Schweitzer, Professor Jean. "Alsace, France." Encyclopedie de L'Alsace 5,
Translation from French to English by Michele LeBoldus,
|Shown here are only the villages of
Alsatian immigrants. All these villages have German names.
|General view of the village of Selz,
near Odessa, Ukraine. Circa 1927. For additional information,
consult the book, Paradise on the Steppe: A
Cultural History of the Kutschurgan, Beresan, and Liebental
Colonies 1804 - 1972, by Joseph S. Height.
|Map shows Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia.
The lined area represents a density of Lorraine immigrants from
Alsace. Because of an ongoing in-depth study, it is not yet
possible to establish a definite picture of immigrant destinations
in countries bordering the Danube River.
|Itinerary A: Grossman, Jean, Catholic,
originally from Lauterbourg, with his wife and eight children:
two brothers, one sister. Passport # 2488. Visa stamps and dates:
Regensburg (Ratisbonne), 16 October 1808. Linz, 21 October 1808;
Vienna (Wien), 25 October 1808; Brunn (Brno), 30 October 1808;
Brody, 15 November 1808. Destination: Elsass (Selz colony in
B: Koch, Joseph, Catholic, originally from Hohwiller (Canton
of Soultz-sous-Forets), with his wife and three children.
Passport # 1989, issued by Consult Bethmann in Frankfurt,
6 May 1809. Visa stamps and dates: Erfurt, 29 May 1809; Weimar,
30 May 1809; Altenburg, 5 June 1809; Liegnitz, 22 June 1809;
Babuce, 9 July 1809. Destination: Rastadt, Beresan colony
To establish these two above routes,
passport records were researched originals of which are in
the Provincial Archives of Dniepropetrovsk, Ukraine. Copies
are also in the State Archives of Berlin, Germany. Dr. Karl
Stumpp reproduced these lists in his important work, "Auswanderung",
Danubian Countries and Russia
As it happens, two pertinent phases can be noted to explain the
endemic phenomenon of immigration rather than its’ spontaneous
Emigration to Danubian Countries in the 18th Century
After the Treaties of KARLOWITZ (1699) and PASSAROWITZ (1718) sealed
victory over the Turks, Austria-Hungary acquired vast tracts of
land at the southern end of its’ Empire.
From then on,Vienna struggled to populate these devastated and
deserted lands. Charles V broached the task in 1720 and wanted to
confer the challenging role of colonization to the Catholic inhabitants
of the Empire.
But it was mainly during the reign of Marie-Thérèse
that these privileged colonists prospered. Most of these came predominantly
from Lorraine, Sarre, Luxembourg, the electorates of Treves and
Mayence- with a few from Alsace. The largest emigration from Alsace
and Lorraine occurred between 1765-1771.
A census list shows 279 families in transit from 25 August to 31
December, 1770, from Kehl to Hungary. Two hundred of these families
were Alsatian, originally from 79 different areas.
From 1753, the Bursar of Alsace, despairing of the spreading departures,
took swift restrictive measures to stop it. Finally, all subjects
were forbidden to leave the Kingdom for foreign lands without official
authorization. Fueled by this political tension in Alsace-Lorraine,
immigrant agents exploited the rural miseries there and swept the
countryside to recruit peasants for Hungary by offering them tempting
terms of passage.
Those embarking on the adventure crossed the Rhine at Kehl, Selz
and several other locations to reach Ulm by road, on foot or by
cart. Boarding at Ulm, they traveled the Danube via Vienna and Bratislava,
to their destination. Meager daily allowances barely covered the
Most of the Alsatians, as with those from Lorraine, were settled
in the areas of Temesvar ( Timisoara, Temeschburg) between Budapest
and Belgrade but mainly in Batschka and the Banat.
To give these settlers a chance to begin a new life in less than
hospitable conditions, the Imperial Government of Vienna provided
a house, farm animals, agricultural implements and some basic household
goods. Land was of course transferred to these new tenants. Fifteen
hectare lots ( about 30 acres) were commonly allotted and exempted
from all taxes for 10 years.
But the reality was one of futile dreams in a promised land. Large
numbers of these colonists were hardly settled when they were struck
by death or faced less than healthy conditions. Added to that were
a tortuous climate, fevers, epidemics, native hatred of the colonists
and incursions by the Turks. And as well, a negligent political
administration existed. Only the strongest, most resourceful survived
being transplanted to these barely habitable lands. Distanced from
their homelands, problems in communicating, the tediousness of daily
labors were all factors that led to the hardship of maintaining
ties with the “old country”.
