The Family Tree: Germans on Both Sides of the Atlantic
Rediscover Family Connections
Tobin, Paulette. "The Family Tree: Germans on Both Sides of the Atlantic Rediscover Family Connections." Grand Forks Herald, 22 August 1999.
Most descendants of the Germans from Russia in North Dakota probably
know something about why their ancestors lived in Russia and how
their families came to America. But that's only part of the story.
The Germans were invited to settle in Russia in the 1700s and
early 1800s but began leaving Russia in the 1880s in a migration
that lasted about 25 years.
Those who stayed saw the erosion of more and more of the promises
that had enticed them to Russia in the first place things like free
land, local autonomy and freedom from service in the Russian military.
By the 1930s and 1940s many Germans in Russia were starving under
Stalin or being transported to Siberia.
But there is yet another part of this ethnic group's complex history,
perhaps less known, of the Germans in Russia who returned to Germany
during the time of World War II.
Their resettlement, part of Hitler's plan to bring Germans from
around the world back to the Fatherland, means that many Germans
in America today are rediscovering in Germany, of all places branches
of their families they presumed lost in Russia.
Ted Becker, a researcher and genealogist from Williston, N.D.,
said families looking for cousins in Germany could search records
compiled from 1939 to 1945 by a German agency called the Einwandererzentrastelle,
or EWZ for short.
Speaking at the national convention of the Germans from Russia
Heritage Society, Becker said EWZ documents contained the naturalization
records for those German settlers who returned to the Reich prior
to and during World War II.
There are photographs, family histories and information about
political leanings of those who went back to Germany; even records
of physical characteristics used by the Nazis to determine racial
The EWZ was established as part of a deal between Russia and Germany.
Hitler wanted the Germans in Russia back in the German Reich he
was creating. Stalin wanted the return of the Russian land on which
the Germans were living.
So representatives from the two governments went to the German
villages in South Russia and offered people the option of staying
in Russia or returning to Germany. For those who went back to Germany,
their first stop was the resettlement camps. There the necessary
forms and identification papers were checked, and those 14 and older
had their photographs taken. Officials checked papers listing land,
livestock, farm equipment and other property the Germans had owned
in Russia, for which they were supposed to be compensated. They
Then there were physical examinations: questions about height,
weight, hair and eye color. Eyes, ears and noses were measured.
"People, as soon as they saw this, laughed out loud because
of what they thought of it. But they didn't laugh too long because
it was the government and they wanted to go back (to Germany),"
The measuring was part of Hitler's plan to create a great Aryan
nation. It may have seemed silly to the returning Germans but the
better they scored on their racial purity tests, the closer they
were resettled to Germany. Most of the returning Germans were relocated
in Poland, Yugoslavia, Silesia, Prussia and Hungary where they were
to be peasant workers and warriors for the Reich and buffer states
The work of the EWZ had stopped by 1945. The U.S. Third Army captured
its records and eventually shipped them to America. About three
years ago they were returned to the Bundes archive in Koblanz, Germany,
but not before they were copied on microfilm for the National Archives.
There are 70,000 rolls of microfilm in all but because of a special
numbering system and the way the records are organized, searching
them is not quite as daunting as it sounds.
From the EWZ records, Becker said, he copied the photographs of
all the people who had come to Germany from his ancestral Russian
village of Krasna. In searching the documents he found two sisters
and a brother of his grandfather.
"The reason these documents are so important is these people
are your cousins," Becker told the GRHS group.
For more information about EWZ records contact: National Archives
at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park MD 20740-6001 Or
email James Kelling at James.email@example.com (Note: Kelling
will not help locate family members)
For help in locating family members (there is a fee) contact:
Rita Schierer, 2328 19th St. NW, Washington DC 20009. Call 202-232-8827.
Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.