A People on the Move: Germans in Russia and in the Former Soviet Union: 1763 - 1997

Volk auf dem Weg: Deutsche in Rußland und in der GUS: 1763 - 1997

"A People on the Move: Germans in Russia and in the Former Soviet Union: 1763 - 1997." Volk auf dem Weg, 1997.

Translation from German to English by Ingeborg W. Smith, Western Springs, Illinois

Bells Are Ringing Again in Omsk, Western Siberia
Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of 8/28/1941
Manifesto of Catherine, The Great
My Homeland


Settlement Areas for Germans on the Volga Identified
To my Mother Tongue


With gratitude and respect dedicated to the following: Former honorary president Superintendent Johannes Schleuning (1879-1961), Pastor Heinrich Roemmich (1888-1980), Studienrat Dr. Karl Stumpp (1896-1982), former honorary president Gertrud Braun (1906-1984), and former honorary member Prof. Dr. Benjamin Unruh (1881-1959) for their unforgettable contributions to the cause of the Russian-Germans.


This overview is based on manuscripts of Dr. Karl Stumpp. Eduard Markstädter drafted the first and second editions in collaboration with Nelly Kossko, Albin Fiebich and Reinhold Keil. Dr. Matthias Hagin contributed to the third edition.

The present fourth edition was revised, redesigned and amplified with additional pictures, statistics and graphics. It is the aim of this publication to bring additional information to those visiting the Russian-German touring exhibition. In addition, it is intended to pass on information about their own national group to recent emigrants and returnees who are not yet familiar with the publications of the Landsmannschaft, as they have either not been informed at all or have been only very one-sidely informed while in the former Soviet Union and the Community of Independent States (CIS.) And not least, it should be useful to the general public, not only in Germany, but also in the CIS.

It is our hope that this overview will make for a better understanding of the late emigrants and the late returnees, as well as of our countrymen in the CIS, among a large number of our fellow citizens, particularly among politicians, officials, teachers, journalists, clergymen and all social workers that have contact with the Russian-Germans, and to encourage them to become still more involved with them.

Stuttgart, 1993 Responsible for the new revision: Dr. Herbert Wiens

Cultural Council of the Germans from Russia, Reg.

Landsmannschaft der Desutschen aus Rußland, Reg.
Raitelsbergstraße 49, 70188 Stuttgart

Under the friendly patronage
of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Bonn

How the Germans came to be in Russia

Long before there were plans to settle them there, there were already German farmers in Russia. In fact, in the Middle Ages merchants of the German Hansa settled in northern Russia (Novgorod.) Under Ivan the Terrible (1533-1584) tradesmen were increasingly brought into the country (craftsmen, master builders, architects, physicians, officers, management specialists and others.) In Moscow a German suburb was built, (njemezkaja sloboda), in which Peter the Great (1682-1725) spent some happy times as a child.

Peter the Great, who began the Europeanization of Russia, brought many Germans into his empire. His successors also filled responsible positions in diplomacy, administration and the army with Germans. One has merely to examine the names of the leading personages of that time to notice that Germans were participating in all phases of Russian life. But here it is just a question of a comparatively small number of Germans, who in part were Germans only in name. Only in the larger towns, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Odessa did German communities exist with their own churches and model schools.

The situation is entirely different in the case of the unified groups of settlements mostly of peasant character.

Systematic settlement of Germans under Catherine II (1762-1769), Paul I (1796-1801), and Alexander I (1801-1825).

In many parts of Russia there were large contiguous areas of fruitful, uninhabited and unused land. The Turkish wars of the late 18th century brought further tremendous expansion of the territory in southern Ukraine that was also barely settled. In order to produce more revenue from this land, Catherine II issued a manifesto on July 22, 1763 in which all foreigners were called upon to settle in Russia. The most important points of this manifesto follow:

1. "We shall allow all foreigners to come into Our Empire in order to take up residence in all provinces wherever it is agreeable to each of them."

2. "We shall permit to all of the foreigners arriving in Our Empire free exercise of their religion according to their ecclesiastical statutes and usages."

3. "No one among such foreigners coming to Russia to take up residence shall pay the slightest tax to Our Treasury nor be forced to perform either ordinary or extraordinary duties." Whoever settled in an uncultivated area enjoyed 30 free years, otherwise 5-10 years.

4 "Such foreigners as take up residence in Russia shall, during the entire time of their being here, not be taken into the military or into civilian service against their will."

Concerning land ownership and land disposition, the following additional regulations were of decisive importance for the later advancement of the colonists (as the settlers were called.)

1. All of the estates turned over to the colonists for settlement were left to them as inviolable and heritable property forever, however not as personal property, but as the common property of each colony (community).

2 These estates could neither be sold nor abandoned without the knowledge or the assent of the authorities set over the colonists (the local administration).

3. The colonists were allowed, for the extension and improvement of their farms, to buy land from private persons and as a matter of course to acquire it as their own property.

4. In general the youngest son was in inherit the property turned over by the Crown (Minorat).

Furthermore, the colonists would be granted the right of local self-government; they were directly responsible to the Crown and not to the Interior Ministry of the empire. Also worthy of mention is the assurance that they would be allowed to leave the empire at any time, unhindered. The colonists, in contrast to the peasants in Germany and Russia, were not serfs, but freemen.

The Manifesto of Alexander I of February 20, 1804 laid particular value on "immigrants, who can serve as an example in agricultural occupations and crafts...good land managers, people who are well-versed in viticulture, in the planting of mulberry trees and other useful plants, or those who are experienced in animal husbandry, particularly in the management and raising of the best strains of sheep, and in general those who possess all of the necessary knowledge for a rational agriculture..."

In the so-called "Privilege of Grace" of Paul I of September 6, 1800, the Mennonites were granted additional rights (freedom from war-and civil-service for all time, no swearing of oaths in court, the right to carry on a business or trade, and more).

Reasons for Emigrating [Why did they Leave]

The privileges promised by the czars appeared particularly enticing in view of the poverty and the deplorable conditions found in Germany, above all, in Hesse and southwestern Germany:

-The Seven-Years War
-The Napoleonic Wars
-Foreign Occupation
-Political oppression by foreign powers and their own rulers,
-Military service and forced labor for their own rulers and for foreign powers (for example, sale of soldiers for service in America),
-Economic hardship, crop failures, years of hunger (for example, Württemberg in 1816).
-Strict, often unjust government,
-Restriction of freedom of religion.

Areas of Origin [Where did they come from]?

The three main areas of emigration of the German Russians were from Danzig-West Prussia, Poland, and from the German province of Hesse. Many Mennonites came from Danzig (1789-1804) in addition to many Catholics and Evangelicals (1832). From Poland came those Germans who had previously emigrated from Prussia and Württemberg. Between 1815 and 1818 they left Poland and proceeded to settle in Bessarabia. The main emigration from Hesse left for the Volga between 1763-176. In the beginning of the 19th century Germans migrated into the Black Sea area, however, these emigrants came mainly from southwestern and southern German provinces of Württemberg, Baden, the Palatinate, Alsace, Rhine-Hesse and the area of Bavarian-Swabia contiguous to Württemberg. (see also cover sheet p.2)

Routes taken: How did they get there?

The great planned settlement of German farmers in Russia began in 1763 and lasted until 1842. Single colonies were still founded as late as 1862. On the basis of the Manifesto of Czarina Catherine II, a mass emigration to Russia began after the Seven-Years War. The majority of these immgrants came from Hesse, but some also from the Rhineland and Württemberg. This was a difficult route, there were as yet no railroads or steamships. They went overland to Lübeck and proceeded by water to St. Petersburg. From there the journey continued on the land route by way of Moscow or on the Volga waterway to Saratow, where 104 German settlements were laid out in an enclosed land area.

The second large emigration of Mennonites from Danzig-West Prussia began in the year 1789 and then started again after 1803. This time the way led through Riga into the Black Sea area to Chortitza and Molotschna. In the year 1804, and then again from 1816-17 until 1842 the greatest emigration of Germans was from Württemberg. The migration led by water down the Danube River from Ulm or by land over Pololia near Odessa, to Bessarabia, into the Crimea and the southern Caucausus.

The settlers from the Palatinate, Alsace and northern Baden migrated to southern Russia in the years 1809-10. They traveled mainly through Poland and Podolia, primarily into the Odessa area, where many large Catholic villages were founded. The settlers often gave their colonies the same names of the villages and cities they left behind in their old homeland ; for example Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Selz, Straßburg; Tiege, Tiegenhagen, Altonau, Lichtenau, Orloff; Basel, Darmstadt, Mariental, Rosenberg, Rheinhardt.. In all, 181 mother colonies were founded in the area of the Black Sea, in Bessarabia and in the southern Caucusus.

