Only the third Generation will have Bread -- German Immigrants from Russia in Nouth Dakota

By the ORNIS Editors

.. der Dritte erst hat Brot -- Russlanddeutsche Einwanderer in Nord-Dakota

Von der ORNIS Redaktion

From ORNIS, Berlin, Germany, October, 2004

Translation from the original German text to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


Berlin (ORNIS) -- Johann Bette's visit in 1872 to his previous homeland of South Russia, following a long absence, brought good news to friends and relatives. Over there, in America, there was a lot of land available, waiting only to be settled and to be put under a plow. He himself had emigrated from the Black Sea to North America nearly a quarter century before. And now several families also decided to begin a new life on the other side of the Atlantic, free from persecution and from the arbitrariness of local officials.

Following their passage by ship, they spent their first winter in Ohio and sent out scouts to look for unsettled land and fertile soil. They met with success in the Dakota region and, not much later, they settled northwest of Yankton, not far from the Missouri, in a place called Scotland.

In subsequent years, these pioneers were followed by a virtual wave of immigrants -- all of them Germans from Russia, that is, from the Black Sea region. Their numbers were so large that new settlers continued to spread ever farther northward, into what is now the state of North Dakota, between Montana and Minnesota and bordering Canada.

For these pioneers the initial years of privation and getting established passed more quickly than anticipated. The old saying of the German Black Sea area settlers, born of their experience in Russia -- "the first [generation] meets with death, the second with privation, and only the third will have [sufficient] bread" -- did not seem to hold here any longer. By the second generation, around the beginning of the 20th Century, the golden years of agriculture brought prosperity to North Dakota and, thereby, to its Germans from Russia.

Most of them were farmers and were hardly able to imagine doing anything else. Unlike settlers from Scandinavian countries or from Germany itself, they shunned the cities and created -- as they had done in Russia -- closed communities, in which their common religion or a common place of origin secured a feeling of social belonging.

In an essay on the Germans from Russia, historian Jerome Tweton of Grand Forks, North Dakota, underscores the fact that for the Germans from Russia, social cohesion was of highest importance. In a survey during the early Thirties of the previous Century it was found that those surveyed had selected their partners exclusively from their own religious community. "Emigration by Black Sea Germans was primarily one that included whole," as Tweton cites another historian and explains that, in contrast with immigrants from Germany, Poland or Scandinavia, [Black Sea Germans] rarely came as single families and almost never as individuals.

Of the 70,000 Germans from Russia living in North Dakota in the 1920s, 95 percent originated from the Black Sea region. Only small numbers of Germans from Crimea or "un-landed" farmers from the Odessa region settled in North Dakota, while large settlements of German-Russian Mennonites arose in neighboring Manitoba/Canada. Germans from the Volga region or from the Caucasus or Volhynia also rarely settled in North Dakota -- most of these finding their homes in Kansas and Nebraska during the initial years of the 20th Century.

Among Germans from Russia, these days contact with the old home country is kept alive in myriad ways, not the least through visits and group trips to places of origin in the country of their ancestors. Bismarck, the capital city of North Dakota numbering 55,000 residents, has been the home for over thirty years of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society, which conducts historical research, arranges social activities, and takes up contact with several smaller organizations and societies of Germans from Russia in the United States.

In the past, many have actively participated in supporting the German population in Russia. Elder people in particular remember stories by their parents and grandparents of how their ancestors put down roots in their new homeland. Nearly a third of the current population of North Dakota is of German descent, reports Michael Miller of Fargo, the largest city in the State. At the local State University, this bibliographer maintains an extensive collection of the German-Russian heritage of North Dakota. Miller says, "Many Germans from Russia have relatives here, but they are not even aware of it."

(Copyright ORNIS, October, 2004)

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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