Category Archives: migration

Kazakh Pastoral Cycles

From Winter Pasture, by 李娟 (Astra Publishing, 2021), Kindle pp. 31-32:

IN FABLES, THE FINEST pastures are the ones where “milk flows like a river and skylarks build nests to warm their eggs atop the sheep’s woolly backs”—a promise of peace and plenty. The reality, however, is more one of desolation, loneliness, and helplessness. In reality, year after year, everyone must submit to nature’s will, oscillating endlessly between south and north. In spring, the herders follow the melting of the snow northward, and come autumn, they are driven slowly back to the south. They are forever departing, forever saying goodbye. In spring, lambs are delivered; in summer, they are fattened; in autumn, they breed; in winter, they are pregnant again. The lifetime of a sheep is but a year in the lifetime of a herder, but what about the lifetime of a herder? In this homeland stretching over six hundred miles, in every secret wrinkle on the earth’s surface, every nook and cranny in which shelter can be sought … youth, wealth, love, and hope, everything is swallowed up.

In the end, this wilderness will be left behind. The herders will no longer be its keepers. The cattle and sheep will no longer tread its every surface. The grass seeds that drift onto the earth in autumn will no longer feel the force of stomping hooves that bury them deep into the soil. The masses of manure that fertilized their growth will no longer fall on them. This land will remain forever open, majestically alone in its vastness. The wilderness will be left behind.

While to the north, along the banks of the Ulungur, vast tracts of badlands will be cultivated into farmland. Crops will greedily suck on the solitary river. Chemical fertilizers will engorge luxuriant grasses with fats and juices, more than enough to nourish the livestock over the long and cold winters. What better option is there?

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Translators’ Note on Li Juan’s Winter Pasture

From Winter Pasture, by 李娟 (Astra Publishing, 2021), Kindle pp. vii-viii:

Li Juan’s experiences in the winter pasture have her traveling, living, and working with a family of Kazakh herders, who along with their new neighbors are carrying on a way of life their people have practiced in the region for centuries. With the coming of each season, they migrate with their families, yurts, and livestock to the pastureland that will offer the most favorable climate and the most grass for the coming months, moving north to higher altitudes from winter to spring to summer, and south, back to lower altitudes, from summer to fall to winter. But the year that Li Juan has chosen to accompany these nomadic pastoralists, she is told on more than one occasion, will be the last. After millennia of grazing vast swathes of land, moving from one spot to the next to allow for the grasses’ recovery and regrowth, overgrazing has now officially been deemed a problem. The reason for this—and the herders’ feelings about it—remains unclear. Regardless, the herders must settle. They will henceforth live along the Ulungur River, around what have long been the spring and fall pastures, where the government has called for land to be reclaimed for cultivation and for aid to be given to the newly relocated herders to help them adjust to their new lives.

Another age-old Kazakh tradition, besides transhumance, is handicraft and textiles. Specifically, felt-based textiles. Living with a hundreds-strong flock of sheep means ready access to plenty of wool, which the herders use to make thread and felt. They use these materials to make carpets, wall hangings, mats, bags, and bands (bau, бау) for securing parts of the yurt frame together or to the ground. Various examples of these felt products feature in Li Juan’s daily life on the winter pasture, spread, hung, and piled throughout the earthen burrow. In Chinese, Li Juan simply refers to them as “wall hangings” and “patterned rugs” or “patterned mats,” depending on which surface they decorate or cover. In this English translation, we have opted to include the romanized versions of their Kazakh names. Syrmak (сырмак), which are used as both carpets and wall hangings, are made by quilting ornamental patterns of multicolored felt onto a plain white, brown, or gray felt—a kiiz (кииз). Tekemet (текемет) are carpets made by pressing and rolling dyed-wool patterns. Ayak-kap (аяк-кап) are small embroidered felt bags, and tus-kiiz (тускииз) are cotton wall hangings that bear intricate patterns embroidered using tambour stitch. Of the process for making these, Li Juan provides only glimpses—Sister-in-law’s questionable dyeing process or Sayna sketching a ram’s horn pattern with soap to teach her young daughter how to stitch—so we encourage readers to look up how the finished products look. The same goes for the foods and the central tablecloth and main seating area (dastarkhān, дастарқан), for which Li Juan simply gives Chinese equivalents, but for which we have added the Kazakh. On the map that follows, the place-names used are, on the whole, Kazakh renderings, for examples: Dopa in Kazkh, Dure in pinyin, 杜热镇; Akehara in Kazakh, Akehala in pinyin, 阿克哈拉村. Note also that this map is an illustration of the area, rather than a precise representation, and not to scale.

