The Initial Period and the Process of Establishing of German
Colonies in Southern Ukraine
By Stefan Kolesnikow, Ocheretorda, near Odessa, Ukraine (former
German village of Baden, Kutschurgan District)
Translated from Russian to English by Helen Akulova, 2005
The first settlements from German lands, as well as from Holland,
Switzerland and Austria appeared in Russia at the period of Catherine
II ruling. A lot of scholars explained this phenomenon "because
of Catherine's sympathy to the Germans". But the foreigners
were invited by the imperatrees not to replace the Russian statesmen,
officers, court men (as it was during "Biron's times"),
but to develop fast "profitable lands never used before";
so, they had to develop virgin lands. Catherine's idea was to reform
the vast unsettled territories and turn them into granary of Russia.
According to Catherine's Manifesto from December 4, 1762, everyone,
excluding the Judies, was invited to settle on the new steep territories.
But this Manifesto was collapsed because there were not any profits
for the new migrants and their civil status was not defined (Bagaley,
Europe looked at Russia as the Romans looked at the Scythians. So,
it was necessary to compensate for a deficit in the first Manifesto
to decrease the European prejudice. Manifesto from July 22, 1763
had done it (Claus, 1889).
According to the Manifesto of 1763, the migrants got 162 acres
per person (later it was reduced to 160 acres per family). In addition,
every village got 70-80 acres for meadow, forests, orchards etc.
The colonists had not had to pay taxes temporarily. They got government
10 year non-interests loan for building houses, buying cattle and
tolls. To encourage trade they were given rights to establish small
plants and factories, and even to buy and have serfs. All these
privileges had been existed for 30 years to compensate the expenditures
of the colonists. After this period the colonists should pay state
taxes as the average citizen. We have to admit that the only privilege
for later colonists was the release from the recruitment. Free-will
army service was stimulated and the descendants of the first colonists
practised it a lot in 18-19 centuries. In 1874 ,the universal army
recruitment was set up and the colonists were involved into this
Initially the main stream of migrants directed to Povozh'e (* territories
along Volga River). In Novorossia (* the old name of Ukraine until
1917) the first colony, Alt-Danzig, appeared in 1787 not far from
Elisavetgrad, but only in 19 century the development of Novorossia
Lands became really serious.
The first vessel with the German colonists came to Odessa in 1804.
It was 42 families, who settled in Odessa. They were experienced
craftsmen and Duke d'Reshelie persuaded them to stay in a new city.
Duke played the important role in the history of German migrants
in Ukraine. He took up their residents around Odessa, having given
them the fertile lands (Sheluhin, 1915).
As a respond to the Duke's petition the Manifesto was proclaimed
October 17, 1803, it allowed the Duke to buy lands for German colonists
in Odessa suburbs. There were three estates nearby Odessa, belonged
to Count Pototsky and General Kislinsky (48149 acres in total),
and the Knezhevych's estate (23220 acres). D'Reshelie bought these
lands for new migrants. It was not enough for the newcomers and
later the lands nearby villages Mayaky, Galiklea, and Belyaevka
were added. So, the colonies Gross-Libental, Klain-Libental, Alexandergelf,
Neiburg, Mariental, Lusdorf appeared.
The second wave of migration was in 1808-1811. It was time when
colonies Zelz, Strasburg, Kandel, Baden, Mangeim and Elzas were
The third period of settlement, so-called Bessarabian, was in 1814-1823.
Maloyaroslavets, Taturino, Krasnoe, Katsbah, Plotsk and Teplist
There were 500 German colonies on the territory of modem Odessa
Region. The number of residents in each was 100 and up. While settled
the people name their new village with the memorial names of their
origin places. So, Baden, Elzas, Munich, Strasburg appeared. When
new colonies were set up they were named with the prefixes New-:
New-Elzas, New-Strasburg etc. Sometimes colonies were named according
the emperor's Manifestoes, so, for instance, in 1819, Alexander
I wanted commemorate the names of places, which would reflect the
victory of Russian army in Napoleon war, and places like Tarutino,
Borodino, Krasnoe and others showed up.
According to Brokgauz and Efron' s Dictionary in 1764-1866 the
German migrants established 549 colonies: particularly 165 in Tavria
Region, 70 in Bessarabia Region, 53 in Ecaterinoslaysk Region, and
47 in Kherson Region.
