Humor and Rumor among the Immigrants - Bin Musikalische
Germans from Russia Heritage Society Convention
Pierre, South Dakota
July 9, 1994
Presentation by Dr. Carl Sunde, South Dakota State University,
Transcription by Rebecca Pettit and Jane D. Trygg
Proofreading by Linda Haag
Introduction: We used to hand around in grade school so that somebody
would write something in there. You know they'd say, "Roses
are Red, Violets are Blue, you know I love you". Then the girl
wouldn't sign her name, she'd just put X so you didn't know who
had said that.
Anyways, these are quotes. One said, "Yours till Sitting Bull
stands up,” “Yours till Niagara Falls,” “Yours
till the calf in your leg eats the corn on your toes,” "Yours
till Germany gets Hungary and fries Turkey in Greece and eats it
on China and then Russia's off to work," and with that "Yours
till Doctor Sunde addresses us on Saturday."
CS: Thank you very much for that kind introduction, I think. Having
a name like Sunde, of course, brings me into a good deal of difficulty
on many occasions. I certainly want to thank the German-Russia Heritage
Society and Mrs. Roesch for inviting me to speak here. Many of you
are probably wondering why is a person with the name of Sunde is
coming to address the German-Russia Heritage Society. I'm something
of an outsider. I’m really Norwegian, not German-Russian.
I'm not even German, but a Norwegian.
My assigned task for today is to be entertaining, upbeat, and light,
a very difficult mission for a Norwegian. Perhaps it is even more
difficult for a German. Let's get one of them out of the way right
now. I thought that perhaps under the rules of political correctness,
that the Germans from Russia wouldn't be telling any more Norwegian
jokes. I've been to many of these conventions in the past, its Norwegian
jokes all the time. And I thought that under political correctness,
I could tell the Norwegian jokes. What happens this morning –
my wife and I get up, we sit at the table at our hotel, and immediately
a fellow German from Russia, I don't know which one he is, started
telling us a Norwegian joke. Then what is my purpose in coming here,
if I can’t tell Norwegian jokes.
As you looked in your program for the weekend and saw my name Sunde,
you may have asked "Sunde? What kind of a German name is that?"
That's what my wife asked when we married and changed her name to
Amrhein (on the Rhine), a delightful name. Her family came from
the Black Forest area from Schwaben, which lies in the southwestern
part of Germany. Many of you are Schwabs deriving from that area.
She wondered why I changed my name Amrhein to Sunde. If you put
an Umlaut over the U in Sunde it becomes a German word for sin.
She did not want to be addressed as Frau Dr. Sin in any case. My
wife had to adjust to many of my Norwegian ways, as I had to adjust
to her Schwabian ways. Both of us have a streak of stubbornness
from the Schwabs and the Norwegians.
Let's get one of these Norwegian jokes out of the way right now:
Ole and Lena, have you heard of them? I understand you tell German-Russian
jokes and they're still Ole and Lena. [laughter] Ole and Lena had
been married for about a year and Sven, who lived next door, came
out of his house and he saw Ole in front of his house and he said
to Ole, “Ole, Ole, Ole, you just got to start pulling down
your shades in your bedroom. Last night I looked in your window
and I saw you loving up your wife.” Ole was vastly amused,
hit his thigh and said “Yoke's on you Sven, I wasn't home
last night.” [laughter]
Well, marriage is an interesting situation. My wife and I have
been married for twenty-three years. We celebrated our wedding anniversary
not too long ago. People said it would never work, a marriage of
goulash, Hungarian goulash. Her family grew up in Hungary, and Lutefisk
and Spätzle were their foods, where as the Swabian national
dish was Lefsa. A Norwegian Lutheran and German-Catholic, but we
managed for twenty-three years.
One area of our lives, however, has perhaps not been so successful.
