American Volga Relief Society

The American Volga Relief Society was a German American non-governmental organization that provided relief and supplies to ethnic settlements in the area around the Volga River . The group was active following World War I , during the period between 1921-1924. The organization officially disbanded in 1926, though private donations continued until the 1930s.

Historical context

Following the Russian Revolution and subsequent Bolshevik seizure of the government in 1917, Vladimir Lenin became the de facto leader of the newly formed Soviet Union . One of the first acts of the Lenin government was to confiscate and redistribute peasant lands in order to institute a system of collective farming. In the Volga region, farmers are required to relinquish their seed wheat, preventing them from planting wheat for the following year and effectively destroying the potential harvest. The Saratov and Samaraprovinces, along the Volga River, saw ethnic Germans resisting the seizure of peasant land and seed wheat. The Lenin government by ordering complete grain requisition and an extermination campaign. Along with this, crops failed due to drought, and by 1921, the region was devastated by famine, starvation, and war.

This part of the country, along with Ukraine , was one of the largest grain-producing regions, and the loss of both labor power and collective farms would have been a blow to the new Bolshevik government. For fear of an increased number of rebellions, the Bolshevik government requested international famine relief organizations in the area, despite several years of denying a crisis. Many of the American Relief Efforts Were Coordinated under Herbert Hoover ‘s American Relief Administration , qui Coordinated and Non-Governmental Relief oversaw operations. The privately funded AVRS was a part of this United States federal government.

The famine

The Russian famine of 1921-1922 generated an enormous amount of media coverage in the United States, and public support for the victims of famine was high. Volga region has been suggested as an example of a phenomenon with a focus on the sensational, particularly as regards the deaths of children and the rumors of cannibalism among people living in remote areas of the Soviet Union. [1]

The Russian famine also has a number of diseases, including typhus , which further decimated the population. In total, estimates suggest about five million people during the famine.

German Russians in the Volga Region

Specifically in the Volga, the Volga Germans living in the region numbered close to 750,000 people in 1914; by 1920, that number had dwindled to about 450,000 in a combination of death and flight. [2] When the famine hit, the years 1921-1922 had the highest death toll, with approximately 170,000 deaths German settlement along the Volga River. [2]

After the Revolution and the end of the famine, the German population became one of the largest ethnic minorities in Russia. [2] In 1924, the Soviet government granted the German Russians a degree of autonomy to the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Ethnic Germans have been migrated to this area under Catherine the Great, and have been allowed to maintain cultural traditions such as religious practices and clothing. During the famine, however, many of these ethnic Germans fled to the United States, Canada, England, and other western states, seeking refuge from the risk of starvation. Others left for the cities and other towns of Russia and Europe, hoping to escape the devastation. Many of these ex-patriots left behind behind them in the Volga region.

Formation of the AVRS

The flight of German Russians to the United States resulted in a large German American population. Beginning in 1920, following the First World War, many people still living near the Volga. Upper and middle class Americans considered the possibilities of aiding the Russians fleeing the number regime. Relief efforts to begin with, and efforts to deal with various regions of Russia dealing with famine or starvation, particularly from churches and other religious organizations.

Germans in the Volga River area – George Repp’s Volga Relief Society in Portland, Oregon, and the Volga Relief Society’s Central States, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Volunteer and volunteer groups in the United States, Volga communities in Russia, Volga communities in Russia, and Volga communities in Russia. On November 4, 1922, the two organizations joined together with the American Volga Relief Society (AVRS).

By the end of 1922, the newly formed AVRS began soliciting funds from Volga Germans living in California, Nebraska, Colorado, Washington, DC, Montana, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, and other states with large German-Russian populations.

Areas of operation

The AVRS operates primarily in the Saratov and Samara provinces in what would eventually become the German Volga Republic. The group also had operations in the Samara-Koshki German settlement area, and German settlements in Omsk in Siberia. The group would later spread to Germany itself, sending donations to orphanages and missions.

Scope of assistance

According to some estimates, the AVRS managed to raise a million dollars for relief efforts, and it along with other relief efforts can have several thousand people living in German Volga feelings. The ARA, other religious groups, may be responsible for a wide-scale effort, and a number of additional private actors may be 10 million individuals living in famine-struck parts of Russia during the early years of the Soviet Union. [3] Despite the efforts of the AVRS, the ARA, and other non-governmental organizations, a large number of people suffered under the final days of famine.


Starting in 1921, the organization sent letters to various communities along the river to inquire about the number of villages, and the number of people in need, and the types of assistance that communities needed the most, which included from clothing, foodstuffs, livestock, or farm equipment. These letters are requested by the local community to local leaders to organize and coordinate local distribution of materials. These letters were the starting point for a discussion of the needs of locals and the resources of the AVRS.


The majority of requests were for clothing and footwear. AVRS was operating. After two years of starvation and famine before the occurrence of newborns, clothing, shoes, and stockings have been necessary to prevent hypothermia, but also to be removed. Some communities also have a long history of bedding


Despite the famine, few communities demanded foodstuffs or named food as a primary need. Some specific requests have been made on behalf of the sick, including rice, cocoa, sugar, tea, and fat. Nonetheless, a large number of donations and supplies that the AVRS delivered to famine-struck regions included foodstuffs. The group distributed these goods, along with wheat, rye, potatoes, yeast, meat, and millet. The grains were particularly important given the failure and confiscation of wheat crops. In many cases, food supplies ran low, and occasionally the sickest or “most in need” (rather than entire families) would receive foodstuffs and other supplies.

Agricultural needs

Many letters from Volga communities to the AVRS also called livestock, seeds, and farm equipment to revitalize agriculture and end famine. Seed potatoes were also provided to several communities. Agriculture would have played a vital role in supporting the Volga community, particularly in smaller settlements in remote areas with little access to transit.

