29 August 2021

Alt Schwedendorf, 29 August 1942



To imagine the lives of our ancestors in Russia, we sometimes can turn to the modern art of the period. Photography was rare even into the early 20th century. Russian artists in the 1800s captured their world in strokes that coincided with the realism and impressionism art movements, leaving us with a soft, gauzy view of landscapes and life...even though we know it was probably anything but. 

“Hollyhocks in the Saratov Province” (Мальвы в Саратовской губернии), 1889.

“Rye” (Рожь), 1881.

“Noon. Herd in the Steppe” (Полдень. Стадо в степи), 1895.

Fast forward to 1940. The maps below are sections from both a 1941 Russian map and a 1942 German map of some of the German colonies near the city of Beryslav. Alt Schwedendorf (founded 1782) is shown in the green crosshair on the right side of the maps. To the north of it was Klosterdorf (1804),  to the south in the curve of the Dnieper River was Mühlhausendorf (1804) followed by Schlangendorf (1804) to the west along the river. 



In August of 1942, Dr. Karl Stumpp was in this area compiling information on what would end up being 99 detailed colony descriptions for the SS Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories (Reichsministerium für die besetzten Ostgebiete), or RMO. All in all, there are close to 300 colonies mentioned in the RMO documents and along with hundreds of maps, some detailed, some perfunctory

One such map was that of Alt Schwedendorf, drawn on 29 August 1942. 


This map struck me when first saw it because it didn't seem to be the quick sketch like all the others. There was some thought and even artistry put into it with unexpected details such as trees and the locations of the wells (nicely represented) and public fountains. And in the Dnieper, it shows what looks like someone in a boat...fishing. Truly one of the oddest maps in this collection, which was drawn on this day 79 years ago. 



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16 August 2021

A Little August Update



Yes, I'm still kicking!

There has been a lot of map work going on the past several months with a big update coming in a few weeks. I'm taking a breath today since friends and followers of this project get concerned when I go silent for long periods of time and reach to ask if I'm okay. I am. I'm just happily immersed in old maps, data, and thought. :)

Current work includes using georeferenced maps to more accurately describe in what provinces the colonies were originally settled rather than descriptions of where they were during and after WWII, or more recently. A lot of sources focus on where you can find the place now, or 10, 20, 80 years ago and not where it was when colonies were initially founded. I get it. It's easier to state where they were places were the last time they were inhabited by Germans. As of last year, districts have changed or been dissolved in Ukraine in favor of a more simple structure. These changes haven't been reflected on Google Maps yet, but Wikipedia has them. Maybe to most, it doesn't really matter as long as the coordinates are correct. And this is absolutely true. But I have this long-standing curiosity of wanting to know "what was there before" and "what it was called at the beginning." Much of this project is to satisfy my own curiosity beyond coordinates. I share it with the hopes that others might benefit.

Also a lot of work is being done on disassembling the "Black Sea" and reassembling it (and more) into "South Russia." South Russia is a term many of our ancestors used to describe where they came from, and a term that causes consternation with some people now who are irked by the term. "We're getting pretty far north. Is it still South Russia?" or "It doesn't border the Black Sea. Are they still Black Sea Germans?" Like salted butter, I'm bringing back "South Russia."

There is other re-arranging of data that will hopefully help make the maps more useful and easier to quickly find the place you're looking for.

More to come on all of this in the coming weeks.


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06 July 2021

Welcome back, Niu-York!


Earlier this year, I posted about an article about how the  town of Novhorodske in eastern Ukraine was trying to restore its name back to its original name: New Yorkthe name of the settlement given to it when German Mennonites purchased the land and formed the Ignatyevo Colony in 1892.

The votes were in favor of the change, and on 1 July 2021, the name was officially changed from the 1950s Soviet-era Novhorodske to Niu-York. A few days ago, the change started showing up on maps, Google Maps and OpenStreetMaps being the first. It hasn't cascaded through all the online maps and names databases yet, but in time it will.


Today, as a keeper of then and now, I updated the Germans from Russia Settlement Location maps to reflect the change and restored the record of a little bit of German history in town far away.

Below are several articles and YouTube videos about the New York, its history, and current challenges.

Learn More:


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16 June 2021

16 June 1871—Tsar Alexander II Revokes German Colonists' Privileges

“Until 1871, an upward movement in all areas of life among German-Russians was to be noted. There was a growth of prosperity which found its expression in the acquisition of land; the cultural condition also improved (well developed school system, cultural associations). But it was precisely this progress that became a thorn in the eye of panslavic circles. A movement arose which opposed the further expansion of the Germans in Russia. The German minority was regarded as a foreign factor of a cultural and economic kind within the national body politic, and this, it was felt, had to be opposed. On June 4, 1871, these circles succeeded in bringing about the abrogation of the Codex of the Colonists that had assured them certain important rights at the time of settlement. Thereby the era of self-administration came to and end, and the colonists were made subject to the Russian Ministry of the Interior.”
                                          Karl Stumpp
                                          The German-Russians: Two Centuries of Pioneering (1967)

Things were going well up until they weren’t.

