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The Trek from
Germany to Russia

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 From 1764 to 1772, 30,623 colonists arrived in Russia to start new lives on the   Russian steppe. Most of the families came from German-speaking lands, although a small number came from other parts of Europe such as England and the Scandinavian countries.

As soon as the would-be emigrants had signed their immigration contracts and arranged their affairs, they assembled in a few centrally located cities. The Russian agents found them temporary living quarters and gave them daily allowances for food. After the recruiters had assembled sufficiently large numbers, the travelers were transported to one of the Baltic ports, usually Lübeck, from where Hanseatic or English ships took them east across the Baltic Sea into the Gulf of Finland to Kronstadt, near St. Petersburg. Lübeck was a bustling point of immigration, with over 72 percent of the colonists leaving for Russia sailing from this port in 1766 alone.  

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The type of transport ship that settlers would have used at the time. These ships needed a narrow profile to fit through locks and a shallow draft for navigating the shallow Russian rivers. Source: Auswanderung deutscher Kolonisten nach Russland im Jahre 1766.

The 900-mile voyage by ship from Germany to Russia typically took 9 days. Inclement weather and unfavorable winds could prolong the journey for several weeks. Sometimes dishonest ship captains would delay, allowing them to sell provisions at inflated prices as the colonists' supplies diminished. In one case, the journey from Lübeck to Russia lasted three months.  Many left their homes to escape a war-ravaged Central Europe that had suffered socio-economic devastation wrought by the Seven Year's War which ended in 1763.

Under the employ of Catherine II (Catherine the Great), recruiters traveled to many areas of Central Europe with her Manifesto, which invited people to migrate to Russia. By 1798, more than 38,800 individuals lived in 101 German-speaking colonies along the Volga River near Saratov.

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Map of the Mother Colonies

The colonists were often led in the oath of allegiance to the Russian Crown by the German pastor of the Lutheran Church in Oranienbaum. Catherine herself would sometimes welcome the colonists in their native German language from the balcony of the Great Palace, which faces the Gulf of Finland.


Illustration of a portage by the colonists. Source: "Das Manifest der Zarin" by Victor Aul.

For the first time, the immigrants saw the general backwardness of Russia. Most disappointing to many was that they were not free to go where they liked in Russia despite the promises. Many colonists intended to pursue their trades near St. Petersburg, where there had been a sizeable German community since Peter the Great. Russian officials compelled most colonists to join most settlers in developing the agricultural lands on the lower Volga River near Saratov. However, some colonists settled in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Tallin. Other colonists settled in Astrakhan, Sarepta, Ukraine, and Estonia.


Transport lists tracked the colonists arriving in Saratov by Russian army officers who escorted the transports. Names of all members of the family and the ages of the children, births, and deaths were listed. The years 1766 and 1767 were covered, but the Russians did not indicate the exact dates of each transport. There are a total of 7,501 individuals mentioned on the nine transport lists.





From Catherine to Khrushchev: The Story of Russia's Germans by Adam Giesinger

German Migration to the Russian Volga (1764-1767): Origins and Destinations by Brent Alan Mai and Dona Reeves-Marquardt

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