Alexander Shpak
Volga Germans

Author: Alexander Shpak
The Russian Germans started talking in ear with the beginning of perestroika. For many years the truth about this people was hushed up. And then suddenly on the pages of central newspapers and magazines began to appear various articles that raise the problems of recreating the statehood of Russian (or, as we were then called Soviet) Germans and the emigration of Germans from the USSR to their historical homeland in Germany. For many, it was simply a revelation that at least about 2 million citizens of German nationality lived in our country. As a result of ignoring the information about this great national community, many people believed that citizens of German nationality are former prisoners of war or immigrants.I still have to talk to such people. To our great regret, Russian Germans themselves are far from familiar with their history. It is unlikely that anyone will be able to name even a dozen surnames of prominent Germans who have left a notable mark on Russian culture and history. But even under Peter the Great, the Germans served in the Russian army, in the navy, in colleges, and built factories and factories.

The pride of the Fatherland was: writer and educator Denis Fonvizin, poet Afanasy Fet, painter Karl Bryullov, seafarer Ivan Krusenstern, admiral Thaddeus Bellingshausen, seafarer and geographer Fedor Litke, poet Anton Delvig, physicist and electrical engineer Boris Jacobi, sculptor Peter Klodt, lieutenant of the Black Sea Fleet in retired, leader of the uprising on the Ochakov cruiser in 1905, Peter Schmidt, scientist, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia Otto Schmidt, world-famous academics Boris Rauschenbach and Vladimir

So who are they, the Russian Germans? When and how did the Germans appear on the Volga? 
The first Germans in Russia appeared in the 10th century, and in the next century the first German churches began to be built in Russia. In the XII-XIII centuries. the Germans appeared in Moscow. In 1643 there were already 400 families. A lot of Germans arrived in Russia under Peter I. During this period a German settlement arose in Moscow - the well-known German settlement.

Most of the Germans, whose descendants are among those present, moved to Russia during the reign of Empress Catherine II, who pursued a policy of foreign colonization of the Russian state. It was caused, on the one hand, by the needs of the state, by the need to populate, develop and consolidate behind the imperial crown the outlying lands of Russia in the Lower Volga region, the North Caucasus and southern Russia. The process of internal resettlement at that time in Russia was restrained by the domination of serfdom that had crowded the mass of the population. On the other hand, a densely populated and fragmented Europe could not provide an opportunity for the application of forces and the cobble-up of fortune to all comers. Many left her in search of happiness, going to the New World. For others, such a "New Light" became Russia, where just and there were uninhabited spaces, hidden wealth and people in need of enlightenment. Already a few months after assuming the throne, in the autumn of 1762, Catherine II pointed out to the Senate: "Since there are many uninhabited places in Russia, and many foreigners are asking for permission to settle, ... to take them to Russia without a long report ..."

The beginning of the colonization by the Germans of the Volga region was laid on December 4, 1762, when the manifesto of Empress Catherine II "On the permission to all foreigners entering Russia entering, to settle in which provinces they wish and granted them rights" was promulgated in five languages, settle in "the most advantageous to the settlement and the habitation of the human race of the most useful places of the empire, to this idly remain". 

Somewhat later, July 22, 1763, another manifesto of Catherine II was promulgated , which was in fact a more detailed edition of the December 4, 1762 manifesto. The Tsar's manifesto of July 22, 1763 suggested that foreigners settle in all provinces of the Russian Empire. In the Register of free and easy to populate lands, which supplemented this decree, the lands in Tobolsk, Astrakhan, Orenburg and Belgorod provinces were specified. In the end, they stopped at Saratov - the "noble city of the Astrakhan province", a well-known center of salt and fish industry and Volga trade.

The Saratov region, which was to become the new homeland of foreign settlers, later named "Volga Germans", being the south-eastern outskirts of the Russian state, at the beginning of the 18th century. was still poorly mastered. It was mainly inhabited by various nomadic peoples: Kalmyks, Kazakhs, Kirghiz-Kaisaks and many others, who engaged mainly in primitive cattle breeding. Frequent raids on the edge of various southern hordes (Turkish, Crimean, Nogai) prevented the successful settlement of the province and the development of a peaceful economic life in it. Bakery in the province in the first half of the XVIII century. almost did not exist.

But gradually the trade and economic importance of Saratov began to increase. The plowing of fertile lands began. Livestock and fish industry actively developed. After the construction of the Syzran-Penza watchdog (1680-1685), Petrovskaya (1690) and Tsaritsyn (1718-1720) fortified lines, it became safer to settle in the province, especially in the Right Bank. The Turkish-Tatar raids through the Lower Volga region to the Russian lands ceased. Immigrants from different parts of central Russia have rushed in a broad wave. The population was replenished spontaneously at the expense of the ruined peasants, townspeople, artisans who fled from the inner provinces. The tsarist government in every possible way stopped the unauthorized migration of fugitive people here. At the same time, the government was interested in settling this region.

