American Volga Relief Society


American Volga Relief Society, Lincoln Nebraska

Records: 1921-1926 and no date; mostly 1921-1925

Lincoln NE; McCook NE; and Portland OR

Size: 2.1MB [to be microfilmed]



Russia experienced mass starvation from 1920-1924 and the years 1921-1922 saw the largest number of deaths. The cause of the starvation was the Lenin government policy of forced grain requisition carried out as part of the kulak (wealthy private farmers) extermination campaign. The ethnic Germans living along both banks of the Volga River in the Saratov and Samara provinces of Russia had resisted the grain requisition. As a punitive measure, Lenin ordered that the Volga area settlements be completely stripped of all grain and that mass executions be carried out. Over 30% of the Volga German population was deliberately starved before Lenin allowed international famine relief organizations into the area. The relief was reluctantly allowed after the Lenin government began to fear that food shortages among the military and city workers (who were considered the back-bone of the Bolshevik Revolution) would lead to mass rebellion. As the Volga region, along with the Ukraine, was the main bread basket of the area, Lenin (who was pragmatic and willing to improvise policy as circumstances dictated and unforeseen events arose) recognized the need to save the Volga German population (which was extraordinarily adept at farming) to help ensure a successful harvest, feed the military and city workers, and thus save the Revolution. After the relief project was completed, the government continued to persecute the Volga German population, and starvation continued until the end of 1924.

In 1921 George Repp of Portland, Oregon, organized the Volga Relief Society (VRS) which solicited funds from the Volga German communities in America for the relief of relatives in Russia. John Miller became the president of the Portland VRS when Repp traveled to Russia to work with the American Relief Association as the representative for the VRS. A separate organization with similar goals, the Central States Volga Relief Society (CSVRS) arose at the same time in Lincoln Nebraska. On November 4, 1922, the two organizations consolidated to form the American Volga Relief Society (AVRS). The first president of AVRS was Dr. H.P. Wekesser of Lincoln.

The VRS and AVRS operated through the American Relief Administration (ARA) headed by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover. The CSVRS chose Jacob Volz of York, Nebraska, as its representative in Russia to personally oversee the operation in the Volga area. The main areas of operation in Russia were the Saratov and Samara provinces of the future Volga German Republic, the Samara-Koshki German settlement area, and the German settlements in the Siberian Omsk area. In 1924, operations were also conducted in Germany, mainly in the form of donations to orphanages and missions. The AVRS officially disbanded in 1926, although private relief efforts continued into the 1930s.

Many records of the Lincoln AVRS were entrusted to Hattie Plum Williams, a professor at the University of Nebraska, because she was known as the foremost scholarly researcher of the Volga German ethnic group in Lincoln, Nebraska. When Dr. Williamsí papers were donated to the Nebraska State Historical Society (NSHS) in 1961 as manuscript collection 1872, the AVRS materials went with them. In January of 1996, the NSHS decided to move the AVRS materials, describe them more fully, and film them as a separate collection.


This AHSGR material relates to the starvation of the Volga German colonists in Russia, and the efforts of the AVRS to supply food and other aid to the region. Although the collection contains items spanning the dates 1921 to 1938, the bulk of the materials are dated 1921-1925, the most intensive years of the famine. Many of the records are written in German, and contain materials of the following varieties: letters written by Volga German village leaders recording population statistics before the Revolution and after the famine in 1923; lists of donors with amounts donated; receipts for food or clothing packages and cash; ARA and AVRS office correspondence, including newsletters; correspondence of Jacob Volz; letters of appeal for donations from Germany; CSVRS subscription coupons; bank statements and other miscellaneous items relating to the AVRS and the Volga German communities of Lincoln and McCook, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon. The material also includes documentation of the efforts to provide food to the needy in Germany after the ARA (and therefore AVRS) removed all representatives in the Soviet Union in 1924. The Germany food support was implemented through the German Red Cross.

The material is organized in two sets: Collection 1 and Collection 2. Collection 1 contains material for all the series and sub-series of the Index. The Index for Collection 2 uses the same index structure but only a subset of the index listings was necessary to describe the Collection 2 material.