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The German-Russian and Mennonite Immigrants

Russian Germans are descendants of Germans who colonized Russia between 1763 and 1862. The first wave of German colonization occurred when Catherine the Great, Czarina of Russia, inaugurated the policy of encouraging immigration into Russia in 1763. By 1767 more than 100 German colonies had been established along the Volga River, near Saratov, Russia. Most of the colonists came from central Germany. Within the next century the German population in the Saratov region swelled to more than 250,000.

The second wave of German colonization in Russia, initiated in 1803 by Czar Alexander I, came mainly from central Germany, although a significant number of Mennonites immigrated from the Danzig area of Prussia. These colonists settled in the Black Sea region.

The third wave of German colonization began in 1812. The primary focus of German colonists was Bessarabia, which had newly been acquired by Russia from the Ottoman Empire, but German settlement also took place in Volhynia and the Baltic provinces.

After 1870, the special privileges granted German colonists were gradually rescinded. The settlers lost the right to local self-government, German-language schools, and freedom from the military draft. In response to worsening conditions in Russia, they began immigrating to the New World.

In the United States, German Russians often chose to immigrate to Kansas, Nebraska, California, North or South Dakota, or Colorado. In Canada, they sought out the plains provinces. Some went to South America. A good number of German Russians remained in Russia, however.German Russians arrived in the Fresno area as early as 1887 from the Volga River region of the Soviet Union. Many of them found work with the railroads which were then spreading thoughout the Central California Valley.

Locally, Germans from Russia were known as the "Rooshians of West Fresno". By 1920 these settlers swelled the population to 8,000 followed by the Mennonites and the South Russia Germans. Today, an estimated 100,000 descendants are in the Fresno area.


Additional History: Fresno County Historical Information and Fresno Founding Fathers