My American Trip, June 16 to July 11, 1978
Meine Amerikareise vom 16. Juni bis 11. Juli 1978
Stumpp, Dr. Karl. "My American Trip, June 16 to July 11, 1978." Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, 1978.
Translated from German to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
The departure of our flight from Frankfurt was an hour late, but our captain promised that we would still get to Chicago on time. This was not the case. We were supposed to land in Chicago at 4:20 PM! We did not hear the familiar announcement, "Please fasten your seat belt for our landing!" We flew and flew, without realizing that we were circling over Chicago for two hours. Then came the news that we had only 40 minutes' worth of fuel. We were starting to get restless. Finally, we landed in St. Louis to refuel. We were not even allowed to loosen our seat belts, since we were to continue on in one half hour. Well, it got to be three half hours before we took off again and then landed in Chicago, four hours later than originally scheduled. What was going on? A tornado was raging over Chicago. At one time we were flying above the tornado, with a calm city of Chicago way below; however, the tornado was barring us from landing down there.
On the ground we were met patiently by our waiting host family, Smith. During the next day we enjoyed a tour of the city. Followed even more impressively by going a climb to up to the top of the highest commercial building in the [then] world, 443-meters [1453-foot] high. Walking around the top we enjoyed a wonderful view of various lakes and of the city. There stood a church that looked dwarfed in comparison to the high-rise buildings; several years earlier it had been the highest building in the area.
In the evening, several of our Landsleute [countrymen] had dinner with us in a revolving tower restaurant that made a full revolution each hour. Here we could see the lakes, and then the by now richly and colorfully lit streets below.
On the 18th of June we continued our travels by flying to Lincoln, the actual goal of our trip. There the tenth anniversary convention of the American Historical Society for Germans from Russia (AHSGR) was to take place. As Honorary President of the Society, I had been invited to give a speech. Before going any further, I must first say that it was a very successful five-day convention, one that we will not soon forget.
The president, Mrs. Ruth Amen, and her coworkers had prepared and executed their program with precision and down to every little detail. Our Hilton Hotel provided many rooms, so that various presentations could be offered concurrently. The majority of the program consisted of presentations on a multitude of topics regarding the Germans from Russia. I was expected to report on the current situation regarding German-Russians in the Soviet Union, and on the reunification of families. A great many attended and showed a high degree of interest. My presentation room was always filled to excess. Presentations were limited to 15 or 20 minutes. I was pleased to observe that all presentations started promptly and with a brief devotional prayer. There was also an hour of celebration, during which the mayor gave a speech and encouraged us all to preserve our ethnic ways. He presented me with the Key to the City of Lincoln, which was indeed a very great honor for me.
By now I have two such keys displayed over my desk. During my 1971 visit in Lincoln, the present mayor, a Volga-German man by the name of Schwarzkopf, had also presented me with the Key to the City.
A special gathering was dedicated to presentation of certificates to members who had distinguished themselves through active work within their local chapters or through large donations. In a special room, a Mr. Flegel had set up his unique family card catalog that was frequently visited by interested members. Research into family history and ancestry is practiced diligently by our countrymen in America. Much deserved respect and appreciation goes to the plethora of family trees and family histories, printed or otherwise. Another separate room was dedicated to selling books. It should be mentioned that in recent times more books on Germans from Russia have appeared [in America] than in Germany. Both rooms contained the full series of Heimatbuecher, and on the walls there was a complete display of the maps by Dr. Stumpp that have been distributed with the Heimatbuecher. All the while, interested readers were studying or leafing through the Heimatbuecher or using the maps to locate the birth places of their parents or grandparents in Russia.
A large placard, placed at the entrance, contained various information and pointers, among them this sentence: "Use this opportunity of Dr. Stumpp's presence and ask him questions!" Many made use of that opportunity! The schedule of when I would be available, to the hour and minute, had been made public. The most frequently asked question was: "Where in Germany did my ancestors come from?" In most cases I was able to provide the information sought for. But if the people did not know where, i.e., which village, their ancestors lived in Russia, my answer often had to be negative. In that context, I even had to hear this harsh statement: "Why did you write a book when you can't tell me where my ancestors are from?"
