Volksdeutsche: Country Trends

Figure 1.--Hitler called the Baltic Germans home to the Reich. The same occurred with Germans in the areas of Romania seized by the Societs. The plan was to settle them on land from which Poles has been evicted. SS Reichführer Himmler was especially interestedc in this effort, obtaining new blood stock for Greater Germany. This boy in a resettlement camp near Chelmo, Poland has been presented with a portrait of the Führer. The numvered tags were used to identify the different families. Resettlement proved to be aong laborious process with the repatriated Germans spendling ling periods in dingy resettlment camps. One reason the process took so long is that the SS subjected the arrivals to probing racial tests to make sure no non-Aryans sneaked in the back door.

The princes of Eastern Europe welcomed Germand into their lands. They often possessed skills that were rare or unavailable. Concerns over nationality were not important at the time. The "Volksdeutsche" are the Germans who settled in Eastern Europe. Some of the most important are Volksdeutsche of Poland and Russia beginning in the reign of Catherine the Great--herself a German princess. German communities were also founded in other countries such as the Baltics and Romania. They were large groups who formed their own separate communities. The history of the Volksdeutsche varied greatly from country to country in Eastern Europe. The Volksdeutsche were joined after World war I with Germans which grew up in Germany, but suddenly found themselves a minority in a foreign country. The same is true of Germans that kived in various parts of the old Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Baltic Republics

The Volksdeutsche were part of the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but there history there was considerably different than in other areas that came to comprise the Russian Empire. These Baltic countries until World War I (1914-18) and the Russian Revolution (1917) were part of the Tsarist Russian Empire, although the German presence predated their absortion by the Russians. Germans started colonizing northeastwards along the Baltic Sea at the end of the 13th century. First the noblemen of the Teutonic Order built fortresses and castles all along the Baltic coast, including Danzig (Gdansk), Memel (Klaipeda) and Reval (Tallin). Later merchants followed and settled in the ports and cities under the Hanseatic League. It is ironic that the original Prussians were a Baltic people, who were conquered by the Germans and actually wiped out completely--but not before giving those Germans their name: Borussians (Prussians). The rural population always remained Estonian, Latvian, or Lithuanian, but in the cities there was a large German minority. The Baltic people were conqured by the Tsar Peter the Great (1622-1725) during the Great Northern War (1700-21) with Sweden. Peter at the Battle of Poltava (1709) achieved one of the great military victories in Russian history. The "Baltic Barons" (the German knights) afterwards supplied an enormous amount of officers and administrators in the service of the Russian czars throughout the centuries. For example: several geographical names in Alaska derive from German-Baltic explorers when that part of the United States was still Russian: Wrangell Mountains, Kotzebue Sound, Hagemeister Island, etc. Hitler in 1939-40 after seizing Poland ordered the Baltic Volksdeutsche "heim ins Reich". Hitler in 1939-40 after seizing Poland ordered the Baltic Volksdeutsche "heim ins Reich". He proceeded to negotiate a treaty to bring the Baltic Germans back to the Reich. The Baltic Germans also provided a suitable population conviently available to persue German polivies in the East beginning with Germaizing Poland. The Baltic Germans had lived outside of Germany for centuries. Even so, most obeyed the Führer's orders, leaving their homes. The first group arrived in Danzig from Estonia October 20, 1939. They and the other Baltic Germand were assigned areas in occupied Poland to the south. The NAZIs inthe Warthegau and other areas of occupied Poland were expelling the Polish population in order to make room for them. From there the Baltic Germans were later expelled themselves, this time by the Poles at the end of the War. Most of them finally settled in West Germany. [Bade]


Czecheslovakia was before World War I a part of the Austo-Hungarian Empire with its Austrian monarchy. Large numbers of Germans lived in the border area with German in the Sudetan (southern) mountains and became known as the Sudeten Germans. When Czecheslovakia was formed as part of tha part of the Versailles Peace Treaty (1919), these Germans found hemselves a minority in a country now dominated by Czechs and Slovaks. The Sudenten Germans were different than many of the other Volksdeutsche in that they lived in German border areas and were used to a Government dominated by a German-speaking Austrian Government. In living style, language, and clothing the Sudenten Germans did not differ much from the Germans accross the border. Hitler of course used them in 1938 to threaten war, resulting in the Munich Agreement and the dismemberment of Czcheslovakia. The Sudeten Germans were not the only Germans in Czecheslovakia. The Czech capital Prague also used to have a sizable German-speaking minority (among them many Jews). Some of their writers became world-famous: Franz Kafka, Franz Werfel (The Song of Bernadette), Rilke and the composer Gustav Mahler, and the scientist Gregor Mendel, who happened to be a priest. There was another group of Germans in Czecheslovakia. A much smaller number were located in the Slovakian region of Czecheslovakia--the Carpathian Germans.


