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From Catherine to Khrushchev: The Story of Russia's Germans

By Adam Giesinger

American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1974, 443 pages, softcover.


Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota

This is the most thoroughly researched, the most professionally written, of the popular books on the Germans from Russia, yet it is very interesting and absorbing to read. Giesinger spent years gathering information about the many Germans who over centuries took up residence in Russia. Almost all went at Russia's invitation because the Russians prized their skills and culture. He was urged by many to produce a book about what he knew.

Giesinger writes in part about what nobody else does. He provides the kind of detail and larger view that helps the content of other books slip into place. He knows, for example, that wealthy, sophisticated German nobles took up residence in the Baltic states some 400 years before the rural people usually referred to as Germans from Russia moved into the Ukraine and other areas around the Black Sea. Many of these Baltic Germans served in the courts of the Czars and were intensely loyal to them, although they retained their German language and many cultural elements. When their rural countrymen took up residence in the south, the Balts, who were Lutheran, paid attention to them and sent ministers to the villages. Later they encouraged able young men to come north for seminary training, then return to their home area. As a result, the protestants often received excellent ministry.

Giesinger traces the flow of German-Russian history from their arrival in Russia, through the Czars that succeeded Catherine, through emigration to the United States, Canada, and South America, to the takeover of Russia by the communists and the deportation of the remaining people to scattered parts of Russia. In his chapters about the migration to the Americas, he informs us in general terms about which people from which villages settled where. He has more about the settlement in South America than any of the other books. This unexplored subject needs more work because he says about the same number of persons went to South as to North America. (A check of an atlas shows that there is a town in Argentina today called Blumenau!)

Giesinger gives the names of the priests ordained at Saratov and he includes a map that shows where most Soviet Germans live today. He relates so many interesting details: The German colonists never shared in the serfdom of the Russian peasants and received support and resources the Russians never granted their own rural people. He devotes a chapter to the Mennonite colonies. He shows them to have been well developed and progressive and able to negotiate as a block with Russian authorities. They were given to factionalism and religious infighting, which was not as present in the other groups. If you have time to read just one book about your Germans from Russia heritage, make this it.

For biographical information about Dr. Adam Giesinger, go to http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/outreach/friends/index.htm


From Catherine to Khrushchev

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