Volga Germans
Flag of Volga Germans
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Russia 394,138[1]
German, Russian
Lutheran, Roman Catholicism, Mennonite

The Volga Germans (German: Wolgadeutsche or Russlanddeutsche (a more generic term for all Russian Germans), Russian: поволжские немцы, romanizedpovolzhskiye nemtsy) are ethnic Germans who settled and historically lived along the Volga River in the region of southeastern European Russia around Saratov and to the south. Recruited as immigrants to Russia in the 18th century, they were allowed to maintain their German culture, language, traditions and churches (Lutheran, Reformed, Catholics, Moravians and Mennonites). In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many Volga Germans emigrated to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, the Dakotas, California, Washington and other states across the western United States, as well as to Canada and South America (mainly Argentina and Brazil).

After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 during World War II, the Soviet government considered the Volga Germans potential collaborators, and deported many of them eastward, where thousands died. After the war, the Soviet Union expelled a moderate number of ethnic Germans to the West.[citation needed] In the late 1980s and 1990s, many of the remaining ethnic Germans moved from the Soviet Union to Germany.

Invitation to Russia

Catherine the Great

In 1762, Catherine II, born a German princess and a native of Stettin, Pomerania, deposed her husband Peter III, born a German prince in Kiel, and took the Russian imperial throne. Following the lead of Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria and Hungary, inviting Germans to settle on the Danube in the Balkans, Catherine the Great published manifestos in 1762 and 1763 inviting Europeans (except Jews)[3] to immigrate and become Russian subjects and farm Russian lands while maintaining their language and culture. Although the first received little response, the second improved the benefits offered and was more successful in attracting colonists. People in other countries such as France and England were more inclined to migrate to the colonies in the Americas. Other countries, such as Austria, forbade emigration.

Those who went to Russia had special rights under the terms of the manifesto. Some, such as being exempt from military service, were revoked in the latter part of the 19th century when the government needed more conscripts for the Russian army. The German Mennonite communities were opposed to military service because of their pacifist beliefs, so many Mennonites emigrated to the Americas instead.

20th century

Ethnic Germans from the Volga region at a refugee camp in Schneidemühl, Germany, early 1920s
Ethnic Germans from the Volga region at a refugee camp in Schneidemühl, Germany, early 1920s

Following the Russian Revolution, the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Autonome Sozialistische Sowjet-Republik der Wolga-Deutschen in German; АССР Немцев Поволжья in Russian) was established in 1924, and it lasted until 1941. Its capital was Engels, known as Pokrovsk (Kosakenstadt in German) before 1931.

Deportation of the Volga Germans

The deportation of the Volga Germans was the Soviet forced transfer of the whole of the Volga German population of the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to Siberia, and Kazakhstan on September 3, 1941, during World War II. Of all the ethnic German communities in the Soviet Union, the Volga Germans represented the single largest group expelled from their historical homeland. Shortly after the German invasion, on June 22, 1941, Stalin sent Beria and Molotov to the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to determine a course of action for its German inhabitants. On return, they recommended the deportation of the entire German population. Consequently, the Central Committee of the Communist Party issued a resolution on August 12, calling for the expulsion of the entire German population. With this authority, Beria on August 27 issued an order entitled "On Measures for Conducting the Operation of Resettling the Germans from the Volga German Republic, Saratov, and Stalingrad Oblasts," assigning the deputy head of the NKVD, (secret police) Ivan Serov, to command this operation. He also allocated NKVD and Red Army troops to carry out the transfer. The Germans were to be sent to various oblasts (provinces) in Siberia and Kazakhstan, beginning on September 3, and ending on September 20, 1941. On September 7, 1941, the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was officially abolished, clearly showing that the Soviets considered the expulsion of the Germans final.

