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Interview with Janice Huber Stangl (JH)

Conducted by Bob Dambach (BD)
8 September 2001Transcribed and edited by Peter Eberle
Editing and proofreading by Peter Eberle and Reverend Marvin Hartmann

Prairie Public Collection


BD: What is your name?

JH: My name is Janice Huber Stangl. I was born in Bowdle, South Dakota and I now reside in Sterling, Virginia.

BD: What is your heritage?

JH: My heritage is Germans from Russia. All of my great grandparents were born in south Russia.

BD: (Unable to hear interviewer throughout the rest of the interview. Whenever a new question is asked a JH: will appear before her answer)

JH: This interview is being conducted in the United Methodist Church. This church was once a little country church that was first called Evangelical Church. It was established about ten miles south of town. It was built on my grandmother’s land and was moved into Bowdle about 1930.

JH: Many of the older parishioners had moved closer into the Bowdle area. The pastor’s field was also to be narrowed so they would not have to travel quite so far because we were served out of Eureka at the time.

JH: My ancestors came from south Russia. On my paternal side they came from Glückstal and Kassel, and on my maternal side they came from Neu-Beresina and Arzis.

JH: My grandparents came over to the United States in 1898.

JH: My paternal grandparents settled in Hosmer, SD, (Segamon A102) County and my maternal grandparents settled in Odessa Township south of Bowdle, SD.

JH: We suspect the reason they came to America is that they had sons that were about to be drafted into the army for one thing. Another thing, there was still free land available and this was a great lure for the German-Russians because their lands over there were very scarce. They had had so many sons and to buy land was almost impossible, so that was a great lure. Plus they had agents over in Russia that were actively recruiting people to come to America.

JH: Yes, both sides of my family were Agrarians, loved the land dearly. In fact, I found out that my grandpa had encouraged my father to go to Eureka College and he declined. He would have much rather stayed home and work the land.

JH: The best foods in the world, we had (dump noodla and (schup noodla A119).

JH: The foods that were served in our household were (dumpnoodla A120), (schup noodla 120), (strudla 120), blachenda; of course kuchens, breads, kneopla, all kinds of soups, but the main course was almost based around some kind of a dough recipe.

JH: Our forbearers had come from a very strong religious background, but when they came to America they very much wanted to become “American” and very quickly. Part of [the reason for] that is with the Homestead Act you also were signed up as a citizen along with that. They still kept their German language, but they still wanted to be called “American.” In fact, they almost denied any kind of allegiance to the Kaiser or to Russia.

JH: 1918 was a traumatic time in our American history. We entered the war and one of the problems that arose was the State Defense Council was given the power to pass a resolution that the German language could no longer be spoken in any public places, in any schools, in any churches. In fact, it could not even be used on a soapbox. The state legislature of South Dakota passed this resolution. They were showing their patriotism. They thought that the German language (nothing German) should be used anymore. What they didn’t realize, I think, was how traumatic this was for our immigrant families because many of our [people], especially our elderly, could not speak the English language. And when they declared that church services must be held in English, many of the churches had to close their doors because the minister could not even speak English fluently. So they closed the church doors and they started meeting in people’s homes. Some of the farmers, if they were too outspoken about this, were taken to court. One fellow in Edmunds County was fined five thousand dollars. (This is a lot of money in 1918). Anyone that spoke in favor of the old country was immediately taken to court as they may have sympathetic feelings for the enemy. That’s what they called it.

But anyway, this is my father speaking now, grandma and grandpa became concerned that they would be called sympathizers so they went through the household and they gathered all of the certificates (the marriage certificates, the birth, the baptism). They gathered their books; they gathered their Bibles, calendars, pictures, anything that denoted something from Germany or the old country. They put them in a wooden box and hid them under the granary. All except a little prayer book of grandma’s and grandma always said “(haben dis haben der gutt fur schtampt A166).” We hid that very well. Grandma needed her prayer book because you know God could not understand English prayers. When grandma prayed, she went to a window. She said her morning prayers at the window and her evening prayers at the window. She never told us where she hid the book, but we have a theory that she sewed it in a little pocket in her petty coat because it was readily available. But should someone come to the house, naturally they would not be able to find it.
JH: They were hidden in the wooden box under the granary. We don’t know how long they stayed there, but it must have been surely until after the war and the anti-German feelings had died down.

