04 October 2022

1937-38 Collective Farms & Agriculture Maps

Below are several related to collective farms (kolkhozes) in the Soviet Union. I happened on them while exploring the beta version of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) catalog. 

These are all declassified CIA maps apparently produced from data collected between 1937 into the early 1950s. Some of our German ancestors, of course, lived and worked on these farms up to WWII, and some continued to work on the state farms (sovkhozes), which were more prevalent in Kazakhstan and Central Asia, after being resettled. The maps were produced after the Holodomor, the Great Famine. Perhaps it was a lessons-learned exercise on the part of the U.S.? NARA does not offer any context, explanation or other information about the maps. But among them is a series of maps that offers “computed production” — what could be produced on the farms given the acreage that could be planted and harvested within the estimated dates, and, presumably, if the farm land was managed well. 

While these maps don’t have German colony names on them, I still found them to be interesting. They led me to learn more about Machine Tractor Stations (Машинно-тракторные станции), which I had not heard of before. I almost disregarded that map entirely in favor of the crop maps until I looked into the subject further and realized it was a key part of the bigger story of collective farms.  

During the early days of collectivization (1929-30, Machine Tractor Stations (MTS) were established and tasked to acquire, maintain and provide tractors and other farm machines to collective farms in an area with the idea that it would modernize farming in the Soviet state, especially for peasants who often didn’t own such equipment. However, farming was already modernized in the German colonies, whose farmers owned tractors and other farm implements, particularly in the Mennonite settlements. Waldheim in the Molotschna Colony was home to the I. I. Neufeld & Co., a farm equipment manufacturing company who had been producing farm equipment since 1890. Look at any of the old Volkskalendars and newspapers before the fall of the Russian Empire, and you will see many advertisements for farm equipment for sale, including U.S. manufacturers. The inventory of farm equipment in the MST initially came from (confiscated from) prosperous individual farmers (kulaks) which was then turned around and rented back to the collective farm. Often finding tractors and other equipment in the MTS in disrepair, German farmers ended up resorting to using horses and cattle (for as long as they lasted) to bring in their crops in the early 1930s, leaving some of the crops on the field. MTS also served as political centers that oversaw the farms and made sure their obligations to the state were made in a timely fashion. They also made decisions on the timing of seeding and harvesting. These decisions were not always based on good agricultural practices.

The first MTS was established at the Shevchenko state farm in the late 1920s, which was in the same district as the Beresan colonies. Ulrich Mertens’ German-Russian Handbook notes the demise of the MTS (p. 121) and indicates which colonies had collective farms, but it does not mention where the MTSs were located. Unable to find a definitive list of MTS locations (Russian Wikipedia states they were “created everywhere”), accounts by German-Russian descendants and scholars noted they existed in Speyer (Beresan) and several of the Mennonite Colonies including Orloff (Molotschna), Halbstadt (Molotschna), Waldheim (Molotschna) and Chortitza (Chortitza). The website Wolgadeutch has an article and a map (unfortunately not very readable) about MTS in the Volga German ASSR.

If interested, here is some additional reading material on the topic: 

Below are the maps from 1937–38 along with their original source URLs. I have cleaned up the images, and they are all available along with some later maps and soil maps of Ukraine in a photo collection here. Visit the links below to see and obtain the originals. 


European USSR: Collective Farms, Proportion Services by Machine Tractor Stations, 1937


European USSR: Sown Area by Types of Farms, 1938

Major Areas of Oats in the Soviet Union, 1938. Approximate seeding and harvesting dates.

Major Areas of Rye in the Soviet Union, 1938. Approximate seeding and harvesting dates.

Major Areas of Spring Wheat in the Soviet Union, 1938. Approximate seeding and harvesting dates.

Major Areas of Winter Wheat in the Soviet Union, 1938. Approximate seeding and harvesting dates.

European USSR: Sown Area of Flax, Sunflowers, Sugar Beets, and Hemp, 1938

European USSR: Sown Area of Wheat and Rye, 1938

European USSR: Crops Percentage of Distribution, 1938 (wheat, vegetables, potatoes, forage crops, fibers, oilseeds, sugar beets, tobacco, spices, medicinal crops)

For additional maps like these, see the photo collection here.

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01 October 2022

Traveling with Texan GRs Through Time

1765 map showing Dobrinka.

I had a fun time last weekend traveling back in time with the members of the North Texas Germans from Russia AHSGR/GRHS duel chapter over Zoom. Several members offered up their ancestral colonies prior to the presentation, so I was able to customize it a bit for the group using the colonies to which they are connected.
We divided our time between the Kherson and Saratov provinces. We wandered around some of the Glückstal colonies (Glückstal, Neudorf, Bergdorf, Hoffnungstal), then went down to the Kutschurgan enclave to visit the Mother colonies and a few of the Daughter colonies that were established by 1872 (Strassburg, Baden, Selz, Kandel, Elsass, Mannheim, Johannestal, Georgental, Nikolastal), and then on to a few of the Mothers and Daughters in the Beresan enclave (Rohrbach, Waterloo, Speyer, Johannestal, Worms, Neu Klatscha, Neu Kandel, Uljanowka, Neufeld, Friedenheim, Neu Rohrbach). We went back and found the elusive Chutor Balitsky, which appeared on maps as its Russian name, Saratow. We popped in on Dobrinka circa 1765 over in the Volga enclave. That was fun. Then we went up to Neu Messer and checked out the neighbors in 1910 (Walter, Frank, Kolb, Neu Blazer, Neu Dönhof, Norka, Huck). We found that map's purpose was to show phosphorite deposits. Amazing what you learn when you zoom out.