German Memories - Volga Germans Migration Towards Americas
By Rajkumar Kanagasingam
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A century after the first Germans had settled in the Volga region, Russia passed legislation that revoked many of the privileges promised to them by Catherine the Great. The sentiment in Russia became decidedly anti-German.
Russia first made changes to the German local government. Then in 1874, a new military law decreed that all male Russian subjects, when they reached the age of 20, were eligible to serve in the military for 6 years. For the German colonists, this law represented a breach of faith.
The Volga German men also had to join in the military and fought in the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878. One of these men died in the war. In the 1880s Russia began a subtle attack on German schools and other German institutions.
When Russia was reducing the privileges granted to the Germans, several nations in the Americas were attempting to attract settlers by offering inducements reminiscent of those of Catherine the Great.
Soon after the military service bill became law, both Protestant and Catholic Volga Germans gathered and chose delegations to journey across the Atlantic to examine settlement conditions in the United States. Volga Germans started arriving in the USA in the mid 1870s. Early destinations were in the heartland of the country around Kansas and later spread west to Washington, Oregon and California and East to Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.
Volga Germans started arriving in Canada in the 1890s, later than other countries. Volga Germans settled in 3 provinces in Canada: Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Volga Germans settled primarily in 2 countries in South America: Argentina and Brazil. Starting in 1876 these countries were settled primarily by Catholic Volga Germans. While Brazil was the first South American country to be settled by Volga Germans, Argentina ultimately contained a vastly larger population of Volga Germans due in part to better farmlands.
In their new homes overseas, the Volga Germans initially continued their pattern of introverted closed German communities. The people of individual villages tended to travel together and settle together in their new homeland. It was not uncommon to find hundreds of Volga Germans from one village in one location in the new world. First they primarily settled among people of their own village, then among other Volga Germans, next among other Germans.
There was also emigration to North Caucasus in Russia where a number of colonies were established. In the 1890's when land became scarce there, migration was diverted eastward to Siberia. As the fear of a world war grew among the Volga Germans, it too encouraged emigration. What started as a trickle became a flood after the turn of the century. In spite of the large emigration, the Volga German population increased to 345,000 by 1897 and to over 500,000 by 1914.
Rajkumar Kanagasingam is author of a fascinating book - "German Memories in Asia" - and you can explore more about the book and the author at AGSEP
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