Germans in Russia

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History[edit | edit source]

At the invitation of Catherine the Great, 30,623 colonists primarily from the southwestern areas of present day Germany founded 106 colonies along the unsettled Russian steppe near the banks of the Volga between 1763 and 1772. Some had originally settled in Schleswig-Holstein (then ruled by Denmark) between 1759 and 1762, but joined the migration to Russia when it began in 1763. These original Volga German colonists were joined in 1812 by 181 mostly German soldiers who had been a part of Napoleon's Army when it invaded Russia.

A census of Russia taken in 1897 enumerated 1,790,439 ethnic Germans living in Russia. Not all of them were Volga Germans.

Recruitment of the Colonists[edit | edit source]

Russian representatives published the 1763 Manifesto of Catherine II in newspapers and distributed printed copies throughout Europe, luring thousands with its promises of a better life in a faraway land.

The recruiters were divided into two categories, those that directly represented the Russian government and groups of private recruiters who were authorized by the Russian government to establish their own colonies along the lower Volga River.

To directly represent the Russian government, Catherine appointed Johann Matthias Simolin, the Russian Ambassador to the Reichstag (the Diet of the Realm or Parliament at this time), to act as special commissioner to head the Russian crown's recruitment effort. Simolin's deputies were Friederich Meixner, whose headquarters were located at Ulm, and Johann Facius from Hanau who was initially headquartered at Frankfurt am Main in October 1765.

The recruitment of colonists often brought strong reaction from the German authorities who often did not want their subjects to emigrate. Many of the German rulers enacted laws threatening severe punishment, confiscation of goods, and the prohibition of property sales for anyone considering emigration. Despite his diplomatic protection, the authorities in Frankfurt forced Facius out of the city and he soon established a new headquarters in the city of Büdingen in late February of 1766.

Facius and his representatives of the Russian crown were much more scrupulous in their recruiting activities than the private recruiters, ensuring that would be colonists had the desired skills and requiring them to present documentation of their release by the local authorities. The Russian government had to be very careful not to upset diplomatic relationships in the German territories that were allowing emigration.

The majority of the colonists that arrived in the Saratov area were part of the transport groups led by private recruiters (about 56 percent). Many of these colonists had first migrated as colonists to Denmark.

Among the private recruiters were three cooperative companies. The first company was formed by le Roy, a Frenchman; Pictet, a Swiss from Geneva; and Sonntag, a German. The second was formed by the Frenchman Baron Caneau de Beauregard along with Major Otto Friedrich of Monjou. The third, with no independent funding, was formed by Jean de Boffe, Meusnier et Precourt de Saint-Laurent, and Quentin Benjamin Coulhette d'Hautervive.

Thousands of German craftsmen and farmers responded to these recruitment efforts and founded 106 German villages on both sides of the Volga; they are thus known as the Volga Germans. Le Roy and Pictet established 25 colonies comprising 1,530 families with 5,339 people, along the Volga south of Saratov and to the east on its left tributaries the Karaman and Tarlyk, for example the colony of Lauwe, now Yablonovka, founded as a Lutheran colony on August 19, 1767. LeRoy and Pictet later became managers of their colonies.

Due to mismanagement and corrupt activities by the recruiters, they were removed as directors of their colonies by the Russian government in 1788. The privately established colonies were then placed under the Kontora, which was officially known as the Saratov Office for the Guardianship of Foreign Settlers. From that point forward, the Kontora had oversight of all the Volga German colonies.

Written by Steven Schreiber (March 2020).


Bartlett, Roger P. "Diderot and the foreign colonies of Catherine II". In: Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique. Vol. 23 N°2. Avril-Juin 1982. pp. 221-241.

Keim, Philipp. Die Wolgadeutschen von der Einwanderung bis zur Aufhebung des Kolonistenkontors, dissertation, Norderstedt: GRIN books on demand, 2006, ISBN 9783638709125, p. 28 (in German)

Pleve, I. R., and Richard R. Rye. The German Colonies on the Volga: The Second Half of the Eighteenth Century. Lincoln, Neb.: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 2001. Print.

External Links

Animation: How the European Map Has Changed Over 2,400 Years

Journey through Denmark[edit | edit source]

Between 1759 and 1762, more than 4,000 immigrants from southern and southwestern Germany answered the call of Danish King Frederick V and moved to the area of Schleswig-Holstein which at that time was under his control.

This area of Schleswig-Holstein, the "neck" that connects present day Germany to Denmark, was called the Cimbric Peninsula and was considered to be a wasteland because of the poor soil and swamp-like conditions. Frederick's advisors initiated an agrarian reform program in order to bring this territory under cultivation. Approximately 2,500 acres were drained, and colonists invited from the war-torn areas of Hessen and the Palatinate to settle there.

These new colonists, who came from the fertile and forested areas of Germany, did not like the moors of Schleswig-Holstein. There was a shortage of fertilizer necessary for making the land productive, and the settlers could barely raise enough food to feed their families let alone make the area a breadbasket of agriculture. The program was a failure and was discontinued in 1765.

Only about 600 of the original 4,000 colonists remained by this time. Some had returned to Germany, but most joined the migration to Russia under the invitation of Catherine the Great.


