Lodian Travels to Return to his Russian German Roots

Chrismer, Ellen. "Lodian Travels to Return to his Russian German Roots." Lodi News-Sentinel, 4 March 1997.

Lodian Hiller Goehring, 72, has been in touch with his Russian German heritage his whole life.

Although he was born and reared in Lodi, as the son of German immigrants of Russia, Goehring spoke the Schwabian German dialect before he spoke English. He attended the German Baptist Church, now the First Baptist on Central Ave.

His family, mother, Pauline and father, Jacob, patronized German-speaking merchants in town. And his father would regale him with stories about his upbringing in the pre-revolutionary Russian town of Neudorf.

Later, as Goehring pursued careers as a farmer and a truck driver, he took less interest in his heritage.

"I was an American, and I sort of got away from that," he said.

But in retirement, Goehring's interest was piqued again after he learned of a former Lodi school-mate, and fellow Russian German, who was now teaching German in Germany.

"Six years ago, I thought maybe I'd go visit Germany," he said. "But then I thought, Why don't I just go to Russia?"'

And the timing was just right. With the break-up of the Soviet Union and the opening of its former republics' borders, the poor nations were hungry for tourism.

So in June 1996, after several years of genealogical research, Hiller and his cousin Victor Goehring, a Lodi attorney, joined a group of Russian Germans from across the United States to visit the former Soviet Union. Leading the tour was Michael Miller, a North Dakota State University bibliographer studying Germans from Russian. The participants traveled to cities and small country villages of Moldava and the Ukraine.

The highlights and video coverage of the trip will be presented Saturday at a Lodi meeting of American Society of Germans from Russia.

The Goehrings, whose grandfathers were brothers, visited the country village of Neudorf (renamed Karamanovo) in what is now Moldava. The Goehrings did not have any relatives left in the town, for most Russian Germans who did not immigrate to America were exiled to the coal mines of Siberia during Stalin's reign, or, under less stringent Soviet government control, moved back to Germany.

The Goehrings were, however, finally able to add an image to the stories their fathers, who left Russia for America in 1911, had told them about the village of about 1,000 people. Jacob Goehring and Victor's father, Philip, had spoken of the beautiful Lutheran church that was the centerpiece of the town.

"The church was their entertainment and their pastime," said Hiller Goehring.

The cousins found that the church's steeple had been knocked off by the Russian army after the 1917 revolution. The building is now used to store hay in this primitive agricultural area.

The people of the region were poor but generous, the Goehrings found. One of Hiller's greatest thrills on the trip was staying in the home of an elderly woman, Martha Kammerer, in Gluckstal (now Glinnoje), Moldava. Upon their leaving, she presented the Goehrings with an embroidered handkerchief made by her grandmother in the 1850s.

"I think she was just so happy that we spoke her language," Hiller said.

But perhaps the biggest highlight of his trip to study his Russian German heritage occurred in Germany itself when he met his second cousin, Jacob Goehring, whose existence he discovered through his research.

After several decades of working in the coal mines, Jacob had moved with his family to Rastatt, Germany.

"It was such a thrill because when we were growing up, we were told that these people who had stayed behind in Russia were dead, all dead," Hiller said.

The second cousins' meeting in Rastatt was emotional.

"These people couldn't believe that we had been raised half way around the world from each other," he said. "It brings tears to my eyes."

The genealogical odyssey had also given Hiller a greater appreciation of his own country.

"When I came home from the trip, I was a better American," he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Lodi News-Sentinel

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