Land of Opportunity: Catherine the Great Offered Germans Free Land in Russia

Many who emigrated from Germany for Catherine the Great’s offer then emigrated from Russia to America, their second land of opportunity.

| Good Old Days

Between the years 1763 and 1862, hundreds of Germans emigrated from Germany to German settlements in Russia, a land of opportunity, they believed. Catherine the Great of Russia was German. She knew what excellent farmers the German people were and that Russia needed to populate the southern areas of her country. She offered the Germans tax-free land and promised that their young men would not have to serve in the Russian Army. She even guaranteed that they would be able to practice their religion.

This manifesto came at a critical time for the Germans. Napoleon's Army had recently swept through, taking many men and boys with them. There had been severe crop failures for several years. Like America's early pioneers, men were looking for a better life for their families, even though it meant saying good-bye to all that was familiar and taking a long, difficult trip into the unknown.

In spite of all the promises of aid on the part of the Russian government, the initial years were fraught with great difficulties. The long trek itself, under the prevailing conditions, made inhuman demands upon the first immigrants. Some of them had to travel more than 2,000 miles. At the time of settlement there was a woeful lack of dwellings, farming equipment and draught animals. It took time to get used to the climate and to the new, totally different farming methods in the vast, treeless Steppes.

Joining these brave pilgrims at this dramatic time in history were some of my early ancestors. They settled in the Black Sea area near Odessa, Russia.

Before Grandma Eva Marguerite Hirning and Grandpa Adam Grenz married, each had lost their mates through death. Grandma's first husband died when their third baby was 3 months old.

By the time they made their decision to come to "the Land of Opportunity," they had her three children, his two children, and their first little girl, 2-year-old Elizabeth.

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