KTWU Program Follows Germans from Russia to Kansas
A people who first broke the sod of the Russian steppes, then repeated the task on the North American plains will be celebrated in a documentary KTWU-TV will air Sunday and Monday.
"Germans from Russia: Children of the Steppe, Children of the Prairie" will be shown on KTWU Channel 11 at 1 p.m. Sunday and repeated at 8 p.m. Monday.
"Germans from Russia" was a four-year project by the North Dakota State University Libraries and Prairie Public Broadcasting, which is based in Fargo, N.D.
Nearly one-third of North Dakotans are descended from Germans from Russia, an ethnic group that also settled in Kansas and whose culture and heritage is celebrated across the state, including Topeka.
So how did these German-speaking pioneers get to the High Plains by way of Russia?
The hourlong film explains it started when a German princess, Catherine, later called "the Great," ascended the Russian imperial throne in 1762. Seeking to populate the Russian interior, she offered settlers free land, local self-rule, religious tolerance and freedom from military service.
Thousands of German colonists -- Moravians, Catholics, Lutherans, Mennonites and others -- migrated to Russia -- and spent the next hundred years building homes and communities in Ukraine and along the Volga River.
In the early 1870s, Czar Alexander II began a policy of "Russianization" in which there was to be "one czar, one church and one people." Unwilling to abandon their culture, more than 300,000 of the Germans in Russia emigrated to North America.
The Public Prairie filmmakers researched, filmed and interviewed in Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, German, Alsace in France, California, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.
They very well could have traveled throughout Kansas from the Volga German-settled community of Catherine in northwest Kansas to Topeka, where the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the Oakland neighborhood will again celebrate its Germans from Russia heritage June 5-6 at the annual Germanfest.
The film's writer says he wanted the documentary to show the complex -- even contradictory -- nature of Germans from Russia: a practical people who sought eternity; a people rooted to the land who were also wanderers; progressive, yet traditional; who wanted to forget, yet always remembered.
More information about the documentary, including how to order a videocassette copy of it, can be obtained by calling (800) 359-6900 or at the Prairie Public Web site at www.prairiepublic.org.
Topeka also has a chapter of the American Historical Society of the Germans from Russia, which meets every other month in the basement of St. Joseph's Church, 229 S.W. Van Buren. For information about that group, call its president, Frank Jacobs, at 246-2821, or check out its Web site: www.ahsgr.org/ksnorthe.html.
Reprinted with permission of The Topeka Capital-Journal.