German settlement in
Central and Eastern Europe
Since the 11th century,
German craftsmen, farmers, merchants, and others left their homeland to seek a
better future for themselves in other parts of Europe and, alas, in the rest of
the world. They emigrated because of poor economic, social, and political
conditions, because of political and religious persecution, and because of
scarcity of land. Sometimes they were called in by foreign rulers to help develop
their own lands and were given enticements and privileges; sometimes they were
resettled by their own rulers.
The Germans from
Russia were only one large group of emigrants who had settled in
East Central and Eastern Europe. Very roughly speaking, Germans settled, or had
been settled, in smaller or larger numbers and with interruptions in:
- 12th/13th century: the
Baltic states, East Brandenburg, Silesia and Upper Silesia, Pomerania, parts of
Rumania, Slovakia, Transylvania, the Weichsel-Warthe area, West Prussia
- 15th century: Lithuania
- 17th century: parts of
Hungary and other parts of the Balkans, and in Bohemia and Moravia
- 18th century: the Banat,
Galicia, the Bukovina, and the Black Sea region
- 19th century:
Bessarabia, Dobrudja, Volhynia.
This list is by means
Herbert Wiens, in his
"A People on the Move:
Germans in Russia and in the Former Soviet Union:
1763 - 1997, describes the regions from where the settlers came and where
they settled, and their religious affiliation:
Areas of origin
The three main areas of
emigration of the German Russians were Danzig-West Prussia, Poland, and
the German province of Hesse. Many Mennonites came from Danzig (1789-1804)
in addition to many Catholics and Evangelicals (1832). From Poland came those
Germans who had previously emigrated there from Prussia and Württemberg; between 1815
and 1818 they left Poland and proceeded to settle in Bessarabia. The main
emigration from Hesse left for the Volga between 1763-176. In the beginning of
the 19th century, Germans also migrated into the Black Sea area, however, these
emigrants came mainly from southwestern and southern German provinces of
Württemberg, Baden, the Palatinate, Alsace, Rhine-Hesse and the area of Bavarian Swabia
contiguous to Württemberg.
Settlement areas in
Between 1763 and 1768, approximately 8,000 families totaling 27,000 people immigrated into
the Volga region. Here, on the hilly side (right bank of the Volga) 45 colonies
were founded, and on the meadow side (left bank of the Volga) 59 colonies were
founded. The settlements were laid out strictly along religious lines.
The Volga Germans were
mainly of Hessian descent, but many also came from the Palatinate and from
The rural settlements
near St. Petersburg and Belowesh (northeast of Kiev) and Rebendorf were
founded at almost the same time as the German settlements on the Volga.
The Volhynian Germans
were for the most part Low Germans from the area of the Weichsel River and from
Pomerania, Middle Germans from Silesia and Poland and High Germans (Swabians)
from central Poland. By descent, therefore, the Volhynian Germans are northern
Germans, by religion, Protestant.
is a wealth of visual information available about the German communities
in Alberta; however, for copyright reasons they cannot be displayed on
this web site. Please click here to go
to the page which provides directions on how to access photographs and
other visual and audio materials.
Whereas the Volga and
Black Sea-Germans settled in large closed villages, the Volhynian-Germans had
to a large extent been settled in scattered settlements and on individual
farms, which made community life more difficult.
The first group of any
size that settled in the Black Sea region was comprised of Mennonites from the
Danzig area, who because of improved conditions for settlement established
themselves south of Jekaterinoslaw (Dnjepropetrowsk) in 1789. The well-known
region of Chortitza developed in this area. In 1803, the Mennonites, some from
Chortitza, and some from the regions of Danzig and Elbing, settled in Tauria in
the immediate vicinity of the small river Molotschna. The largest Mennonite
group was created here in the Halbstädter or Molotschna territory.
