Why the German Migration to Russia?

Researched and written by Herb Grenz

"The German is like a willow; no matter in what direction he is bent, he always takes root."

          After the Reformation, the German states became involved in massive political upheavals, starting with the Peasant War.  (Germany didn't become a country until 1871.)  These states situated between leading combatants, Sweden and Austria, were invaded and ruined from both sides by protestants, Catholics, friend and foe (better known as the 30 Year War).  It finally ended in 1648.  This war left the German states in complete ruins and would take a hundred years to recover.

             To the east, another country was attempting to bring it's people into more modernization.  From the very onset of his rule, Tsar Peter the Great set himself certain aims and clung to them to them to the end of his life with incomparable tenacity.  He resolved to clear the path for European influences and not rest until he brought his country within the circle of western civilization.  He planned to open a direct road to the West by gaining a foothold on the Baltic and Black Sea.  In 1695, he conquered the Port of Azov on the Black Sea from the Ottoman Empire.

Forty years later, Catherine, a German princess born in Stellin, West Prussia (now Szezacin, Poland) married Peter III in 1762;  later Peter was disposed of and Catherine II became Czarina of Russia.  Under her leadership, she enlarged the frontiers of Russia by including most of Poland, territories from Turkey, the Crimea and land along the Black Sea.  Knowing the capabilities of her own German people, Catherine offered a ten point degree and graciously permitted German foreigners to be settled in one of the most fruitful and advantageous regions on both sides of the great Volga River.

The political situation in the German states in the beginning of the 19th century grew worse from year to year.  Württemberg had the largest and best agricultural land in Germany, but the Seven Years War (1767 - 1763) between Austria and Prussia caused widespread destruction and devastation.  Its administration, law and order in the states was in turmoil.  In 1796, French troops occupied the lands of Württemberg and Bavaria.  The economy, in general, was threatening to reduce peasantry to a state of chronic poverty.  This was one of the principal factors for people wanting to emigrate.

The grandson of Catherine, Czar Alexander I, having ascended the imperial throne in 1801, quickly realized the urgent need of developing the vast territory which her German grandmother had accumulated for the Russian emir.  The territory was divided into three provinces called the "governments" of Cheron, Nikolaiu and Taurdia.  In March of 1803, the young Czar appointed the French émigré' Duc Armond de Richelieu, a man who had distinguished himself during the siege of Ismail (a Turkish fort) to the responsible post of Govern of Odessa.  At that time, Odessa was little more than a nondescript fishing town of 4000 inhabitants but which was destined to become "the Queen of the Black Sea".  Except for a few settlements of Russian and Greek peasants, the outlying steppe (desert) between the rivers Dneister and the Bug was virtually uncultivated and uninhabited.  The immense territory, wrested from Turkish domination, had been a fertile expanse of grassland that had been inhabited by wild nomads from the dawn of history.  Such as the Herodotus in the fifth century B.C., Philip of Macedonia in 339 B.C., the Romans in the early Christian ear, the Tartars in about 550, the Mongols in 1214 and the Turks around 1475.  All these tribes passed over this area without leaving a trace of culture.

Alexander was mindful of the successful immigration policy of Catherine the Great, who established German colonies on the Volga some 40 years earlier.  Alexander published a manifesto on February 20, 1804 in which he extended a generous invitation to foreigners, particularly Germans, to settle on the virgin steppe of New Russia.  While the new settlers were promised the same rights they had on the Volga, Czar pursued a policy of selective colonization, wanting only capable agriculturists and artisans to be admitted in order that they might serve as



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