Germans from Russia Will Gather and Share

Bueling, Lynn. "Germans from Russia Will Gather and Share." Emmons County Record, 29 June 2016, 8.


The books we read, the people with whom we associate, the news sources we follow all have a hand in forming our world view and the opinions that guide us from day to day. Is there something in our hereditary makeup that works silently behind the scenes, too? Maybe some imprinted experiences of our forebears that lingers on in our subconscious? Generational rage? The native Americans speak of it, and so do descendants of other displaced groups who have been uprooted from their comfortable way of life.

Whatever it is that drives people to follow a course of action, one group of people persists in holding a strong bond with the past - the Germans from Russia. On the one hand, the history of oppression and maltreatment in Stalinist Russia pervades meetings in conventions held each year in various locations. On the other hand, happier times experienced and celebrated by their culture are evoked, too.

Some of the old immigrants talked of life before arriving in the United States or Canada. Some like my grandmother’s family who had resided in Ukraine didn’t. We do know that upon their arrival in the Port of Baltimore they possessed only $11 and that she and her siblings huddled around to hide their father who was ill and afraid he wouldn’t be permitted entry into the country.

All of my wife’s ancestors came from areas where poverty caused by their treatment in the political climate of the country caused them to leave and come here. They could not forget about or cease to yearn for those left behind. Her mother and aunt told of finding their mother crying in fear of her relatives left behind in “the old country.” Another relative, a baker by trade, lived in Selz, Russia and while delivering bread was beaten, robbed, and died soon after with little being done to find and punish the criminals.

Stories such as these will be shared at the 2017 convention of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society to be held in Bismarck July 12-16. Attendees at these conventions will gather in a convivial atmosphere of seeing old friends and meeting new ones. A common cause unites this group: they claim ancestors who either fled a hard life in Russia or stayed behind and suffered the indignities forced upon them in such places as Beresan, Bessarabia, Crimea, Dobrudscha, Gluckstal, Odessa, etc.

Scheduled sessions will cover a wide range of topics, some light-hearted, some heart-wrenching. Susie Wickman will give an introduction to genealogy telling the group how her interest in it started after receiving a box of family pictures after her parents died. Her search leads her deeper and deeper into the family history. Allyn Brosz from Washington, DC will discuss German Russian farmers in South Dakota and how they tested their First Amendment freedoms in World War I. Dr. Eric J. Schmaltz follows the story of Pauline Lehl who came to Oklahoma and received 180 letters bearing historical witness of tragedy from relatives who stayed behind.

Rev. Marv Mutzenberger will present the life and times of Martin Luther through a series of scenarios with each focusing on a specific moment in Luther’s life. Nancy and Alex Herzog will borrow from found memoirs of those captured by Soviet forces and exiled to remote areas of the USSR to work as slave laborers. Rev. Milton Ost will lead participants to “peek behind the scenes of Catherine the Great and other Romanov czars that influenced the lives of our German forebears and eventually led them to leave for other destinations.

The topics discussed above give only a small number of programs scheduled for the convention. Others topics include kuchen and plachinda making, Volga German colonies, combing through North Dakota state archives, cooking sauerkraut and knoefla, demographic patterns of Bessarabian Germans, experiencing the history of ancestors, German Russian farming before GMO, cultural customs, the Heritage Foundation, and many more.

Many will look forward to a session titled, “Retelling those Great Humorous Stories and Jokes from Our German Relatives.” The heritage is rich with stories and jokes that brought humor and laughter to lives filled with hard work and hardships. It’s said to be an opportunity to share stories, and having none, to simply sit back, listen, and laugh.

Attendees always come from many states, Canadian provinces, and European locations, and usually return year after year. A deep-seated yearning for knowledge of our ancestors and their exodus from oppression drives participants to understand how and why they came to the promise of a better world. Information about the Germans from Russia Society and this convention can be found at www.grhs.org.

Reprinted with the permission of the Emmons County Record.


Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller