The German American Family Album

By Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

Published by Oxford University Press, New York City, NY, 1996, 127 pages, softcover or hardcover.


Descendants of German immigrants form the largest single ethnic group among the U.S. population today. The German American Family Album vividly describes German immigrants who homesteaded and built communities from Texas to North Dakota. They came to this country as farmers, laborers, and crafts people.

The book provides reminiscences of famous German Americans including Dwight D. Eisenhower, Babe Ruth, Herbert Hoover, Lawrence Welk, Kurt Vonnegut, and General H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

This 127-page book, filled with photographs, is written by the award-winning authors, Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, who have published more than 60 books and have been honored by the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library. Dorothy Hoobler writes, "We both felt that the reading and pictures of the Germans from Russia section were among the best in the book. Before we started the book, I knew little about Germans from Russia's part of America's melting pot, but I found both the achievements and hardships of the Germans from Russia pioneers particularly appealing."

This Family Album allows us to hear and see our country just as the immigrants did. America's Germans from Russia community features immigrant memories of life on the Dakota prairies with Pauline Neher Diede, Fred Martin, Sally Roesch, Sister Reinhardt Hecker, and Sophia Kallenberger Beck.

Excerpts from the interview with Sister Reinhardt Hecker of Annunciation Priory, Bismarck, with Michael M. Miller, Germans from Russia Bibliographer, NDSU Libraries, Fargo, tells her story of Christmas festivities of her girlhood in Russia. Sister Reinhardt immigrated to western North Dakota when she was thirteen years old. She tells about her arrival at Ellis Island in 1914, "Before we left for the train they gave each one a big box of bananas and apples and sandwiches. Each child got one. I don't know why they did that, but anyhow we didn't know how to eat bananas. We learned how to eat bananas cause we never saw those in Russia."

Fred Martin, who came to the United States from South Russia in 1909 with his wife and children settling in Emmons County North Dakota, described the train ride between Odessa and the port of Hamburg, Germany, "The train was crowded, as bad as a stock car of hogs. Children were perched atop sacks and bundles so closely they hardly had elbowroom. The palms of their hands were saucers into which was thrown a piece of bread and 'Schpeck' or salt-brined pork."

Sophia Kallenberger Beck was born in 1877 in the Black Sea German village of Neuburg in South Russia, immigrating to Dakota Territory with her family at age nine. Her first year in America was near Eureka, South Dakota, where her father made a land claim. In 1939 she told an interviewer about her journey from New York to Dakota Territory, "Our journey was to Scotland, Dakota Territory, but at Marion Junction the whole train was delayed three days due to the illness of mother and others, because the authorities feared an epidemic. During this time, father had to beg food from the town people for his family because of these unexpected delays had completely absorbed all his funds. Six days after leaving New York, we finally arrived in Scotland, at the house of my sister Catherina, Mrs. Wagner. Father had only 25 cents in his pocket when we arrived."

Sophia Kellenberger Beck describes her first year on the Dakota prairies, "Timbers were hauled from the Missouri River for the roof rafters [of their sod house], over which they laid smaller branches. They covered these with straw and over all they laid sod which was one room about 16 feet by 22 feet. The bare earth was the floor...We children sat or sprawled on the floor. We had one kettle, a few plates and cups brought from Russia, and a few spoons. We all slept on straw on the floor. Toward spring father made a bed for us children."

Anton Senger was a German from Russia who homesteaded in Emmons County, North Dakota, in 1886. In the 1930s he remembered his introduction to prairie life, "I will never forget the first night on the prairies. The farther we got the bigger the hills were, until, when night came, we were right in the middle of them. We picketed [fenced in] our oxen and rolled in blankets to sleep. There were millions of mosquitoes. Then every little while a coyote would howl on one side then a fox on another, and to make it more miserable for me, a night owl would let out a screech in between.... That same winter we spent three days in our sod shack while one of the worst blizzards ever went through hit the country. We used hay for fuel and that soon gave out. The snow blew so hard we couldn't get out of the house and all we could do was sit inside and try to keep from freezing."

Michael M. Miller, NDSU's bibliographer for the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, tells about his 1994 journey to Odessa, Ukraine, the homeland of his ancestors. He describes how he located the Krueger relatives in America after receiving a letter from Paul Krueger of Siberia, "We discovered that Paul's uncle Otto Krueger was a United States Congressman from North Dakota in the 1950s. When Otto left for the United States in 1910, he left behind a 13-year-old brother, Bernhardt. During World War II, Bernhardt was sent to a labor camp in central Asia. He was still there while his brother was serving in the U.S. Congress. It is only now that the descendants on both sides of the family are learning what happened to their relatives."

Book cover and photo reprinted with permission of Oxford University Press, New York.

The Scandinavian American Family Album is also available.

Related Articles:

Thompson, Mary. "The German American Family Album." Fargo Forum, 25 August 1996, C-12.

The German American Family Album

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