Argentina German Heritage

Exploring German Heritage in Argentina

The Germans from the Volga have lived in Argentina for 143 years: The first arrived in 1878 and the last related contingent dates from 1923. Over time they founded villages and colonies in Argentina’s provinces of Entre Ríos, Santa Fe, Buenos Aires, La Pampa and Chaco, and contributed greatly to the progress of the country. Today, more than two and a half million descendants honor and cultivate the customs and traditions of their ancestors like the first day.

Making Home in the Argentinian Chacras

At the beginning of 1878, 1005 Germans from the Volga arrived in two steamships at Diamante, which at that time was not a port but just a berth on the banks of the Paraná river. Carrying their belongings in precarious balance, men, women and children descended to the mainland down a narrow wooden ramp, their boots soaked with water and their eyes fixed on the horizon. On January 29, they began the march along the Entre Ríos paths towards the territory that would later make up the Colonia General Alvear. Most of them did it on foot: There were only a couple of wagons for the elderly and their belongings. And since there were no bridges, they had to cross the Ensenada stream through Paso de las Vacas. They were heading to Chacra 100, farm centered land patches, where they lived crammed in three sheds for several months until the Argentine government allowed them to settle as they knew and wanted; in villages.

 

The Marienthal German community in Argentina celebrate a German holiday. Photo courtesy, Xavier Martín.

 

Why were they called “The Volga Germans”?

It all started in 1763, when after the devastating Seven Years’ War, Tsarina Catherine II, nicknamed The Great One, prompted the migration from the territory of present-day Germany and neighboring countries to the Volga region, in the vast Russian steppe. The move brought great benefits for those who accepted it: exemption from taxes and military service, freedom of worship and language, and their own teachers.

Encouraged by the opportunity, 30,000 Germans from Franconia, the Rhineland, Hesse, Palatinate, and Wurtenberg left the principalities around 1775-1776. They traveled north by boat to St. Petersburg and from there traveled the 3,000 km that separated them from the Middle Volga on foot or in carts. Only 25,000 reached their destination and built more than 200 prosperous villages on both banks of the river: Hence they are known, to this day, as the “Volga Germans.”

However, in 1874 Tsar Alexander II not only decided to take away the advantages granted by Catherine but launched a “russianification” campaign, a move the Volga Germans saw as an enslavement that they were not willing to tolerate. At the same time, Argentina sought to populate its still wild fields and in 1877 the governor of the province of Entre Ríos, Ramón Febre, offered 20,000 fertile hectares to receive the migrants who the following year would settle in the brand new General Alvear neighborhood.

 

Dario Wendler visits the Museum, Hilando Recuerdos in Valle Maria, Argentina. The museum houses german antiques from the early migrations to Argentina. Photo Xavier Martin.

 

Today, two regional museums guard the past of the Volga Germans in these communities: Our German Roots, (Nuestras Raíces Alemanas) in Spatzenkutter, and Spinning Memories, (Hilando Recuerdos) in Valle Maria. Both keep household utensils and work tools, letters, framed and somewhat faded photos, harmoniums and church organs, trunks, very fine iron crosses that lost their place in the cemetery, caked wool strippers, sheet metal mold decorations for the Christmas table, hooks to move the recently bought meat, tricycles, heavy iron waffle irons, sacred images saved from the burning after the Vatican Council of 1962. The past lives on in the customs and traditions of the present, in the music of the accordions, in the polkas and schotis that the descendants of those forerunners never tire of dancing, in the happy and noisy popular festivals such as the Green Truck in Salto. And of course, in the food.

To read the full story on the Germans from the Volga, visit Teresa Arijon’s Los Alemanes del Volga

Photography, Xavier Martín.


Soledad Quartucci | Latina Republic

Dr. Soledad Quartucci is the founder and CEO of Latina Republic, a 501(C)3 California-based nonprofit organization. Latina Republic is committed to improving the diversity and professional development of storytellers in the media industry as representation matters and affects the stories we tell. Latina Republic makes space for and empowers unheard voices and trains the next generation of leaders in the United States.