We prayed for twenty-three years for children. When we found out
that there was a little bit more to it than that, it was too late
for it anyway. We have, by the way, separate bedrooms, and perhaps
that has something to do with it as well. But also I snore, gets
on my wife's nerves, and cuts into my wife's sleeping time. But
I'm reminded of Professor Marzolf’s story of a snorer and
his wife who went to a pastor. She said to the Pastor, “Pastor,
Pastor, my husband, he snores. I don't know what to do.” He
said “Well have you tried cotton in your ears, have you tried
poking him in the ribs, have you tried this,”have you tried
that?” She said “Well, I'm not so worried about myself,
it's the congregation.” [laughter]
Harry Delker [name unclear] isn't here today, but Cathy Schatz
is, and maybe she'll remember. We were in a restaurant talking about
the German-Russian Heritage Society and we were thinking about the
Deutsche Kulturverein, do you remember that? We were sitting in
a restaurant in Aberdeen and were working on the establishment of
this new Kulturverein. The matter was going very nicely. I got the
chance then to get to know Harry, and since Harry, s gone today,
maybe I can tell this story.
Cathy actually told me this story about Harry, so he can blame
it on Cathy. She said that Harry got married just a couple of years
ago. When he was going out with his intended, he was not all that
practiced, and had gotten out of practice somewhat in the area of
amorous pursuits. Harry did what he was supposed to do. I guess
he took his intended out for a nice meal, went to a movie afterwards,
and got in the car and drove down to a nice country lane. Tender
expressions were exchanged and his future wife cuddled up next to
him and whispered in his ear, "Harry, want to get in the backseat?"
Harry said "No! I want to sit in the front seat with you."
Perhaps I was asked today to speak because my wife is a German
from Hungary. Barbara, please stand. That's my wife. [clapping]
She's also, as I said, a Schwab, and her native mother tongue is
actually Schwäbisch. She grew up and started her early years
in Hungary, as many of you German-Russians did. Your ancestors came
from Russia or other parts of the world. She learned the High German,
when she went to the University. She knows a little bit of Hungarian,
but it's an interesting aspect.
Many of the people, the Germans from countries other than Germany,
have retained their German heritage, but maybe the Russian language
they've forgotten, or the Hungarian language they've forgotten.
But the Schwäbisch dialect is very familiar to many of you,
especially the Black Sea Germans. Herta Gross asked me to say specifically
that Schwäbisch is a very respectable language. It's a very
respectable aspect of German, and none of you should feel ashamed
at all for speaking it. High German refers actually to standard
dialect of German. When we speak of Low German, that's mainly in
the lower parts of Northern Germany and that's Plättdeutsch.
So what you're speaking is not Plättdeutsch. The Schwäbisch
is a very lovely language in itself. Don't think of it as being
of lesser value, than say some other language. Now compare the situation
of Schwäbisch and High German with the Norwegians. If a Norwegian
knows eight languages, seven of them are Norwegian.
Dialects are of course a great interest. You may want to compare,
in fact afterwards, your German-Russian dialect Schwäbisch,
against my wife's Hungarian Schwäbisch version. The Schwäbisch,
of course, from those areas has been preserved in a way that Schwäbisch
is not preserved even in Schwaben today. So you can be very proud
also of your language.
We were sitting at the table just a moment ago, and my wife was
talking about some of her experiences. Mrs. Pfeiffer said “You
know I really think that your wife should be the speaker instead
of you.” In my comments today, we do want to be a little bit
light and upbeat, but I do want to give a little bit of perspective
perhaps from a Norwegian on the Germans from Russia. But at the
same time, being married to a German from Hungary it's exciting,
Many of the Germans from Russia remember the trials and tribulations
of your ancestors with a rather rosy glow. It is a source of pride
of trials that have been overcome, and battles won. It was different
for my wife and some of your ancestors, likewise, in that first
generation. In the case of my wife, her experiences as a displaced
person coming to the United States were ones contrary to those of
you who want to remember. She is almost desirous of forgetting.
It's still too painful for her and the first generation.
You may be thinking back of your ancestors of that first generation,
of the up-rootedness of the wars, the past and so forth. My wife's
family has been through a considerable amount. I, as a Norwegian
from northern Iowa, growing up in a small town, and many of us here
who have been Americans, are not really aware of how the rest of
the world has lived, and the difficulties that are endured by many
parts of the world. We have so many things including being together
today to be grateful for.
Part of my interest in the Germans from Russia stems, of course,
was the fact that my father was an immigrant from Norway. He died
before I was born. He and his father, who was Norwegian seaman,
deeply appreciated the opportunity that this country had to offer,
as did the Germans from Russia and many other groups. We appreciate
it sometimes more than those people who have been in this country
for a longer time.