Settlement areas in Russia

During the years 1763-1768 approximately 8,000 families totaling 27,000 people immigrated into the Volga region. Here, on the hilly side (right bank of the Volga) 45 colonies were founded, and on the meadow side (left bank of the Volga) 59 colonies were founded. The Settlements were laid out strictly along religious lines.

  Lutheran Catholic
Hillside 31 14
Meadow side 35 24
Total 66 38

The Volga Germans are mainly of Hessian descent, but also come from the Palatinate and from Württemberg.

The rural settlements near St. Petersburg and Belowesh, (northeast of Kiev) and Rebendorf were founded at almost the same time as the German settlements on the Volga.

The Volhynian Germans are for the most part Low-Germans from the area of the Weichsel River and from Pomerania, Middle-Germans from Silesia and Poland and High-Germans (Swabians) from central Poland. By descent, therefore, the Volhynian Germans are northern Germans, by religion, Protestant.

Whereas the Volga and Black Sea-Germans settled in large closed villages, the Volhynian-Germans had to a large extent been settled in scattered settlements and on individual farms. This made community life more difficult. During Soviet times, it is true, the single houses were "removed" and replaced by collective farms.

The first group of any size that settled in the Black Sea region was comprised of Mennonites from the Danzig area, who because of improved conditions for settlement established themselves south of Jekaterinoslaw (Dnjepropetrowsk) in 1789. The well-known region of Chortitz developed in this area. In 1803, the Mennonites, some from Chortitz, and some from the regions of Danzig and Elbing, settled in Taurien in the immediate vicinity of the small river Molotschna. The largest Mennonite group was created here in the Halbstädter or Molotschna territory.

On February 20, 1804, by means of a decree ordered by Alexander I, a stringent selection process was applied to recruiting prospective emigrants from Germany. It was required that the emigrants prove they possessed a certain level of means of livelihood. This recruiting process was particularly successful in the provinces in southern and southwestern Germany.

In the provinces of Cherson, Bessarabia, Jekaterinoslaw, Crimea and South Caucusus (1817) very large closed settlement areas were founded on allotted lands.

Denominationally, the Germans in the Black Sea area were divided as follows:

Protestant 246,280 45%
Catholic 195,640 35.8%
Mennonites 104,370 19.2%

In addition, there were German settlements in the Caucusus like those later founded south of the Urals and in western Siberia. As for the German villages there were 50 villages in Russia with a German population between 500 to 5,000 people; to this one must add Odessa with as many as 12,000, Moscow with up to 20,000 and St. Petersburg with up to 42,000 Germans (in 1905). (cf. also p.6)

The founding of Daughter Colonies

The system of inheritance (the youngest son inheriting the farm), the abundance of children, and the privilege of being allowed to buy land, were all factors which led to the founding of numerous daughter colonies. At first these were founded in the neighborhood of the mother colonies in the Volga and Black Sea region. Beginning in the final third of the 19th century daughter colonies were also established in the northern Caucusus, in the Urals, in Siberia, Kazachstan and central Asia. The last settlements were founded in the Amur region as late as 1927-28.

Four hundred and forty daughter colonies were founded in the Volga area, about 1800 in the Black Sea area and about 500 in Siberia. All told, 3,232 daughter colonies developed from the original 304 mother colonies; consequently, in 1940 the German villages numbered about 3,500 (without the Baltic). The colonies were strictly divided along religious lines: Lutheran (43%), Catholic (27%), Baptist (16%), Mennonite (8%) and others (6%).

An additional reason for the extensive spread of Russian-German culture was the abundance of children [or the high birthrate among German emigrant families]. While in Europe the birthrate of all national minorities was less than that of the native population, in the case of the Russian-Germans the birthrate exceeded that of the native Russian population. The birthrate of German inhabitants in European Russia was 43.8 per 1,000 compared with 39.8 per 1,000 among the ethnic Russian population. In the Ukraine, the birthrate of Germans was 47.3 per 1000 compared with 40.3 per 1,000 of the native population, and in Vohynia 36 per 1000. In Germany, at the same time, the birthrate was 19 per 1,000. Before 1918 the average number of children per family in Germany was 8.

150 years later, 100,000 [German] immigrants became a national group of 1.7 million in the Russian Empire (1914 census), i.e. the numbers increased by a factor of 17.

Over the years, the Russian-Germans developed a distinct and localized consciousness of their homeland. In contrast to other immmigrants who, for example, set out for the United States or Canada, the German settlers did not want to disappear into the indigenous population because they considered themselves to be carriers of culture into the Russian Empire. They wanted to remain "Germans" in their new homeland. Therefore, from the beginning of migration they placed great value on painstakingly cultivating their religious beliefs, mother-tongue, and folklore traditions (folk songs and folk art, music, costume, customs and usages). They also worked hard to develop these customs and traditions further and pass them on to succeeding generations. In this way they were able to preserve their national identity in [southern Russian and the Ukraine] for over two hundred years and successfully withstand assimilation.

Landscapes in the Black Sea and Volga Region

In the three largest regions of German Russian settlement (Volga, Black Sea and Volhynia) there were great variations in the character of the countryside. Volhynia was in large part an undulating forestland. This influenced the manner of settlement (scattered settlements with many individual farmsteads) and the construction of homes (houses mainly built from wood)..

In contrast, the Black Sea region was a flat, treeless, steppe region which was later cultivated. No hills or forests blocked the view over the meadows and fields of grain. From afar, one could view herds of cattle on the wide plains, grazing and returning home in the evening. Peasants could be seen ploughing or harvesting their crops. In summer, one saw clouds of dust everywhere, rising to the heavens as the result of high winds or moving wagons. When the heat was too intense the flickering air appeared to be water (Fata Morgana) or one saw swirling dust columns (whirlwinds) rise up. Nowhere a tree, nowhere a forest. Nothing but steppe and more steppe, and after settlement and cultivation, farmland and grain fields.

The landscape in the Volga region that enclosed the area of German settlement, exhibited a somewhat different character, than did the Russian river, the Volga, which divided into the meadow side on the east and the hilly side on the west.. The German customs and culture in the Russian countryside were almost exclusively molded by a rural population. Craftsmen and merchants did not appear until later times.

With great industry and agricultural knowledge the German Russians began to cultivate the allocated land. Soon they had adjusted to the new circumstances and had dealt with the almost insuperable task [of soil management]. The black soil, rich in humus ("Tschernosjom") in the southern Ukraine brought good results. On the Volga, on the other hand, less fertile soils (lacking humus) were predominate, and as a result wheat, barley, oats and corn were primarily planted. In some areas like Bessarabia and Crimea, but above all, the southern Caucusus, viticulture played a large role. It was also the Germans who bred a strain of cattle ("the German red cow"), which was known and desired everywhere. Several port cities, above all Odessa on the Black Sea, and Berdjansk on the Sea of Azov, became important export cities for grain. For the most part grain was delivered to these ports by German farmers.

Land Ownership

Economically, the first German settlers had a difficult time, but soon a huge upturn occurred in the economy as the result of the introduction of industry, the abundance of children, thrift, and improved agricultural knowledge. New settlements were founded and new land was purchased. If the Black Sea Germans were able to buy up significantly more land than the Volga Germans, the difference lie in the systems of inheritance.

Periodically, every five to seven years, the Volga Germans divided the common land among the males anew, as a result the individual holdings became smaller and smaller. Among the Black Sea Germans the family's entire land ("the enterprise") was left to one son undivided. Therefore, it became necessary for the other sons to buy land, as every farmer was determined that each son would become a farmer. In the Black Sea region 647.000 desjatin (1 desjatin = 2.7 acres) were allotted to the Germans at the time of settlement, and until 1914 they bought an additional 4.2 million desjatin (11.34 million acres). For the Volga Germans the comparable figures were l.4 million desjatin and 2.5 million desjatin, respectively (3.78 million and 6.75 million acres). Together, these two groups owned 8.747 million desjatin or 23.617 million acres of land.. If one includes the land ownership of the Germans in Siberia and Volhynia as well as that around St. Petersburg of about 3.5 million desjatin, (9.45 million acres), the result is an ownership of 12.247 million desjatin = 36,142.2 million acres, or 56.5 million square miles; that is more than the entire area of the former DDR! [East Germany].


With the large increase in the German population in southern Russia and as the possibility of buying new land was more and more limited, a shortage of land soon arose. Therefore, one had to consider providing the children with a higher education to produce German physicians, teachers and ministers; or the sons had to learn a craft or trade.

