The history of Russian-Germans
by Dr. Katharina Neufeld
The history of Germans in Russia goes back hundreds of years. Their history has developed within the context of a diverse country and population.
Russians and Germans had been politically, culturally and economically connected for a long time. The first frequent and permanent relations with Nowgorod were initiated by early Hanseatic merchants in the 12th century. Since the Middle Ages until the 16th century Germans came to Rus (the original region of Russia) and many of them stayed. Starting in the 16th century many Germans moved to Moscow and in the 18th century even further to the rising city of St. Petersburg. Due to the invitation of Katharina II in 1763 thousands of Germans settled in the vastness of Russia.
As you can tell the history of Russian-Germans is not just of one but of many different histories that impacted the people.
Today we differentiate between four main groups:
- The largest group of Germans in Russia were the descendants of Colonists who came to Russia due to Katharina's settlement policy. According to a census in 1897 more than a million German colonists lived in Russia, which is 56 % of all people with German background in the country. 39 % of them lived along the lower Volga, 37 % in the Black Sea region, 17 % in Volhynia and 7 % in the Caucasus as well as Siberia.
- The German-speaking population in the larger cities like Petersburg and Moscow made up 9 % of the Germans in Russia.
- Approximately 10 % of the population with German background lived in the Baltic provinces Estonia, Livonia and Courland.
- 25 % of the Germans lived in the General government of Warsaw which was the former Russian Poland. (Andreas Kappeler / Die Deutschen im Rahmen des zaristischen und sowjetischen Vielvölkerreiches: Kontinuitäten und Brüche – In: Die Deutschen im Russischen Reich und im Sowjetstaat/ A. Kappeler; B. Meissner, G. Simon (Hrsg.) – Köln: Markus, 1987. S.11.)
The following paragraph focuses on the two main groups of Germans in Russia: the Colonists and the German-speaking population in larger urban areas.
The Urban Germans
Beginning in the 15th Century, German experts such as doctors, teachers and arms manufacturers came to Russia.
In the 18th century, under the reign of Peter the Great, an extensive modernization of the whole Russian country began. For the sake of this movement foreign experts were recruited and among them were many Germans.
The majority of these Germans and their descendants settled in cities. A statistic of the four larger cities in Russia during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century shows interesting facts.
In 1912 28,500 of the 1.5 million people who lived in Moscow were Germans. Therefore, Germans were the largest ethnic group after the Russians themselves. 13 % of the merchants were Germans.
In 1881 900,636 people lived in St. Petersburg of which 50,000 were Germans. The majority of the population (37.3 %) worked as craftsmen, and 15 % belonged to the Russian nobility. Since the 18th Century and mainly during the 19th Century constantly more German entrepreneurs came to St. Petersburg. They owned more than half of the confectionaries, half of the paper and tobacco factories as well as a third of all leather and hat productions.
In the former Russian capital 22 German-speaking periodicals had been founded by 1850. Until 1914 another 30 periodicals had been added. One of the oldest newspapers in Russia is the "St. Petersburger Zeitung" (Newspaper of St. Petersburg) It was published without interruption between 1727 and 1914, and published by the Academy of Science.
Furthermore, the first two evangelical communities and their churches had already been founded during the period of Peter the Great.
Due to the increase of the German population along the Volga, Saratov became the capital of the Volga Region. Thanks to private initiatives advanced training and college courses were installed. These educational programs were offered until the October Revolution in 1917. Even in Saratov a German newspaper was published, the "Saratower Deutsche Zeitung" along with a few religious periodicals.
Similar to Saratov, Odessa experienced an increasing number of immigrating colonists as well. Until the middle of the 18th Century Odessa was a small town with 4,000 inhabitants who were involved in the fishing industry. In 1892 the population grew to 336,000 people. Among the 10,000 to 12,000 German-speaking inhabitants of Odessa were many craftsmen. From this tradition of craftsmanship developed the Pflugfabrik J. Höhn (plow-factory) which became the biggest in the Ukraine. All in all there were more than 200 German stores and businesses in Odessa.