My grandfather, who was a Norwegian seaman, went from China to
North America to San Francisco. He often had occasion to see the
Statue of Liberty in New York. When he settled on the small farm
in northern Iowa, he had a picture of the Statue of Liberty in his
living room, in a very prominent place.
As an outsider by ethnic heritage, but an insider by the virtue
of the long membership to the German- Russia Heritage Society, I
can draw a few points of reference between the Norwegians and the
Germans from Russia. They share many values, including a sense of
humor. As a Norwegian outsider, I can offer observations on the
Germans from Russia and the Norwegians.
The Schwabs, what about the Schwabs? As a student in Tübingen,
which is in Schwaben, a number of years ago, I heard observations
about the Bavarians, Prussiand, Franks, and the Schwabs. Each group
had its own color, dialect, and had their own way of living. These
characteristics, do they continue today? The Schwabs today, for
example, or when I was a student in Tübingen, were considered
to be very resourceful. I think that carries over today. They said
and continue to say about the Schwabs today, that a Schwab going
up a tree completely naked could come down fully clothed. It was
also sometimes said that the Schwabs were kind. Is that a characteristic?
They said that a modern day Schwab’s joke lasts twenty or
thirty years. A Schwab went mountain climbing in Switzerland and
fell in a deep crevasse. The Red Cross appeared, and he looked up
and identified them as the Red Cross and said, "No! I gave
at the office.”
T he Germans, also the Schwabs today, have this expression, which
may apply to the Schwabs right here today. They have the expression
like "Schaffer, Schaffer, bake, neither bake nor night nacho
den Mache scheme." "Work, work, build, build, but don't
get distracted by the women." But that obviously is not true
in this category, because many of you men have been distracted by
the women. The Schwabs have surely proliferated on this side of
Religion is a characteristic for the Germans from Russia. The Schwabs
traditionally have been sustained by religion and music; not usually
of the fancy kind, but a rather utilitarian kind has been a sustaining
factor. We have, of course, Mr. Leroy Hoffmann of high culture,
a noted opera singer, who has passed on now. I heard him several
times. I also heard that phenomenon Lawrence Welk, who carved something
of a niche, by himself, in a very difficult area of music.
The characteristic of the Schwabs might also include their persevering.
Despite their considerable hardships, they continued. The Germans
from Russia came from a rather harsh land in Russia, where they
settled in the new world. They settled late and sometimes got the
less desirable land. But the story is, when the Germans from Russia
got off the train at end of the line in South Dakota, (Where is
that? Eureka!), they looked around and they saw no water, they saw
no wood or little water and said, "Eureka! This looks just
like Russia, where we left. No water or wood there either."
"End of the Line" of course was the name of this community
for a while.
The Norwegians, likewise, sometimes settled in land that looked
a lot like Norway. Only about three percent of the land of Norway
is arable anyway. Norwegians didn't know how to farm nearly as well
as the Germans, who had practiced in Russia and in Germany. This
is a story of the German farmer, who was visited by Peter Norbeck,
later our Governor and also Senator and Peter Norbeck, who at this
time was a well driller. He went to this German-Russian farm and
saw the German-Russians had come home from the Missouri River. He
had his wagon load full of barrels of water, and its thirty miles
to the Missouri River. He said, "Well here I am, a well driller.
Why don't you just dig a well? "And the German from Russia
in his persevering way said, "We've tried, but the Missouri
is a lot closer."
Ole Rolvaag, the famous Norwegian immigrant novelist, was working
at Elk Point in South Dakota. He was also one who was interested
in preserving the Norwegian language, German or Schwabian, and the
German-Russian heritage culture. We had a convention here with Professor
Ripley, who was at that bastion of Norwegian culture that is to
say at St. Olaf College. I'm sure that he could tell many more Norwegian
jokes than I can, but political correctness has reigned at St. Olaf
for quite a while. I'm sure they tell no more Norwegian jokes anymore.