The German peasants, who came to new lands at the beginning of 19
century, faced a lot of psychological and nature obstacles. The
severe winters, heat and dry summer, the plague and other diseases,
long distance from the native land and the centres of civilisation
were the least problems the migrants confronted. Previous years
showed that many new colonists had to return home because they could
not overcome the problems.
In 1804 the Minister of Domestic Affairs pointed out the deficiency
in colonialization especially in Novorossia, and as a result the
new amendment dealt with the benefits for German migrants appeared
September 27, 1806. Only the farmers or people, who specialized
in cattle-breading, sheep-breading etc. were welcomed to Russia.
To develop cattle and sheep farms every community got 1350 extra
acres. Government support newcomers until the first harvest would
be gotten (Druginina, 1970).
Every family took a 10-year loan (300 roubles). They had to pay
land tax (10-20 kopeks per acre). Community submitted to Trustee
Counsel in the Ministry of Domestic Affairs, which prepare and sent
"the rules and right description" to the colonies (History
of Moldova, 1957). Every community elected a Head, who was submitted
to the local municipality. He was assisted with two advisers and
a clerk. There was a "Shulze" (a senior man) in the village
and a foreman per every 10 houses. The right to elect had only the
male residents. The authority of local administration was unlimited.
A senior man had to supervise the moral and religious behaviour
of the colonists. If a person failed to attend the church service
twice he/she was fined, after third absents the amount of fine was
trebled. Such a strict order was motivated by the degradation of
migrants after Napoleon war, when a lot of cathedrals were destroyed
by the revolutionary French army and the catholic godliness was
replaced by atheism. A local senior man could also interfere into
his co-villagers affairs. In spring he gave an order about the beginning
of field works, and in fall he supervised harvesting. Along with
the foremen he had an eye on the housekeeping and gardening. Special
attention he paid to developing home crafts. The peasants used three-field
and later seven-field systems of cultrivation. A senor man had to
keep his people from alcohol and gambling, through the giving the
person hard volunteer job in community. At the end of the year a
senior man presented to the Trustee Counsel two lists of diligent
and negligent residents. An incorrigible person was deprived his
benefits and profits (Sheluhin, 1915).
Russian legislation gave the autonomy to the German colonies, but
it did not mean that migrants lived separately and reserved. They
had their representatives in Region Councils. As in Kherson Region
the German representatives constituted 50-60% of the total number
of Region Head Council. National unity and solidarity were the special
feature of German colonies. It guaranteed lack of conflicts and
Senior people and disabled lived in the special care homes. Along
with the traditional German economy, migrants never grudged money
for building schools, churches, community halls etc. as the Regional
observers mentioned "the life style of German colonies is the
pattern to follow. There are no poor houses here... prosperity and
wellness everywhere..." (1920).
All big colonies followed the traditional German style of life and
plan of ordinary German village: Church, school and municipal hall
in the centre, all streets ran to the centre. There were a stone
mill, barn, in most villages.
From the very beginning the migrants had difficulties with cultivation
because of unknown weather and climate features. Even Duke d'Reshelie
in 1806 wrote to Governor of Xherson that "the Germans had
the worst harvest and could not support themselves " (Claus,
1869). But the same Germans changed the situation very quickly.
Their main job became the cattle breeding. In 1805, Frenchman whose
name was Ruview and German named Miller brought to Odessa Region
2000 fine-fleeced sheep. It was the beginning of core German agricultural
business in Novorossia. The number of sheep increased 10 times in
Kherson Region, and 21 times in Besarabia during 1823-1866. It is
explained by the fast acclimatization of sheep, very law land taxes
and high prices for the fleece abroad.(Zertsalov, 1892).
Besides, German colonists brought to Russia the "ostfrisland
caw", which features (succulence and milk ness) gave the main
award to this species in Malorossia (1924).
In 1850 the number of plough land was only 15 %, because cattle
breeding were easier to handle, but in Odessa region the area of
cultivated land increased these years and the prises for grain also
increased. Reforms of the 1860 influenced the agriculture a lot.
With the fast growing of sheep breeding in Australia and Northern
America the world fleece prices dropped. The same time grain price
went up and this caused the development of field agriculture. This
process ran quickly for a couple years, but than due to the lack
of labour and law level of techniques the crisis burned up. It was
totally necessary to develop the mechanical process of harvesting.
From all different national groups of inhabitants in Novorossia
only the Germans could manage this problem. They replaced an ox
with a horse and extended productivity twice. Using seeding-machine
they extended productivity of sowing twice. It gave them opportunity
to expand the cultivating area and accelerate spring field works.
The colonists designed new productive construction of a seeding-machine.
They also used only highly productive barley seeds. A family of
four adults itself appeared to be able to cultivate 100-200 acres
with the help of new seeding machine and horses.
In German villages was the unwritten law about the right of owning
and inheritance of land. The youngest son was considered to be the
direct heir. The other sons had to buy new land or serve.
German colonies influenced a, lot, a system of land ploughing
in Southern Ukrain. So, according statistics in 1896-1905 the noblemen
of Kherson Region sold 952549 acres of land in total and 337508
acres were bought by the Germans. In 1913 German colonies owned
the most agriculture lands in Odessa region; they even passed ahead
the Ukrainian peasants (Sheluhin, 1915).
Mutual aid showed when the colonists bought tools or tools, ordered
the seeds or did selections of farm animals. There were a lot of
credit, insurance and banking offices in the colonies. The biggest
mutual aid funds were in Strasburg, Baden and Zelts in 19 century.
Additionally the colonies got financial supplement from Russian
Let's have a look at the sample of working a mutual aid fund in
Gross-Libental colony, Kherson region. The total income of the colony
in 1910 was 5154 roubles. It was shared between some essential needs:
2547 roubles – the main capital, 1100 – reserve capital,
500 roubles for building a church, 500 roubles for a school needs,
150 for local choir, and 357 roubles to buy field implements. Mostly
the colony budget was discussed on the colony meetings, where everyone
participated and sounded own opinion.
A number of professional unions, "Fereins", which appeared
in the end of 19 or beginning of 20 centuries, had an important
role for the national unity of Germans in Ukraine (Tsvetkov, 1997).
There were 12 professional unions in Odessa at the beginning of
20 century: choirs, volunteer's fire men brigades, athletic clubs,
shooting clubs, salesmen union and other were among them. They were
based upon territory of origin principle. These clubs and societies
were the part of the bigger union: "German Colonists Union".
This organisation's main role was "giving helpful hands for
colonies in agronomy, veterinary and cooperation with local Russian
Agricultural intensification in Novorossia region much happened
owing to German colonists. So, about a half of total number of reaping-machines,
threshing machines, winnowing machines and other agricultural tools
in Kherson region belonged to the German colonists. They even had
an experience in using agricultural associations. The first mechanical
associations appeared there (Isaev, 1894).
But agriculture and farming were not the only branch of the Germans
activities. Colonies were well-known for their wine-making, beekeeping,
and silkworm breeding, tobacco-growing and wood growing. Many colonies
had the brick factories, barley mills, cheese dairies, chums. Mills
and broadcloth factories appeared soon. Goods and other products
were selling in the local markets and also imported to other regions.
At the beginning of 20 century Odessa company "Gann"
lounged the plough production. The founder of the company was Johan
Gann. Before Crimea war he had a mechanic workshop and he designed
so-called "a colonist's plough". His son had improved
it and in 1881 a new brand "Novorossia plough" appeared
in the market. Gann got an award for his product. In 1886 the workshop
was reformed in a huge plant, and in 1893 the second plant was built.
Before 20 century 200000 ploughs were produced.
Another outstanding person of German origin was an architect Voldemar
Kundert, of Odessa. He won a gold medal for his ferroconcrete constructions
at Odessa exhibition in 1910. Kundert built some great buildings
for city and for private owners in Odessa, including Gann's plants.
The colonists also were successful in Russian army, like general
Folk Sebastian, of Baden.
We should admit the significant role of clergy. Alexander I paid
especial attention to the clergy authority of the colonies. So,
he ordered to pay every pastor 500-680 roubles per year from the
government fund. Additionally every pastor got 162-324 acres of
land free of taxes. Later the parish took the responsibility of
priest supporting. In 1867 the priest was paid 1.99 – 6.84
kopecks by every male of the parish per year. He also was given
free board and lodging, and parish charity. The Catholic priest
was appointed by the member of higher orders of clergy in Kamenets-Podolsk;
Protestant Pastor was elected by the parish. Education was under
the church jurisdiction. Colonies had traditional German public
school, which rooted historically to the Period of Reformation in
Germany. One of the main features of educational process were the
Basic of Faith and Compulsory elementary education. School attendance
was obligatory. If the student failed to attend his/her parents
paid a fine to the school fund. As we said before, their first profits
colonists used for establishing schools. German national schools
also were subsided from German. "German Shulferein", the
organization set up to support German education in Russia, proclaimed
its aim as "to help Germans to be the Germans; or if they lost
their national identity to help to restore it". According to
the special order since October 25, 1819 the school supervising
were given to clergy authority. The school curriculum was of religion
origin. Since early 1830s, when the economy and trade development
increased, the colonists felt like they needed more wide rage of
knowledge. Till 1850s the school curriculum include reading and
writing (German and Russian), Bible study, the history of the church,
geography (with globe and map study), math, civil law, technical
drawing, story reading and excursions (Bagaley, 1889).
In 1868 there Congress of South Colonies had place in Odessa, where
the problems of education were discussed widely. One of the very
important questions was the necessity of learning Russian language
"to adjust in Russia easily". Congress divided the colonies
into some School Boards according to the territory and financial
resources. It also established some colleges, set up their curriculum
and methods of teaching. Colonies themselves took responsibilities
for the financing. So, nine School Boards appeared. Congress decreased
the clergy power and let priest teach only Bible study at school.
Actually Congress designed the very considered and didactically
approved system of education, which helped to unite local village
school with regional college and the new teacher-training institute
in Odessa. The first result of this plan was Central College in
Grosslibental opened in 1869.
Russian Germans were always very sensitive to the every change
in economy. In 20th century the new intensive method of cultivating
was spread quickly among German colonies to get the higher profit.
But to obtain new agricultural methods it was necessary to get new
and serious education. Since 1905 new agricultural educational establishments
appeared, like vocational school in Tarutino. Later the number of
such schools extended to twenty.
Colonies had their own press. The first German newspaper "A
Paper of German Newcomers in South Russia" was published in
1845. It contained suggestions in different field of agriculture,
product and tools prices, family information. You could find here
the sentimental stories, didactic novels and Bible Study conference.
In spite of chip price the number of subscribers was law, and in
1861 the newspaper was closed. Since 1846 the monthly magazine "Unterhaltungzblatt"
(only 500 copies) appeared. Free magazine "Farmer", of
Eigenfeld colony, sent to its subscribers the seeds to research,
under conditions of reporting the results to the publishers. The
numbers of subscribers grow every year. Since 1862 "Odesser
Zeitung" ("Odessa Newspaper") was published. It was
daily newspaper and the subscription cost 10 roubles (Odessa Press,
The main column informed readers about German migrants' problems
and life. It was published until fall of 1914, later it appeared
in print for a short period in 1919-1920. After communists came
to power the newspaper disappeared. The copy of this newspaper was
kept in Odessa library, but during World War II it evanesced.
Except mentioned press, since 1870 "Christian Bulletin"
had been published in Odessa for 35 years. St.Climent Society published
The cultural life of the colonies was extremely rich. In 1864 "Harmony"
Club was established in Odessa. It was the place for drama, musical
concerts and dace. In 1902 the club got a new building in Ovchinnikov
Cr. with the concert hall for 600 people. It was decorated modestly
and elegantly. Athletic club was opened in 1914 in St. Paul College.
Some beautiful cathedrals, like St. Paul Lutheran Cathedral (August
28, 1824), Rome-Catholic Church (1895) were built by the German
migrants. In 1895 on Catherine St. the building of Evangelist Reformist
Church was finished. It was rebuilt in 1857. The services were every
week in two languages: German and French.
In conclusion, more then 150 years the German colonies developed
the economy in Southern Ukraine. They got rich harvests and cooperated
successfully with other nations. Desolate Southern steeps they transformed
into granary of Russia. They achieved record harvests: 984 kg per
capita. Sizable surplus gave an opportunity to trade through the
Black Sea ports.
All the facts presented in the article proved our theory about visible
contribution of the German colonists into developing of southern
part of Ukraine. For many of them this land became a Motherland.