Klaus, Alexander Augustovic (1829-1887)

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Alexander Augustovich Klaus [Александр Aвгустович Клаус]: Russian civil servant of German extraction; the son of a Volga-German sexton. He had a distinguished career in the Russian civil service rising to the rank of Privy Councillor [Тайный советник] in the Ministry of Crown Lands. The Guardians’ Committee of the Foreign Colonists in the Southern Regions of Russia (German: Fürsorge-Komitee für die Kolonisten der südlichen Gebiete Russlands; Russian: Канцелярия опекунства Иностранных Колонистов в южных регионах России) was part of this Ministry and where Klaus served. The Fürsorge-Komitee administered Russia’s foreign colonies.

Russia greatly expanded its territory in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Though it later sold off its American colonies it had vast areas of very lightly inhabited territory. To fill the vacant land, to enhance the wealth and glory of its monarch, and to bring new skills and technology into the Imperial Russian Empire, Catherine II issued Manifestos of December 1762 and July 1763 which began the policy of systematic immigration and the creation of what Klaus was to call "Our Colonies." Colonists from German areas of Europe were prized but immigrants from almost all regions of eastern Europe including Armenians were sought. All colonists were given privileges; for example all were exempted from military service and all were considered as state peasants and none as serfs. After the early period of inviting almost any foreigner into Russia, immigration was limited to those with some financial resources or an established trade or skill. Immigration continued until 1819 when there was a temporary suspension and in 1833 the government ended its official immigration efforts. Substantial immigration continued through the nineteenth century but without formal government support.

The common Russian practice was to count all colonists together as one group and since the majority were Germans the general term "German Colonists" came to designate all these settlements. In the Fürsorge-Komitee Mennonites were treated as a separate group from other German colonists but in general the Russian public referred to foreign colonists as Germans (Немцы). This "Germanization" of colonies extended as far as the Fürsorge-Komitee which functioned not in Russian but in the German language.

Throughout the nineteenth century the colonies remained largely divorced from their Russian environment and often did not fulfill the hopes as channels of cultural and technological advancement. At the same time many of the colonists, particularly in southern Ukraine, became very prosperous. Mennonites became the outstanding example in this respect. For the native Russians, colonists became either admired economically or condemned as privileged parasites. By the 1860s there was considerable animosity towards the German colonies in the Russian press and politically there were hints that the colonies were disloyal to Russia. The 1866 statute on state peasantry also abolished the special status and privileges of the colonists. Though the military service provisions were not immediately applied, Russification policies began and the Fürsorge-Komitee was abolished in 1871, forcing colonies into mainstream Russian life.

Into this environment Klaus hoped publishing his book Наши Колоніи: Опыты и Матеріалы по Исторіи и Статистикъ Иностранной Колонизаціи въ Россіи: Выпускъ І (Our Colonies: Experiences and Materials on History and Statistics of Foreign Colonization into Russia) would bring to the debate more accurate information on the colonies and their development. He highlighted that the basic reason for the prosperity of the colonies was due to their system of land tenure, particularly in its most successful form among the Mennonite settlements. Klaus’ book offered a collection of materials and statistics to demonstrate this argument. Combining communal land ownership with individual tenure of consolidated holdings, the colonist system offered an answer to the intractable problems of Russian peasant village communal land use and its frequent redistribution among village families. Klaus’ publication is a unique source of information on many aspects of colony life and organization and is an important contribution to the nineteenth century debate on the improvement of Russian peasantry.

As the centennial year of the Mennonite sojourn in Russia approached in 1889, Mennonites began to develop an appreciation of their history. This prompted the wealthy miller Jacob Toews to translate Klaus’ book into German as Unsere Kolonien: Studien und Materialien zur Geschichte und Statistik der ausländischen Kolonisation in Russland. The translation omitted some chapters and appendices that were outdated by 1887.


Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 505.

Клаус, А. Наши Колоніи: Опыты и Матеріалы по Исторіи и Статистикъ Иностранной Колонизаціи въ Россіи: Выпускъ І (Our Colonies: Experiences and Materials on History and Statistics of Foreign Colonization into Russia: Volume 1). Санктпетербургъ въ Типоррафіи В. В. Нусвальта, Литейная, Nо. 13. Chapter IV: Менноиты (Mennonites) pp. 101-228. (This chapter also includes information of Hutterites.) Reprinted: Cambridge, England, Published by the Oriental Research Partners, 1972. Digital reproduction by: HathiTrust Digital Library: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/239060681.html. (No volume 2 was ever published).

Klaus, A. Unsere Kolonien: Studien und Materialien zur Geschichte und Statistik der ausländischen Kolonisation in Russland. Odessa: Verlag der “Odessaer Zeitung”, Druck von L. Nitzsche. 1887. Reprinted: Hildesheim, Germany, by Georg Olms Verlag, in 2009.

Author(s) Victor G Wiebe
Date Published March 2014

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MLA style

Wiebe, Victor G. "Klaus, Alexander Augustovic (1829-1887)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. March 2014. Web. 20 Jun 2018. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Klaus,_Alexander_Augustovic_(1829-1887)&oldid=123246.

APA style

Wiebe, Victor G. (March 2014). Klaus, Alexander Augustovic (1829-1887). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 June 2018, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Klaus,_Alexander_Augustovic_(1829-1887)&oldid=123246.

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