The Volksdeutsche are German people who emmigrated to East and South Europe, but kept their language and customs. German minorities used to live throughout Eastern Europe and Russia. They were incouraged to emmigrate by Austrian emperors to help secure their control over lands liberated from the Ottoman Turks. Some Russian Tsars incouraged German German immigration to help develop and modernize their vast country. Catherine the Great (herself a German) played a major role here and thus German populations have existed in Russia for several centuries. These German minorities lived in these countries for centuries, dut many did not assimilate or drop the German language. Often they even mainatin separate schools. While the Austrian-Hungarian Empire existed many lived in the political structure of a German-speaking Austrian monarchy, but this changed in 1918-19 with the collapse of the Austrian Empire as well as the loss of German territory. Many Germans found themselves under th control of newly independent countries. When the NAZIs came to power in 1933, the Volksdeutsche proved a useful political issue and a way of justifying German territorial claims. The history and situation of the Volksdeutsche varied idely from country to country. Some like the Sudeten Germans or th Germans in Silesia were indestinguishable from actual Germans. Others like the Volksdeutsch in Russia had developed a desinctive culture. Some even had begun to los the Germn language. We are unsure at this time as to just how the Volk Deutsch dressed dressed, but hope to obtain information on this as we develop additional information on the Volksdeutsche.
The term Volksdeutsche means litteraly "German people". The correct translation of "Volksdeutsche" should be "Ethnic Germans". The term "German People" is translated as "Deutsches Volk". Volksdeutsche (this is the plural term) were people who had no German citizenship and were living in Poland, Russia or the Ukraine.
The term began to be used in the early 20th century to apply to those Germans living outside the Reich (German Empire) who were referred to as Reichdeutsche. The term was not generally used fopr any German living outside the Reich, but instead took on cultural connotations. The term "Volksdeutsche" was generally used by Germans to describe the Germans who settled in Central Eastern Europe: especially Poland and Russia, but also in areas such as the Baltics, Romania, and Yugoslavia. They were large groups forming communities, not individuals. Catharine the Great, herself a German princess when she married the Tsar, invited German farmers to settle lands that were empty after the Seven Yeatrs War (1763). These are the Volga Germans. They were not only offered the land, but also a whole list of privileges. They could continue living as Germans in their own communities, being Lutherans, Mennonites or Catholics in an Orthodox country. They also were exempt of military service and did not have to pay taxes. No wonder that thousands of poor German farmers went to Russia. They established colonies along the Volga, but also near Odessa, on the Crimea, in Wolhynia and even in the Caucasus mountains. Many of these Germans lived in isolatio and had few contacts ith Germans. In some cases they retained destinctive clothing styles and archaic language patterns. The Volga Germans loosing their
privileges under Czar Alexander II in the 1860s and many emigrated to Canada and the United States, especially the Mennonites. But about 2 million stayed in
Russia and thus after 1917 became Soviet citizens.
There were a number of destinctive terms for the Volksdeutsche from different areas. The Germans from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were called "Balts" or "Baltic Germans". The Germans from Romania were called: "Saxons". (Siebenbürger Sachsen). The Germans from Yugoslavia and Hungary were called "Danube Swabians" or "Swabians" (Donau Schwaben). The Germans from Czechoslovakia were called " Sudeten Deutsche". There were also the Carpahian Germans. The Germans from the Dolomites in Italy are called "Tyroleans". The Germans in Russia were concentrated around the Voga and called Volga Germans.
The princes of Eastern Europe welcomed Germand into their lands. They often possessed skills that were rare or unavailable. Concerns over nationality were not important at the time. The "Volksdeutsche" are the Germans who settled in Eastern Europe. Some of the most important are Volksdeutsche of Poland and Russia beginning in the reign of Catherine the Great--herself a German princess. German communities were also founded in other countries such as the Baltics and Romania. They were large groups who formed their own separate communities. The history of the Volksdeutsche varied greatly from country to country in Eastern Europe. The Volksdeutsche were joined after World war I with Germans which grew up in Germany, but suddenly found themselves a minority in a foreign country. The same is true of Germans that kived in various parts of the old Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
Some estimates suggest that the Volsdeutsche totaled about 10 million people at the advent of World War II. The NAZIs used the Volksdeutche extensively for political purposes before the War. Most were pro-NAZI as the NAZIs offered the proscept of overthrowing the Versailles Treaty and annexation to the Reich. Not all The Volsdeutsch were pro-NAZI, but most in the Sudetenland and Poland were. These were areas that had been part of the German or Austo-Hungarin Empire before World War I. They were thus unacustomed to non-German rule. We are less sure about other countries. Germans in the Sudetenland were used by the NAZIs to stir up trouble before Munich. After World War II began the NAZIs became usuing it to describe foreign-born Germans in occupied countries who applied for German citizenship. Not all of the Volksdeutsche wanted to be German citizens, many identified more with their adopted countries. The German occupation authorities used the ethnic Germans in the occupation. They were more familiar with local conditions and had needed language skills. The NAZIs also used them to form Selbstschutz (self-defense units). Selbstschutz units were formed in Czechoslovakia and Poland before the War and after the Germans occupied other countries. Some of these units were involved in terrible attrocities, especially actions against Jews in Poland.
The fate of the Volksdeutche is one of the many depressing stories of World War II. The irony is that while NAZIs who set out to ethnically clense newly acquired areas of the Reich, it was the Germans that were ethnically clensed from Eastern Europe. Those Germans expelled are today referred to in Germany as " Vertriebenen " (expelled ones). Nearly all lived in countries invaded and occupied by NAZI Germany. Many but not all participated in NAZI genocidal or explotive programs to colomie the occupied East. As a result, both the Russian Army and partisans targetted them as the Wehrmacht was forced to retreat. Many wisely fled with the Wehrmacht. Others were reluctant to leave the farms and towns where their families had lived for generations. After the Wehrmacht withdrew and after the end of the War, millions of these ethnic Germans were murdered, deported or otherwise ethnically cleansed. Many first hand accounts describe the violence directed at those of German ancestry. A great deal of documentation was gathered by the German Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau. (Yes, the Wehrmacht was collecting evidence of war crimes.) There are many incidents of unimagined savegery. There were women crucified in Nemmersdorf and the wholesale murder of children. [De Zayas and Barber]
Bade, Klaus J. ed. Deutsche im Ausland. Fremde in Deutschland (C.H.Beck Verlag: Munich, 1992).
Ballas, Gerd. "Brebu Nou--Weidenthal," website accessed July 17, 2002.
De Zayas, Alfred-Maurice and Charles M. Barber. A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-1950.
Muller, Reinhard. Played a major role in compiling this page.
Stueck, Rudi. E-mail message, April 15, 2004.
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