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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, 1889).

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 process.

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 established.

The third period of settlement, so-called Bessarabian, was in 1814-1823. Maloyaroslavets, Taturino, Krasnoe, Katsbah, Plotsk and Teplist appeared.

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 separations.

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 State bank.

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 authorities".

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, 1929).

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 "Doiche Randshay".

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.

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