On February 20, 1804, by
pursuant to a decree by Alexander I, a stringent selection process was
applied to recruiting prospective emigrants from Germany. Emigrants were required to prove that
they had adequate resources to support their livelihood. This
recruiting process was particularly successful in the provinces in southern and
In the provinces of
Cherson, Bessarabia, Jekaterinoslaw, Crimea, and South Caucusus (1817) very
large closed settlement areas were founded on allotted lands.
Germans in the Black Sea area were divided as follows:
In addition, there were
German settlements in the Caucasus like those later founded south of the Urals
and in western Siberia.
Resettlement of the
ethnic Germans by the Third Reich
At the end of the First
World War, 1,5 million Germans lived in the Soviet Union, 1.2 million in
Poland, 3.5 million in Czechoslovakia, 120,000 in Lithuania, 550,000 in Hungary,
800,000 in Rumania, 700,000 in Yugoslavia, 70,000 in Latvia, and 30,000 in
But Germany's interest
in these 8,5 million Germans really only began under the National Socialists who
wanted to bring these Volksdeutsche , as they were called, "Heim ins
Reich." They did so by brutally expelling the local population on the
eastern borders of the Reich—sometimes only with a few hours' notice—and
replacing them with Germans, thus attempting to ensure Germanization of the
region. The long-range aim of the Reich was the establishment of a uniformly
German settlement region west of a line extending from the Crimea to Leningrad.
The Slavic population—where not "needed" as slave labor—was to be transplanted
along the Ural Mountains.
rarely had German citizenship and—considering the lack of contact that they had
with a German state over the centuries—did not have Reich sympathies, at least initially. They were
"repatriated" on the basis of agreements with the countries
concerned, finally also with the Soviet Union, in exchange for relinquishing claims
to the areas from which the Germans were to be resettled. At first, the
relocation was carried out in a relatively humanitarian manner for the Germans
concerned. But as time went on, the Germans were forced to emigrate. Between
1940 and 1944, 166,000 Germans from Poland, 127,000 from the Baltic countries,
370,000 from the Soviet Union, 212,000 from Rumania and 35,000 from Yugoslavia
were resettled into newly acquired regions (esp. the so-called Warthegau), the
Generalgouvernement, or the Altreich.
The Warthegau was
established soon after Germany's attack on Poland. It consisted of the former
Prussian province of Posen and parts of Poland. 85% of the population was
Polish, eight percent were Jews and seven percent were Germans. Already in 1939 plans had
been made as part of the Nazi population and Lebensraum policies to expel
hundreds of thousands of "persons of inferior race" from the their
farms and homes to this region.
This is not the place to
describe the events occurring towards the end of the War as the Red
Army advanced. The numbers speak for themselves: 16.6 million Germans lived
in the East at the end of the war: 9.58 million in the Oder-Neisse region, 3.48
million in Czechoslovakia, 250,000 in the Baltic countries, 380,000 in Danzig,
1.37 million in Poland, 623,000 in Hungary, 537,000 in Yugoslavia, and 786.000
in Rumania. Within a few months after the end of the War, 11.7 million fled, or
were expelled, and arrived in the West. At least 2.1 million died. 2.65 million remained
in their homeland.
Canadian immigration regulations for
Germans after World War II
Although Canada did not
admit German nationals between 1939 and 1950, some 30,000 persons of German
origin were, in fact, permitted to immigrate between 1947 (no immigrants at all
were admitted to Canada between 1945 and 1947) and 1950 when all restrictions
were lifted and Germans were included among the Canadian government's
In May 1947, Canada's
new immigration policy provided for the resettlement of displaced and homeless
persons from Europe. Volksdeutsche refugees who were not German nationals were
included from the beginning in this new policy, which enabled 21,000 of them to
enter by September 1950.