In the Volga region, in and around Balzer, a sizeable textile industry arose, and in Katharinenstadt (later Marxstadt) a flourishing metal-working industry. In southern Ukraine, Odessa, Alexandrowsk, Prischib, Chortitza, Neu-Halbstadt and Spat there developed outstanding centers of German industry and crafts. There were large enterprises in these areas with as many as l,000 employees. The German "colonist wagon" was much desired by all ethnic peoples. Factories for the manufacture of plows and other agricultural machinery appeared. But the greatest growth was in the milling industry which spread out everywhere. Every larger German settlement had at least one or more mills. In some German regions large flour mills arose that serviced wide areas and, above all, the large cities. Numerous brickworks supplied the building materials necessary to build these mills.

House and Village

In the Volga region large villages were built, often similar to towns. The houses were built one next to the other on several streets running the length of the village. In Volhynia, the settlements were smaller, or the houses lie scattered among the woods. In the broad Black Sea region, where there was no shortage of land at the time of settlement, one built on a grander scale. The tidy houses were built 1 - 3 kilometers in length and 30 - 80 meters in width. The streets were laid out straight as a string. On each side of the roadway footpaths were separated by means of acacia trees ("acacia is colloquial for "robinia").

From the beginning after the land was surveyed and a village plan made, a parcel of land in the middle of the village large enough for school and church was included.. The farmyards were uniformly 40 meters wide and up to 120 meters long, so that the village plan made a regular, almost chess-board-like impression. Because all the houses had only one story, the church with its high tower dominated the village. At the time of settlement, the German colonists were encouraged to plant trees. And so, a German village arose like an oasis from the otherwise treeless steppe. In the spring the village lie in a sea of blossoms, redolent of honey. Often the houses were completely hidden behind the thick acacia trees.

In the Black Sea region the houses were separated from the street and the neighboring farmyards by a beautifully shaped wall. The entrance gate and the entryway often had decorated columns or gaily painted arches. The buildings in such a farmyard were large and regularly laid out. On the one side, separated from the encircling wall by a flower garden, stood the long residence. Two dwellings of usually four rooms provided shelter for the father and the oldest unmarried son. Stables for horses and cows were included under the same roof. Beyond them were the sheds for wagons and machinery. In front, across from the main building, stood the "summer kitchen" where life was carried on during the hot and dusty summer months. The barn was connected to this building. At the rear of the yard was the large threshing area, and surrounding this one saw high straw piles and manure piles, in the absence of coal and wood, both provided indispensable fuel.

In the Volga region, with the exception of the Mennonites, things were different. Here the house stood isolated with the front yard on the street side. Across from it, on the other side of the street, stood the so-called "summer kitchen" or the house for the younger generation. The stables were located on the border between the front and the back of the farmyard. The manure found its way through an opening in the back wall of the stable onto the manure pile the backyard, never in the front yard!

The exterior of a colonist's house always gave a neat, well-cared-for impression. In Volhynia the houses were made of wood. In the Volga region they were partially made of wood and stone. In the Black Sea region the houses were always made of limestone or sandstone. The houses were all plastered and beautifully whitewashed. Every year, usually at Pentecost, the walls were often freshly whitewashed.. The roof, depending on the situation, was covered with reeds, tin or tiles. Often one saw the year of construction inlaid or drawn onto the roofs.

In addition to the closed German settlements there were a number of estates that lay scattered and isolated on the broad steppe. Entrepreneurial, wealthy farmers, for whom it had become too cramped in the village, bought land from Russian estate-owners. These often consisted of between 500 and 2,000 acres. Around the manor house lie the pasture, farther away the tilled land. Spacious rooms, many stables for livestock and storage buildings for agricultural implements and wagons were marks of such an estate.

On the strength of the communal autonomy granted them, the colonists elected their own mayors (chairmen) and chief mayors (chief executive officers). These officials were obliged to render a public accounting to the village council or, as the case may be, to the regional assembly. The regional authorities were not controlled by the local representatives of the state but rather by the welfare committee in Odessa, or the welfare office in Saratov, that in its part was assigned directly to the government in St. Petersburg.

Ecclesiastical life

Religious life was strongly expressed in the German settlements. Many had emigrated from other places in Europe for religious reasons, Because religious freedom was guaranteed by the Russian Government, they were able, and prepared to, make great sacrifices for the building of the church. The churches always had to be built with their own resources. But there were never any difficulties in doing this. The church taxes levied by the community were born willingly, and participation in the construction was a matter of honor. Therefore, in every middle-sized and larger community there was a stately church with a high steeple that towered over the farm houses. The "church garden" and the "church wall" were always well-tended.

In every church there were organs, most of which came from Germany; the Walker organ from Ludwigsburg was particularly well represented in the Swabian settlements. In the smaller villages and among the Mennonites there were only meeting houses without steeples; these often also served as schools. The church buildings primarily distinguished themselves from the Orthodox churches both in their outward appearance and also in their interior furnishings.

The style of the churches, that expressed the great pride of the Germans, was modeled after the neo-classical and historic examples of the 18th and 19th century that were predominant in the homeland they had left. The choir usually was oriented toward the east. The towering steeples displayed a great variety of forms. According to availability one used wood, limestone or bricks fired in their own brickwork for building materials.

Church attendance in the German settlements was excellent. Only one person per family stayed at home. Therefore, the churches were always overflowing on Sunday. Sunday was strictly observed as a day of rest. No work was performed on Sunday, not even during the harvest or during threshing-time. There were German churches, not only in every German settlement, but also in most of the larger cities of Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Saratov, Odessa, Tiflis, Baku, Omsk etc.) The Germans were strictly forbidden from conducting any missionary activity among Orthodox Christians (until 1905).

The school system

The second cornerstone for the preservation of the German identify in Russia was the school. Illiteracy was unknown in the German Russian colonies. At the time of settlement Germans were promised complete scholastic freedom by the czar's government and every effort was made to raise the school system to an appropriate level. In every German settlement there was a school; until 1891 German was the language of instruction. The Russification of the school system began in the 1890s and the Russian language was placed more and more into the foreground.

The school buildings, that usually had to be built with local funds without any help from the state, bore witness to the desire for universal education in the German colonies of Russia. They stood out in many places through their magnificent architecture, which reflected the wealth and self-assurance of the German settlers.

Soon it became evident that institutions for higher education were necessary. In part these were so-called "central schools" which basically assumed responsibility for the education of teachers, village scribes and merchants. Great value was placed on these schools and on the cultivation of the German language and literature, but also on the learning of the Russian language. This was, of course, necessary because Russian was prescribed for contact with the Russian officials. The sexton-teachers were also educated in the central schools. As the pastor often served five to twelve parishes, these had to substitute for him, holding "reading services" and officiating at baptisms and burials.

There were large numbers of central schools. As time progressed (particularly after 1905) seminaries for teachers, ministers, high school administrators, commercial and agricultural educators as well as institutions for the deaf-and-mute were founded. There were also numerous girls' schools whose instructional offerings were comparable to those of the central schools.

The schools in the larger cities, such as St. Petersburg, Moscow and Odessa, were particularly outstanding and were also popular among Russian and Ukrainian children.

Curtailment and cancellation of privileges

While the Germans enjoyed good relations with their Ukrainian and Russian neighbors, beginning in the second half of the 19th century there developed a growing sense of Germanophobia (parallel with Panslavism) among the influential circles of the Russian soceity which included the nobility, politicians and middle-class intellectuals. This directed itself above all, and with particular virulence, against the Germans living in Russia. Native Russians envied their "privileges" and economic success and found them to be a foreign body that could eventually become dangerous (envy-hate-complex). As a result of the Franco-Prussian War and the founding of the German empire, the special privileges originally given to the German emigrants "for all time" were canceled in the year 1871. In 1874 compulsory military service was extended in the Russian Empire to include the Germans. Only the Mennonites, who held fast to the principle of non-violence, after long negotiations were entitled to a kind of substitute duty, (forestry duty). Their men of military age engaged in caring for forests, tree nurseries, and model fruit orchards. During World War I the Mennonites were also conscripted into the medical service.

Traveling onward to America

Because of the changes in the Czar's policies towards the Germans living in Russia, a large wave of emigration to America began in late 19th century. This emigration also included the Mennonites. Initially, great numbers of colonists withdrew to Siberia, where the czar's laws were not enforced as strictly. Some Germans traveled to Manchuria and took the long journey across the China Sea and the Indian Ocean. Others crossed the European continent and the Atlantic Ocean before they finally arrived in America. By 1912, approximately 300,000 Germans had emigrated from Russia to North and South America. A new wave of emigration began after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918 [which took Russia out of the Great War].