But during the settlement of South Dakota, Ole Rolvaag worked Elk
Point, South Dakota and saw wagon trains heading west. On the wagon
trains they saw emblazoned "Pikes Peak or Bust," "Colorado
or Bust," or "Oregon or Bust." Then things got tough
in Oregon, as well as South Dakota. He saw wagon trains going east
from these areas, and emblazoned upon the side of them were the
words, "Fifty miles from water, one-hundred miles from wood,
to heck with South Dakota, we're leaving here for good."
As the Yankees pulled up stakes and moved farther west or back
east, the German-Russians came, settled, and prospered. They were
used to hardship and deprivation, and knew they had to plan for
bad times. If the small crops died, you had to have some other kind
of row crops. If the chickens got sick and died, you had to have
geese from Russia. They knew you had to plow deep to get the moisture.
They also had heard from several speakers that the rust resistant
wheat and the Russian thistle at difficult times, helped saved several
You’ve also heard about the sod houses. Now my wife says,
"I've heard so often about these German- Russian houses. I
continue to find them fascinating, because they're so well adapted
to the South Dakota prairie, if you do not have logs or you do not
have wood. This is of course the way to go. These are not truly
sod houses, but they're really Batzen as the Germans call it. It's
an ancient way of building. The Egyptians had the Israelis make
in the Old Testament bricks without straw. This form of construction
was very popular here in South Dakota. It seems to me,
that the Germans for Russia don't appreciate that fact enough, and
this is from a Norwegian perspective certainly. Everybody who had
the chance immediately put up a frame house, like everybody else
in the United States, but these old houses deserve to be preserved.
They are marvelously suited to South Dakota.”
If we think about the Germans from Russia, we have this popular
appealing image of wagons trains going west. But for the Germans
from Russia, who came relatively late, they came mainly by train.
Iowa, if we think about South Dakota or the Dakotas, became a state
in 1846, before Dakota became a territory. Nebraska became a state
in 1867, Minnesota in 1858, and the Dakotas, after changing the
territorial border several times, became states in 1839.
Nebraska 1867, Minnesota 1858, and the Dakotas after changing the
territorial borders several times, became states in 1889.
The railroads had entered South Dakota in 1872, and brought in
thousands of German-Russians, and others in the ensuing two decades.
So powerful were the railroads in South Dakota, North Dakota, in
parts west, like Menno and Freeman (Do we have anybody from Menno
and Freeman?). When the railroads came through the stations, they
changed the signs Menno and Freeman. They got them mixed up. The
people in town said, "Well, all right. If the railroads want
it that way let them have it." So, the towns exchanged their
names, Menno and Freeman.
Many immigrants had to change their names in the new world, and
having a name like Sunde, perhaps I should have changed mine to
Amrhein. How many here have changed their names? Anybody? How many
of you, as immigrants to the new world, had to change your name?
Ok. From what to what? All right, all right, anybody else? So, the
changes were not particularly significant, some of them were. But
you may think about the poor Scandinavians, many of them were John
Johnson, Ole Olson and so forth. Those names sometimes had to be
changed, or were changed. Many of the Germans from Russia came before
1894; of course, Ellis Island was opened in 1894. Many of your families
came before that. That's a fact that many people are not quite aware
of, and some of my ancestors came before that time too.
There's a story of a Norwegian immigrant coming through Castlegarden,
New York, which proceeded pretty much before Ellis Island. The people
at the gate asked him, "What's your name?" He said, "Ole
Olson." Next one came through and he said, "What's your
name?" "Ole Olson." The third one came through, he
said, "What's your name?" "Ole Olson." The fourth
one came through and he said, "What's your name?" "Sam
Ting." So that was his name forever after. The story is, or
course, not true, but it does give us an idea of what could happen
to names when they came to a new world.
The Germans from Russian sometimes settled places that may look
like Russia, and named them after ancestral towns and cities in
Germany and Russia. The Norwegians tended to settle in places that
looked like Norway; hilly, rocky, and little suited to farming.
The German-Russians, however, knew how to farm, and many Norwegians
knew not much.
There is a great Norwegian violinist and composer by the name of
Ole Bull, who wanted to settle Norwegians in a land that looked
just like Norway. Hilly, rough, it was in Pennsylvania, a mountainous
area in Pennsylvania. From this we have one of our immigrant treasures,
at least from the Norwegian perspective, it's called Oleanna. Named
after Ole Bull, and his statue stands in Loring Park in Minneapolis.
