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The Bessarabia Germans (German: Bessarabiendeutsche, Romanian: Germani basarabeni) are an ethnic group who lived in Bessarabia (today part of Moldova and Ukraine) between 1814 and 1940. Between 1814 and 1842, they immigrated from the German areas Württemberg and Prussia to the Russian government of Bessarabia at the Black Sea. In their 125-year history, the Bessarabia Germans inhabited rural parts of the country. Until their moving to the German Empire (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), they were a minority consisting of 93,000 people who made up some 3% of the population. They are distinguished from the Black Sea Germans who settled to the east of Odessa.

The most prominent person with Bessarabian ancestry is German President Horst Köhler. Until the moving in 1940, his parents lived in the German colony Ryshkanovka in Northern Bessarabia, being moved to Poland, which was by that time occupied by Germany, where Köhler was born.

The now gone Bessarabia


Coat of arms

The coat of arms of the Bessarabia Germans (created after the Second World War) symbolizes the homeland at the Black Sea, left at 1940. The coat of arms consists of a shield as the main component of the heraldic emblem. On four divisions, the crest symbolizes the country's colors and other properties.

  • Azure symbolizes the blue sky over the steppe.
  • Or stands for the golden fields.
  • Gules is taken out of the Romanian flag - the state whose citizens the Bessarabia Germans were.
  • The well symbolizes the importance of water.
  • The cross is a symbol for the Church and religion.
  • The horse symbolizes the dearest friend of the farmer.


The Bessarabian anthem Bessarabisches Heimatlied was created in 1922 by Albert Mauch, the director of the Werner-Seminar, a German university in Sarata.


Nomadic Tatars from the southern region of Bessarabia, Budjak, emigrated after the Russian conquest, leaving the area almost deserted. Russia tried to entice foreign settlers to populate the area and work the farms, since her own farmers were mainly serfs. The aim of this was to re-establish agriculture on the rich black soil. Tsar Alexander I issued a manifesto on 29 November 1813, in which he promised German settlers the following privileges:

  • Land donation
  • Interest-free credit
  • Exemption from taxes for 10 years
  • Autonomy
  • Freedom of religion
  • Exemption from military service

The agents of the Russian crown went with these promises to Württemberg, the northeast German area (Mecklenburg) and into the Duchy of Warsaw, where German settlers had established themselves only few years before.



Between 1814 and 1842 over 2,000 families consisting of approximately 9,000 people migrated to the Russian Bessarabia. Most came from the South German areas of Württemberg, Baden, Alsace, the Rhenish Palatinate and Bavaria, the peak occurring in 1817.

After the distribution of passports by German authorities they began the journey in larger groups, known as Kolonnen (lit. "columns"). The time taken for the c. 2,000 km journey was between two and six months, depending upon travel route. Many of those emigrating due to religious reasons formed Harmonien (harmonies).

For the emigrants from South Germany, the journey usually followed the course of the River Danube, which they followed as far as Ulm (about 100 km south-east of Stuttgart and 130 km north-west of Munich). There they boarded Ulm boxes, a sort of one-way boat. Many emigrants fell ill and died while travelling on these boats. The journey carried them downriver to the Danube delta shortly before the Black Sea. Upon arrival at Izmail, the migrants were quarantined for weeks on an island in the delta which claimed further victims. About 10% of the emigrants are thought not to have survived the voyage.

Emigrants from the northern and eastern German regions, as well as from Poland, travelled by horse and cart. They were the first Germans to arrive in Bessarabia, in 1814, and were known as Warsaw Colonists because of their origins.

Reasons for emigration

Reasons for emigration from the Duchy of Warsaw were:

  • objection to Polish foreign rule.
  • A worsening economic situation.

