Germans from Russia: A History Preserved

Wickramasinghe, Samantha. "Germans from Russia: A History Preserved." Spectrum, 4 February 2011, 4.

When walking through the main floor of the NDSU library, you might see a collection of photographs hanging on a wall of an inner alley, right next to the main computer cluster.

A close observation reveals that this catchy exhibition includes various sorts of clothing, artifacts and cooking recipes.

The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection (GRHC) tells a story of a culture that is of significant importance to North Dakotans and the people around the world who have a German-Russian cultural heritage.

At NDSU, the GRHC was established in 1978 with the majority of private funding coming from Marie Rudel Portner, the Germans from Russia Endowment and other financial donations.

Since then, GRHC has served NDSU and the rest of the world, receiving heavy use from family historians, students, researchers and scholars who want to find valuable information about the German-Russian culture.

If you are wondering about ethnography of German Russians, there is an interesting story behind them that unveils a history of social and political events that shaped their unique cultural identity.

According to the GRHC website, "Germany was struggling with social, economic and religious turmoil, [and] Catherine the Great, a Russian Princess who was born in Germany, proclaimed an open invitation for the Germans to come to Russia in 1762."

Catherine the Great promised to give free lands to the skilled German farmers and tradesmen in order to construct a modern Russia.

Thus, accepting the invitation of Catherine the Great, a large group of Germans moved into Russia with the intention of acquiring a better future.

They settled in different regions and formed a unique identify that fused the German and Russian cultures.

Nevertheless, in 1872, Germans had to leave Russia due to a new policy that the Russian government adopted.

This called for many German Russians to migrate to different countries such as the United States. According to Michael Miller, the director and bibliographer of the GRHC, a fair percentage of people in N.D. have a German-Russian heritage.            

 "30 percent of the population of North Dakota has a German Russian cultural heritage," Miller said.

Moreover, Acacia Stuckle, special collections associate of the GRHC said that sometimes NDSU students who have a German-Russian cultural heritage come to the GRHC to trace back their family trees.            

"We actually find students that ask for information about their family histories," Stuckle said.

The GRHC is significantly important to NDSU and the state of North Dakota.

According to the GRHC website, German Russians settled in the northern plains because the weather was similar to the places they left in Russia.

Among the cultural practices that they shared with the United States, were the German-Russian cooking methods and recipes, which became popular over time.

In order to enrich the GRHC, the staff started an oral history project with the purpose of preserving the history and heritage of the second- and third-generation Germans from Russia.

During the project, the staff focused on collecting childhood memories and family relationships. Currently however, the oral history project is halted due to insufficient funding.

"We can't do more interviews without having necessary fundingm," Stuckle said.

Nevertheless, the GRHC will be available for anyone who is interested in finding information about the cultural and historical background of Germans from Russia.

So, next time you're walking the main floor of the NDSU library, you can check out the GRHC and take a look at this unique piece of history.

Reprinted with the permission of the Spectrum.

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