The Canadian Christian
Council for the Resettlement of Refugees—which was founded in 1947 with the
support of the Canadian government by representatives of the Canadian Lutheran,
Catholic, Mennonite and Baptist Churches, and the Sudeten Germans—prepared
eligible prospective German immigrants for presentation to the Canadian government screening
teams in Europe. By 1950 it had arranged the immigration of 15,000
German-speaking immigrants, and by 1953 a total of 30,000, in spite of huge
financial problems. Only a monthly grant of $10,000 from the Canadian
government and the refitting and chartering of the SS Beaverbrae with a
carrying capacity of almost 800 people could the CCCRR function adequately.
were also sympathetic to Canadian Russlaender Mennonites' requests to bring in
Volksdeutsche as early as 1947. The Mennonites were able to convince the
Canadians that the Mennonites had not left the Ukraine voluntarily, that they
were not Volksdeutsche but were of Dutch origin, and that they had not served
in the German army or any branch of the Nazi party. By September 1950, 6,500
Mennonites were moved to Canada from Germany.
German-Canadians who were willing to sponsor friends and relatives were deeply
resentful of the fact that Canadian immigration discriminated against uprooted
Germans while nationals of most other countries were admitted from 1947 on. A
growing lobby including the CCCRR, the Mennonite Central Committee, the
German-language press in Canada, and the resurging German-Canadian associations,
as well as several departments of the government, pressured for selective
exemptions from the enemy alien prohibition. As a result, in addition to the
21,500 Volksdeutsche, almost 4,000 natives of Germany and 5,000 persons of
German origin from other countries were able to enter Canada between 1945 and
At first, the only
categories exempted from the prohibition were children under 18, wives and
proven opponents of the Nazi regime. Then German war brides of Canadian
veterans and residents of Danzig prior to 1939 became eligible. In 1949, German
nationals who were parents or dependent children of Canadians became
admissible. Then German businessmen and students were permitted to enter on
visits. During 1949 government officials became aware that 90% of the
Volksdeutsche who had entered Canada since 1947 had assumed German citizenship
during the Third Reich. In 1950, therefore, even those Volksdeutsche and close
relatives of Canadians who had accepted German citizenship after September 1939
were declared admissible.
After the removal of all
restrictions, ethnic German immigration jumped from 5,800 in 1950 to 32,400 in
1951 when Canadian immigrants were the largest ethnic groups and exceeded those
of British origin by 1,000. German immigration peaked in 1953 with 39,000 and
then declined again to 12,000 by 1960.
A high proportion of the
immigrants listed as "German" by ethnic origin were refugees. However, Canadian
statistical data about German immigration did not distinguish between natives
of West Germany and displaced persons from the East, such as refugees from the
Soviet Zone of Germany, expellees driven from those parts of Germany annexed by
Poland and the Soviet Union after the war, and Volksdeutsche who had fled from
their east European homelands to West Germany. 
 Volksdeutsche refers
to Germans who lived outside the eastern boundaries of the German Reich;
Reichsdeutsche to Germans living within the boundaries of the German Reich before 1938.
The author is very well
of the fact that usage of the terms volksdeutsch and reichsdeutsch is
objectionable to most people because of their origin during National Socialism.
The Nazis had popularized the term Volksdeutsche and exploited this group for
their own purposes. For this reason, other designations are preferable, for
example, names that more closely associate them with their earlier place of
residence (such as Wolgadeutsche for the ethnic Germans living in the Volga basin
in Russia). In the context of this presentation, the repeated use use of
phrases such as Wolhyniendeutsche, Wolgadeutsche, Deutsche aus Bessarabien,
etc. as a generic term for "Germans from outside the borders of the
German Reich" is impractical and unwieldy. But sincere apologies are
offered to anyone who feels offended by these terms.
For present purposes, an
"ethnic German" is someone who considers himself, or is considered by
others, to be German. Among the criteria for referring to someone as being of
German origin include having a connection with German culture, speaking the
German language, or having ancestors who lived in Germany or an area which at
that time was part of Germany or was otherwise considered German.
 Gerhard P. Bassler,
The German-Canadian Mosaic Today and Yesterday. Ottawa: German-Canadian
Congress, 1991, pp. 15-22.