This melody goes something like this; we'll be singing some German
songs later on, let's try a partly Norwegian song now. "Ole
Oleanna, Ole Oleanna Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Oleanna." All
together. "Ole Oleanna Ole Oleanna Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole
Oleanna." "Norwegian text" "Ole Oleanna Ole
Oleanna Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Oleanna." "To be in Oleanna
there's where I would rather be, than to be in Norway, and bear
the chains of slavery." "Ole Oleanna Ole Oleanna Ole Ole
Ole Ole Ole Ole Oleanna." "Little roasted piglets run
up and down the street, inquiring politely, do you want some ham
to eat?" "Ole Ileana Ole Oleanna Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole
This is the big rock candy mountain of America, this was the Promised
Land. The American fever had driven the Germans from Russia, and
the Norwegians and many other ethnic groups to the new world, and
there was also a negative side to the American dream. There are
hardly words to express the insanity that sometimes prevailed on
the prairies, especially among the women. The women did not have
the chance to get out and bargain in town. They had to stay home
and take care of the kids. Many of them did not learn English, were
very isolated, and it was a very, very difficult life.
The Homestead Act of 1862 was an enormous boon to immigrants. One
hundred and sixty acres, you got about the same as was offered,
to the Germans who settled in Russia by the Czars. And consider
the number of Irish here, who offered the largest proportion of
their population to the United States. Vast areas were devastated
when the Irish left, being the highest proportion, first the potato
famine and so forth was the push factor. We also have Irish still
coming to this country, and they again are the highest proportion
of all the ethnic groups. The Norwegians, the Swedes, and the Icelanders
were next, with about one-third to one-fourth of their population
going to the new world. But unlike the Germans and the Norwegians,
the Irish settled in the cities and took over town hall; and the
Germans took over the gymnastics club. The Norwegians and the Germans
from Russia, however, tended to settle on the farm. They loved the
land. That is an aspect that has appealed to both the Germans from
Russia and the Norwegians. They settled in rural areas more than
other groups, but the struggle for the land was even stronger among
the Germans from Russia than among the Norwegians.
Brenneman's book about the Germans from Russia around Eureka, The
Land They Possessed, could just as well have been called “The
Land That Possessed Them.” Both in Russia and in North America,
the Germans from Russia and Norwegians have been among those who
have retained their heritage more than most of the other ethnic
groups, partly because of their ethnic settlements in isolated rural
areas, and the love of a religious center, a place, a location,
something to congregate around.
Of course, the Hutterites, our most conservative ethnic group in
South Dakota, are also Germans from Russia. There's the story of
one of the Hutterites who was trying to enter town. He drove by
another colony and he saw one of his Hutterite brothers out in a
field, digging a large hole with a shovel, and he said to him, "Jakob,
Jakob what's happened? Why are you digging that big hole?"
Jakob said, "My Horse has died.” He said, “Fine.”
So he went into town late that evening and drove on back. There
was Jakob, out in the field, digging an even bigger hole. He asked
Jakob, “Why are you digging a second hole?” “I
have to. The first one wasn’t big enough.”
Among my students it seems to be the Germans from Russia and the
Norwegians have held on tightest to their heritage. Most of the
Norwegians and the Germans from Russia can say a few words from
their ancestral tongue. They can say a few items about delicacies
they may have at Christmas or other holidays. But it has occurred
in the last twenty years since I've been teaching that I use to
get a number of Germans from Russia who could still speak German,
even if in a dialect, but they could speak it. That seems to have
Ole Rolvaag, whom I mentioned before, mentioned that language,
(in 1925 he helped found the Norwegian American Historical Association),
was the core. Without the ancestral language the culture essentially
disappears. Now we've seen in our classes and elsewhere that the
language has pretty much gone, but nevertheless I want to congratulate
you, the Germans from Russia, on your dedication to your own background,
to your own culture, and to the immigrant legacy which you have
preserved for such a long time in such a splendid fashion. I do
believe that there are things worth retaining aside from the language
and obviously you do too.
