(left to right): Michael Miller interviewing
Dr. Adam Giesinger at his south Winnipeg home, October, 1997.
Interview with Dr. Adam Giesinger
(AG) Conducted by Michael M. Miller (MM)
28 October 1997, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Transcription by Joy H. Stefan
Editing by Mary Lynn Axtman
Prairie Public Collection
MM: Good morning, Adam. Today is the
28th of October, 1997. It's a pleasure to be with Dr. Adam Giesinger,
here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I want you to know, Adam,
that as a person who has been involved with the Germans from Russia
myself, that in a long colleague ship with you, and now with electronic
communications, it's a real pleasure and honor for me to be in
your home in Winnipeg. We're going to begin our interview today
with Dr. Giesinger, who is the author of from Catherine to Khrushchev,
amongst his many publications and translations. I want to ask
you, Adam, when did you begin your interest in the Germans from
Russia? This whole history in your youth... how did this start
that you became interested... who am I, as a German Russian?
AG: Well, my first interest arose about 1917
at the time of the Communist Revolution in Russia. There was a
lot of talk in the family, because they still had close relatives
over there; grandma's sisters and brothers still lived over there.
So that's when I got curious about Russia. I was about seven or
eight years old.
MM: And you were born in what year?
MM: You were born in 1909. When they had
relatives back in Russia, where were they living, these relatives?
AG: Well, they lived in various places. The
main group lived in Mannheim, but there were some in Selz. My
grandma's people were in Selz. One of grandma's brothers was way
out in Grunau. See, it was off, way out east.
MM: So the relatives were living near today's
Odessa, Ukraine; part of the Kutschurgan enclave. And what religion
were these people?
AG: They were Catholics.
MM: And they were quite strong Catholics?
AG: Oh yes, yes. My grandmother had an uncle
who was a priest and a brother who was a priest. So they were
quite a religious group.
MM: So you started this interest on your
roots as a German Russian boy at the age of eight, and where were
you living then in Canada?
AG: In Saskatchewan, on a farm.
MM: Were you interested in finding books
and materials so that you could study these people?
AG: Oh yes, yes, I was.
MM: When someone asks today, "I'm a German
from Russia", what does that mean to you? When they ask, for instance,
that I'm a German Russian. A lot of people don't understand what
it means to be a German from Russia. But in your mind, why do
they call these people "Germans from Russia?"
AG: Well, because that's where they lived.
They were German-speaking people who had preserved their German
language and culture, and they lived in Russia, and they were
there for about 100 years.
MM: Right. Of course there's a wonderful
history in your book, from Catherine to Khrushchev, but for example,
in the heritage of your families, when did they leave Alsace in
Germany to Russia, and why did they go to Russia? Why did they
come to these villages near Odessa?
AG: Well, they left Alsace in 1808. There
was a lull in the Napoleonic Wars just then, in the years 1808
and 1809. There was a lull in the Napoleonic Wars, so there was
temporary peace. But the wars had been so destructive and had
lowered the economic situation so badly that these people decided
to get away while there was a lull in the war. And that's when
a large group went to the Black Sea region at that time.
MM: What were their occupations in Alsace?
AG: Farmers, most of them.
MM: Who invited them to come to South Russia?
AG: This particular group were invited by
Alexander I. He was the Russian emperor then, and he had agents
all over Germany collecting immigrants.
MM: But we have to remember that our people
who went to South Russia, near Odessa, were not the first Germans
to go to Russia. There were an earlier group, right?
AG: Oh yes.
MM: And what group was that?
AG: That was the Volga Germans.
MM: When did they leave from their homeland?
AG: They left, they went there in the 1760's.
AG: And that again, was because of a war
in Western Europe. There was a whole succession of wars: the war
of the Austrian succession, then the Seven Years War, and the
constant warfare. Of course that impoverished people and so the
Volga Germans, they were in general a poorer group when they left,
because the situation in Germany was exceedingly bad in their
MM: Who invited the Volga Germans to come
to the Volga region?
MM: Catherine the Great.
MM: When they went to Russia, in the case
of the Volga Germans, were they offered any privileges, or were
they given any incentives?
AG: Very special privileges, and one of the
really important ones for them at that point was, and that's for
both groups, was the freedom from military service. They were
promised freedom from military service forever in Russia.
MM: Any other privileges?
AG: Oh yes, they were given free land and
self-government, the right to govern themselves.
MM: When the Black Sea Germans, or the people
who went to Southern Ukraine into the villages, when they went
there, were their privileges very similar to the Volga Germans?
AG: Yes, very similar. Except the land holding
system was changed. In the Black Sea region they were given larger
land holdings, about twice the size of what they received in the
MM: What was about the size, do you remember
about how much land were they given?
AG: In our terms, the Black Sea Germans would
have received about as much land as our people got in the homestead
days here in America. So I would say 160 acres, something like
that. 150 acres. Those would be the original holdings, and they
weren't supposed to divide them.
MM: Now when these people came to South Russia,
did they try to develop their villages according to their religion
or according to their homeland back in Alsace or Germany? Was
that important to them that they were together amongst their own
relatives, or the people they knew, as far as religion was concerned?
AG: In general, they stayed with groups from
their home territory, but in the Black Sea villages, you'll find
that in most of them, say in the Kutschurgan area, that each village
had groups from several places in Germany. But the three main
groups were from Alsace, and the Palatinate - the Pfalz, and Baden.
Those were the three main areas they came from.
MM: Then these people who came to South Russia,
did they prosper and develop more land ownership?
AG: Oh yes. They spread all over the Black
MM: Now in the case of your family, what
were the family names? What were the family names that came? The
Giesingers, of course. What other family names came to South Russia?
AG: Of my forefathers? Well, there were the
Webers, the Webers were very common. The Giesinger family that
went to Russia, three of their children married Webers. Webers
from three different families.
AG: So a lot of Webers are related to me.
MM: Did the Webers and the Giesingers prosper,
and were they farmers too?
AG: Oh yes, they were farmers, yes.
MM: Did many of these farmers have to take
up other occupations, like a blacksmith or other occupation?
AG: Oh yes.
MM: For more income.
AG: Oh yes. As time passed, you see, the
land didn't go far enough. So they went into other occupations,
and too, they went to buy land elsewhere.
MM: And they had large families?
AG: Oh yes. Large
As they prospered, they had, of course, schools, and they kept
their German language through all these years. Was this true in
the villages of your ancestors, they only spoke German?
AG: Yes, they all spoke
German. And some of them didn't know a word of Russian. Towards
the end, say in about the 1890's, Russian language became compulsory
in the schools. So when my father went to school, for instance,
he learned Russian. So he was fluently bilingual. He spoke both
German and Russian.
MM: So then, later
on, your forefathers that came to North America, they were bilingual
already? They were already writing in German?
AG: Most of them could
speak German and Russian, and very quickly picked up English too.
MM: Why did it develop
that Russian became compulsory or mandatory in the schools?
AG: Emperor Alexander
III forced them to learn Russian in their schools.
MM: Was this resisted by the Germans?
MM: Did the Germans in the villages resist
this mandatory Russian?
AG: Well, they adjusted
to it. They didn't like the compulsion side of it, but they adjusted
Then they, of course, heard about North America, and they decided
to immigrate over here. In the case of your family, how did it
develop that they came to North America? Why did they come over
to Canada and the United States?
AG: Well, my grandfather,
when they left Russia, had five sons. My father was the eldest
of those. He was 16 years old. So one of the factors that made
them come to America was that he was going to be supplying the
Russian Army with recruits for the next 20 years, with all those
sons, and they objected to that. He didn't want that. And you'll
find that a lot of immigrants that came about the same time as
he did... he came around 1900... there were some who came a little
earlier than that and some later. But in all cases the military
service law was one of the factors. It wasn't the only one, because
some of them came because they heard about the free land over
here and so on. But my grandfather had land over there. He didn't
come to get land.
MM: When they decided to leave, were there
already other villagers over here in Canada or the United States,
or was he one of the first? Were there other people already over
here that had immigrated from South Russia?
AG: Oh yes, many, many. My grandfather had,
for instance, at least six or seven cousins who had come to America,
some of them before him, and some of them soon after.
MM: And what years were those, about?
AG: Well, the first cousin came in 1889,
and he settled in Strasburg, ND. You know about that place.
MM: What was his name?