A reporter of the "Odessa Zeitung" wrote in 1863: "Everywhere you look you see elegant signs of German carriage builders, shoe makers, wood turners, tailors, confectioners, carpenters, bakers, watch makers, journalists, photographers, book and stone printers."
One particularity was the "Lutherische Hof," the intellectual center of the Germans in Odessa. The "Lutherische Hof" was a designated district. It included an evangelical church with 1,200 seats, two parsonages, the St.-Pauli-Realschule (secondary school), an orphanage and additional charities and nursing homes. Furthermore, the district included a hospital with German doctors that was very popular among the Germans as well as the Russian community.
Next to the evangelical-Lutheran church in "Lutherischer Hof," Odessa had a catholic, an evangelical-reformed and a Baptist church.
The German periodicals were "Odessaer Zeitung" (1863-1914), the "Neue Hauswirtschaftskalender" and the "Odessaer Kalender" (1863-1915).
In Charkow, Nikolajew, Dnjepropetrowsk (Jekaterinoslaw), Shitomir, Baku, Tiflis, Nishni-Nowgorod, Omsk, Irkutsk, Tomsk, Orenburg, Samara and 35 other cities lived between 500 to 5,000 German-speaking inhabitants. They as well opened their own shops, businesses and repair shops. They had their own churches, schools and organized charities as well as other associations.
Due to their engagement in administration, the economy, the school system as well as healthcare, Germans played an important role in the modernization of Russia.
Public and military service
Between the end of the 19th and in the beginning of the 20th centuries approximately 35,000 Germans were employed in public and military service. 300 Germans held high offices as governors. Of the first 12 ministers of finance in the Russian government, the first five had been Germans.
In 1880, 57 % of the diplomatic corp were Germans.
Many Germans worked in the central apparatus of the government. From 1835 to 1902 they occupied 18 of the leading administrative office positions and eight of the director positions in the chancellery.
Another apparatus with an important influence on the politics of Russia was the imperial and state council. Of the 215 members that the council comprised between 1894 and 1914, 48 were Germans which made up 22 %.
In the Ministry of Interior Germans only occupied leading positions in rare individual cases.
Since the reign of Peter I (1696 - 1725) many Germans served in the Russian officer corps. After a decree in 1721 they automatically rose to the rank of nobility.
Academy of Economy
The Russian Academy of Economy was founded in 1724 by Peter I in St. Petersburg.
Among the 13 employees of the Academy were nine Germans. Until the end of the 18th century the Academy had had 111 members of which 67 were Germans. Before 1914 five of the 11 presidents of the Academy had been Germans .
After the beginning of World War I in 1914 Germans were excluded from the Academy of Economy.
Since the 17th century German craftsmen, merchants, entrepreneurs and bankers had been gaining influence in Russian economic life. They leased or bought Russian manufactures, worked as managers or founded their own factories.
An especially high density of German companies was located in Archangelsk, Nowgorod and Moscow. For example, the mechanical engineer Gustav List, the cement company of Emil Lipgardt and the so called Chocolate King Julius Heuss with his chocolate factory were especially famous. Other examples from Moscow were the textile manufacture Ludwig Rabeneke, the banker Johann Junker and the companies Ludwig Knopp as well as Wogau & Co.
From St. Petersburg, the confectionary manufacturer Leopold König, the electrical engineering company of Ernst Werner Siemens and the iron foundry of Franz Friedrich Wilhelm San Galli were very well known.
In the second half of the 19th century the number of German businesses in Russia kept growing. They founded their own branches or invested in companies. Among them were famous companies such as Singer & Co. and Siemens. Before World War I, 90 German Companies and 10 banks invested in Russia. They made up a third of all foreign investors and therefore contributed immensely to Russia's economic and financial development.