One announcement gave the precise time and table when and where specific authors were available to sign their books. One particular man appeared with eight copies of "Die Russlanddeutschen. Ein Bildband. [The Germans from Russia. An Illustrated Volume.]" He must have noticed the astonished expression in my face, because he said, "One copy is for myself, the other seven are for my children. I want them to learn the history of their ancestors." Bravo, my dear countryman!
In another special room we were offered the usual array of foods from the old country of Russia: borsht, various kinds of sausages, "Kuechla-Kreppla," ... vodka! An old woman was sitting and knitting just like at home, and on the wall behind her there was a display of her wares. A man standing nearby was playing old melodies and dances on his concertina. In sum, all around us there was an air of home and memories of home.
Finally, the unique, unforgettable "Home Evening," arranged by a young woman, Barbara Alice. Amen. It was filled with ideas and original contributions: a wind orchestra, a choir, an organist, a soloist, two speakers and, not to forget, the community itself. At a podium, there were a man and a woman reading alternatingly from the history of the Germans from Russia. An immigrant family appeared, clad entirely in traditional clothing. Occasionally the wind ensemble or the choir would play or sing. Suddenly there appeared a man from the darkened background, a bass from the opera house, who strode through the audience. He sang with powerful a voice and without musical accompaniment, the songs "To Siberia we must travel, we must leave this world in bloom ..." Emotion, quiet, and inner tension filled the hall. Then Her Majesty, Catherine the Great, clad in full costume, made her appearance and strode to sit on a throne. Visitors also took part in the presentations. With great power and sincerity, folks sang ethnic and religious songs: "Now is the time to go to America; the old country was too crowded ...;" "So nimm denn meine Haende ...," "Nun danket alle Gott," and so on. Even though many no longer speak German, during such occasions there is much singing and praying in German, as for instance the prayer before a meal.
Evenings were dedicated to conversation and dancing, in which old and young, even I, happily participated.
From Lincoln we flew to St. Louis to my daughter's home, where we spent three very nice days. The biggest attraction here is the high Arch, a technical marvel, that is intended to symbolize the gate through which the Whites from the East entered the West.
We then went to Eureka in the state of Kansas. On July 8 and 9, in Fargo, ND, there was to be a second convention of Germans from Russia. How would we bridge the time from the 1st through the 7th? Frau Wibel, also from our home for the elderly in Stuttgart, and who acted as both interpreter and assistant for me, had accompanied me on the flight and the trip. It so happened that an aunt of hers owned a ranch near Eureka with 3,000 head of cattle and 11,000 hectares of grazing land. There we were privileged to enjoy some fine hospitality. The manager had been given instructions to see that all our needs were to be fulfilled and that we were to be shown everything. We drove around the whole region by car. The sun burned mercilessly, 42 to 43 degrees Celsius [107 - 109 degrees Fahrenheit]. Consequently, we spent the greater part of the time in the air conditioned car or homes. During midday the cattle were lying in the shade under a stand of trees. Potentially harmful insects might not only become a real plague to them, but could also kill them if preventive measures were not taken. For that reason, during the three hottest months, cowboys drive groups of cattle into fenced areas and spray them entirely with a liquid, keeping them free of insects for the next four weeks.
We also visited a cemetery, just as we had seen many others during our drives. Here the cemeteries are not fenced in; graves are not neatly arranged and often without flowers. We were told that flowers just cannot stand the strong heat, hence one often sees artificial flowers. Still, according to our standards in Germany, cemeteries in America present a neglected, disorderly image.
On July 7, we flew to Fargo, North Dakota, where a second convention for Germans from Russia was scheduled to take place. While almost all of the attendees in Lincoln were Volga Germans, here they were almost exclusively Black Sea Germans. Very importantly, Volga Germans, in addition to growing grain, introduced sugar beets to Kansas. The Black Sea Germans cultivated both Dakotas and contributed immeasurably to North and South Dakotas becoming the breadbasket of the USA.
