Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic

1937 flag of the Volga German ASSR
1937 flag of the Volga German ASSR

The Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (German: Autonome Sozialistische Sowjet-Republik der Wolga-Deutschen, Russian: Автономная Советская Социалистическая Республика Немцев Поволжья) was an autonomy established in the Soviet Union, with its capital at the Volga port of Engels (until 1931 known as Pokrovsk) in 1918 following the Russian Revolution, in the area of compact settlement of the large Volga German minority in Russia, which numbered almost 1.8 million by 1897. The republic was declared on January 6, 1924.

After the Russian Revolution the deeply religious Volga Germans, 76% of whom were Christians of the Lutheran faith, immediately came into conflict with the anti-religious Bolshevik revolutionaries.

As of 1919, pastors were labelled counterrevolutionary propagandists and sent to gulags in Siberia.

During the Russian Civil War many Volga Germans enlisted with the White Army and, as a result, fierce attacks by the Red Army on Volga German communities took place. In the aftermath of the war, the famine that swept the U.S.S.R. took the lives of 1/3rd of the Volga German population.

Missing image
map of Volga German ASSR

To the moment of declaration of the autonomy an amnesty was announced. However it eventually was applied to a small number of people. According to the politics of korenizatsiya, carried out in 1920s in the Soviet Union, usage of German language was promoted in official documents and German nationals were encouraged to occupy management positions. According to the 1939 census, there were 605,500 German nationals in the autonomy.

The beginning of the Second World War (known in the former U.S.S.R. as the Great Patriotic War, 1941-1945) marked the end of the Volga German A.S.S.R. The Soviet government declared all Germans to be enemies of the state, which increased the persecution and fear of the Volga Germans among the general Russian populace. On August 28, 1941, Josef Stalin issued a formal Decree of Banishment, which abolished the A.S.S.R. and exiled all Volga Germans to the Kazakh S.S.R..

After the war, they were forced to sign contracts that promised they would never return to the Volga area.

Following the death of Stalin in 1953, the situation for Volga Germans improved dramatically, and in 1964 a second decree was issued. It openly admitted the government's guilt in pressing charges against innocent people, and urged the Soviet citizens to give the Volga Germans every assistance possible in support of their "economic and cultural expansion". In 1965 the Decree of Banishment was officially made null and void, though the Volga German A.S.S.R. was never reestablished.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union many Volga Germans have emigrated to Germany, which recognises the right of anyone with German ancestry to citizenship. This exodus has occurred despite the fact that most Volga Germans either do not speak German or have a poor grasp of the language. In the late 1990's, however, Germany made it more difficult for Russians of German descent to settle in Germany, especially for those who do not speak some of the Volga dialect of German.

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