Zarenreich in den amerikanischen Westen: Deutsche in Rubland und
Rublanddeutsche in den USA (1871-1928): Die politsche, sozio-konomische
und kulturelle Adaption einer ethnischen Gruppe im Kontext zweier
Book review by Frederik Ohles
Janssen, Susanne. Vom Zarenreich in den amerikanischen Westen: Deutsche in Russland und Rublanddeutsche in den USA (1871-1928): Die politsche, sozio-konomische und kulturelle Adaption einer ethnischen Gruppe im Kontext zweier Staaten. 1997.
In this Berlin dissertation, Susanne Janssen has made a good effort
beyond the uncritical filiopiety and chronicling that all too often
pervaded published accounts of Russian Germans in the United States.
Two aspects of her approach are particularly successful. She compares
the Black Sea Germans in Russia and North Dakota and the Volga Germans
Russia and Nebraska. That four-sided framework allows her to draw
was distinctive about each community's experience in each setting.
also uses interviews, some that she conducted with now elderly children
immigrants, others that had been carried out earlier in local history
Janssen's approach is social scientific. A few chapters are divided
into numbered, subnumbered, and sub-subnumbered parts. The introduction
briefly acknowledges the work on American immigration history by
Neils Conzen and Oscar Handlin and the work on ethnicity by Andrew
Greeley. Its main focus is the model employed by John Goldlust and
Richmond on immigrants' adaptation processes, which Janssen tests
chapters on political, socioeconomic, and cultural (largely religious)
adaptation. A final chapter analyzes the coercive effects of World
on Russian Germans in both of their adopted homelands.
Even before the anti-German war fever of 1917, American legal and
cultural norms compromised the efforts of these immigrants to replicate
the Great Plains the exclusive settlements they had maintained in
Despite their economic success in Russia, there had been compelling
reasons to leave. During 1871-1874 the Russian government withdrew
privileges, notably exemption from military service. By then there
also too little land for their burgeoning numbers. In addition,
influential Pan-Slavic movement cast them as unwelcome, alien separatists
in Russia. The United States seemed a good place to escape the new
to their way of life.
It was, except: American homestead law prevented their settlement
closed villages with common landholding. The missionary zeal of
churches among them and the linguistic limitations (no German) of
Catholic priests assigned to them upset their presumption that ethnicity
and faith were bound together. Public schooling defied their effort
preserve use of the German language by successive generations. Nor
they stand forever apart from the political process, whence came
on property, churches, and schools.
Those forces, of course, pressed upon all immigrant groups on the
Great Plains and in other regions of America. This circumstance
something Janssen addresses intermittently. She makes comparisons
especially with Norwegian settlers in the Dakotas, but she establishes
links to the larger experience of immigrants adapting to a new land.
For American students of immigration and assimilation, Fred Koch's
The Volga Germans (1977) remains an accessible and useful avenue
history of this exceptional immigrant group. Janssen's work is
illuminating for its use of interviews and its systematic, topical
treatment of external influences that reshaped the lives of Germans
Russia and Russian Germans in the United States during a turbulent,