Many thanks to Altinbek Guler for providing translations into English and transliterations into the Latin alphabet of all the Chinese renderings of Kazakh found in the original text.

Lastly, it might help with navigating the narrative to know that since the regions where Li Juan lives, in her everyday life and during her stay with the Cumas, are a confluence of Chinese and Kazakh culture, some of the placenames in this translation are in romanized Kazakh and others in Mandarin pinyin. Also, the characters might be one year younger than stated in the book. We are unsure if their age is based on the Gregorian calendar or the East Asian reckoning, which puts a person at the age of one at birth.

—Jack Hargreaves and Yan Yan, August 2020

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Repatriating Okinawan People and Culture, 1946

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~3760:

In addition to supporting the remaining Okinawans and handling the day-to-day management of the refugee camps, APO [Association for People from Okinawa (Okinawa Dōkyōkai Rengō-kai)] leaders prepared for returning to and rebuilding the ravaged Ryukyu Islands. For instance, knowing that the public library had burned down and that Okinawa had lost most of its books and documents during the war, Kabira Chōshin and other APO members initiated a campaign to collect books to donate to the new government of Okinawa. Taihoku Imperial University held numerous books related to the history and traditions of the Ryukyu Islands, some of which were historical and extremely valuable. Kabira, who had audited classes at the university, was desperate to bring them back to Okinawa and establish the new public library. However, the university, which had already been ceded to the KMT government, did not allow him to do so.

Nevertheless, he did not give up on the most precious historical book held by the university, Previous Documents of Successive Generations (Rekidai hōan), an official compilation of diplomatic documents of the Ryukyu Kingdom Government. Even though this book is one of the most historically important records of the Ryukyu Kingdom, an original copy had been transferred to Tokyo when Okinawa Prefecture was established and was subsequently destroyed in the Great Kantō Earthquake in 1923. Another copy kept in Okinawa had been destroyed by fire when the public library burned down during the war. The copy held by Taihoku Imperial University was based on the original copy that had been in the Okinawa Prefectural Library. Kabira asked a fellow Okinawan to transcribe it while he was waiting for a repatriation vessel and managed to bring it back to Okinawa. Furthermore, Kabira requested that Japanese professors donate their privately owned books upon their repatriation. Because each Japanese repatriate was not allowed to bring more than two bags on boarding the LSTs (landing ships, tank), many professors reacted positively to Kabira’s request and gave away numerous books on Okinawa-related subjects. In that way, Kabira and other APO members collected thousands of books. Kabira received special permission from the KMT government to bring these tens of thousands of books to Okinawa when he repatriated in December 1946. These books composed a major part of the Okinawa Central Library, which was reestablished in 1947. Although Kabira’s cultural activity … did not gain popular support from his fellow Okinawans, he made a great contribution to the reconstruction of Okinawa’s cultural life by transferring colonial Taiwan’s cultural assets to his home islands.

In June 1946, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers finally revealed a plan to repatriate some 150,000 Okinawans to the Ryukyu Islands from Japan, Taiwan, China, and the Mariana Islands. Accordingly, the US military government set up two camps for this great multitude of repatriates: Camp Kuba-saki and Camp Costello, commonly known as Camp Yin’numi. On August 17, Camp Kuba-saki officially received a total of 556 repatriates from Kumamoto, Kagoshima, and Miyazaki Prefectures on Kyushu. From that time onward, ships began to travel more frequently from Mainland Japan to Okinawa and Amami-Ōshima in the northern archipelago of the Ryukyus. Between August and December 1946, a total of 139,536 repatriates from Mainland Japan arrived in Okinawa, Amami-Ōshima, and the Miyako Islands.