According to research done by Dr. Alexander Eichhorn and Dr. Jacob and Mary Eichhorn, the following Volga German families are known to have first settled in Schleswig-Holstein before immigrating to Russia:

Adler to Grimm

Albrecht to Anton

Altergott to Dönhof

Andres to Dönhof

Arne to Galka

Arnold to Anton

Arnold to Rosenheim

Asmus to Holstein

Audrit to Reinwald

Bär to Anton

Barthuly to Balzer

Bauer to Balzer

Bauer to Dönhof

Bauer to Shcherbakovka

Baumgärten to Anton

Baumgärtner to Dobrinka

Becking to Dönhof

Becking to Shcherbakovka

Beideck to Beideck

Beier to Dönhof

Beier to Rosenheim

Beisel to Dreispitz

Beisser to Dreispitz

Bendel to Dönhof

Bender to Galka

Bentel to Dönhof

Benzel to Schilling

Berger to Reinwald

Bernager to Reinwald

Blazer to Schilling

Boltz to Dönhof

Borell to Balzer

Bossert to Stahl am Karaman

Braun to Moor

Brecht to Schilling

Breininger to Holstein

Brenckmann to Shcherbakovka

Breuner to Dobrinka

Bruhn to Schilling

Brunner to Reinwald

Busch to Balzer

Busch to Grimm

Clauser to Dobrinka

Dagen to Reinwald

Dalinger to Galka

Damm to Schilling

Daniel to Schilling

Decker to Balzer

Denner to Galka

Derr to Rosenheim

Detterer to Dönhof

Dewald to Hussenbach

Dieterle to Dobrinka

Dieterle to Schilling

Dietz to Shcherbakovka

Dincklacker to Messer

Ditmer to Balzer

Dreher to Beideck

Dreiling to Kamenka

Dumler to Grimm

Eberhard to Grimm

Eberhardt to Moor

Edel to Fischer

Egner to Moor

Ehrhardt to Shcherbakovka

Eichhorn to Dönhof

Eichler to Dönhof

Eichner to Anton

Eichner to Balzer

Eisele to Rosenheim

Endersen to Enders

Engelhardt to Anton

Engelhardt to Grimm

Erksin to Dönhof

Essig to Schilling

Ewald to Walter

Ewig to Anton

Faber to Dönhof

Filbert to Schilling

Fink to Dönhof

Fischer to Galka

Fitzner to Schilling

Flenk to Rosenheim

Flom to Dobrinka

Flomart to Dobrinka

Focht to Anton

Forschman to Fischer

Frank to Dönhof

Frank to Galka

Fritz to Grimm

Fritz to Rosenheim

Fritzler to Grimm

Fuchs to Anton

Funk to Rosenheim

Ganz to Shcherbakovka

Gauger to Reinwald

Geld to Dönhof

Genter to Holstein

Gitle to Enders

Glantz to Grimm

Glaser to Grimm

Glöckner to Stahl am Karaman

Gomer to Dönhof

Göttinger to Dönhof

Gramlich to Schilling

Gries to Dinkel

Grünemeier to Beideck

Guterich to Anton

Guttmann to Stahl am Karaman

Haffner to Shcherbakovka

Hager to Schilling

Hall to Anton

Hammel to Messer

Hammertrab to Beideck

Handschuh to Shcherbakovka

Häppner to Anton

Hartmann to Rosenheim

Haun to Hussenbach

Heckmann to Balzer

Hefele to Dobrinka

Hefele to Dreispitz

Heft to Balzer

Heist to Balzer

Heit to Dreispitz

Heldt to Dönhof

Helmut to Schilling

Henkel to Dönhof

Henn to Reinwald

Herrmann to Schäfer

Herter to Beideck

Hildebrandt to Reinwald

Hoffmann to Balzer

Holstein to Galka

Holzwarth to Reinwald

Hornes to Reinwald

Horst to Rosenheim

Huber to Balzer

Hüber to Dobrinka

Hula to Grimm

Iphöffer to Shcherbakovka

Jäckel to Rosenheim

Jäger to Grimm

Jauck to Holstein

Jessen to Stahl am Tarlyk

Johann to Anton

Jung to Holstein

Kaiser to Grimm

Kaltenberger to Grimm

Karl to Balzer

Kast to Holstein

Kaufmann to Shcherbakovka

Keil to Anton

Keiser to Grimm

Keller to Dobrinka

Kepp to Fischer

Kestle to Dönhof

Kiselmann to Balzer

Kleiber to Grimm

Klein to Balzer

Klein to Dreispitz

Kletter to Anton

Kling to Beideck

Knaup to Schäfer

Knaus to Holstein

Knaus to Kratzke

Knedler to Dobrinka

Kober to Grimm

Kober to Reinwald

Kohler to Grimm

Kolb to Balzer

Körber to Reinwald

Körber to Schilling

Kossman to Fischer

Krämer to Anton

Krassel to Dobrinka

Kraus to Enders

Kraus to Reinwald

Kraut to Dobrinka

Krieger to Rosenheim

Krug to Grimm

Kümmel to Rohleder

Kunzmann to Anton

Kunzmann to Schäfer

Kurtz to Schilling

Lampe to Stahl am Tarlyk

Lange to Schäfer

Laub to Reinwald

Lederer to Reinwald

Legler to Dönhof

Legler to Grimm

