Volga Germans

Volga Germans

The Volga Germans ( _de. Wolgadeutsche or "Russlanddeutsche") were ethnic Germans living along the Volga River 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 immigrated to the Midwestern United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and other countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the late 20th century, many of the remaining ethnic Germans moved to Germany.

Catherine the Great

In 1762, Sophie Fredericke Auguste 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,Lewis, Bernard, "Semites and Anti-Semites", New York, W.W. Norton and Company, 1999 edition, ISBN 0393318397, p. 61.] 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 development, an important consideration for Catherine was the provision of a buffer zone between her Russian subjects and the nomads to the east. Germans responded 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. 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 worried that the Volga Germans mightcollaborate with them. 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. These 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 labor army. About one third did not survive the labor camps.


The Volga Germans never returned to the Volga region in their prior numbers. 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%).Fact|date=November 2007 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 to their territory and did not gain momentum.

Since the late 1980s, many Volga Germans have immigrated 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 expellee 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.Fact|date=November 2007 In the late 1990s, however, Germany made it more difficult for Russians of German descent to settle in Germany,Fact|date=November 2007 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

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 State, 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 industrializing 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" [March 1995 issue of the Newsletter of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia "German Russians in Chicagoland"] . 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 traveled 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. [cite web |url=http://lib.colostate.edu/gfr/index.html |title=Germans from Russia: On the Trail to Colorado |access date=2007-10-08 |publisher=Colorado State University Libraries]

Approximately one million descendants of these Russian Germans live in the United States. [ [http://www.loc.gov/rr/european/imde/germchro.html Chronology : The Germans in America (European Reading Room, Library of Congress)] ] 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.

outh America

Germans from Russia also settled in Argentina (see Crespo and Coronel Suárez among others), Paraguay, and Brazil (see German-Brazilians).

*Brazil 1,187,000–1,500,000
*Argentina 1,200,000 [According to the [http://www.alemanesvolga.com.ar/libros/folleto.html Asociación Argentina de Descendientes de Alemanes del Volga] (Argentine Association of Descendants from Volga-Germans) there are more than 1,200,000 descendants of Volga Germans in Argentina; (this number does not include other German communities).]
*Paraguay 45,000

ee also

* Lt Col. Harold W. Bauer USMC Ace
* History of Germans in Russia and the Soviet Union
* Volhynia
* Gulag
* Germans of Kazakhstan
* Expulsion of Germans after World War II
* Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic


External links

* [http://cvgs.cu-portland.edu/ The Center for Volga German Studies at Concordia University]
* [http://www.grhs.org/ Germans from Russia Heritage Society]
* [http://flagspot.net/flags/su-wd.html Flag]
* [http://www.webbitt.com/volga/ Volga Germans]
* [http://www.ahsgr.org/ American Historical Society of Germans from Russia]
* [http://www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/grhc/ Germans from Russia Heritage Collection North Dakota State University]
* [http://www.volguenses.com.ar Germans from Russia in Argentina Genealogy] es icon
* [http://wolgadeutschen.narod.ru/index.html Wolgadeutschen] ru icon
* [http://skyways.lib.ks.us/genweb/archives/ethnic/german-russian/jubilee/index.html The Golden Jubilee of German-Russian Settlements of Ellis and Rush Counties, Kansas]
* [http://comunidad.ciudad.com.ar/ciudadanos/herman/Volga/volga_eng.htm Germans from Russia in Argentina]
* [http://www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/grhc/history_culture/history/volga-germans.htm German Memories - Volga Germans Migration Towards Americas]

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