[Ger-Poland-Volhynia] Musings about population demographics in Volhynia

Richard Benert benovich at montanadsl.net
Wed May 7 11:37:52 PDT 2003


You raise a very interesting, and perplexing, question.  I have little
"experience" in these matters of demographics, but I can offer a few figures
from the few sources I have.  I only wish to preface this by saying that I
think we should be a bit dubious about all these figures, since they are
usually connected to an argument of some kind.

Let's start with the oft-repeated figure of 200,000.  I'm not sure where it
started, but I notice that Adam Giesinger, "From Catherine to Kruschchev",
after citing the 1897 Russian census figure of 171,331 Germans in Volhynia,
asserts that by 1914 that figure had reached 200,000 (p. 79).  In his
footnote on this, he merely states, "200,000 for 1914 is a reasonable
estimate."  No other basis for this is given.

Now let's look backwards a little, with the help of Dietmar Neutatz, "Die
'deutsche Frage' im Schwarzmeergebiet und in Wolhynien" (1993).  In 1890,
the Governor-General of Kiev, Podolia and Kiev, Ignatiev, in his efforts to
illustrate the grave "danger" of continued German immigration into Volhynia,
proclaimed that the number of colonists there had risen from 87,000 in 1882
to 200,924 in 1890.   By contrast, the Governor of Volhynia (General von
Wahl) reported a figure of 96,902 colonists in Volhynia  in 1887, up from
89,113 in 1883.  (von Wahl was trying to argue that the incoming Germans
were NOT a threat to the Russian state, that the rate of increase was going
down).    If von Wahl's figures are true, then it would have required a
doubling of the colonist population in only 3 years to reach the 200,000
figure of Ignatiev.  Neutatz thinks this isn't likely, but he seems to think
von Wahl's estimate is too low, and that there was truly an increase in the
rate of German immigration in the later 1880s, due to the living conditions
of Germans in Russian Poland at that time compared to those in Volhynia (he
doesn't explain this).  He seems to accept the Russian census figure of
171,331 Germans for 1897, and attributes the possible difference between
171,331 (1897) and 200,000 (1890) to the emigration that occurred during the
1890s, and to the fact that not all the 200,000 counted by Ignatiev were

Neutatz refers to an article published in Deutsche Erde, vol. IV, 1905, by
Paul Langhans, "Die Deutschen in Russland nach Gouvernements. 1897", which
must be a summary of that 1897 census for the whole of Russia by Provinces.
Finding that journal, Deutsche Erde, of course, is not easy.

So Neutatz seems to agree with figures that place the number of Germans in
Volhynia at about 89,000 in 1883 and 171,000 in 1897, but there is still
possible room for doubt about some of what went on in between.  At any rate,
Ignatiev's figure of 200,924 should probably not be taken to represent the
number of Germans (alone) in Volhynia in 1890.

Now, what about post-1900?  Here the figures can vary widely.
Governor-General Trepov came up with a figure of 127,000 Germans for his
whole region (Kiev, Podolia and Volhynia) in 1909.  (This included, for
those interested, about 121,000 who had Russian citizenship, and 118,000 who
owned their own land and 8,500 who rented)  This is found in Neutatz, p.
156.   If the German population had dropped by nearly 50,000 since 1897,
this would make the 200,000 (in 1914)figure of Giesinger rather hard to
accept.  There is no reason to suppose that Trepow was playing down the
number of Germans, because he was trying to show that the German "threat" to
the western provinces was very real.   Some kind of drop in population by
1909 is very likely, since many Germans had left Volhynia by this time,
either across the ocean or to Prussia or to the Baltic provinces.  A drop of
50,000 may seem a little  extreme.