After the abolition of serfdom in Russia in 1861, the zemstvo system of local self-government was put into place in 1864. It applied to all villages in Russia except the German colonies.  The German colonies continued to self-govern under something called the Codex of the Colonists written in 1842.  Based on the promises granted in Catherine the Great’s manifesto of 1763  and Tsar Alexander I's manifesto in 1804, his was a set of Russian laws that pertained to the rights, responsibilities and privileges of German colonists living in the Russian Empire, which by then also encompassed the Black Sea/South Russia area.

On 16 June 1871 (4 June on the Julian calendar), Tsar Alexander II, revoked the Codex of the Colonists.  This act by Alexander II was the beginning of the undoing of the work of his of his great-great-grandmother, Catherine the Great, and his grandfather, Alexander I. And it was the beginning of the end of German immigration to Russia.  Control over the local government in the German colonies was abolished and replaced with the same zemstvo system that was in place elsewhere in Russia. The Colonist Welfare Office was shut down because the Germans in Russia were all now subjects of Russia.

It didn’t end there. In 1872, Tsar Alexander I issued a ukase (an edict) ending the German colonists
 freedom from military service beginning in 10 years. Service in the Russian army at that time was for a period 25 years for draftees. Rarely did they come home the men they were when they left, if they came home at all. After discussion, re-evaluating and “modernizing” military service, in January of 1874, the Russian government announced a new military law that went into effect immediately that required that all medically fit male Russian subjects (including the Germans, now Russian subjects) to serve in the Russian army for six years when they reached the age of 20.

The Germans who immigrated to Russia had a tradition of antimilitarism. Their families had endured five generations of war beginning with with the Thirty Years
’ War in 1618. One of the promises made to them as colonists in Russia was that they were free from military conscription “forever.” The word “forever” was later re-defined to be 100 years. This did not settle well among the German colonists. They regarded this new development as a breach of faith in the promise that was made to them. As conscientious objectors, the German Mennonites who had fled Prussia to Russia to avoid conscription were particularly disturbed by this development. An exception was made, and they were allowed to perform their service by reforesting South Russia.

There was no registration for the draft. To compile a list of men of age, the Russian government turned to parish records. Germans were/are impeccable at keeping records, and churches were required to provide a list from baptismal records of men who were of age. If any had died on that list, proof and affidavits had to be provided of his death when his year came up. In addition to the names of the young men, the names of their fathers and younger brothers were also recorded for future drafts. 

When colonists were called up for service, it happened quickly. A document from the Odessa State Archives from 1885 lists Benedikt Schlosser, a resident of Baden in the Kutschurgan district, who was born on 1 January 1864, as eligible for military service. It also listed his younger brother, Rochus, age 12, and his father, Konrad. Benedikt received his military card “No 2738” on 25 October 1885. He was obligated to show up for duty at the conscription station in the village of Mannheim, no later than 8 a.m. on 16 November 1885.

Some German colonists sent their sons away before they could be drafted. According to a timeline in The Glückstalers in New Russia and North America, in 1885, the Glückstal colony of Kassel was “unable to produce any men for the military draft. Without exception, all of them had gone to America in the spring of that year.” Sending sons of age to America continued for years. Karl Martel left Kassel and arrived in the United States alone in 1903, at the age of 20, with $2.50 in his pocket. It was either immigrate or serve in the Russian military. 

In 1874, Germans across Russia began immediately looking for opportunities to move elsewhere. Emissaries were sent from colonies in Bessarabia to investigate migrating to nearby Dobrudscha, in what is now Bulgaria and Romania, and, at the time, a part of the Ottoman Empire. They found it a suitable place to move and left Russia to settle in both existing and newly founded villages. Others migrated to recently opened areas in Central Asia and Siberia, where, although still a part of Russia, there was plenty of land and the laws weren’t strictly enforced yet. The colony of Rosenfeld in the Caucasus, which had been established just a few years prior, tried to make the best of the situation and petitioned to govern themselves in 1879. 

But most enticing was the propaganda coming from North and South America where there was cheap or free land for the taking. A conference was called in the Catholic Volga colony of Herzog and in the Protestant Volga colony of Balzar to determine where would be best for Volga Germans to immigrate.

The decision was clear for some, and the response was swift. In the early spring of 1873, the city of Yankton, Dakota Territory became home to Black Sea Germans from Russia, the first of many. German Hutterites from Russia would follow soon after the next year and establish Bonn Homme Colony not far from Yankton, and Mennonites began settling in Kansas.

The events in the early 1870s along with the subsequent push of Russian nationalism and “Russification” of the Germans who lived there caused waves of both migration and emigration from Russia in the decades to come to countries in North and South America, and eventual pain and suffering for those who stayed through wars, resettlement, deportation, and worse.


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14 June 2021

The Kutschurgan Colonies 1908

"Views of the Selz Colony"
Top (L-R): Kutschurgan poorhouse, the interior of the Selz church, and the school in Selz.
Bottom: (L-R): Group celebrating the 100 year jubilee and the Selz parish church.


"Churches and school buildings in Kandel, Strassburg and Baden"
Top (L-R): Strassburg school, Strassburg church, and Baden school with part of the church.
Bottom (L-R): Kandel church, Kandel school, and the Baden church.


In 1908, the Kutschurgan colonies celebrated their 100th anniversary of founding. The following year, Deutscher Volkskalender für Stadt und Land : auf d. Jahr 1909 published an article about the colonies along with the images above.

For more about this celebration and other articles and photos, see The Founding of the Kutschurgan Colonies.

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