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Katherine the Great

History - Why to Russia?
The German Side of the Story

    Most (95 percent) of those who settled in the Volga German colonies were refugees from the war-ravaged German states where religious strife and economic hardship had created a climate ripe for immigration. The bulk of those Germans came from Hesse and the Palatinate. Among other things, Catherine's manifesto promised religious freedom, exemption from military service, and thirty years without having to pay taxes.

For two centuries, a bloody battle was waged between the religious factions of Central Europe. By the end of the 30 Years' War in 1648, the Holy Roman Empire had disolved into more than 300 territories and independent cities led by secular or clerical rulers. These groups continued to battle on and off into the next century with opposing coalitions led by Catholic Austria and Protestant Prussia. The Seven Years' War began in 1754 and involved all the major powers in Europe at the time. The average inhabitant of Central Europe, regardless of religious or political allegiance, was under extreme tax burden, constant threat of injury to person or property, and routine conscription into military service for one side or the other. For many, there was little cause to remain.


Prussia-the German Empire

The Russian Side of the Story


Catherine the Great

Only twenty-one days after her coronation in 1762, Catherine the Great issued a directive to her government authorizing them to admit all persons who wanted to settle in Russia into the country. A manifesto to this effect was issued on 4 December 1762. She wanted permanent settlers to populate the lower Volga frontier and stabilize this region.

For centuries, the nomadic Kirghiz and Kalmyks had been ravaging the steppe of the lower Volga River basin. Russians and Ukrainians had attempted to settle there, but three battalions of soldiers sent to protect them had been slaughtered. In 1732, Empress Anna turned to the forced settlement of the area. She sent Russian, Ukrainian, and Don Cossack settlers numbering 1,057 families, to build a new defense line along the Volga between Tsaritsyn and Kamyshin. However, these settlers failed to defend the locale but participated in robbery and murder alongside the bandits.

   Having observed the successful recruitment of over 300,000 Central European immigrants to Holland, England, Prussia, Austria, and even America, Empress Elizabeth 1759 invited Austrians to settle in Russia. More than 30,000 did so. Catherine followed her example, but the 1762 manifesto had been worded in generalities and received a disappointing response. Catherine quickly learned why these early efforts were unsuccessful and undaunted; she issued a second manifesto on 22 July 1763 that provided more specifics about who covered transportation and settlement expenses and outlined protections and rights afforded to those who answered her call.

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Link to the Volga German Institute @ University of North Florida (Below)

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