UND's Vossler Tells Germans from Russia Story Through Historical Letters

By Amy Riveland, UND Relations Student Writer

University of North Dakota Media Relations, Grand Forks, North Dakota, August 1, 2001

Ronald Vossler, Senior English Lecturer at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, offers a voice to the often silenced history of the Germans from Russia in his newest book, "We'll Meet Again in Heaven: Germans in the Soviet Union Write Their American Relatives, 1925-1937." The book includes over 200 letters written by German villagers in the Soviet Union to relatives and friends who had immigrated to the Dakotas in earlier years.

According to Vossler, a descendant of German colonists who settled near the Black Sea in Russia and immigrated to North Dakota in the 1880s and 1890s, the "sorrow letters," as they were sometimes called, make up "one of the most remarkable odysseys of suffering of any ethnic group."

Arranged in chronological order, the letters tell the horrific day-to-day trials of the "Germans in the Soviet Union who were deported, shot, starved or worked to death under the Soviet regime." In the section of the book titled "Crucifixion by Hunger" letter-writers describe themselves as "swelling up from hunger," eating slaughtered pets, grass or anything else to keep at bay "the terrible hunger-death which stands black in front of us."

Serving as a family connection between the Germans in Russia and their family members in the Dakotas the letters were often sent to German language newspapers in the Dakotas for publication for a wider audience. The letter-writers would add rhymes, poems, Bible verses, prayers or thanks to their Dakota kin: "We'd long ago have starved or frozen without you Americans"who'd sent letters, packages, and money to villages where "their cradles rocked," where they'd spent a good part of their early lives.

Vossler has explained the background for the letters in his Introduction and Historical Overview, an in-depth history of 1925-1937, from both historical sources and also from letters sent from one cluster of German villages, the Glueckstal region, "one of the main sources for immigrants to the Dakotas."

The author also explores why many Germans from Russia remained "silent" about Russia passing little or nothing to descendants about their early lives, or about family members left in Russia.

The book came out of a 2000-2001 Larry Remele Fellowship that Vossler received from the North Dakota Council on the Humanities and is a part of North Dakota State University Library's Germans from Russia Heritage Collection. In addition to his combination of personal letters and historical overview Vossler has also included illustrations by Joshua Vossler, his son.

As a freelance writer, Vossler's contributions to this collection include such works as this year's book "Not Until the Combine is Paid and Other Jokes: From the Oral Traditions of the Germans from Russia in the Dakotas and his 1990 collection of short stories Horse I am Your Mother."

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