Wanderings: The Germans From Russia Today

Getting Together

Wood, Carter. "Wanderings: The Germans From Russia Today." Grand Forks Herald, 10 July 1994.

ODESSA, Ukraine - When residents of the Black Sea port of Odessa celebrate its bicentennial this fall, they could learn something about the Dakotas.

Photos and descriptions of German from Russia settlers in the United States will join an exhibition about the ethnic Germans who helped build Odessa, a city that still sparkles with beauty despite eight decades of neglect.

The trip forged contacts between universities in Odessa and Fargo, and built a foundation for future archival work that could benefit Americans researching their roots in the Black Sea region.

It further opened the door for NDSU-sponsored trips to southern Ukraine, homeland of many Germans from Russia. Early work is being done on a tour for 1996 that also would include the German national convention of the Society of Germans from Russia in Stuttgart.

"There's considerable interest in North Dakota to visit the ancestral villages of their parents, or for most North Dakotans, it's becoming their grandparents or even great-grandparents," said Michael Miller, bibliographer of the NDSU collection.

"I came away from Odessa thinking that it's really possible if everything can be worked out with various parties."

Hosting the group was the Bavarian House, a German cultural and educational center financed by Bavarian government and Lutheran church. The Bavarian House is sponsoring the historical exhibit in conjunction with Odessa's 200th anniversary.

In Stuttgart and other parts of Germany, the delegation was joined by 10 Americans - several originally from the Dakotas - who are interested in genealogical studies. They participated in events at the national Germans from Russia convention, and spoke at other gatherings.

Paving the way

Key results of the trip:

- Contacts with the state archives of Odessa: The archives contains thousands of documents of interest to Germans from Russia, but like many government institutions, money is short. "Rebirth," an ethnic German cultural group, has organized a genealogical research service in conjunction with the archives. However, charges border on exorbitant.

The archives offer great potential, Miller said, but it may prove difficult to film the necessary records.

- Contacts with the university: Exchanges and research projects are possible with the institution in Odessa, which participates in an exchange program with Eastern Washington State University in Cheney, Wash.

Several Odessa students also may conduct oral interviews of Germans from Russia remaining in the Black Sea region. However, Miller said, it’s apparent many would feel freer to speak after emigrating to Germany.

- Review of travel facilities. Even Odessa's best hotels have drawbacks, ranging from the smell of cat urine to a plethora of prostitutes. Several members of the delegation stayed at a hotel run by an enterprising German businessman, who converted a floor of a run-down spa.

In Ukraine and Germany, a slide show Miller put together also introduced viewers to the lives of Germans from Russia who settled the Dakotas. The show was a big hit, sparking comments of recognition with slides of villages and cemeteries that bore the same names in Ukraine and the United States.

Miller also spoke to thousands at the national convention in Stuttgart, presenting a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol to the Germans from Russia society. Rep. Toby Roth, R-Wis, a Strasburg, N.D., native, arranged the gift.

Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.

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