Legler to Reinwald

Leist to Fischer

Leist to Fischer

Lenhard to Hussenbach

Lerch to Schäfer

Lichtenwald to Dönhof

Linde to Grimm

Löffler to Rosenheim

Lontsinger to Grimm

Lorenz to Galka

Ludwig to Enders

Mahr to Schilling

Maierhöfer to Galka

Mannweiler to Messer

Markstaller to Rosenheim

Martin to Galka

Martin to Holstein

Marx to Rosenheim

Maul to Schilling

Mauter to Messer

Meier to Balzer

Meier to Shcherbakovka

Meininger to Grimm

Meisner to Grimm

Meisterling to Messer

Menges to Shcherbakovka

Metz to Schilling

Metzger to Anton

Meyer to Dobrinka

Meyer to Fischer

Meyer to Grimm

Moninger to Dobrinka

Müller to Anton

Müller to Dobrinka

Müller to Rosenheim

Münster to Beideck

Neuberger to Beideck

Neuwirth to Reinwald

Nunnemann to Fischer

Obländer to Shcherbakovka

Ott to Galka

Pappenheim to Dönhof

Paul to Anton

Paustan to Fischer

Pfeiler to Holstein

Pikus to Grimm

Pless to Kamenka

Pretzer to Beideck

Propp to Hussenbach

Pufald to Fischer

Putz to Beideck

Queisner to Dönhof

Rabensterk to Rosenheim

Ramig to Grimm

Rau to Dobrinka

Reimer to Reinwald

Reinhard to Dönhof

Reiser to Dobrinka

Reiser to Shcherbakovka

Reissig to Shcherbakovka

Repphun to Reinwald

Reth to Anton

Reuter to Anton

Ries to Dinkel

Riffel to Shcherbakovka

Ritter to Balzer

Röber to Dönhof

Robertus to Balzer

Roh to Schilling

Rösler to Messer

Rotharmel to Anton

Rube to Schilling

Ruf to Holstein

Rutz to Dönhof

Salzmann to Grimm

Sam to Rosenheim

Sauerbrei to Hussenbach

Sauermilch to Rosenheim

Schäfer to Göbel

Schäfer to Grimm

Schanzenbach to Galka

Schenkel to Dönhof

Schick to Galka

Schindler to Dobrinka

Schmal to Grimm

Schmann to Grimm

Schmidt to Galka

Schmidt to Grimm

Schmidt to Messer

Schmidt to Schilling

Schmidt to Schilling

Schneider to Dobrinka

Schneider to Dönhof

Schneider to Grimm

Schneider to Messer

Schneider to Moor

Schorg to Reinwald

Schremser to Moor

Schreuck to Dreispitz

Schuh to Rosenheim

Schulz to Dönhof

Schuppe to Grimm

Schwan to Messer

Schwartzkopf to Dönhof

Schwemmer to Grimm

Schwend to Dobrinka

Schwien to Holstein

Seidel to Reinwald

Seifert to Fischer

Seifert to Grimm

Seiler to Laub

Seninger to Grimm

Siemon to Dobrinka

Siewert to Dreispitz

Simon to Dobrinka

Späth to Balzer

Speldecker to Shcherbakovka

Stahl to Kamenka

Stahl to Stahl am Karaman

Stehli to Grimm

Steinbrecher to Dönhof

Steinbrecher to Galka

Steinbrenner to Rosenheim

Steinepreis to Reinwald

Steinert to Galka

Steinert to Shcherbakovka

Steinpreis to Balzer

Steinpress to Franzosen

Stengel to Schilling

Stöhr to Balzer

Stoll to Dönhof

Stoll to Grimm

Störger to Dönhof

Strackbein to Schilling

Streitenberger to Kamenka

Strep to Dobrinka

Stricker to Shcherbakovka

Stromberger to Dönhof

Tehele to Balzer

Tiede to Grimm

Tralmann to Stahl am Tarlyk

Trott to Grimm

Trübelhorn to Beideck

Tule to Grimm

Ulrich to Dönhof

Utz to Dobrinka

Vogel to Dönhof

Vogel to Grimm

Vogt to Dietel

Volert to Dreispitz

Walter to Rosenheim

Waltz to Galka

Wasserer to Anton

Weber to Beideck

Weber to Dobrinka

Weingärtner to Schilling

Weiss to Shcherbakovka

Welsch to Schäfer

Wenz to Dobrinka

Wenzerich to Anton

Werfel to Anton

Wetzel to Grimm

Wiedemann to Dönhof

Winter to Shcherbakovka

Witt to Bauer

Wittman to Grimm

Wittmann to Reinwald

Wolet to Dreispitz

Wolf to Grimm

Wulf to Dinkel

Zeisel to Kamenka

Zeitz to Reinwald

Ziegler to Dobrinka

Ziegler to Galka

Zittel to Reinwald

Zwetzig to Shcherbakovka

Zwinger to Kamenka

Zwingmann to Messer

CVGS Resources

Eichhorn, A., Eichhorn, Jacob, & Eichhorn, Mary. (2012). Die Einwanderung deutscher Kolonisten nach Dänemark und deren weitere Auswanderung nach Russland in den Jahren 1759-1766 = The immigration of German colonists to Denmark and their subsequent emigration to Russia in the years 1759-1766 (1. Aufl. = 1st ed.). Bonn, Germany : Midland, Mich.