As late as the fall of 1929 about 14,000 German farmers and their families made their way to Moscow with the intention to emigrate. After long negotiations, Germany finally accepted 5,000 of them, but only for transit overseas; the others were returned, in many cases under inhuman conditions and often with the use of brutal force.

A transit camp was set up in Mölln, where the refugees could remain for several months. Weakened by the psychological and physical strain endured in and around Moscow, some of them did not live to complete the journey. Even now their grave sites in the cemetery in Mölln bear witness to those days. In 1940 approximately 350,000 to 400,000 Germans from Russia lived in the USA, in Canada 200,000, Mexico 30,000, Brazil 250,000, Argentina 200,000, Paraguay 4,500 and Uruguay 2,500. Included in these numbers are, of course, those who emigrated overseas in the 1920's. These could be estimated at 150,000 to 200,000.

In 1978 the "Association Argentina de los Alemanes del Volga", which publishes the magazine, "El Centenario" was founded in Argentina. In the USA the "American Historical Society of Germans from Russia" has existed for about 12 years, and recently, the "North Dakota German Heritage Society" composed only of ancestors of the Russian-Germans, was founded.

World War I

Even though approximately 300,000 Germans served in the czar's army, the hatred of everything German reached new heights during World War I. Citizens were no longer allowed to speak German in public; preaching in German was forbidden; more than three Germans were not allowed to meet together and other restrictions.. On May 27, 1915, a hate campaign erupted in Moscow in the form of a pogrom against the Germans. The worst harm was done by the so-called "liquidation laws" of February 2, 1915 and December 13, 1915. The laws provided that all Germans living in a strip 150 kilometers deep, east of the western border and on the Black Sea were to be removed from this zone and "all fixed property was to be confiscated." These liquidation laws were carried out only in Volhynia. Approximately 200,000 Volhynian Germans made their way to Siberia, completely impoverished; many did not survive the transportation which took over a period of several months.

The laws were supposed to be enforced in all areas as far as the Urals. Due to the bourgeois revolution of February 1917 "only" the Volhynian Germans were affected.

Years of famine, collectivization and persecution

Until 1941 the treatment of the Germans in Russia was worse than that of other minorities and the general population; they were much more severely persecuted than others. During the years, 1921-1933, famine, previously unheard of, stalked the land of this people for the first time in the history. Death made deep inroads, above all among the children and the men. World War, civil war, flight, and famine produced a decrease in the number of Germans in Russia from l,621,000 in 1914 to 1,238,500 in 1926.

During the course of the collectivization of Soviet agriculture, the so-called de-kulakization, particularly in the years 1929-1930, thousands of Germans, above all men, were carried off from the colonies into the far north and Siberia, without being allowed to show any signs to family members that they were still alive. The Germans were particularly affected by the mass arrests of 1937-38. The number of arrests was fixed for each settlement; Russian or Ukrainian party functionaries would rather sacrifice fellow German citizens than their own countrymen. The prosperity and the cultural level of the Germans were higher on average than that of the indigenous population and therefore resulted in greater persecution. Many Germans had relatives abroad (in Germany, the USA or Canada); often a single letter from one of these ("connection with abroad," "espionage") was cause for arrest. The help that [NAZI] Germany gave to General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) produced anti-German resentment in the Soviet Union.

During 1937-1938, in some villages and towns, as many as 48% of all the males over 20 years of age are believed to have been deported. The number of fatherless Germans at that time was greater than it was for the general population after World War II. The last wave of arrests and murders of Russian Germans came in the first month after the German attack on the Soviet Union, (June 22,1941) when the large losses suffered by the Red Army led to the sacrifice of the ostensible "guilty ones."

Hardly any of the Germans returned from exile. For example, of 132 taken into custody in a small suburb of the city, Kopejsk, in the southern Urals, only three returned. The German children who lived there were surprised when someone still had a father. In the villages of Grünfeld and Bergtal (Kirghis) with a total of about 60 farms, more than 40 men over 20 years of age were arrested; fewer than 20 remained free. In Thälmann (County Molotowobad, region Duschanbe) with 58 farms, 29 men and 4 women were arrested, (five of the men after the outbreak of the war). In 1942, 37 men were conscripted into the "Trud Army" for forced labor. Only 12 lived through the war years. In this way the size of the population declined considerably, particularly in two of the largest areas of German settlement. According to the 1926 Census, only 379,630 Germans remained in the Volga region in contrast to the 650,000 in 1914. For the Black Sea region the comparable figures were 355,000 as opposed to 650,000.

With the introduction of collective farms and the confiscation of land, members of other nationalities began to be introduced into villages that had previously been purely German. The outward aspect of the villages also changed. The stables were torn down; as a result, the houses became shorter in length. The long buildings for cows and horses appeared that now belonged to the collective and no longer to the individual farmer. The long, high, strawstacks in the farmyards disappeared. In place of the beautiful stone buildings of former times, small mud houses appeared, particularly at the ends of the villages. The walls and fences, so carefully tended before, deteriorated. The collective triumphed over the individual. Only barely recognizable remnants of the former magnificence of the colonists' villages survived.

Cultural and Administrative Autonomy between the Wars

After the Soviets had established their power in Russia, there was another stormy, but short upturn in the life of the German minority in spite of the famine of 1921-1924. The autonomous "Worker's Commune of the Region of the Volga Germans" whose status was up-graded to the "Autonomous Soviet Socialistic Republic of the Volga Germans" (ASSRVD) in 1924, had been founded in 1918. In 1926 the regular Soviet Congress accepted the constitution of the Autonomous Republic.

Even in its first ten years, the Volga German Republic developed its industry and to a large extent mechanized agriculture. The Republic of the Volga-Germans played a leading role in the introduction of modern production methods into agriculture in the USSR. The yields from the harvests rose from year to year.

Coinciding with the growth and change in the economics of the Volga Republic the culture also began to unfold. The Republic of the Volga-Germans, that in the official Soviet publications of those years was very often called "Stalin's blooming garden", was one of the first Soviet republics that completely conquered illiteracy. In 1918-1919 alone there were 236 "country schools"; in 1921 there were 317 primary schools and 23 middle schools, as well as a number of other educational establishments. There were eleven technical schools, five colleges, three worker's institutions, twenty houses of culture, a German national theater and a children's theater. In the Republic more than 20 regional and five supra-regional newspapers appeared. Between 1933 and 1935, 555 German books were published, collectively about three million volumes.

In the Volga Republic two-thirds of the inhabitants were German and had all of the characteristics of a nation. It was the center in which professionals were educated, not only those who lived there, but also people from the German volk groups in other regions of the USSR. Everywhere in the Soviet Union that Germans settled in their closed communities, there was cultural and administrative autonomy (German as the language of instruction in the schools, language of government and the law courts). In the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic (RSSR) there were six German rayons (districts) and 414 German schools. At times, the Germans had nine German rayons and 628 German language schools in the Ukraine.

Beginning in the school year of 1938-1939 the official language of instruction in all schools was changed to Russian or Ukrainian. At first the change only took place outside of the Volga German Republic but, by 1939 all German districts were dissolved. The churches had already been closed in the period between 1929-1931. Religious services were forbidden and most of the pastors and church sextons of all denominations had been arrested and deported. In this way, the Germans had already been robbed of all minority rights before the German-Soviet war [1941-1945] and were helplessly abandoned to Russification. Before WWII the industry and accomplishments of the Russian-Germans had been acknowledged and praised. The Germans had no problems living together with members of other ethnic and national peoples. However, the situation of the Germans in the USSR radically changed at the beginning of World War II.

The Second World War and the "Trud Army"

World War II sounded the death knell of the Germany minority as a unified ethnic group in the Soviet Union. Beginning in July, 1941, within a very short time, the 45,000 Crimean Germans were "resettled" in central Asia. On August 28, 1941 the Presidium of the Ruling Soviet of the USSR enacted an edict concerning the "resettling" of the Germans from the Volga region. In this edict the Russian-Germans were accused of actively supporting the German troops. 340,000 Volga-Germans were loaded into cattle cars and deported to Siberia under inhuman conditions. The men were separated from their families; above all, the aged, children and the sick died. The Volga-German Republic was dissolved. In October, 1941 the Caucusus-Germans followed, and in March, 1942 the Germans from Leningrad. A total of 800,000 Germans were deported, in fact more than 400,000 of them, whether by choice or by coercion, lived in the Asian part of the USSR. There the women and their children were settled in scattered makeshift shelters and placed under the strict oversight of the state security apparatus (Spezkomendatura). The men between ages 15 and 60, and women who had no children under the age of three, were placed in the "Trud Army," where they were treated as "enemies of the state" and "betrayers of the fatherland."

