Immigration

The German is like a willow. No matter which way you bend him, he will always take root again. - Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Steamship "City of Brussels" from the Tod & Macgregor Shiplist website.
Steamship "City of Brussels" from the Tod & Macgregor Shiplist website.

 

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
Sources

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. Wolgadeutsche.net 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".