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Taiwan Okinawans as Creole Japanese

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~3336:

Okinawan migrants in Taiwan came from diverse and mixed backgrounds; some were descendants of Chinese immigrants, and others were of Okinawan and Japanese ancestry. Furthermore, increasing numbers of second- and third-generation Okinawans grew up in the Japanese settler community in Taiwan as more and more Okinawan immigrants settled in the colony. They were creole Japanese who did not really possess a strong Okinawan ethnic identity. Some of these second- and third-generation immigrants had never visited their parents’ home islands, while others moved frequently between Taiwan and Okinawa. Nevertheless, they were collectively identified as “Okinawans” and had to endure negative racial stereotyping and prejudice in Taiwan. To survive discrimination, many Okinawan migrants sought to pass for Japanese by changing their names and transferring their registered addresses to other prefectures. The majority of Okinawan migrants considered assimilation mandatory for success in their imperial careers in Taiwan.

Yet there was also a conscious effort to recover Okinawan pride in Taipei. In the 1940s, the journal Nantō was published through the collaborative efforts of Japanese and Okinawan residents in both Okinawa and Taiwan. The Taihoku Broadcasting Station broadcast a roundtable in which prominent scholars and Okinawan migrants discussed Okinawan history and culture. Kabira Chōshin, a proud Okinawan and one of the editors of Nantō, conceived the idea for this radio program after his Okinawan classical music program met with disapprobation from fellow Okinawan migrants. The Okinawan cultural movement in Taipei, which was supported by some Japanese, did not find many adherents among Okinawan migrants, but it did provide the impetus for another movement that developed after World War II.

The link for Kabira goes to Japanese Wikipedia, whose name Google Translate automatically butchers into ‘Kabira morning monkey’. (His name has no entry in English Wikipedia.) The name 川平 ‘river plain/flat’ is read Kawahira in several Japanese placenames, but in Okinawa it is more commonly reduced to Kabira, where it is also the name of a bay on Ishigaki Island. Kabira’s given name 朝申 shares its first syllable Chō with his younger brother’s given name 朝清. It’s the same character found in the old name for unified Korea, 朝鮮, often translated ‘Morning Calm’. The second syllable 申 Shin does not literally mean ‘monkey’, but it marks one of the Earthly Branches in Chinese numerology that often coincides with the position of the monkey in the zodiac. So 申 can be read Saru ‘monkey’ in the female name 申代 Saruyo (far more commonly read Nobuyo or Shinyo) or in the literary term 申楽 Sarugaku to describe a style of ridiculous impersonation in Noh.

The Kabira brothers in Taiwan assembled a large set of Okinawan cultural artifacts that later helped replace some of the key cultural legacies destroyed in the horrendous Battle of Okinawa.

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Okinawan Médecins Avec Frontières

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~2765:

The imperial schooling of Okinawan youths in Taiwan reflects Okinawa’s liminal position in the Japanese colonial empire. Taiwan had benefited from heavy Japanese investment in colonial development, whereas Okinawa was left behind and marginalized within the Japanese Inner Territory. The Medical Training School was the first and most eminent medical school in Okinawa before World War II, but it was poorly equipped and had insufficient human resources. In contrast, the support the colonial government of Taiwan provided for medical education enabled Taiwan Medical College to quickly become the top educational institution for the Taiwanese. Nevertheless, Okinawan youths were able to take advantage of their “Japanese” status in obtaining imperial schooling. Taiwan Medical College opened its doors to Japanese students in 1919 and allowed Taiwanese students to enroll alongside them in 1922. Bringing the Taiwanese into tertiary institutions with Japanese students reinforced the fact that they were in direct competition with the Japanese and at a disadvantage because they were not native speakers of Japanese. Instead, Okinawan youths gained the most from the policy allowing Taiwanese students to attend medical school alongside their Japanese peers. Taiwan Medical College and the Specialized Division for Medicine paved the way for Okinawans to become medical doctors without incurring great debt. Indeed, Okinawa’s medical development cannot be understood without understanding the circulation of people and knowledge beyond the metropole-colonies divide. Modern medicine in Okinawa was, on the one hand, marginalized within the scientific network of the Japanese Empire; on the other, Okinawans’ liminality allowed them to gain the greatest benefit from the imperial school network.

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Upwardly Mobile Maids in Prewar Japan

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~1980:

Of the total number of Japanese domestics in Taiwan, 27 percent came from Okinawa Prefecture. The October 1924 edition of Yaeyama News also reported that the Yaeyama Islands were known as a “supplier of maids” to Japanese settler communities in Taiwan: “It seems that the number of Yaeyama girls migrating to Taiwan has increased rapidly of late. Each ship carries more than ten migrants to Taiwan; many of them live as apprentice maids (jochū bōkō [女中奉公]). As people associate maids (gejo [下女]) with Yaeyama girls, Yaeyama is now known as a supplier of maids.”

