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Interview with Professor Jean Schweitzer (JS)

Strasburg, France
28 April 2001

Transcribed by Jane D. Trygg
Proofread by Linda Haag

Prairie Public Collection


I: Just start with your name and where you are from.

JS: My name is Schweitzer, Jean. It means John in American, and I live in Strasburg.

I: Have you always lived here?

JS: I have been living there for 45 years.

I: Where were you born?

JS: I was born in (005-007) about 7 kilometers west of (008).

I: What attracted you to start looking into the history of the (009) villages, or the people of those areas?

JS: The starting point was the visit of Professor Height. Most of the people which are our people of Russian origin came from this area, (012) I had interest. I studied the history of the immigration to the Black Sea.

I: About what time did people start to leave this area?

JS: There were two waves. The first was in 1804, and the second wave was in 1808. The third wave, these people were not Black Sea Germans. They came from the area of (020) these people were mainly of (021), the people of the Weissenburg area were chiefly Catholics.

I: Tell me about working with Professor Height?

JS: Professor Height was several times in Alsace. Several times we hosted him, or I hosted him. He had to look inside several books that had to do with immigration. He went through the archives here in Strasburg. He was interested in arts and folklore chiefly. He wrote some books concerning old procession songs.

I: Do you know if these folklores and arts went Alsace to Ukraine and then to America?

JS: Many of old songs came to the (037) colonies, did they, and then go to the states? I do not know. I did not study this question.

I: Do you have some names? Tell me some names of those songs.

JS: I don’t know. I have a little book of them. But as of Hides, I don’t remember the different titles.

I: Maybe a custom. What would be a custom? Maybe a Christmas custom. What would be a Christmas custom that would have come from Alsace to Ukraine?

JS: A Christmas tree, though it is not a (044), but is often called German. In Germany, in France, the Christmas tree was not as familiar as in German countries.

I: How about St. Nicolas? Is that French? Is that German?

JS: No, No, No. That’s not German. Not German at all. It is French. The most famous St. Nicolas cathedral is (050-051). It is an important Saint. St. Nicolas is typically French, but is has nothing to do with Christmas. See the Americans, have a different version. It has nothing to do with Christmas tradition, but in Germany custom, it is a (057-058).

I: What are some of the villages that the German Russians would have left to go to Russia?

JS: At least 20 villages immigrated from (063). There were about 40 families immigrating to south Russia. One of these families is distinguished. The father left four of his sons and not all the children went to Russia.

I: Can we hear that again, start with distinguished families.

JS: His name is Zerr. He left us; he left his village, plus five of his sons. His youngest son, married the day he left the village. I think it was in June, I don’t remember. And one of these descendants of this family is Bishop; I don’t remember the first name, Bishop Zerr in Russia.

I: That is quite a long tradition. What village in the Black Sea did they settle in?

JS: The Russian people leaving?

I: Yes, the Zerr’s. Did you know what village they went to?

JS: Yes, two different families. One of the Zerr families is in Selz, and the other family is in Franzfeld. The Bishops were born in Franzfeld, and he is also buried there. He died I think about 1933, or 1935. I don’t remember exactly. I have another Bishop coming from Russia, from Alsace. It is Bishop Alexander Frieson (087).

I: Would most of the people that came to the Alsace villages, would they be of the Catholic faith?

JS: Mostly were Catholics. I think about 70-80% were Catholics. But there were also some Protestants. (090).

I: Could you list some of the family names that you have known that might have left Alsace and to Russia?

JS: Family Names? Frieson, Wurt, I must see. They are mentioned in Hides. I give many of the lists of these people.

I: You have always worked with someone on an earlier book?

JS: Yes, Stumps books.

I: Why don’t you talk a little about working with Stumps?

JS: Stump gave me some lists from Russia; of course, he couldn’t define all these names. He had some family names, from the origin, and it was very difficult to determine because you must be from the area to understand the names. In the Stumps book, many of the names are not correctly written.

I give you an example. For instance, I don’t remember a family name in Stumps book. But anyways he found where the name came from (116). Stump didn’t find the name (117) in the (118) area, so there for he searched in another place. He found the name in the Zerr area, which is in Germany.

This was a very big confusion. You don’t know if the name is (121). People came here from (122-123) and there for in the Russian registration, you cannot find (124) on the map, because it is called (125), and so there are several mistakes in the Stumps book.

I: There are things that only living in Alsace would know?

JS: Yes, You must know the country or the area very well. Still today, you see (128).

I: You were talking earlier about the difference in language between the (129), Could you talk about that? When there was the (130).

