Lured and Banished: From Germany to Russia to America: Varying History of the Germans From Russia

Angelockt und vertrieben: Von Deutschland über Russland nach Amerika: Die wechselhafte Geschichte der Russlanddeutschen

Kriessmann, Wilhelm. "Lured and Banished: From Germany to Russia to America: Varying History of the Germans From Russia." Amerika Woche, 17 November 2001, 14.

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


Bismarck, ND -- The long trek of the Germans from Russia from continent to continent began around 1760. At that time, the German Princess Sophie von Anhalt-Zerbst, whose name has gone down in world history as Tsarina Catherine the Great, began to lure German settlers into the Russian Empire.

She was very familiar with the diligence and work ethic of her own compatriots, she also knew of their religious, economical and political distress. The means she used to lure them consisted of a clever immigration policy, which absolved the new settlers of all loan interest payments for ten years, provided them with free farmland, granted them religious freedom and exempted them from conscription to military service.

The majority of the new settlers came from Germany's Southwest. They made their way to Russia on land or on boats down the Danube River and, at least at first, settled down between the Dnieper and Don rivers and on the shores of the lower Volga River.

Catherine's grandson, Alexander I, from about 1804 on, continued to lure even more settlers under the same conditions as before. They tended to settle between the Dniester, Bug and Don rivers. The immigrants overcame the great initial difficulties of a raw climate, primitive living conditions, and grasshopper plagues with their tenacity and hard work. Eventually they enjoyed a measure of agricultural prosperity. They built churches and schools, acquired additional farmland, and founded new settlements in the Northern and Eastern parts of the Ukraine.

Toward the turn of the century [1900, tr.] conditions suddenly changed rather drastically. Successors of Catherine and Alexander I simply rescinded the privileges that had been granted to the German-Russian settlers and their descendants. The government restricted instruction in German schools to Sunday School only and introduced schooling in Russian for all. As a result many Black Sea German-Russians emigrated. Their goal: America.

The U.S. government offered favorable conditions to these new settlers, among them farmland of up to 65 hectares. Black Sea Germans mainly settled in the vast Midwest regions of North and South Dakota. After they conquered initial hardships once again, they saw their efforts flower in successful agricultural endeavors.

The groups remaining in the Volga, Don, and North Caucasus areas for the most part were left once again to suffer persecution amidst the turmoil between Tsarist Eagle and Red Star, the terrible Stalinist suppression of farmers, and the wave of collectivization.

The male portion of the ethnic group was decimated, properties and land were confiscated by the State, and the rest of the population was subjected to a state of slavery. At the beginning of the [German] military campaign against Russia in 1941, the Volga Germans were forcibly removed to inhospitable regions such as Kazakhstan. The initial successes of the German campaign provided the remaining German-Russians with a measure of hope, which eventually ended in deep desperation and, under untold suffering, arduous flight back their land of origin. There some of the Germans from Russia rediscovered their roots, and from there many immigrated to all parts of the world. Volga Germans who had settled in Kazakhstan often met with good reception in the German Federal Republic and, to a much lesser extent, in Ukraine and in certain areas of former East Prussia.

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

Reprinted with permission of Amerika Woche.

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