During the day's programs, and especially afterwards, we had time to visit the fields and farms in the area around Fargo. Wheat, wheat, ... and at times, but more rarely, fields of sunflowers, barley and corn. My wish to be able to thoroughly inspect a farm, including living quarters and the fields, was quickly satisfied by a young farmer, who took us to his own farm. Most of our [farming] countrymen here own about 400 hectares of land. On the farmyards one rarely sees animals, except perhaps one or two riding horses and only a few cows and chickens. Otherwise, though, machines, machines ... When I asked about who was taking care of such a large farm, the answer came quickly: "My wife and I, and our boy." He pointed to his eight-year-old, who was standing next to us and flashing a friendly, proud smile. Inside the home we also met six girls, but the farmer said, "We just had to have a son, even if more girls yet had preceded him." Then he came up with an amazing bit of information: "We are not allowed to grow as much wheat as we want to or can grow. We are limited to a [maximum] number of hectares, because otherwise we might produce a surplus that, despite our exports, we may not be able to store."
Flying on the usual, small planes, one recognizes farms arranged in checker board fashion. Access roads and border lines between individual farms stretch, straight as a line, into the distance. At a corner of a small farm there is usually the home, various farming buildings, silos for storing feed for the animals, plus the taller elevators for storing wheat.
Rarely do you see a settlement between all those farms. Most of the time it's just a small market place where one can shop and where renter farmers have their homes. There are also some cases where even active farmers live in the small market towns. In the morning they drive to their farms, and in the evening they return to their homes.
We also visited two German-Russian farming villages: Kulm (there is a village with the same name in Bessarabia) and Gackle (named after its first mayor). The Germans from Russia gathered at the convention were very interested in their ancestral homes in Russia and in where their ancestors left Germany from. Of particular interest to us is that very intense efforts are made here in researching villages in general and Germans from Russia in particular. Prof. Kloberdanz conducts seminars with his students on the subject of Germans form Russia. One of the students reported to me that he would ride his motorcycle around to visit older Germans from Russia, especially women, to record on audio cassettes their songs, fairy tales, and dialects. It appears to me that a research center is coming into existence here that is worthy of our support. The library contains a complete array of our Heimatbuecher. Both days of the convention were an unforgettable experience for me.
I would like to close this report with two special experiences.
During the last day there was a flight to Rugby in a small private plane with only four people on it. Rugby is the geographic center of North America. In 1971, I had given a speech in Rugby. Here there is one of the largest museums in the United States, a large open area with many buildings. Everything, literally everything, from a threshing machine to a locomotive to the smallest piece of kitchen equipment, can be seen here. Recently, at the request from our countryman, the attorney Friederich, the Director of the Museum generously made available a large room for a Germans from Russia Museum. On the occasion of my visit, this particular museum was fromally dedicated and opened as the "Stumpp Museum." Already in exhibit are many items from the life of Germans from Russia.
Older countrymen continue to make available to the exhibit various items that their ancestors brought along during their immigration: kitchen materials, a samovar, laundry equipment, beds, and even a harmonium [a reed organ pumped with the feet]. How impressive it was as folks from the area, and especially from Rugby, sang hymns and ethnic songs accompanied by this harmonium. The president of the Society, countryman Weinz, formally opened the museum.
On the following day, exceedingly active board member and countryman, Michael Miller, accompanied us to the airport. He noticed that a well-known senator, who has been a senator for 32 years, and he approached him to ask whether he could introduce a guest from the Federal Republic. The senator looked at me and said: "Well, I sat in on a speech of yours in Bismarck in 1971!" Indeed I remembered that during my speech there had been a senator sitting to the left of me and who after the talk came to me and said: "I am going to take your matter, he meant the fate of the Germans from Russia, all the way to the Senate in Washington." How small this world is!
[In sum,] I have been on a trip that, although strenuous and full
experiences for my person of my age, will remain unforgettable!
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.
Farm near Rugby ND with cattle.
Dr. Karl Stumpp speaking at the Germans from Russia Heritage Society Convention, July, 1978, Fargo, ND.
Airplane view of a farm in north central North Dakota.
Judge Ray Friedrich and Dr. Karl Stumpp standing outside the Stumpp Museum, Rugby, ND, July, 1978
Dr. Karl Stumpp speaking at Rugby, ND, July, 1978