Since 1747, Elton Lake has been developed (the lake was named after the Englishman El'ton, one of the first entrepreneurs to extract salt here), and the population of the region is growing at the expense of the so-called Chumak-Holocausts, Ukrainians, mainly from the Poltava and Kharkov provinces, engaged in transportation ( chumachestvo) of the extracted salt.

The landowners, having received a large number of lands from the tsar in the province, began resettling their peasants from low-yielding areas. On the territory of the region there are new villages, settlements, villages and small farms. By the middle of the XVIII century. The Saratov region was already sufficiently settled and developed. But, significantly moved forward the settlement of this region and its economic development in the second half of the XVIII century. as a result of the resettlement in it of a large number of foreign colonists.

Manifestoes of Empress Catherine II of December 4, 1762 and July 22, 1763 were not just the beginning of the resettlement of Germans from different places in Germany to Russia. It was the events that took place during this period in the history of Russian Germans, genetically ascending to the German nation, but the ethnic design of those who received in the Russian land, were the decisive factor in the acquisition of this ethnic group by the group of Russians.

After the manifestation of Catherine II's manifestos (1762 and 1763), the first German families were pulled from Germany, devastated by the seven-year war in Germany. The move was conceived in the following way: groups of enlisted people flocked from different places to the ports of departure - Worms, Hamburg, from where, as the parties formed, they sailed to Petersburg. Then the settlers who were registered and took the oath of allegiance to the Empress and the new fatherland were transferred to the hands of specially employed coachmen and sent by train "from Ladoga through Tikhvinsky Posad to the Somina River and further to Saratov ..."

Foreign settlers came to the Volga mainly from South-West Germany (Swabia, Palatinate, Bavaria, Saxony). And although among the settlers there were not only Germans themselves, but also Swiss, French, Austrians, Dutch, Danes, Swedes, Poles, they were all called German colonists. It happened, apparently, because in Russia, for ages, all foreigners-Europeans were called "Germans", ie, "Germans"; not speaking Russian. This same colloquial word later entered into the literature. 

Obviously, the main motive for resettlement for foreigners was the search for land and the opportunity to establish their own business.

Already in 1763 a number of German colonies arose. The German colonies reached their maximum development after 1764, when the personal decree of Empress Catherine II dated March 19, 1764 on the order in the colonies, which for decades became the basis of the colonial policy of the tsarist government and predetermined the legal system of the colonies, was published. The decree also clearly defined the area for foreign settlements: the Volga region from Chardym to Tsaritsyn, from here to the Don, then along the border of the Cossack lands to Khopra, up the left bank of the Khopra to the villages of Znamenskoe and Dolgorukovo, and then near the Penza province to and through Saratov Uyezd stripe to Chardymu.

All those wishing to settle in these places were allotted 30 dessiatines per family, in addition, numerous benefits were granted: each of the colonists received money from a foreign resident to travel and install to Russia, the colonist had the right to choose the place of settlement and occupation, he was guaranteed freedom from civil service and recruitment. The greatest privileges were given to the settled colonies. For them, preferential tax years were estimated at 30 years. They received their "internal jurisdiction" and trade privileges - the right to organize trades and fairs without any collection from them. Each German family received 2 horses, 1 cow, seeds for sowing and agricultural implements for its share.

On the same day with the release of the manifesto on July 22, 1763, Catherine II established a new central institution for colony control, the so-called office of guardianship of foreign colonists, which existed until 1782. Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov was appointed president of the special chancellery of foreign guardianship.

The energy with which the tsarist government began to pursue a policy of establishing colonies after the promulgation of the manifesto of 1763 characterizes the attraction of foreigners not only through their agents, but also with the help of "callers" - individuals who independently organized the colonies, but who placed the colonists in private legal dependence on themselves payments of tithes to "callers", administrative and judicial authorities). The call gave an unexpected result. Already in 1766 had to stop the call, in order to arrange all previously caused.

In the spring of 1766 in Saratov, the office of the Office of Guardianship was established, created because of a sharp increase in the number of settlers. 
Creation of colonies on the Volga went on increasing: in 1765 - 12 colonies, in 1766 - 21, in 1767 - 67. According to the census of the colonists in 1769 in 105 colonies on the Volga lived 6.5 thousand families, which was 23.2 thousand people. 

German colonies on the Volga enjoyed the protection of the Empress Catherine II. In one of her letters to Voltaire in 1769 she wrote: "... the charming Saratov colony now reaches 27,000 souls ... the colonists are peacefully cultivating their fields and ... for 30 whole years they will not have to pay any taxes and duties."

This is how the story of the Volga Germans began, in which, unfortunately, there were not a few tragic pages