Domestic service has a long history in Japan. It remained one of the most popular occupations for Japanese women until the 1940s. Before the word jochū became common in the early twentieth century, a domestic was usually called gejo in Japanese, which literally means “under woman.” Until the nineteenth century, a young Japanese woman did not necessarily become a domestic in order to make money. Rather, she worked for an upper-class family as an apprentice servant so that she could learn proper manners and etiquette. By practicing good manners and having a solid grounding in traditional Japanese etiquette, a young Japanese woman from a less prosperous background could prepare herself for marriage. This folk educational custom continued to be practiced even after the state introduced universal education.

The nature of the female apprenticeship was transformed during the interwar period. Instead of becoming an apprentice servant, a young woman could go to technical school or advanced girls’ school (kōtō jogakkō [高等女学校]) and learn cooking and sewing before marriage. Domestic service was no longer the only way for a woman to earn a respectable living. She could take better-paying jobs in an office or factory. As women came to have more educational and professional options in the interwar period, domestic service lost its appeal both as an apprenticeship and as an occupation.

However, the demand for domestics increased in the early twentieth century. Until the nineteenth century, domestics were employed mostly by upper-class households. With the rapid economic development and growth of the interwar period, a new middle class emerged, and its members became the employers of domestics. Of the 10,589,403 working women in Japan in 1930, 697,116 were domestics. A majority of these domestic workers are supposed to have been maids (jochū). Domestics were also in great demand in colonial Taiwan, where government officials, freelance workers, and merchants composed a large majority of the Japanese migrant population. The Taiwan Daily News reported in 1923 that domestics were in high demand and that the Taihoku [Taipei] Employment Agency was listing their average wages at fifteen to twenty-five yen.

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How Okinawans Emigrated to Taiwan

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~1800:

Okinawans usually did not go to colonial Taiwan through an intermediary. Instead, they relied on their network of family or friends. It was not unusual for Okinawan youths without work experience to arrive in Taiwan not knowing what they were going to do. Moreover, the immigrants frequently changed workplaces. It would indeed be difficult to track each immigrant’s career in Taiwan because it was common to see an unskilled immigrant start out as a shop boy or factory laborer and eventually secure work as a government employee or a policeman after living in Taiwan for several years. Employers might deplore the tendency to change jobs frequently, but this shows the Okinawan immigrants’ agency and willingness to advance socially in the colony.

Enrolling in evening school was a common means of achieving social mobility for young Okinawan male migrants who could not afford a secondary education at home.

Nevertheless, for Okinawan migrants in Taiwan, becoming an apprentice was the most common method of acquiring a professional skill and advancing their careers. Japan’s decchi [丁稚] system, which developed in the shogunal period, was similar to the Western apprenticeship and played an important role in the Japanese commercial world until the nineteenth century. It originally assumed a feudalistic relationship between a master and an apprentice, rather than a contractual relationship. The apprentice owed his master long-term loyalty because his master treated him like a family member. This custom persisted well into the early twentieth century. Although it became less feudalistic in the twentieth century, and an apprentice was less likely to serve a master for a long time, the practice still maintained an element of folkloric education.

Through apprenticeships, Okinawan youth migrants who could not afford higher education at home acquired the knowledge and skills they needed to raise their social positions.

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Okinawan Emigration Destinations

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~840:

Before migration to the US mainland became popular in Okinawa, anti-Japanese sentiment spread across the West Coast, where the Japanese population had increased rapidly at the turn of the twentieth century. After the enactment of the Gentlemen’s Agreement in 1908, Okinawans were unable to enter the United States as migrant laborers. Thus, very few Okinawans followed the thousands of Japanese who had migrated to the US mainland. The few who did so during this period were youths pursuing higher education. Some went to the US mainland via Hawai‘i, Canada, and Mexico; a few traveled directly from Okinawa. As the Gentlemen’s Agreement allowed only families of migrants to enter for the purpose of reuniting with husbands and fathers, some female Okinawans arranged to immigrate and join their grooms in the United States as picture brides.

