The Germans from Bessarabia
Bessarabia is a former
region of Eastern Europe, comprising most of the current-day Moldavian Republic
and a small piece of southern Ukraine. It was bounded by the Dniestr river to
the north and east, the Prut to the west, and the lower Danube and the Black
Sea to the south.
German colonization of
Bessarabia began in 1812 when Russia acquired this territory from the Ottoman
Empire. Tsar Alexander I. issued an invitation to Germans—mainly in the Duchy
of Warsaw—to settle in this still comparatively empty region. These Germans
had migrated there from several German states—especially Prussia, Wurttemberg
and Baden—to colonize the Prussian districts after the first partition of
Poland. When these regions became part of the Duchy of Warsaw and were suppressed
by the state and fell into misery and hunger, many of the German settlers were
willing to follow the Tsar's call. Germans from southwestern Germany, particularly
Wurttemberg, also responded to the invitation. That region was seriously depressed
because of the Napoleonic wars and suffered under the arbitrary rules of the
princes, high taxation, religious quarrels, and many failed harvests. The Tsar
promised the settlers—as Catherine the Great had done before in 1763—free
land (65 hectares), exemption from military service, and religious freedom.
Between 1814 and 1842
about 9,000 Germans migrated to Bessarabia and founded 25 mother colonies on
about 150,000 hectares of land given to them by the state. Because of their
high birth rate, the number of colonists increased to 25,000 by 1842, leading
to a sharp increase in demand for new land. As it became available, daughter
colonies were established. In this manner, more than 150 communities were set
up in the 125 years of German settlement in Bessarabia. Between 1861 and 1919
the German population of Bessarabia rose from 33,000 to 79,000, accounting for
three percent of the total. The highest concentration of Germans was found in
the Akkerman Kreis where they represented more than 16% of the population.
But some colonists left
Bessarabia again. Large numbers emigrated in 1874 when the exemption from
military service was lifted. (Until 1939, altogether 19,000 Bessarabians would
emigrate, of whom 11,320 would go to North America—most of them in 1902 —and another 2,000 to South America).
between the Germans and Russians in Bessarabia were generally good, pressure
from the nationalist and Pan-Slavist movements led to a continuous decline in
the number of privileges that the German colonists had been granted. Their
situation deteriorated even more with the outbreak of the First World War.
German schools were closed, and German services and newspapers were prohibited.
They lost much of their land and were threatened with mass evacuation to
Siberia. However, the severe winter and the Revolution of 1917 kept them from
After Bessarabia had
become part of Rumania in 1918, the liquidation and expropriation laws were
repealed. Although the colonists received their land back, the German schools
were allowed to reopen, and church services could be offered in German, many of
the concessions were soon once more withdrawn. The following two decades would,
however, be characterized by considerable economic prosperity and cultural
development as the Bessarabians tried to retain their German heritage and to be
loyal Rumanian citizens at the same time. At the end of the 1930s they were
even allowed to establish church schools again. In the 1930s, 2.8% of the
population of Bessarabia was German. There was an active cultural life among
the Bessarabian Germans: In 1940, 61 villages had German libraries, the
teachers' organization and the Hochschulverband with its collection of books,
and there were five German bookstores. 
In 1940, Bessarabia and
northern Bukovina were occupied by Soviet troops. Against the background of the
Hitler-Stalin-Pact it was agreed to resettle the more than 93,000 Bessarabian
Germans to the Reich. They were allowed to take along food, furniture and
agricultural implements, but were not compensated for their homes and whatever
wealth they had accumulated. They wound up primarily in camps in Saxony,
Franconia, Bavaria, the Sudetenland, and Austria.
After difficult times in
the resettlement camps, the great majority of the Bessarabians was resettled on
farms in the Warthe-Gau and West Prussia in 1941/1942 from which their Polish
owners had recently been expelled. Many Bessarabians were aware of the fact
that they had displaced another ethnic group for their own advantage, but did
not ask many questions.
In January 1945, Russian
troops advanced on the regions where the Bessarabian Germans had been settled,
and while trying to flee the Germans suffered tremendous losses. Those who made
it came to Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Saxony, Lower Saxony, and Holstein. Others
were deported to the Caucasus and to Siberia.
Settlement in Alberta
Around 1902, a sizable
number of German-Russian homesteaders, mostly Bessarabians, settled southeast
of Medicine Hat in farmland stretching towards the Cypress Hills. Eberhardt
estimated that at that time there were ca. 630 speakers of Bessarabian German
in Medicine Hat. However, not all had come directly from Russia, many arrived via
North Dakota. According to her calculations, an estimated 4,000 speakers of
Bessarabian German from Russia, Germany, the U.S. and elsewhere in Canada
resided in the Medicine Hat area in 1961. 
 Eberhardt, Elvira, The
Bessarabian-German dialect in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Ph.D. dissertation
(Edmonton: University of Alberta, 1973), p. 23.
 Eberhardt, p. 21.
 Eberhardt, pp. 24-25.
1. "Bessarabien: Eine Heimat in der