The Church and the Russian Germans in the Siberian Homeland Today

A Personal Interview with His Excellency, The Most Reverend Joseph Werth, Bishop of Siberia.

by Eric J. Schmaltz

Published by the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, ND, 1996, 31 pages, softcover. Available in English, German, and Russian texts.


In 1993, President Boris Yeltsin appointed Bishop Joseph Werth to help write the new Russian constitution. At the constitutional convention, Bishop Werth served in a minor capacity as a representative of the Catholic Church and the ethnic Germans in the former Soviet Union.

Bishop Joseph Werth visited North Dakota in 1993 and in June 1995. The NDSU Libraries was pleased and honored to host Bishop Werth during his visit to Fargo. Eric J. Schmaltz interviewed Bishop Werth in the German language, transcribing the text for this publication. Eric has prepared manuscripts for publication for the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection.

Eric completed his undergraduate studies at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, majoring in German and history. He completed his master's degree in history at the University of North Dakota in May 1996. His thesis deals with the contemporary ethnic German nationalist movement in the former Soviet Union. He began his doctoral studies at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in the fall of 1996 persuing further research on the Germans from Russia.

The interview with Bishop Werth provides information about the Catholic Church in Siberia and aspects pertaining to the ethnic Germans in the former Soviet Union. He gives us a brief, yet insightful, glimpse into a region filled with many troubles and possibilities. He notes the social, political, and economic issues that have made it difficult to reclaim lost churches and build new ones. Bishop Werth describes the assistance received from fellow Catholics in Germany and America, not to mention the economic aid coming from Germany. He acknowledges the annual emigration of 200,000 ethnic Germans to Germany and how he is losing part of the "solid foundation" of his Catholic community.

Bishop Werth tells us how it really is in Siberia in the hope that American Catholics and non-Catholics alike will better understand how they can help him and others. As the bishop emphasizes, he is a "servant" to the Catholics in Siberia, and while in America, he was their spokesman. With this appreciation of his mission in mind, we can then understand that this interview is also an important part of his message. As the bishop remarks at the end, he is following the responses to the interview with great interest. The interview, including many photographs of Bishop Joseph Werth, has been published in the English, German, and Russian languages.

As Father Al Bitz of Wimbledon, ND, states in the dedication, "We dedicate this published interview to all the "Grandmothers" who kept the faith alive in the midst of the Communist persecution and to Bishop Joseph Werth for his untiring efforts in promoting faith, unity, and cooperation amongst the German-Russians throughout the world."

Bishop Werth's diocese encompasses 4.2 million square miles (10.3 per cent of all the land on earth) and extends through nine of the world's twenty four time zones. He was named Bishop of Siberia by Pope John Paul II in 1991. Born in Karaganda, Kazakstan in 1952, Joseph Werth is the second oldest of eleven children. His father was Volga German and his mother is Black Sea German born near Odessa, Ukraine. In 1984 Joseph Werth was the first Catholic priest ordained since the 1930s in the Asian region of the former Soviet Union.

Bishop Werth is fluent in Russian, German, Lithuanian, Latin and speaks some Italian.

Michael M. Miller, NDSU's Germans from Russia Bibliographer states, "Bishop Werth, born on the steppes of Kazakstan, traveled to the prairies of North Dakota where thousands of his brothers and sisters live today. Before 1991, in the former Soviet Union, a visit by a Catholic Bishop from Siberia to North Dakota and America would have been only a dream."

The Church and the Russian Germans in the Siberian Homeland Today

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"But I have to say that for our Church in Siberia right now, the German-Russians are the supports -- that is, the solid foundation." --- The Most Rev. Joseph Werth, Bishop of Siberia

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