In Touch with Prairie Living
By Michael M. Miller
The heritage of the Germans from Russia is an important part of
our northern plains culture. The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
at the NDSU Libraries in Fargo reaches out to prairie families and
former Dakotans. In this month's column, we focus on our visit in
May by some of the Journey to the Homeland tour members traveling
to their ancestral German villages near Odessa, Ukraine.
Bruce Mehlhaff, Rapid City, a Eureka Native, Sees the Steppes
of His Ancestors
Bruce writes,"We are home! The Ukraine looks like home. From
the first views of the steppes from the air, the terrain looked
anything but foreign. The orderly fields below us could well have
been in the Dakotas. The first trip to the villages reinforced that
impression. There were significant differences of course -- the
cows and goats walking in the ditches; the rows of sentinel trees
that line the highways; the fields very much like the ones in America.
Even the weeds were familiar -- the fox tail grass and the chamomile.
Just like home!"
"We had our moment of celebrity when delivering our school
supplies at the village of Strassburg (today Kutschurgan). Being
graduation day, students wore red sashes which bore inscriptions
from their classmates. Counter-balancing the elation was the sight
of the poverty and crumbling churches, graphic symbols of a way
of life that is gone."
Ron Vossler, East Grand Forks, a Wishek Native, Visits Bessarabian
Ron found the home where his great-grandfather was born in the
former German village of Alt Posstal, now occupied by Ukrainians.
He traveled to the next village of Kulm, of the same name as the
town in ND, and now a poor hill-top village with a wonderful view
of the steppe rising into the distance. Ron states, "Throughout
our journey we saw high stands of wheat still green, and sugar beets,
sunflowers, and corn, growing in the fertile Chernozem soil. People
haying by hand, loading hay with forks onto horse-pulled wagons.
Farmers in the fields hoeing tomatoes, or walking along the roadside
carrying scythes and other hand-made implements."
Rev. Myrin and Audry Bentz, Portland, OR, a Hazen Native,
The Bentzs' write, "Hand-hoeing of huge fields was mostly
done by women. How practical that fields and roads were separated,
not by fences, but by fruit and nut trees -- for miles on end. Cows
and sheep did not need fences because they were tended by cowherders
and shepherds. We could learn from the villagers -- not a landowner
in sight. Rather, after milking the sheep or cows in the morning,
they tethered wherever the grass and weeds needed trimming."
"Staying with our host Moldovan family in our ancestors'
former village of Glueckstal, we had no common language; but we
communicated best when I pulled out my accordion, taking turns playing
music and singing. Later when we gathered with other tour members,
the elderly German-Russians who we met in the villages shared unbelieveable
stories of hardships in Siberian 'Ausgeschlept' for many years.
They sang the German hymns without text -- sometimes four verses!
A favorite phrase was 'Der Alte Gott lebt noch.'"
Information about Germans from Russia
We invite readers to share memories of their German-Russian heritage.
Customs, history and folklore appear at the Germans from Russia
Heritage Collection World Wide Web homepage at http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc.
Information about the NDSU Libraries' sponsored Journey to the Homeland
Tour for May 26-June 8, 1998, and the e-mail messages from tour
members of May, 1997, appear at the GRHC website. For additional
information, contact Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 5599,
Fargo, ND 58105-5599 (Tel: 701-231-8416; E-mail: Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu).