German Balts

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Stained glass window of the German Balts in the Lüneburg Brömsehaus

The German-Balts (or German Balts , even Balts or Baltic German ) had one in the area of present-day Estonia and Latvia -based German-speaking minority , which from the late 12th century large as immigrant upper class influence on religion, culture and language of the Latvians and Estonians had. In addition, the German-Baltic nobility played an important role in the history of Russia . Numerous Russian ministers, politicians, generals and admirals came from its ranks . The German-speaking university in Dorpat had a firm place in German cultural life, especially in the 19th century.

The Baltic Germans made up the nobility and the majority of the bourgeoisie and, until well into the 19th century, the majority of the city dwellers in the Russian Baltic Sea Governments of Estonia , Livonia and Courland . Although the states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are now counted as part of the Baltic States , the German minority in Lithuania (Lithuanian Germans) did not belong to the Baltic Germans. Both minorities ended their existence in the first year of World War II as a result of the Hitler-Stalin Pact , which added the Baltic States to the Soviet sphere of influence, by moving to Germany. Today there are very few German speakers in the Baltic countries.


Until the end of the 18th century, the Germans living in Courland and Zemgallia , in Livonia and in the Estonian governorate felt themselves connected as Kurlanders, Livonians and Estonians, i.e. above all to the “ landscape ” in which they lived. Only after the Duchy of Courland and Zemgale fell to the Russian Empire in 1795 and Courlanders , Livonians and Estonians now all lived in the same state did they gradually develop an awareness of togetherness. When the educated bourgeoisie emerged as a political force alongside the nobility and city officials in the mid-19th century, the term Baltic came up. This was also used in Russia and Germany, mostly without including the non-German-speaking population such as Estonians , Livs and Latvians . The more precise expression Baltic Germans prevailed before the First World War . German-Russians were spoken in official German at that time .

The term Baltic Germans , which was previously documented but rarely used, was in official use at the time of National Socialism in analogy to ethnic Germans , Sudeten Germans, etc. and was first used in Latvia by the so-called " movement " Erhard Kroeger . Nevertheless, "Baltic Germans" continued to be used.

Although it was recommended by linguists not to use it any more in the early 1970s at the latest, “Baltic Germans” was and is still used in German-language media.


middle Ages

The Baltic States in 1260

The first Germans came to the country from the end of the 12th century as part of the German settlement in the east and the conquest of the then pagan Baltic region by the Order of the Brothers of the Swords. The Order of the Brothers of the Sword was able to bring the entire area of ​​present-day Estonia and Latvia (the later historical areas of Courland , Livonia and Estonia ) under its rule. Most of the German settlers came from the areas of today's Lower Saxony , Schleswig-Holstein and Westphalia . In contrast to Prussia to the south (later East Prussia ), which was conquered by the Teutonic Order , there was no area-wide settlement of German farmers in the Baltic States. The German population element remained largely limited to the bourgeoisie in the cities, the large landowners and the aristocratic and ecclesiastical upper class of the country. The German speakers never made up more than 10% of the population; however, they formed the largest population group in almost all cities.

In the large cities founded mostly by Germans, which often joined the Hanseatic League (e.g. Riga , Reval / Tallinn , Dorpat / Tartu , Libau / Liepāja , Mitau / Jelgava , Dünaburg / Daugavpils ), the German bourgeoisie remained politically and culturally Setting the tone well into the 19th century, both under Swedish and Russian rule. In the Middle Ages, the knighthood of German descent put the upper class against the indigenous peasantry, who had long been serf .

The history of the Germans in Lithuania was different, which is why they are not counted among the Baltic Germans . The first German settlement in Lithuania did not come about as a result of a conquest by a religious knightly order , but on the initiative of the Lithuanian princes Mindaugas and Gediminas . It was limited to the cities of Vilnius , Trakai and Kaunas . The Gothic townscape of medieval Kaunas, where the Hanseatic League opened an office in 1440, can be traced back to them. In the 16th century, invited Lithuanian magnate , which the Reformation in Poland-Lithuania had joined Protestant German to settle in their possession a. The third and largest wave of immigration occurred in the 19th century through the immigration of poor farmers from East Prussia , who founded new communities near the border, and the influx of job seekers from the rest of Germany into the larger cities of Lithuania.