German farmers, merchants and craftsmen had settled in Hungary since the Middle Ages. Hungary was before World War I a dual monarchy. The Hapsburgs had inherited Hungary when the country's king was killed in a battle withb the Turks. The law books of many Hungarian cities were written in German, including Ofen (later called Budapest). The Germans in Hungary and Yugoslavia were called "Swabians". Many famous Hungarians, like Franz Liszt and Ignaz Semmelweisz, were actually Swabians. Liszt for example never learned to speak the Hungarian language, because in the village where he grew up he went to the German school and his parents did not know Hungarian either. As in other countries with large German settlements the Swabians had their own schools and organizations. Most of them were farmers, but every city used to have a large German community. After World War II, many Germans were expelled, but not all, like in Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia. A sizeable number was allowed to stay and maintain their identity. Even the Communists published newspapers and books in German for the Swabian communities. Schwaben, a historic region in southwestern Germany, roughly corresponding to the present "land" of Baden-Württemberg. I know from personal experience that there is still a small German minority in Southern Hungary. We toured the region 10 years ago and met some German speakers in the area around Pécs/Fünfkirchen near the border with Yugoslavia. There were a few villages around Villány/Wieland were they had some minority rights if only to a very limited extent. They said they belong to the same group of Germans as the Banater Schwaben in Serbia and Romania. They complained of the lack of schooling in German which caused the younger generation to gradually merge into the Hungarian majority. This seems to have been improved by the establishment of a number of bilingual schools during the past decade.


The Polish kings invited German merchants, artists and craftsmen to live and work in Poland since the Middle Ages. Poland during the 17th and 18th centuries was dismembered by Austria, Prussia, and Russia. A new Polish state was created in the Versailles Peace Treaty (1919). Thus Germans who had once lived in Germany proper or Austrai-Hungary found themselves a minority in a new Polish state. Hostilities betwen the Poles and the new Soviet Red Army after World war I drove the border of Poland well into the east, bring many non-Poles including additional Volksdeutch, Ukranians, and other that had been rulled by the Tsar within the new Polish state. After the NAZI World War II occupation (September 1939) Polish citizens of German ancestry were allowed to claim German citizenship. Here there was no NAZI law governing this as different administrators used different approachees as to what was needed to proven German ancestry. Germans in Poland included ethnic Germans whose families had lived in Poland for centuries and had well established roots and attachmebnts to Poland. Other Germans found themselves in the new Polish state created by the Versailles Treaty They often had few ties to Poland and welcomed the NAZI invasion. Germans in occupied Poland faced the decession as to whether or not to sign the Volksliste. The Volksliste had four categories. Categories No 1 and No 2 were assessed ethnic Germans, while categories No 3 and No 4 were ethnic Poles. This was not only an issued faced by Germans. Some NAZI administrators were willing to very loosely just who was a German to speed up the process of Germinization. Thus some who were more Polish than Germany were able to sign the list. There were many advantages to signing. It meant improved rations as well as preventing property from being seized as part of the Germinaztion process. It also mean creating enemies. Those who signed were consider traitors by the Poles and those who did not sign became suspect by the NAZI authorities. The most significant immediate disadvantage was that the men in the family became eligible for conscription into the German military. After the NAZIs were driven out of Poland some of those who signed the Volksliste were tried by Polish courts for treason. The term Volksdeutsch is generally seen in Poland as synonymous with treason. Some indeed collaborated with the NAZIs and used the occupation to in effect steal from their Polish neigbors. Others actually worked with the Resistance. Volksdeutsche arec known to have made an important contribution in gathering intelligence fir the Polish Resistance. They primarily worked with the non-communist Resistance and thus there work was not recognized by the Communist Government after the War which actually persecuted some of these people along with the collaborators.


The Saxons of Transsylvania in Romania settled that area in the 12th century. These Germans in the 15th century fell under the rule of the Ottoman Turks. Germans moved into the area between the rivers Maros (Miersch) (North) Theiß (West) Danube (South) and in the south east bordered by the south capartian mountains. It's about the size as Belgium and the soil is very fertile. There're also important natural resources suach as coal and gold as well as other kinds of products. The area came under the conrol of Austria in 1718 and was first settled by General Mercy. During the reign of Austrian Emperor Karl VI settlement was encouraged (especially during 1722-1726), Germans began moving into the area. The groups that settled in Transsylvania (Romania) were called " Saxons". Others became known as the "Banater Schwaben". Some of the first Germans were Austrain administrators, clerks, tailors, merchantmen and most of all farmers from Lorraine, Palatinate and the Black Forest in the area. Emperess Maria Theresia gave considerable support to promoting German settlement (especially during 1766-70) as did other Austrian emperors. Many but not all Germans were expelled after World War II. Of the 500.000 Saxons in Rimania, about 100.000 still remain in Transsylvania (settled in the 13th century).