Cut off from the Motherland, these Alsatians, following the example
of the Mosellans, ended up melting into the larger group of German
communities-collectively, but falsely called, Swabian Danubians.
By an understandable irony, they spoke nothing more than a Frankish-Mosellan
dialect. With the passage of time, prosperity came to the villages
along with an air of affluence which lasted for almost 150 years
The First World War would radically change the political climate.
The Treaty of Trianon (1920) would have Banat being parcelled between
Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia: the larger regions of Batschka
and Baranya were handed to Yugoslavia. The Second World War brought
its’ own particular trials which easily annihilated the work
of two centuries which had transformed at the outset, a vast swamp
into being at the end, the bread basket of Central Europe.
By War’s end, intervention by Alsace and Lorraine government
officials- notably Robert Schumann, Pierre Pfilmin and Gabriel Hocquard-
allowed for the repatriation of many survivors whose ancestors had
fled our provinces two centuries earlier. These descendants were
able to return to France initially settling in the Colmar area.
A happy set of circumstances allowed dozens of Banat families to
get established in the Rocque-sur-Pernes (Vaucluse) area. But the
majority of these families now reside in the diaspora of Eastern
Europe or in North America. More of a rarity are the survivors-
as an outcome of WWII- who succeeded in returning to the Danube
plains cleared by their forefathers. These in turn had come from
the borders of the Rhine but mostly from neighboring Moselle.
Emigration to Russia at the Beginning of the 19th Century
Following Austro-Hungary’s lead, Russia under the Czars tried
to attract settlers to clear the vast territories of the Steppes-
land formerly under Turkish control. Once again, Alsatians responded
to the lure of a foreign land. But as in the past, they were part
of a grander migration scheme which would once more affect all the
Using the same tactics as the Vienna Court several decades earlier,
the Czarist government-now at the dawn of the Napoleonic era- delegated
agents to the Rhine to recruit colonists for the Ukraine area. Highly
praising the new country in a bid to recruit new settlers, the immigrant
agents sold more lots than were available. As a result, success
was a long time coming. Thus at the dawn of the 19th Century, nearly
every village in the North of Alsace lost dozens of families- in
search of a better life whether in Podole, Tauride or the Crimea.
But rarely were they aware of their final destination.
The Original Villages
It has been established that Alsace at this time experienced two
waves of mass migration which essentially affected a specific region:
a) Between 1804 and 1810, the arrondissement (district) of Wissembourg,
in particular the cantons (townships) of Seltz and Lauterbourg,
were the most affected. Curiously, this geographical area covers
roughly the same locations as the Great Flight of 1793. These poor
catholic peasants found themselves excluded from the Ecclesiastical
tenant farms and the erratic national social programs thus losing
their limited means of existence.
Of all the communities hurt by this emigration were the cantons
(townships) of Seltz with a loss of fifty families and Neewiller-Lauterbourg
with forty-five families leaving for Ukraine. Other close areas
affected were the outskirts of Landau and Bergzabern and the region
of Rastatt on the opposite side of the Rhine.
b) In 1817 however, a year of misery and poverty, departures essentially
occurred in the Protestant villages of the Saverne district which
a few decades earlier had already lost entire families- now firmly
ensconced in Danubian countries.
A difference in time and space but also in the administration’s
attitude to those leaving caused some changes. In the first decade
of the 19th century, because of the official decree forbidding departures
from France, they took place clandestinely. During the restoration
however, emigration was authorized by request.
As to the global outcome of these two chaotic time periods, over
a thousand families- 3,500 Alsatians, mostly from the Lower Rhine-leave
By a unique paradox, the established colonies of the clandestine
emigres of the first wave of departures are well documented. But
the precise destination of those emigres of 1817- who left with
official authorization- is still a perplexing enigma for historians.
Routes and Stopover Points
From 1804 to 1809, the departure route started on the Danube to
Vienna. After crossing the Rhine secretly at Seltz, the Alsatian
emigres were assembled at the small gathering centre of Steinmauren.
Those leaving Baden- in equal numbers to the Alsatians-were from
the Rastatt district. At Ulm, the travellers were put under the
charge of the Russian Immigration Officer. Barges had been hired
for the 10 day voyage to the Austrian capital of Vienna.
There, heads of families were presented to the Russian Ambassador
and obtained official entrance visas. Then the journey resumed via
the Austro-Hungarian postal route- which crossing Gallicia then
ran along the border of the Czarist Empire. This was a considerable
detour because the political map of the day once again saw Bessarabia
under Turkish domination.
