The Germans from Odessa
and the Black Sea
The group of settlers commonly referred to as "Germans from Odessa and the Black Sea" were immigrants from western
and southern Germany (followed later by Prussian Mennonites and Swabians) who settled
on the northern coast of the Black Sea between Odessa and the Caucasus. They
followed the invitations extended by Catherine the Great and Tsar Alexander I.
to colonize large areas of Russia.
The history of the Black
Sea Germans is more than 200 years old. At the end of the 18th century, Russia
conquered in the war against the Turks vast areas of the steppe by the Black
Sea, the cultivation of which was to be implemented immediately. As serfdom
limited the Russian peasants in their freedom of movement and thus made an
immediate settlement of the new area impossible, foreign settlers were
recruited. In July 1763, Tsarina Catherine II. issued in a manifesto the permit
to all foreigners coming to Russia to settle in gouvernements of their choice
and granted them special rights. The Tsarina's manifesto also guaranteed foreign
settlers the right of free religion and self-government aside from various
economic and political privileges. Her call was most welcome in
the German small states where economic hardship, denominational differences, and
wars had suppressed the population.
Tsar Alexander I. was
determined to continue the colonization politics in South Russia begun by
Catherine. Based on the colonization program drawn up by the Secretary
of the Interior, the gouvernements of Cherson,
Jekaterinoslav and Taurida were settled, and as of 1812 also Bessarabia. In 1803
the first settlers from the town of Ulm arrived via the Danube at the
quarantine ward of Dubossar, and in the spring of 1804 the distribution of land
got started. The decree for the colonization by foreigners provided for the
distribution of large connected tracts of land at good sites.
German colonies in the Odessa Region
In the beginning, the unfamiliar geographic and climatic conditions
created great difficulties for the German farmers. They were forced to develop
new methods of land cultivation and mainly raised cattle in the first phase of
their adaptation to these new circumstances. In 1805, sheep with fine wool were
brought to the cities of Odessa and Dnepropetrowsk and the breeding of these
animals began in New Russia. This wool was soon the colonists' most important product.
The Germans also managed to adapt East Frisian cattle to the
adverse conditions of the steppes. Later the colonists began to extensively
grow grain, sunflowers, wine, vegetables, fruits, tobacco and silk. They worked
as beekeepers and in forestry. There were brickyards, wineries, breweries,
cheese factories and oil mills in many colonies. Soon water-, wind- and
steam-powered mills, stud farms and cloth factories emerged. [...]
Map of Glückstal
District, Cherson. Source: http://www.rollintl.com/roll/gluckstal.htm
The colonies of Großliebental
Overall, more than 500 colonies were founded in present-day
region of Odessa east of the Dnjepr River and approximately 40 in the area of
Nikolajew and approximately 150 in Bessarabia. The colonists often named the
villages after their home towns. Thus, the villages of Baden, Rastadt, Kassel,
München, Straßburg and others originated in South Russia. As the growing
colonies needed more land, daughter colonies—which carried the name of the
mother colony with the prefix 'new'—emerged. Later the colonies had to be
partially renamed. In 1819, under Alexander I, the German villages got names in
memory of Napoleon's victory, such as Tarutino or Borodino.
Map of Grossliebenthal
District, Odessa. Source: http://www.rollintl.com/roll/liebenthal.htm
The colonies of
Großliebental were in close proximity to the city of Odessa. Großliebental
(today Welikodolinskoje) was the center of the region densely populated by
Germans; it included the colonies of Lustdorf (Tschernomorka), Kleinliebental
(Malodolinskoje), Alexanderhilf (Dobroalexandrowka), Franzfeld, Neuburg
(Nowogradowka), Mariental (Marjanowka), Josefstal (Jossipowka) and Peterstal
(Petrodolina). The colonies maintained close ties to the city of Odessa. As of
1907, a street car line connected the town with Lustdorf, the charming resort
town by the Black Sea which attracted many people seeking rest and relaxation.
In 1808, almost 400 families from southern Germany founded colonies on the banks of the Kutschurgan River.
The significant colonies were Straßburg
(today Kutschurgan), Baden, Selz, Kandel (today Limanskoje), Mannheim (today
Kamenka) and Elsaß (present-day Stepnoje). Grain and vegetables, melons, sunflowers,
flax, and wine were grown there. Cattle were bred and mills, blacksmith shops
and other trade shops were operated. The city of Odessa was vitally important
for the economic development of these colonies. The trading of grain and wine
was handled at the docks; furthermore, the colonists regularly sold vegetables
at the "Priwos" and the "New Bazaar" in Odessa.
