Who are the Germans from Russia?

Before a unified Germany existed, many Germans were demoralized by years of religious strife, political chaos and economic hardship. In 1763, they received an enticing offer from the Russian Czarina Catherine the Great, a former German princess. She promised colonists autonomy and free farmland in Russia should they choose to emigrate. Catherine believed these highly skilled farmers and tradesmen would promote progress leading to a more modern Russia. Many accepted her offer and colonized the Volga region first, to be known as the Volga Germans. In 1804, Alexander I issued another invitation for Germans to colonize southern Ukraine (the Black Sea Germans). Additionally, more emigrated from Württemberg and Prussia around 1812 and became the Bessarabian Germans.

Following defeat in the Crimean War, Russia realized that their outdated system of government had to be changed into something resembling a modern state. This first led to freeing the serfs in 1861 and later to the "great reforms" in 1864 that reorganized and democratized local government and reformed the court system. The privileges previously enjoyed by the German colonists had allowed them to run their own affairs but Russian officials now regarded them as inconsistent with the reforms. In addition, they appeared unfair to the freed Russian serfs who now competed with the colonists as equal subjects. Thus the privileges were revoked in 1871 in the hope that Germans would now participate directly in Russian public affairs. In 1874, Russia instituted universal military service, which included the German colonists. A few years later, Russification efforts under Alexander III made inroads into the colonists' schools and discouraged using the German language. Treasuring their own identity and culture and seeking better opportunities elsewhere, many of the German-Russians decided to leave. Those immigrating to North America settled throughout the Great Plains from Saskatchewan to Texas. Wherever they settled world-wide, the German Russians preserved their distinctive identity, rich culture and heritage across borders and generations.

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