The literal translation of "Trud Army" into English means "Labor Army." It was actually a collection of forced labor camps that were surrounded by high barbed-wire fences and kept under close guard. The conditions under which the members of the Trud Army were forced to live and labor resembled in their inhumanity those of a penal prison camp. On their way to work the workers were accompanied by soldiers who had strict orders to use their guns based on the least suspicion. In the camp itself the will of any of the guards was law. The German word "Fritz" was used in the standard Soviet colloquial to mean"enemy" or "Fascist." This term was not only used for subordinates and uncultured people, but also for the leading personnel in the work place. Under these difficult circumstances, crammed together in camps, the members of the Trud Army died in huge numbers from cold, starvation, hard labor, and emotional despair. The Trud Army camp was finally dissolved some time after the war.

Because of the speedy advance of the German troops [in the summer of 1941] some of the Russian-Germans were spared this tragic fate for a short time. They were under German and Russian occupation. In 1943-1944, 350,000 Black Sea Germans were resettled from the region between the Dnieper River and the Dniester River into the Wartheland and from there in part to Germany. Almost all of them acquired German citizenship of their own free will. At the entry of the Red Army into Germany 250,000 Russian-Germans were transported to the USSR, where "because of betrayal of the socialist homeland" they were sentenced to a lifelong ban and forced labor. As "traitors" they were treated much more harshly than the Germans who had been deported earlier in 1941. Also, a special commandant's headquarters were set up for them, where those "banned" had to report regularly. The commanding officers enjoyed rights of the kind enjoyed by estate owners during the time of Russian serfdom. For visiting a neighboring village without the permission of the commandant, one received ten days arrest. For a trip that crossed the border of the region the penalty was up to 20 years in prison.

Women labored as woodcutters in the primeval forests in the north, as laborers in the mines of the Urals and the coal-mines beyond the Arctic Circle. They were fed pitiful bread rations of 300 grams per day. The camps were characterized by starving children, bitter cold, hunger, and deprivation. There was no hope at all for release. Death, in short, was the fate and long awaited savior of many of the Germans in Russia after World War II. Under these conditions, considerable part of this generation of the Germans in Russia perished (ca. 300,000).

The Amnesty of 1955

After 1945 nothing was heard of the plight of Germans still remaining in the Soviet Union. Neither in newspapers, magazines or books were they written about, nor were they spoken of in speeches or radio broadcasts. There was no correspondence with relatives in the West. Only after the visit of [West German] Chancellor Conrad Adenauer in September, 1955, and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Moscow and Bonn did the Supreme Soviet of the USSR enact the decree: "Concerning the cancellation of the restrictions in the legal situation of the Germans and their family members, who are in the special settlement." After that, the humiliating command headquarters was abolished, but the prohibition on Germans returning to their home villages remained in force. Above all, the national rights of the Germans in the USSR were not restored. The Germans were forced to sign a declaration in which they committed themselves never to return to their former regions and to make no claims to their confiscated property.

About 200,000 Germans petitioned the German Embassy in Moscow, but they were not allowed to emigrate. In spite of this, the amnesty improved the lot of most Germans in the Soviet Union. Many moved to the south, to warmer regions. None of them were allowed to contact the Red Cross to begin their search for relatives and friends, whom they had been separated from in the Soviet Union and Germany for the last ten to fifteen years. Again, there were German newspapers (1955 in the Altai, 1957 "Neues Leben" in Moscow), radio broadcasts (Moscow in 1956, Kazachstan in 1957, Kirghis in 1962). In 1957 a decree was publicized allowing German instruction in the mother tongue (however, only in Kazachstan; more than 1 million Germans lived in other republics). In 1957 Pastor Bachmann was allowed to register a Lutheran congregation in Zelinograd. Lutherans and Mennonites made the first contacts with their fellow believers in the West and the Catholics soon closed ranks. According to the [Soviet] Census of 1959, there were 1,615,000 Germans [living in the Soviet Union] but their distribution among the republics remained a secret. It was later found that 820,000 Germans lived in the Russian Republic in 1959. In the same year 648,000 Germans lived Kazakstan, and a combined population of 91,000 lived in the republics of Kirghis, Tadzikistan and Uzbekistan..

The Partial Rehabilitation of 1964

The decade of the sixties arrived and with it the so-called "thaw" [in Soviet and Western relations] that gave hope to many people in the Soviet Union which, as it later developed, were groundless. Even for the Germans things finally seemed to have changed: On 8-29-1964 (after 23 years, almost exactly to the day!) the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR passed the resolution: "Concerning the resettlement of the Volga Germans." This resolution removed the stigma of treason from the Russian-Germans.

"Life has shown that these sweeping accusations were groundless and were a sign of the arbitrary use of power under the conditions surrounding the personal cult of Stalin." However, this was only a formal rehabilitation. When at the XX Party Day of the KPDSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) of 1956, the wrongs inflicted on some small peoples were corrected, one silently passed over the Russian-Germans, and thus their acquittal appeared only on paper. The little that had been promised in the edict of 1964 was in reality either not carried out, not carried out immediately, or not carried out completely. The Germans' demand for the restoration of their autonomous republic was interpreted as nationalism.

The political rehabilitation of the Volga Germans (and of practically all of the Germans in the Soviet Union) was presumably planned by [Soviet Premier] Kruschchev as a conciliatory gesture towards the Federal Republic of Germany. It was only publicized in the USSR (January, 1965) after his fall from power. The Russian-Germans had first heard the news of their rehabilitation from "Neues Deutschland" (East Berlin) and protested the fact that the edict had not been published in the Soviet press.

The Struggle against Russification

It would be wrong to believe that the Germans initially put their hands in their laps and then threw themselves head over heels into emigrating to the West. They tried to work against Russification, to further develop their own language and culture. Immediately after the rehabilitation of 1964, the movement for the restoration of German autonomy was set into motion. Petitions to the Soviet government were drawn up, signatures collected, delegations put together and sent to the Kremlin in Moscow.

Whereas the delegation of 13 women and men in 1965, had collected 660 signatures demanding autonomy (which in the opinion of their opposite numbers was not sufficient), the second delegation, that made the trip to the Soviet metropolis less than six months later, was able to supply 4,498 signatures. This second delegation had 35 members, Volga Germans and Black Sea Germans from Siberia, Kazachstan and Central Asia. They claimed to speak for more than one million Germans. They asked for a return to the Volga, easing of cultural restrictions and proportional representation in the Supreme Soviet. However, even a third delegation of the Germans that called at the Kremlin had to return without success; they received a hearing, however, their demands produced no results.

Here is the viewpoint of the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR at that time, A. Mikoyan, who received the delegation of the Germans on June 7, 1965"...We cannot restore the republic now. That is beset with great difficulties...We need the Germans in the new region, Kazakstan, and in the coal mines in Karaganda...Not everything that has happened in history can be restored...You are Soviet citizens and have the right to newspapers, schools...We cannot, in the present situation, manage the restoration of the autonomous republic, because that is connected with an immense economic cost, but we will accommodate (the Germans) in their cultural needs..." However, those were only sweeping promises.

German schools, whose founding (in Kazakstan) was authorized by an order of 1957 "at the wish of the parents" if there were enough pupils, were not forthcoming. There were some schools in the cities in which German as mother-tongue was offered two or three hours a week to one or two groups outside of the normal school day. The acute shortage of teachers and text books contributed to the fact that, German as a subject, was frequently removed from the schedule. In many cases young German teachers, who had been trained for German instruction in the mother-tongue were utilized to teach German as a foreign language at Russian or Kazakstan schools. Therefore, from the beginning, the participation of German children instruction in their mother-tongue was minor because of the lack of motivation; in succeeding years it decreased even farther. According to statistics from the Ministry of Culture in Kazakstan, of the more than 600,000 Germans in Kazakstan in 1958, only 975 groups, totaling 16,107 children were receiving instruction in German. At that time, the children of the Russian-Germans, if they spoke German at all, spoke only the local dialect learned from their parents.

Since 1965 several dozen books written in German have appeared from the publishers "Progress" in Moscow and "Kazachstan" in Alma-Ata, that are not in great demand because of their mostly political content or too small a number of copies were printed of editions which quickly became out-of-print. Even books from the DDR [East Germany] were only available in very limited numbers. No printed matter was allowed to be imported from the Federal Republic [West Germany].