Clausen, O. (1981). Chronik der Heide- und Moorkolonisation im Herzogtum Schleswig (1760-1765). Husum: Husum.


Clausen, Otto. Chronik der Heide- und Moorkolonisation im Herzogtum Schleswig, 1760-1765 (Husum: Husum Druck- und Verlagsgesellschaft, 1981).

"Die Heide- und Moorkolonisation 1759 bis 1765" (online).

Eichhorn, Alexander. The immigration of German colonists to Denmark and their subsequent emigration to Russia in the years 1759-1766 (Deiningen, Germany: Steinmeier, 2012).

Lang, Gerhard. "Kolonisten in Dänemark"

History of the Germans in Russia[edit | edit source]

The article below was written by Dr. Igor Pleve who is one of the preeminent Volga German historians. The article describes the various ethnic German groups within the Russian Empire and explains the unique characteristics of the Volga Germans and the importance of studying this group separately from other German ethnic groups.

A Brief History of the Germans in Russia[edit | edit source]

Written by Dr. Igor Pleve, for the Center for Volga German Studies at Concordia University. Translated from the original Russian text.

The formation of various groups of the German Russian population took place over several centuries in different parts of the vast Russian Empire. Social, religious and geographic differences resulted in limited contact and mutual influence among the groups. The following sections describe these differences in the German population of Russia.

Social Classes

  1. Colonists - This group of Germans arrived in Russia as part of early colonization activities and were compactly settled in the Volga region, in Ukraine and near St. Petersburg. In the late 19th to early 20th centuries, some colonists moved to subsidiary colonies in the North Caucasus, Siberia, and Orenburg regions. Despite their general social status, each group had pronounced features associated with the time period of their settlement, places of origin in Europe, and social and economic relations.  In 1871, the colonists lost many of their privileges and their social status was changed to common villagers.
  1. Burghers - Numerous people from various Germanic and other European states came to Russia as privileged citizens. They lived primarily in cities and can be divided into two categories. The first category of Burghers experienced the strong influence of Russian culture and quickly assimilated. The second category preserved the national traits of their country of origin.
  1. Nobles - The Russian nobility was replenished by the Germans after the Baltic states were annexed to Russia. A part of the German nobility received titles in the service of the Russian state, and others brought it from their former homeland. This social group was characterized, on the one hand, by the preservation of national and religious traits, and on the other, by isolation from the rest of the German population of the country.

Religious Faith

  1. Lutherans - The Lutherans were the largest group and were represented in all of the social classes. They formed an absolute majority among the nobility and the colonists. (Translator note: This group also includes those of the Calvinist or Reformed faith.)
  1. Catholics - The majority of the German population of Russia who practiced this religious faith were colonists. A small number of Germans adopted Orthodoxy. Religious differences created barriers in contacts between the Germans. These differences were not as distinct in the cities as they were in the countryside.
  1. Mennonites - They originally settled in New Russia (Ukraine) and the Volga region. In later years they colonized regions in the Orenburg steppes, Siberia and Central Asia. The Mennonites completely preserved their originality. Being natives of Holland and having serious religious contradictions with Catholics and Lutherans, they tried to avoid contact with German colonists, except for purely economic reasons.

Geographic Territory

In our opinion, it is possible to distinguish six main groups of the German population of Russia by their geographic place of residence. Each group had pronounced features and were stable communities until 1917.

  1. Germans of the Baltic States - They became part of Russia’salready formed group, with their own national, cultural and territorial features. The high level of education and social status allowed many representatives of this group to enter the highest echelons of power and the military elite of Russia. There was little mutual influence or contact with other groups of Germans, with the exception of individual representatives living inMoscow and St. Petersburg.
  1. The Germans of St. Petersburg and Moscow - They can be divided into two parts: one took the path of assimilation and loss of national identity, the other retained their primary national traits. The latter was characterized by great mobility and constant replenishment due to new arrivals in the 18th through the early 20th centuries from all over Europe, including German states, foreigners, and the departure of a certain part of the Germans back to their homeland. As a result, Russia fully received all the new achievements of Germany in the fields of science, language, and education. The different social status of the Germans in the capital cities prevented close interaction. For them, the only unifying factor was the church. Relations with the German colonists were usually not maintained. The only exception may be the colonists who settled near St. Petersburg in the 18th century.
  1. Germans of the Volga region - Formed as a national group at the beginning of the 19th century from the masses of colonists who responded to Catherine II’s Manifesto. These Germans arrived on the Volga between 1764-1767. The compact settlement, rigid state control, loss of contact with their homelands led to isolation, not only from their former homelands, but also from other groups of the German population of Russia. A characteristic feature of the Volga Germans was the preservation of the linguistic and cultural traditions of their German homelands in the mid-18th century.
  1. Germans of New Russia (Ukraine) - After victorious wars with Turkey, immigrants from German lands were invited to facilitate the rapid development of newly incorporated territories within the Russian Empire. This wave of colonists was different in composition from arrivals in the Volga region. Only experienced farmers and artisans who had a family and prescribed assets were taken to the settlementareas. The changes that had occurred in the German states for fifty years after the first wave of colonists arrived on the Volga were reflected in the culture of the new settlers. The Germans of New Russia had practically no contact with the other groups of colonists.
  1. Germans of Transcaucasia - Settled at the same time as the Germans in New Russia, they represented a relatively homogeneous religious and ethnic group of Swabians from Baden-Württemberg. Dispersed settlement delayed their social stratification until the beginning of the 20thcentury. There were practically no contacts with German populations on the Volga and the North Caucasus. They maintained contacts only with kindred religious and ethnic settlements in New Russia. According to the German historian Eva Maria Auch, the colonists of Transcaucasia did not develop an awareness of themselves as part of the Germans of Russia.
  1. Germans of Volhynia - They were the last wave of German colonization in Russia. Although the colonization of this region took place throughout the first half of the 19th century, it acceleratedin the 60s and 80s. They have become an influential factor in the economic life of the region, especially in the field of agricultural production. Two-thirds of the Volyn Germans came from the Polish provinces of Vistula, which largely determined their orientation, both economic and cultural. There were no contacts made with the German population of other regions of Russia.
  1. German settlements of Siberia, Orenburg and Northern Caucasus began to be created at the end of the 19th century, as subsidiary colonies of the groups cited above,and before 1917.  They did not form unique communities, but instead brought the culture and traditions from their mother colonies.