AG: Franz Giesinger, Frank. Old Frank, they
MM: Then did he stay in Strasburg, or did
he move somewhere else?
AG: No, he stayed in Strasburg, he and his
MM: When they left South Russia, the villages,
what was the procedure in making application and so forth? What
was the route they took when they left the village in Selz? Did
they go to Odessa, and then how did they get to Germany to come
AG: I made an interesting discovery among
my grandfather's papers after he died. My grandfather died in
1936 and he left a lot of material. I was the oldest grandson,
so of course I got to see all of this material. One piece was
his passport, his Russian passport. From that Russian passport,
I discovered for the first time, what his father's name was. I
hadn't even known that. On the passport it mentions... they called
him Ambrose Adamovitch, son of Adam. But the passport was a very
interesting document because it was issued in the city of Kherson.
The city of Kherson was sort of a government center, where they
dealt with that. And he had to go there to get this passport,
and it was issued, the date was given, and it gave the route they
followed. Because at certain places there was a step. So I was
able to trace him right from Odessa. They started in Odessa. They
took a train to Poland, and it mentioned when they crossed the
Russian border into Germany. Poland was then part of Russia. They
crossed over into Germany, and I have the date for that, and from
Germany they went by train across Germany to Bremen. They left
from Bremen. And I have the date they boarded the ship.
MM: What year was that?
AG: That was in 1900. The Spring of 1900.
MM: Then, when they got to Bremen and boarded
the ship, and there were many other German Russians with them,
AG: Oh yes, oh yes. I have the passenger
list of the ship they came on.
MM: Many other relatives?
AG: Oh yes. There was one of grandfather's
nephews, one of his sister's children was with them. And there
were others that he knew. There were not so many relatives, but
people from Mannheim that he knew, that were friends of his.
MM: From Bremen, they left on the ship, and
they went to where in America?
AG: New York. They traveled on the ship the
Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, and that ship was then in the Atlantic
championship. You know how a new ship would be produced and it
would become the champion, the quickest crossing. Anyway, my grandfather
and his family came on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse.
MM: Did your relatives ever talk about this
life on the ship coming to America?
AG: Oh yes.
MM: What are some of the memories you have
about what they told you about the ship experience?
AG: Oh, really not too much. See, they traveled
pretty comfortably on their ship. Some of the people had weird
stories, but they didn't have any of those. They traveled comfortably.
MM: Did they come to Ellis Island?
AG: Oh yes.
MM: So, they went to Ellis Island and what
was the next step? Once they got to Ellis Island, then what happened?
AG: Well, when they could pass there... they
had no problems there at all. Then they took a train to North
Dakota. My grandfather had a step-brother by the name of Müller,
who was living in Aberdeen. So they came directly from New York
to Aberdeen, South Dakota.
MM: On the train?
AG: On the train, that's right.
MM: Why did they come to North Dakota or
AG: Because there were others there that
they knew. Some of their relatives were there and other people
that they knew. They knew a lot of people that were there.
MM: These relatives before them, why did
they come to the Dakota Territory?
AG: Well, I don't know. You'd have to ask
them. (laughter) I think in all cases the problem was the military
service. It was one of the factors, and the fact that they were
poor. They had no land in Russia. That wasn't the case with my
grandfather. He still had land, but you know the landholding in
Russia was strange because they weren't supposed to divide it
up. It was inherited by the youngest son. My great grandfather,
whose name was Adam, he was the youngest son in his family, and
my grandfather was the youngest son in Adam's family. So the landholding
that my great grandfather had passed in its entirety to my grandfather,
and the original Adam... he was the youngest son and he inherited
the landholding of his father. So my grandfather still had the
same landholding that his grandfather had when he arrived in Russia.
In that respect he was well off.
MM: Now, did you ever hear what was the cost,
in 1900, for instance, to leave the village, come on the train
to Poland, which was then Germany, and then to the port, and then
on the ship, then finally to Aberdeen? Did they ever say what
this cost was in monies, to come over?
AG: Oh, I don't know.
MM: You never heard a figure?
AG: I never heard any figure, no, because
it varied greatly for different people. Because they traveled
in cheaper ships or more expensive ships, and so on. So it's pretty
hard to tell.
MM: When they decided to leave the village,
their sod house or their home in South Russia, what would they
bring along with them? What items did they find most valuable
to bring with them, coming to America? In their suitcases or whatever,
what did they bring with them?
AG: Well, the only thing that I know of,
that I saw, was some books. They had prayer books and that type
of thing. Otherwise, I can't remember what they brought from Russia.
MM: Did they have like a family Bible?
AG: Yes, that's what I mean.
MM: So that tells me that their religious
books were very important to them.
AG: Oh yes, oh yes.
MM: So when they came then, to the Dakotas,
what was their means of transportation, and then where did they
AG: Well, they traveled to Aberdeen, and
there was no land available there anymore at that time, so they
went north into McHenry County. There were homesteads there, and
my grandfather got a homestead.
MM: So, he homesteaded?
AG: He and his brother-in-law, his sister's
husband, they came together. His name was Schwab, Wendlyn Schwab.
They homesteaded near Towner.
MM: Near Towner, North Dakota, in McHenry
County. Did they stay in McHenry County?
AG: No, no. They left after five years and
came to Canada.
MM: Why did they leave Towner County?
AG: Because their particular homestead was
not very good. They couldn't make a living on it. By that time,
five years later, some of the sons were old enough to homestead
in Canada. So when they came to Canada, they were able to get
four homesteads... Grandfather and his three eldest sons got homesteads.
So they had a whole section of land in Saskatchewan by giving
up their poor quarter in North Dakota.
MM: Interesting. When they developed homesteads,
were the regulations or the settlement of a homestead in Canada
similar to North Dakota or in the United States? Same acreage?
Was it 160 acres in Saskatchewan too?
AG: Same size, yes.
MM: Same size and so forth. And did they
quickly secure more land and buy more land?
AG: Well, yes, they did. For most of them,
a quarter section was not really enough to live on, so most of
them bought another quarter section. And there was land available
around because the homestead land was interspersed with land owned
privately by land companies of various kinds. So they were easily
able to find a quarter section near them that they could buy.
MM: Now when they came to Saskatchewan, they
didn't have a house. What were the living quarters?
AG: They built sod houses.
MM: So they already had, in that time period,
the early 1900's, your ancestors built a sod house.
MM: Do you remember that sod house?
AG: Oh yes. It was still there when I was
six or seven years old. Oh yes. It was being used as a chicken
house by then because we had built a more affordable, lumber house.
MM: Do you remember some other families still
living in a sod house?
AG: Oh yes. Oh yes.
MM: What do you remember about the sod house,
the size of it and so forth?
AG: Well, they were warm. That's one thing
I remember about them. But I don't have too much memory of our
life in that because we moved to the other house in 1911, so I
was only two years old. But the sod house was still there. I remember
it, but I don't remember living in it.
MM: Adam, when you were growing up in your
family, did they receive any German newspapers or were there books,
so if you were interested in studying on these people, did you
have access to reading materials?
AG: Oh yes. My father was a reader. He always
subscribed to German newspapers. There was a German newspaper
in North Dakota he always subscribed to. I forget the name of
it. Then there was a Canadian one that was published in Regina.
He always had those two papers, and he also bought books.
MM: Now, relating to the newspapers and the
books, when you were growing up in Saskatchewan, did you grow
up only with the German language? Were you speaking German then,
at that time?
AG: We and all our neighbors all spoke German.
We lived in an area where there were a lot of Germans from Russia.
I heard no English in my home when I was a child.
MM: So when was your first experience with
the English language?
AG: When I started school, when I was eight
years old. We were out in the country, about four miles away from
the school. They thought I was too young to go when I was seven,
to walk all that way. So by the time I was eight, they thought
I could do it.
MM: Before you went to school, could you
read already then?
AG: Oh yes. I could read German very well.
MM: You showed me from your private library
this first reader series. The first reader, the second reader,
the third reader, and the fourth reader. Tell me a little bit
about these books, Adam. This is very interesting.
AG: As I mentioned, I was the oldest grandson.
Grandma lived just half a mile away from our place and so everybody
took great interest in me. The oldest grandson... my father had
six brothers and a sister, and they all lived close together.
So they all took an interest in me. The first German book they
bought me, I was five years old, and it was so feeble. I don't
know what you call it in the English. It was a primary book which
was mostly pictures. I had that when I was five years old. So
they kept adding to them, and this is how I got the set of four.