Early modern age

Map of the Russian Baltic provinces at the end of the 19th century

In the course of the Reformation , the Baltic Germans as well as the Estonian and Latvian populations overwhelmingly adopted the Lutheran faith . After the ruins of the Teutonic Order state collapsed in the 16th century, the Baltic States initially came under the rule of neighboring states (Poland-Lithuania, Sweden , Denmark ). The German-Baltic nobility, however, was able to largely retain its privileges under the various rulers. After the Great Northern War in 1721, Estonia and most of Livonia ( Polish Livonia remained with Poland) came under Russian rule. In the course of the Polish partitions from 1772–95, Polish Livonia also came to Russia, as did the Duchy of Courland and Zemgale.

Overall, the Baltic Germans were able to come to terms with Russian rule and the Baltic German knighthoods asserted a large part of their traditional rights. The German-Baltic nobility gained great weight in Russian politics and the military. Numerous generals, admirals and high political officials in the Tsarist Empire were of German-Baltic descent.

19th and early 20th centuries

Towards the end of the 19th century, however, there was increasing Russification in the Tsarist Empire ( Russian as the official language in the Baltic States and also at the previously German-speaking University of Dorpat ), and there was an awakening of the Estonian and Latvian national feeling, which also strongly opposed the dominant one German-Baltic upper class was directed. The Baltic Germans first emigrated to Germany, and from the end of the 19th century they were increasingly pushed into a minority position. In most of the larger cities, such as Riga, Dorpat or Reval, the Baltic Germans lost the majority of the population that had existed since the Middle Ages. In Riga, for example, due to the constant influx of the Latvian rural population and the increasing settlement of Russians, the proportion of the German-speaking population fell from around 43% in 1867 to just under 17% in 1913, while the proportion of Latvian-speaking residents of around 23% rose to almost 40% and the proportion of Russians remained more or less stable.

During the time of the German occupation of the Baltic States in World War I from 1915 to 1918, plans arose to establish a German-Baltic dominated state ( United Baltic Duchy ) under the protection of the German Reich . A large number of German settlers were to be settled on formerly German property, which the German-Baltic nobility was willing to cede. After the defeat of the German Reich, numerous Lutheran clergy and other Baltic Germans fell victim to the first Latvian Soviet Republic in December 1918 and in the first few months of 1919 . After they had achieved their independence and defended them in hard battles against the Bolsheviks on the one hand and the Baltic State Armed Forces and German Freikorps on the other, the new nation -states expropriated the Baltic-German landowners in Estonia and Latvia in favor of the previously landless Estonian and Latvian peasant class through land reform laws. Nonetheless, the two Baltic states granted their national minorities extensive cultural autonomy.

Resettlement and World War II

Nazi propaganda card for the resettlement of the Baltic Germans in 1939
So-called "Baltic camp" for resettlers in Posen (1940)

The line under the more than 700 years of German-Baltic culture was set by an additional protocol to the German-Soviet border and friendship treaty of 1939, which resulted in the resettlement of the Baltic Germans, who were considered "racially valuable" by the ideologues of National Socialism, to Germany or, above all, to foreseen the newly conquered Polish territories . In the "Agreement on the Resettlement of Latvian Citizens of German Belonging to the German Reich of October 30, 1939" between the Reich Government and the Latvian Government, the latter undertook to release those Baltic Germans from Latvian citizenship who leave their permanent residence in Latvia wanted to. A similar protocol had already been signed on October 15, 1939 by the Estonian Free State and the Imperial Government. Most of them submitted to these measures without resistance, gave up their Latvian or Estonian citizenship and followed Hitler's call , since the Nazi propagandists threatened to lose their German nationality if they stayed. In addition, life in the circle of power of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin did not seem attractive. The resettlement of the Baltic Germans went hand in hand with the expulsion of the Poles from their property in order to make room for the newcomers in the newly annexed districts of Wartheland and Danzig-West Prussia . Towards the end of the war , the Baltic Germans, mostly settled in the so-called Warthegau around Posen , had to leave their new homes again and flee to the west.

After 1945

In Estonia there are still numerous, partly dilapidated mansions of the German-Baltic nobility, e.g. B. Aruküla (Koeru) .