JH: Yes, my father was able to live with her when he was taking his Confirmation classes at one time. She still had this prayer book and we always just called it grandma’s gazette (bukk A178).

JH: Well, it almost came full circle because her son, when he was forty- two years old, enlisted into the army for the Second World War. Again, there was this anti feeling of people that spoke German too well or had the very broad German accent. They were still looked at with a little bit of suspicion. I think that this is part of the problem, or probably the joy now that we can finally say, “Yes, we do have German heritage.” But we can be more free about researching, being open about it, because all of those patriotic (feeber pitch don 187) patriotic, has now mellowed and we are, hopefully, more one union.

JH: When Tom and I were married we got a family Bible and in it there was a fold out page of your family tree. When I saw that, this started our quest for the research that we started. And I asked grandpa, that was my only living relative at the time, and so I started with oral history. We had no written history that we could really rely upon for authentic records. As all of us, grandpa told me lots of things, but oh, how I wish I would have asked him. He had said, “Oh I went over to the neighbors” why didn’t I say, “What were the neighbor’s names? And he would say, “Oh grandma made such a good dinner” why didn’t I ask him, “What was it that grandma made for dinner?”

JH: In our research there had been probably two or three main highlights that have really opened the road to us. The first one is the release of the St. Petersburg records that were filmed and brought to America. This authenticated and gave the facts of our forbearers’ birth and death certificates, because at the time when they came to this country they just said, “Oh no, everything was lost.” Especially during World War II the stories came back, and they were true, that many of those church records had been completely burned.

JH: During World War II, there were reports, and it was factual, that they took the church record books, the Bibles, the Hymnals, and they took them to the middle of the colony square and they burned them. The Bolsheviks had done this to our people. So they thought they had lost all track of authentic records. What they didn’t realize is that there had been records sent to the main consistories and St. Petersburg was one. So that was one highlight in our research. The next highlight was when we went over to Moldova and to Ukraine and walked the streets.

JH: When we went over to Ukraine and Moldova we were able to walk the streets of our forbearers and see some of the churches even though they had been somewhat run down, and of course they had knocked off the steeples. The beautiful, beautiful bell towers had been knocked off, but there was still enough of many of the churches that we could see them. What a thrill to walk the streets of my grandfather! That was probably the second highlight.
The third highlight was that we now have records available telling about the people that were processed to leave Russia and to come back into Germany at the end of World War II. (During World War II they were being processed to come into Germany). The cousins that we thought had died during the war, because we had not heard from them since 1927, were among the group that was being processed to leave. And they did make it into Germany.

JH: The (Safery 240) cousins were among the peoples that were being processed to leave Russia, and the stories they tell about the trek trying to get out of that country with the Russians hot on their heals! But they made it out safely, they made it to Germany. Only to be told later, and they agreed to this, that Stalin and Eisenhower, through the Potsdam agreement, had made the agreement that Stalin could have his people back. What they were told is that they were going home. So when they were given this little parcel of food, they took it; they went willingly onto the train cars because they only lived in Ukraine and it should’ve probably only been about a day or a day and a half journey. When they got on the train and it started about the second day they became a little suspicious because the train had not turned south, it was still going east. They were in Siberia.

JH: They were in Siberia. They survived working in the gold mines; they survived working in the forests. In 1972, one of the first ones was able to, once again, return to Germany. But some of the last ones got out as recently as 1998 and some of the grandchildren are still in Russia and they’re hoping to get them back. Well, when we went to the (Bundastrapa 262) (I had put out the word that we were going to be there), and who would show up but the cousins that survived Siberia.

JH: I think I’ve got it back together, but I get a tear in my eye every time.

JH: We knew the general area that the Huber household was and we knew the street, but when we got there it had been blockaded off. It was no longer part of the active community now. The community is much smaller [now]; when grandpa lived it was almost two thousand people. I don’t know what the population is now, but it’s much much less than that. So we were not able to see the house, but the church is there. The school is still there and we were able to walk into the church, which was really quite a thrill for us.

JH: The traits that German-Russians have I would say, basically, is their faith. Even the people that went to Siberia said had it not been for their faith in God they would not have survived many a day. I’m sure many of our ancestors that came to America and settled out in the wide-open places and felt so isolated, if they would have not had their faith to sustain them? But, as with all peoples, I can’t imagine that we are any different. We want peace in our lives, we want freedom, we want the ability to make choices for our families to thrive and I think that’s where there’s a basic commonness, a humanness of us all. But to add to that, I would say that the German-Russians are quite thrifty, and I will say ‘thrifty,’ they say (schwalasum abit nit gotsik 300), means they are thrifty but they are not stingy. They will give you the shirt off their back but you might have to be careful if you have to ask for an actual nickel out of their pocket. I think they’re also noted for their cleanliness because even when you go to Germany today there’s little grandmother sweeping the streets and sweeping the front yards. This is still a trait that our G. R.’s have, scrub and to keep everything sparkling clean.

JH: When I think of my dad…daddy was so different than a couple of his brothers. Daddy was the quiet one. He would sit back and listen to the conversations around. He often wouldn’t talk very much, but when he did it was very well worth listening to. Even though he did not go off to Eureka College, he was a learned man; he loved to read. He was a Sunday school teacher for years and years. He devoured any kind of daily devotionals, Sunday school literature that came in to the house. He often said during harvest work or springs work, he’d come home and he’d be so tired and he’d say, “Oahh, but it feels good to have done a hard days work.”

JH: Daddy’s name was Edward Huber and he was the son of Jacob Huber, who was the son of Jacob Huber.

JH: Mother’s name was Lydia (A323 Hober), she was the daughter of Barbara (Safree A322) and Chris (Hober). Mother was the talkative one of the family. They were devoutly Christian people. They were very hard workers, very hard workers. But as I said, they loved it at the end of the day to prove they had really done some very good hard work. Again, they were both very thrifty. Daddy hardly ever, ever would borrow a dollar and if you would shake Daddy’s hand on anything it was worth more than any written contract today.

JH: I guess probably one of the fondest memories I have of Mother is she inherited the good strong singing voice. She had a good strong alto voice. As I became older, I had a little bit higher voice and we would sing duets together. We would sing at family gatherings and at anniversaries and that was always so well received, people loved to hear us sing together.

JH: Yes, I think many of our German Russians had a lot of music in their souls. It was kind of almost an accepted thing that you would take piano lessons. I don’t know how Mom and Dad did it, but they scraped together that fifty cents so I could have a weekly piano lesson. As I became older, I had a high school teacher that gave me free vocal lessons. So I’ve been able to use my voice even professionally. I have sung somewhat professionally. Music has been a great share of my life, loved it. In fact, Mom and I always used to say our idea when we get to heaven is just to be able to sit around and sing beautiful music all day long.

JH: I did not come from a very large family. I was the oldest one and there were just the two younger brothers in our family.

JH: The boys didn’t seem to take to music. They were farmers from the day they were born. They were at Daddy’s side. Wherever Daddy went there were the two boys. And people in town talk today that when they went to the blacksmith shop there would be the Huber brothers. They learned by observing their elders. There’s no book learning that can give you lessons like observing and working with your elders and that’s what they did with their father.

JH: My oldest brother’s name is Lyle and my youngest brother’s name is Rodger. Lyle is still home on the home farm.

JH: Now that’s just one mile north of Bowdle, [the home farm]. At one time, before the greatest share of its recent history, it was providing dairy products to a creamery nearby.

JH: Tom and I were high school sweethearts. He lived in the Java area but came over to Bowdle High School. So we’ve kind of grown up together.

JH: Tom and I do share the interest in genealogy research. We’re so fortunate because in the area in Virginia that we live it’s just a stone’s throw into Washington, DC; of course there are many libraries in the area that we can do our research.

JH: Yes, we are life members of the American Historical Society, Germans from Russia, and the German Heritage Society in Bismarck, and also the Glückstal Colonies Research Association.

JH: I am a board member of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society in Bismarck, yes.

JH: At this cross, what do I do at the board meetings right now? I’m on the membership committee. We’re going to be developing a convention program. We’re working on speakers for the next convention in Bismarck.

