Reasons for the emigration from southern Germany to the Russian Empire in the 19th century

Essay, 2020

11 Pages, Grade: 1,0


List of contents

1. Introduction

2. Reasons for the emigration of southern Germany to the Russian Empire in 19th Century
2.1 Religious reasons for the emigration from southern Germany to the Russian Empire in 19th century
2.2 Economic and political reasons for the emigration from southern Germany to the Russian Empire in 19th century

3. Testimonies and literary sources of immigrants in the Russian Empire in 19th century

4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

Migration processes have shaped the European history since the beginning of the humankind. Indeed, the conditions, motives and consequences of migration have evolved and adapted to the economic, political and social circumstances, nevertheless the willingness of acquiring better life conditions has never been fully attenuated. Perhaps migration and specifically the reasons behind it seem to be more present than ever. The topic of research of the following text focuses on the first decades of the 19th century and thematizes the reasons for the emigration from southern Germany, more specifically from Württemberg to the Russian Empire at the time.

The text attempts to explore the reasons of this emigration wave, taking into account some testimonies and narratives of emigrants that firmly decided to move towards a better life in unknown lands. The predominant debate concerning the reasons for emigrating focuses on whether the main motives for emigration were religious, political or economic. On one side, the pietist historiography and the testimonies of emigrants suggest that the massive migration movements in the first decades of the 19th century were mainly religious motivated. On the other hand, a contrary thesis introduced by the contemporary socio-historical migration studies assumes that economic and political factors

-resulting from the crisis period at the beginning of the 19th - were the main reasons for leaving the region.

The secondary literature about the emigration from Württemberg does not thematize merely the emigration to the Russian Empire, but has a major focus on other regions, such as the United States of America and rather provides a historical account about several emigration movements throughout history. Even though the state of research denotes religious, as well as political and economic factors, some authors suggest that the emigration in 1817 was mainly religious motivated and others rather draw more attention to the political and economic circumstances at the time. Thomas Frank discusses the ecological, political and economic conditions of the 19th century in further detail and does not designate religion as main reason for emigrating. On the contrary, Heinz-Dietrich Löwe has a major focus on the religious aspect and suggests that the search of religious freedom was indeed the reason above all. Andreas Gestrich rather focuses on the still existing debate on the reasons and stresses the difficulty of stating either religious or political-economic reasons as the irrefutable cause of emigration at the time.

In this sense, the texts bears on three theses and attempts to find arguments in favor or against them. Firstly, the Russian Empire offered important benefits for immigrants, specially the freedom of religion attracted several German pietists that aimed to escape from the religious intolerance at the time. Secondly, the bad harvest and the extreme weather conditions of the early 19th century accentuated the economic hardship and impoverishment of several families, contributing to the massive emigration of 1817. Lastly, economic and political, as well as religious factors stay in close correlation with another, leading to the perfect scenario for emigrating to Russian Empire in this context.

2. Reasons for the emigration of southern Germany to the Russian Empire in 19th Century

2.1 Religious reasons for the emigration from southern Germany to the Russian Empire in 19th century

Coming to the religious aspect, it is important to define a vital concept. Pietism can be understood as a - to some extent - protest movement within Protestant Christianity, whose interest was focused upon deepening and strengthening the devotional life of the parishioners. Pietism can be also brought in connection with the aim of having an authentic and vitally significant experience of God, bearing in mind that a God’ revelation through Christ would be accomplished as a result of an immense devotion and commitment to religion. Being moral renewal and the achievement of a genuine holiness the vital objective, the Bible serves a sort of guide of living, according to Jesus Christ’s model.1

Diverse arguments may sustain the thesis that religious motives were indeed the main reasons for this emigration. Güll for instance affirms that the main reason of emigrating around 1800 was indeed the search for freedom of religion.2 According to pietist historiography and the testimonies of emigrants, religious reasons constituted the basis of the massive emigratory wave in 1817 to the Russian Empire, in which more than ten thousand people headed to the East. Moreover, the founding of diverse religious colonies in the Russian Empire, as well as the vast amount of

registered religious separatists among the emigrants serve as additional arguments for supporting this theory.3