Today there are still smaller minorities of German speakers in the Baltic countries. According to the last census (2000), there are still 1870 German speakers in Estonia. In Latvia there are 3,311 (2004 census), and in Lithuania there are also a few thousand native speakers. These German speakers are often not Baltic Germans, but immigrant Russian Germans from Siberia and Kazakhstan or Germans who live in the Baltic States for professional or other reasons and have only recently settled there. In Estonia and also in the other Baltic states, a new generation of Baltic Germans is emerging, who settled there after independence in 1991 from Germany and are mostly very well integrated.

Today, traditional German-Baltic associations try to maintain or revive the memory of ancient history. There is also lively interest from the Estonian and Latvian sides in reviving memories and historical connections that were suppressed for ideological reasons during the times of Soviet rule. An expression of this was, for example, the rebuilding of the House of the Blackheads in Riga.


Cenotaph for the Baltic Germans who died on Langeoog in 1945–1978
  • 12th century: first Low German trade and mission stations on the Daugava
  • 1201: Establishment of Riga by the Bremen canon Albert von Buxhoeveden , Bishop of Livonia, and beginning of the subjugation of the Baltic pagans by the Order of the Brothers of the Sword (later the Order of the German )
  • 1242: Heavy Tritter be by the Russians in the Battle on the Ice beaten
  • 1346 to 1561: Livonia (today's Estonia and Latvia ) is part of the Teutonic Order
  • 1558 to 1583: Livonian War : The order's territory falls apart
  • 1561: Privilegium Sigismundi Augusti : The municipal estates receive the right to use the German language, German jurisdiction and freedom of religion even under Polish-Lithuanian sovereignty
  • End of the 18th century: influx of German academics (including Johann Gottfried von Herder ), craftsmen and theologians
  • 1919: Fighting of the German Freikorps , the Baltic State Armed Forces and the Baltic Regiment, initially against Bolsheviks , then also against the young Baltic states.
  • 1919/1920: Land reform: expropriations and subsequent emigration of many Baltic Germans.
  • Before the Second World War : Germans make up 1.6 percent of the population in Estonia and Lithuania, and 3.3 percent in Latvia.
  • 1939: End of the history of the Germans in the Baltic States with the German-Soviet border and friendship treaty : In October, resettlement agreements were concluded with Estonia and Latvia. At the end of the year, more than 50,000 Germans from Latvia and 14,000 from Estonia had already been resettled, the majority of them to the newly annexed Polish areas, the new districts of Wartheland and Danzig-West Prussia . The subsequent resettlers, a few thousand in 1940, a further 7,000 from Estonia and 10,000 from Latvia in 1941, were resettled in the " Old Reich ".
  • 1944/45: Flight and expulsion of the remaining Baltic Germans to the west
  • 1945: Deportation of the Baltic Germans who remained in Estonia (342 people)
  • 1950: Reorganization of the exiled Baltic Germans into compatriots and knights




Baltic Germans speak standard German (with a Baltic accent), and in earlier times also Low German .

The historical idiom of the German minority in the Baltic States is called Baltic German . It is not only characterized by a particularly colored pronunciation, but also by a large number of loan words from neighboring languages.



Various organizations support cross-border relations with the Baltic states, others promote scientific research:


  • Georg-Dehio-Gesellschaft eV (1976-2005) - dedicated to the collection, care, promotion and preservation of German-Baltic culture and science. On behalf of the German-Baltic Landsmannschaft she also acquired art objects at auctions or from private collections.