Map of Kutschurgan
District. Source: http://www.rollintl.com/roll/kutschurgan.htm
The Beresan colonies
The Beresan district was one of the largest districts in the Black Sea region.
Today it is located partially in the district of Odessa, partially in the
district of Nikolajew. The colonies of Karlsruhe (Stepowoje), Rohrbach
(Nowoswetlowka), Worms (Winogradnoje), Rastadt (Poretschje), München (Gradowka)
and others belonged to this district. In the Beresan colonies remarkable
facilities were located which shed light on the material wealth and cultural
prosperity of the German settlers. Among them was a school for the deaf and dumb
in Worms. Besides general and parochial schools, an agricultural technical
college was located in Landau, the center of the district. In addition, a
theater with orchestral accompaniment existed in Landau.
1800's Beresan District.
The Hutterites and Mennonites also settled in southern Russia, mainly in the province of Taurida and in adjoing Cherson and Ekaterinoslav.
Although the Hutterite
faith traces its origins to the 16th century, all Hutterites are descended from
a small founding population of less than 24 families (about 150 individuals)
who joined the Brethren between the years 1755-1790 in Deutschkreuz
(Siebenbuergen), and later in Wallachia (southern Romania) and Ukraine.  In
1770, under the threat of continued attacks from Turks, robber bands and
Cossacks, the Hutterite Brethren (66 individuals) fled to Russia and established a Bruderhof on a private
estate at Vishenka, 200 km northeast of Kiev. It was dismantled in 1802, and in
its stead the Radichev colony was established nearby with 44 families.
In 1842 the Hutterthal
Colony on the Molotschna River was founded. The Hutterites abandoned Radichev
and moved to the Taurida province near the Mennonite colony of Molotschna where
they would stay until 1874. In 1852 Johannesruh was set up. Due to expansion of
the colony 17 families left Hutterthal and establisheded a new colony 4 km
north of the site. In 1859, Hutterdorf
(Kushcheva) was established.
In 1868, the communities
of Johannesruh and Hutterthal were dissolved and private ownership was
re-adopted. Only the Schmiedeleut maintained community living. They attempted
to sell all their belongings and set up a new colony in Scheromet in Tauria.
David Hofer and Samuel Kleinsasser moved with their family to Scheromet at this
time. In 1868, Neu Hutterthal (Dabritcha) was established.
When Catherine the Great
issued her Manifesto in 1763 inviting farmers from Western countries to settle
in Ukraine, the Mennonites of Prussia and Danzig were soon attracted
because they were continually encountering restrictions in their economic and
religious life. Later the matter of exemption from military service became
important. The approximate number that emigrated to Russia in 1787-1870 was
1,907 families, with a total of some 8,000 persons. This constituted a true
mass migration of Mennonites in comparison with previous movements. Of this
number about 400 families settled at Chortitza, some 1,049 at Molotschna, some
438 at Samara, and 20 families were reported to have gone to Vilna. 
Map of the Russian
Mennonite colonies in 1875. Source:
A brief history of the Black
Sea Germans since the middle of the 19th century
The emergence of Panslavism and a new Russian national identity led increasingly to
criticism of the concentration of real
estate in the hands of non-Slavic immigrants. In 1887, a law for foreigners was
enacted which very much restricted foreigners' rights to lease and acquire
property, especially in areas near the borders. As of 1871, the privileges for
colonists were abolished and Russian or Ukrainian was made the official
language on the German colonies.
By the end of the 19th
century, lack of land and increasing political pressure had a great effect on
the livelihood of Germans. Many of them decided therefore to leave the Black
Sea region. As the German Empire was willing to take in only a small number of
Black Sea Germans, many settlers participated with Russian and Ukrainian farmers
in colonizing Siberia within the framework of the agrarian reform and founded
new colonies there. Thousands emigrated to America at the beginning of the 20th
century and settled in the states of North and South Dakota and, of course, Canada.
