Children of the Steppe, Children of the Prairie

Prairie Public Documentary Looks at Germans from Russia


Prairie Public Broadcasting, Inc.,
207 North 5th Street
PO Box 3240
Fargo, ND 58108-3240
Tel: 701-241-6900 or 800-359-6900 Fax: 701-239-9650

Television Program Information
January 21, 1999

The Germans from Russia were agricultural pioneers whose quest for land and peace shaped them into an enduring and distinctive ethnic group. That is the story Prairie Public Television and North Dakota State University Libraries tell in "The Germans from Russia: Children of the Steppe/Children of the prairie", a documentary film which premieres Tuesday, February 9, at 7 p.m. on Prairie Public Television.

The film begins with the ascension of Catherine, later called "the Great", to the throne of Russia in 1762; and shows how her Manifesto, which promised free land, local self government, and freedom from military service to those willing to farm in Russia, brought large scale immigration of Germanic speaking settlers onto the steppes: first along the Volga in 1765; and then over the next half century, into an area along the fringes of the Black Sea.

The film also shows why, as the original promises of the Manifesto were rescinded in the late nineteenth century, over 300,000 Germans from Russia obtained passports, severed ties to their villages in Russia, and began the odyssey to the new land. They settled in almost every area of North America, but preferred the open spaces of the Great Plains, where this ethnic group maintained its culture and language the longest.

To chronicle the historical journey of the Germans from Russia, Prairie Public production crews made long journeys of their own. They filmed, researched, and interviewed in Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Germany, Alsace in France, California, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

The making of the film was a four year odyssey that began with Michael Miller's suggestion that NDSU Libraries and Prairie Public work jointly on a Germans from Russia documentary. Miller who is Germans from Russia bibliographer at NDSU Libraries, and co-executive producer of the film says the completion of the documentary is a dream come true. He said that during his first visit to the former Bessarabia and Black Sea homeland villages in 1994, he felt it was very important to share the story of what the Germans from Russia had accomplished there.

Miller added, "In light of the many changes in our global society, we must preserve our history. This documentary will be of much value in that regard, to school, libraries and homes on the northern plains, as well as the world-wide Germans from Russia community.

Documentary producer Bob Dambach says the partnership with NDSU makes this a special project for Prairie Public. "By working together, we've been able to showcase part of the ethnic history of North Dakota, to illuminate the heritage of one third of North Dakotans, and to tell a good story. That's all very gratifying."

The first part of the film illuminates the history of this ethnic group, tracing their movement from the original Germanic homeland, to their pioneer experience on the steppes. The second half of the film uses stories and anecdotes told by the descendants to show the experience of the German Russians on the American prairie.

The film's writer, Ron Vossler, says this is a complex story to tell. "It became apparent as I researched the script that there were no simple answers to who these people were."

Vossler says that the documentary The Germans from Russia explores this complexity by addressing a series of paired contradictions about this ethnic group; and he also says that it is in these contradictions -- "They were restless wanderers -- They had deep roots to home.";"They were practical -- They sought eternity,";"They tried to forget -- They always remembered." -- that the viewer of the film will learn about the ethnic group called the Germans from Russia.

In telling the story, The Germans from Russia draws on the expertise of Dr. Timothy Kloberdanz, Fr. William Sherman, and Michael Miller of NDSU, Ron Vossler of UND, Dr. Shirley Fischer Arends, author of The Central Dakota Germans and Dr. Dona Reeves-Marquardt, professor emeritus at Southwest Texas State University, Buda Texas.

Major funding for the production was provided by Arthur E. and Cleora Flegel, Stuart and Cindy Mitzel Longtin, North Dakota Humanities Council, Florence E. Wiest and the Members of Prairie Public.

Video copies of THE GERMANS FROM RUSSIA:CHILDREN OF THE STEPPE, CHILDREN OF THE PRAIRIE are available through Prairie Public at 1-800-359-6900 or by visiting the Prairie Public web site at and clicking on "Prairie Public's General Store."

For 35 years, Prairie Public Television has supported the prairie community through broadcast and technological services. Prairie Public Television is seen on KFME/13/Fargo, KGFE/2/Grand Forks, KBME/3/Bismarck, KSRE/6/Minot, KDSE/9/Dickinson, KWSE/4/Williston, KJRE/19/Ellendale, and Winnipeg Cable Channel 3.

Reprinted with permission of Prairie Public Broadcasting, Fargo, North Dakota.

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