Elderly Okinawans have a saying that best sums up these migration trends: “The richest people were able to immigrate to South America; people with some money migrated to the Philippines; and the poorest worked on mainland Japan.” Indeed, when it proved too difficult to enter the United States as migrant workers, the Japanese turned to South America—especially Brazil—and the Philippines as alternative destinations. Later, the South Sea Islands [Micronesia] became popular as the South Seas Development Company (Nan’yō Kōhatsu) targeted and recruited Okinawan laborers for its sugar industry. While Brazil, the Philippines, and the South Sea Islands were under different governments and Okinawan immigrants there worked in different industries, there are some commonalities among them. First, the initial immigrants in these countries worked in manufacturing and commercial crop industries such as coffee (Brazil), abaca [aka “manila hemp”]  (the Philippines), and sugarcane (the South Sea Islands). Second, Okinawan immigrants accounted for the majority of Japanese immigrant communities in these countries despite their treatment as “second-class Japanese” and “the other Japanese.”

Japan sent the first indentured migrant farmworkers to Brazil in 1908. Okinawans accounted for more than 40 percent, 325 of the 781 immigrants, of that inaugural group of economic immigrants to Brazil. In fact, many of the first Okinawan immigrants left the plantations to which they were allocated shortly after their arrival. This gave a negative impression to both the Japanese and Brazilian governments. In 1913, the Japanese government refused to accept Okinawans wishing to travel to Brazil as indentured laborers, citing their propensity to leave the plantations and their cultural difference from Japanese workers from the other prefectures, but when migration agencies were unable to recruit enough laborers from the other prefectures, Okinawans were once again permitted to go to Brazil as indentured migrant workers. However, as was the case in the United States, Okinawan migration to Brazil was prohibited in 1919, and only immigrants who were currently in Brazil were allowed to send for their families.

In addition to Brazil, Okinawa sent a significant number of immigrants to other Latin American countries. For instance, Peru quickly became one of the most popular destinations for Okinawan migrant workers after the first group of Okinawan immigrants arrived there in 1899. Between 1899 and 1941, Okinawa sent 11,461 immigrants to Peru, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the total number of Japanese immigrants. Although the immigrants were initially employed on plantation farms, many later moved to urban areas, where they became grocery store or restaurant owners.

Similarly, most Japanese immigrants to Argentina were Okinawans. This is despite the fact that Japanese immigrants had been arriving in Argentina since 1910. There were 1,831 Okinawans in Argentina in 1940, accounting for approximately 45 percent of the Japanese population in the country. Not all Okinawans in Argentina had migrated directly from Okinawa; in actuality, many ended up in Argentina after traveling to Brazil and Peru. In Argentina, many Okinawans initially found work as factory laborers or porters. A sizeable number eventually set up small businesses such as coffee shops and laundries.

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Filed under Argentina, Brazil, Canada, economics, Hawai'i, industry, Japan, labor, Mexico, Micronesia, migration, nationalism, Peru, Philippines, U.S.

Defining Japan’s Southern Periphery

From Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan, by Hiroko Matsuda (U. Hawaii Press, 2018), Kindle loc. ~415:

Before proceeding, I should clarify the usages of the key terms in this volume, including “Ryukyu,” “Okinawa,” “Mainland Japan,” “Inner Territory,” and “Outer Territories.” The geographical name “Ryukyu” appears in Chinese historical documents such as the Book of Sui, which was written in the seventh century. In the fifteenth century, “Ryukyu” became the official name of the kingdom unifying the archipelagos of Amami, Okinawa, Miyako, and Yaeyama, known today as the Ryukyu Islands or Southwest Islands. Under the Ryukyu Kingdom’s rule, the name “Okinawa” indicated the main island of Okinawa and surrounding small islands. In 1872, Japan’s Meiji government changed the kingdom’s status to that of a domain (han) by fiat; the government then declared the abolishment of the kingdom and the establishment of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879. However, as Wendy Matsumura explains, the word “Okinawa” is not a neutral geographical title referring to a Japanese prefecture but a term that implies a cultural community distinct from the Japanese nation-state. This volume loosely defines “Okinawans” as people whose families and relatives originated in Okinawa Prefecture or the Ryukyu Islands. The term “Okinawans” therefore encompasses people of diverse backgrounds, including those born in Okinawa Prefecture and those born and raised in Taiwan whose parents were born in Okinawa Prefecture. In fact, people from the Yaeyama and Miyako Islands often distinguish themselves from “Okinawans” even though they are part of Okinawa Prefecture, identifying themselves as people of Yaeyama and Miyako rather than as Okinawans. Nonetheless, in this volume, the term “Okinawans” includes people with Yaeyama and Miyako backgrounds unless otherwise indicated.