Therefore, it was not surprising that the Germans could not even read "their own" newspapers, the weekly "Neues Leben" (New Life), Moscow, "Freundshaft" (Friendship), Zelinograd and "Rote Fahne" (Red Flag), Slavgorod.

Aside from the language difficulties, the content of these newspapers, overloaded with ideology, and often a translation from Pravda, were not very interesting for the German population. Even so, this reading material was informative in one respect; in the pages dedicated to the problems of the Germans, the sharp-eyed reader discovered a deeply shocking indirect admission of the actual situation of the Germans in the USSR with their "equal rights." Consistently, one read about collective farmers, dairy maids, tractor drivers, cattle raisers, but rarely about qualified technicians, let alone academics. That was proof that, in spite of the highly-touted equality of opportunity, the Germans in the USSR were reduced to being a laboring and farming people. Only 3% of the Germans were allowed to attend college. Thread-bare excuses were often used to keep young men and women descent from matriculating.

The Seventies and Eighties

In spite of the partial rehabilitation of 1964, the Germans had to remain in the areas to where they had been expelled. Even into the 1980's the moral heritage of the German-Soviet war of 1941-1945 weighed upon them. It was not easy for them to get ahead in a country in which "Njemez", a weakened variation of the notorious term "The ugly German", had become the personification of all things evil and the synonym for "fascist." For this reason, Soviet journalist for a long time gave them only marginal consideration. German-language newspapers, such as "Neues Leben" and "Freundschaft" (now "Deutsche Allgemeine Zeiting") and the few German-language radio and television broadcasts, could scarcely dare to criticize the politics of state and party. German churches were subjected to considerable difficulties when they tried to register their congregations. "Heimatliche Weiten" (Native Horizons), a collection of Russian-German poetry, prose and journalism, ceased publication after a few years. The German Theater of Drama, founded in 1981 in Temirtau, (now in Alma-Ata) had constant difficulties in staying alive. Instruction in the mother-tongue stagnated or in many places retreated, due to a lack of teachers and textbooks.

The efforts to achieve autonomy after 1964 had been unsuccessful. One could not expect help from their "Brother State", the DDR, because the SED showed no interest in the Russian-Germans. For them they were only "Soviet citizens of German nationality." In view of the Basic Law (Art.116), the government of the Federal Republic of Germany felt itself obligated to intercede on behalf of the Russian-Germans. The West German government was also repeatedly challenged to do so by the German Bundestag; but at the same time their hands were tied, because the Soviet government considered every attempt to provide aid for the Russian-Germans an interfere in their internal affairs. That finally changed in the autumn of 1990 with the signing of the pact between the Federal Republic of Germany and the USSR. dealing with a good-neighbor policy, partnership and working together. Thus, downgraded to being a marginal group in Soviet society, the Russian-Germans saw only one way out of their desperate situation, emigration to Germany [Federal Republic], the ancient homeland of their forefathers.

Family Reunification

During the years 1950 to 1957 only 3,895 Russian-German families received permission to emigrate. In 1958-1959 family reunification was agreed upon between the Federal Republic and the USSR by treaty. Even so, the number of permissions rose only slowly or at times actually fell, while the requests to emigrate piled up at the Red Cross by the hundreds of thousands. Whoever received permission to emigrate was overjoyed, but, the large number of those who had to remain behind were bitterly disappointed. They were happy for their countrymen yet envied them at the same time. Who still remembers what things were like in those days?

For the Russian-Germans, reaching Germany was the goal of their dreams. On this dream they staked everything; profession, future, health, livelihood, even the little freedom that one possesses in a totalitarian state.

Because of their openly expressed wish to emigrate, Germans began what became a sort of living hell for them; loss of jobs, harassment in the workplace and school, not being allowed to register with the police in another location, confiscation of property and houses, house searches and arrest while petitioning the authorities, to mention just a few obstacles. Worse still was the moral side, the atmosphere of general condemnation and rejection that was artificially aroused against those desiring to emigrate. Is it possible for someone in the free West to understand the torments of a person who was labeled a "criminal" and forced to live as a criminal only because he attempted to make use of his legitimate right to emigrate? And can anyone here really understand how a Russian-German lived and felt after already spending 30 years (since 1956!) trying to emigrate?

Can we in the West really understand how someone like Johann Wagner from the Modavian city of Tiraspol, had for years been tossed back and forth between hope and despair, and then finally delivered up to the whims of the bureaucracy? That quiet, taciturn and hard-working man, who was the head of a large family was actually found guilty of being a "parasite" simply because of his dogged efforts to emigrate! Later, however, he was freed on grounds of "insufficient evidence." This Russian-German had sent about 200 petitions to all possible Soviet, German and international institutions as well as to prominent politicians, yet nothing happened.

Rejections, rejections, rejections...usually they were completely baseless. The Germans inside the Soviet Union were at the mercy of the authorities even though they relied upon the Soviet laws, the Constitution, the Charter of Human Rights, and the Helsinki Accords. They also cited the "International Pact concerning Civil and Political rights" of 1966 adopted by the United Nations and signed and ratified by the Soviet Union. The official representatives countered: "You do not understand these documents," or "We too have read the documents, but as yet have received no instructions!!" In Kirghis, for example, curious things happened; the representative of the OWIR-station there, a certain Ssadybekow, explained his rejection to Mr. Wiebe as follows: "You were refused permission to emigrate, because in Germany the fascists are seeking to gain power!" Anton Feininger from the Moldavian city of Bendery heard from the relevant authorities in Kischinjow: "It is [West German] Chancellor Schmidt's fault that we refused you." However, usually "plain-speaking" was the rule, along the lines of: "We make the decision. If we want to, we will let you out, if not, then you will just stay here."

The usual formula for rejection was: "You are an independent family and economically not dependent on your relatives in the Federal Republic. As you have only distant relatives in [West] Germany, you do not fit into the category of family reunification." Seen in this light, there would never be any family reunification.

That was really a complicated subject, this notorious "Family reunification Soviet style" which was impossible to reconcile with logic or sound common sense. Who is related to whom, was decided by the local authorities on their own responsibility, there was no uniform regulation on this subject. Thus, for example, some brothers and sisters (often within the same family), came under the rubrik "distant relatives", others, however, were considered to be "close relatives" and the decision was then made accordingly. There are many such dissonances. The following are several examples:

Because of the wartime situation in 1944, Alois Steiert was separated from his family, a wife and four children. Herr Steiert, who had lived in Germany since the end of the war, was not able to achieve family reunification until 1976, but without his children. The son, Peter Steiert from Duschanbe commented: "The rejections of the OWIR of the Tadzikian SSR are incomprehensible; with us it is really a clear case of family reunification. I grew up without a father and would finally like to get to know him, to find out what it means to have a father. Why does the state rob me of this right?"

Another example is Frau Zilke who in her efforts to emigrate in 1978 had to leave two of her ten children behind. In one of her petitions the despairing mother wrote: "After many difficulties, we finally received permission in 1978 for all family members to emigrate, however, at this time our son, Viktor, was called up for military service and our daughter, Olga, had married. When she applied to the passport office in Tokmak (Kirghis), to get permission for her husband, Herr Seidel, to emigrate also, she was told: "Get a divorce, then you can go!" Olga Seidel had to remain behind, hoping that a request (Wysow) from her parents would lead to a positive decision for her and her husband. But Viktor Zilke and his sister, Olga Seidel, nee Zilke, remained separated from their family through the arbitrary use of Soviet power and force.

The authorities devised various harassments that sometimes verged on the grotesque; emigration forms were given out in limited numbers at restricted times. For example, one could only pick up the forms with one's supervisor at the workplace. But Olga Breitkreuz from this town was a housewife; therefore she had no supervisor, and as a result did not receive any forms and could not prepare an emigration application.

Some dared to protest publicly. On March 31, 1980 a group even demonstrated in Moscow's Red Square, carrying banners on which they conspicuously demanded permission to emigrate. The militia led them away, the episode appeared in the foreign news, but the situation remained the same.

The issue concerning immigration and emigration did not change until the law of January 1, 1987.. Indeed, at first only relatives of the first degree could emigrate in the context of family reunification, but the authorization procedure became more liberal and more generous.