Well-known Baltic Germans


Biographies and Biographical Reference Works


  • German-Baltic Yearbook. Yearbook of the Baltic Germanness. New episode. Volume 61 ff., 2013 ff., ISBN 978-3-923149-71-1 , and others (up to 2012: Yearbook of the Baltic Germans. ISSN  0075-2436 ). (Ongoing annual volumes), published by the Carl-Schirren-Gesellschaft e. V. on behalf of the German-Baltic Society e. V., Lüneburg.
  • Hartmut Boockmann (ed.): German history in Eastern Europe. 10 volumes. Siedler, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-88680-771-1 .
  • Yorck Deutschler: The Baltic Germans versus the Baltic Germans. In: The Singing Revolution. Chronicle of the Estonian Freedom Movement (1987–1991). Part 1: Chronicle and Appendix. Schwarz-Weiß-Druck, Ingelheim 2000, ISBN 3-88758-075-3 (including Annex III: A fragmentary essay on the meaning of the word "Baltic". Annex II: German-Baltic versus Baltic Germans ).
  • Wolf-Harro Fabricius: Situation and development of the German minority in the Baltic states compared to Transylvania. Diss., University of Graz, 2011, OCLC 815603624 .
  • John Hiden , Martyn Housden : Neighbors or enemies? : Germans, the Baltic and beyond . Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008 ISBN 978-90-420-2349-9
  • Boris Meissner , Dietrich André Loeber , Detlef Henning (eds.): The German ethnic group in Latvia during the interwar period and current issues of German-Latvian relations . Bibliotheca Baltica, Tallinn 2000, ISBN 9985-800-21-4 .
  • Eckhart Neander, Andrzej Sakson (ed.): Resettled - Displaced. Baltic Germans and Poland 1939–1945 in the Warthegau . Herder Institute, Marburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-87969-367-2 .
  • Wilfried Schlau (Hrsg.): The German Balts (= displacement areas and expelled Germans. Vol. 6). Langen-Müller, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-7844-2524-0 .
  • Wilfried Schlau (Hrsg.): Social history of the Baltic Germans (= library science and politics. Vol. 61). 2., verb. Edition Science and Politics, Cologne 2000, ISBN 3-8046-8876-4 .
  • Matthias Schröder: Baltic German SS leaders and Andrej Vlasov 1942–1945. "Russia can only be defeated by Russians". Erhard Kroeger , Friedrich Buchardt and the Russian Liberation Army . Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 2001, ISBN 3-506-77520-0 .
  • Robert Schweitzer, Waltraud Bastman-Bühner (ed.): The Gulf of Finland as a focal point. Wandering and working German-speaking people in the European northeast. Contributions to the "I. International Symposium on German Culture in the European Northeast ”of the Foundation for the Promotion of German Culture (Aue Foundation) Helsinki and the Baltic Sea Academy Lübeck-Travemünde from September 6th to 10th 1995 in Tallinn / Estonia (= publications of the Foundation for the Promotion of German Culture . Saksalaisen Kulttuurin Edistämissäätiön julkaisuja. No. 9). Foundation for the Promotion of German Culture, Helsinki; Baltic Sea Academy, Lübeck-Travemünde 1998, DNB 956260209 .
  • Andrzej Topij: The Role of the Baltic Germans in the Cultural and Economic Development of Russia's Baltic Provinces in the 19th Century. In: Zapiski Historyczne. Poświęcone historii Pomorza i krajów bałtyckich. Vol. 74 (2011), No. 4, ISSN  0044-1791 , pp. 573-604.
  • Anja Wilhelmi: Worlds of Life for Women of the German Upper Class in the Baltic States (1800–1939). An investigation based on autobiographies (= publications of the Nordost-Institut. Vol. 10). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 978-3-447-05830-8 .
  • Konstatin von Freytag-Loringhoven: Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930) and Wilhelm Ostwald (1853–1932). Living and learning in Dorpat as a lifelong reference for two Baltic German scientists . Once and Now, Yearbook of the Society for Corps Student History Research, Vol. 59 (2014), pp. 41–90.

