History of Germans in Russia and the Soviet Union

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The German minority in Russia and the Soviet Union was created from several sources and in several waves.


[edit] Germans in central Russia and Ukraine

The earliest German settlement in Russia dates back to the reign of Vasili III in the 16th century. A handful of German and Dutch craftsmen and traders were allowed to establish themselves in Moscow's German Quarter (Немецкая слобода, or Nemetskaya sloboda), providing essential technical skills in the capital. Gradually, this policy extended to a few other major cities. 1682 Moscow had about 200.000 citizens, 18.000 of them where Nemcy, which means either German or western foreigner.

Peter the Great was greatly influenced by the international community located in the German Quarter, and his efforts to transform Russia into a more modern European state are believed to have derived in large part from his experiences among Russia's established Germans. By the late 17th century, foreigners were no longer so rare in Russian cities, and the German Quarter had lost its ethnic character by the end of that century.

[edit] Volga Germans

Main article: Volga German

Catherine II's proclamation of open immigration for foreigners wishing to live in the Russian Empire, dated July 22, 1763, marked the beginning of a much larger presence for Germans in the Empire. German colonies in the lower Volga river area were founded almost immediately afterwards. These early colonies were attacked during the Pugachev uprising, which was centred on the Volga area, but they survived the rebellion.

German immigration was motivated in part by religious intolerance and warfare in central Europe as well as by frequently difficult economic conditions. Catherine II's declaration freed German immigrants to Russia from military service (imposed on native Russians) and from most taxes. It placed the new arrivals outside of Russia's feudal hierarchy and granted them considerable internal autonomy. Moving to Russia gave most of them political rights that they would not have possessed in their own lands, even though Russia as a whole was seen as a profoundly despotic state. Religious minorities found these terms very agreeable, particularly Mennonites from the Vistula river valley, which had fallen into Prussian hands during the first partition of Poland. Their unwillingness to participate in military service, and their long tradition of dissent from mainstream Lutheranism and Calvinism, made life under the Prussians very difficult for them. Nearly all of the Prussian Mennonites immigrated to Russia over the following century, leaving no more than a handful in Prussia.

Other German minority churches took advantage of Catherine II's offer as well, particularly Evangelical Christians like the Baptists. Although Catherine's declaration forbade them from proselytising among members of the Orthodox church, they were free to evangelise Russia's Muslim and other non-Christian minorities.

German colonisation was most intense in the lower Volga, but other areas were targeted as well. The area around the Black Sea received many German immigrants, and the lower Dniepr river area, around Ekaterinaslav (now Dnepropetrovsk) and Aleksandrovsk (now Zaporizhzhia), was favoured by the Mennonites.

In 1803, Catherine II's grandson Tsar Alexander I reissued her proclamation. In the chaos of the Napoleonic wars, the response from Germans was enormous. Ultimately, the Tsar imposed minimum financial requirements on new immigrants, requiring them to either have 300 gulden in cash or special skills in order to come to Russia.

The abolition of serfdom in 1863 created a shortage of labour in agriculture and motivated new German immigration, particularly from increasingly crowded central European states, where there was no longer enough fertile land for full employment in agriculture.

Furthermore, a sizable part of Russia's ethnic Germans migrated into Russia from its Polish possessions. The partitions of Poland in the late 18th century dismantled the Polish state, dividing it between Austria, Prussia and Russia. There were already many Germans living in the part of Poland transferred to Russia, dating back to mediaeval and later migrations. Many Germans in Russian Poland migrated further east into Russia between then and World War I, particularly in the aftermath of the Polish insurrection of 1830. The Polish insurrection in 1863 added a new wave of German immigration from Poland to those who had already moved east, and led to the founding of extensive German colonies in Volhynia. When Poland reclaimed its independence after World War I, it ceased to be a source of German immigration to Russia, but by then many hundreds of thousands of Germans had already settled in enclaves across the Russian Empire.

Germans settled in the Caucasus area from the beginning of the 19th century and in the 1850s expanded into Crimea. In the 1890s, new German colonies opened in Altay in Russian Asia (see Mennonite settlements of Altai). German colonial areas were still expanding in Ukraine as late as the beginning of World War I.

According to the first Census of the Russian Empire in 1897, there were about 1.8 million respondents who reported German as their mother tongue.

[edit] Black Sea Germans

Main article: Black Sea Germans

The Black Sea Germans settled the territories of the northern bank of the Black Sea, in the 18th and 19th centuries in what is now Ukraine. This includes the Bessarabian Germans, the Dobrujan Germans, and the Bukovina Germans. This land was gained for Russia by Catherine the Great through her two wars with the Ottoman Empire (1768-1774) and from the annexation of the Crimean Khanates (1783). The area of settlement was not settled as compactly as that of the Volga territory, rather it was home to a chain of colonies. The first German settlers arrived in 1787, first from West Prussia, then later from Western and Southwestern Germany, as well as from the Warsaw area.

