During the rule of Vasili III in the 16th century, a few German and Dutch craftsmen and traders were allowed to settle in Moscow’s German Quarter. The aim was the transference of know-how to the Russians from these skilled craftsmen. Finding it useful, Russia extended the policy and allowed limited settlements of Germans in other cities too. The number of Germans in Russia increased successively from 200,000 in 1682 to 597,212 in 2002. Germans, or ‘the Russian citizens of other origins’ were termed ‘nemtsey.’ The German Russians occupied influential positions in the uppermost strata of Russian society including the royalty, aristocracy, military, technocrats, and many other walks of life. A main population center of the Germans in Russia is Novosibirsk which is the third largest city of Russia after Moscow and Saint Petersburg. About 300,000 Germans live in Novosibirsk. Not only that, with the passage of time, the Germans in Russia adopted the Russian language and culture, but also a few became famous as a result of their deeds.
1. Catherine the Great
Baptized as Sophia Augusta Frederica, Catherine the Great was born to the prince of Anhalt-Zerbst Christian Augustus and Johana Elisabeth in Settin, Pomerania, Kingdom of Prussia and Holy Roman Empire on May 2, 1729. She died in Saint Petersburg, Russia on November 17, 1796 at the age of 67. Catherine was the most famous, industrious, powerful, and longest-ruling Russian Empress of German descent. Her father, Christian Augustus, was a minor princeling of Anhalt-Zerbst; a principality in Germany. Catherine the Great ruled over Russia from June 28, 1762 till her death on November 6, 1796. The Catherinian Era is known as the Golden Age of the Russian Empire. She confirmed the Manifesto Freedom of Nobility exempting the nobility from compulsory military or state service. She added about 200,000 square miles (520,000 square kilometers to the Russian territory during her reign) mostly at the expense of the Ottoman Empire and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
2. Tzar Paul I
Paul Petrovitch Romanov was born to Peter III and Catherine II in the Palace of Empress Elisabeth in Saint Petersburg, Russia on October 1, 1754 and died on March 23, 1801 at the age of 46 in Saint Michael’s Castle. Catherine died of a stroke in 1796 leaving the throne to the next male heir according to the Pauline Laws devised by him to ensure his accession to the throne. He ruled over Russia from 1796 to 1801. He was also the 71st Grand Master of the Order of Malta. Catherine the Great and her heir son Paul did not have a cordial relationship, and during his infancy he was taken care of by an aunt of Catherine’s husband. Empress Elisabeth, who was quite possessive of the child, but was not competent enough to take care of the child properly because she had no experience in raising her own children. Paul was generous but mercurial, and in the very first year of his reign he changed many of his mother’s policies.
3. Viktor Kress
Viktor Melkiorovich Kress was born in Kostroma Oblast, Russia, in 1948. Both his parents were ethnic Germans. He was governor of Tomsk Oblast, Russia. He was born in a peasant family, and during his education worked in the farmland. He graduated as an agricultural economist from Novosibirsk Agricultural Institute in 1971. President Boris Yeltsin appointed him as governor after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He is the author of five books. He holds many honors, a few of them being; Order of Merit for the Fatherland, Order of the Badge of Honor, Order of Holy Prince Daniel of Moscow, and Order of St. Sergius.
4. German Gref
German Oskarovich Gref was born to German deportee parents in Panfilovo, Pavlodar Oblast Kazakh SSR, Soviet Union on February 8, 1964. He is a Russian economist of German ethnicity. He founded the Center of Strategic Development. He had been the Minister of Economics and Trade of Russia from May, 2000 to September, 2007. He graduated from Omsk State University in Law and earned his post-graduate degree from Leningrad University where he taught law. President Vladimir Putin appointed him as Minister of Economic Development Trade. He worked in this position from 2000 to March, 2004 when Putin sacked Mikhail Kasyanov’s cabinet. He was reappointed in the next cabinet.
