Russian-German Settlements in the United States

By Richard Sallet

Translated by Dr. LaVern J. Rippley and Dr. Armand Bauer

Published By North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, ND, 1974, 206 pages, softcover.

Today's increasing interest in the rich ethnic background of the people of the United States is without a doubt a strong indicator of the attainment of a political and cultural maturity and strength in our nation. A large group of Russian-Germans and their descendants, residing in the United States for almost a century, certainly represents and impressive ethnic minority, for which their valuable contributions to the fabric of our country and for their distinctive mark made on the American scene, deserve a long neglected recognition.

Richard Sallet's book about the Russian-Germans in the United States was originally published in German in 1931 and now available in a superb English translation by Dr. LaVern J. Rippley and Dr. Armand Bauer. Available for the first time, this translation gives the general North American public a well-organized historical background and an interesting socio-political interpretation for viewing the way of life within this large group of German immigrants. As Germans from many parts of Germany, they immigrated to Russia approximately two hundred years ago, at the invitation of Russian rulers.

The German-Russians settled heavily in the southern part of this vast empire, where they established special "colonist" status (rather than citizenship) for almost a century, living peacefully and prosperously as Germans - ethically, lingusitically, and culturally. However, in the later part of the nineteenth century, their colonist privileges were revoked to ordinary citizen status on account of political repression by the Russian government which had changed its original benevolent attitude toward them. They were forced to abandon their adopted new homeland and to immigrate again to a second move to a new country. This time to the North American continent where a large percentage of them populated the open prairies of the west and gradually adopted, as their new Fatherland, the United States and Canada.

By 1920, according to the census of the United States, there were 116,539 persons here who were born in Russia but still spoke German as their mother tongue. At this time a total of 303,532 Russian-Germans living in the U.S., scattered in approximately 1500 settlements throughout the country but being especially numerous in the prairie states between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and the Rocky Mountains.

During their stay in Russia, the Russian-Germans had settled in closed colonies along the banks of the Volga river and along the northern shore of the Black Sea, some even extending their settlements into Bessarabia (Moldova), Dobrudja (Romania) and the plains south of the caucasus. Divided between Protestants and Catholics, these intensely religious people had established, in Russia clannishly separated settlements according to the church of their birth or choice. They maintained the same general religious pattern when they resettled on the North American Continent. And as was the case in Russia, so also in America, they used German, their original mother tongue.

Most of Sallet's book is a detailed picture of the geographical distribution of the Russian-Germans throughout various regions of the United States. Additional historical data and explanations provide the origin and the names of many localities which were settled by the Russian-Germans during the western frontier advances of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Special Chapters, the author describes in interesting detail: the customs and the way of life of the immigrants, their religious institutions, their newspapers and their political and civic organizations.

One chapter also relates the rather disturbing years during the First World War which brought distress and personal tragedies to many Russian-German settlers because of their strong ethnic loyalty to their German ancestry and background. A final chapter points out the irrestible process of American assimilation among the Russian-Germans -- especially in its younger generations. And in conclusion, the author foresees, within a brief time, the distinctive Russian-Germans, as a strong ethnic component in the United States, will belong to history.

Russian-German Settlements in the United States

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