200 Years Back: The Great Movement of Germans to the Black Sea

Vor 200 Jahren: Der Zug der Deutschen ans Schwarze Meer

"200 Years Back: The Great Movement of Germans to the Black Sea." Volk auf dem Weg, August/September 2003, 18-20.

Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

Well, to begin with, there was a modern Tsar. Just as his grandmother, Tsarina Katherine II, had lured Protestant and Catholic Germans to the Volga region from about 1764 onward, and Mennonites to the Dnyepr beginning in 1789, Alexander I, powerful opponent of Napoleon I, set his hopes and confidence in German artisans and farmers (1801 - 1825).

Why did Germans choose emigration to a largely unknown Russia at the onset of the 19th Century?

For many Schwabians in particular, his offer to German settlers, tendered via ukases of March 27, April 10, and October 17, of 1803, and reiterated in a further manifesto of February 20, 1804, must have seemed like an act of salvation.

In our Heimatbuch issue of 1990/1991, Dr. Georg Bodamer summarizes this aspect as follows:

-- here (i.e., in Wuerttemberg): Suppression by foreign powers and local government; there (i.e., in South Russia, "New Russia," today's Ukraine): the possibility for developing a better life;

-- here: service in armed forces and in fighting various wars; there: exemption from service in the military;

-- here: economical deprivation, years of famine, insufficient farmland, and oppressive tax burden;
there: generous allocations of land, freedom from taxation;

-- here: cold churches and a king (Frederic I) who "desires to fight with all available means against the plague of pietism," there: Alexander I, Frederic I's visionary nephew, who offered the assurance that Chiliasts, Pietists, Stundists and other "ists" could, according to their respective understanding of ancient Christendom, associate at will in their warm living rooms.

According to various concurring sources, 2,990 foreign immigrants, guided by Russian agents and a German by the name of Ziegler, arrived as early as 1803 in Odessa, gate to southern colonization. This number stemmed primarily from the eight transports that were channeled through quarantine in Dubossary in today's Moldavia.

Stemming from various regions of Southwest Germany, they had gathered in Ulm to take up the strenuous trip along the Danube. The first leg toward Vienna they managed upon small ships, the so-called "Ulmer Schachteln [Ulm Boxes]" (cf. picture and report concerning the Grossliebental Convention 2003, p. 21 of this issue). These boats were about 30 meters [33 yards] long and about 7.5 meters [8.5 yards] wide, with sides about 150-160 cm high [5 - 6 feet] high.

In Vienna, where the Danube widens, the colonists were transferred to ships. But a bit further south, a stretch of the river in Hungary and Romania where it narrows again, and near the "Iron Gate" with its dangerous rapids, passage became possible only with the guidance of experienced river pilots.

After Vienna, the colonists' transports passed by Bratislava, Budapest, Belgrade, Orsovo, Vidin, Galatz, and Ismail. Alexander had intended them to head for the harbor cities of Odessa and Feodosia as well as the governmental districts of Yekaterinoslav (today called Dnyepropetrovsk) and Cherson. The monarch wished the greater area near Odessa to be settled primarily by people who were excellent in farming and wine-growing.

Various sources, including our Heimatbuecher, have described the difficulties of travel the immigrants experienced -- something that can never be emphasized often enough. The transports lasted up to 70 days.

The very first transport reached Odessa on August 24, 1803. It consisted of 29 families, mostly farmers. The numbers of farming families decreased steadily with subsequent transports, and the eighth transport contained only 2 farmers. In the meantime, bakers, tailors, basket weavers, millers, printers, carpenters, masons, gardeners, teachers, feldscher, and even a surgeon from Wuerttemberg had arrived seeking a better fortune near the Black Sea.

The harbor city Odessa, established in 1794 and part of the governmental region of Cherson since 1803, served as the primary destination for the immigrants. At the time, Odessa numbered 9,000 residents and as many as 39 enterprises producing alcohol, medicines, noodles, powder, and various other wares.

German artisans came with much needed expertise and tradition to encourage other occupations to flourish. Beneficial to their startup was the fact that on arrival in the settlement areas they received the same initial assistance as that promised to the farming families. When required, they were granted a loan for the construction of homes and, depending on family size, a grant of up to 100 rubles.

In 1802, Odessa was elevated to the status of governorship. The French Duke Richelieu was named its first governor. But as early as 1805, when Richelieu was appointed governor of all of New Russia, a German, Philipp Schaufler of Stuttgart, was appointed to respected office of "Starosta" (eldest) of the artisans guild.