By the time I was eight years old, I had mastered those. What
they used to do, they made me show off. They were all so proud
of me, so they made me show off, so they'd give me one of these
books when there were guests around, you know, visitors. They'd
say, "You read this story for them," and I would read it. I could
read any story they gave me to read. Of course, that was very
impressive to these neighbors, I suppose.
MM: In looking at these books, it's even
in the old German script.
AG: Oh yes. I had no problems with German
MM: So you grew up reading German, which
was very important for your work later on in your career. When
you went to school, you were quite proficient already in reading.
AG: Oh yes. Reading was easy for me and in
the Fall of 1918, there was a flu epidemic. You probably heard
about the flu epidemic. In the flu epidemic, they closed schools.
Well, the school in Holdfast in town, that school opened, where
our country school didn't open yet. So my dad thought I should
go and stay at Grandpa's house. I stayed at Grandpa's house, and
by that time I was in grade three. This was only... I'd started
in the Spring of 1917, and by the Fall of 1918, I was in grade
three. So I made rapid progress, and I remember when I went into
this school in town the teacher... well actually, I was in grade
two, but she gave me a grade three reader and I read it. So she
put me into grade three. I got promoted right there. By being
in school a year, I was able to read English. So I must have picked
it up faster than most people did.
MM: Now, when you'd go home... that newspaper,
The North Dakota Herold, that was published in Dickinson, North
Dakota... that German newspaper... would you read that newspaper
AG: Oh yes.
MM: And did you find that quite interesting?
AG: Oh yes.
MM: What did you find in The Herold when
you'd read it?
AG: There were, for instance, letters in
there from Russia. My dad always read it very faithfully, and
I always looked through it.
MM: When you, of course, were here in Canada,
did all the relatives come to North America, or did some stay
behind in South Russia?
AG: There were quite a few that stayed behind.
My grandfather had one sister that came to America. She was married
to Wendlyn Schwab, and my grandma had one brother that came to
America. Now she was a Rissling. She belong to a Lehrerfamilie.
Do you know what a Lehrerfamilie is? The teacher's family. Her
father and her grandfather were teachers, and several of her uncles.
So they were an educated group. But they all stayed behind except
the one brother. They all died in Russia. You'll find in the book
I wrote on my grandmother's people that there are some letters
from there written over the period. So they used to hear from
them periodically, quite a bit. Some of the old letters survived,
and I grabbed them after Grandfather died. I translated them and
they appear in that book.
MM: There was correspondence back and forth,
AG: Oh yes. Oh yes.
MM: And those relatives that stayed in South
Russia, in the villages, did some of those survive and not immigrate
to North America?
MM: Did you ever have any contact later,
after the war and so forth?
AG: Well, we had some contact, but it was
one family that had gone to Rumania. They were in the Dobruja.
I don't know if you know the Dobruja. That's where they lived
when they were evacuated from Rumania to Germany, during the war.
MM: What year would that have been?
AG: That would have been about 1940. From
Germany some of them managed to come to Canada after the war.
They live in Vancouver, and they are the descendants of my grandfather's
sister, one of my grandfather's sisters. They are the only ones
of that family that got here.
MM: Do you think there are still other relatives
AG: I suppose there are, but I have not contact
MM: Well, it's very interesting, Adam, when
you mentioned the name Rissling. Because in the village of Selz
today, there's a lady who came back to Selz and her last name
is Rissling. And she came back, and she's one of the first former
residents of Selz that went through the process, politically,
to reclaim the house of the Rissling family.
AG: Did she get it?
MM: Yes. When we've been over with the tours,
the Longtins and Brother Placid Gross, they know her. I want to
see her when I'm there next May when I'm there. Mrs. Rissling
to talk to me about something. But they're quite successful, but
the last name is Rissling, which is rather interesting.
AG: You see, that's where my grandmother's
family lived. Her grandfather and her father were both teachers
over the years in Selz.
MM: In the school.
AG: Oh yes.
MM: Did the relatives talk much about the
village, like the church in Mannheim, for example?
AG: Oh yes.
MM: Because there was a beautiful church
AG: I heard about their priests and so on.
I have a lot of interest in that because there were at least six
of my relatives who were priests in the German villages in Russia.
Some of them my mother's relatives and some of them my father's.
MM: But these letters that would come from
Selz and from the villages, were they telling about the difficulties
they were having over there, about their life? What did they write
about in these letters?
AG: Well, the early ones... you see, my grandfather
came to America in 1900. By 1902 I think one of Grandma's brothers
wanted to come very badly. So he wrote to them and he wanted a
Freikart. Do you know what a Freikart is? A paid ticket for his
family. Well, he thought that these guys were rich by this time.
They weren't. He did manage to come about 10 years later. But
he wrote letters, in I think 1902 or 1903, asking them to. And
there were letters, all kinds of exchanges. Well, you can read
about them in this book.
MM: And this book is rather interesting,
My Grandmother's People. You wrote this book in what year?
AG: 1985. I can show you... here's Brief
vun Deham, Letters From Home. Those are the letters, the contacts
we had. They go all the way back to after the war and even after
the Second World War. That's the Rissling. I had no communication
from the Giesingers at all. You see, my grandfather was an only
son, so he had no brothers. So his relatives over there had other
surnames. They weren't Giesingers.
MM: When you were in school, you were in
the town going to school and living with your grandfather. Did
your parents or grandparents ever talk about wishing they were
back home, or did they ever get homesick, about living in Russia
again? Did they ever talk about getting homesick about the homeland,
back in Russia?
AG: I can't remember that they were ever...
I think they were glad they'd come. I really don't know.
MM: Did they ever say that they were glad
they came to America? Did they ever talk about that they were
glad they'd immigrated from Russia?
AG: Well, I'm sure they were glad they had
come, but they didn't make a big fuss about it as I remember.
MM: When you were a child growing up, when
they had Maistub, when they were talking with the other neighbors,
because some of them had come here to live in Canada and the United
States also, did they sit around and chat about the villager life
over there in Russia?
AG: Oh yes, they used to do that. But we
kids weren't too welcome in the midst of them. Little kids were
a nuisance when there was a Maistub.
MM: But I think you took a little more interest
AG: Yes, I took an interest.
MM: And that probably developed into your
interest in writing and your interest in learning about your roots
and your family history and so forth. Then later on you got interested
in, and decided to write this major historical piece, from Catherine
to Khrushchev, The Story of Russia's Germans. How did that develop
that you decided to write this book?
AG: Well, it's a long story, because your
interest grows as you get older and various things have developed.
MM: You have a wonderful piece here about
how your history began.
AG: You learn things as you go along. As
I told you, I learned about my grandfather's father's name. I
didn't even know that until he died. Then I found out his name
from the passport. Then things like I wrote to Germany. I heard
about the Heimatbuch der Deutschen aus Russland, which was published
after the Second World War, and I wanted to get a copy of it.
I heard about it and I wanted to get a copy of it, so I wrote
to the address and I got an answer from Dr. Stumpp. He happened
to be the editor. That was in 1958. In the letter that he wrote
to me, in answer to mine, he says, "I have a list of people that
went to Russia," and he said, "in Mannheim there was a man named
Jakob Giesinger; is he a relative of yours? Are you related to
him?" This is what he asked me. Well, of course, I had never heard
of this Jakob. I didn't know anything about the one that had gone
to Russia. So anyway, I answered and I told him that I'm sure
that he must be a relative because my grandfather and my father
were both born in Mannheim, so they must be descendants of his.
So then he sent me some more. Then he sent me the 1816 Census
list in which the family that went to Russia is listed, and by
that time I think they had about seven or eight children, and
he listed all of those. Then I really got keenly interested. Now
that was ignited in 1958, that special interest. That's really
what started this book; that started me on this book. Then I wrote
to him and asked how I could get literature. Could he send me
a bibliography of books that I might be able to get in libraries
about the Germans in Russia. And he wrote to me and he sent me
a little booklet in which he listed all the things that had been
written about the Germans in Russia, in the German language. Also
his list told me in what library each of these could be found.
