Who are the Germans from Russia?

The Germans from Russia are descendants of Germans who settled in Russia during a period of approximately one hundred years, from about 1763 to 1862. The history of German settlements in Russia began with the reign of Tsarina Catherine II (Catherine the Great) and her issuance of a manifesto in July 1763 enticing West Europeans to settle in Russia.

The manifesto of the Empress promised much to the new settlers: freedom of religion, freedom from taxes for a five to thirty year period, freedom from military service and generous allotments of free land to farmers.

By the end of 1767 German settlers, coming primarily from central Germany, had organized more than one hundred colonies along the Volga River, near Saratov, Russia. By 1869 the German population in the Volga region exceeded 250,000.

Extensive German settlements of a second area in Russia, the Black Sea Region, began in 1803 when Czar Alexander I, a grandson of Catherine II, issued a similar decree enticing foreigners to settle in South Russia.

Several major colony groups were founded in the Black Sea region and extending into the Crimea and to the Caucasus. The Black Sea Germans came primarily from southern Germany but a substantial number (Mennonites) also came from the Danzig area in Prussia.

German colonization of Bessarabia began in 1812 when Russia acquired this territory from the Ottoman Empire. Two other areas in Russia where large numbers of Germans settled were Volhynia and the Baltic provinces.

In Russia, the Germans lived in closed colonies (isolated from their Russian neighbors) and retained their language, religion, food and culture. The settlers were to find however that the generous provisions made in the manifesto of Catherine II and Alexander I were not going to be honored forever.

Beginning in the 1870's their special rights were gradually taken away. The colonists became subject to the military draft, lost their right to local self-government, and the right to keep their own German-language schools. As the conditions in Russia became less and less favorable, the Germans looked to the New World for resettlement.

They began emigrating to the United States (to Kansas, Nebraska, California, North and South Dakota, Colorado and others), to the prairie provinces of Canada, and to South America. A substantial number remained in Russia, however, to face the bitter consequences of the Russian Revolution and the World Wars.

An estimated two million people of German ethnic origin remain in the CIS today, living primarily in the Asiatic part far to the east of the colonial homes of their forefathers


Volga Germans: (1763-1767)

Germans had lived in various parts of the Russian empire for centuries but the largest migration to Russia was in the sixteenth century to the Lower Volga Region near Saratov. In 1763, Catherine the Great, German born empress of Russia, sent agents into the German states for the purpose of recruiting settlers. These colonists were to develop the uncultivated agricultural lands along the Lower Volga. Later in 1802, further large German migrations occurred to the Black Sea Region but our interest is with the village of Holstein located within the Volga 102 village settlements.

Migrate Out Of Russia:

There are good reasons why the Volga Germans wanted to immigrate out of Russia, the main being the loss of most of the original stipulations in Catherine's Manifesto, as listed above. By 1870, the colonists saw the abolition of privileges as a breach of promises and became disenchanted with Russia. They began to send out delegations to North and South America to investigate potential sites for migration. Fortunately this also was the period that both American continents were attempting to attract settlers by offering inducements such as free land.