During the 1808/1809 massive immigration departures, new routes
were needed- another consequence of the changing political times
in Central Europe. Napoleonic troops occupied part of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire and thus cut off the Danube route. Officials were resigned
to a rerouting via northern Austria.
Passports were obtained from the Russian Consul Bethmann - a rich
banker in Francfort-sur-le-Main. The lengthy convoys destined for
the Black Sea area trudged through Thuringia, Saxony and Silesia.
In Poland, west of Krakow, they rejoined the transverse arterial
route beyond Brody to the Russian border.
After a trek of several weeks, our future colonists finally step
onto Russian soil. Upon their arrival at the outpost of Radzivillov,
they are quarantined and spend 3-4 weeks in makeshift huts. At the
end of this forced halt, the immigrants are once again en route.
The seemingly endless journey then extends along Central Europe
and shifts abruptly beyond the border to descend directly to the
Black Sea coast.
In all, three months are spent travelling the 2500 kilometres (
about 1500 miles). Appalling circumstances are their constant companions:
non-existent basic comforts, unhygienic conditions and dwindling
supplies. Even personal safety was at risk. More than one person
never sets eyes on Russia.
Settlement Areas in Russia
After a particularly arduous journey, our immigrants have arrived.There
they discover one of their own illustrious countrymen- the Duc de
Richelieu (1766-1822), an émigré of the (French) Revolution
and now Governor of new Russia since 1805.
Upon their arrival in Ukraine, the immigrants were parcelled out
between the 4 cantons (townships) of the Odessa Province.The Russian
Immigration Office based their settlement areas on a proven formula.
A successful agricultural village made up of various ethnic backgrounds
should have as a common element a common religion. This would then
cement an atmosphere of cooperation among rural centres without
forgetting completely the origins of these new nationals.
One of these cantons (townships) had Selz as its’ seat of
government- a designation taken directly from the Alsace region.
And for a very good reason: of the 100 families settled in this
village, 90 had left this northern area of Alsace. Also significant
were the designations of two other settlers’ villages in the
same township- Elsass and Strassburg- which followed the same place
names as in the Palatinate and Baden.
Besides their common faith and customs, they had brought to this
Slavic land their Frankish Rhine dialect from the Wissembourg area-
which some of their descendants wonderfully speak to this day.
The settlers first years were very arduous given the fact they
were mainly cast to the four winds on the vast steppe. But after
a long and strenuous beginning, many descendants of these Alsatian
pioneers have become renowned in their larger community. In the
religious community, two illustrious descendants would rise to the
highest ranks in the Roman Catholic Church of southern Russia. Msgr.
Anton Zerr, the third Bishop of Tiraspol, had his ancestry from
the Neewiller-Lauterbourg area. Msgr. Alexandre Frison, martyred
for his faith, had his ancestors come from Seebach.
It didn’t take long for there to be a shortage of land given
these young dynamic families had many children. This led to new
immigration by the third generation. Little by little, new communities
were founded in the East-even as far away as Siberia. However, at
the end of the 19th century, there appears a unique migration movement
towards North America. This became a providential exit route for
the sons in large families cramped by the exploitation of their
fathers. Added to this lack of new land was the increasing abolition
of privileges the immigrants had flourished under for so long.
Slowly opening up the west of North America, the great transcontinental
railways found it hard to be profitable in these huge, deserted
tracts of land. An understandable worry which led to the bringing
of settlers to the North Central Plains. Not long behind were the
immigration recruitment offices in Odessa, praising the vast territories
As such incredible access to new lands was offered to the colonists
in Ukraine, sons and great-grandsons of our Alsatian pioneers leave
in substantial numbers. Leaving their native Russia, they generally
travel via Hambourg to board ships for North America. It was a curious
exodus that saw certain villages in Ukraine literally transplanted
to the vast expanse of the Prairies straddling the Canadian and
But in the Czarist Empire, families still loyal to Russia continued
to scatter far and wide even to present-day Siberia.
After 1870, the legal status of these immigrant descendants will
change completely. By an edict on 4 June 1871, St.Petersburg retracts
the laws given the colonists. This act hastens the departure to
North America which is then at the ready to welcome new immigrants.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 would sound the death-knell of the
autonomous enclaves- not an unpleasant thought for the moujiks (
Russian peasants ?) who constantly envied the German colonists prosperity.
For these German-speaking kulaks, history will not be kind to them.
The Second World War will provoke the annihilation of these once
flourishing communities, causing the survivors to be cast to the
fours winds of the earth.
Copyright translation: Michele LeBoldus, Ottawa, Ontario,
Our appreciation is extended to Michele LeBoldus for
translation of this article.