Wishek Native is Fulbright Scholar in Ukraine

"Wishek Native is Fulbright Scholor in Ukraine." Wishek Star, 8 September 2010, 1,3.

Wishek native Ron Vossler has been awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to lecture and do research on the fate of the ethnic Germans who lived in the Ukraine during World War II.

An independent researcher, filmmaker and writer, Vossler now lives in East Grand Forks, Minn.

Vossler left last week for Mykolaiv National University in the Odessa region of Russia. He plans to spend a month or more lecturing and visiting the former German villages where many of today’s North Dakotans — including Vossler — have roots.

More than 200 years ago, many Germans left their homeland at the invitation of the Russian czarina Katherine the Great and her grandson Czar Alexander I to settle the southern steppes of the Ukraine. They were promised free land, freedom from military conscription and other benefits. In turn, they farmed the land and prospered, keeping their German traditions, language and culture.

After about 100 years, the Russian leaders forgot the earlier promises and some of the ethnic Germans from Russia migrated to the Americas. In this region, many settled in an area from north central South Dakota to middle and western North Dakota sometimes called the Sauerkraut Triangle.

But for every one of the German people who left Russia, three remained behind, Vossler said. More than 130,000 lived between the Bug and Dneister rivers and those are the people he will be studying.

Vossler has visited the Ukraine a half-dozen times previously and has written books and helped make films based on the Germans living in the Ukraine, including “We’ll Meet Again in Heaven: Germans in the Soviet Union Write Their American Relatives.”

The book (also a DVD) contains dozens of letters the ethnic Germans wrote to their relatives in America, telling of the economic hardships and starvation they faced under Russian leader Josef Stalin. Vossler found the letters and translated them from German language newspapers that were published in North Dakota and elsewhere.

Under Stalin, 1 million Germans living in Russian villages were rounded up and shot or worked to death in labor camps between 1915 and 1948. Vossler said he intends to study the years from 1941 to 1944, when the German army occupied the German villages of Russia, to study the involvement of the villagers with the Nazis.

According to his research, Vossler said, some Germans from Russia lined up for their chance to kill Russians during that time.

“The Germans had a horrible rage against Communists because they had destroyed their families and killed their grandfathers and uncles,” he said. The destruction included the killing of Jews.

“Many Jews were killed and many were saved by the German Russian villagers. Both happened,” Vossler said.

The Fulbright Scholar Program is sponsored by the U.S. State Department and established in 1946 under legislation introduced by Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas.

It gives opportunities for American scholars to study abroad and for foreign scholars to study in America. Recipients of the Fulbright awards are chosen by academic or professional achievement and leadership potential in their fields, a news release said.

Vossler’s project is called “Breaking the Silence, Ukraine’s Labyrinth of Memory, and An Exploration of Its German Minority and the Holocaust.”

More information may be found at www.ronvossler.com

Our appreciation is extended to The Wishek Star and the Grand Forks Herald.

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