For a long time, the words "German", "Doctor" or "Pharmacist" used to by synonymous in Russia. German Doctors had been active in Russia since before the 15th century. Later they established medical institutions like pharmacies or hospitals.
In 1822 St. Petersburg had 50 pharmacies of which 70 to 90 % of the personnel were Germans. They furthermore published technical journals for pharmaceutics and medicine.
The German colonists
250 years ago, there was great poverty in the German countries. The population suffered from hunger and the consequences of war. The willingness to leave their homeland was growing. For this reason, many Germans followed the invitation of Katharina II. Katharina's goal was to exploit and claim the unpopulated areas of Russia and therefore made a promise to those who would settle there: their own land, freedom of religion and exemption from military service. Thousands followed this call and left for Russia.
Those settlers were called "Colonists". The first of them settled along the Volga River near the city of Saratov. Between 1764 and 1773, 104 colonies with approximately 23,216 inhabitants were established.
After an imperial decree in 1765 110 German families were settled in the surrounding areas of St. Petersburg. At first there arose three colonies that quickly grew up to 14 before 1819.
The Governor General of New Russia, Grigorij Potjemkin, gave land to the Mennonites along the Dnjepr River. In 1789, 228 families settled there in 18 villages. A second settlement with 56 villages was founded in 1804 along the coast of the Azov Sea.
The grandson of Katharina, Emperor Alexander I, continued the settlement policies of his grandmother, although the settlers were not as easily organized or controlled as they had planned.
Between 1810 and 1813, 762 German families settled along the River Molotschnaja and founded 18 colonies.
Germans immigrated to Russia even from the Duchy of Warsaw. 1,743 families were settled in Bessarabia which used to be a part of Russia. They founded 11 villages.
The first German-speaking settlers on the Crimean Peninsula came in 1804 from Switzerland.
In 1816, 1,500 families wanted to emigrate to South Caucasus. However, 1,000 families decided to stay in Odessa and in Bessarabia so that only 500 families reached their destination. There they founded the first seven colonies.
Between 1823 and 1824 around 500 families founded 17 villages near the city of Mariupol at the Asov Sea. Until 1842 another 100 families moved into these villages.
In the beginning of the 19th century the Russian government started to doubt the success of their settlement policy. They therefore instructed their diplomatic representatives abroad to not issue any more immigration papers. This change in policy did not spread very well because telegraphs, telephone, newspapers and definitely the Internet did not yet exist. And continuously more immigrants came to Russia.
In the 1830s the first German colonists settled in Volhynia. After 1861 until the 1890s even more settlers came. In 1914 more than 200,000 Germans lived in Volhynia.
The German immigrants founded 10 settlements in the Russian empire between 1764 and 1880. Every settlement included several colonies. One colony equaled one village. The colonies were located in the administrative districts of Saratov, Samara, St. Petersburg, Jekaterinoslaw, Taurien, Cherson/Odessa, Volhynia and in the Caucasus.
Administration of the Colonies
Along with her invitation to the Colonists Katharina II promised the people among other things the right to self-govern their colonies. This right was preserved until 1871. The highest authority responsible for immigrants was the "Petersburger Kanzlei der Vormundschaft für Ausländer” (Guardianship Chancellery of foreigners of Petersburg or "Tutel-Kanzlei" (Chancellery Tutel). It held the rights of a ministry of the government and counted as the highest authority for the colonies. The jurisdiction of the Tutel-Kanzlei was to receive and distribute the immigrants in Russia. This also required on-site facilities.
Due to the Administration Act, there was organized a "Fürsorgekontor" (Guardianship Office) in Saratov in 1766.
In 1800 a "Kontor für ausländische Kolonisten" (Guardianship Office for foreign colonists) was established in Jekaterinoslaw to oversee the immigrants in South Russia.
Since the number of immigrants was constantly rising the Relief Committee for foreign settlers in the southern area of Russia (Попечительный Комитет об иностранных поселенцах Южного края России) was founded in 1818. In 1820 this office moved to Kischinjow and in 1833 to Odessa where it remained until 1871. This Relief Committee was appointed for administration, jurisdictional decisions, control, police, land survey, settlements as well as agriculture and labour inspection.
