The story of the Volga Germans as a distinct ethnic group began in the mid-1760s when Western Europeans were actively recruited to become colonists in Russia. The goal of Catherine the Great's government was to entice skilled farmers and craftsmen to settle on their eastern frontier along the lower Volga River. Approximately 30,000 people would take advantage of her offer.
This website provides more information about where these people originated in Europe and why they migrated to Russia. After over 100 years in Russia, some would decide to move again, this time to America.
After settling in the Midwest briefly, many were lured by promising stories about the Pacific Northwest. A small number chose to make Portland, Oregon their new home. A close-knit community was established by early pioneers from 1881-1892. This community would experience considerable growth in the subsequent decades as emigration from Russia continued until World War I and the Russian Revolution closed the door.
The impacts of two world wars, the subsequent Cold War, changing demographics, government policy decisions, and assimilation would ultimately dissolve this enclave, leaving few recognizable reminders.
Although most Portlanders know little about this ethnic group, the Volga Germans have become a successful and integral part of the community.
Last updated October 21, 2023