So I wrote to those libraries and most of them said they would
not lend me books overseas. They wouldn't do that, but they would
make me photocopies. But I found one library that was willing
to lend me books, so I started borrowing books. All through the
1960's I was accumulating knowledge and the books that are listed
in here, for instance, the bibliography in this book, lists the
books that I had read. Most of those I got from German libraries,
and so throughout the 1960's I was working on this, using those
books from German libraries. This was the first book. Nobody had
even tried writing a book like this. My book was the first one
in the United States. Father Aberle, he had written one, but that
was a very poor book. People thought it was wonderful, but it
was full of errors. Very full of errors. So mine was the first
authoritative book on the Germans in Russia. And nobody has challenged
anything in this yet. Nobody.
MM: It's the classic book. And how many printings
have there been of this book, Adam?
AG: Oh, five or six anyway.
MM: When you finished high school in Saskatchewan,
then you went on to college. What were your interests there for
AG: Well, I had no choice. This was a small
college in which they had a standard course. You'd take it or
leave it. So the courses I took there didn't matter, except there
was a lot of Latin. It was a Jesuit college and you had to study
Latin. So I studied Latin for seven years, and as a result of
that, I can read Latin as easily as I can read English. Some of
the vocabulary, of course, is gone, but I have a dictionary, and
when there's a word there I can't read, I'll use the dictionary.
But I can read these church records without any dictionary.
MM: Where was this college?
AG: In Regina, in Saskatchewan. One of the
things that happened there too, that's of interest, is that I
took high school there too. Four years of high school, and then
three years of college for a BA degree. The last years, my father
had crop failures. He was a farmer, and he had crop failures.
He couldn't afford to send me on, so they gave me a job, teaching
German to grades 11 and 12. Now this was when I was 18 years old,
so I became a staff member while still a student.
MM: What was the name of the college?
AG: Campion College in Regina.
AG: Campion, yes.
MM: It was a private Jesuit Catholic college?
AG: Yes, that's right.
MM: Then, after you finished there, your
BA degree, did you go on for more education?
AG: Oh yes. I got three more degrees after
MM: What were those degrees, and where?
AG: I got Bachelor of Education at the University
of Saskatchewan, then when I came to Winnipeg, I was teaching
in Saskatchewan high schools for a few years. Then I got an offer
of a job, again from a Jesuit college in Winnipeg. St. Paul's
College in Winnipeg. So I came to Winnipeg, and when I was in
Winnipeg I decided I wanted to do graduate work. I had started
graduate work in mathematics in Saskatchewan, so I wanted to carry
on with that and they wouldn't accept any graduate students in
mathematics at that time. Remember this was during the war time.
They had a short staff, and the math profs were very busy teaching
airmen. So I was talking to the dean and he happened to be head
of the chemistry department, so he says, "Why don't you take chemistry?"
So I said, "May I?" So I did. So I switched to chemistry and I
got a Masters of Science in chemistry and then a PhD in chemistry.
All the time I was still studying history, of course.
MM: Was this at the University of Manitoba?
AG: That was at the University of Manitoba,
MM: Then you got your PhD in what year?
AG: I got that in 1957, many years later.
I got the BA in 1929 and the PhD was in 1957.
MM: Then you continued to teach at the University
AG: Oh yes. I've been on staff ever since.
MM: What year did you retire?
AG: I retired in 1976, twenty-one years ago.
MM: You were teaching chemistry at the University
AG: Yes, that's right.
MM: But you always had this interest.
AG: One of the interesting things that happened...
remember I was still teaching chemistry when I wrote this book.
So when it appeared, and I had it printed myself, I didn't think
any publisher would want to print a book like this. So I got it
printed myself, paid for the printing, and when it appeared, people
heard about it at the university. Adam Giesinger, chemistry prof,
he has just written a book on history! And you know what I found?
There were four members of the chemistry department besides me,
that were also Germans from Russia.
MM: Oh my! Interesting.
AG: So they all got copies of the book right
away and so the news spread rapidly. We never knew each other's
backgrounds, you know.
MM: Now when I look at your collection here,
Adam, and of course you have more books elsewhere, but you've
developed quite a collection of books on the history of the Germans
from Russia, and others - general history. How did this all develop,
your interest develop, in this collection? You have quite a book
AG: Well, I was always bookish. I was always
buying books, throughout my life. These go back to all sorts of
places. This is an example. A book I picked up in a bookstore
downtown, and that happened through the war.
MM: Let's go back to your own personal life.
Of course, you raised your own family, but where did you meet
your wife, and what was her name?
AG: It's a rather interesting story about
how I met my wife. You have to go back to... what happened was
a railway accident happened. In that railway accident, her eldest
sister and her husband - that sister's husband, and a baby son
were killed. These people happened to be friends of a fellow staff
member at the college, at Campion; I was at Campion then. So I
was teaching at Campion, and this other fellow was teaching, and
they were friends of his. So he told me about them. He was very
shocked because he had known both the sister and her husband quite
well. The Spring when I graduated in 1929, Leo - this was my friend
on the staff - Leo's girlfriend came, and Leo's girlfriend happened
to be a sister of the one who was killed in the accident. So she's
the first member of the family I met. That's my wife's oldest
sister. Her name was Elisabeth. Bessie, we called her. So I met
Betty. Then Betty and Leo, probably the following summer or a
year later, they were going on a holiday trip in a car and invited
me to come along, to go out to the Ingram home. This is where
her people lived. There I met my future wife and her younger sister
and their mother. The father was a highway contractor and he and
his sons were away on a highway contract. So we drove out, we
took the girls and the mother, and we drove out to the highway
where they were working. That was further west of Saskatoon. That's
how I met my wife. We actually sat in the back seat together,
and I got to talk to her. So that's how I met her.
MM: And what was her full name?
AG: Margaret was her name.
MM: And her family name?
AG: Ingram. This was an Ingram family. They
were a Scottish family. Anyway, she was then attending a convent
school in Regina. A Sister's school for high school. She was doing
high school work there. I was on the staff at Campion and her
school was about a quarter of a mile away from my place, and I
used to get her out. She was boarding there, and they weren't
allowed out very easily. But we made a date each time for the
next time, and we couldn't make the dates too often because the
nuns would object. Now the nuns knew about it, but they'd close
their eyes, because I was pretty well known in that area. I think
they were rather amused that I would take to this little girl.
She was pretty small, only three years younger than I, but she
was quite small. This is how I met her and eventually she got
her BA there, and by that time I was going back to University.
I was at the University in Saskatoon, so she came up there too
and we were in the same class, where I got my Education degree.
She was in the same class, so she became a teacher.
MM: So you married in Saskatchewan?
AG: We were married a couple of years after
MM: I see, and then came to Winnipeg soon
AG: Oh, that was some years later. We had
three children before we came to Winnipeg.
MM: Have your children shared in this interest
of the history of the Germans from Russia? Are they interested
also in keeping on this tradition?
AG: More or less. But my children are an
international group. My eldest son... now remember their mother
is Scottish, and the eldest son married a girl of French background,
who had an Irish grandmother. My eldest daughter married a Belgian
who had an English mother. The next daughter married a Scot. Then
my youngest son married an Irish girl. So when you get to the
grandchildren, when you get to their children, you can see they
have a lot of forefathers to think about. Not just mine. But actually,
they probably know more about mine than they do about any of the
others, because none of the others have gone in for family history.
The kids all know about this, oh yes.
MM: When you look back in your own life to
this history of the Germans from Russia, I'm interested in knowing
about what was life like. Do you remember the era of World War
AG: The beginning? Yes, I remember that.
MM: And being a German in Canada, were there
problems where you lived?
AG: There were. There certainly were. There
were serious problems. There used to be fights in town. The area
in which we lived, there were Germans from Russia east of town,
and English / Anglos west of town. They'd all meet in town and
there were lots of arguments and fights.
MM: Were you still able to speak German?
AG: Oh yes. I'm still able to now.
MM: But it was not forbidden that you were
not supposed to speak German.
AG: Well, by that time it really didn't touch
us. Because we were out in the country.
MM: You were isolated.
AG: It really didn't touch us. I think the
people in town had to be careful, maybe. But there were German
business people in town too, you see. You have to remember that,
so we didn't have to deal with the English in most cases.
MM: Did you have people you knew, friends
or relatives or whoever, who didn't want to let other people know
they were German Russians?
AG: Oh yes.
MM: They weren't all that proud of it?
AG: Some hid themselves completely. They
changed their names.
MM: Why did they do this?
AG: I don't know. Because they were afraid.
I don't approve of that, by the way. I don't think people should
be ashamed of their background.
