Monsignor Senger returns from extensive tour of Russia

The Pierce County Tribune, Rugby, North Dakota, July 28, 2001, Page 13.

By Peggy Burgard, Tribune Writer

Monsignor Joseph Senger, formerly the parish priest for Velva and Karlsruhe, has recently returned from a trip to the Black Sea area of the Ukraine, formerly a part of Russia.

The tour, which left on May 22, consisted of 13 people. Arriving in Vienna after a nine-hour flight on Austrian Airlines from Chicago, they were then flown to the city of Odessa, Russia. The tour was led by Michael Miller of North Dakota State University.

The party resided for eight days in a hotel in Odessa, a city of over a million people. Odessa is located on the Black Sea and at one time was the second largest seaport in the world during the Communist regime. The group toured a large area by bus, traveling to the cities of Kandal, Karlsruhe, Baden, Selz, Speyer, Landau, Elsass, and Mannheim. Of the greatest interest to Senger was the city of Strassburg, where his ancestors had resided for about 100 years.

This area, around the Kutschurgan River, is where hundreds of German families settled during the 1800s after the Russian government extended an invitation to them to farm the land.

They were very selective about their recruiting methods, and only suitable families were allowed to make the journey. It was about a four-month trip by wagons drawn by oxen and about 1700 miles of extreme difficulty. There were many years of terrible hardship and some longed to return to their native Germany, to no avail.

However, the second and third generations became prosperous farmers. The land is very fertile and they enjoyed many good crops. It was because of their success that the Communists accused them of being an upper class in a country where all were equal economically and politically. Therefore, their property was confiscated by the State. Their principal source of food was their garden, which they worked intensely, and they stored all the food in their root cellars.

The churches were built solid and strong so were targeted and quickly renovated into factories, garages, granaries or athletic and cultural centers. Monsignor had an opportunity to visit many of these churches on his trip. They are still standing, but the steeples and windows have been removed and they are now only relics of the beautiful buildings that once stood.

During the early 1900s, Communists came into power and the people were no longer allowed to publish German newspapers, practice their own religion, or conduct their own schools. Many young German men were inducted into the Russian Army. This caused many families to immigrate to the United States and Canada. That is the reason we have so many Germans from Russia living in the Dakotas today.

After the Communists took full power, many of the remaining families that didn't immigrate were sent to slave/labor camp in Siberia. During World War II, Stalin accused the Germans of being spies and had many of them killed.

Today, the Russian or Ukrainian government now runs the area which was formerly run by the Communists. The unemployment rate is high and the economy is very poor. Residents farm cooperatively and raise corn, wheat, sunflowers, barley, grapes and rye. They live in the villages and towns and work for the government with little incentive to better their lives.

The transportation system is mainly buses and relatively few cars. The roads are paved and in good condition. The houses are well kept and are constructed of brick and limestone and have a similar appearance to each other. These houses, that were built by the Germans one hundred years ago, are all lived in by present-day Russians.

If you would like more information on the Germans from Russia, check out the website at

Reprinted with permissiion of The Pierce County Tribune.

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