The colonies were administrated by inspectors that were placed by the Relief Committee. Furthermore, there were district and community offices that were led by community leaders and assessors. They were voted into office by the colonies but needed to be confirmed by the Relief Committee.
After 1871 the colonies were incorporated into the general Russian administration. Communities and governorates had self-governing bodies that were called "Semstwo". The colonists could be elected to the Semstwo of the communities and governorates. This led to a more active participation in political matters.
Among the four members of the Saratovian governorate administration were two Germans. In the Saratov city council of the legislative period of 1913-16, 12 of the 82 parliamentarians were Germans. Therefore, Germans were overrepresented in the city council because only 6.7 % of the city population were Germans.
Settlers with a German background served in the Russian parliament as well: Heinrich Schellhorn from the governorate Samara and Jakob Dietz from the governorate Saratov were voted into the first Russian Duma and Alexander Kling from the governorate Samara was voted into the second Russian Duma. Nikolaj Rothermel from Samara and Konstantin Grimm from Saratov were part of the third Duma (Alfred Eisfeld / Die Russlanddeutschen.2. extended Edition – München: Langen Müller, 1999, S. 67).
"The colonists are our Americans that turn the deserted steppe into glorious villages with gardens and meadows, our capitalist farmers that become richer every year, that occupy more and more land to give it even more value and to excessively raise the price of their work due to an exceptional demand. They are marked by the complete conviction of the necessity of their work, the simplicity of their lifestyle that nearly reaches a stoicism, the awareness of the social advantage of mutual support and the duty for the government." (Detlef Brandes / Von den Zaren adoptiert - München, 1993, S. 454). These words were used by a Russian General staff officer in 1863 to describe the German settlers and their economic success.
However, not all settler colonies were equally successful. Reasons for this inequality were the regulations for land distribution.
In the Volga River region, the community maintained ownership of the land. Colonists had no right to sell or lease out their farms. Periodically the community redistributed the fields. How they were distributed was related to the number of male adults in the population. The fields therefore became continuously smaller, which understandably led to a reducied motivation on the part of the colonists. Finally, the Stolypin Reformation in 1906 improved the situation for the farmers along the Volga River.
In the Black Sea region, individual lands were undivided and inherited by only one child, and the other children didn't inherit anything. As a result the number of people that had no land and thus could not make a living grew. After the reforms of the 1860s these landless people were allowed to buy or lease their own land outside of the colonies. The result was several daughter colonies and settlements.
The solution of the land problem led to a new motivation for farmers that from this point on constantly improved agricultural production: they introduced the three- and four-field system with bare fallow, fertilized regularly with manure, watered their fields, especially in the horticulture, planted potatoes, used new tools like multi-bladed ploughs, the harrow with iron teeth and the harvesting machine (Russ. "Lobogrejka"). Furthermore, they bred merino sheep and the red German cow, a crossbreeding of the Frisian cow and the Ukrainian steppe cow.
Their new motivation was marked with success: in the second half of the 19th century the Volga colonists harvested 320,000 tons of grain a year which had a monetary value of 50-60 million rubles. Between 1856 and 1860 Russia exported an average of 609,600 tons of grain of which 90 % was shipped from southern harbors. The tobacco plantations along the Volga produced 1,600 tons of tobacco in 1880. The wine produced in the South Caucasus colonies made up a sixth of the wine production in Russia.
The craftsmen in the colonies had been successful as well. They didn't only produce for themselves but for their Russian neighbors as well. In 1852 the craftsmen in the Black Sea region for example produced 2,634 horse wagons not only for farmers but for the Russian military as well.
Craftsmen and farmers were good for the communities and Russia in general. They furthered the economic development and improved agricultural tools as well as cultivation methods. However, only few families could afford the work of a craftsmen on a regular basis. Therefore, much of the manual labor, especially in the country, was done by the people themselves.
