The Nazis planned to make the eastern colonies an agrarian appendage of the German empire. They preserved kolkhozes, believing that agrarian reform could disrupt production, whereas the collective farm system might ease the transfer of peasants from Communist to German serfs. German Minister of Agriculture Herbert Backe remarked that had the Soviets not established collective farms, Germans would have had to invent them. An agrarian reform announced by the Reichsminister Alfred Rosenberg in February 1942, as Alexander Dallin writes:
… was nullified by procrastination in application and by the impression of deceit that it evoked. … The very plan for making the East into a gigantic colony, and the corresponding methods and attitudes of the German officialdom doomed the agrarian policy to failure. … Both by their plans and their practices the occupying authorities aroused against themselves the largest segment of the Soviet society.
Because few kolkhozes existed in the frontier provinces, the German failure to eliminate them affected the borderlands less than the old Soviet territories. However, in western Ukraine and Belorussia, the new invaders set higher taxes than had the Soviet regime and they engaged in endless requisitions. Erich Koch, Reichskommissar of Ukraine, believed that “if this people [Ukrainian] works ten hours daily, it will have to work eight hours for us.” In many regions, the Germans doubled the 1941 Soviet quotas of obligatory agricultural deliveries.
The German administration established a mandatory two-year labour duty in Germany. Initially, it recruited young labourers on a voluntary basis, but as that flow quickly dried up, it resorted to the conscription of whole age groups. This caused universal resentment and draft evasion. In Ukraine and Belorussia, Germans burned down entire villages if men and women failed to report. In total, 2,792,669 Soviet labourers were shipped to Germany; including 2,196,166 from Ukraine – of those, 400,000 were from its western regions. This draft affected all but the Polish farmers more than the Soviet deportations of 1940–1941. By July 1944, 75,000 labourers were conscripted in Lithuania, four times as many as the Soviets had deported in 1941, and 35,000 in Latvia, twice the number of Latvians exiled by the Soviets.
The Germans quickly wasted the amount of the good will they enjoyed initially. Having found themselves in the midst of a fierce fight between two totalitarian states, the people of the borderlands had to choose sides. While most focused on their own survival, a part of the politically active minority collaborated with the Germans, another part attempted to pursue nationalist goals, and some supported the Red partisans who increasingly penetrated the borderlands beginning in 1942. The proportion of those who collaborated with the Germans, the Soviets, and the nationalists varied by region and time and depended on the contrast between Soviet and German regional occupation policies, the strength of local nationalism, the social strain accumulated before World War II, the relative prosperity of the people, and the situation on the fronts. Despite the disappointment with the Germans, many Ukrainian and Lithuanian nationalists and most Latvian, Estonian, and Belorussian nationalists cooperated with Germany throughout the war. Although some did so wholeheartedly, most simply regarded the Nazis as the lesser evil.