Literature - Music - Fine Arts

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Mara Grudule: Vācbaltieši Latvijas un latviešu kultūras vesture . In: Jānis Stradiņš (ed.): Latvieši un Latvija. Akademiski raksti , Vol. 4: Viktors Hausmanis, Maija Kūle (Red.) Latvijas kultūra, izglītiba, zinātne . Latvian Academy of Sciences, Riga 2013, ISBN 978-9934-8373-5-7 , pp. 207–230; German translation: The Baltic Germans in the cultural history of Latvia and the Latvians . In: Translated History , Nordost-Institut, Lüneburg 2017.
  2. ^ Gert von Pistohlkors: Baltic countries (= German history in Eastern Europe ). Through and updated edition. Siedler, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-88680-774-6 , p. 365.
  3. ^ Gert von Pistohlkors: Baltic countries. 2002, p. 29.
  4. ^ Matthias Schröder: German Baltic officers in the Second World War and their political initiatives for General Vlasov. In: Michael Garleff (Ed.): Baltic Germans, Weimar Republic and Third Reich. Vol. 2nd ed. On behalf of the Karl Ernst von Baer Foundation in conjunction with the Baltic Historical Commission . Böhlau, Cologne 2008, ISBN 978-3-412-12299-7 , pp. 335–351, here p. 348, footnote 12.
  5. ^ Bernhard Böttcher: Favors for people and home. War memorials of German minorities in East Central Europe during the interwar period (= Studia Transylvanica. Vol. 39). Böhlau, Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 2009, ISBN 978-3-412-20313-9 , p. 44 (also: Diss., Univ. Jena, 2007).
  6. Google Ngram Viewer : "deutschbalten, baltendeutsche, baltendeutscher, baltendeutschen" 1880–1945 (There was only one result for other spelling variants; they were therefore excluded from the search.)
  7. According to Wolfgang Laur ( Baltisch und Balten. In: Contributions to Name Research. N. F. 7 (1972), pp. 45-72), the expression Baltendeutsche does not correspond to the German language conventions, and he recommends not using the word despite its widespread use.
  8. Google Ngram Viewer : "deutschbalten, baltendeutsche, baltendeutscher, baltendeutschen" 1945–2000 (There was only one result for other spelling variants; they were therefore excluded from the search.)
  9. Examples:
  10. Georg von Rauch : History of the Baltic States. 2nd, revised edition. Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 1977, ISBN 3-423-04297-4 , pp. 22-24.
  11. Harry Stossun: Germans from Lithuania . In: Detlef Brandes (Hrsg.): Lexicon of expulsions. Deportation, Forced Relocation, and Ethnic Cleansing in 20th Century Europe . Böhlau, Vienna, Cologne, Weimar 2010, ISBN 978-3-205-78407-4 , pp. 158-160.
  12. Jānis Krastin̦š: Rīga 1860-1917. Edited by Latvijas PSR Zinātn̦u akadēmija. Vēstures institūts. Zinātne, Rīga 1978, OCLC 5680952 (Latvian).
  13. ^ Results of the census carried out on March 3, 1867 in the cities of Livonia. Tab. 4. Summarized breakdown of the urban population in Livonia according to their nationality for civil and military. (Google Books).
  14. Tallinn, Riigi Statistika Keskbüroo: 1922 a. üldrahvalugemise andmed. Vihk 1. Rahva demograafiline koosseis ja korteriolud Eestis. 3 Vols. Tallinn 1924-25, OCLC 173274744 , lk. 33 (= Résultats du recensement de 1922 pour toute la république / Results of the 1922 republic-wide census; National government publication).
  15. ^ Siegfried Hermle: Evangelical Martyrs in the Baltic States (1905–1920) . In: Harald Schultze , Andreas Kurschat (ed.): "Your end looks at ..." Protestant martyrs of the 20th century. 2., ext. and verb. Edition. Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig 2008, ISBN 978-3-374-02370-7 , pp. 129–146.
  16. ^ Gustav von Stryk: The expropriation of goods in Estonia 1919. A memorandum on the importance of property from 1922. Ed. By Hubertus Neuschäffer. Neuschäffer, Plön 1993, ISBN 3-8042-0635-2 .
  17. Treaty on the resettlement of Latvian citizens of German ethnicity in the German Reich of October 30, 1939. In: Rigasche Rundschau. No. 248 of October 30, 1939, p. 1 (f.) (Facsimile. In:, accessed on June 30, 2016).
  18. Protocol on the resettlement of the German ethnic group of Estonia in the German Reich of October 15, 1939 (PDF; 22 kB) (quoted in the monthly bulletins for foreign policy. Vol. 7, 1940, issue 1, pp. 24-27).
  19. ^ Alfred Intelmann, Erhard Kroeger: Call for "German Volksgenossen!" In: Rigasche Rundschau. No. 248 of October 30, 1939, p. 1 (facsimile. In:, accessed on June 30, 2016).
  20. Jacek Kubiak, Klaus Salge / rbb, ARTE: A blonde province - Poland and the German racial madness. Retrieved April 6, 2016 (description).
  21. Bernhard Chiari et al. a .: The German war society 1939 to 1945. Second half volume: Exploitation, interpretations, exclusion. On behalf of the MGFA. Edited by Jörg Echternkamp . Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 978-3-421-06528-5 , p. 908.
  22. Bernhard Chiari et al. a .: The German war society 1939 to 1945. Second half volume: Exploitation, interpretations, exclusion. 2005, p. 918.