Building materials

Some communities also asked for building materials, or money to purchase materials. The AVRS also distributed firewood for the poor.


Medical needs were high at starving society. Requests for drugs and medications for “the sick” have been common, and the need for them.

Other materials

The AVRS distributed a number of materials

  • sewing needles
  • writing pens
  • thread
  • a weaving loom to a widow


The vast majority of Volga Germans, who received material support from the relief efforts of the AVRS, sent letters of gratitude, or had others who could send gratitude on their behalf. A large number of records addressed to the AVRS include both an expression of gratitude and a request for additional aid.

That said, there is little in the history of the history of the state of the art, especially in the construction of the church, which would have been outlawed during the early years of the Soviet era.

Additionally, sources show little insight into the public perception of groups like the AVRS, much less the organism itself, than that of either public approval or disapproval of the efforts of the AVRS. In contrast, relief organizations that originated in elite circles of the public in favor of relief efforts in Russia and the surrounding areas that supported refugees. [4]

Organizational leadership

The first president of the AVRS was Dr. HP Weckesser of Lincoln. Jacob Volz of York, Nebraska, was the on-site representative of the organization in Russia. Hebert Hoover headed the American Relief Association through the United States federal government, which coordinated with private non-governmental organizations to facilitate relief to the region. Weckesser died in 1923 relief efforts, and vice president John Rohrig took over operations in his wake.

George Repp

George Repp was a member of the Zion Congregational Church in Portland, Oregon. At one of the earliest meetings of the Volga Relief Society, the organization selected Repp to work with the ARA on the ground in Russia. A businessman, Repp sacrificed his time and family to travel to Russia with relief efforts for a year. He arrived in Russia on October 10, 1921, and began making arrangements for food and supply distribution, organizing local committees, and documenting conditions in the area. He returned to the United States in September 1922 and continued to organize relief efforts from the US [5] [ self-published source? ]

Jacob Volz

Jacob Volz took on the task of coordinating relief efforts from Russia between 1922 and 1923. Volz et al. He kept detailed records of his distributions and observations, sending receipts back to the AVRS regularly. He also distributed mail and collected additional information regarding addresses and locations of ethnic Germans receiving aid in the Volga. Volz’s letters indicate an opportunity for effective distribution – lost packages or illegible receipts contributed to the confusion. Volz’s father died while he was working in Russia, and he received news of the death of letters organized by the AVRS. [2]

Local relief coordinators

AVRS sends letters to villages and communities for leadership to coordinate relief efforts locally. The job entailed managing correspondence with the AVRS, passing along requests for aid, distributing, and reporting back how the goods were distributed and to whom. AVRS, Archive and Information in Nebraska, and a number are listed here. [2]

  • Eduard Föll was the coordinator in Malousensk.
  • Stumpf, Johann Jacob, coordinated relief efforts in Neu-Warenburg
  • David Schneider and Philipp Kisselman coordinated relief efforts in Oberdorf.
  • Jacob Velte and Jacob Reichert led relief efforts in Dietel and Oleschna.
  • Friedrich Friedrichich Schäfer coordinated relief efforts in Kana in the Pallasovka region.
  • Friedrich Groh coordinated relief efforts in Kraft.


Little record exists of why the AVRS disbanded. One possible explanation that goes unaddressed in the documents of the AVRS is the formation of the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, for which the Soviet Government has ceded partial control to the region to govern its own affairs. This is largely due to the influence of Volga Germans to practice their own religion, as well as to their own affairs under the authority of the Soviet Government. The famine ended after 1922, though the Volga has several years of recovering from the aftermath, making the organization’s work a useful contribution to the rebuilding efforts following the famine, the First World War, and the revolution. The ARA itself closed its offices in 1923,


An extensive catalog of donors exists in the historical archive of the AVRS. A blank form of donations. Perhaps the greatest amount of money, however, has been derived from “subscriptions” – that is, they have been able to contribute to small or large numbers of dollars. Around the world, the number of people in the world, and the number of children in the world, according to the historical record.

AVRS and other relief efforts

Around the time of the transition to communism time, a large number of people living in new areas of the world. Many went to Constantinople, and American relief efforts also went to the areas surrounding the new Soviet Union. American elites donated to refugee efforts in various parts of Eastern Europe and non-governmental relief efforts, particularly artistic endeavors, of the refugees. The United States is one of a number of organizations that have been founded by the United States. Other active religious organizations at the time included in the Quakers , the Mennonitesand Jews , who led parallel fundraising and resource distribution efforts with the AVRS and the ARA.

Relationship with the American government

The American Relief Administration (ARA) was one of the first governmental forms of relief for the government, and was the primary governmental oversight organization of the AVRS. In addition to national support from the United States federal government, individuals from other Western states including England and Canada seek advice on how to contribute to relief efforts in the German Volga region, along with a number of other areas hit hard by the famine.


  1. Jump up^ Lewis Siegelbaum. “Famine of 1921-22 – Seventeen Moments in Soviet History” . . Retrieved 2017-06-16 .
  2. ^ Jump up to:e “American Volga Relief Society (Lincoln, Neb.)” . May 11, 2010 . Retrieved 2017-06-16 .
  3. Jump up^ Ronald Radosh (March-April 2011). “The Politics of Food | Humanities” . . Retrieved 2017-06-16 .
  4. Jump up^ Bumgardner, ES (1923, September 15). Features: Memories of first aid to russian art in constantinople. Vogue, 62, 168-168, 170.
  5. Jump up^ “George Repp – The Germans Volga in Portland” . . Retrieved 2017-06-16 .

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