MM: Later on, when there was Communism, and
we're talking now about World War II, was there ever a situation,
did you ever hear that these German Russians were called Rooshins?
AG: Oh yes, oh yes. But you know, the Second
World War was not nearly as bad. The First World War, our people
were still very German, and the younger generation did not join
the army until they were forced to. But by the Second World War,
the situation had completely changed. They were Canadianized,
Anglicized, the younger generation. So there wasn't the same ill
feeling towards us. I had no problems. I had more problems when
I first started teaching. If you applied to a school, one of the
questions they always asked was, "What kind of a name is that?"
They'd ask me, "What kind of a name is that?" And I'd tell them,
"It's a German name." So sometimes, that finished you, when you
applied for a school. That was after the First World War, but
throughout the Second World War, I've never had any problems.
MM: You've never had any problems.
AG: Never, never. Everybody at the University
of Manitoba knew who I was, what I was.
MM: And there were many other Germans, of
AG: Oh yes, there were lots of others there
MM: Direct German descendants.
MM: Especially during that time period of
World War I, did they call these people Germans or German Russians?
Did they categorize them with all Germans?
AG: We didn't have as much of that kind of
thing as you had in the States. I don't remember them ever being
called Rooshins. I really don't. They considered them Germans.
MM: They considered them Germans.
AG: Oh yes. That's right.
MM: Because they were speaking the German
language, which was important.
AG: That's right.
MM: What I'm interested in knowing is, did
you ever know Dr. Joseph Height?
AG: Oh yes, very well. I had much contact
MM: How did you get to know him, through
AG: Yes, through correspondence and in personal
meetings. He has visited here in this house.
MM: Because Joseph Height, of course, did
some wonderful works on the Germans from Russia, and has wonderful
archives on the German Russians, and especially our Black Sea
Germans. Joseph Height also grew up in Saskatchewan.
AG: That's right. As a matter of fact, his
birthday is the same year as mine, 1909. He was born in 1909,
but of course he died long ago, now.
MM: Yes. When you wrote from Catherine to
Khrushchev what kind of reaction did you have to your book? Was
it well received?
AG: Oh yes, it was. I got a first printing
of a thousand. As you know, I financed it myself. The first printing
of a thousand, and in a year and a half it was all gone. So I
got a second printing. It is so much work, shipping these books
out all the time that I decided to give the book away, and I gave
it away. I gave the rights to... you can see, it's mentioned in
there... I gave the rights to AHSGR. At that time I was president
of AHSGR, and I decided to donate the book. I get no income from
it at all. I should have had more sense than that. I should have
said, "give me a dollar for each book that you sell." But I get
nothing, and they've got a bargain, I think.
MM: What have you seen, Adam, in changes
now, in the whole research on the Germans from Russia, and now
with this technology and so forth, what have you seen evolve?
When you think about when you began doing this research, and then
of course the two societies developed on the Germans from Russia,
and collections develop at NDSU and Fargo, and we've all got more
interest in this. Do you find that today people are more willing
to say that I'm German Russian, than it was earlier on?
AG: Oh, I think so, yes. A lot of them admit
it now, which they didn't used to admit. Oh yes, I think so. I
think they are more proud of their background.
MM: Than it was when you were growing up.
AG: Oh yes.
MM: And there is much more literature today.
AG: Oh yes. Of course.
MM: Are you using this new technology to
find access to material? For instance, are you using the computer
so that you can find material on your roots, or do you communicate
with other people on the computer?
AG: Oh yes, I use the computer a lot.
MM: How has this helped you in your research?
AG: Well, it's really hard to say. It has
helped me in writing it up. When I wrote my first book, from Catherine
to Khrushchev, I was using a portable electric typewriter. I typed
the manuscript on that myself. When I published this other book,
My Grandmother's People, I was still using this typewriter. That
was in 1985. This one, which appeared in '92, is completely printed
on that machine there. Completely. I typed it. I typed the manuscript
and the printers simply photographed it.
MM: And this book title is The Way it Was:
A Family History and Autobiography, by Adam Giesinger. And this
was printed and published in 1992?
MM: Very interesting. And what is this book
AG: Well, it deals with... first of all,
the first three chapters deal with the family history. Chapters
four, five, I think up to six and seven, are my personal history.
AG: Autobiography. Then there are three chapters
that deal with the Germans from Russia, my research in Germans
from Russia. And finally, there's a sort of a "putting it all
MM: People are always still digging for their
roots. Have you found anything new in the last few years, that
you didn't know, from research?
AG: Oh yes. In this book, for instance, there's
only one thing I'd like to change if I could, and that is some
parts of the family history. Because when I wrote this in '92,
I did not know that my grandfather's father was a son of the immigrant.
You know the immigrant family I'm talking about, the one that
went from Alsace to Russia. Now my grandfather's father was the
youngest son of that family. I didn't know that. I thought he
was a son of the eldest son. See, there were two Jakobs. There
was Jakob Sr., that's the head of the family, and the eldest son
was also named Jakob. I thought that my grandfather's grandfather
was Jakob, but the Jr. This tells the story, so if you go, for
instance here, on I think page 22 or someplace... in any event,
a lot of the connections between the immigrant family and ourselves
here in America, a lot of the connections are wrong in this book.
I'll give you a page which shows it. But in any event, if I could
rewrite just a paragraph here and there, there's a paragraph on
page 22. There is Jakob Giesinger Jr., you see, and I ascribed
all sorts of things to him. Well, actually, he didn't do any of
these things. It was his father that did them. His father, Jakob
MM: Well, how did you discover that this
AG: I discovered that by getting that material
from Odessa. I don't know if you know the start of that. What
happened was, Bob Schuh sent me a Latin document, which was a
baptismal record of my grandfather's father, Adam Giesinger. By
this time I knew the name, but I thought Adam Giesinger was the
son of Jakob Jr. But this document told me definitely that he
was the son of Jakob Sr. So everything I say about Jakob Jr. in
there is wrong. It's scattered, of course. It's not a big section
of the book, but pieces here and there. As a result of that, of
course, what was an uncle or what was an aunt, now becomes a cousin.
What was a second cousin becomes a first cousin. And all sorts
of things change as a result of that. But that's all.
MM: Is this discovery, is this original papers
in Odessa that appear in the archives?
AG: These are papers from Mannheim parish
that are in this Odessa archive.
MM: So this tells us that had we not been
able to get to these archives and look at these Odessa archives,
a lot of things would be unknown that would not be accurate or
people would not have certain...
AG: Most people going back through... remember,
what we had really, was family tradition. Grandpa would tell you
a story and later on you'd think about that. So you had a sort
of a picture of the interconnection, but you were often wrong,
because it was guess work. And that's true... everybody has that
problem. They're all trying to document now.
MM: Right, it's better to have, if you can
find original sources, and then look as best you can. So this,
I think later in your life, then, this was quite new for you to
find this new data.
AG: Oh yes. Very, very new. Remember, I wrote
this in '92, and in 1992 I hadn't a clue then. I didn't learn
about that until 1995.
MM: Have you found anything else new since
AG: Oh, all sorts of things. Yes, I've found
many things. I now know the names of three additional children
in that family; I know whom they married. I know this Jakob Jr.,
to whom I assigned so much, he never got married. There's no sign
of a marriage in the records at all.
MM: Now how closely related would these people
AG: Remember that my grandfather was a grandson
of the original settler. So all these who came to America were
all cousins of his. They were all his cousins. They were the same
level as he was. Only he was younger, because he was the youngest
son of the youngest son.
MM: Do you have many relatives, Adam, in
North Dakota or in the United States?
AG: Oh yes, all kinds of them, yes.
MM: And where are they living?
AG: Some of them are in the Strasburg area,
but they're scattered. That's where they settled, but they scattered.
There's another branch in Montana, and they're all over now. There's
another group that settled in South Dakota, not in Aberdeen, but
west of there, or east of there. Three brothers settled there.
MM: Do you still get much correspondence?
AG: Oh yes.
MM: Do you find that some of this correspondence
is coming from people who are younger also? Younger people, are
they interested in all of this?
AG: Oh yes, quite a few of them. I have made
contacts, for instance through the listserve, with people who
are related to me and whom I never knew about. They are grandchildren
of, for instance, I mentioned Franz, who settled in Strasburg?
Well I have grandchildren of his that are in this listserve.
