Volga Germans: Wikis


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Farmer couple from the Volga at a refugee camp Schneidemühl (then Germany), 1920
Volga German pioneer family commemorative statue in Victoria, Kansas, USA.

The Volga Germans (German: Wolgadeutsche or Russlanddeutsche, Russian: Поволжские немцы, Povolzhskie nemtsy) were ethnic Germans living along the River Volga in the region of southern European Russia around Saratov and to the south. They maintained German culture, language, traditions and churches: Lutherans, Reformed, Roman Catholics, and Mennonites. Many Volga Germans emigrated to the Midwestern United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and other countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries. During World War II, many died in Soviet labour camps. In the late 20th century, many of the remaining ethnic Germans moved to Germany.


Catherine the Great

Catherine II

In 1762, Sophie Auguste Friederike von Anhalt-Zerbst, a German native of Stettin, displaced her husband Peter III and took the vacant Russian imperial throne, assuming the name of Catherine II. "Catherine the Great" published manifestos in 1762 and 1763 inviting Europeans, (except Jews)[1] to immigrate and farm Russian lands while maintaining their language and culture. Although the first received little response, the second improved the benefits that were offered and was more successful. In addition to land developed in particularly large numbers due to poor conditions in their home regions. People in other countries such as France and England were more inclined to migrate to the colonies in the Americas than to the Russian frontier. Other countries, such as Austria, forbade emigration. The settlers came mainly from Bavaria, Baden, Hesse, the Palatinate and the Rhineland, over the years 1763 to 1767.

Those who went to Russia had special rights under the terms of the manifesto. These were later revoked when the need for conscription into the Russian army arose in the latter part of the 19th century. This was especially offensive to the German Mennonite communities, whose doctrine teaches against war and aggression. Some Germans emigrated to the Americas or Germany to avoid the draft, though many did remain in Russia.

The 20th century

Following the Russian Revolution, the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Autonome Sozialistische Sowjet-Republik der Wolga-Deutschen in German; АССР Немцев Поволжья in Russian) was established in 1924, and it lasted until 1942. Its capital was Engels, known as "Pokrovsk" (Kosakenstadt in German) before 1931.

When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Stalin was worried that the Volga Germans might collaborate with the invaders. On August 28, 1941, he dissolved the Volga-German ASSR and ordered the immediate relocation of ethnic Germans, both from the Volga and from a number of other traditional areas of settlement. Approximately 400,000 Volga Germans were stripped of their land and houses, and moved eastwards to Kazakhstan in Soviet Central Asia, Altai Krai in Siberia, and other remote areas. Similar deportations happened for other ethnic groups, including North Caucasian Muslim ethnic groups, Kalmyks and Crimean Tatars. In 1942 nearly all the able-bodied German population was conscripted to the labour army. About one third did not survive the labour camps.[2]

Recent years

Streckerau, 1920

The Volga Germans never returned to the Volga region in their prior numbers. In fact they were not allowed to do so for decades. After the war, many remained in the Ural Mountains, Siberia, Kazakhstan (2% of today's Kazakh population are recognized as Germans - approximately 300,000), Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan (approximately 16,000 = 0.064%). Ironically, perhaps, they prospered after the initial period of persecution and their numbers increased and they successfully preserved their distinct cultural identity. Decades after the war, some talked about resettling where the German Autonomous Republic used to be, but this movement met with opposition from the population resettled in the territory and did not gain momentum.

A proposal in June 1979 called for a new German Autonomous Republic within Kazakhstan, with a capital in Ermentau. The proposal was aimed at addressing the living conditions of the displaced Volga Germans. At the time, there were approximately 936,000 ethnic Germans living in Kazakhstan, as the republic's third largest ethnic group. On June 16, 1979, demonstrators in Tselinograd (Astana) protested this proposal. Fearing a negative reaction among the majority Kazakhs, and calls for autonomy among local Uyghurs, the ruling Communist Party scrapped the proposal for a German autonomy within Kazakhstan.

Since the late 1980s, some have returned in small numbers to Engels but many more Volga Germans have emigrated permanently to their ancestral homeland of Germany, taking advantage of the German law of return, a policy which grants citizenship to all those who can prove to be a refugee or expelee of German ethnic origin or as the spouse or descendant of such a person (Greece, as well, had a similar law for the Greek minority from the former Soviet Union). This exodus occurred despite the fact that some Volga Germans speak little or no German, since for decades the language could not be spoken in public. In the late 1990s, however, Germany made it more difficult for Russians of German descent to settle in Germany, especially for those who do not speak some of the Volga dialects of German.