Current Areas of Settlement

Purely German villages, as witnessed before the the Second World War no longer exist in the European part of the Community of Independent States (CIS). Those who were driven out were "settled" in outlying areas east of the Ural Mountains. And even though there are still some closed settlements in (Omsk, Altai, Barnaul and Kirghis) the overwhelming majority of the Russian-Germans are widely scattered among Russians in Siberia, Kazakstan and central Asia and among Kazachs, Kirghisi, Usbecks, Turkomen, Tadzhikis and other ethnic peoples. According to the 1989 census about two million Germans live in the former Soviet Union. In reality this number is probably considerably larger, because at the time the census was taken there was still a personal risk in acknowledging oneself to be German. That was particularly true in the case of mixed marriages. During the past two decades a slow migration of individual families or smaller groups has taken place into the republics west of the Urals, so that an estimated 120,000-150,000 Russian-Germans have again settled in that region. The others live as before in the areas to which they have been expelled.

Because of the changed political situation in the republics of central Asia after the dissolution of the USSR, Germans who do not wish to immigrate to [re-unified] Germany are moving into the newly constituted German national districts Altai and Asowo. According to the latest information, at the end of 1993 these numbered about 170,000. This migration appears to be continuing.

Social and Linguistic Restructuring

Before the First World War 95% of the Russian-Germans lived in rural areas; between the wars the percentage of city dwellers gradually increased from 15.4% in 1926 to 27% in 1941. According to the census of 1959, 636,189 (39.3%) of the Germans lived in cities. In 1970 the number grew to 838,515 (45.4%), and by 1989 the figure had reached 52%.

Male Russian-Germans are particularly numerous in the cities, especially those of the younger generation. The Germans in the city are less likely than those in rural areas to report German as their mother tongue. The pressure to assimilate is therefore, considerably stronger in the city.

Striving for Autonomy

In places where the Germans lived in closed settlements before World War II there were national governmental units such as the German Republic on the Volga, 16 German rayons (districts) and 500 German Soviets (communities) with their own government, judicial system and instructional language. The German districts and communities outside of the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics [ASSR] of the Volga-Germans were dissolved in 1993, the Volga-German Republic in 1941.

In the years following the decree of 1964 which partially rehabilitating the Germans, the Russian- Germans initially gave up their efforts for the restoration of their own state, and solely concentrated on emigrating to the Federal Republic of Germany. But the Soviet government had an extremely restrictive attitude towards the Russian-Germans and gave out very few permissions to emigrate; (the low point was 1985: 460 during the entire year). Therefore, the discussion for autonomy of the Germans did not arise again until the beginning of the democratization process in the second half of the 1980's. In order to give more force to their demands the Germans organized themselves. Three social organizations were created which today are called:

I. International Union of Germans - Wiedergeburt (Rebirth) abbreviated (German ZSVD, Russian MON)

II. International Association of Russian-Germans abbreviated, (German IVR, Russian MSRN)

III. International Association for German Culture, abbreviated German IVDK, Russian MSNK)

Under the leadership of "Wiedergeburt," the largest association of Russian-Germans which increased its membership to 170,000. Three congresses of Russian-Germans were held between 1991-1993, at which approxiately l,000 delegates from all parts of the Soviet Union or Community of Independent States (CIS) participated.. A 108-member "International Council of Russian-Germans" (German ZSRR, Russian MGSR) was established to protect the interests of all Germans in the CIS.

After a long struggle over a common program, today all three organizations have the same two goals: the restoration of the Volga Republic and the founding of German national districts in predominantly German areas.

At the third Congress in February, 1993, it was decided to hold a national referendum and to elect a Volkstag as a preliminary parliament of the Russian-Germans (cf.p.34).

In the meantime there were some successes in the question of autonomy. Two German districts were formed: the rayon Halbstadt, in the Altai region and the rayon Asowo, in the Omsk area.

The Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, ordered the founding of a German district and a German county (Okrug) in the areas of Saratov and Volgograd, but without further designating their borders and without any orders for carrying this out. That appears to be simply a promise (cf.p.31).

The German federal government supports the Russian-Germans in all of their efforts to achieve autonomy. In July, 1992, Germany and Russia signed a mutual protocol concerning the restoration of the Volga Republic in stages (4-5 years). A German-Russian and a German-Ukrainian governmental commission were founded, that are responsible for all concerns of the Russian-Germans.

The Russian-Germans associations cooperate with the commissions.. As the most recent results of this consultation, three regions were designated to be the first to be supported: the Volga area, western Siberia and southern Ukraine. (cf.p.19). The founding of more German districts was demanded by the Germans. As long as the Volga German Republic is not restored as the cultural center for all Russian-Germans in the former Soviet Union, it is uncertain whether the number of Germans preferring to emigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany will decline.

The Present Situation

Although knowledge about the Russian-Germans in all parts of the former Soviet Union is alarmingly full of gaps, the Germans in the nations of the Community of Independent States (CIS), with few exceptions, are today no longer subject to official discrimination. Occasionally, in some places, old prejudices are expressed towards them by members of non-German groups. But officially they are encouraged to stay where they are, or they are invited with grand promises to settle in other republics, regions and cities. Usually some financial support from Germany is expected in connection with this.

In spite of this the number of Russian-Germans wanting to emigrate does not decrease. There are many different reasons for this desire. In the nations of the CIS, for example, the democratization process is proceeding very slowly. A judicially enforceable guaranty of the right to the restoration of their own sovereignty does not yet exist. And the Russian-Germans, after decades of discrimination and persecution, are very distrustful of all governmental promises. The most recent occurrences in Moscow and in the Russian Federation have awakened new fears.

In addition there is the fear that the Islamic fundamentalism that is expanding in many parts of the world could one day go too far, producing conditions like civil war, as in Tadzikistan. The instability of political conditions in the nations of the CIS and their coalescing national self-interest are creating additional fears for the future.

Also, the introduction of the language of the nominal nation as the official language in the central Asiatic republics has brought new concerns: In addition to the Russian language, all citizens, if they wish to hold their own in the future, have to learn the official language. Thus, the mother-tongue of the Germans is pushed even further into the background.

And assimilation proceeds with giant steps; although in the 1926 Census 95% of the Russian-Germans reported German as their mother tongue, this percentage has declined steadily: in 1959 it was 75%, in 1970, 67.8%, in 1979, 57% and in 1989, 48.7%.

Today, five years later, this percentage will likely have sunk further still. The most important reason for this is that even today, no German schools of the pre-war kind exist. There is only a sporadic offering of instruction of the German language as a regular subject and then only in the lower grades. Often it rests solely on the hiring of the oddly qualified teacher. In addition , professional instruction in German as mother-tongue (MUD) is in an unsatisfactory condition. Properly trained teachers are lacking, there are no long-range instructional plans, and proper textbooks and teaching materials are absent.

Instruction in German as a foreign language cannot fill the gap, as at most [Russian Federation] schools the only foreign language taught is English. In addition, English is not, of course, in a position to replace German as the mother-tongue. Since no German schools have existed since the period between 1938-1941, a Russian-German already at retirement age, for example, has been unable to receive any regular instruction in German. In spite of this, German is still spoken in many families today, mostly in the dialect of their forefathers, if parents or grandparents were able to pass it on. That is why the Russian-Germans are very concerned about regaining and maintaining their ethnic traditions. As with all plans for the future, they set their hopes above all on help from [Federal Republic] Germany or they choose emigration.

The German Federal Republic and Baden-Württemberg, the patron state of the Russian-Germans, try to be helpful in manifold ways to those Germans who wish to "stay" in the Russian Federation and search for realizable future prospects as a national minority. Those officials of the Federal Republic's Ministry of the Interior who are responsible for immigration, promote German instruction of the mother-tongue in [Russian Federation] kindergartens and schools. The Ministry contributes millions of [Deutsch Marks] for sending German teachers and language consultants, as well as supplying teaching and learning materials.

Effective help is also being provided by the Federal Republic for the founding, furnishing and continuing support of German cultural centers inside the former Soviet Union. Existing establishments and new settlements are being sponsored; the German rayons Asowo and Halbstadt are being assisted in the build-up of their administration and in the completion of their infrastructure through financial subsidies and the sending of consultants. In spite of this, large deficits remain. The German-Russians happily accept this support and are grateful for it. Whether this will reduce the number of emigrants in the long run will also depend on the larger political and economic development in the components of the Community of Independent States.