Reasons for emigration from South Germany were:

Colonisation under Russian rule


Main settlement areas of the 150 German colonies in Bessarabia

Tsarist Russia settled the German migrants in Bessarabia according to plan. They kept land in the southern region, on assigned far, treeless steppe surfaces in the Southern Bessarabia (Budjak; germ. Budschak). In the first settlement phase, up to 1842, twenty-four main German colonies developed. The settlements were put on usually in a valley with gently sloping hills. The farms were up to 50 m wide, and bordered by acacias. While properties were only 20 metres wide at the roadside, they extended up to 250 metres in depth. The elongated, single-storey houses always stood with the gable facing the road. The whitewashed buildings were built of loam bricks or natural stone. On the farmyard were stables, threshing-rooms and a stockroom and wine cellar. In the rear part of an estate lay fruit and vegetable gardens and vineyards.


The autonomy of the German settlers promised by the Tsar during the recruitment took place via a Russian special authority by the name of Fürsorgekomitee (Welfare Service Committee), previously Vormundschaftskontor. It was concerned with the settlement of all German settlers in south Russia, with its location initially in Chişinău, later in Odessa. The official language of the department, to which belonged one president and approximately 20 co-workers (an official translator, a physician, a veterinary surgeon, a land measurer and so on), was German. Their presidents were:

Name Term of Office
General Ivan Insov 1818–1845
Staatsrat Eugene von Hahn 1845–1849
Baron von Rosen 1849–1853
Baron von Mestmacher 1853–1856
Islawin 1856–1858
Alexander von Hamm 1858–1866
Th. Lysander 1866–1867
Vladimir von Oettinger 1867–1871

The Committee protected the rights of the settlers and supervised their obligations with regard to the Russian government. Underneath the Fürsorgekomitee there were seventeen offices for those approximately 150 German municipalities, with one selected area chief (Oberschulz). Its tasks, among other things, included the administration of the fire service.

Place names

Originally, the plots of land given to the settlers carried only numbers, e.g. "Steppe 9". In the early years of the settlement, the Fürsorgekomitee began renaming the villages. These designations were reminders of the places of victorious battles against Napoleon such as Tarutino, Borodino, Beresina, Dennewitz or places of origin of the settlers Arzis, Brienne, Paris, Leipzig, Teplitz and Katzbach. Later, after 1842, the settlers began naming their own villages after their own aspirations - Hoffnungstal (hope valley), Friedenstal (peace valley) - or religious motives - Gnadental (grace valley), Lichtental (light valley). Numerous German establishments of village took on Romanian or Turkish-Tatar origins, such as Albota (white horse), Basyrjamka (salt hole) Kurudschika (drying), and Sarata (salty).

Settlement development

Despite the incentives granted early on, the living conditions in the colonies were tough. Unusual climate and diseases extinguished whole families. Cattle disease, floods, epidemic diseases such as plague and cholera, crop failures and swarms of grasshoppers obstructed reconstruction work. The early dwellings were usually earth houses with reed roofs. Only in later generations a regulated and independent life in economic, cultural and religious areas prevailed in the German settlements. The colloquial language was German, the official language was Russian. Characteristic of the settlers were diligence, religious devotion, large families and thriftiness.

The first twenty-four villages of German emigrants were called "mother colonies". They still developed in the context of the national Russian Colonisation. Those settlements developed after 1842 developed were called "daughter colonies". They were mainly due to the private settlement of native Bessarabians already living in the country. The first 24 colonies were:

Settlement Established Settlement Established Settlement Established
Borodino 1814 Alt-Elft 1816 Neu-Arzis 1824
Krasna 1814 Paris 1816 Neu-Elft 1825
Tarutino 1814 Arzis 1816 Gnadental 1830
Klöstitz 1815 Brienne 1816 Lichtental 1834
Kulm 1815 Teplitz 1817 Dennewitz 1834
Wittenberg 1815 Katzbach 1821 Friedenstal 1834
Beresina 1815 Sarata 1822 Plotzk 1839
Leipzig 1815 Alt-Posttal 1823 Hoffnungstal 1842


As ordered by the Tsar during his recruitment, almost all newcomers worked as farmers. Each German family received 60 desyatinas (about 65 hectares) from the state. The settlement area lay in the Bessarabian black earth belt, whose earth is considered among the best farming land in Europe. As such, fertilisation was not needed. The main crops grown were wheat and corn. In some colonies wide viticulture was operated (see Moldovan wine), but most farms only produced enough wine for their own needs.

