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
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
Book cover and photo reprinted with permission of Oxford University
Press, New York.
American Family Album is also available.
Thompson, Mary. "The German American
Family Album." Fargo Forum,
25 August 1996, C-12.