The first colonists received financial loans from the Russian government. In 1850 most of them had paid off their state loans and were now debt free. The freely gained capital and the revenues generated from leases of the land was invested into the production of agricultural products. Regions occupied by Germans were more industrial than those occupied by Russians. In 1911 there were 140 Russian-German factories that produced agricultural machines and tools. That is approximately a quarter of the total Russian production (Ingeborg Fleischhauer/ Die Deutschen im Zarenreich /.- Stuttgart, 1984, S. 326; Von den Zaren adoptiert./ Detlef Brandes- München, 1993, S. 263). The expansion of the rail network led to the inclusion of large regions in South Russia into world markets. Increasingly larger areas were cultivated in the South. The economic situation developed successfully especially in the last decade before World War II.
The number of colonies increased: until 1890 there were 198 colonies along the Volga (Dittmar Dahlmann, Ralph Tuchtenhagen / Zwischen Reform und Revolution, Die Deutschen an der Wolga 1860-1917 – Essen: Klartext, 1994. S.34) and 919 colonies in the Black Sea region (Nemcy Rossii, Énciklopedia, Bd. 2. – Moskwa: ÉRN, 2004, S. 149).
The population grew as well:
- In 1850 the population in Caucasus grew from 2,864 to 12,059 people
- Along the Volga the number of people rose from 24,000 to 402,037 at the end of the 19th century
Land ownership by Russian-Germans increased as well and grew to 5.5 million hectares just in the Black Sea region and along the Volga. (Dietmar Neutatz /Die „deutsche Frage“ im Schwarzmeergebiet und in Wolhynien, Politik, Wirtschaft, Mentalitäten und Alltag im Spannungsfeld von Nationalismus und Modernisierung (1856-1914) – Stuttgart: Steiner, 1993, S. 72, 268-269; Nemcy Rossii, Énciklopedia, Bd. 2. – Moskwa: ÉRN, 2004, S. 150).
The inner enemy
Alexander II implemented several reforms that were supposed to remove the special status of the German settlers. For example, military service became obligatory and Russian was introduced as the official language and the language of instruction in schools. As a consequence, many Russian-Germans emigrated, preferably to North and South America.
Russian society observed the development of the German settlers at that time with great worry. The constantly growing number of colonists and their economic success stirred up the jealousy of their surrounding neighbors. After the loss of the Crimean War, Russian nationalism increased and the Pan-Slav ideology found many sympathizers. Furthermore, the alienation between the German Empire and Russia constantly grew, especially in the 1880s before World War I.
At the end of the 19th century German colonists came more and more under public pressure. The national press had demanded since 1883 that the government should do something to combat the "peaceful conquest" of the south-western regions by Germans; German land acquisition and their conspicuous refusal to integrate into Russian society was condemned. The temptation to present the colonists as scapegoats for the unresolved problems of Russian agricultural policies was huge. On this way the social tensions in the country should be derived on the struggle against the 'national enemy'.
In 1914 the First World War broke out. With the beginning of the War the life of Russian-Germans changed radically. More than 300,000 of them served in the Russian Army, which is 2 % of all drafted men. Due to religious convictions Mennonites did not serve in the Army. Therefore, more than 15,000 of them served in military hospitals and infirmaries.
In 1914 the Russian Army was defeated by Germany in an important battle. Thereupon all soldiers with a German background were transferred from the Western front to the Caucasus front.
During the War the doubts of the Russian government and army leadership about the loyalty of German settlers constantly grew. Above all the people felt the changes in their daily lives. All of a sudden, the Germans were seen as inner enemies. For the sake of fighting this inner enemy the government decided throughout the war to deport thousands of Volhynian-Germans to the eastern part of the country. Now it was forbidden to speak or teach the German language, Russian-German assemblies became illegal, Russian-German companies and cooperatives were dissolved, the German press was forbidden and German places were renamed with Russian names.