When we come to the time of the deportation of 1915, the question of German
demographics is closely connected, it seems, to estimates about the number
of Germans deported.  All, or nearly all, were supposed to have been

On one side of the ledger, we have Friedrich Rink saying, in 1921, that
there were still 180,000 Germans in Volhynia in July, 1915, all of whom were
to be immediately deported.  (This is from Sam Sinner, "Der Genozid an
Russlanddeutschen, p. 12).  It should not be surprising to see Rink's high
estimate for 1915, since this served his purpose of underscoring the
enormity of the crime committed by the Russian government.  Sinner's own
estimate is somewhat more moderate.  He suggests that somewhere between
100,000 and 150,000 ethnic Germans were deported from Volhynia, Kiev,
Podolia and Chernigov.  This allows for quite a variety of guesses as to the
population of Volhynia alone and the exact number who may have been deported
from Volhynia.  (This is on p. 5 of "The Open Wound").  But even Sinner's
open-mindedness isn't wide enough to allow him to agree with Ingeborg
Fleischhauer, who has said that only 70,000 Germans were evacuated from
Volhynia.  (Fleischhauer is looked down upon as sort of "soft" on the
Russian government by those whose goal is to argue for "genocide".) Yet,
when you add the 10,000 from Kiev, 20,000 from Podolia, 11,500 from
Chernigov which Fleischhauer speaks of, you get 111,500, which certainly
falls into Sinner's own estimate of 100,000 to 150,000.

It is true, of course, that not all Germans in Volhynia were deported, but
certainly enough were deported to make these deportation figures (whether
high or low) pretty reflective of actual population figures.  I would hate
to have my life depend on making an air-tight case for any particular
figure, but it does seem as though the figure of 200,000 in 1914 may not be
such a "reasonable estimate" after all.

OK, Jerry, these are my "musings".  Sorry if I've droned on too long, but it
is, after all, a very complicated, and ultimately unknowable, topic.

Dick Benert

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jerry Frank" <jkfrank at shaw.ca>
To: <ger-poland-volhynia at eclipse.sggee.org>
Sent: Wednesday, May 07, 2003 9:59 AM
Subject: [Ger-Poland-Volhynia] Musings about population demographics in

> Are there any readers who have experience with historical population
> demographics / statistics?
> According to several sources (each in turn may in fact rely on one single
> original source), there were about 200,000 non-Jewish Germans living in
> Volhynia in the year 1900.  My current map represents about 1,300 Germanic
> villages in Volhynia.  That means an average of 154 Germans per
> village.  From historical maps we know that many of these villages only
> 5 or 10 homes in them so such an average population seems too high to
> me.  Certainly we may find more villages to add to the list but the
> won't be large.  Even if we find 100 more villages, the average only drops
> to 143.
> Some other things we know:
> 1.  There are about 72,000 line entries for Lutheran records covering the
> years 1835-1885.  This includes all births, deaths, and marriages.  It
> not include the minority population of German Baptists, Moravian Brethern,
> and Mennonites who would not be recorded in those records.
> 2.  Of those line entries, there are about 22,700 Lutheran births and 9000
> deaths recorded for the years 1880, 81, 82, 83 and 85.  (the 1884 book is
> missing).  If we extrapolate that up to the year 1900 at the same rate,
> population gain from 1881 to 1900 would be somewhere in the vicinity of
> 55,000 not counting the impact of any in or out migration.
> 3.  Thousands of Germans began to leave Volhynia for the Americas in about
> 1888 - most in the 1890s.  At the same time there was still some inward
> migration from East Prussia, the Baltic States, and the Lublin / Chelm
> So - is it possible to interpret this data to get us up to the claim of
> 200,000 Germans in Volhynia by 1900?  If so, how do we explain the small
> village sizes?  Were there large numbers of Germans living in the cities
> that we are not aware of - perhaps of the Catholic faith?  In almost 20
> years of research in Volhynia, I think I have encountered only one query
> about a Catholic German in Volhynia so that seems unlikely.
> Jerry Frank - Calgary, Alberta
> jkfrank at shaw.ca
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