From all the above, we conclude that the consideration of the history of the Germans in Russia is possible, starting only from the study of certain social, religious and territorial groups or combinations thereof (for example, social and religious). Attempts to consider the Germans of Russia as a single ethnos before 1917 will inevitably lead to a violation of historical accuracy in their studies, and the real history will be adapted to predetermined narratives.

Tragedies unite people. The deportation of 1941 accelerated the process of bringing together various social, religious and territorial groups of Germans, which allows us to discuss the existence of a Russian German ethnos from that point forward.

CVGS Resources

Pleve, I. R., Rye, Richard R (translator). (2001). The German colonies on the Volga : the second half of the eighteenth century. Lincoln, Neb.: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia.


Dr. Igor Pleve, Saratov, Russia, June 2019.

Why to Russia?[edit | edit source]

The German Side of the Story[edit | edit source]

The majority (95 percent) of those who settled in the Volga German colonies were refugees from the war-ravaged German states where religious strife and economic hardship had created a climate ripe for immigration. The bulk of those Germans came from Hesse and the Palatinate. Among other things, Catherine's manifesto promised religious freedom, exemption from military service, and thirty years without having to pay taxes.

For two centuries, a bloody battle was waged between the religious factions of Central Europe. By the end of the 30 Years' War in 1648, the Holy Roman Empire had disolved into more than 300 territories and independent cities led by secular or clerical rulers. These groups continued to battle on and off into the next century with opposing coalitions led by Catholic Austria and Protestant Prussia. The Seven Years' War began in 1754 and involved all the major powers in Europe at the time. The average inhabitant of Central Europe, regardless of religious or political allegiance, was under extreme tax burden, constant threat of injury to person or property, and routine conscription into military service for one side or the other. For many, there was little cause to remain.

The Russian Side of the Story[edit | edit source]

Only twenty-one days after her coronation in 1762, Catherine the Great issued a directive to her government authorizing them to admit into the country all persons who wanted to settle in Russia. A manifesto to this effect was issued on 4 December 1762. She wanted permanent settlers to populate the lower Volga frontier and bring stability to this region.

For centuries, the nomadic Kirghiz and Kalmyks had been ravaging the steppe of the lower Volga River basin. Russians and Ukrainians had attempted to settle there, but three battalions of soldiers sent to protect them had been slaughtered. In 1732, Empress Anna had turned to forced settlement of the area and sent Russian, Ukrainian, and Don Cossack settlers numbering 1,057 families to build a new defense line along the Volga between Tsaritsyn and Kamyshin. However, these settlers failed to defend the locale, but rather participated in robbery and murder along side the bandits.

Having observed the successful recruitment of over 300,000 Central European immigrants to Holland, England, Prussia, Austria, and even America, Empress Elizabeth in 1759 invited Austrians to settle in Russia. Catherine followed her example, but the 1762 manifesto had been worded in generalities and received a disappointing response. Catherine learned quickly why these early efforts were unsuccessful and, undaunted, she issued a second manifesto on 22 July 1763 that provided more specifics about who was covering transportation and settlement expenses and outlining protections and rights afforded to those who answered her call. More than 30,000 did so.

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

The above recount is much abbreviated. Each family undoubtedly had its own reasons for leaving. Each Russian official involved in the recruiting, transport, or settlement of the colonists had their own reasons for being involved in this enterprise. The following resources offer additional insight into these issues.

CVGS Resources

Beratz, Gottieb. The German colonies on the Lower Volga, their origin and early development: a memorial for the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first German settlers on the Volga, 29 June 1764. Translated by Adam Giesinger. Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1991.

Dietz, Jacob E. History of the Volga German Colonists. Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 2005.

Koch, Fred C. The Volga Germans: In Russia and the Americas, from 1763 to the Present. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977.

Pleve, Igor R. The German Colonies on the Volga: The Second Half of the Eighteenth Century. Translated by Richard Rye. Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 2001.

The Manifesto[edit | edit source]

Shortly after becoming the next Empress of Russia, a young Catherine II approved a new colonization policy designed to benefit her empire on October 14, 1762.

Catherine’s first Manifesto, issued on December 4, 1762, was printed in Russian, German, French, English, Polish, Czech, and Arabic. This Manifesto was largely symbolic given that the Russian government had not yet established an administrative structure to plan and manage such a large colonization program.