Progroms (violent riots) against Germans broke out in Petrograd in 1914 and in Moscow in 1915. The Russian government passed two laws in 1915 that were called the "liquidation law": according to the law German landowners were supposed to turn over their land to the government in 1917. However, this law was not implemented because it was suspended by the provisional government after Tsar Nicholas II had resigned. Under these circumstances the February Revolution in 1917 and the guaranty of civil rights by authority of the provisional government meant - for the time being - a security against danger to life and limb.
Citizens of the Soviet Union
At the end of October 1917, the Bolsheviks gained control. Therefore, Germans automatically became citizens of the Russian Soviet Republic and with the foundation of the USSR in 1922 citizens of the Soviet Union. Their legal status did not differ from other nationalities.
On October 19th, 1918 Lenin signed the decree establishing the "working municipality of Germans in the Volga region". In the beginning of 1924 the Volga German Republic was founded with the city Engels (former Pokrowsk) as its capital..
In the following years, the German colonies in Ukraine were turned into five counties (Rayons). Three more counties were added by 1931. Within the Soviet Union regions in Caucasus, in Siberia (especially in the Altai region) and in the Crimea had established a county each during the 1920s. Furthermore, 550 German villages with national Soviets persisted in various regions of the Soviet Union. . More often Germans were seen as a national minority which was afflicted with legal disadvantages. In political, social and economic development Germans shared the same fate as other ethnic groups in the Soviet Union. The Civil War's terror and devastation in 1921 was not limited to German settlements. In Ukraine, for example, the fronts of civil and interventional wars shook large regions of the country and every now and then anarchistic terror groups wreaked havoc.
The aggressive implementation of communism was the forced economic policy of the new Bolshevik leadership. A major collectivization of agriculture was part of the policy. The forced policies along with a bad harvest led to famines in rural areas and the provision of aid by foreign countries. German farmers that tried to defend themselves against forceful requisitions of cattle and grain by Bolshevik commissioners suffered from cruel coercive measures and penalties.
Even though the New Economic Policy (NEP) relieved the nation from pressure for a few years by allowing commercial initiatives, a new wave of harassment caused by the Stalinist policy of five-year-plans and the collectivization of agriculture broke into the world of the people. Of 14,000 Germans that tried to avoid their fate by emigrating, more than half did not receive permission to leave and suffered from persecution and heavy penalties. About 50,000 German Kulaks (a term of insult for independent farmers) were deported.
Even harder was the impact of the Stalinist purges against Germans between 1934 and 1939. In some towns, more than half of the German men were arrested.
After 1938 the assimilation policy intensified. The education policy was completely revamped: Russian and Ukrainian as official languages became obligatory, German on the other hand was banned from the school curriculum and only taught two hours per week at most. Although the German language was allowed in German villages many children and young people only spoke a little or no German at all. Meanwhile elderly Germans had trouble mastering the still foreign Russian language.
The Soviet-German media was forbidden as well.
Second World War and the Stalinist terror
The Second World War brought endless suffering to all nations in Europe. An especially high price was paid by Germans in the USSR.
- Between August 1941 and January 1942, 894,626 members of the German minority were deported from the European part of the country to Siberia, Kazakhstan and Central Asia. (Peter Rempel / Петр Ремпель / Депортация немцев из европейской части СССР и трудармия по «совершенно секретным» документам НКВД СССР1944 гг. – В сборнике: Российские немцы. Проблемы истории, языка и современного положения. Материалы конференции. _ - Москва: Готика, 1996. Стр. 69-96)
- During the second phase of deportation Germans were deported on 17th March 1942 during the blockade of Leningrad.
- In September 1941 Germans were drafted into the construction regiment of the Soviet Army for forced labor in the Eastern part of the country.
- In January and February 1942, the rest of the men and in October even the women (except the mothers of children between the ages of 1 and 3) were drafted for the so called labor column.
