Germany and Russia have had a long relationship going back to the Medieval Period. During the thirteenth century, the Teutonic Knights conquered much of the Baltic region in order to Christianize the pagans but stayed for centuries well into the modern Russian Imperial Period as landed nobles.
Later, Peter I (ruled 1682-1725), the Tsar of Russia, and Catherine (reigned 1762-1796), the Empress of Russia, invited thousands of Germans to Russia to work as skilled experts, financiers, and farmers in order to bring the country closer to the standards of Western Europe. The Russian royals also were heavily infused with German blood. For instance, Catherine was herself German-born and Nicholas II (ruled 1894-1917), the last tsar, had plenty of German ancestry in his family tree. An examination of all the Germans living in Imperial and Soviet Russia reveals the curious case of one particular group – the Volga Germans.
Who were the Volga Germans?
The Volga Germans were a group of peasants from Germany who were enticed to settle the often inhospitable and dangerous region of south-central Russia. The incentives for the Volga Germans to initially settle the region were quite clear: they would be helped financially and were told they would be given a fair amount of autonomy. The reality, though, was much different. The Volga Germans dealt with a Russian government that would go from micromanaging their communities to completely ignoring them, even when they needed protection from Tatar raids and Cossack rebellions.