MM: It's wonderful, because even at your
age, you still can make communication, looking at a screen, and
it's like you get to know these people. It becomes a real friendship,
a renewed relationship.
MM: Now, are some of your children on the
AG: No, no. Not yet.
MM: We'll have to get them interested.
AG: They're on e-mail, though. Practically
everybody in my family is on e-mail.
MM: What we'll have to do later, is that
if you can get me some of their addresses, we can let them know
about all of this.
AG: They know, but when you've got eight
great-grandparents, each of a different nationality, it's pretty
MM: I see. But fortunately, they have a grandpa
who wrote a book on his roots. It makes a difference.
AG: They're all interested in that.
MM: So your library collection here, Adam,
and all of your materials go back how many years?
AG: This collection? Well, it goes back to
the beginning. That one about the history of the First World War
was published in 1919.
MM: And this is a book that you had as a
AG: That's right.
MM: Let's talk a little bit about the folklore
and folkways, food ways of the German Russians. Let's switch topics
a little bit and talk about what you remember as a child in the
home. First of all, I'm interested in knowing about the folk medicines
of the German Russians. Do you remember much about that?
MM: Did you go to a regular doctor?
AG: I know they used to do things like brauche,
but I have no personal knowledge. One of the things that you have
to realize is that I left home when I was 13 years old to go to
college. I attended a boarding college, so that I missed a lot
of things that the others might have heard. But I never heard
them, because I was gone.
MM: Did you come home summers?
AG: Yes, but in the summer we were busy farming.
MM: You had to help with the farm work.
AG: Oh yes. I was with the bailer or plowing,
or on a binder.
MM: Were they still using horses yet?
AG: In the early years. In the 1920's they
were still using horses, but gradually it went over to a tractor.
By the 1930's they were in tractors.
AG: If you read my story in there, you'll
see some pictures. I remember we had a thrashing machine; this
would be about 1927 or thereabouts, my dad bought it. And we had
a tractor, that in the earlier years, they used to use steam tractors,
but by this time they were using gasoline ones. My father had
this John Deere outfit, and of course, they used it to plow and
to do everything else.
MM: What about the food ways? Your mother
was German Russian too, so there was a lot of cooking of German
foods. They did a lot of cooking with all of the German tradition.
Were there a lot of noodles in the home?
AG: Oh yes. Noodles.
Borscht soup I remember. But eating was not a specialty of mine.
I didn't pay too much attention to that.
When it came time for Christmas, how do you remember as a child
growing up, what was special about Christmas? Anything special
that you remember?
AG: When I was small,
the Christkindl used to come. It was somebody dressed up, usually
one of the younger relatives. I don't remember too much about
that. Except we always went to Midnight Mass. I remember that,
and I liked that.
MM: Was the service
AG: Yes, the service
was in German until... in the 1920's it was still in German. They
gradually switched over.
MM: So they even had
the German service in church, even in World War I, in German?
AG: Oh yes. The service
was still in German.
MM: Well, did they
have a German priest then?
AG: Oh yes. An immigrant
from Germany. They were Oblate priests that would come from Germany.
They were the parish priests. Oh yes.
MM: What about a wedding in your family?
Were weddings quite a large activity? A wedding celebration?
AG: Yes. I don't remember too many of them,
again, because the weddings were usually in the Fall. When I was
old enough to be interested in something like that, they were
in the Fall, and I was away at college. I never saw much of them.
I can remember one wedding in 1920, in which one of my mother's
cousins got married. The wedding was in my uncle's house. They
had a big farm house and the wedding was
there. I can remember that just vaguely. I was only 11 years old.
At the age of 13, when you went to this boarding school in Regina,
high school and college, were there a lot of other German Russian
AG: Oh yes. Oh yes.
But we didn't really worry much about that. I can tell you one
thing I remember, though. At this college we had our people, the
German Russians. And we had some Irish and French Catholics as
well. Occasionally there would be little wars, a bit of fighting
go on. Somebody would say something insulting, and I can remember,
I was a little guy at that time, when I first started there. I
had big brothers, older ones, they looked after us. I can remember
one guy... one guy hit me, and this guy came along and BANG...
they always defended us. So we stuck together, not even realizing
our people had come from Russia. We didn't realize that. We just
naturally gravitated towards each other. We knew we were German-speaking.
MM: When you were going to school then, in
the high school, amongst yourselves, those that were German Russians,
did you speak German?
AG: No, no.
MM: Already then it was English.
AG: By that time we were Anglicized. We always
spoke English. But we took German in high school. We still studied
German in high school. And later, as I mentioned, I actually taught
high school German there for awhile.
MM: But when you'd come home summers, with
your folks and the rest of the family, you'd speak German?
AG: Oh yes, yes. Always. No English spoken
in our home.
MM: Your parents learned to speak English?
AG: My father did. Not my mother.
MM: Your mother never learned?
AG: She never learned.
MM: She never learned?
AG: No. She understood some, but she never
MM: But your father learned English.
AG: Oh yes. My father knew it quite well.
MM: And he could read the newspaper in English.
AG: Oh yes. Oh yes. And books. Many of the
pioneers were illiterate, or nearly so. So when you had somebody
like my father... he had a year of high school in Russia, and
so when they set up a school, I remember this was one of the things
that happened. They had to elect a school board. Well, they needed
somebody who could read and write to be secretary. Well, my dad
was picked for that. So he was secretary of the school board for
quite a few years, until the younger generation came along and
then it passed to other families.
MM: So your father and your mother felt it
was important their children became educated?
AG: Oh yes, oh yes.
MM: Was that true of the neighbors too?
AG: I think I was the first one in our neighborhood
that went on to high school. The first one. By the time my youngest
brother, my two youngest brothers... there was a high school in
town. But there hadn't been when I was high school age. You had
to go away. Many people couldn't afford that.
MM: What about the young girls? Could they
go to high school?
AG: No. They went less. Later on, yes, when
there was a high school in town, the girls used to go on, yes.
But not when they had to send them away.
MM: When the German Russian girls would get
married, what would be the normal age when they got married?
AG: Oh, I suppose 18 to 20, somewhere in
MM: That young. Were there arranged marriages,
AG: Not too much. The young were rebellious
about things like that. There were some who tried to arrange marriages,
but it didn't work out very well usually. I don't remember; I
think in most cases the young couple made the choice themselves.
MM: But those early years, were the parents
like your parents careful that their children, if they were going
to get married and so forth, it didn't matter to them if they
married another German Russian, they could marry another ethnic
AG: Well, we didn't really ask them. (laughter)
As far as I was concerned, they heard about it indirectly, at
first that I had a girlfriend who was Scottish. But they liked
her. After we got married and we used to visit, my mother liked
her a lot. She liked my wife a lot.
MM: But your mother and your wife...
AG: Didn't communicate very well. They got
MM: Interesting. What about religion? Was
it very important that they married... like you were Catholic,
that you find a Catholic girl?
AG: Oh, I think that they liked that. I think
they considered that very important. Yes. But that didn't always
happen either. As the years passed by, there was less and less
control of that kind of exercise.
MM: So you went off to a boarding school,
and this meant that you didn't experience all of this home life
because you were away at school, from the age of 13 on.
MM: For nine months. And you'd come home
in the summertime, and of course, it was very busy and you didn't
have too much time. Were there times in growing up where there
were a lot of hardships, where there were poor crops and you didn't
have enough money in the family?
AG: Oh yes. There were crop failures. Southern
Saskatchewan had a series of crop failures in the early 1920's.
That's when I was away at college too, and eventually it got the
best of my father. He couldn't afford to send me to college anymore
and I got a job teaching there, teaching German.
MM: Did they finally have to give up the
AG: Oh no, no.
MM: He kept the farm.
AG: He retired from it eventually.
MM: And then they sold the farm?
AG: He didn't sell it, but his son that farmed
it, he sold it eventually. That was after my father's death.
MM: So, it's no longer in the family?
AG: No, it's no longer in the family.
MM: How many brothers and sisters were there
in your family?
AG: There were six of us. Actually, I had
an older brother that died before I was born. But there were five
of us then; a sister and four brothers. I mean there were six
of us. I had one sister and four brothers.
MM: Are any of the others still living?
AG: My sister is still living. She's next
to me in age. My four brothers have all died. They were all younger.
MM: And how old is your sister?
AG: She is two years younger than I am.
MM: She is 86.
MM: Living where; in Winnipeg?