Richelieu was among the aristocrats who had fared rather badly during the French Revolution of 1789. Unhappy with their country of birth, they offered their services to foreign states, usually meaning military service. Richelieu opted for Russia under Katherine II. The German-born Tsarina was in great need of strategists for her campaigns against Turkey, which had gained for her the Crimea and the Black Sea coast. By virtue of these military successes, Russia advanced to a hegemonic power, and its court in St. Petersburg to the cultural center of Europe.

Richelieu took an active part in the second Russo-Turkish War between 1787 and 1792. After the more powerful storms of the Revolution had abated, he went back to France, but because Alexander I cast a favorable eye on him, he returned to Russia, where he was appointed to high positions.

Employing new kinds of measures, Richelieu quickly brought order to the chaos of nationalities and problems of Odessa. He was diligent, goal-oriented and willing to take risks. One of his first acts was to release from prison those people who found themselves incarcerated without tangible accusation.

Before Richelieu's governorship, Odessa did not meet the expectations of its new residents. This was supposed to be a sea harbor. A city which didn't really have a simple harbor that could give ships a way to dock without danger. A city with a future, but without decent schools. There really weren't any of those.

The image of the city was dominated by small homes with reed-thatched roofs or simple semlyanki, that is, sod huts. Many courageous immigrants remained, others kept going. Some provided the city and its surrounding region with new impulses for some time to come, others contributed considerably toward the prosperity of the Black Sea region, in its extended sense, at least until the Second World War.

Who are the Black Sea Germans?

In the stricter sense, this includes first the "genuine" Black Sea Germans, that is, the former German residents of Odessa and bordering colonist villages within five districts:

-- Grossliebental District (Bolshoya Akarsha): 15 - 25 kilometers west of Odessa, with seven Evangelical-Lutheran colonies (Alexanderhilf, Freudental, Grossliebental, Gueldendorf, Lustdorf, Neuberg, Peterstal) and four Catholic ones (Franzfeld, Josefstal, Kleinliebental, Mariental);

-- Kutchurgan District on the Kutchurgan, a tributary of the Dnyestr River, with its six Catholic mother colonies of Baden, Elsass, Kandel, Mannheim, Selz and Strassburg;

-- Glueckstal District (Glinoye), north of the Odessa-Tiraspol road, with four Lutheran colonies (Bergdorf, Glueckstal, Kassel and Neudorf);

-- Beresan District, situated about 100 kilometers north and east of Odessa, with seven Catholic colonies (Karlsruhe, Katharinental, Landau, Muenchen, Rastatt, Speyer, Sulz) and four Lutheran ones (Johannestal, Rohrbach, Waterloo, Worms);

-- Hoffnungstal (Zebrikovo), consisting of a single Lutheran mother colony, about 90 kilometers north of Odessa.

However, Dr. Karl Stumpp, well-known in the West as the chronicler of the Germans from Russia, extended membership of the "Black Sea Germans" considerably further. He recognizes a total of 204 mother colonies in the Black Sea region, 92 of these being Evangelical, 44 Catholic, and 44 Mennonite, and he groups them into the following ten areas:

-- Grossliebental
-- Hoffnungstal
-- Kutchurgan
-- Beresan
-- Glueckstal
-- South Bessarabia (24 colonies, 23 of them Evangelical)
-- Swedish area on the Dnyepr (4 Evangelical colonies)
-- Chortitza, the oldest of all German settlements in the Ukraine, with its ten "Old Colonies" founded between 1789 and 1797, and seven newer settlements founded after 1802; all 17 colonies being exclusively Low German places of the Mennonite faith;

-- Prishib-Halbstadt (Molochna Colonies, "Molosh"), the largest closed German settlement region in South Ukraine, with 20 Catholic, 18 Mennonite, and five Evangelical mother colonies; Prishib itself containing both Catholic and Evangelical residents;

-- Mariupol, Gruenau, and Plan Colonies, for the most part of the Mennonite faith and Low German language.

By 1941 there were even more Black Sea German mother colonies, on the Azov Sea, on the Crimean Peninsula, and in the South Caucasus. Readers who do not have a firm idea of the sites of the Black Sea Germans can locate it best via our accompanying map. On commonly available maps the region is comprised largely of the areas surrounding Ukrainian mega-cities of Odessa, Dnyepropetrovsk, Saporoshye and Donetzk.

In the course of time, about 2,000 so-called daughter colonies emanated from the original 204 Black Sea mother colonies, in the Black Sea area per se, but also on the Danube, in the Caucasus, and in Siberia.