From Emigration to Integration

Due to the change in course of Soviet policies in the 1980s as a result of Gorbachev's "Perestroika" and "Glasnost" and from the pressure of world opinion, the government of the former Soviet Union was no longer able to ignore obligations entered into by treaty under the framework of international agreements for the protection of human rights. The Russian-Germans, who had already been waiting for many years for permission to emigrate, especially profited from these changes. After the "Law Concerning Immigration and Emigration" became effective on January 1, 1987, the approval system was loosened step by step and the numbers of emigrants began rosing slowly in 1987. There were 14,488; in 1988, 47,572; in 1989, 98,134; in 1990, 147,950; in 1991, 147,320 and in 1992, 195,576. In 1993 the number is expected to be about 200,000.

Admission of the Russian-German emigrants is embodied in a series of laws. At first, the procedure was regulated according to Article 116.1 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Federal Expellee and Refugee Act (FERA) of 1953. With the increase in the number of Russian-German emigrants extending into the hundreds of thousands, restrictions and reductions in benefits were gradually introduced. For example, late applicants could only send their applications from their country of origin, and after their arrival it is only under certain circumstances that they would be allowed to freely choose their place of residence in Germany. The War Results Adjustment Act, which took effect on January 1, 1993, in addition to a series of deletions and restrictions of benefits and rights, set an annual quota for the admission of late emigrants, (ca.225,000). The considerable reduction in the benefits and rights of the later emigrants is very difficult and painful for those concerned. In spite of the hardships that they are being asked to endure, and against which the Landsmannschaft has taken a decided stand during the legislative process, in justice, one should not overlook the fact that the law has been clarified in various ways.

The approximately two million Russian-Germans still living in the countries of the CIS can now be certain that legal return to Germany will be on a fairly long-term basis, and that the rules for admittance have been stated in unambiguous and concrete terms. Other than that, the public discussion about if, and how, latecomers to Germany should be admitted has been considerably reduced in its shrillness and in general has greatly subsided.

Those later Russian-German emigrants arrived in Germany with great expectations. After the fulfillment of a decades-long dream of being finally able to immigrate to the home of their forefathers, they are overjoyed to step onto German soil. It was difficult for them to make the decision to abandon relatives, friends and colleagues, property acquired through years of hard work and savings, their houses, furnishings and automobiles. Still, they make these great sacrifices to live in freedom as "Germans among Germans," to make it possible for their children to attend German schools, to make a new life for themselves and their families. Therefore, they want to work and adapt themselves to their new circumstances.

They want to become German citizens as quickly as possible and aspire to speedy integration. However, they resist giving up their identity, as they consider themselves to be a nation molded by a hard fate, which does not seek any kind of favor, but requires only an acknowledgement of its particular nature, singularity and culture. The process of inclusion requires time, integration must evolve. That is particularly true for the middle and older generations; it is easier for the young people. In general, it is not realistic to expect patterns of behavior from new immigrants that ought only to be found at the end of this inegration process.

The Russian-Germans have their own values, which they desire to maintain. In the years of persecution and deportation their belief in a "higher justice" was the only thing that they could hold on to; that gave them hope. For that reason, the generation that particularly experienced these injustices still hold fast to their religious beliefs today. A highly developed sense of family, including the extended family, customs and usages from long ago, readiness to help neighbors, frugality, diligence and industry are all ethnic qualities of their particular nature rooted in their combined German cultural history. Through their ethnic particularities maintained for centuries, they increase the diversity of modern German culture. The Russian-Germans revive long-forgotten cultural values, customs, songs and dialects and bring them back into the combined German consciousness.

One should not ignore the fact that the Russian-Germans have lived together peacefully and as good neighbors with other national groups. Because of their suffering under the Bolscheviki dictatorship, they turn aside every strain of political radicalism, whether of the right or the left. The Russian-Germans have prerequisites for becoming a bridge to the Russians, Ukrainians, Kazachstani and other peoples of the Community of Independent States.

Beyond that, they are an economic asset for modern Germany. For example, among the indigenous population of Germany, the age group from birth to 20 years make up 21.5%, the age group over 65 years makes up nearly 15%, the corresponding figures among the Russian-German emigrants are 37.9% and 6.8%. Thus the [comparatively younger population] of emigrants will contribute to the long-range security of pensions and annuities. The large consumption needs of the immigrant arriving with one suitcase are a considerable addition to the German retail economy. Therefore, the later Russian-German emigrants are not only consumers, but also producers. They desire no exaggerated sympathy or charity, but are thankful for self-help.

Whenever the Russian Germans are openly or behind their backs referred to as "economic refugees," or accused of receiving "pensions at our expense," it affects them deeply. Everyone knows that the pensions are paid from current contributions to the social insurance [in the Federal Republic] includes working Russian-Germans. It is equally depressing when they are blamed for being partially responsible for the German shortage of housing and jobs, as they are satisfied with comparatively small dwellings and are happy if they get any job at all, even if it is beneath their professional qualifications. For them the most important thing is that they are finally living in Germany.

They, however, react with the utmost sensitivity when they are accused of "not being Germans at all, because they do not even speak German." After all, they did acknowledge themselves to be German in the times of the worst persecution and ethnic discrimination. In addition, their lack of German language skills can be explained by the fact that since 1938-1941 there have been no German schools [in the former Soviet Union].

While the churches, private charitable organizations, and many individuals are assisting the later emigrants in an exemplary fashion, these and similar misunderstandings put a strain on the relationship between the "natives" and one million Russian-German emigrants who live in Germany. They are essentially victims resulting from widespread ignorance of the history and fate of the Russian-Germans, the only group of German people collectively denied their human rights for decades.

The German federal government through its own measures and financial support of suitable projects has made strenuous efforts to erase this deficit. The churches are also doing a good job enlightening people and spreading information. It would also be very welcome change if Russian-German themes were more emphasized in teaching and programs in the schools, in adult education and higher education, in the media, in publications and in trade unions and employer associations, organizations and municipalities.

It should generally be made public, that the Russian-Germans today are still suffering from the consequences of deportation and discrimination for which they are not to blame. Germany has a historical duty to care for them, because the history of the Russian-German people is a part of German history.

The Landsmannschaft and the Cultural Council of the Germans from Russia

Of the 350,000 Germans from Russia that made it to the Wartheland and farther to the West during the the Second World War, 250,000 of them were "forcibly repatriated." About 100,000 were able to save themselves by escaping into the occupation zones of the Western Powers, but even there, with the knowledge, acquiescence, and assistance of the Allies, Soviet "repatriation commandos" were on the hunt for these people. About 30,000 Russian-Germans emigrated from West Germany during the years 1945-1950 for economic reasons and out of fear of Soviet oppression. They predominantly migrated to the USA, Canada, South America and Australia. The remaining intimidated minority of 70,000 persons nevertheless created their own representation. For safety and political reasons this was called "Worker's Community of Resettlers from the East" and was built up under the protection of the churches. Among the founders were Superintendent Johannes Schleuning (+), Pastor Heinrich Roemmich (+), Dr. Karl Stumpp (+), Dr. Gottleib Leibbrandt (+) and Prof. Dr. Benjamin Unruh (+). In 1950 the organization was renamed the "Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Rußland" (The Brotherhood of the Germans from Russia).

The Landsmannschaft is a registered organization based in Stuttgart, whose contribution to the public welfare is acknowledged. It utilizes many volunteer workers and has a small staff of full-time employees; it supports state groups in the states of the Federal Republic and more than 100 city and district groups. It devotes itself to the material, cultural and social integration of the late emigrants in the Federal Republic of Germany through cooperation in the production of a social framework for the emigrants. The Landmannschaft also provides education and offers legal assistance for those concerned..

It pursues and promotes research into the history, the culture, and the present situation of the German minority in the Community of Independent States (CIS) and brings the results to the attention of the public by means of the media, politicians, scientists and associations. It does this through its monthly journal, "Volk auf dem Weg" (since 1950) and by means of a number of publications. In 1981 the Cultural Council of the Germans from Russia was founded for the purpose of researching the history of the Germans from Russia to cultivate, maintain and pass on their cultural heritage. This is a non-profit institution which works closely with the Landsmannschaft.

The Landsmannschaft and the Cultural Council also consider themselves to represent the interests of those Germans living in the CIS, whose struggle for sovereignty they support as much as they are able. In addition they use their influence to support the realization of the national and individual rights of the Germans in the CIS, as well as free emigration from the CIS and unlimited immigration into the Federal Republic of Germany.

Both organizations support the principles: Whoever does not wish to or cannot emigrate, must be helped in his search for dependable prospects for the future, but whoever is striving to emigrate, for him the gate must remain open.


Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Rußland
Kulturrat der Deutschen aus Rußland (KDR)

Reitelsbergstraße 49
70188 Stuttgart
Tel. 0711/16659-0

Our appreciation is extended to Ingeborg W. Smith for translation of this article.

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