Löwe stresses additionally that not only the expectation of welcoming Jesus Christ, but also the discontent of the separatists towards the absolutist regime of Friedrich I, were significant reasons for emigrating massively in 1817 from Württemberg to the Russian Empire. Regarding the religious motivated massive emigration movements, he also points out that the massive character of the emigration process is attributable to the emigration of entire towns. Waldorf (Württemberg) serves as an example of this development. A faithful pietist community was established in the german town between 1815 and 1820, leading to the emigration of approximately 10% of the total population to the Russian Empire (around 114 people).4 Gestrich also points out that members of both lower and higher social class were part of the emigrants. This would mean that, in some cases, economic circumstances did not play the ultimate role in the decision, but rather religious motives did.5

Another important factor that contributed to emigration can be traced back to the 18th century. The Russian settlement policy that began under the ruling time of Catherine II pretended to make european immigration more attractive. In this sense, western Know-how would be imported in the Empire and the acquired territories within the Russian expansion towards the southeast would be inhabited. Frank attributes the high attractiveness of the Russian Empire to other advantages, such as the owning of the land, free healthcare and tax exemption, etc. Among the advantages of immigrating to this region, the freedom of religion and the autonomy of newly formed communities can be considered as the most important benefits of immigrating here.6

The beginning of the 19th century was heavily marked by disputes within the church which led to the constitution of a popular pietism that managed to spread the faith in Jesus Christ and the Bible among the lower social classes. This form of pietism evidenced a marked chiliastic character, meaning that it was founded in the belief in the return of Christus and the establishment of a thousand year- God’s kingdom. Nevertheless, not every pietist considered emigration in the Russian Empire the vital step for preparing oneself for the long-awaited occurrence.7

The biblical interpretation of the extreme weather conditions that shaped the beginning of the 19th century may also give a sort of explanation for the significant emigration in 1817. According to Gestrich a connection between the bad harvest and a God’s signal is to be found in the writings of theological laymen of the pietist movement. As one of the most influential pietist leaders Johann Albrecht Bengel had professed, the world had to be prepared for welcoming Jesus Christ, even though that would mean the actual end of human life. In this sense, the existing weather conditions, which to some extent posed a threat for many faithful pietists, were interpreted in line with Albrecht’s interpretation. Thus, pietists that dreamed of the sanctification of their lives had to separate from the sins and all sort of sinful manifestations and often emigrated to the Russian Empire to accomplish this God’s commandment, since the arrival of Jesus Christ was expected to take place in the east. Not every pietist had such an enthusiastic intention, but joined the movement due to different reasons.8

2.2 Economic and political reasons for the emigration from southern Germany to the Russian Empire in 19th century

Shippan points out the diverse economic and social backgrounds of the emigrants, stressing that in the massive emigration of 1803, mostly peasants and members of manual professions emigrated to the Russian Empire. The following years, specifically the period from 1809 to 1815 were massively shaped by bad harvest. This was even aggravated in 1816 due to extreme weather conditions of coldness, which mainly affected the cultivation of grains, fruits and wine.9 Frank emphasizes on the strong correlation between eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia in 1815 and the deterioration of the weather conditions in the European continent. Resulting from this, the year 1816 “the year without summer” was shaped by extraordinary cold snaps and rainstorms. Both bad harvest and floods marked the following months and led one year afterwards to the “year of the hunger”.10

Apart from this, the author also points out that between 1652 and 1802 Württemberg experienced a significant demographic growth of approximately 500.000 people. As a consequence of this development, the agricultural area did not suffice for the self-supply of several peasant families. An average family spent in the beginning of the 19th century around 70% of its income in food. Particularly peasants, craftsmen and day laborers suffered the consequences of price increases, since the demand for goods and services that were not completely necessary for the food production decreased dramatically. Emigration may have been - for multiple families- a way of escaping from the latent threat of hunger and unemployment.11


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Reasons for the emigration from southern Germany to the Russian Empire in the 19th century
University of Regensburg  (Institut für Südost/Osteuropäische Geschichte)
Übung: Auswanderung in das Russische Reich. Eine Einführung in die Migrationsforschung
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ISBN (eBook)
Emigration, Russian Empire, Germany, 19th century
Quote paper
Daniela Forero Nuñez (Author), 2020, Reasons for the emigration from southern Germany to the Russian Empire in the 19th century, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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