Interview with Michael M. Miller (MM)
Conducted by Rich Mattern (RM)
26 January 1996, KDSU Radio, North Dakota State University, Fargo
Transcribed by Joyce Reinhardt Larson
Edited and proofread by Jane D. Trygg
RM: First of all, Mike, can you tell us some of the areas that you traveled?
MM: Yes, in early December and early January I was in Germany and then traveled on to Odessa, Ukraine. The primary purpose for going to Odessa was to review plans for the university sponsored tours, "Journey to the Homeland: Germany and Ukraine." So I spent a good amount of time in Odessa and also in the villages. In fact, I stayed in one of the former German villages that would be of much interest to people in the Dakotas.
RM: I know that you are on a e mail listing service, and I read electronic mail mentioning that in some of those places in Odessa where many of the people face some tough times there this winter. Can you tell us further details about their situation?
MM: Oh yes, it was very difficult for me to see what was happening in Odessa, especially in our former German villages. While I was in Odessa between December 13 to December 21, there was developing a major influenza outbreak throughout the schools. In fact, they closed for the Christmas holidays two days early because of this epidemic which was then spreading into the rural villages. Part of the reason was due to lack of heat. There was absolutely no heat at the University of Odessa, where the students were taking their final semester exams. It was especially difficult for me to see in the rural villages the lack of heat in the schools where I visited.
In fact, because of this lack of energy which means coal shortages and rationed electricity, all the schools in southern Ukraine with all their universities are closed until the first of March when climate becomes warmer there.
RM: So the living conditions don't meet basic comfort standards. I imagine that they don't have many of the conveniences that we have over here in North America.
MM: Well, I think they are content with their life. They smile, and it was before Christmas holidays. One of their greatest concerns is that they want to be warm, so in public buildings where there is not a need for heat all the time, they conserve with no energy. That's, of course, a concern especially for schools or public buildings. I was in the Odessa State Archives where we were sitting in a meeting with no heat. My personal comfort became cold after awhile. While I was sending electronic mail messages back to North Dakota and throughout the world, I was actually sitting at the computer center at Odessa State University where the room temperature was no more than 45 or 50 degrees. So it's very difficult to work under such conditions.
I felt very badly for the young children in the classroom, especially when I visited the village of Sofiental where these children were wearing their coats and their gloves, while trying to write and complete their school work.
RM: Okay, Mike, I know when you were in Germany there, you met with some new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Are those people, some being our German Russians, allowed to leave the Soviet Union freely now?
MM: Well, it's becoming more and more difficult for an ethnic German to immigrate from the former Soviet Union, especially from Kazakhstan and Siberia back to Germany. Because many of these "spatt aussiedler," as they are called, have married another ethnic group, for instance, a Russian or Ukrainian. So they are having more difficulty to be recognized as ethnic Germans. Immigration rates today during 1996 are still uncertain, but 1995 listed an average of 15,000 ethnic Germans who have immigrated back from the former Soviet Union to Germany.
This large influx of ethnic German immigration is creating many problems and many concerns for smooth assimilation German society, as they remain clustered in the same localities or the same villages. The primary language for most of these people is Russian because they were forbidden to speak German. Those parents and grandparents who kept their traditional German language in their home, usually those people that immigrated in the early 1990s, are far better off today in Germany because they know German basics and have learned modern German more quickly. Plus, they don't have as much of a noticeable accent as those that are arriving today.
RM: Mike, will some of those immigrants, perhaps someday, settle up in North Dakota? Perhaps there are some who have relatives in North America that may want to come here. Have you heard of that possibility?
MM: Well, there have been frequent cases where family persons are coming to the United States and to North Dakota to visit relatives, but few are choosing to actually immigrate to North Dakota. We are quite hopeful for Paul Krüger, who was a nephew to former congressman Otto Krueger, which as many relatives in the Fessenden, North Dakota, area and throughout the United States, who immigrated back to Germany near Bonn from Omsk, Siberia.
We are waiting for Paul Krüger's spring visit to the United States and North Dakota. His dream is to visit the homestead and the farm near Fessenden where the Krueger family homestead. He just returned from Siberia with all of his children returning with him to Germany. The Krueger family in America are sponsoring Mr. and Mrs. Paul Krüger travel from Germany to the United States. During his visit here, we can talk with him further about writing his own autobiography, which he is currently preparing for us to publish.
RM: That autobiography sounds exciting. During June of this year, forgive me if I mispronounce this, Bundestreffen will be held in Stuttgart. Can you tell us more what your involvement will be?
MM: Right, the Bundestreffen is a large gathering of Germans from Russia which is held every two years in Stuttgart, Germany. It has grown dramatically in the last four years, simply because of the vast numbers of Germans coming back from the former Soviet Union.
Our interests in attending the Bundestreffen is to find people who may have relatives in the United States or North Dakota and also to identify what their experiences have been, Perhaps some will have genealogical material, some will be willing to share their pictures and photographs with us, but also to help them find their American relatives. They expect close to 70,000 people on June 22, 1996, plus our two tour groups of almost 100 members will be attending this event. We are hosting what is called, The American House for the Black Sea Germans.
RM: Okay, you are speaking of a hundred member tour. Is that tour group now full or are there still availabilities.
MM: No, vacancies! I have to inform listeners that both tour groups, tour group I and tour group II, each group that is traveling to Odessa and to Germany, are filled at this time. We are taking requests for a wait list for future tours, as we've already begun plans for a tour in late May or early June of 1997. Perhaps two tours may result, because we have been impressed with the interested response to these tours by Dakotans and especially from the West Coast, California.
We have many future requests, looking quite promising that we will continue offering these tours. Our present goal is to make the tour experience in June of 1996 as memorable and historic as possible for all of us traveling to Europe, so we can plan for future tours.
RM: I notice we are quickly running out of time, Mike. One last question, is there more of an interest today by North Dakotans or, as you have mentioned, by those German Russians in the West Coast for finding their ancestry?
MM: Well, there is a greater interest than ever because of the records that are coming out of the former Soviet Union, thanks to the Mormon church genealogical archives in Salt Lake City. These archives are being indexed and are available locally as microfilm throughout American family history centers located in Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck, and Minot.
Those previously unavailable records are exciting for researchers who pondered for so many years, "I'm at a stop gap, I can't continue my family research." Now they are uncovering many materials. I thank the Lord every day for what I saw in the Odessa archives in December, 1995, because I recognized other research materials which are deteriorating quickly, but need to be micro- filmed and made available throughout the world. So this is a genealogical records project which I find valuable for the German Russian community throughout North America.
RM: Again, this is a topic which we could talk at length about for a couple hours, but we are out of time. Mike, I'd like to thank you. Our guest this morning is Mike Miller, Germans from Russia Bibliographer for the North Dakota State University Libraries. Thanks for being with us, Mike.
MM: Thanks so much. Bye Bye.