The Glückstalers of New Russia and North America: A Bicentennial Collection of History, Genealogy and Folklore

Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota

The Glückstalers of New Russia and North America: A Bicentennial Collection of History, Genealogy and Folklore. Edited by Homer Rudolf. Redondo Beach, California: Glueckstal Colonies Research Association, 2004

A truly impressive compilation of essays, data extractions, and photographs document the story of the Glückstal District of South Russia. The population of this district, from about 1804 until the close of World War II, was made up of ethnic Germans, a group today identified as the Germans from Russia, who had come to till the land at the behest of Czar Alexander I. South Russia, now the Ukraine, which boasts vast expanses of rich soil, was in the process of being wrested from the Turks at the time this settlement took place. The model farmers of troubled areas in Germany longed for a stable environment in which to plant villages and raise families, and Russia called to them. The primary villages of the Glückstal District, in which a Protestant population settled, were Glückstal, Neudorf, Bergdorf, and Kassel. Hoffnungstal and a fairly long list of daughter colonies, khutors (family group farmsteads), and later-established villages in the same area became associated with them. The book contains much material applicable to the Germans from Russia as a whole, but the editor and authors never lose focus on the primary purpose of this book, which is to document the history of these unique German colonies which, a mere century after their founding, scattered their members to the new world.

The elements of this 790-page book draw on the work of numerous persons, many knowledgeable in the German and Russian languages as well as English. Editor and scholar Homer Rudolf is the author of many of the essays which draw from an impressive array of both personal accounts and published sources. Tom Stangl and Janice Huber Stangl, who are specialists in genealogical sources for Germans from Russia researchers, are two of the notable writers and compilers whose work appears. Individual authors reserve the copyright to their work.

The essays range widely in their subject matter. Examples: The difficulties of travel, the lives and work of women, a history of religious origins and the church as it unfolded in the Glückstal villages, the development of machine-assisted agriculture, holidays and festivals, fashion and clothing (some color pictures), handwork and cooking, birth and death, and sickness and healing, including Brauche, a mystical tradition. Other essays treat the role of war in German Russian history and the life of a recruit in the Russian army. Material about the twentieth century deals with villagers’ experiences with the communist system, World War II and the invasion of German armies into the Ukraine, the trek of thousands into Germany with the German army, and the dissolution of the colonies. The authors also take up the pioneering experiences of those who emigrated to America. An essay on the repeated movements of these people carries the story of wanderlust and scattering across continents.

In addition to the essays, the editor provides other intriguing materials. There are a number of timelines and maps to help readers keep track of historical context. He includes translations of individual village histories as written by the inhabitants at the requirement of a government official. One entry is a report written by a Russian inspector regarding persons in quarantine at the end of their trip down the Danube. Another was written by a journalist who visited the villages early in their development. Pictures throughout are drawn from personal collections. The editor is sensitive to the needs of family historians.

There are reproduced primary material such as: a document cataloging the distribution of an estate, legal papers that show the distribution of money inherited from families in Germany after their emigration, lists of crops raised, statistical reports, seals and stamps that appear on Russian documents, crop reports, and dozens of lists of persons, gleaned from one source or another, that may be useful to anyone looking for the names of family members who lived in the Glückstal colonies. Two CD disks contain further lists of names, photographs of primary documents such as handwritten recipes and color pictures of healing herbs (of which there are a number in the print book) are included in a pocket attached to the inside back cover of the book. Their contents was retrieved without difficulty on a Mac computer.

The editor and authors know the book is not complete. Persons whose forebears lived in the Glückstal Colonies continue to move, making their contributions to the world. Some live in communities across Russia, in Germany, and in South America, and their stories remain to be told.

This book will be of enduring value both to the person wanting to know about the Glückstal colonies and their inhabitants in particular and those who wish to know about the Germans from Russia in general. Young people writing essays pertaining to their heritage can use it as an source book and, since documentation is included throughout the book, it will assist scholars at all levels. Individuals and families and libraries with a Germans from Russia clientele should be encouraged to purchase it.



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