JS: The Kutschurgan dialect is not (132) at all, it’s a (132). They are always confusing you say this (133), but the (134) dialect is about 10%. The real dialect in (135) and (136) is a big area. It’s a (136-138). It is about 30% of Switzerland. It is all (140). South of (142-144)

I: Would someone with the (144) dialect has a problem with being understood in different parts?

JS: It is a big mixture, because it is not a pure dialect of this village or of another village. This is because the people in Russia came from North of Alsace, and from South of Alsace, from (151); these people brought their own dialect. So the real dialect in Russia is a mixture of these dialects from all different kinds of villages.

I: When you visited North Dakota, did the people visit with you in this dialect of German? Where you able to understand it?

JS: Very well, because I speak (156-157). I am able to make a difference between (158).

I: So you noticed that the dialect was different?

JS: Oh yes, a little different, but anyways they speak (161) not (161). This is a kind of (162), but (162) only makes up about 10% of the area.

I: Now if someone came from Berlin, would they have trouble understanding this kind of dialect?

JS: From where? Berlin. Today? Maybe some problems. As well as habitant of Alsace or (167), because of some work pronunciation and some words are a little different. You say for instance, Germany you are saying (169), and in our area you would say (170), and in other words, many words are different from the south to the north.

I: What dialect is spoken here?

JS: Swabian

I: Many people in the Strasburg area in North Dakota area say they speak the Swabian dialect of German. You say no.

JS: They speak Franconian (177), it’s a little different. (178-179).

I: So some words would be different. I want to talk a little about the fact that this is North Dakota. Let’s talk about when you visited North Dakota. So I will ask you some questions about your visit to North Dakota. The first question I am going to ask you is, did you visit the Iron Crosses in the cemetery. Could you remember visiting and how you felt, when you were at the cemetery?

JS: Some of the cemeteries were in the countryside by the fields. They were not very high class. But it is interesting to know the names of people buried here.

I: Were you surprised to see the Iron Crosses on the Graves at North Dakota?

JS: I was not really surprised because there are some crosses in our area in Alsace, but now these crosses have disappeared on our cemeteries, because we are renewed. The tombstones are renewed about every thirty years. Now we have stone tombs. You can see, they are very famous.

I: I saw some in (203) out by the Cham area, a very huge cemetery, and they were inside the church as well.

JS: In what area?

I: Cham.

JS: In the states? Oh ok! I some areas in Germany. But in our area, even today.

I: When you were younger, were their iron crosses?

JS: No, no. They disappeared at the beginning of the 20th century.

I: Do you think that the iron crosses in North Dakota would have looked like the ones from Alsace many years ago? Would they be similar?

JS: The frame is about similar. The iron crosses here are more artistic.

I: Probably a little more ornate?

JS: Yes, a little more ornate. People in the states, I think do not have enough money to buy the crosses.

I: Talking about North Dakota, Why don’t you tell me some of your memories while visiting North Dakota?

JS: It was a colorful memory. It was a different area. We visited the (228), badlands, Yellowstone. I remember a very famous museum, with Indians. I don’t remember the name.

I: Cody, Cody, Wyoming.

JS: Yes, we were in the park where Roosevelt retired. I don’t remember the name.

I: Did you see Mt. Rushmore, with the Presidents?

JS: Yes, exactly, very impressive. There were May tourists there. It was in May or June, I think.

I: When you were in North Dakota, did you meet many people who came from Alsace?

JS: Not too many but I did meet some. For instance, Wurt, Fiest, did not come from Alsace. I do not remember all the names.

I: Many of these people come to visit you, some people from United States.

JS: Yes, many families. Professor Hides, (246), Cindy, were not Russian Germans.
I: No her husband is not. She is a Welk.

JS: Oh yes, Professor (249), and his son, the Kraft family, (250) with this brother and his father, Wurt with her cousin. I do not remember the name of her cousin. I think that is all.

I: Mr. Mike Miller visited you.

JS: Oh, yes, He was twice or three times here. Last time was 6 months ago, and he was with two Mary’s.

I: One of the questions that Mike asked me to ask you. Do you remember visiting the churches in North Dakota?

JS: Yes, we did visit the churches. Some of the churches were in the countryside. I also visited a church in Strasburg. I attended mass there.

I: What did you think of that church?

JS: In Fargo, it’s a newer church. It is kind of hard to compare to the cathedral in Strasburg. It’s modest, but it is a nice church. I was entertained. But we also visited a church, but I don’t remember where, or which area, and there were statues inside. The church was not empty. So we visited a farm out of use, but you could enter. It is the same place from 5 years ago. It never changes. No change fantastic!

I: They don’t rip down the barns or houses. They just leave it.

JS: No, no. They just left the farm and went to town. They just leave it.