On August 28, 1941, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR approved and published a decree, which was the only official decree ever published by the Soviet Union concerning the deportation and exile of the German Russian community. The Soviet regime stated that the evacuation was a preventive measure—so that the German population would not be misled into collaborating with the German Army—rather than a punitive measure. Stalin allegedly gave the following "secret" order to the NKVD, produced in Nazi controlled Latvia on September 20, 1941:

"After the house search, tell everyone who is scheduled to be deported that, according to the government’s decision, they are being sent to other regions of the USSR. Transport the entire family in one car until the train station, but at the station, heads of families must be loaded into a separate train car prepared especially for them....Their families are deported for special settlements in the far away regions of the Union. [Family members] must not know about the forthcoming separation from the head of the family."[4]

This above document may be a fabrication, as Latvia was under German occupation at that time. Nevertheless, the instructions were followed by the NKVD troops who directed the deportation.[5]

The reason for separating the men is that they were all destined for the forced labor camps, Trudarmii (labor army). The German exiles coined this phrase, whereas Soviet documents only referred to "labor obligations" or "labor regulations." Men between the ages of 15 and 55 and, later, women between the ages of 16 and 45 were forced to do labor in the forests and mines of Siberia and Central Asia under conditions similar to that prevalent in the Gulag forced-labor camps.[5] The expulsion of the Volga Germans finished on schedule at the end of September 1941. The number sent to Siberia and Kazakhstan totaled approximately 438,000. Together with 27,000 expelled in the same ethnic cleansing action from the Stalingrad Oblast and 47,000 from the Saratov Oblast, the total number sent to forced internal exile was about 950,000 of which 42,823 to 228,800 perished. The source of these figures is from the Soviet Union. It took 151 train convoys to accomplish the transfer of the Volga German population, an astounding figure when one considers that the Soviet Union was heavily engaged fighting the advancing German army, and all railway stock was required to bring soldiers to the front. This operation also involved 1,550 NKVD and 3,250 police agents assisted by 12,150 soldiers of the Red Army.[6]

In 1941, after the Nazi invasion, the NKVD (via Prikaz No.35105) banned ethnic Germans from serving in the Soviet military. They sent tens of thousands of these soldiers to the Trudarmii.[7]

In 1942, nearly all the able-bodied German population was conscripted to the NKVD labor columns. According to Stanford historian Robert Conquest, about one-third did not survive the camps.[8]

Recent years

Streckerau, 1920, nowadays Novokamenka, Rovnoye (Rovensky) district, Saratov Oblast
Streckerau, 1920, nowadays Novokamenka, Rovnoye (Rovensky) district, Saratov Oblast

The Volga Germans never returned to the Volga region in their old numbers. They were not allowed to settle in the area for decades.[citation needed] After the war, many remained in the Ural Mountains, Siberia, Kazakhstan (1.4% of today's Kazakh population are recognized as Germans - around 200,000), Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan (about 16,000 = 0.064%).[2] After the initial period of persecution, they recovered in their new locations, where their numbers increased, and they continued to preserve their distinct cultural identity. Decades after the war, some talked about resettling where the German Autonomous Republic used to be. They met opposition from the population that had been resettled in the territory and did not persevere.

Volga German cities and settlements
Volga German cities and settlements

A proposal in June 1979 called for a new German Autonomous Republic within Kazakhstan, with a capital in Ermentau. The proposal was aimed at addressing the living conditions of the displaced Volga Germans. At the time, around 936,000 ethnic Germans were living in Kazakhstan, as the republic's third-largest ethnic group. On June 16, 1979, demonstrators in Tselinograd (Nur-Sultan) protested this proposal. Fearing a negative reaction among the majority Kazakhs and calls for autonomy among local Uyghurs, the ruling Communist Party scrapped the proposal for ethnic German autonomy within Kazakhstan.

Since the late 1980s and the fall of the Soviet Union, some ethnic Germans have returned in small numbers to Engels, but many more emigrated permanently to Germany. They took advantage of the German law of return, a policy that grants citizenship to all those who can prove to be a refugee or expellee of German ethnic origin or as the spouse or descendant of such a person.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the independence of the Baltic states, some Russian ethnic Germans began to return to the area of the Kaliningrad Oblast (formerly part of East Prussia), especially Volga Germans from other parts of Russia and Kazakhstan, as well as to the Volga Germans' old territory in southern Russia near Volgograd. This tempo increased after Germany stopped granting the free right of return to ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union. As of the 2002 Russian census, 8,340 Germans (or 0.87% of the population) were listed in the Kaliningrad Oblast, dropping to 7,349 in 2010 due to deaths. Volgograd Oblast counted 10,102 Germans in the 2010 Census[citation needed]. However, almost none of the pre-World War II German population remains in the Kaliningrad Oblast, with the vast majority of the current population recent Russian-speaking migrants. Due to the new restrictions by the German government, the flow of ethnic Germans to Germany has greatly slowed if not ceased, while the remaining Germans in Central Asia continue to emigrate, but to Russia instead of Germany[citation needed].

