German Heritage Society Works to Retain Culture

Olson, Dave. "German Heritage Society Works to Retain Culture." Forum, 13 July 1986.

Greetings of "Wie gehts," and "Guten tag" were frequently heard in the halls of Fargo’s Holiday Inn Saturday as people of German descent gave expression to their heritage.

That heritage is important to the 513 people who were registered by Saturday for the Germans from Russia Heritage Society International Convention which began Friday and ends today.

The society works to preserve the culture of German families which came to the United States from Russia after pressure to give up their cultural identity became too heavy.

Vi Sahielke, national secretary of the group, said Catherine the Great of Russia invited Germans into her country during the 1700s to help develop agriculture. Most of them settled near the Black Sea in an area called Bessarila, Sahielke said.

She said German communities, called dorfs, isolated themselves from Russian culture. German people went to German schools and churches.

Starting in the 1870s, Russian officials began to force Germans to attend Russian schools in addition to their own to learn the Russian language.

She said Germans began to leave Russia about that time and the migration lasted until the beginning of World War I.

Sahiekle said while a great majority ended up in Canada, North Dakota and Montana, many Germans settled in South American countries, "like Peru," adds Sahielke’s husband, Ervin.

The fierce devotion to culture the Germans displayed in Russia was carried to the U.S., the Sahielkes said, adding neither of them began speaking English until they started school.

And then it sometimes had to be beaten into them, literally, Vi Sahielke said she remembers her 3rd grade teacher slapping her if she spoke German.

The Sahielkes, who live in Beulah, N.D., said their grandparents had come from Russia, but they said most people in the society are three or five generations removed from the exodus.

Vi Sahielke said society members have a love of heritage and tracing genealogy but said it can be frustrating looking for records because of the obstacle of the iron curtain and the destruction to records during World War II.

Another problem, she said, is that "old timers" don’t like to talk about old times.

"For various reasons they didn’t like to talk about the old days because it was so hard, and as a result there are so little records," she said. "This is why it’s time to share and salvage what we can."

The conventioneers saw something relatively new Saturday afternoon - a polka Mass.

The church service featured religious songs sung to a pumping, polka background beat.

Fr. Frank Perkovich, Eveleth, Minn., who originated the polka mass about 13 years ago, said it has gained acceptance in the Catholic Church, including the Vatican.

Perkovich said even the pope likes polka. He said after he was allowed to hold a polka Mass at the Vatican, the pope said to him, "Father, I like very much the polka Mass."

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