AG: No, in Regina.
MM: In Regina.
MM: Does she share this interest on her German
AG: Oh, to some extent. But she's not too
keen. She doesn't worry too much about it.
MM: Who do you think, in your family, of
your children or grandchildren, is going to take on, to continue
all this work that you've done? Do you hope that someone will
continue this work?
AG: Oh yes, I think so. I have an idea that
my eldest son, after he retires, that he will be getting busy
into this. He took me on a trip through Europe, visiting all of
the ancestral home places.
MM: In Alsace?
AG: In Alsace and elsewhere in Germany. We
had forefathers who lived in Austria and we visited Austria, Switzerland
and Alsace, and the Palatinate and so on. Oh yes.
MM: Because that is very important with such
a collection, that it be continued in the next generations. Now
with this new technology...
AG: Rob was the only one of my children who
took a German class at the university. So he has some interest
in the language too, but he has forgotten what he learned. But
it'll come back.
MM: We'll have to make communications with
him, so he knows about what we're trying to do with all of this.
AG: Oh, he keeps track. He visits me two
or three times a year, and he looks at the new records I have.
MM: Do you think there are more records that
you would like to find? Are you still searching for more material?
AG: Not too much, no. There's no end to it,
you know, but I have my Giesinger forefathers back in a full straight
line back to 1632. A man born in 1632. His name was Hansjörg.
Johannes Georg Giesinger. And he's the first one whose name I
know. I know whom he married; I know when he died; I know the
names of his children. And I can trace my Giesinger ancestry from
myself back to him. No missing links anymore.
MM: That's on the Giesinger side.
AG: That's on the Giesinger side. Then the
Rissling side, that's my grandmother's people, I'm only back to
MM: But that's very important for me to get
a copy of something because we need to show that to Mrs. Rissling
in Selz today, because that could be a relationship.
AG: You'll find the letters that I translated,
they're very interesting.
MM: Very interesting, yes, I've read those
letters. Now, as far as you know, you've never had any contact
with any relatives that stayed behind. In recent years you've
never had any correspondence with anyone. You don't know of anyone
who was ever sent to Siberia.
AG: Remember, there's also my mother's people.
I've had contact with some of my mother's people.
MM: What was their name?
AG: Their name was Seelinger. They came from
MM: Oh, I see.
AG: I've had correspondence with two different
ones that are in Germany now, of that Seelinger family.
MM: Did they come out in 1944 - '45?
AG: They came after the war. Some of them
as late as 1950.
MM: So they were never sent to Siberia.
AG: Oh yes, oh yes. They were in Siberia.
But they survived and got out eventually.
MM: But none have immigrated recently.
MM: When did they immigrate to Germany, 1950?
AG: 1950... some of them all the way to the
MM: Some were able to get out then?
AG: They were not all at the same time.
MM: And you correspond with them?
AG: Yes, I've corresponded.
MM: Do they freely write about what was life
like when they went to Siberia and all of that?
AG: Oh yes, yes. But they're more interested
in me than in supplying me with information. They're interested
in what happened to us. Now, my mother's people too, I have traced
back all the way. There are no gaps, back to 1632. He happened
to be born the same year.
MM: What name was that?
AG: 1632, I have them traced back.
MM: And what family name?
MM: Seelinger, way back to then.
MM: Your mother and father. Were they both
in Selz or in Mannheim? Where did they meet and get married, your
AG: My parents. They met in Saskatchewan.
MM: Oh, they really met in Saskatchewan?
AG: Oh yes. My father was 16 years old when
they left Russia and they came in 1900. My mother's people came
in 1903, and she would be about 16 years old then, too. They didn't
meet until they were settled in Saskatchewan.
MM: But your mother grew up, as a child she
was in Rastadt, in the Beresan villages?
AG: That's right.
MM: Very interesting. When your parents came,
did they come through North Dakota?
AG: My mother's people? No. My father's people
MM: But your mother's people came directly
AG: Yes. To Canada.
MM: So they came via the northern route.
AG: Yes, that's right. They landed in Halifax.
MM: They landed in Halifax, and then they
took the train?
AG: They took the train to Regina. In Regina,
they would learn about where there were homesteads.
MM: By then they probably already had relatives
AG: They had relatives there. They had relatives
living near Regina. They had many relatives. There were Seelingers
and Eberles. Eberle was my grandma's family name; there were some
of them too.
MM: When you were growing up and there were
still some relatives in North Dakota, would they go down and visit
AG: Oh yes, yes.
MM: Or they would come up to visit?
AG: There were visits back and forth, oh
yes. There was a family, particularly, in Rugby, North Dakota...
Jakob. They were in McHenry County. They were pioneers... Jakob
Giesinger. And his son John lives in Rugby. He was on the board
of GRHS, John Giesinger. His parents and my parents visited back
MM: Did you ever go down to visit in North
Dakota? When you were growing up, would you go along with the
parents to visit in North Dakota?
AG: No, I don't think, because those visits
were when I was at college. I don't remember ever going with them
there. But on my own, I've visited all of those places. I've visited
all of the relatives. All the various relatives.
MM: When your grandparents decided to immigrate
North America, how did they find out? Through relatives over here
already, that they could homestead and get this land, or would
they find out through an agent, or through the railroad company?
AG: They found out through relatives who
were over here.
MM: Through correspondence.
AG: Yes. You see, my grandfather Giesinger,
he had a step-brother named Müller, Englebert Müller, who lived
in Aberdeen. He came to America in 1893, and they corresponded.
This step-brother was because my grandfather's mother had married
after his father's death, and she had married a Müller. So these
are Müller step-brothers. All the Müllers in Aberdeen and in various
parts of Canada are relatives in that way. Anyway, that's how
the Giesingers heard, then the Seelingers... there were all sorts
of relatives. There were relatives of theirs that came to Canada
directly in the early 1890's. 1891, 1892. They had correspondence
with them. So they didn't get it through an agent.
MM: Those that came earlier on in the 1870's...
AG: No, not any of mine.
MM: Not any of your relatives, but the early
settlers. How did they find out about this land availability in
the Dakota Territory and then into Canada? Was this through the
railroad companies doing advertising over there?
AG: Oh yes. There was advertising in Odessa.
MM: That's very interesting, because when
I was in Odessa at the Odessa Scientific Library, they showed
this German newspaper in Odessa which had these advertisements
AG: Oh yes. That brought a lot of them over
here. The first ones came that way. But then after that there
was a lot of correspondence.
MM: The first settlers, then more came. They
would come where the other ones were and so forth.
AG: And you see, the shipping companies advertised
in Odessa all the time. They found customers.
MM: Yes. Then they started coming in large
numbers and of course, later settlement came to Saskatchewan and
Alberta. But a lot of them came via North Dakota and South Dakota.
AG: Oh yes, oh yes.
MM: Through Eureka, of course.
AG: The earlier ones came through there,
and it wasn't until 1905, 1906 that they moved from North Dakota
into Saskatchewan. There were quite a few. Several hundred families
from North Dakota settled, came to Saskatchewan.
MM: But before 1905, there were not many
German Russians in Saskatchewan?
AG: Oh yes, there were some that came directly
from Russia. The Seelinger relatives, they came in the 1890's.
MM: Were there many that settled in Manitoba?
AG: Oh yes. The Mennonites.
MM: The Mennonites, of course.
AG: Not ours, not many of our people.
MM: No. About what time did the Mennonites
AG: Oh, they came in the 1870's.
MM: They came much earlier then. When you
have done your research and so forth here, what have you depended
on in your collections? You've developed quite a collection of
books and so forth, but your research today... where do you get
most of your material that you're still working on today, when
you want some material? Is it more from your work on the computer?
AG: I haven't gotten much help over the computer.
I think I've learned about one relative through my membership
on this listserve. One relative that I heard about that I didn't
know about beforehand. I've contributed far more than I've gained.
MM: Yes, I'm aware of that. And I think that
will develop as that all gets ironed out on the listserve. The
listserve has told us that you've got all kinds of German Russian
people out there. Our German Russian people, when they were over
in Russia, when they were in Germany, when they came to America...
you have all different kinds of people with different interests.
And how willing they are to share information. I think the good
thing is that with this new technology and writing and so forth,
and publishing, that the younger people are also getting more
interested. Because I've always heard that it's only the older
people. When you go to the German Russian conventions, you see
mostly older people. But they have to remember that the younger
generation may not be coming to these conferences. They're finding
their material other ways. Of course you're aware of that and
this is what's happened because we're well aware of that in how
they're using our web sites and so forth.
