I took this name from a Russian movie, which is set during the time of the Civil war between the Reds and the Whites in 1917, because I think it really expresses the essence of the subject I am going to talk about.
Last night I had a conversation with another blogger, Silver Threading, about her having Russian ancestors, who fled to US in 1902. I always love talking about history, ancestry and travelling and that story combined it all, so it got me very curious. Hearing the names of her ancestors, I asked whether they were Russian Germans and she agreed that indeed they were. At that point, I expressed my opinion that her great grandfather made a wise decision about leaving the country, saving his family a lot of trouble as most of the Russian Germans went through repressions.
Today I was still thinking about this story and decided to look up what I can find about that German settlement, she told me about. Actually, Silver Threading, you might be interested – I found the surname of your great grandfather mentioned amongst the inhabitants of this settlement in 1798. Germans moved to this region on Volga after Catherine the Great published manifestos in 1762 and 1763, inviting Europeans to settle in Russia, offering them farm lands, various benefits and freedom to maintain their languages and culture.
The settlement I researched was one of the first ones to appear and Volga Germans lived there ever since, working the land and growing the community. Just remember, when Silver Threading mentioned her ancestors, she called them “Russian” and not “German”. Even after 1917, when bolsheviks came to power, they still remained settled in this region, although some of them lost their property – but then again, this happened to many other people. My Russian ancestors, for example, also lost their house, because it was the largest in their village and was given to the Soviet government needs. However, life continued, harder than before, but everybody tried to adapt. Russian Germans lived in their Russian villages for almost 2 centuries until Germany decided to invade the USSR in June 1941. In September 1941, all the Germans living in this region were suspected in collaboration with the invaders and sent off to labour camps in Siberia and Kazakhstan. People living in the village in question were all sent to Siberia, where men worked in Labour camps and women struggled to bring up their kids in harsh conditions.
These people considered Volga to be their home for 2 centuries and yet – they were Russians to the Germans and Germans to the Russians. Already in the 90s, Germany allowed for all the descendants of those Germans to come back, however, by that time some of them already could not speak German, assimilated with the locals of the lands, where they lived, and even upon arrival to Germany many of them could not feel like they came home. At home among strangers, a stranger among his own.
Just as a point of reference, Catherine the Great, the most renowned female leader of Russia, was German, born in Prussia as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg and taking the name Catherine, when she accepted Orthodox religion. In fact, all Russian rulers, after Peter the Great, would take brides from German or neighbouring states. Nevertheless, Nicholas II (whose grandmother was Marie of Hesse and by Rhine and mother – Princess Dagmar of Denmark) together with his wife Alexandra, previously named as Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, and their children were canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church as passion bearers, thus making them martyrs of the Russian people, ones of their own.