JH: The book, Marienburg, Fate of a Village, was almost serendipitous. When I met these surviving cousins that had survived this Siberian plight, they had a tiny booklet about their dear home village back in Ukraine. They have first cousins here and I thought how wonderful if that could be translated so the cousins could read it in America (they already had it in Germany). So the first thing we worked on was to translate that little 40 page booklet, but then it developed into a larger project. We kept finding all of this research material about Marienburg. We’ve got almost a hundred letters that were written from the village to America. The EWZ records about all of their villagers that were being processed are included in there. In the process, to make it more available, we decided to publish it in English and German. So the readership is quite good in the German communities now. They’re just now discovering that it is a dual language book, which is one of the firsts I would say that are publishing it.

JH: The letters were sent in the early ‘20s. There are just a few [letters], right before World War I and then mostly in the ‘20s. They’re also about the starvation time that had started in the ‘20s and also about Bolshevism really starting. A great share of the letters were written by the minister, Kooster, of the little village, so he had to couch his language rather carefully because should they be opened and censored in the post office, he could have gotten into a whole lot of trouble. So every once in a while he would say a phrase like, “One could say more, but one better not.”

JH: The prayer book was brought along with grandma and grandpa when they immigrated to America in June of 1898 along with their parochial shrine that the minister in Glückstal filled out. He gave all of their ages, when they were Confirmed, as information for the next parish that they would join.

JH: The book is written in German, and it’s written in the old Gothic. What I find interesting about this now is that the modern day German cannot read the Gothic. It’s an old, old style of print, but I taught myself to read it when I was about six years old. We still attended German worship services on Sunday afternoons. I could not understand the minister. It’s just a little bit different vocabulary. So I would sit with the little song books that were in the pews. They had no notes, (B66 Onynobo) they called the song books, and I would pour over the words until I taught myself to read that. Another interesting aside to that was it was not until sixty years later that I used that ability because the letters that were written from Russia to America in the 1920s were published in German newspapers using the Gothic print.

JH: The inscription in this book is written in German. I will translate it to English. “This little book belongs to Barbara Huber, born 13th December, 1882; Whoever steals this book is a thief and whoever brings it back is God’s child; (dated) 1896; with love Jacob Huber.” This was his daughter and with the dates I am surmising that it was…well it says, a “catechism”, they usually received a gift when they were being confirmed and that’s my theory. It was published in 1876.

JH: This was published at (B89 Rugliech) in Germany, but in Russia a great share of their printed material was brought over from Germany and this (B91Rugliech) is also a village of some of the ancestors of this line. But this book, yes, it was brought over from Glückstal.

JH: This book was given by [my] great grandpa Jacob Huber to his daughter Barbara. She married a Jacob Hiny and lived in Temvik, ND later on. I don’t know why we even have it, but I am so tickled. When I read something personal that my great grandfather had written, I was so touched.

JH: This book is about different stories of nature and I find it interesting that it’s quite well illustrated. This one was published in 1837. It says (B116 Natur Gasikta), which means “nature stories,” for school and family.

JH: My families left in the early 1800s. One family came directly into the Ukrainian area. The other family went up through Poland and stayed about a decade up there. It is my theory that the one family lived so closely to the French border, and Napoleon was doing his thing the in early 1800s in that area that they didn’t know one morning when they woke up if they were French citizens or if they were German citizens, but one thing they knew for sure, every time Napoleon came through, they had to give their sons to his cause. His army would take the food he needed, sometimes the girls would have to go along as maids and the disruption in their lives had just been so horrendous for the last ten years or more that they just needed out.

JH: (B129 Porterbeitental) was the village and it is still in existence today. We went to visit it. The church is still there but it is pot marked because in World War II it was subjected to bombing and strife and worrisome things that go with war.

JH: It’s in Germany now. I said too, you know the one thing about our German people that I think we need to realize, the one thing they hated more than anything was war and they left Germany to get away from war. They just wanted to go and farm a piece of land in peace. They no sooner got to Poland and Napoleon was hot on their trails, here comes Napoleon going to Russia. Then when he was defeated in Russia, he came right back through their lands again. So war has just really been a disruption in their whole lives. I think that was another reason they came to America, so that they would not lose their sons in the war and I said, “When will mankind ever learn just to live in peace?”

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