NDSU Libraries publishes new book on German-Russian
colonies and colonist tales
December 1, 2002
The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries,
Fargo, is pleased to announce publication of this new book, "Through
the German Colonies of the Beresan District and Colonist Tales",
by Hermann Bachmann, translated with commentaries by Dr. Roland
Wagner, San Jose State University, California.
Many families from the former German villages of the Beresan District,
today located in southern Ukraine, immigrated to central and western
North Dakota as well as southern Saskatchewan.
Roland Wagner writes in the Introduction: "Hermann Bachmann's
account of his field trip with Victor Schirmunki through the Beresan
colonies was published in 1929. Bachmann's writings have received
only cursory notice in the USA. It is hoped that this English translation
of Bachmann's works will stir renewed interest in a largely untapped
resource on the ethnography and folk heritage of the German colonies
in the former Soviet Union."
"Nuggets of information can be gleaned from Bachmann's writings
about the conditions of life in the German colonies during the early
Soviet era. Despite the devastation they had suffered, many of the
basic patterns of life had survived. Bachmann touches upon numerous
details that harken back to the distinctive lifestyle the German
colonists had developed over a century or more on the steppes of
tsarist Russia. He provides examples of their dialects, discusses
their favorite foods, and describes in passing the layout of the
streets in the colonies, roofing materials and pigments used on
their houses, interior furnishings, the use of house plants and
religious pictures for decoration, common styles of folk art, and
"The consumption of sunflower seeds and watermelons figure
prominently in Bachmann's stories at various points. They seem emblematic
to him of life in the rural colonies. Group singing stands out in
importance in Bachmann's accounts. He naturally highlighted this
because the recording of folksongs was his major purpose on the
fieldtrip and it was also of deep personal interest. He was particularly
fascinated with the spontaneous songs of daily life rather than
with the well-known published Lieder of classical Hochkultur tradition."
Part Two - Colonist Tales provides selected tales which were reprinted
in various literary collections in the Soviet Union, then later
in Germany by the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, in
their Heimatbuch series between 1955 and 1964, and finally gathered
in the 1974 edition by Joseph Schnurr. Wagner writes: "Bachmann's
wry humor was apparent in his earlier work and it shines through
in these tales. His tales are light-hearted spoofs, social mirrors
poking fund at the mannerisms, attitudes and speech styles of characters
familiar to everyone in the colonies. Some of these characters include
the hen-pecked husband, the naive cow-herder, the cheapskate uncle,
teenage boys who carouse the streets at night getting into trouble,
gossiping elderly women complaining about modern ways, overly zealous
bureaucrats, pompous schoolteachers, and superstitious true-believers.
This is indeed the fabric of daily life, not just in the German
colonies, but everywhere. These characters can be found in any society,
which gives Bachmann's tales a universal quality".
At the end of the book there are twenty-seven black and white photographs
taken in the Beresan District villages in the 1990s by Ralph Hoff,
Merv Rennich, and Michael M. Miller.
To order this book, send $35 plus $4 postage payable to NDSU Library
and mail to: Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, Through the
German Colonies Book, PO Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599. The website
address to order this book is: library.ndsu.edu/grhc/order/general/bachmann.html.