5. Eduard Toll
Eduard Toll, also known as Eduard Vasikiyevich Toll, was born to a noble family of Baltic German origins on March 14, 1858 in Reval, Estonia in March and died at an unidentified spot in the Arctic Ocean. He graduated as a zoologist from the University of Dorpat, Tartu in 1882. As a student he researched on animals and plants of Algeria and the Balearic Islands. Toll led an expedition of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1893 and explored the land between the Anabar and Popigay Rivers. The expedition continued for one year and two days. He covered 25,000 kilometers including 4,200 kilometers upriver during the expedition. He was awarded the silver medal of N.M. Przhevaslsky by the Russian Academy of Sciences in appreciation for the expedition. From 1900-1902, Eduard Toll led the Russian Polar Expedition, but the expedition was constrained in the last two winters. Eduard Toll along with three members traveled to Bennett Island by sledge but was lost somewhere and could not be traced by the search parties sent after him.
6. Olga Knipper-Chekhova
Olga Leonardovna Knipper was born to Leonard and Anna Knipper of German origin in Glazov, Russian Empire on September 21, 1868 and died in Moscow, Soviet Union on March 22, 1959 at the age of 90. She was educated at a private school and was fluent in French, German, and English. She also learned at the Maly Theatre’s Drama School and Philharmonic School. Olga Knipper-Chekhova pursued a very successful career at the Moscow Art Theatre for most of her lifetime.
7. Lenin Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov
Lenin was born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov to Maria Alexandrovna Ulyanova and Ilya Nikolayevich Ulyanov in the Simbirsk town of the Russian Empire on April 22, 1870. Lenin died near Moscow, Russia on January 21, 1924 and Time magazine named him ‘1 of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century and 1 of the Top 25 Political Icons of All Time.’ He was a Russian Marxist revolutionary who led the 1917 Revolution and worked to develop a socialist economic system
8. Alfred Ernest Rosenberg
Alfred Ernest Rosenberg was born to Waldemar Wilhelm Rosenberg and Elfriede Rosenberg in Tallinn, Governorate of Estonia, Russian Empire on January 12, 1893 and was executed by hanging in Nuremberg, Germany on January 12, 1893. He was an important member of the Nazi Party and was introduced to Adolph Hitler by Dietrich Eckart. He held several important positions in the Nazi Government. He is considered to be the author of many books including subjects about racial theory and persecution of the Jews. He was tried at Nuremberg and hanged as a war criminal.
9. Svyatoslav Richter
Svyatoslav Richter was born to Trefoil Danilovich Richter and Anna Pavlovna in Zhitomir, Russia on March 20, 1915 and died in Moscow, Russia on August 1, 1997. His father was a German expatriate pianist, and his mother belonged to a Russian landowning family. He was a Russian pianist and was one of the most famous pianists of the 20th century. Richter gave his first recital at the Engineer’s Club, Odessa even before starting his formal education. Later on he learned from the famous pianist and teacher of his time Heinrich Neuhaus who commented about Svyatoslav Richter that he was ‘the genius pupil, for whom he had been waiting all his life.’ He won numerous awards and a few of them are: Stalin Prize, Grammy Award, Lenin Prize, Honorary Doctorate from the University of Strasbourg, Three Orders of Lenin, Order of October Revolution, and Order of Merit for the Fatherland.
10. Maria Alexandrovana Ulyanova
Maria Alexandrovana Blank was born to Alexandr Blank and Anna Ivonovna Groschopf on March 8, 1835 and died on July 25, 1916. After the death of her mother she was raised by her mother’s sister. She studied at home and learned German, French, English, and Russian. After getting an external degree she became a teacher. She faced many tragedies during her life. She had met Lenin twice, for the first time in France in the summer of 1902, and the second time in Stockholm in the fall of 1910.
The earliest German settlers in Russia acclimatized themselves with the local language and culture, and after these adaptations their numbers started to rise steadily and then at a faster rate. This growth phase was then followed by the decline phase mainly because of the inter-Russian/German marriages, and the offspring were called Russians losing the German identity with the consequent decrease in the Russian Germans.