The Family Tree: Germans on Both Sides of the Atlantic Rediscover Family Connections

Tobin, Paulette. "The Family Tree: Germans on Both Sides of the Atlantic Rediscover Family Connections." Grand Forks Herald, 22 August 1999.

Most descendants of the Germans from Russia in North Dakota probably know something about why their ancestors lived in Russia and how their families came to America. But that's only part of the story.

The Germans were invited to settle in Russia in the 1700s and early 1800s but began leaving Russia in the 1880s in a migration that lasted about 25 years.

Those who stayed saw the erosion of more and more of the promises that had enticed them to Russia in the first place things like free land, local autonomy and freedom from service in the Russian military. By the 1930s and 1940s many Germans in Russia were starving under Stalin or being transported to Siberia.

But there is yet another part of this ethnic group's complex history, perhaps less known, of the Germans in Russia who returned to Germany during the time of World War II.

Their resettlement, part of Hitler's plan to bring Germans from around the world back to the Fatherland, means that many Germans in America today are rediscovering in Germany, of all places branches of their families they presumed lost in Russia.

Ted Becker, a researcher and genealogist from Williston, N.D., said families looking for cousins in Germany could search records compiled from 1939 to 1945 by a German agency called the Einwandererzentrastelle, or EWZ for short.

Speaking at the national convention of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society, Becker said EWZ documents contained the naturalization records for those German settlers who returned to the Reich prior to and during World War II.

There are photographs, family histories and information about political leanings of those who went back to Germany; even records of physical characteristics used by the Nazis to determine racial purity.

The EWZ was established as part of a deal between Russia and Germany. Hitler wanted the Germans in Russia back in the German Reich he was creating. Stalin wanted the return of the Russian land on which the Germans were living.

So representatives from the two governments went to the German villages in South Russia and offered people the option of staying in Russia or returning to Germany. For those who went back to Germany, their first stop was the resettlement camps. There the necessary forms and identification papers were checked, and those 14 and older had their photographs taken. Officials checked papers listing land, livestock, farm equipment and other property the Germans had owned in Russia, for which they were supposed to be compensated. They never were.

Then there were physical examinations: questions about height, weight, hair and eye color. Eyes, ears and noses were measured.

"People, as soon as they saw this, laughed out loud because of what they thought of it. But they didn't laugh too long because it was the government and they wanted to go back (to Germany)," Becker said.

The measuring was part of Hitler's plan to create a great Aryan nation. It may have seemed silly to the returning Germans but the better they scored on their racial purity tests, the closer they were resettled to Germany. Most of the returning Germans were relocated in Poland, Yugoslavia, Silesia, Prussia and Hungary where they were to be peasant workers and warriors for the Reich and buffer states to Stalin.

The work of the EWZ had stopped by 1945. The U.S. Third Army captured its records and eventually shipped them to America. About three years ago they were returned to the Bundes archive in Koblanz, Germany, but not before they were copied on microfilm for the National Archives. There are 70,000 rolls of microfilm in all but because of a special numbering system and the way the records are organized, searching them is not quite as daunting as it sounds.

From the EWZ records, Becker said, he copied the photographs of all the people who had come to Germany from his ancestral Russian village of Krasna. In searching the documents he found two sisters and a brother of his grandfather.

"The reason these documents are so important is these people are your cousins," Becker told the GRHS group.

For more information about EWZ records contact: National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park MD 20740-6001 Or email James Kelling at (Note: Kelling will not help locate family members)

For help in locating family members (there is a fee) contact: Rita Schierer, 2328 19th St. NW, Washington DC 20009. Call 202-232-8827. Or email

Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.

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