But the Germans from Russia remained, as they came to the Dakota
Territory, a rather crafty bunch. Bauernschläue sometimes the
Germans would call it, slyness of farmers. There's the story of
two brothers, who were Germans from Russia. Together, on the Homestead
Act of 1862, each one of the 160 acres, placed one house right on
the border between two 160 pieces. The one could live on one side
of this property in his house, and the other in his house on the
other side of the property. Cases like that happened.
There's another case of a farmer who realized that he had to prove
up his land under the Homestead Act, and he got 160 acres and he's
expected to build a house and plow some land. So, this German from
Russia decided, well perhaps I have a solution to this, so he plowed
one straight furrow with a five acre plot on one side and an eight
acre plot on the other. The Homestead officials asked him, "Well,
how you coming with the plowing?" And he said, "Pretty
well, I've plowed between 5 and 8 acres." But we may hope that
this farmer was not like the Norwegian bachelors Garrison Keillor
has made so famous. We, of course, don't think of these as being
the Germans, maybe Curtis Schultz could tell a joke like this, but
I guess I'm going to tell about my own ethnic group.
Have you heard of the bachelor farmer who became so lonely that
he wanted a family, so be taken out an ad in a newspaper. The man
was so lazy that he took out a personal ad for a woman who was already
pregnant? Many of the Norwegian jokes, as we call them, are really
reflections of Swedish-Norwegian rivalry. Such jokes have been pulled
across the border from Norway to Sweden for generations. The rural
Norwegians have always admired and respected the more cultivated
Swedes, and more cosmopolitan Swedes. The Swedes have looked down
upon the Norwegians as being country-bumpkins. The Norwegians were
so delighted when they discovered oil, and now could gloat about
the Swedes somewhat.
Militarism and politics, of course, are not something that would
be appropriate for the Germans from Russia, but if we tell jokes
about the Germans, often these jokes are appropriate for some Germans
but not for others. This is something that would not apply to the
Germans from Russia. It's totally foreign to their nature, so even
some German jokes, perhaps even Norwegian jokes do not apply to
the entire group.
After World War II, a former diligent Nazi had been de-Nazified
and the Americans put him in charge of de-Nazifying his area of
Germany, and this was a big thing. Get out the Nazis, change them
into democrats. As for the former Nazi, he stood in front of a large
group of people and he said, "Today, we will de-Nazify twenty
Germans, next year we will de- Nazify ten-thousand Germans, the
year after that we will de-Nazify a million Germans, the year after
that we will de- Nazify all of Germany, then we will de-Nazify England,
then France and then the whole world." This of course is something
that is an item of humor which you would not like for the Germans
from Russia. Certainly, the Germans from Russia, as in Russia and
the Volga, tended to be rather peaceful. They tended to want to
mind their own business and not be too concerned about politics.
The great German author Goethe once said, "To possess a culture,
one must acquire it." It is not enough to be German from Russia
or Irish, it is not enough to be Norwegian, Native American, it
must really be earned. In my case, my immigrant Norwegian father
died before I was born. He was a very successful farmer in northern
Iowa. Some said he worked himself to death. In our family there
was little emphasis on Norwegian, but later becoming aware of that
good distinction, I tried to learn Norwegian, and the culture of
Norway. In learning, I learned about myself and my heritage. I'm
probably the only one in my family who has. At the same time, I
was learning German and gaining an appreciation for the culture
and history of Germany.
As the child of an immigrant, myself, the Germans from Russia and
the Norwegians somehow, especially in this transition period coming
from the old world to the new world, I thought to be very appealing.
While in Germany, I suggest this to you, visit the Stuttgart museums
and Bessarabia house. They had mock-ups, as many of you know, of
some of the buildings, some of cities, in fact, in Russia. You may
find your own building or street in Russia in one of those mock-ups.
I also happen to be a member of the Germans from Russia Heritage
Society and the Sons of Norway. Intriguing as well along with the
Batzen, the brick houses that characterize the early days in South
Dakota, and the steel crosses which were put up from Canada to Argentina
by Germans from Russia, you've seen pictures of those as well. They
have a marvelous display of the crosses outside of the room. The
Germans from Russia shared that characteristic with the Ukrainians
and the Czechs.
