Emigration Routes Out of South Russia

Weiss, Merv. "Emigration Routes Out of South Russia." 16 October 2017.

The German Colonists heading for North America left South Russia mostly by train, traveling north and westwards to a northern European seaport with easy access to the Atlantic.  Hamburg, Bremen (or Bremerhaven), Rotterdam, Le Havre were common exit points.  As were several British ports like Liverpool, Glasgow and Southampton – more about these later.

The precise route depended on two things:  the location of the German colony where the colonist had been residing, and the immigration travel agency from which the Transatlantic passage was purchased.  Germans from Bessarabia and Odessa district would have taken a different train route than those Germans living in the Prischib and Molotschna Colonies or in Crimea.  Secondly, the various immigration travel agencies used preferred ships which used their own preferred European ports.  After he had obtained his immigration passport, the German colonist would purchase an all-inclusive ticket from one of the many Foreign Immigration Agencies, which had representatives throughout South Russia.  The ticket would include transportation from the nearest railway station all the way to the final destination, which could be accessed by rail in North America.  As well, accommodation in an Immigrant House at the European port was included if the colonist and his family had to wait some days for the next ship.

Landing ports on the east coast of North America included New York of course, but also Philadelphia, Baltimore and Portland, Maine where my father’s parents landed.  In Canada the immigrants might land at Quebec and Montreal, Halifax, or Saint John, New Brunswick if it was winter time, and the St. Lawrence River was frozen over.  Some immigrant ships even docked at Galveston, Texas.  The transatlantic crossing typically lasted 9-10 days.  From the Port of Entry, the immigrants were taken to the train stations and placed on trains taking them to their final destinations.  Often, special so-called “Immigrant trains” were scheduled to meet an incoming ship from Europe for the express purpose of moving the immigrants westwards to their final destinations as soon as possible.  Volunteer groups, many of which were church-based, also helped the newly-arrived to navigate the immigration process from ship to train. 

A German family emigrating from the Kutschurgan Region, for example, would have boarded the train at the major regional station of Rozdil’na.  The route to a northern European port city would have taken them through L’viv (called Lemberg before the first World War), Krakow (Poland), Berlin and on to Hamburg.  A family traveling from the Prischib colonies likely boarded a train in Melitopol or in Chortitza (now Zaporizhia).  Their route likely went north through Kiev, Zhytomyr, Warsaw, Berlin, and on to Hamburg (or Bremen, or Rotterdam, etc.)  The length of the train trip from Odessa District to Hamburg or to Bremen would have been 3-4 days.   From Dzhankoi in Crimea to Riga in Latvia required a full 5 days. 

Another common route was through Kiev, then to Minsk (Belarus) on the way to Riga, Latvia.  After Quarantine time in Riga, the immigrants were taken by small steamer onto the Baltic Sea, around Denmark into the North Sea, landing at Hull, on the east coast of England.  From there, a short train ride would take them to a port city like Glasgow, Liverpool, or Southampton, whichever had the soonest Transatlantic sailing.  This was the route of my mother’s family from Crimea.  The Immigration Travel Companies had agents in each of the major port cities to expedite the forward movement of the travelers.  Because the ticket was all-inclusive, the companies naturally wanted to get the emigrants onto a ship as soon as possible. 

A typical emigration/immigration journey from home village in South Russia to final destination in the Dakotas, or the Canadian prairies could be as long as 30 days.  Many trips lasted even longer, especially if a prospective emigrant was held up at Quarantine, as was my Grandfather who had so-called “red-eye”, an infectious disease which was closely monitored by Immigration Inspectors.  A six-week journey was not uncommon. 
A common question:  Why did the emigrants not travel by ship directly out of Odessa?  Some actually did leave South Russia this way, crossing the Black Sea and traveling through the Bosporus Straits at Constantinople (now Istanbul) into the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, past Gibraltar and westward across the ocean.  But few companies offered this option because it was longer (both in distance and in time) and more expensive. No transportation companies promoted this route as a regular passenger service, and therefore, few German immigrants arrived in North America by this route. 

I have not researched passenger routes from South Russia to South America.  Or emigrant routes for the Volga Germans. 

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