Catherine’s second Manifesto was issued on July 22, 1763, at the end of the Seven Years' War. This Manifesto was perfectly timed to appeal to the war and tax weary European populace. Copies of the Manifesto were printed in newspapers and on leaflets that were distributed throughout Europe, but with a focus in the German speaking lands where much of the war had been fought. These lands had no national government and were comprised of a large number of small principalities, counties, duchies and city states that were part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Some of these territories, such as the County of Isenburg, did not have legal restrictions preventing their subjects from traveling or migrating to new lands.

The second Manifesto was enhanced to be make the offer more specific and attractive. Among the promises made to the colonists was exemption from military service, freedom of religion, a 30 year exemption from taxes, land provided at no cost and travel expenses paid by the Russian government. At the time, and even by today's standards, this was a very enlightened and generous offer to prospective immigrants.

Manifesto of July 22, 1763[edit | edit source]

We, Catherine the Second, by the Grace of God, Empress and Autocrat of all the Russians at Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod; Czarina of Kazan; Czarina of Astrakhan; Czarina of Siberia; Lady of Pleskow and Grand Duchess of Smolensko; Duchess of Esthonia and Livland, Carelial, Twer, Yugoria, Permia, Viatka and Bulgaria and others; Lady and Grand Duchess of Novgorod in the Netherland of Chernigov, Resan, Rostov, Yaroslav, Beloosrial, Udoria, Obdoria, Condinia; and Ruler of the entire North Region and Lady of the Yurish, of the Cartalinian and Grusinian czars and the Cabardinian land, of the Cherkessian and Gorsian princes and the lady of the manor and sovereign of many others.

Inasmuch as the vast expanse of Our Empire's territories is fully known to Us, We perceive that, among other things, no small number of such regions still lie unimproved that could be employed with lucrative ease for a most productive settlement and occupation by mankind, most of which regions conceal within their depths an inexhaustible wealth of multifarious precious ores and metals; and since the selfsame [regions] are richly endowed with forests, rivers, seas, and oceans convenient for trade, so they are also exceptionally well adapted for the establishment and growth of many types of mills, factories, and various other plants. This gave Us cause for issuance of the manifesto that was publicized for the benefit of all Our loyal subjects on the 4th of December of the past year, 1762. Nevertheless, since We communicated Our wishes therein only summarily to those foreigners who might be desirous of making their homes in Our Empire, We therefore now ordain, for the better clarification of this matter, the following decree, which We hereby most solemnly confirm, and command that it be implemented, to proclaim it to all.

ONE We permit all foreigners to enter Our Empire in order to settle down in any government wherever it may suit each of them.

TWO Such foreigners, after their arrival, may announce themselves not only to Our Residenz [St. Petersburg] in the Guardianship-Chancellery especially established for foreigners for this purpose, but also, for the convenience of everyone, elsewhere at the border cities of Our Empire with their Governors, or, where they are not available, with cities’ foremost commanding officers.

THREE Since among those foreigners desirous of settling in Russia there also may be some without sufficient means to defray the requisite travel costs, then the same can report to Our Ministers and Ambassadors at foreign courts who not only shall transport them to Russia at Our expense without hesitation, but also shall provide [them] with travel funds.

FOUR As soon as such foreigners shall have reached Our Residenz and have reported to the Guardianship-Chancellery, or likewise at a border city, they then shall be expected to declare their true intentions as to wherein their real desires specifically lie, and whether they shall wish to consent to being registered among the tradesmen or in guilds and become city residents, and indeed, specifically in which city; or whether they are desirous of settling down to farming or diverse useful trades in segregated colonies or hamlets on unclaimed and productive land; whereupon all such persons shall promptly be ranted their choice in compliance with their own wishes and desires; at the same time it may be perceived in the appended Register where and in which regions of Our Empire the specific lands, unclaimed and suitable for making one’s home, are available; albeit besides those listed in the aforementioned Register still incomparably more extensive regions and diverse landed properties are to be found upon which We likewise authorize anyone to settle where each shall decide it to be most advantageous to himself.

FIVE Immediately upon arrival in Our Empire of every foreigner who contemplates settling down, and toward this end reports to the Guardian-Chancellery established for these foreigners, or instead at other border cities of Our Empire, such person before all else must declare his personal decision, as outlined above in Section 4, and then render the oath of allegiance and loyalty in conformity with everyone’s own religious conviction.

SIX In order, however, that the foreigners who wish to settle in Our Empire may become apprised how far Our benevolence extends to their interest and advantage, this then is Our will:

(1) To grant all foreigners entering Our Empire the unhindered freedom of religious worship in accordance with their church dogmas and practices; to those, however, who intend not to settle in cities, but in uninhabited areas, particularly in colonies or hamlets, We grant permission to build churches and campaniles and to maintain the number of clergy and deacons necessary thereto, only the construction of cloisters being excluded. Nevertheless, everyone is warned hereby under no pretext whatsoever to persuade or mislead any Christian fellow-believer residing in Russia into embracing, or assenting to, his faith or Church, should he not wish to subject himself to fear of punishment to the full force of Our laws. Sundry nations adhering to the Mohammedan faith that border on Our Empire are excluded herefrom; with respect to these, We permit and sanction everyone not only to incline them to the Christian faith through proper procedure, and also to acquire the same as his serfs.

(2) None among such foreigners coming to settle in Russia shall be compelled to pay the least in taxes into Our treasury, or to render their usual or unusual services, or be forced to furnish billeting, but in a single word everyone shall be free of every tax and impost to the following degree: those, for instance, who as a part of many families enjoy thirty free years; those settling in cities, however, and wishing to enroll themselves either in guilds or the body of merchants, [or] even to take up residence in our Residenz Saint Petersburg or in neighboring cities in Livonia, Estonia, Ingria, Karelia, and Finland, no less than in Our Capital City Moscow, [shall] have five free years; in all remaining Governments or Provinces and other cities however, ten free years. Moreover, everyone who does not come to Russia for perhaps only a brief time but instead actually to make his home, shall have, beyond all this, free [living] quarters throughout an entire half a year.

(3) All foreigners coming to Russia to make their homes, who are inclined toward either farming and other manual industry, or instead toward establishing mills, factories, and plants, will be offered every helping hand and consideration, and be granted not only adequate and productive land for everyone’s purpose, but also, according to the pertinent circumstances of each, be extended requisite support depending on the future need and utility of such proposed factories and plants, particularly however, of such that until now have not yet been established in Russia.

(4) For the construction of houses, for the acquisition of various breeds of livestock required for the household, and for all types of equipment, accessories, and materials necessary for farming, as well as for handcrafting, the needed financed shall be advanced to everyone from Our treasury without any kind of interest; on the contrary, only the capital shall be repaid in three equal parts over three years, but not prior to the expiration of ten years.

(5) We leave to the established, segregated colonies or hamlets the internal framework of government in accordance with their own discretion in such manner that the administrative personnel appointed by Us shall not participate in any way in their internal affairs; otherwise, though, such colonists are obligated to submit to Our civil laws. However, should they themselves desire to receive from Us a particular person as their guardian or patron for their security and defense who is provided with an armed guard of soldiers who maintain good military discipline, until the colonists have acquainted themselves with their neighboring inhabitants, then they also shall be accommodated in this matter.

(6) To every foreigner wishing to make his home in Russia, We shall allow the completely duty-free importation of his property, of whatever it may consist, with the reservation, however, that such property shall be intended for his own use and need, and not for sale. Nevertheless, whosoever, beyond his personal requirements, still might bring along a few goods to sell, to him We grant free tariff on 300 rubles worth of wares for each family, but only in such event that it remains in Russia at least ten years; failing which, upon its return journey, toll will be collected for the imported as well as the exported goods.

(7) Such foreigners who have settled in Russia shall, during the entire time of their living here, be enlisted against their will in neither the military nor civil service, except for the customary Land-Dienste [public labor service]; indeed, no one shall be constrained to render even this Land-Dienst before the expiration of the aforementioned years of immunity; however, whosoever is disposed to enter the military service voluntarily as a soldier will be given, aside from the usual pay, thirty rubles bonus upon his enlistment in the regiment.

(8) As soon as the foreigners have reported to the Guardianship-Chancellery established for them, or otherwise at Our border cities, and have announced their decision to move into the innermost portion of the Empire and settle there, at that time they also will receive board money besides free transportation to their chosen destination.

(9) Whosoever among said foreigners settling in Russia establishes such mills, factories, or plants, and produces goods therein that until then have not been current in Russia, to him we grant permission throughout the stated ten years to sell freely without imposition of any kind of inland-sea or border duty, and to export from Our Empire.

(10) To foreign capitalists who at their own expense establish mills, factories, and plants in Russia, We hereby allow the purchasing of serfs and peasants necessary for such plants, mills, and factories.

We also allow (11) all foreigners settled in colonies or hamlets in Our Empire to operate daily or annual markets at their own discretion without paying any kind of tax or impost whatsoever into Our treasury.

SEVEN All the aforementioned benefits and accommodations shall be enjoyed not only by those themselves who have come into Our Empire to make their homes, but also their surviving children and descendants even though they were born in Russia; and that is to say, that their years of immunity are to be computed from the day of their forefathers’ arrivals in Russia.

EIGHT After expiration of the aforementioned years of immunity all foreigners who settled in “Russia are obligated to pay the customary imposts entailing no burden whatsoever, and like Our other subjects, perform Land-Dienste.

NINE Finally and in conclusion, whosoever among these foreigners who have become settled and have submitted themselves to Our dominion might come of a mind to leave Our Empire, to him We indeed give the liberty to do that at all times, but with this explanation, that such shall be required to pay into Our treasury a portion of their entire property profitably acquired in Our Empire; those, to-wit, who have lived here from one to five years [shall] pay the one-fifth of its value, however, those who have dwelt in Our Land from five to ten years and more, one-tenth of its value; thereafter everyone is permitted to journey unhindered anywhere he pleases.

TEN When, moreover, any foreigners desirous of making a home in Russia, for one or another particular reason may wish to procure still other conditions and privileges beyond the foregoing, such may, on this account, apply personally or in writing to Our Guardianship-Chancellery created for foreigners, which will report everything to Us in detail; whereupon We then, after considering the circumstances, will not hesitate to make a still more favorable Sovereign determination, such as each may confidently expect from Our love of righteousness.

Given at Peterhof, in the year 1763, on the 22nd of July, in the second year of Our reign.

