Volk auf dem Weg: Dakota's Russlandeutschen, USA

Abstract of Presentation

Prof. Michael M. Miller, Bibliographer
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
North Dakota State University Libraries
Fargo, North Dakota USA

Deutsch-Amerikanisches Zentrum/James F. Brynes-Institut e.V.
Charlottenplatz 17, Stuttgart, Deutschland
Lecture Hall, Institute of Foreign Cultural Relations
Thursday, 31 May 2001 - 7:30 pm (19:30)

The history of this unique ethnic group - the Germans from Russia - has its beginnings in 1763 when, upon the invitation of Catherine the Great, German families migrated by the thousands to the Russian Empire in search of new land and new freedoms. By 1804, Catherine's grandson, Alexander I, issued a second invitation to additional foreigners to settle in southern Russia. By 1871, policies of Alexander II made these families feel no longer welcome in Russia. Their deep desire to seek land and freedom resulted in the large emigration of more than 300,000 Germans from Russia to find new destiny in America. They settled in the central and northern plains of the United States and western Canadian prairie provinces.

Today, the largest concentration of German-Russians in the United States is located in North Dakota with around 30 percent of the 640,000 people primarily of Bessarabian, Black Sea, Crimean, and Volhynian heritage. A 1920 census survey estimated that about 116,000 German-Russians were settled in the United States, with the greatest density of 70,000 immigrants living in North Dakota. Today the sons and daughters of these Dakota pioneers have relocated throughout the USA, especially in western USA.

Large populations of Black Sea German descendants still live yet in North America, particularly in the states of California, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington of the United States, as well as the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan of Canada. Persons of Volga German heritage live primarily in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and western United States, as well as the western prairie provinces of Canada. An estimated one million German-Russian descendants are living in North America. Many of these people have kept alive their unique German dialects, as they were spoken in their ancestral villages of the Russian Empire more than 200 year ago. They continue the same food traditions and recipes which their grandparents prepared in such villages as Glueckstal, Karlsruhe, Kulm, Leipzig, Selz and Strassburg in South Russia, located near Odessa, Ukraine. Today in North Dakota, one can identify the names of towns with the same names of ancestral villages near Odessa and further back in Germany and France.

In the early 1970s, two Germans from Russia societies were founded: the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia (AHSGR), Lincoln, Nebraska, and the Germans from Russia Heritage Society (GRHS), Bismarck, North Dakota. In 1978, the North Dakota State University Libraries in Fargo, North Dakota, established the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection (GRHC). These North American groups house some of the most comprehensive compendium of books and other archival materials which document the heritage and culture of the Germans from Russia. Cooperative projects continue to develop between AHSGR, GRHS and GRHC, as well as the heritage societies located in Stuttgart (Landsmannschaft der Bessarabiendeutschen and the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland).

During the 1990s, electronic discussion groups or listserves, mail lists and websites have flourished and grown dramatically in North America. This new technology of electronic communication has led to a global re-discovery among people of all ages with a dynamic interest in the study of history, culture, foodways and folkways of the Germans from Russia. North Dakota State University is the home of five Germans from Russia listserves with more than 3,000 subscribers.

The NDSU Libraries in partnership with Prairie Public Television, Fargo, ND, funded and produced the 1999 award-winning videotape documentary "The Germans from Russia: Children of the Steppe, Children of the Prairie". In 2000, they jointly produced, "Schmeckfest: Food Traditions of the Germans from Russia". Other video documentary projects are possible. The documentaries have created a renewed interest and awareness in a common heritage, especially among senior generations eager to share their knowledge and memories the younger generations. In recent years, there is a "re-discovery" of the Germans from Russia "Unser Leute" heritage in North America. There is a growing awareness including partnerships with shared research between people living in the homeland of Germany.

Prepared in April, 2001.

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