Two American researchers are preparing a documentary

Translation from Spanish to English by Nestor Suarez, Crespo, Argentina.

Researcher Michael Miller, a descendent of Bessarabian Germans, and TV producer Bob Dambach, of German descent, are visiting Argentina and Brazil to make their seventh documentary film on the Germans from Russia.

Crespo. Researcher Michael Miller and TV producer Bob Dambach, both Americans, are working in the production of a documentary about the Germans from Russia in Argentina and Brazil. They have been in Entre Ríos since the beginning of February on an exploratory trip, doing interviews with people of Russian German descent and historians who investigate the immigration of this ethnic group.

From Fargo to Entre Ríos

Miller is the director of the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection), a library and archive which is part of the North Dakota State University library system, located in Fargo. It consists of over 200.000 photographs, videos and documents about the immigration of Germans in the United States and Canada. Dambach is the director of Television of the PBS-affiliated Prairie Public Broadcasting. They both live in Fargo. Miller is descended from Bessarabian Germans and Dambach from Germans from Germany. This is going to be their seventh documentary about the Germans from Russia and the first one filmed outside of the USA and Canada.

Emigration to the Middle West

In 1870’s, the Germans from Russia (Volinya, Bessarabia, the Volga, the Black Sea, the Baltic, together with Mennonite groups) began an emigration process which took them to the American prairies of the Middle West, and which developed in a similar way as that initiated by the Russian Germans that came to Argentina. In North Dakota, the descendants of those emigrants make up a 30% of the state population. They are also an important demographic group in the American states of South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Kansas, Colorado, and the Canadian states of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. “In the USA and Canada there are five million people of Russian German descent” said Miller.

Documentary film underway

In an interview with Paralelo 32, with the interpreting assistance of Néstor Suárez, an English teacher training student, Miller and Dambach expressed their optimism about the people they had come into contact with and the amount of material they provided. They plan to come back by the end of April 2012 in order to shoot the scenes which will later make up the one-hour documentary.

Miller said he was amazed at the largeness of the migratory waves of Volga Germans to Argentina and Brazil, to such an extent that he is considering producing a documentary focusing exclusively on the presence of this group in South America. “One of the greatest challenges I had to face in South America was the localization of groups other than Volga Germans, such as Bessarabian and Black Sea Germans. Funding will be a central concern for the making of a documentary about the Volga Germans, since such films cost around U$S 150.000, and the translation into Spanish U$S 25.000. We expect to receive private donations”, said Miller, whose work has always depended on private funding. “I have noticed that people in Argentina seem not to be used to provide financial assistance for this kind of projects on a private basis” he added.

Germans from Russia and Germans from Germany

One of the visitors being a descendant of Russian Germans and the other of German Germans, the subject of the differences between the two groups came up during the conversation.

What are the difference between Russian Germans and German Germans in the USA?

Miller: -- There are not many Germans from Germany in North Dakota; around 30% of the population is of Russian German heritage, 30% of Norwegian and 10% Ukrainian. In the Canadian province of Manitoba there are many Mennonites. In Canada, the military service was not obligatory during the World War I, and so many Mennonites left North Dakota and migrated north. Because of its hermeticism, the Mennonites’ museums, churches and publications are an example of cultural preservation. Immigrants from Germany had come with the previous wave, and they settled on the east coast, whereas Russian Germans went to the Midwest. North Dakota Germans are rather conservative and tend to vote for the Republicans.

Dambach: -- Germans from Germany arrived forty years before Germans from Russia. My ancestors went to the USA in 1861, and there was already a German community in the states of New York and New Jersey. Russian Germans have had quite tough times: they went to Russia seduced by promises which were never fulfilled. Future generations left for America and had to go through the migration process once again. They went to the Midwest and colonised an area which was practically a no-man land.

– So, can we say that Germans from Germany have a more liberal cultura, whereas Russian Germans are more conservative?

Dambach: --Germans from Russia were more cautious about politics, they didn’t opt for participating right from the start. Germans from Germany, on the contrary, were acquainted with political life. During the civil war (1861 - 1865), they supported the Republicans, but in the times of the Prohibition and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal (1920’s and 1930’s), they backed the Democrats.

Dambach also underscored another feature of North Dakota Russian Germans: “Despite their conservatism, their economy had some characteristics which could be considered as left-oriented: they created a cooperative system and a state bank”

Miller added: “Today, North Dakota has the best economy in the USA, partly thanks to oil”

Cousins in World War II

Miller commented on the case of an American soldier who stumbled upon a wounded German soldier in the course of a battle during World War II. After exchanging some words in German, they found out that they were distant cousins. The American soldier provided his new acquaintance with the clothes of a fallen comrade so that he could escape unnoticed, and then helped him to migrate into the USA.

North Dakota

North Dakota’s political capital is Bismarck city (so named in honour of the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck), with 55,000 inhabitants. Fargo (pop. 105,000), the city from which our visitors come, is its most important economic centre. The total population of the state is 600,000 inhabitants, who are distributed over 183,000 square kilometres (being similar in surface and population to the Argentinean provinces of Río Negro and Chubut) North Dakota is located in the prairie region, and it borders on the American states of South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

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