Through the German Colonies of the Beresan District and Colonist Tales

By Hermann Bachmann

Foreward by Joseph Schnurr, Translated with Commentaries by Roland Wagner, Ph.D., Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, North Dakota, 2003, 203 pages, softcover.

The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection is pleased to announce publication of Through the German Colonies of the Beresan District and Colonist Tales. The book was originally published in the German language under the title, Durch die deutschen Kolonien des Beresaner Gebietes, and Kolonischtegschichtla, by Volk auf dem Weg, Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, Stuttgart, Germany, 1974.

Many families from the former German villages of the Beresan District, today located in southern Ukraine, immigrated to central and western North Dakota as well as southern Saskatchewan.

In the Dedication, Roland Wagner, the translator, writes: "In memory of my grandparents, born in the Beresan colonies, and my parents John M. Wagner (1911-1983) and Anna Marie Landeis Wagner (1915-2000), master storytellers in our family."

Roland Wagner writes in the Introduction: "Hermann Bachmann's account of his field trip with Victor Schirmunki through the Beresan colonies was published in 1929. Bachmann's writings have received only cursory notice in the USA. It is hoped that this English translation of Bachmann's works will stir renewed interest in a largely untapped resource on the ethnography and folk heritage of the German colonies in the former Soviet Union."

"Nuggets of information can be gleaned from Bachmann's writings about the conditions of life in the German colonies during the early Soviet era. Despite the devastation they had suffered, many of the basic patterns of life had survived. Bachmann touches upon numerous details that harken back to the distinctive lifestyle the German colonists had developed over a century or more on the steppes of tsarist Russia. He provides examples of their dialects, discusses their favorite foods, and describes in passing the layout of the streets in the colonies, roofing materials and pigments used on their houses, interior furnishings, the use of house plants and religious pictures for decoration, common styles of folk art, and so on."

"The consumption of sunflower seeds and watermelons figure prominently in Bachmann's stories at various points. They seem emblematic to him of life in the rural colonies. Group singing stands out in importance in Bachmann's accounts. He naturally highlighted this because the recording of folksongs was his major purpose on the fieldtrip and it was also of deep personal interest. He was particularly fascinated with the spontaneous songs of daily life rather than with the well-known published Lieder of classical Hochkultur tradition."

Part Two - Colonist Tales provides selected tales which were reprinted in various literary collections in the Soviet Union, then later in Germany by the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, in their Heimatbuch series between 1955 and 1964, and finally gathered in the 1974 edition by Joseph Schnurr. Wagner writes: "Bachmann's wry humor was apparent in his earlier work and it shines through in these tales. His tales are light-hearted spoofs, social mirrors poking fun at the mannerisms, attitudes and speech styles of characters familiar to everyone in the colonies. Some of these characters include the hen-pecked husband, the naive cow-herder, the cheapskate uncle, teenage boys who carouse the streets at night getting into trouble, gossiping elderly women complaining about modern ways, overly zealous bureaucrats, pompous schoolteachers, and superstitious true-believers. This is indeed the fabric of daily life, not just in the German colonies, but everywhere. These characters can be found in any society, which gives Bachmann's tales a universal quality."

At the end of the book there are twenty-seven black and white photographs taken in the Beresan District villages in the 1990s by Ralph Hoff, Merv Rennich, and Michael M. Miller.

The Beresan Valley
Former theater in Landau built in 1934 (today Shirokolanovka, Ukraine).
Former Catholic Church at Karlsruhe. The steeple was removed by Soviet authorities.
Former Catholic Church at Speier, today a Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The steeple was removed by Soviets.
Wrought- iron cross located at the former Kathariental German cemetery.

Related Articles:

Review of the book by Edna Boardman

Through the German Colonies of the Beresan District and Colonist Tales

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