Miller Preserving Germans From Russia History

Rirkl, Toni. "Miller Preserving Germans From Russia History." Jamestown Sun, 11 August 2006.

Michael Miller

Since 1978, the heritage of the Germans from Russia has been collected, preserved and is documented by North Dakota State University Libraries in Fargo.

And for that long, Michael Miller has been the Germans form Russia Heritage Collection’s caretaker and bibliographer. He’s considered the NDSU Germans from Russia specialist and is proud of the collection he oversees.

“It’s grown to be one of the most comprehensive collections in the world,” he said.

Miller will be at the Jamestown Culture Festival Saturday, displaying and selling some of the items and music of the ethnic group that settled the prairie.

A descendent of Germans from Russia settlers himself, Miller grew up in Strasburg. For him, the collection and preserving the history are ongoing efforts to tell the story of this unique ethnic group.

“When I was going to school, the nuns said it was important to preserve the culture,” he said and he took that to heart.

The collection covers mot of the culture’s facet, including its folklore, food and clothing. Although designated generally as Germans from Russia, different groups came from different areas. They’re called Bessarabian Germans, Black Sea Germans, Crimean Germans, Dobrudscha Germans and Volhynian Germans.

Last spring, Miller said, he and the NDSU Department of History began an oral history project. Miller said they wanted to collect as many of the stories form older descendents of the original Germans from Russia settlers as they could for future generations.

“This was a pilot project and it was a huge success”, Miller said. “It’s our biggest focus now.”

The project took interviewers to the Gackle, Streeter and Kulm areas to collect stories. This summer they’ve continued the project in other areas with high concentrations of Germans form Russia descendents including Miller’s hometown. Essentially, the largest population of the group settled the region from Rugby to South Dakota. The project also took interviewers into Saskatchewan.

“The oral history is becoming very detailed,” Miller said. “We’ve also really getting active with photos.”

Coming this fall is a new series on North Dakota Public Radio, featuring clips of the oral history as spoken by those elders who remember the early years.

“Eventually, we’ll make a CD of those,” he said.

The heritage collection was also the basis for four award-winning documentaries produced by Prairie Public Television on the Germans from Russia. Miller worked with Prairie Public on “Children of the Steppe, Children of the Prairie,” Schmeckfest: Food Tradition,” Prairie Crosses, Prairie voices: Iron Crosses of the Great Plains” and: A Soulful Sound: Music of the Germans from Russia.”

The Jamestown College Concert Choir participated in the music documentary, Miller said. A DVD of the choir’s performance of the music of the Germans from Russia will be on sale at the festival.

Other items for sale are cookbooks, key maps, and popular books.

Miller and the heritage collection are good resources on the Germans from Russia for those who live in the region. And for those who don’t, there’s the Internet. Miller said the collection’s Web site get 8,000 hits a day. And a lot of those hits are checking out the food and recipe pages. It’s also a great way for descendents around the country to connect with their heritage.

“The Internet has changed everything,” Miller said.

Reprinted with permission of the Jamestown Sun.

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