Her Imperial Majesty has subscribed the Original by Her Own hand as follows:


Published by the Senate on the 25th of July, 1763.

This translation was made by Fred C. Koch from a German text that was published in "Volk auf dem Weg", June 1962. The original document is held in the Stadtarchiv of Ulm, Germany.

CVGS Resources

Beratz, Gottieb. The German colonies on the Lower Volga, their origin and early development: a memorial for the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first German settlers on the Volga, 29 June 1764. Translated by Adam Giesinger. Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1991.

Dietz, Jacob E. History of the Volga German Colonists. Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 2005.

Koch, Fred C. The Volga Germans: In Russia and the Americas, from 1763 to the Present. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977.

Pleve, Igor R. The German Colonies on the Volga: The Second Half of the Eighteenth Century. Translated by Richard Rye. Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 2001.

Pugachev Insurrection[edit | edit source]

The notorious rebel leader Yemelyan Ivanovich Pugachev was born in 1740 or 1742. In September 1773, he assembled a small band of guerrilla forces in southern Russia. Claiming to be Tsar Peter III, Pugachev promised freedom and land to the serfs and other discontented peoples. Assuaged by these promises, his force reached several thousand rather quickly. During 1773 and 1774 his band rampaged throughout the Volga region.

On 5 August 1774, Yagodnaya-Polyana was attacked, three men were captured and later whipped to death. The following day Saratov was taken and the rebels ransacked the city, opening prisons, government storehouses and executing captured aristocrats and officials whose bodies Pugachev ordered left unburied.

From the 9th through the 13th, Pugachev’s renegades traveled from Saratov to Kamyshin wrecking havoc as they went from village to village among the German colonies. Many settlers fled to hide in the countryside, burying what few valuables they possessed while others remained in the villages. On such individual, Johann Wilhelm Stärkel, great-grandfather of Reverend Wilhelm Stärkel, who was a leading figure in the later pietistic movement, was seized by Pugachev's men when the entered the colony of Norka. Along with others he was forced to drive the rebels' stolen wagons to a point near Kamyshin and later miraculously escaped. Continuing to sweep southward, the main force under Pugachev passed through Dönhof and approached Kratzke where cellars, and clay pits and even wells were filled with all kinds of property and strewn with earth. The cattle were driven into the forests and canyons or tied among the reeds and rushes of the river.

A young man, hiding with others in the garret of the Kratzke schoolhouse, later related how Pugachev arrived in front of the school in a heavily escorted carriage and promptly had a gallows erected from two long poles and a crossbeam. Four bound prisoners on horseback were led in and beaten, then hung in pairs on two ropes thrown over the crossbeam. The grim scene was repeated many times as surviving colonists recalled the times when at night the horizon was bright with the lurid flames of destruction in the villages. Pugachev was finally defeated by government forces south of Sarepta and was later captured in the Urals following his betrayal by fellow rebels on 15 September 1774. He was taken to Moscow and after a trial was executed there on 11 January 1775 for his crimes. The devastating consequences of his raids through the German colonies along the Volga River were to be felt for many years.

CVGS Resources

Beratz, Gottieb. The German colonies on the Lower Volga, their origin and early development: a memorial for the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first German settlers on the Volga, 29 June 1764. Translated by Adam Giesinger. Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1991.

Dietz, Jacob E. History of the Volga German Colonists. Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 2005.


Dietz, Jacob E. History of the Volga German Colonists. Lincoln, Neb.: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Printed by Augstums Printing Service, 2005. 84-86. Print.

Beratz, Gottlieb. The German Colonies on the Lower Volga: Their Origin and Early Development. Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1991.

Giesinger, Adam. From Catherine to Khrushchev: The Story of Russia's Germans. Lincoln, NE: American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1981.

External Links

Yemelyan Pugachev (Wikipedia)

Immigration[edit | edit source]

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. Many 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 three provinces in Canada: Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Volga Germans settled primarily in two 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. The great famine in 1891-1892 prompted more people to immigrate to North and South America. 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.

While many Volga Germans immigrated to new homelands, it's important to note that many remained in Russia and, after the deportation in 1941, Central Asia. Since the early 1990's, hundreds of thousands of Volga Germans have resettled in their ancestral homeland of Germany.

CVGS Resources

Pleve, I.R. Beginning of the Emigration of the Volga Germans to America  ( - Russian).


Karlin, Athanasius "The Coming of the First Volga German Catholics to America." Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia (Winter 1978): 61-65. Print.

Koch, Fred C. The Volga Germans: In Russia and the Americas, from 1763 to the Present. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1977. Print.

Pleve, Igor. Beginning of the Emigration of the Volga Germans to America. website, accessed March 4, 2019.

Sallet, Richard. Russian-German Settlements in the United States. Fargo: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1974. Print.

Rajkumar Kanagasingam, author of "German Memories in Asia".

External Links

It's All Earth & Sky (YouTube)

Pleve, I.R. Beginning of the Emigration of the Volga Germans to America  ( - Russian).

Revolution (Bolshevik)[edit | edit source]

Famines[edit | edit source]

Autonomous Republic[edit | edit source]

Deportation (1941)[edit | edit source]

Genocide[edit | edit source]

Other Ethnic Groups of the Volga[edit | edit source]

Biographies[edit | edit source]

Culture[edit | edit source]

Settlements[edit | edit source]