But I'm talking now of the cross that Caroline Wolf showed me in
a field, empty of virtually anything but waving grain, and buffalo
berry trees. The place had been called Hoffnungstal, the Valley
of Hope. The church was gone and in the middle of this trackless
area, I saw a little cemetery. On one of the steel crosses, it was
one of those made in Bismarck mass produced-some of the others were
of course much more imaginative, they would simply screw on a name.
And on that cross I saw Gottlieb Goetz. Maybe some of you are related
to him. 1864-1911 all this in German of course. Born in Hoffnungstal,
South Russia, died in Hoffnungstal, South Dakota, the Valley of
Hope. 1864-1911. Think of that! Within a few generations, his father,
his forefathers came to Russia, probably settled shortly after 1800.
This man died about the same age as my father. He had this enormous
experience in his memory of going from Germany all the way across
to Russia to the Black Sea area, settling there under extreme deprivation.
The early settlers had it very, very difficult. I said they got
about 160 acres of free land. The Russian government also promised
them livestock and other things which usually did not arrive. The
first years were extraordinary difficult. But the Germans from Russia
persevered, and I think, as a Norwegian, the word that describes
the Germans from Russia is perseverance.
When he had the opportunity in the 1870's, probably in 1874, when
the Russian government revoked many of the privileges that were
granted to the Germans from Russia, he left. Came to the United
States, all the way across Europe, maybe back through Germany again,
maybe by sea, all the way across the ocean and having settled, got
the land up and established villages and towns, so forth in Russia
going to South Dakota, or Montana, or Colorado and doing it all
over. My father came from Norway, fairly prosperous.
It's an interesting story, but compare this story of a basic immigrant
with your stories, with Gottlieb Goetz. We see this grave stone
and we wonder. “Who was he? What was he interested in? What
is his story?” And it's marvelous about you and this organization
that you're doing some research on the thousands of other people
like him who have connections. I congratulate you and applaud you
for your interest in your own heritage. Gottlieb Goetz was among
the Germans from Russia. They had a sense of humor, they suffered,
worked, and they worked a good deal, harder than most people. Also,
they needed a greater sense of humor; perhaps despair and humor
The Germans from Russia never despaired. They centered on their
church and culture. But at the same time, the terrible things that
have happened that many of us of course, in looking back upon our
own past, we do not know how it felt. Just as most Americans don't
know how it feels in comparison, for example, to my wife. They had
hard work with a lot of discipline, there were very few frills.
But with work, discipline and with perseverance comes also headwork,
resourcefulness. The Germans from Russia, like the Schwabs, would
go to a place that offered very little, and as in the proverbial
story, go up the tree bear naked and come down fully clothed.
Another aspect for the Germans from Russia, which I admire from
my Norwegian perspective, is a strong sense of needing a spiritual
center. They remain rooted in their religion, in strong, loving
families, often in families with extreme discipline. They retained
their rooted ness in their tradition. Another aspect that I appreciate
about the Germans from Russia is a love of the land-probably greater
than that of many of the other groups. They also have a gratitude
for the opportunities that this country offered them as immigrants,
and a willingness to take advantage of these opportunities. Another
aspect of the Germans from Russia that I appreciate, as a Norwegian
and a member of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society is the
friendliness, the helpfulness, the kindness and lack of pretension
of so many Germans from Russia. I thank you very much for some of
these lessons to a Norwegian.
I could tell you some aspects about the Norwegians likewise, and
many of these aspects are the same as we find in the Germans from
Russia. But I continue to have students in my classes who are Germans
from Russia and I say, "Do you know anything about this? Do
you know anything about your background?" They don't know.
This isn't just the Germans from Russia. I mention the Germans from
Russia especially because their story is such a fascinating one.
I thank you very much for this opportunity to share a little bit
in your heritage today. Thank you very much for your attentiveness.
I have a few song sheets that I brought along, and at the time
that I was asked to speak. I was not aware that we would have so
many beautiful sing-a-longs. I heard Professor Marzolf earlier with
his sing-a-long. All of you got some of these sheets. Take them
home with you if you like. Some of these are songs that my students
expressly enjoy singing. Some of them I got from Joseph Height's
Folk Songs of Our Forefathers, and I wonder if we might ask Professor
Marzolf to lead us right now in a song or two of his choosing from
the sheet. Would you be willing to do that?