Today, there are approximately 600,000 Germans in Russia (Russian Census (2002)), a number that increases to 1.5 million when including people partly of German ancestry.

North America

During the first two decades of the 20th century, the neighborhood of Jefferson Park in Chicago was the point of initial settlement for many Volga German immigrants coming to the Chicago Metropolitan Area.
Lt Col. Bauer USMC MOH was the son of Volga German immigrants

The largest group of Volga Germans that emigrated to the United States and Canada settled mainly in the area of the Great Plains; Alberta, eastern Colorado, Kansas, Manitoba, eastern Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, and South Dakota. Outside of the Great Plains, they also settled in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and Fresno County in California's Central Valley, often succeeding in dryland farming, a skill learned in Russia. Many of the immigrants who arrived between 1870 and 1912 spent a period doing farm labor, especially in northeastern Colorado and in Montana along the lower Yellowstone River in sugar beet fields.

Other Volga Germans made a new life for themselves not in the fields but in the industrialising cities of the United States. Chief among these is Chicago which saw an immense upsurge in immigration from Eastern Europe during this time and is the largest Volga German establishment in North America. Although settlement by the Volga Germans occurred in a number of areas throughout the Chicago Metropolitan Area, the largest area of concentrated settlement was in Jefferson Park on the city's Northwest Side mostly between the years 1907-1920. By 1930, 450 families of the Evangelical faith were living in this area, most of whom originated from Wiesenseite.[3] Later many of their descendants would move out to outlying suburbs such as Maywood and Melrose Park but a fair number of family residences surrounding the Jefferson Park central business district along Lawrence and Milwaukee Avenue can trace their roots back to Volga German immigrants.

Bernhard Warkentin, a German Russian, was born in a small Russian village in 1847, and travelled to America in his early twenties. Interested in flour mills, he was especially impressed with the wheat growing possibilities in the United States. After visiting Kansas, Warkentin found the plains much like those he had left behind in his native Russia. Settling in Harvey County, he built a water mill on the banks of the Little Arkansas River – the Halstead Milling and Elevator Company. Warkentin's greatest contribution to Kansas was the introduction of hard Turkey Wheat into Kansas, which replaced the soft variety grown exclusively in the state.

During the 1970s, Dr. Kenneth Rock, a professor of history at Colorado State University, collected sixty oral histories of Germans from Russia immigrants and their descendants as part of the Germans from Russia in Colorado Study Project, documenting life in the German communities in Russia, the immigration experience, work and social life in the United States, and interaction between the Russian-German communities and the wider society in both Russia and the United States.[4]

Approximately one million descendants of these Russian Germans live in the United States.[5] Modern descendants in Canada and the United States refer to their heritage as Germans from Russia, Russian Germans, Volgadeutsch or Black Germans. In many parts of the United States, however, they tend to have blended to a large degree with the much more numerous "regular" German Americans who are numerous in the northern half of the United States.

South America

Flags of Argentina, Buenos Aires Province and Germany in front of St. Joseph Catholic Church in San José, Coronel Suárez Partido, Argentina (Volga German colony)

Germans from Russia also settled in Argentina (see Crespo and Coronel Suárez among others, also German Argentine), Paraguay, and Brazil (see German-Brazilians). Most Volga Germans who settled in Latin America were Catholic. Many Catholic Volga Germans chose South America as their new homeland because the main religion in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay is Catholicism.

Famous People of Volga German Descent

German Oskarowitsch Gref, politician

Alfred Schnittke, composer

Eduard Rossel, politician

Boris Rauschenbach, scientist, physicist

Zhanna Friske, Russian singer

Lt Col. Harold W. Bauer USMC Ace

See also


  1. ^ Lewis, Bernard, Semites and Anti-Semites, New York, W.W. Norton and Company, 1999 edition, ISBN 0393318397, p. 61.
  2. ^ Robert Conquest, The Nation Killers (Macmillan, 1970), pages 59-61.
  3. ^ March 1995 issue of the Newsletter of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia "German Russians in Chicagoland"
  4. ^ "Germans from Russia: On the Trail to Colorado". Colorado State University Libraries. http://lib.colostate.edu/gfr/index.html. Retrieved 2007-10-08.  
  5. ^ Chronology: The Germans in America (European Reading Room, Library of Congress)
  6. ^ Centro Argentino Cultural Wolgadeutsche

External links

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