Historic Consequences of the Tsarina’s Manifesto

Obholz, Albert, Ph.D. "Historic Consequences of the Tsarina's Manifesto." Volk auf dem Weg, May 2013, 14.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO.

Translator’s Note: This article does not go along with the sometimes celebratory mood engendered by the 250th anniversary of Tsarina Catherine’s manifesto(s) inviting German farmers to emigrate and cultivate the Volga region. In contrast, it emphasizes all the negative consequences experienced by ethnic German Russians within those 250 years and ends up considering the entire period a major mistake of our forefathers.

Most historians consider Tsarina Catherine II’s measures regarding the immigration of German colonists to Russia as very positive. However, historic facts do not support that assessment. In my opinion, our ancestors lost more than they gained.

Despite promises, the Russian government had not prepared itself fully and sufficiently for receiving the colonists. For example, around 3,000 immigrants lost their lives merely on the way from St. Petersburg to Saratov.1

And after the immigrant colonists had reached their places of settlement, another 1,000 or more men, women and children were killed or taken into slavery by wild nomadic tribes. Especially heavy blows were inflicted on the colonists by Pugachev’s bands. After the latter had been vanquished, the number of colonists in the Krasnoyarsk, Tarlyk and Tonkoshurovka districts had been reduced from 27,000 souls to 23,099.2 In those three districts alone, the roving bands had killed or driven from their settlements nearly 4,000 colonists.

Later, several cholera and other epidemics broke out and caused many colonists to die. For example, in 1870 some 2,029 cases of cholera were registered on the meadow side of the Volga. 472 (23.3 percent) of those infected died.3

We do not know exactly how many residents succumbed or disappeared while fleeing from the colonies. On the other hand, we do know that, for example, between 1871 and 1912, around 300,000 Germans emigrated from Russia to North and South America.4

Heavy losses were incurred by the colonists in the Russo-Japanese War and in World War I. Around 300,000 Germans served in the Tsarist Army during those two wars. To this day there is no official information as to how many German Russians died or had serious injuries.

There followed the horrific October Revolution and the subsequent civil wars. Thousands of German colonists were driven to death and poverty, hunger, and flight.

Conditions of the times between 1914 and 1926 caused the colonists to lose 382,500 people.5

During the collectivization period between 1928 and 1931 [sic], around 65,000 Germans were deported and banished to the far reaches of the Soviet union.6

After the onset of World War II, the colonists, simply because they were ethnic Germans, became special political victims of the Soviet regime. More than 800,000 Germans were deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan; men between ages 16 and 55, and women between ages 16 and 45, entered Stalinist forced-labor camps, where devastating conditions awaited them. Children three years and older were separated from their mothers and had to be left behind. Many of these children would grow up as orphans and in time forget their roots entirely.

More than 160,000 Germans died during those years in the so-called Trud-Army and in banishment.7

1941 brought about the end of the history of Germans in Russia or in the Soviet Union [at least in the Volga area – Tr.]. Everything our forefathers had built there and all the good they had been able to do -- the land they had farmed, their properties, their households, their goods -- was lost forever, and their churches, schools and cemeteries were all destroyed.

Now, after 250 years we find ourselves where our forefathers emigrated from, and we must pose this question: “Was it worth it all, the migration to Russia?” In my opinion it was the greatest mistake of our ancestors. One can always find what is best in one’s own homeland. Historical experience tells us that anyone who goes east loses out in the end.

There should not be great jubilee celebrations on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the publication of the manifesto simply because we have survived a tragic history. Better to play a requiem dedicated to the millions of Germans interred in Russian soil.

What remains of the parish church of the colony of Mariental on the Volga, where school master Anton Schneider (1798 – 1867) taught for twenty-five years.


  1. “Deutsche aus Russland gestern und heute [Germans from Russia, Yesterday and Today],” Volk auf dem Weg. 2006, p. 4.
  2. G. J. Kolesnikov, Pamyatnaya knishka Smarskoiy Gubernii na 1910 god. Novousenskiy used., pp. 27-57.
  3. Alexander Spack’s Internet Page “Die Geschichte der Wolgadeutschen [History of the Volga Germans].”
  4. “Deutsche in Russland und in der GUS 1861 – 1997 [Germans in Russia and in the CIS,
  5. – 1997],” Volk auf dem Weg, 1997, p. 12.  
  6. Op. cit., p. 14.
  7. Cited from Eisfeld, Alfred. Dunkle Jahre. Zum Gedenken an die Opfer des “Groβen Terrors” und die Zwangsarbeitslager in der Sowietunion [Dark Times. In Memory of the Victims of the “Great Terror” and the Forced-Labor Camps in the Soviet Union]. Stuttgart 2012, p. 23.
  8. Op. cit. (Viktor Krieger). p. 68.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation and to Dr. Nancy Herzog for editing this article.

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