AG: I have a pile this high of e-mail letters
I've received from members, asking for information.
MM: Why do you think, now that there are
different ways of finding their roots... you have through books,
you have through correspondence, you have through letters, you
have through archives, and now technology. Why is it important
to trace your ancestral roots? I know that I've been to Russia
now, to Ukraine, and those people said they're not supposed to
do this. But in Canada and the United States they're very interested
in tracing their roots. Of course, especially you, and some of
us, have been very interested. Why is it important that people
should know about their forefathers? What made you interested
in doing this?
AG: Well I'm doing it because I'm interested,
that's all. That's all I can say. Some people consider it of no
importance at all. Some of them have said to me, "Why do you bother?
What's that good for?" I'm just interested. There's no special
reason for it.
MM: I just have a feeling there's a lot of
other people interested. There are many people who are interested.
AG: Of course there are. There are many people
interested, and they don't know why they're interested. You don't
have to know why. You're just interested. Why, for instance, did
I buy all these books? No particular reason. If you ask me about
a particular book, why did you buy that book, I don't know. I'm
just interested. It has nothing to do with me personally, yet
I bought it.
MM: But I think, because of your interest,
you've generated interest in your children and grandchildren to
continue this tradition of being interested.
AG: Of course they will.
MM: Because it's important to know about,
also, what was pioneer and homestead life in Saskatchewan and
North Dakota and South Dakota, and not only back in Russia or
back in Germany or Alsace, but they need to know about life here
too. Now we can't ask too many people anymore, about what do you
remember about life in Russia, because they can only answer what
they found out from their parents or grandparents, and a lot of
them didn't talk about that issue many times.
AG: No. You know, our people did not talk
very much about Russia. Did you ever?
AG: They seemed to gradually forget it altogether.
When I was small, they used to speak about the 'Deham 'n Russland'.
They still called it home, the 'Haam in Russland'. Whereas, say
ten, 15 years later, they never used that expression anymore.
MM: That quickly it changed?
AG: Yes. A gradual change.
MM: But we have to remember they were coming
over here usually with big families and very little income. They
had to struggle and make a life for themselves. So they didn't
have access to a lot of reading or time to do a lot of research
and so forth. I think the only thing they would do is get together
with Maistub and talk about it, and that was as far as it went.
But fortunately, there were people like yourself that had an interest
and remembered some of this, so you documented it in books. A
lot of our other people should do that, and I think the literature
of the Germans from Russia has improved considerably in the last
AG: Oh yes, oh yes, it has.
MM: I would have to say that from Catherine
to Khrushchev was a leader in beginning an authoritative research
tool, recognized, not only in North America, but also worldwide
by the Germans from Russia. That's very important. Then other
publications came about and then Dr. Stumpp's material became
available, and then Dr. Height published and so forth, and now
we're publishing new things. There needs to be a lot of research
also on the folk ways. The big question now is, that a lot of
our people are so used to watching the video screen or the television
screen that they don't want to read as much and they want to look
at something visually. That's why we're hopeful in producing this
documentary, because we want to give them an umbrella or a very
basic background on who are Germans from Russia. Because some
people, as we know, don't know their ancestral story like they
should. And they don't always want to buy a book to read it, or
take the time to read it. They want a one-page summary and they
think, "that's all I need." Which is not the way it is. We find
AG: There are still a lot of people who don't
MM: They can read.
AG: They can read, but they don't read.
MM: They don't read too much, and not all,
but other ethnic groups... our German Russian people are not,
generally speaking, book-buyers. We know that in the number of
members in the society.
MM: The two societies that should be much
AG: As you probably know, I was an original
member of both AHSGR and GRHS. I was in both of them from the
beginning. I've served on the board of both of them. So I'm very
familiar with that and one of the things I was always told...
I tended to be intellectual when I gave a talk, and some of them
didn't like it. Why bother with that was sort of the attitude.
Now these are people... why were they in this society? For social
reasons. They liked the company, but they weren't interested in
AG: There were a lot of those in both societies.
MM: And still today of course.
AG: Still true, isn't it?
MM: Right. But I think a lot of those who
are interested in the intellectual, they're finding their information
other ways than coming to the conferences. That's how it is; that's
how it's going to be. I sense that more and more. I think that
this communication through other vehicles, which is, of course,
this computer, has helped somewhat, for people who are isolated.
There are a lot of people who are out there in certain situations,
where they don't have access to collections. They are far away
from where they can get to North Dakota or Manitoba where they
can get to these collections, so it's helped in that way. Those
people are buying books. I'm quite surprised at how they are buying
books from our web site. They want to find out. What our hope
is, is that we can develop a link so that all those people coming
back today... not all, but many of those people, like the Kutchurgan
people that are coming back today from Siberia. There are some
that still have good memories of their life in the '20's, '30's
and 40's. Of course they're older, but they're coming back to
Germany, and those people need to be documented. Because they
can remember yet, about what it was like.
AG: Do you find them easy to interview?
MM: It's getting... yes, if they're back
in Germany. The biggest problem is that for some, it's very difficult
to talk about it.
AG: And some of them don't even know German
MM: No, but fortunately, the ones we're interested
in, their grandparents or parents saw to it that they continue
German. I would have to say that of all the people I've talked
to, that those that were of Kutchurgan heritage, that were sent
to Siberia... their grandparents or parents made a real effort
for them to keep German. The ones we're interested in. So we're
going to start an interview program with those and they have promised
that they're going to help because we can't do all this work from
over here, financially. We're also interviewing... we have a student
who has majored in German in Odessa, who has now done 16 interviews
for us of people who are ethnic Germans that are in Odessa or
that are in the villages, that stayed behind. Those interviews
are very good.
AG: That should help a lot.
MM: But the problem is, they won't answer
AG: No, no.
MM: Which is understandable. But we have
to leave those questions aside. They don't want to talk about
the Stalinism era, because they're afraid that there are relatives
that still want to come to Germany or they're afraid. They still
have this comment of, "Who's going to listen to this tape?"
AG: Yes, there are certain things they don't
want to talk about.
MM: The people who are returning to Germany
from Siberia write to us, or some of them were here this summer.
They say to us that please help us to tell the story to the people
in North America about what happened to us in Siberia. They say
that hasn't been documented well enough. They say people know
about the stories about what happened to the Jewish community,
but they don't know what happened to us during the Stalinism period.
They say that it's documented, but not the stories. So I said,
"Well, you have to help us write your stories." It's interesting
because a lot of those people who are in their 60's and so forth
say that we that can speak German but we can't write it well enough.
AG: You mentioned a Rissling lady in Selz.
Now, is that her maiden name? Rissling?
MM: That's her maiden name. She took back
her maiden name. But she was one of those who was sent... she
was one of those in Latvia, and she came back about 1991 or '92,
and she persevered and claimed, and she went through all the red
tape and has gotten back the original Rissling house, which is
very interesting. She, of course, knows Antonia Welk Ivonova who
is in old Selz too.
AG: I'd like to form some sort of contact
with her. Would she be able to write German?
MM: Oh yes.
AG: She can, huh?
MM: Oh yes. The best person would be for
you to contact... remind me with an e-mail message. And the Longtins
in Fargo know her. They have her address, and Brother Placid Gross
in Richardton has her address. He was there, had lunch with her
and so forth, and they did to. They would know more about her,
as if she can communicate in German. That I don't know for sure,
if she knows German yet. Because I've never met her. Did you meet
Bob: Yes, twice.
MM: Did she speak German?
Bob: She was speaking German, yes.
MM: He met her. Bob met the woman.
AG: And she speaks German, does she?
MM: I think, if I remember right, Brother
Placid is writing to her in German. So we'll have to get you the
AG: I'd like to get it.
MM: Because that stamp on that envelope is
very expensive for them. Mrs. Rissling, according to the Longtins,
is doing quite well. They have a nice house, big garden and everything.
AG: What Rissling, what would be the name
of the Rissling man who lived there before?
MM: That I don't know.
AG: She would know that, wouldn't she?
MM: Well, Brother Placid knows that at Richardton.
I can give you his address. You know him, don't you? Have you
had correspondence with him? Brother Placid Gross. He's from Napoleon
AG: No, I don't.
to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested
by contacting Michael