At the beginning of the
20th century, the political and economic living conditions of the German
settlers by the Black Sea continued to deteriorate. As World War I was approaching,
drastic measures were adopted against German settlers. The so-called "liquidation laws"
were enacted. They provided for the confiscation of property and the
deportation of all citizens with Austrian, Hungarian and German heritage living
within a 150 km wide strip of land along the western border. It was carried out
only among the Volhynia Germans who lived closest to the western front. The
laws were abolished again in 1917.
In 1917, a large part of
the colonies fell to the newly founded Ukrainian Peoples' Republic. During the
War, the Peoples' Republic was occupied by German and Austrian-Hungarian
troops. The German colonies were under their protection, and at first this
brought in a sense of ease to the situation for the German population. But
coercive sanctions by the state to get food and a drastic drop in agricultural
production followed the October Revolution. Further dispossession and
deportation were the consequences of collectivization and robbed large parts of
the rural population of their existence.
The ethnicity policies
promulgated by the Soviet Union brought about an expansion of cultural freedom
for the Black Sea Germans. In the 1920s the Soviet government facilitated the
formation of national administrative districts where the particular mother
tongues could be used as the official language. As a result, seven German
national districts where Germans represented more than 70% of the population,
emerged in Ukraine. However, from 1936 on, Stalin's purges led to
the dissolution of national councils and districts as well as the deportation
of their population.
German national districts
During World War II the fate of the Black Sea Germans was determined by
the swift occupation of the Black Sea region by Rumanian and German troops.
While the Germans living east of the Dnjepr river were deported to Siberia, the
Germans living west of the Dnjepr were initially under the protection of the
German Reich. They were registered in the so-called "List of German
people" which later on served as the basis for handing out German
certificates of naturalization. By the end of 1943 the resettlement of Black
Sea Germans from the occupied areas to the Warthe-Gau began.
Those who survived the
travails of the flight were settled on farmsteads of expelled Polish people in
order to "Germanize" the region. But the advance of the Red Army soon
forced the settlers to continue to fleeing westward. After the war, a large
number of the Germans from the Black Sea region who had come to the western
occupied zones of Germany managed to go into hiding in order to escape
extradition to Soviet occupation forces and repatriation to the Soviet Union.
Others were allowed to travel on to America. However, a large number of Black
Sea Germans were handed over to Soviet commando units and were deported to
Siberian special camps and labor camps, suffering huge losses in the process.
Settlement in Alberta
The Prairies in western Canada, like those
in the Dakotas, resembling as they did the steppes of southern Russia, proved
very attractive to many German Russians, especially Black Sea Germans.
Thousands of them took up the invitation to come to Canada, especially between
1900-1913 when expanding railway branch lines made the Prairies readily
accessible to new settlers. Some had originally migrated to the U.S. before
continuing on to the Canadian West, in particular to the Dakotas where most
Bessarabian, Black Sea and Crimean Germans became wheat growers
settlement near Lesterville in 1873, thousands of Germans from the Black Sea
areas of Russia poured into Dakota Territory during the following four decades.
Their homesteads spread westward and northward until most arable land was
homesteaded in what later became South Dakota in 1889. As more and more
immigrant Black Sea Germans continued to arrive in Dakota Territory in search
of land, their homesteads spread in 1884 into what is now North Dakota.
Eventually, their homesteads were located in all arable parts of North Dakota.
Lutherans and Roman
Catholics were the largest groups among the Black Sea Germans in the Dakotas;
other Black Sea Germans settlers included a number of Mennonites and
Hutterites, as well as Dobrudja Germans who had briefly lived in southeastern
Rumania. By 1920, it was
estimated that some 70,000 Germans from Russia lived in North Dakota, most of
them originating in the Black Sea region. Many resettled in Alberta and Saskatchewan due to
the increasing scarcity of farmland in the Dakotas.
Click here for maps of German settlements and
Mennonite and Hutterite colonies in Alberta.
 This section
was taken in slightly adapted form from "Germans from the City of Odessa
and the Black Sea Region Exhibit." Catalogue text.
on May 21, 2004.
 Evan Eichler, "Hutterite Genealogy, Founding
Families, Churchbook Extractions," http://feefhs.org/hut/hff-2.html.
Accessed on May 3, 2004.
 Canadian Mennonite
Online Encyclopedia, "Migrations," http://www.mhsc.ca/encyclopedia/contents/m542me.html.
1. "Kleinliebental Homepage,"
2. Glückstal Colonies
Research Association," http://www.glueckstal.org/id19.htm.