is important.  Support the efforts of your local libraries, historical societies and archives.

In March of this year, I started looking for Karl Stumpp's village files he compiled in Nazi-occupied Soviet Ukraine from 1942 through early 1943 as a part of the newly created Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories (Reichsministerium für die besetzten Ostgebiete), or RMO, headed by Alfred Rosenburg. I had seen many second and third-hand references to these documents in books, scholarly papers, even on the Odessa Digital Library. There were lists of names, dates and places.  In each case, their contents were delicately described, coupled with commentary about their origins so as not to terribly upset an audience of eager genealogists learning, perhaps for the first time, that their ancestors' names may have appeared in Nazi German documents.

I wanted to see the originals to find out what else was in them.

Maybe it was luck, or maybe my timing and interest coincided at just the right moment, but I found microfilms of the original documents online. In 1983, the Library of Congress' Manuscript Division microfilmed the collection, "German Captured Documents Collection, Reports from Ethnic German Communities in Ukraine 1940-44,and at some point (not sure when) FamilySearch made all but one film available online. The last film may still be in the process of being digitized. According to WorldCat, it is the only online repository of these documents. Remarkably lucky, I am. 

Skimming through the films the comfort of my own home (and backyard), to my surprise, I saw maps. And not just a few. I dropped everything and began indexing the films so that I could easily get back to certain sections and began downloading and piecing together the maps. These were early versions of the villages and areas that would become part of Stumpp's legacy as a German Russian genealogist, ethnographer and cartographer.  His maps are among the sources used in the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations project.  Being able to see how they originated before they were re-drawn post-WWII (sans Nazi Party symbolism) and became the copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy of a map you can buy and hope isn't too distorted from all the copying... well, you can see how this would matter a great deal to a project like this.

Map of the colonies in the Kronau-Orloff (Zagradovka) area, June 1942. 

While I'm certainly not the first to peruse or index these documents, my focus is on places and not persons. Person indexes have been dealt with by multiple groups long before me, and they are readily available for free on Odessa Digital Library and within the genealogy databases for members of AHSGR and GRHS, and likely other places, too. 
Map of the location of Friedensfeld and distances
to nearby colonies.  26 August 1942

As for places, there are officially 99 villages that have relatively complete reports, including plat maps and area maps showing distances to other nearby villages.  But there are in the neighborhood of 300 of villages mentioned in the documents.  There are many Streudeutsche (stray or scattered Germans) entries made for Germans who didn't live in a village, or lived in a non-German village. Russian cities were included if they had a German population. One of Stumpp's missions was to record all ethnic Germans living in areas in Soviet Ukraine, so the non-German villages were recorded. His interest was purportedly genealogical.  The stated mission of the RMO was something different – more along the lines of liberating Germans from the Soviets – and reality, it was something entirely different.  Some has been written about how Stumpp's project for the RMO inadvertently documenting the elimination of Jews across Ukraine by the German SS. See the bottom of this post for some reading material on this subject. 

Stumpp had two clerical offices of operation: Dnjepropetrowsk (Dnipro) on the Dnieper River and Shitomir (Zhytomyr) in the southeastern part of Volhynia. Work done in the first several months of 1942 was fairly complete. They even used standard printed forms to complete, and some of it was even typewritten.  Later, the work became more hasty, particularly when they were forced to retreat entirely into Volhynia. The villages there are mostly tabulations and not the standard forms they were using earlier. 

Over the course of the next few months, I'll be posting about the villages and including the maps. Until then, I'm making my working spreadsheet publicly available so that anyone who wants to view their village's information before I get to it will have a much easier time finding it.  There are three tabs along the top of the sheet: About the films, Village index and Maps.  The first two have links to the films and to the villages on the Google maps.  Eventually, the Maps tab will have links to the cleaned up and captioned versions of every map in the films. For now, there's a list of those that are awaiting captioning. 

The areas included in the village files are the following: Kronau, Zagradovka, Chortiza, Early Black Sea, Kherson, Jewish Ag Colonies, Yekaterinoslav, plus two areas in Volhynia: Korosten and Shitomir.  Not every village in these areas is included. Click on the map link for a village to make sure that it is actually your village. Remember, many villages in different areas had the same names.  

To view the films, you will need to have a FamilySearch account, but it's free and pretty innocuous. I don't like to include any sources that require anyone to have to have an account or membership (Facebook, memberships to genealogy societies, premium online services, etc.), but this being a repository of the material which has no cost and has no advertising, an exception was made.

While I am taking time to piece the maps together like puzzles (some have a dozen or more pieces to them), straightening them, fixing the exposure and indicating north if it wasn't included, one thing I am not doing historically sanitizing the map images. Nearly every page is rubber stamped with SS image of an eagle indicating the project name and the command. Some of the area maps include drawings of of iron crosses or swastikas indicating which were villages were German. These are a part of the historical record of the primary source, so none of these are being removed.  

I'm working back and forth between indexing, linking and updating the master data files for the online maps and stitching maps together. The former I can do from anywhere (mostly from my backyard, or in front of the TV binging on Better Call Saul or watching IndyCar races). The latter has me sitting at a desk with huge monitor.  

Again, this is my working document.  Subject to change, it's arranged based on what I need in order to pull pieces of data  from the films for this project and is not intended to provide all of the information or nuances of the materials contained within the films.  This is a fairly large undertaking, but I think it's worth the effort, not only to validate the data that's already presented in this project, but also being able to attach a primary source directly to the villages.  Already, there are numerous updates and additions that will be posted soon on the maps. 

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