I: Well, I would like to thank-you for interviewing with us today, and we will share some of the things you said. This will go back into North Dakota, and I just found it interesting with all the different people that you have met from North Dakota and through the Alsace collection. One thing that I should ask you is what is your educational background?

JS: My educational back ground? I have, well you cannot compare with the American system yet, but my languages are French, German, chiefly German. I also studied English at the university, and political science. I have a set order of high degrees, but chiefly in German and political science.

I: Did you teach at the university?

JS: Yes, I was in the university in the research department, of (297), but the last ten years I was in a kind of college after I taught students in our college, people there, students, in a bachelor’s degree. It was a great school. I taught at great schools. The (308). There was great competition.

I: So would these be entrance exams maybe.

JS: See after bachelor, they prepare for the highest. Do you know (312) for instance in France, or (313). In the big city or like Strasburg, people are after their degree. They are preparing for the competition. The students at the university as students in this college were great.

I: You said you taught at the university. What was the name of the university? Or I guess you were in the research center in the university.

JS: Yes, In Strasburg. But I was at the university for my studies. I was for a long time in (324), France, the edge area.

I: You said earlier, you were in research at Strasburg University.

JS: Yes, and I my specialty is in the research department or philology.

I: I do not know what that is.

JS: It is the study of languages. Yes, and if you study a language, you study the language or the literature. My specialty is philology. And you can compare the different languages. You can for instance if you know French, German, and English, you have the capabilities to compare these languages.

Plus English, the English languages is half French, half German. So the vocabulary is practical vocabulary. So the practical vocabulary is German and the intellectual vocabulary is half-French.

I: Oh, interesting.

JS: So French was imported by William the conqueror in the beginning of the century.

I: So it must have been interesting for you when you studied the people that left Alsace and went to Russia and then to the United States, because so many languages were involved.

JS: Unfortunately, I couldn’t intensify my research in the American people coming from Russia. It would be very interesting to compare the differences between their language, and their veteran language. The (359) language is still spoken in (360).

I: It is still in the villages that they came from?

JS: Yes. Some words, sometimes only two or three words keep you in indication.

I: I have one question about the (365), these villages in Russia. In Alsace, do those people all come from an area close together? The (368), when they villages they came from in Alsace, were they near each other? Close to each other in Alsace as well? Should I say this a different way?

JS: Alsace is not an area. Alsace is a community. We are Catholics or Protestants. Among these people, there were groups coming from Alsace and north of Alsace. Coming from South of (382-383), and therefore this is a kind of Frankcolian dialect, established from these people, but its not pure Baden, (385).

There is a difference even in Alsace, north in Alsace. If you take for instance, a word like (391), church in English, some people in north Alsace say (393) other people say (394), from one village to another it is a different pronunciation. (396-401). Now in (402), they speak rather Swiss like. They say (403). Because of the different area, you have lower ammonic, you have higher ammonic, and the highest ammonic would be in the area of (407-410).

I: When you study languages like that, do you have to visit the villages, or is it things you find in writing?

JS: You have to speak with the people of that origin. The speaker of origin, these people must be born there, and spend most of their lives in this village. But if you have people from Weissenburg, and they live in another country for 20 years and come back. Their language is polluted. It is not pure.

I: The last thing I am going to ask you is, you were talking earlier about how many different times you changed your nationality.

JS: Somehow you have to look inside the history. If you want I can speak about (425-426). If you go thousands of years ago, you can see much about this people. The origin people. You see where they came from. The first people in Alsace had some information on the Celts. They come from the East. After the Celts, then came the Romans people. The Roman people are the Roman conquerors.

The Romans came 50 BC, and had to leave Alsace in about 1450. Since they were here about 500 years, then they were (465), coming from the East. Most of these people, Russian People, were of German origin. In 1648, it was the 30 year-war. The French came for the first time to Alsace. And Alsace was a treaty of (466).

They had some difficulties of conquering (470), because they were in reformation. The Cathedral in Strasburg became in (472), and then the French came in the 14s. He didn’t like the Protestants and therefore the Cathedral was given back to the Catholics. After the first period, the French period in Alsace, after the 30-year war in 1870. The French administration was here. The war of 1870.

From 1918-1940, Alsace was under French. From 1940-1945 we were German. It was a very short period and a very messy period as well. And after the second world war, it became French again. So if you take the generation of my grand parents. My generation of my grandparents were born before 1817, and they were French.

They did not attend a French school then, so they must have been born in 1768. And they were two years old when they became German. They were born French. From 1870-1918, there’s about two generations. Two generations which only were German. From one day to another day, 1980 they were French people, but not a word of French.

-End of Tape-

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