The Germans operated animal husbandry only to a small extent, because the resulting dung was not required due to the high soil fertility. Therefore, it was usually dried and used in the winter as fuel. Shepherding was more widespread, especially the fine-wooled Karakul sheep. The men's traditional black skin caps were made from the wool. Poultry farming for self-sufficiency was a matter of course on each individual farm. Unlike other farming people, the Germans used horses instead of oxen for ploughing.

New settlements

With the establishment of the last colony (Hoffnungstal) in 1842, the influx of emigrants from Germany ended. Afterwards, a self-colonisation began by private settlement within the country. The boundaries of the twenty-four Mutterkolonies had become limited due to increase in the population. Bessarabian Germans bought or leased land from large Russian landowners and created new villages.

In 1920, two years after the union of Bessarabia with Romania, began the Romanian agrarian reform, in which large land owners with more than 100 hectares were expropriated of the land in excess of that. Their property was distributed to the peasants, who each received 6 hectares. Hektardörfer, or hectare-towns sprang up on the free land. Approximately 150 German settlements resulted during the presence of the Germans in Bessarabia between 1814 and 1940.

Actually approximately 800 Ukrainians claim to be descendants of German settlers in the area, mainly in order to get visa to Germany.

Bessarabia German institutions


Church and religion intensively shaped the life of all Bessarabian Germans, because many of their ancestors had once left their German homeland for religious reasons. Abroad they kept the German language in use in the Bible and in the Hymn books. In newly founded villages, places of worship were the first communal facilities to be created. In larger municipalities this was a church for up to 1,000 visitors, in smaller municipalities this was a praying house, in which the dwelling of the Sexton and the village school were included as well. The colonists paid for the maintenance of the church, school, Sexton and teacher (usually a Sexton-teacher in dual functions).

The majority of the approximately 150 German settlements were organized in 13 Kirchspielen (parishes) and three Pfarrgemeinden of Lutheran denomination. Each parish had a minister, who was responsible for several villages within the parish. Besides there was Reformed parish (Schabo) and a Roman Catholic church district with four municipalities (Balmas, Emmental, Krasna, Larga). These belonged to the diocese Cherson, which was created on July 3, 1848. The name of the diocese was changed to Tiraspol shortly after. The seat of the diocese was relocated to Saratow by the first bishop Ferdinand Helanus, where it remained until 1918. Bishop Josef Alois Kessler relocated the seat to Odessa to escape the Bolshevik, but after their victory he fled to Germany in 1921 and the diocese was disbanned in the Soviet Republic.

Educational facilities

On the lowest level there were elementary schools in the German villages. In the first years usually someone from the village taught the school children, until 1892, when only graduate teachers were allowed to teach. A gymnasium (grammar school) for boys and girls was located in Tarutino. In Sarata the Werner school for teacher training was located.


  • Christian Friedrich Werner (1759-1823)
  • Ignaz Lindl (1774-1845) (de)
  • Alois Schertzinger (1787–1864) (de)
  • Johann Gottlieb Gerstenberger (1826-1900)
  • Gottfried Schulz (1853-1916)
  • Andreas Widmer (1856-1931)
  • Heinrich Lhotzky (1859-1930)
  • Daniel Erdmann (1866-1942) (de)
  • Immanuel Wagner (1870-1946)
  • Daniel Haase (1877-1939)
  • Karl Rüb (1896-1970) (de)
  • Dr. Otto Broneske (1900-1989)
  • Immanuel Baumann (1900-1974) (de)
  • Edwin Kelm (born 1929)
  • Arnulf Baumann (born 1932) (de)
  • Horst Köhler (born 1943)


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