Likewise, in this volume, the term “Mainland Japan” loosely indicates the islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. As the following chapters reveal, the word “Japanese” occasionally includes and excludes “Okinawan.” In other words, the social and cultural categories of “Japanese/the others” and “Okinawan/the others” have been persistent, although the categories are malleable and changeable. Mainland Japan is geographically ambiguous, but the notion of such a place suggests that Okinawans are “the others,” as Mainland Japan was considered dominant over the local islanders. In Okinawa Prefecture, Mainland Japan has customarily been called the “Inner Territory” (Naichi). However, to avoid confusion, this volume defines the Inner Territory as the territory under the rule of the Meiji Constitution (Constitution of the Great Japanese Empire). The notion complements the idea of the “Outer Territories” (Gaichi), which refers to the territories excluded from the Meiji Constitution.

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Turning German “Resettlers” into “New Farmers”

From Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War, by R. M. Douglas (Yale U. Press, 2012), Kindle pp. 322-324:

The Soviets had no intention of allowing the “resettler” question (the term “expellee” was deemed politically incorrect in the East, as implying undue harshness on the part of the removing governments) to hang over their occupation zone indefinitely. The focus instead was on completing the task of resettlement and assimilation—or at any rate declaring it completed—within a measurable period.

Accordingly, the Soviet military authorities decided to kill two birds with one stone by tying expellee resettlement to land redistribution. Because most expellees in East Germany, like their counterparts in the West, had already been placed in the countryside—in Brandenburg, nearly 55 percent of the new arrivals were living in settlements of less than two thousand inhabitants in December 1947—this solution had the further advantage that no substantial internal redistribution of the four-million-strong expellee population would be required. Agricultural estates of more than a hundred hectares and those belonging to “war criminals” were broken up and expellees settled on the new smallholdings in numbers out of proportion to their share of the population. By the conclusion of the program, some 567,000 hectares of land were in expellee hands.

The results, though, generally bore out the prognostications of those British officials who had successfully diverted Ernest Bevin from pursuing a similar will-o’-the-wisp in 1944. The land reform program was an expensive failure. “Even at the end of 1946, three-quarters of the Neubauern (new farmers) had to work without horses … and only one third of the land reform farmers owned a cow. Only one farmstead in four was equipped with a plough, one in five with iron harrows and only one in fourteen with reapers and threshing machines.” Those who received livestock and equipment, moreover, tended to be members of the indigenous population, who profited from their superior connections in the rural communities to those overseeing the redistribution, while “resettlers” were largely overlooked. Lastly, exorbitant and unrealistic state requisitions and quotas, which forced the new farmers to turn over even their seed grain and sowing potatoes to the government, made it impossible for many to generate the minimum required for bare survival. As a result, living standards for the Neubauern were, as state inspectors reported in 1950, “almost unimaginably low,” while the cost of the program, which by 1953 had reached the alarming figure of 900 million marks, was described by Heinrich Rau, the Minister of Planning, as “a bottomless pit.” Rather than acknowledge the failure of the experiment and, as West Germany progressively did, recall the expellees from their initial billets in the countryside to the cities and towns as jobs and houses became available for them, the Soviet military authorities doubled down on their losing investment and announced a large-scale rural housing program in 1947. With practically the entire housing budget of the east going into building farmsteads that the resettlers were rapidly abandoning, reconstruction of war-damaged cities was virtually halted. As one Neubauer recorded, “The despair and anger among the settlers know no bounds…. Whole groups of settlers leave the settlements at night and have fled to the West …” Not until 1950 was this costly scheme discontinued, with very little to show for it.

By then, however, the authorities were ready to declare victory and move on. The Central Agency for Resettlers was dissolved in July 1948 and responsibility for its functions transferred to a small and low-profile section of the Ministry of the Interior. From that point on, even the term “resettler” (Umsiedler) became almost as taboo as “expellee” had become: all were to be equal citizens of the new German Democratic Republic, without distinction.

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Filed under economics, Germany, labor, migration, nationalism, USSR, war