The end of the German colonies in the Black Sea region must be marked by the date of March 19, 1944, when the very last "genuine" Black Sea Germans were evacuated [by the German occupation forces, tr.] toward the Warthe region in Western Poland, or directly into the German Reich. This subject will be dealt with in a major way via a pictorial report by Viktor and Rodica Schaefer, Waldemar Schwindt and Eduard Stephan in the upcoming Heimatbuch, scheduled to be published at year's end 2003 and automatically available to any member of the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland.


Aumann, "Istoriya rossiyskitch nemtzev w dokumentach (1763 - 1992)," Moscow, 1993.

Boehm, Hilfer, "Bericht ueber den Allrussischen Kongress der Deutschrussen [Report on the All-Russia Congress of German-Russians]," Odessa, 1917.

Fleischauer, Jedig, "Die Deutschen in der UdSSR in Geschichte und Gegenwart [The Germans in the USSR in History and in the Present]," Baden-Baden, 1990.

Heimatbuecher published by the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, specifically those of 1955, 1956, and 1990/91.

Historischer Forschungsverein der Deutschen aus Russland [Society for Research on Germans from Russia], Kalender 2003.

Hrushevski-Institute, "Kontora Opekunstva novorossiyskich inostranich poloselenzev 1781 - 1857," Dnyepropetrovsk, Kiev, 1997.

Kirpitchinov, Markevitch, "Proshloye i nastoyashcheye Odessy," Odessa, 1894.

Mack, "Erinnerungen an die deutschen Kolonien des Grossliebentaler Rayons bei Odessa [Memories of the German colonies of the Grossliebental District near Odessa]." Ravensburg, 1998.

Orlyanskiy, "Malotchislenniye nazionalynosti yuga Ukrainy," Saporoshye, 1990.

Plesskaya-Sebold, "Odesskiye nemzy 1803 - 1920," Odessa, 1999.

Stumpp, "Die Auswanderung aus Deutschland nach Russland in den Jahren 1763 bis 1862 [Emigration from Germany to Russia in the Years 1763 to 1862], Stuttgart, 1978.

Volk auf dem Weg, 2/1984, "Deutsche Rayons in der UdSSR, 1926 - 41 [German districts in the USSR, 1926 - 41]," Stuttgart.

"Duke Richelieu"
Ukraine in 1926: Districts with the highet portions of German residents (actual and percentage)
Church in Odessa, October 1992


Key Events from the History of Odessa

1789 -- Don Jose de Ribas conquers the fortress Chadshibey for Russia and is to establish a harbor there.
1795 -- The name Chadshibey is changed to Odessa.
1803 -- The first German colonists arrive in Odessa.
1804 -- Establishment of a German parish school.
1805 -- Austrian Consulate established.
1806 -- First German commercial enterprise (the soap factory Kuhnert) established.
1821 -- Prussian consulate opened.
1824 - 1827 -- Ev.-Lutheran church, St. Paul's, built.
1830 -- German teacher's institute founded in Odessa.
1833 -- Social Welfare Committee transferred to Odessa, by now containing 60,000 residents.
1834 -- Watchmaking factory A. Weiss established.
1845 -- J. Joehn establishes an agricultural machine factory.
1863 - 1914 and 1917 - 1919 -- "Odessaer Zeitung [Odessa Newspaper]"
1869 - 1914 -- "Chirstlicher Volksbote [Herald for Christian People]"
1872 -- German Consulate opened. Odessa numbers about 190,000 residents.
1914 -- Austrian and German citizens transferred to interior areas of Russia.
1915 -- German language proscribed.
1917 -- "All_Russia Congress of German-Russians in Odessa" (May 14 - 16).
1938 -- On September 1, all German schools in the entire Black Sea German region are closed. Odessa now numbers ca. 600,000 residents.
1941 (October) - 1944 (April) -- Odessa is occupied by German troops; Black Sea Germans are naturalized, evacuated, dragged away, and scattered across the whole world.
1992 -- After nearly 50 years of silence, former Odessa area Germans renew contacts with the Black Sea region. Leading the way is Johannes Frey (of Boeblingen), who in subsequent years organizes a series of transports ferrying humanitarian aid to, plus trips into, the old home country.
1993 -- a small point of light: the establishment of the "German House" in Odessa, made available as a cultural center via the support of the Bavarian government for employment, family, and social order of the German Lutheran community.
1994 -- The announcement by the President of the Ukraine of a willingness to accept up to 400,000 Germans for resettlement soon dissipates into nothing after a brief period of euphoria.
2000 -- Odessa now numbers 1,027,000 residents; the number of German residents, not known exactly, is estimated at ca. 0.5 percent.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller