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GERMANS IN RUSSIA and other C.I.S. States

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General Information

This page covers most of the vast region of the former Soviet Union. It specifically excludes the Baltic States (Eastonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). Everything to the east of Poland and the Baltic States is included. One small region of Romania (BESSARABIA) is also included.

Specific regions included in this scope are:
- Bessarabia
- Black Sea Colonies
- Caucasus
- Crimea
- Kazakhstan
- Siberia
- Ukraine
- Volga Region
- Volhynia

You may see references to Polish Volhynia, Russian Volhynia, or Ukrainian Volhynia. Such references only apply to the time period between World Wars I and II.

Description of the research area:

Hundreds of thousands of Germans have lived in the vast Russian regions for hundreds of years. The largest concentrations were in the Volga River Region, the Black Sea region, Bessarabia, and Volhynia. Smaller settlements existed in the Baltic area near St. Petersburg and the Caucaus. Later, many of these same Germans were exiled to the east and thus have connections to Kazakhstan and Siberia.

Most of these Germans were LUTHERAN and MENNONITE. Other religions represented included JEWS, ROMAN CATHOLICS, BAPTISTS, REFORMED, and MORAVIAN. They had origins in many different German states. Some came from other east European countries like Poland and Hungary.


Because of the extensive size of the Russian nation, the history of the Germans within it is varied and complex. Germans had lived in various parts of the Russian empire for centuries so perhaps the best way to describe their history is through a description of the migration waves that occurred.

In 1763, Catherine II (Catherine the Great, German born empress of Russia) sent agents into the German states for the purpose of recruiting settlers. These colonists were to develop the fertile, uncultivated agricultural lands southeast of Moscow, specifically along the VOLGA River. There were several promises that made this offer attractive to the Germans: freedom from various forms of taxes and customs duties, self government for the towns, freedom of religion, and freedom from military service, to name a few. It is easy to see how attractive this would be to Germans who were suffering from widespread poverty, malnutrition, and unemployment brought on by feudal infighting, wars, religious persecution, and the general politics of the day. The extent of this migration was so great (4000 families in 1767 alone) that further migration was forbidden by the German Emperor Joseph II. Migration to the VOLGA effectively ended at this time. During these 4 years it is estimated that over 25,000 Germans migrated primarily from Hesse and the southwest states but nominally from other areas as well.

In the next few years, Catherine the Great expanded Russian territory dramatically by conquering Turkish controlled land to the south and Polish land to the west. Catherine again wanted Germans to help in developing her new territories, especially around the north side of the BLACK SEA. This time she turned to the Mennonites of West Prussia. Mennonites are a pacifist denomination. Frederick William II was demanding payment of heavy fines in lieu of military service and forced the Mennonites to pay tithes to the established Lutheran Church on earlier land purchases from Lutherans. They were particularly attracted to Russia by the offer of freedom from military service. In 1789, 228 Mennonite families arrived at Chortitza on the Dnieper River. They had been preceeded to the general region by a smaller group of Lutherans. The Mennonite migration continued into the area for another 80 years with thousands more families answering the call. Thousands of other Germans followed the Mennonites. Lutherans and Catholics began flooding into the area, starting particular after the Napoleonic wars (1803 through 1810). They not only came from the southwest German states but also from West Prussia, Hungary, and Poland. Hundreds of German colonies sprang up in a semi circle around Odessa, now in the UKRAINE.

Another war with Turkey brought Russia more territory, the region of BESSARABIA on the west side of the Black Sea. By 1816, over 1500 German families moved into this area, most of them from Poland. Migration continued with population increases coming from Baden, Wuerttemberg, Hesse, and Alsace. Further colonization took place north of the Sea of Azov, in the CRIMEA, and the CAUCASUS.

In VOLHYNIA, early German settlement was sporadic. One of the first colonies was at Koretz in 1783. A few Mennonite agricultural villages were established prior to 1793 but most of them moved on to the Black Sea region within a few decades. The first permanent settlement came in 1816 but significant migration into Volhynia did not occur until the 1830s. The migration to Volhynia occurred under vastly different circumstances than that to other parts of the Russian empire. Polish landlords who had retained land after the Russian occupation were looking for qualified farmers to develop and farm their land. No special priviliges were extended to these immigrants except for that which could be provided by the local nobility. It was the shortage of land in their old homes that drove most of the Germans into this region. By 1860, there were only about 5000 in 35 small villages. Then, with the abolition of serfdom in 1861 and the failed Polish Insurrection of 1863, Germans began to flood into this area. By 1871, there were over 28,000 and by the turn of the century, over 200,000 lived in Volhynia. Most of them had come from Poland with a minority from Wuerttemberg, Pomerania, East Prussia, Silesia, and Galicia.

Russian politics changed dramatically over these 100 years and it wasn't long before the Germans starting loosing the freedoms and privileges extended to them. The Mennonites were first to leave in large numbers. They were being forced to provide military service to the Russians so in the 1870s, thousands of them moved on to both North and South America. Persecution continued with Germans losing their right to language and property ownership so many more soon followed them. Animosity towards the Germans peaked during World War I with most being expelled eastward to KAZAKHSTAN and SIBERIA. Some made it back to their homelands after the war. Others stayed in these new areas, hoping to establish a new life. Still others escaped eastward through China and on to Australia and the Americas. After World War II, the Germans were no longer allowed back to their homelands. They were forced to stay in the east or in some cases were expelled back to Germany.

[Primary historical source: From Catherine to Kruschev, The Story of Russia's Germans; by Adam Giesinger; Published by the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia]

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Last update: 31-Aug-97 (rmh)
Please forward any comments and additions to this WWW-page to Jerry Frank, email: or to: WebMaster