Choir's Heritage Familiar
Olson, Jeffrey G. "Choir's Heritage Familiar." Bismarck Tribune, 24 July 1997, sec. 1B.
The faces in the choir would melt into the crowd at Kirkwood Mall.
Their names are common to the Strasburg telephone directory and
the Strassburg (near Odessa, Ukraine) telephone directory.
The names and faces belong to the 25-member Heimatklaenge Choir
of Stuttgart, Germany, on the last leg of a North Dakota tour. The
choir performs at 7:30 tonight in the Century High School auditorium.
Choir members, said translator Michael Miller, are also looking
for relatives as they travel in the U.S. "These are the children
and grandchildren of the Germans living in Russia that immigrated
to the United States, and specifically to the Great Plains in 1812
Miller said several people in the audience of a Tuesday concert
in Strasburg turned out to be related. "They were from the Aberdeen
area and came to the concert."
The choir journeys to Dickinson for a concert at 8 p.m. MDT Saturday
at the German-Hungarian Club. They sing at the 8:30 a.m. Sunday
Mass at Assumption Abbey, relax for a couple of days then fly home.
At a potluck picnic Wednesday evening at Buckstop Junction in
east Bismarck, choir members again looked into a genetic mirror.
"Since 1991," Miller said, "about 1.6 million ethnic Germans like
these people have emigrated from the former Soviet Union to Germany.
Today, there are still 10,000 people a month emigrating."
They seldom are welcomed with open arms by Germans. "They have
trouble finding jobs, and jobs are scarce in Germany anyway with
15 percent unemployment. Many are settled in the former East Germany."
Waldemar Hergert, a 43-year-old music teacher, left Kazakhstan
in November 1995. He stumbled trying to explain his new life, and
with a glance begged for help from Laura Illg. The two lapsed into
"Most of these people were born in Siberia or Kazakhstan," Miller
said. "In the U.S.S.R. they were pointed out as Germans and ridiculed
as children, later persecuted as adults.
"In Germany they are called Russians and told to 'go home.' It
is very difficult for them," Miller said.
Hergert now repairs harmonicas and plays the harmonica and the
Helene Esau's mother was born in Johanestal, near Odessa. Like
tens of thousands of Germans living in Russia, Hitler's troops forced
them from village homes in the early 1940s. They lived in camps
in Poland and Germany, and when the war ended, Stalin promised them
they would return to their villages.
They wound up on transport trains headed for Siberia and Kazakhstan.
"Helene's parents tried to go back and visit their house in 1956,"
Miller said. "The Russians living there -in their home with their
old furniture-wouldn't let them in the door."
Reprinted with permission of the Bismarck Tribune.