The Bessarabian Germans

Invited to settle the sparsely populated area between Romania and a small piece of southern Ukraine by Czar Alexander I, between 1814 and 1842, about 9,000 Germans migrated to “Bessarabia” and founded 25 mother colonies, their number increasing by the natural birthrate to 25,000 by 1842, when the demand for new land led to daughter colonies. After the abolition of serfdom in Russia in 1863, even more Germans came to fill the labor shortage which resulted, especially in agriculture. More than 150 communities were set up in the 125 years of German settlement in Bessarabia, and the German population of Bessarabia rose from 33,000 to 79,000 between 1861 and 1919.

Although relationships between the Germans and Russians in Bessarabia were good, the nationalist and Pan-Slavist movements restricted the privileges of German colonists. Their situation deteriorated severely with the outbreak of the First World War when German schools were closed, German services and newspapers were prohibited. They lost much of their land and were threatened with mass evacuation to Siberia.

After Bessarabia had become part of Romania in 1918, however, the liquidation and expropriation laws were repealed. The colonists received their land back and their schools and churches were allowed to reopen. The following two decades were prosperous, and Bessarabians retained their German heritage while being loyal Romanian citizens. In the 1930s, 2.8% of the population of Bessarabia was German, with an active cultural life. Not for long, however.

In 1940, Bessarabia and northern Bukovina were occupied by Soviet troops and it was agreed to resettle the more than 93,000 Bessarabian Germans to the Reich. They were allowed to take food and whatever personal property they could carry, but were not compensated for their homes, businesses or wealth, and they ended up primarily in camps throughout Saxony, Franconia, Bavaria, the Sudetenland, and Austria, images below.

The biggest majority were resettled on farms in the Warthe-Gau and West Prussia in 1941/1942. In January 1945, Russian troops advanced on these regions, and the Germans suffered tremendous losses while trying to flee. Those lucky enough to survive went to Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Saxony, Lower Saxony, and Holstein, but others were deported to the Caucasus and to Siberia.