More than 315,000 Germans were forced to work in those columns between 1942 and 1945. German workers made up 9 % of all workers that were under the control of the NKVD (Ministry of the Interior). А. Герман, А. H. Курочкин / Немцы СССР в трудовой армии (1941-1945) – Москва: Готика, 1998. Стр. 68). The people in the labor columns were guarded like prisoners and had to work under incredibly hard circumstances as well as undergo the constant psychological pressure of their superiors.
With the beginning of Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Germans in the Soviet Union were placed under the authority of so-called Special Commandants. They were not allowed to leave their homes without the permission of the commander. From 1945 until the summer of 1956 they were forbidden to cross the borders of their county. The violation of this provision was punished by 20 years in prison. According to the Supreme Soviet of 1948, Germans were "forever banned and under the control of the Sonderkommandantur". This was the climax of the deprivation of the Germans' rights in the USSR.
Stalin died in 1953. In 1955 Adenauer visited Moscow to rebuild diplomatic relations between Moscow and Bonn.
As a consequence, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR passed the decree of 13th December 1955: "About the repeal of the limitation of the legal status of the Germans and their family members, that live in the special settlements".
By this decree the commandants were dismissed and people were allowed to move freely and visit their relatives and acquaintances. Nevertheless, they were not allowed to return to their old homes or to claim their former property. This provision was changed in 1972.
Many Germans moved after the repeal of the commandant from the cold regions in Siberia and the northern regions to warmer areas in Central Asia and Kazakhstan. The German newspaper was reestablished (1957 "Neues Leben" in Moscow, "Rote Fahne" 1955 in Altai). In 1960 the first book series of German authors was published. Since 1944 believers have already established contact to their fellow believers abroad. Since 1958 German students were allowed to study German as their native language.
The 29th August 1964 the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR passed the resolution "About the amendment of the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR from 28th August 1941 about the Resettlement of the Volga-Germans."
By this resolution, the Russian-Germans were acquitted of the blanket accusation of treason. Nevertheless, they were still not allowed to claim their old homes or to reestablish their autonomous Volga Republic and the German Rayons with a mixed ethnic population.
The major movement of people and the deportation and internal migration after 1954 changed the residential areas as well as the social structure of the Germans. The economic activities changed as much as the social, linguistic and cultural links or orientations. Therefore, the proportion of inhabitants with a German background in urban areas grew from 15 % to 50 % between 1947 and 1957. The proportion of qualified German workers in industry and mining, like engineers, technicians, doctors and other academic professions expanded.
Along with this chang came a growing loss in national and cultural identity. In a census of 1989 about two million Soviet inhabitants registered as Germans. However, only 48.7 % listed German as their mother tongue. In 1926 the numbers had been 94.9 %, in 1939 88.4 % and in 1979 still 57 %.
Until World War I approximately 300,000 Germans had emigrated from Russia mainly to America (Canada, USA, Brazil, Argentina).
First World War, the liquidation laws, the October Revolution and its aftermath, confiscations, banishments (1929 and 1932), arrests (1934 - 1939) under Stalin, the experiences and traumas of World War II and its impact and more led to the decision of many Germans not to see the Soviet Union as their home any longer. Since the 1960s increasingly more people wanted to emigrate; up until today more than 4.5 million people with a German background emigrated from the countries of the former Soviet Union into the Federal Republic of Germany.
Entry into the Federal Republic of Germany is granted to Russian-Germans by the Federal Expellee Law. They were legally accepted as Aussiedler (emigrants) and Spätaussiedler (late emigrants). Most of them receive German citizenship after only one year. Nevertheless, the integration took time and is still continuing. Today, after more than 25 years, we can say: It was successful.
Their history during and after World War II has united Russian-Germans by the same fate, as different as they were. Their history differs from the one of Germans in Germany. However, it is still the German history.
Dr. Katharina Neufeld is historian and worked as a Director of the Museum of Russian-German Cultural History until her retirement.