[edit] Crimea Germans

Main article: Crimea Germans

From 1783 onwards, there was a systematic settlement of Russians, Ukrainians, and Germans to the Crimean Peninsula (in what was then the Crimean Khanate) in order to weaken the native population of the Crimean Tatars.

In 1939, two years before the deportation of the Russian Germans to Central Asia, around 60,000 of the 1.1 million inhabitants of Crimea were German.

Under Perestroika, Germans were allowed to return to the peninsula.

[edit] Caucasus Germans

Also in the Caucasus region, such as Georgia, existed a German minority of about 100,000 people. In 1941 Stalin ordered inhabitants with a German father to be deported, mostly to Siberia or Kazakhstan.

[edit] Volhynia Germans

The migration of Germans into Volhynia (today covering northwestern Ukraine from a short distance west of Kiev to the border with Poland) occurred under significantly different conditions than those going to other parts of Russia. Their migration began at the encouragement of local noblemen, often Polish landlords, who wanted to develop their significant land holdings in the area. Probably 75% or more of them originated from Russian Poland with the balance coming directly from other regions such as East and West Prussia, Pomerania, Posen, Wuerttemberg, and Galicia among others. Although the noblemen themselves offered certain perks for the move, the Germans of Volhynia received none of the special tax and military service freedoms attributed to the Germans in other areas.

The settlement started as a trickle shortly after 1800. A surge occurred after the first Polish rebellion of 1831 but by 1850, they were still only about 5000 in number. The largest migration came after the second Polish rebellion of 1863 when they began to flood into the area by the thousands until they reached their peak at about 200,000 in the year 1900. The vast majority of these Germans were of the Lutheran (in Europe they were referred to as Evangelicals) faith. Limited numbers of Mennonites from the lower Vistula River region settled in the south part of Volhynia while Baptists and Moravian Brethern also arrived, mostly settling northwest of Zhitomir. Another major difference between the Germans here and in other parts of Russia is that the other Germans tended to settle in larger communities. The Germans in Volhynia were scattered about in over 1400 villages. Though the population peaked in 1900, many Germans had already begun leaving Volhynia in the late 1880s for North America.

[edit] Decline of the Russian Germans

The decline of the Russian German community started with the reforms of Alexander II. In 1871, he repealed the open door immigration policy of his ancestors, effectively ending any new German immigration into the Empire. Although the German colonies continued to expand, they were driven by natural growth and by the immigration of Germans from Poland.

The Russian nationalism that took root under Alexander III served as a justification for eliminating in 1871 the bulk of the tax privileges enjoyed by Russian Germans, and after 1874 they were subjected to military service. Only after long negotiations, Mennonites, traditionally pacifist denomination, were allowed to serve alternative service in the form of work in forestry and the medical corps. The resulting disaffection motivated many Russian Germans, especially members of traditionally dissenting churches, to migrate to the United States and Canada. They moved primarily to the American Great Plains and to western Canada, especially North and South Dakota, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

After 1881, Russian Germans were required to study Russian in school and lost all their remaining special privileges. Many Germans remained in Russia, particularly those who had done well, as Russia began to industrialise in the late 19th century. Russian Germans were disproportionately represented among Russia's engineers, technical tradesmen, industrialists, financiers and large land owners.

World War I was the first time Russia went to war against Germany since the Napoleonic era, and Russian Germans were quickly suspected of having enemy sympathies. The Germans living in the Volhynia area were deported to the German colonies in the lower Volga river in 1915 when Russia started losing the war. Many Russian Germans were exiled to Siberia by the Tsar's government as enemies of the state - generally without trial or evidence. In 1916, an order was issued to deport the Volga Germans to the east as well, but the Russian Revolution prevented this from being carried out.

The loyalties of Russian Germans during the revolution varied. While many supported the royalist forces and joined the White Army, others were committed to Kerensky's Provisional Government, to the Bolsheviks, and even to smaller forces like Nestor Makhno's. Russian Germans - including Mennonites and Evangelicals - fought on all sides in the Russian Revolution and Civil War. Although some Russian Germans were very wealthy, others were quite poor and sympathised strongly with their Slavic neighbours. Educated Russian Germans were just as likely to have leftist and revolutionary sympathies as the ethnically Russian intelligentsia.

In the chaos of the Russian Revolution and the civil war that followed it, many ethnic Germans were displaced within Russia or emigrated from Russia altogether. The anarchy surrounding the Russian Civil War was devastating to many German communities, particularly to religious dissenters like the Mennonites. Many Mennonites hold the forces of Nestor Makhno in Ukraine particularly responsible for large-scale violence against their community.

This period was also one of regular food shortages, caused by famine and the lack of long distance transportation of food during the fighting. Coupled with the typhus epidemic of the early 1920s, as many as a third of Russia's Germans may have perished. Russian German organisations in the Americas, particularly the Mennonite Central Committee, organised famine relief in Russia in the late 1920s. As the chaos faded and the Soviet Union's position became more secure, many Russian Germans simply took advantage of the end of the fighting to emigrate to the Americas. Emigration from the Soviet Union came to a halt in 1929 by Stalin's decree, leaving roughly one million Russian Germans within Soviet borders.

The Soviet Union seized the farms and businesses of Russian Germans, along with all other farms and businesses, when Stalin ended Lenin's New Economic Policy in 1929 and began the forced collectivisation of agriculture and liquidation of large land holdings.

Nonetheless, Soviet nationalities policy had, to some degree, restored the institutions of Russian Germans in some areas. In July 1924, the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was founded, giving the Volga Germans some autonomous German language institutions. The Lutheran church, like nearly all religious affiliations in Russia, was ruthlessly suppressed under Stalin. But, for the 600,000-odd Germans living in the Volga German ASSR, German was the language of local officials for the first time since 1881.

When Nazi Germany broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by invading USSR in 1941, the Volga German ASSR was abolished, and Russia's German population was almost entirely banished to Kazakhstan, Altai Krai and other remote areas. In 1942 nearly all of the able-bodied German population was conscripted into Soviet labor armies.

Many of those who remained in European Russia followed the German army in its retreat in 1943 and 1944, remaining in Germany after WWII. Others immigrated to Canada, the United States and Latin America.

On November 26, 1948, Stalin made the banishment permanent, declaring that Russia's Germans were permanently forbidden from returning to Europe, but this was rescinded after his death in 1953. Many Russian Germans returned to European Russia, but quite a few remained in Soviet Asia.

Although the post-Stalin Soviet state no longer persecuted ethnic Germans as a group, no effort was made to create new ethnic national institutions for them, and this group of over a million was quietly assimilated into mainstream Russian society over the next two generations. There were some 2 million ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union in 1989, but most of them could not speak German and did not think of themselves primarily as Germans.

Perestroika opened the Soviet borders and witnessed the beginnings of a massive emigration of Germans from the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, large numbers of Russian Germans took advantage of Germany's liberal law of return to leave the harsh conditions of the Soviet successor states. By 1999 about 1.7 million former Soviet citizens of German origin had immigrated to Germany. About 6,000 settled in Kaliningrad Oblast (former East Prussia).

In the 2002 Russian census, 597,212 Germans were enumerated. Prominent ethnic Germans in modern Russia include Viktor Kress, governor of Tomsk Oblast since 1991.

[edit] Germans in the Baltics

Main article: Baltic German

The German presence on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea dates back to the Middle Ages when traders and missionaries started arriving from central Europe. The German-speaking Livonian Brothers of the Sword conquered most of what is now Estonia and Latvia (the former Livonia) in the early 13th century. In 1237, the Brothers of the Sword were incorporated into the Teutonic Knights.

Over the course of the next several centuries, the Teutonic Order solidified into a regime of mostly German-speaking nobility ruling over indigenous peasants. The religious and economic institutions in late medieval Livonia were mostly controlled by locally born German-speakers and new immigrants from central Europe. Several cities in the area joined the Hanseatic League, dominated by German-speaking merchants. This German presence brought not only Christianity to Estonia and Latvia - one of the last parts of Europe Christianity reached - but ultimately also Lutheranism.

The Teutonic Order progressively lost territory during the 15th century and had practically disappeared as a political force by the middle of the 16th. Although the Baltics passed into the hands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the south and Swedish rule in the north, the privileged status of the local German-speaking aristocracy remained largely unchanged. Baltic Germans are estimated to have represented no more than 6% of the population of Estonia and Latvia at the end of the 17th century but their dominant position in society remained relatively unchallenged.

During Peter the Great's rule Russia gained control over much of the Baltics from Sweden in the Great Northern War at the beginning of the 18th century, but left the German nobility in control. Until the Russification policies of the 1880s, the German community and its institutions were intact and protected under the Russian Empire. The Baltic German nobility were very influential in the Russian Tsar's army and administration.

The reforms of Alexander III replaced many of the traditional privileges of the German nobility with elected local governments and more uniform tax codes. Schools were required to teach Russian, and the Russian nationalist press began targeting segregated Germans as unpatriotic and insufficiently Russian. Baltic Germans were also the target of Estonian and Latvian nationalist movements.

When Estonia and Latvia became independent nations after World War I a degree of autonomy was granted to ethnic German institutions, and German schools and newspapers expanded somewhat during that period. However all of the nobility's traditional privileges were abolished and most of their agricultural land holdings were redistributed to local farmers. At that point, ethnic Germans represented no more than 1.5% of the Estonian population and roughly 3% of the Latvian population, many having left for Germany during the chaos of World War I and the Russian Revolution. Independent Latvia pursued an open policy of "Latvianisation" in the 1930s which, encouraged by ethnic nationalists in Nazi Germany, induced many Latvian Germans to move to Germany. Almost the entire remaining Baltic German community was repatriated to Germany after the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had given the Soviet Union a green light to invade and annex Latvia and Estonia in 1940.

Only a handful of Baltic Germans remained under Soviet rule after 1945.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

ru:Русские немцы sv:Rysslandstyskar

History of Germans in Russia and the Soviet Union

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