Catherine the Great (herself a German princess) invited German farmers to settle in Russia and they have been there ever since. Catharine invited German farmers to settle lands that were empty after the Seven Years War (1763). They were not only offered the land, but also a whole list of privileges. They could continue living as Germans in their own communities, being Lutherans, Mennonites or Catholics in an Orthodox country. They also were exempt from military service and did not have to pay taxes. No wonder that thousands of poor German farmers went to Russia. They established colonies along the Volga, but also near Odessa, on the Crimea, in Wolhynia and even in the Caucasus mountains. They were loosing their privileges under Czar Alexander II in the 1860s and many emigrated to Canada and the United States, especially the Mennonites. But about 2 million stayed in Russia, also when it became the Soviet Union. Many of the Russian Germans were Mennonites who started emigrating to Canada and the United States at the end of the 20th century when the Tsar wanted to draft them into his armies. (The Mennonites do not bear arms). Originally the Mennonites were a Dutch protestant sect, founded by Menno Simons in 1536. Many of them went to build dikes and polders in the Vistula Delta around Danzig (Gdansk) and became Germanized. From there they went to Poland and Russia. I do not yet have a great deal of information on the Volga Germans. They appear to have been prosperous, both because of their industriouness and the rich land they farmed. Many were deeply religious ( Mennonites). I do not know how they fared after the Revolution. There land does not seem to have been colletivizd. They do not appear to have been heavily politicized. Unlike some Volksesdeutsche like the Seudeten Germans, there does not seem to have been any significant support for the NAZIs, in part because of their strong religious believes. A reader writes, "The Volga Germans actually had more contact with relatives and friends in Canada and Kansas than in Germany. They were not interested in going to Germany, because they were prosperous and had no use for the NAZIs." [Stueck] Stalin doubted their loyalty, on both ethnic and religious grounds. After NAZI Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin deported the Volsdeutsche to Siberia and Kasakhstan, where about 1 million ethnic Germans still live. They lost their once prosperous villages and farms were confiscated and divided into kolchozes. It is estimated that about 1 Million Volga Germans now are living in Kazakhstan where the soil is not nearly as good as along the Volga. Every month thousands of Russian Germans are moving to Germany where they are granted citizenship immediately on account of their heritage. Some of them don't speak German anymore and they have to prove that they are of German descent.


Yugoslavia was another new country ceated by the Versailles Peace Treaty. The largest part of Yugoslavia was Serbia. we think most of the ethnic Germans in Yugoslavia were in Serbia, especially the northern province of Vojovidnia. Additional areas of Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia) had been part of the Austro-Hugarian Empire. The Germans in Yugoslavia and Hungary were called "Swabians". I'm not sure to extent the Swabians cooperated with the NAZIs. The resistance in Yugoslavia was more active than in most occupied countries and great brutality was directed at various natioanl groups by the different resistance groups as well as NAZI pupet states. Only the communist led resistance groups led by Tito refrained from ethnic cleansing, although they brutally dealt with NAZI sysmpathizers as well as Yugoslavs as well as anyone they deamed as not sufficently suppotive. The communists were the only resistance groups that continued attacks on the German military forces in the face of vicious NAZI reprisals against civilians. I have few details at this time, but the communist partisans may have tareted the Swabians and given the hostility in Yugoslavia, many probably left Yugoslavia in 1944 with retreating German military forces. Most of those remaimed were attacked or forced to leave after the arrival of the Partisans and Tito formed a Communist People's Republic. The largest German minority in the former Yugoslavia is today found in Serbia, mosdtly in the northern province of Vojvodina. The numbers are very small.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Baltic pages:
[Estonia] [Latvia] [Lithuania]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing German pages:
[Return to the Main Volksdeutsche page]
[Return to the Main German regional page]
[German choirs] [German movies] [German school uniforms] [German royalty] [German youth groups]
[German sailor suits] [Lederhosen] [Ethnic] [Tights] [Long stockings]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Bibliographies] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Contributions] [FAQs] [German glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: 4:00 AM 4/30/2010
Last updated: 12:01 AM 7/23/2010