In Touch with Prairie Living
By Michael M. Miller
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo
I write this August column after returning from the impressive 43rd Germans from Russia Heritage Society Convention in Bismarck, N.D. in July.
I want to share with you comments from Debra and Michael Mehrer of Scotland, S.D., who were with their sons, Gregory and Andrew, on the Journey to the Homeland Tour in May.
Debra writes, “I am glad I took this trip with my husband and children. It was very much an eye-opening experience! Living in the USA, we take a lot for granted. I loved seeing the ruins of the old church in Kassel. I was saddened to witness the fact that the old villages do not have running water or modern plumbing. What really surprised me was that many of the people had cell phones and satellite dishes on their rooftops. Many of the fences and gates that surround the home were impressive. We met some very proud and humble folks in the villages. I asked about medical care in the villages and I was told that the hospital is about one and half hours away. If medical care is needed, they call for an ambulance and hope for the best. As a nurse, this was troubling to me. We are very lucky for all the things we enjoy in America. This trip was a great experience and maybe I will do it again in the future.”
Michael Mehrer writes, “After traveling with our sons, Andrew and Greg (ages 28 and 25), we all have a new perspective of how our ancestors lived and what it took for them to come to America. The Ukraine reminded us a little of being back in the Dakotas. After visiting the villages of Worms, Johannestal and Kassel, we could envision our forefathers living there working the land. My ancestors were with the first groups to leave South Russia and come to the Dakota Territory in 1872. I told my sons that it had been 140 years since Gottfied Mehrer and his family had walked in this land and as far as I knew, we were the first Mehrers to come back to South Russia. We thought about how it took only hours for us to come to Europe where it took weeks for our family to come to America back in the 1800s. What faith and courage they must have had. Andrew and Greg were glad they went on this trip now because we all felt these ancestral villages might soon be disappearing. They both said they learned a lot about this history of the German Russian people.”
Adolf Volk of Regina, Sask., traveled with the May tour group to visit his birthplace – Odessa, Ukraine. Near to the hotel where we stayed, Adolf located the apartment where he lived has a child for two years. He returned 69 years later. He shares, “We stood there in silence, staring at the apartment building. In my mind’s eye, I saw the life that I imagine in that apartment. I saw me sitting on a couch on the balcony of which I have a photograph. I saw my older brother playing with me. I saw my father in his German army uniform and my mother preparing a meal. Through my tears, I saw my father carrying two suitcases and my mother holding us by the hand as we head to an awaiting car to take us to the nearby railroad station to leave Russia with the retreating army. My parents knew that they would be separated for some time and they might never see each other again. Tears streamed down my face as these images stirred my emotions and as I realized, once again, that I am the last survivor of that family unit.”
Volk comments: “The Germans from Russia are a distinct people. They shared heritage and maintenance of a rich culture over two centuries, champions in a sense of distinctiveness. Their religious conviction, values, sense of family, recognition of importance of education, strong work ethic, willingness to accept challenges, strong convictions, determination, readiness to help neighbors, singular ethnic peculiarities, frugality and diligence are common characteristics that make us a unique people. The stories of the Germans from Russia have to be told. Their stories reveal the odyssey of individuals and a people and unveil a horrific cruelty and injustice that offers lessons to those who would listen.” I have encouraged Adolf Volk to write his memoirs for publication.
New books available from the GRHC include: Ashley, North Dakota: 1888-2013; Hazen on the Horizon: 100 years, 1913 – 2013, Hazen, North Dakota; Photographs and Memories: Life in Hazen, North Dakota, Commemorating 1913 – 2013; English Lutheran Church Cookbook; and North Dakota Unforgettable.
For further information about the Friends of the GRHC, the 20th Journey to the Homeland Tour to Odessa, Ukraine and Stuttgart, Germany (May 15-25, 2014), and donations to the GRHC (such as family histories and photographs), contact Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 6050, Dept 2080, Fargo, ND 58108-6050 (Tel: 701-231-8416); Email: Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu; the GRHC website: www.ndsu.edu/grhc.
August column for North Dakota and South Dakota weekly newspapers.