Russian German Struggles, Sacrifices Brought to Light

"Russian German Struggles, Sacrifices Brought to Light." Forum, 5 August 1991, sec. 12B.

When Russian citizens of German decent left their homes in the late 1800s to come to America, many lost their possessions, friends, and relatives.

While they settled in North America, their counterparts in Russia endured tragedies just being brought to light by perestroika.

Michael Miller, a North Dakota State University librarian and bibliographer for the Germans from Russia Heritage Society which met over the weekend in Minot, has learned of these hardships firsthand from Soviet Germans.

In one, a woman identified herself as Lena Dyck described her life as an ethnic minority in the Soviet Union around 1930:

"There were terrible conditions; people were deported, everything was left behind," she wrote. "Whoever had a good economically-going farm was evacuated."

"(One) night during a cold winter about 1930 we were put on cattle trains destined for the far, cold north deep into the woods! I with other children were allowed to go back, but where to?"

Her memories are not unusual. There are more than 2 million ethnic Germans still living in the Soviet Union.

Most are willing to do nearly anything to get out, Miller said, even though they will also suffer hardships in Germany, the destination for most.

"For the freedom to worship, they’re leaving their homes and land in the Soviet Union, even though they were much better off economically there than they will be in Germany," Miller said.

The reason the Soviet Germans may face problems in their ethnic homeland is because of the vast number of Germans who are trying to return to the country after decades in exile.

With communist barriers down in most of Eastern Europe, ethnic Germans from Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Soviet Union are on long waiting lists to become German citizens. About 10,000 Soviet Germans alone immigrate to Germany each month, Miller said.

While Soviet Germans are desperately trying to get out, their American and Canadian relatives are desperately trying to get in - to see them in the "homeland."

Margaret Freeman of Santa Monica, Calif., has been to Germany several times to research the history of the Gluckstal colonies that existed in the Bessarabian region of the Soviet Union.

She said other countries are not as willing as the United States to share genealogical information.

"They’re interested in control and not access," she said. "I faced two obstacles. Since I am a woman and do not have my Ph.D., they figured I couldn’t possibly know what to do with the records."

Many Germans from Russia living in the United States and Canada would not find their "homeland" if they went to the Soviet Union, Miller said.

Those from the Black Sea area would not even find cemeteries, he said, because the Communists destroyed every remnant of the villages. Bessarabian descendants would be luckier because many of their villages remain relatively intact.

However, Miller said many of the records in the Soviet Union are priceless and could piece together many family histories.

Gwen Pritzkau of Riverton, Utah, a genealogical expert for the society, and families there and here should not give up the idea of seeing lost relatives.

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Fargo, North Dakota.

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