North America

Temporary quarters for Volga Germans in central Kansas, 1875
Temporary quarters for Volga Germans in central Kansas, 1875

Main article: Germans from Russia

Germans from Russia were the most traditional of German-speaking arrivals to North America. Although they had been promised a degree of relative autonomy (including being exempt from conscription) when they settled in Russia, the Russian monarchy gradually eroded their specific rights as time went on. Conscription was eventually reinstated; this was especially harmful to the Mennonites, who practice pacifism. Throughout the 19th century, pressure increased from the Russian government to culturally assimilate. Many Germans from Russia found it necessary to emigrate to avoid conscription and preserve their culture. About 100,000 immigrated by 1900, settling primarily in the Dakotas, Kansas, and Nebraska. The south-central part of North Dakota was known as "the German-Russian triangle". A smaller number moved farther west, finding employment as ranchers and cowboys.

Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church in Kansas

The largest groups settled mainly in the area of the Great Plains: Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in Canada; and North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and nearby areas in the US. Outside that area, they also settled in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, especially in Portland,[9] Washington, Wisconsin, and Fresno County in California's Central Valley. They often succeeded in dryland farming, which they had practiced in Russia. Many of the immigrants who arrived between 1870 and 1912 spent a period doing farm labor, especially in northeastern Colorado and in Montana along the lower Yellowstone River in sugar beet fields. Colonies kept in touch with each other through newspapers, especially Der Staats Anzeiger, based in North Dakota.

South America

Flags of Argentina, Buenos Aires Province and Germany in front of St. Joseph Catholic Church in San José, Coronel Suárez Partido, Argentina (Volga German colony)
Flags of Argentina, Buenos Aires Province and Germany in front of St. Joseph Catholic Church in San José, Coronel Suárez Partido, Argentina (Volga German colony)

Germans from Russia also settled in Argentina (see Crespo and Coronel Suárez among others, also German Argentine), Paraguay, and Brazil (see German-Brazilians).

In Argentina, 8% of the population or 3.5 million Argentines claim German ancestry. Of those, up to 2.5 million claim descent from Volga Germans, making them the majority of those having German ancestry in the country, and accounting for 5.7% of the total Argentinian population. Descendants of Volga Germans outnumber descendants of Germans from Germany, which number 1 million in Argentina (2.3% of the population).

Most Volga Germans who settled in Latin America were Catholic. Many Catholic Volga Germans chose South America as their new homeland because the nations shared their religion.

Notable people of Volga German descent

Eduard Rossel was the governor (1995 - 2009) of Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia
Eduard Rossel was the governor (1995 - 2009) of Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia
This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (November 2015) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)


The greatest number of Volga Germans emigrated from Hesse and the Palatinate, and spoke Hessian and Palatine Rhine Franconian dialects[31][32] to which the colonists from other regions, and even from other countries like Sweden, assimilated.[33] Some Volga German dialects are very similar to Pennsylvania German language, another Palatine Rhine Franconian language; in either dialect, one could say:[31]

Some other common words:[31][34]

Volga German Standard German English
Baam (some dialects), Boum (other dialects) Baum tree
daitsch (deitsch) deutsch German
Flaasch (some dialects), Fleesch (other dialects) Fleisch flesh, meat
g'sotza gesessen (that has been) sat down
ich sin, ich bin ich bin I am
Kopp Kopf head
net nicht not
seim seinem his (dative)
un und and

Volga Germans borrowed some Russian words, like Erbus "watermelon" from Russian арбуз "watermelon",[35] which they carried with them on their subsequent moves to North America[32] and Argentina.[36]

See also

Volga German pioneer family commemorative statue in Victoria, Kansas, USA
Volga German pioneer family commemorative statue in Victoria, Kansas, USA


  1. ^ "Russian Census 2010: Population by ethnicity" (XLS). Perepis-2010.ru (in Russian). Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Stat.kz". Stat.kz. Archived from the original on 12 February 2010. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  3. ^ Lewis, Bernard, Semites and Anti-Semites, New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1999 edition, ISBN 0-393-31839-7, p. 61.
  4. ^ Ulrich Merten, Voices from the Gulag: The Oppression of the German Minority in the Soviet Union, American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2015, page 167,ISBN 978-0-692-60337-6
  5. ^ a b Merten 2015 p 168
  6. ^ Merten, 2015 p 170)
  7. ^ J. Otto Pohl, Ethnic cleansing in the USSR, 1937-1949, Greenwood Publishing Group, via books.google.com, accessed 12 October 2010
  8. ^ Robert Conquest, The Nation Killers (Macmillan, 1970), pages 59-61.
  9. ^ "Volga Germans in Portland". Volgagermans.net. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-02-11. Retrieved 2017-02-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ "Harold William "Indian Joe" Bauer, WW2 Marine Corps ace". acepilots.com. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  12. ^ Reitwiesner, William. "The Ancestors of Tom Daschle". Wargs.com. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
  13. ^ "John Denver's Genealogy Road Leads to Oklahoma, Not Colorado". Recordclick.com. 25 January 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  14. ^ Vitello, Paul (15 August 2013). "Jean Bethke Elshtain, a Guiding Light for Policy Makers After 9/11, Dies at 72". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  15. ^ "Последние новости дня". Topnews24.ru. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  16. ^ "Family History - Tim Gaines". Tim Gaines - Official. Facebook. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  17. ^ "Andre Geim – Biographical". nobelprize.org.
  18. ^ "TRANSCRIPT for PODCASTS GOVERNOR JIM GERINGER : Interviewed by Mark Junge" (PDF). Wyospcr.state.wy.us. June 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  19. ^ "Gabriel Heinze: El hijo de Titina y la garra de un pueblo" [Gabriel Heinze: The son of Titina and the spunk of a people] (in Spanish). Estación Plus. 14 June 2010. Archived from the original on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  20. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-02-11. Retrieved 2017-02-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^ "Endicott's Mariana Klaveno continues to make a name in Hollywood". Spokesman.com. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  22. ^ "A Selection of Records and Resources : From the Papers of Richard Scheuerman and Evelyn Reich Related to Russia and the History of the Scheuerman/Scheirman/Schierman, Geier, Green, Kleweno, Lautenschlager, Litzenberger, Lust, Morasch, Ochs, Poffenroth, Reich, Repp, Schmick/Smick, Schneidmiller, Weitz and Related Volga German Families" (PDF). Rdscheuerman.files.wordpress.com. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-02-11. Retrieved 2017-02-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. ^ a b ""Als Mainzer geht man nicht nach Frankfurt"" (in German). spox.com. 25 June 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2012.
  25. ^ Russian: Раушенбах, Б.В., "Пристрастие", М, Аграф, 1997, ISBN 5-7784-0020-9 . Available online www.pravbeseda.ru
  26. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-02-11. Retrieved 2017-02-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  27. ^ "Памяти Альвины Шпады". Fergana Agency (in Russian). 2019-06-24. Retrieved 2021-12-13.
  28. ^ Shearer, Lloyd (November 15, 1970). "Lawrence Welk: The King of Musical Corn". Parade. pp. 10–13.
  29. ^ Condon, Maurice (April 29, 1967). "In Strasburg, N.D., They Remember Lawrence Welk, When He Was Leader of the Hotsy Totsy Boys". TV Guide. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  30. ^ Mendelsohn, Jennifer (2020-04-02). "Joe Exotic's Family History Could Be Its Own Netflix Series". Medium. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  31. ^ a b c Fred C. Koch, The Volga Germans: In Russia and the Americas, from 1763 to the Present (1977, ISBN 0271012366)
  32. ^ a b Germany and the Americas: O-Z (2005, ISBN 1851096280)
  33. ^ Koch, page 238: "even nationals like Scandinavians, Frenchmen, Italians, and Englishmen among the colonists became submerged and lost ethnically in the highly dominant Rhineland culture and dialects."
  34. ^ de:Georg Dinges, Über unsere Mundarten, (online copy)
  35. ^ Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, volumes 15-16, (1992), page 46: Who could ever forget the eigemachte [sic] Erbusen? The Germans call them Wassermelone. [Ed. note: Erbus probably was borrowed from the Russian arbuz (watermelon).] For this delicacy the watermelons would be picked late in the season when they were not too ripe and would remain firm.
  36. ^ Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Volkskunde der Universität Wien, volume 4 (Verlag A. Schendl), page 49: "Grün wie Schnee / Weiß wie Klee / Rot wie Blut / Schmeckt sehr gut. (Erbus, so nannten die Rußlanddeutschen die Wassermelone, Teresa Hardt, Urdinarrain)"

Further reading