In Touch with Prairie Living
By Michael M. Miller
The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at the NDSU Libraries
in Fargo reaches out to prairie families and former Dakotans. In
various ways, it affirms the heritage of the Germans from Russia
is an important part of the northern plains culture. In this month's
column, we focus on the Choir of the Homeland of Stuttgart, the
first Germans from Russia choir from Germany to present concerts
in the Dakotas. With large audiences, the choir was well received
in Jamestown, Streeter, Strasburg, Bismarck, Dickinson, and Richardton.
They ended their concert tour at St. Mary's Church, Assumption Abbey,
Choir Members Reflect on Their Life in Ukraine and Siberia,
Cora Wolff Tschaekofske, Dickinson, ND, interviewed choir members
during their concert tour in western North Dakota. She shares some
of these difficult and tragic life stories.
Lydia Schwan Klein Born in Strassburg, South Russia
Lydia, a soloist in the choir, related the story of how the Schwan
family was uprooted from their home in German village of Strassburg
near Odessa, and transported to Poland in 1944. Her father was drafted
into the German, never to be heard from or to return home again.
Lydia told of the superior wisdom of her mother, who made an investment
that kept the family socially secure and fed when she sold her husband's
suit of clothes after his absence using the money to buy a cow.
Then they had milk and cheese to eat and surplus milk to sell.
In 1945, Lydia and her family were deported to Siberia. Her oldest
brother, who at the age of 14 was denied an education, worked to
help his mother support the family. Together they worked like slaves
in the Siberian forest in all situations of brutally cold temperatures.
Her oldest sister had worked in a forced-labor camp.
Their mother and grandmother held a necessary family position
of teaching their "Muttersprache" (Mother-tongue) and
their belief of God. Their dedication was to retain their German
language and their religion, in the extreme effort to keep their
family unit and a homeland.
Lydia's daughter, Marina Klein Bauer, is director of the Choir
of the Homeland. Before returning to Stuttgart, they had a Schwan
family reunion in Aberdeen, SD.
Clemens and Amilie Martin Spend 51 Years in Siberia
The Martins recently immigrated from Siberia to Germany. Clemens
labored in the gold mines for little pay and with the resulting
ailment of gold dust in his lungs. Their income now is a meager
pension, plus whatever earnings Amilie obtains by being a "Puttsfrau"
(cleaning lady) in Germany.
Lilia Schwelkert's Life in Siberia and Kazakhstan
Lilia was born in Neu Kronental near Odessa, Ukraine. She cannot
remember ever seeing her father who as "verschlept" (seized
from his home) during the Stalin regime when she was only two years
old. They never saw nor heard of him again. Her mother with two
little daughters were returned to Germany. In 1945, they along with
30 village families were loaded on sleds and transported Siberia
where they were dumped into the cold of winter and snow. They were
given three barrels of fish and some flour. All were forced by necessity
to build huts of snow to survive. Lilia told of her grandmother's
death in Kazakhstan, of her own marriage in Kazakhstan, the death
of her husband of 22 years, and then her eventual return to Germany
with her children after many years of hard labor.
Thousands Immigrate to Germany in 1990s
Since 1991, almost 1.6 million ethnic Germans have immigrated
from the former Soviet Union to Germany. An average of about 10,000
each month still come to Germany. Lydia Schwan Klein expressed her
thankfulness to Germany for having welcomed them to return, so they
might have a homeland. Now they can once again experience a triangle
of family unity and sharing with those in Germany, Ukraine, and
Tours to Visit Choir of the Homeland, Germany and Ukraine
The Choir of the Homeland will present a special concert on June
7 for members of the Journey to the Homeland Tours to Ukraine and
to Germany in May/June, 1998. Tour members will be guests in the
homes of the choir members.
Information about the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
For information about the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
and the 1998 tours, contact Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, PO
Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599 (Tel: 701-231-8416; E-mail: Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu;
GRHC website: http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc).