THANKSGIVING AND REMEMBRANCE
Commemorating German-Russian Victims of Genocide
July 9, 2004, Modesto Central Seventh-day Adventist Church
By Richard Kisling
American Historical Society of Germans from Russia
35th International Convention, Modesto Californi
Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening and a warm welcome.
To our international guests and visitors from out of state: thank you for traveling so far to attend the Modesto Convention! To California members and their guests, we thank you for your support, especially during the run-up to this week. To members of the local community — many of whom know very little about the Germans-from-Russia — a special welcome to you, particularly representatives of local German Baptist community.
On behalf of the 2004 Convention Steering Committee, I am very happy to welcome all of you to the first event at an AHSGR convention set aside to honor our family members and members of our ethnic group who suffered because of actions taken by governments in our old homeland.
Whether you already are knowledgeable about the genocidal actions taken against German-Russians, or whether this content is completely new to you, we hope that you will leave tonight with a deeper understanding of this topic.
As you already have seen, this event is not only about information, and in fact, unlike most of our convention sessions, there will not be a central speech this evening. We have, however, recommended several worthwhile books on the back panel of the program, for those who would like to learn more. We also would like to advocate that everyone here consider making a commitment to visit living relatives in Germany, Central Asia or wherever they might live. Hearing the personal narratives of these family members, when they describe their experience in the years after our immediate families left for North America, is a powerful and transforming experience.
We’ve moved the event to a more peaceful setting outside of the convention center and hotel, partly to provide some respite from the multitude of activities that take place during an AHSGR convention, but mostly to benefit from surroundings specifically designed for inspiration and repose.
We have tried to connect everyone to the spiritual traditions of the German Russians. AHSGR is not a religious organization and not every AHSGR member is a Christian; nonetheless, it is hard to imagine a German-Russian commemoration without some expression of our religious traditions or without the participation of a priest or a pastor!
We did not attempt to re-create an historically-accurate church service, though perhaps this should be done at another session. We’ve included 18th Century German church music by Telemann, believing that many of the colonists would have been familiar with this style of music in the years before they departed for Russia. But we’ve also featured a psalm setting by Paul Creston — published in 1945 — who wrote in the distinctive and expansive mid-century North American musical style, which brimmed with confidence and optimism.
Some elements are, of course, authentic:
- The hymn literature is traditional. The German Russians were enthusiastic hymn singers, and even today, German Russians sing these hymns wherever they live: in Central Asia, Germany, South American and across North America.
- There was organ music, as there were pipe organs in many village and urban churches. I doubt that compositions like the Mendelssohn sontatas or Karg-Elert chorale improvisations we heard earlier this evening made their way into very many of the villages, though they might have been performed in Saratov or Odessa or St. Petersburg.
- Many villages used brass instruments at services, and there are numerous references to trombone choirs performing, for example, from church towers, on Easter Morning.
We also have wanted to allow for artistic expression by German-Russian creative artists, in this case, some of our poets. This is something that does not always take place at conventions. German-Russian “art” is scarcely a part of our consciousness, as in many cases this kind of creativity emerged after our families immigrated to North America. This evening we are extremely fortunate to have Dr. Samuel Sinner read his English translations of German-Russian poetry. Thank you, Dr. Sinner.
We also will hear some short compositions by the German-Russian composer Alfred Schnittke.
Finally, we intended that everyone would have the opportunity to gain strength by recognizing the courage of others, and there will a time toward the end of this event when all of us will be reminded of the many trials our people underwent, and be offered a few moments during which we can formally remember and honor them.
In addition to Dr. Sinner, I would like to thank Pastor Horst Gutsche, who was living in Alberta when he agreed to participate this evening, but who continued with his involvement even after he moved to a completely different part of North America and started a challenging new ministry in San Francisco. My friend, Patti Mayer Ruminson, who drove several hours to be here this evening and needs to return home tonight, in order to host visiting relatives from out of state. Karen Hastings-Flegel, who performed so brilliantly earlier this evening. And everyone else who supported this event over the last months. One additional thank you, to Victor Friedrich, who is playing trumpet this evening. I would like to nominate Vic as an honorary German Russian; he has stepped in at the last moment, after we lost our professional trombonist, who quite literally got a better offer over in San Francisco. There is one program change this evening: the Schnittke piece for trombone and organ will not be performed.
Two comments to AHSGR members. One is that I would like to reassure the many members of our organization who are good stewards of the Society’s financial resources, that most of this evening’s expenses were privately financed. The other is that we hope that individuals, local chapters, regional entities and our international organization will find opportunities to formally remember this part of our history with similar observances.
Finally, if this is the first convention session you’ve attended this week, and you would like to see what we are doing tomorrow back at the convention center, please pick up a blue sheet out in the narthex, which summarizes tomorrow’s program.