Report on the Meetings of the Russian Germans in Fargo, North Dakota USA

Mayer, Konstantin. "Report on the Meetings of the Russian Germans in Fargo, North Dakota USA." Mitteilungsblatt, 18 October 1990.

Translation from German to English by Alma M. Herman, Fargo, North Dakota

Mr. Michael M. Miller, presently bibliographer at the North Dakota State University Libraries in Fargo, is also one of the organizers of the Russian Germans in America. His aim is to preserve the cultural heritage of the Russian Germans in America. Mr. Miller’s ancestors came from Krasna (Bessarabia) and Strasburg (the Black Sea).

Mr. Miller invited noted professors (all German Russians) to deliver addresses on subjects of the Russian Czarist Empire and the Soviet Union to more than one hundred invited guests from America, Canada, and West Germany. In the lecture hall of the University it was possible to conduct the meetings smoothly. The lectures were received with keen interest and close attention. To my regret, all the lectures were delivered in English. Luckily I had sitting beside me Dr. Elvira Eberhardt, a lady formerly from Sofievka, Bessarabia, now living in Canada; she whispered everything into my ear in an expert and mindful manner.

But first I must mention that in August, 1989, Mr. Miller was with me in Ludwigsburg to discuss my book, Der Weg aus der Steppe (The Journey out of the Steppe). He asked me to take part in the symposium in July 1990, and also to deliver a speech about the Russian German culture. On that occasion, the translating of my book into English was discussed. I was scheduled as one of the speakers at the symposium.

The topics of the symposium were the following:

1. Mr. Arthur E. Flegel (Menlo Park, California) spoke in general about the Russian German culture, beginning with the Crusaders, on to the German Order, about the Baltic states and about the settlement territories Siebenbürgen-Banat, Catherine the Great, the Volga Germans, and Czar Alexander I and the Ukraine settlement with German farmers.

His speech was very good and received with great applause.

2. Subsequently, Professor Jean Shweitzer (Strasburg, France) spoke about the settlements by German farmers in the Black Sea area.

3. The best lecture of the day was given by Professor George K. Epp (Winnipeg, Manitoba). He speaks good German – a very impressive personality. I was able to converse with him in Russian for a very long time. He lives in Winnipeg and has many Mennonite Russian Germans in his area. It is absolutely necessary to get in touch with him. He urgently requested books, pictures of Russian Germans and also Bessarabian Germans. Professor Epp spoke about the Mennonites. Fifty thousand Russian Germans live in Winnipeg. Most of them are now endeavoring to find their relatives. If anyone of us has old calendars, books, newspapers, and so forth, to spare, they can be sent to me. I will forward such material to Professor Epp. His speech met with great approval.

Throughout the entire symposium, it was apparent again and again that in recent years more and more emphasis is being placed on researching Russian German and Bessarabian culture. Professors and authorities came to this meeting from all parts of America and Canada, sharing knowledge of the German emigration to Russia, as well as describing the immigration to America and Canada. Yes, and what is more, individual dialects were discussed, dialects spoken by older people even today. An old gentleman of ninety-three years came up to me and spoke a well-preserved Schwabian. The speakers even cited Russian words which were adopted into German linguistic usage, like "Mariele geh in die Gladofka, dort steht auf der Polka eine Banka mit Powidla. Hol sie mir." (Mariele, gehe in die Spiesekammer, dort steht auf der Steige ein Einweckglas mit Mus. Hole es mir.) (Mariele, go to the pantry. There on the shelf stands a jar of jam. Get it for me.)

Mr. Miller presented to us his work as librarian at the university. The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection has been developed at the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, located in the main library building. The collection includes material primarily on the Black Sea and Bessarabian Germans. The Institute, which extends to three large rooms, houses 4,000 books, 20,000 photographs, 15,000 negatives, and 6,000 slides. As I entered the Institute, about thirty persons were already busily occupied at tables, searching for their relatives in the chronicles. As Mr. Miller informed me, interest in genealogy is steadily increasing. A lot of material is available for the Russian Germans in this library. Persons interested in receiving information regarding their relatives should contact: Michael M. Miller, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University Libraries, P.O. Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050 USA.

The presentation by Professor Lewis Marquardt and his wife, professor Donna Reeves Marquardt, (Buda, Texas) gave a highly interesting slide presentation about the Black Sea Russian Germans in Texas. It was about the development of the state of Texas by immigrants from Russia (Black Sea and Volga areas). Both spoke good German.

In the afternoon, Pastor R. Reuben Drefs (Peoria, Illinois) gave a slide presentation of his recent trip to the Federal Republic of Germany, where he had taken part in a meeting of the New-Arziser. The ancestors of Pastor Drefs came from Neu Arzis, Bessarabia. At that time, Pastor Drefs also visited me in Ludwigsburg. Pastor Drefs showed photographs of the newly rebuilt cities of Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden, but failed to mention the destruction of these towns. I allowed myself an interpolated question: Do the ladies and gentlemen present know that in the last war these towns were reduced to ashes? That in one night in Dresden 300,000 people, mainly refugees from the east were struck and burned by napalm bombs?

I recommend to Pastor Drefs that at the next opportunity he show photographs of the destruction and next to them photographs of the rebuilding, as Professor and Mrs. Marquardt showed in Texas – first wilderness and weeds and then rolling, waving wheat fields.

Mr. Michael M. Miller gave a slide presentation on Russian German culture.

The Marquardt couple next gave their slide presentation on the Hutterites in America and family research in general. Their dialect cassettes can be obtained by Bernd-Längsien in Karlsruhe-Film Atelier. (There are still about 200 cassettes available.)

Dr. Shirley Fischer Arends (McLean, Virginia) clarified in her presentation how English words were absorbed into German linguistic usage here in America.

Dr. Arends also interpreted my lecture at the farewell evening in an exemplary manner.

Professor Arnold H. Marzolf (Fargo, North Dakota) read Russian German poetry. He added some poems of his own and sang German songs with guitar accompaniment.

Following the Professors Marquardt, the presidents of the German Russian organizations were introduced. They have greatly supported Russian German culture. Many colleagues introduced themselves personally.

Mr. Michael Miller then reported on his trip to Germany in August, 1989. There he visited Mr. Christian Fiess, Mr. Artur Kräenbring, Konstantin Mayer, and the Russian Germans in Stuttgart.

The day ended with a dance for everyone. A three-man band of Black Sea Germans started playing the music. I was constantly surrounded by inquiring people there, also.

On July 14, Mr. Michael Miller extended an invitation to visit the North Dakota State University Libraries. As much information is typed on computer disks, Mr. Miller showed me a disk with the work of a descendant of the unforgettable director and pastor, Heinrich Römmich. His book is being prepared for release at the end of the year.

In a large room at the Holiday Inn, a large book exhibit was set up. Also, by the main office of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society in Bismarck, North Dakota, hundreds of chronicles, ancestral books, and so forth were displayed on long tables, and a large number of people had gathered, looking for information. Here too, I was surrounded by inquiring people who spoke of their ancestors in Bessarabia.

A Mr. Haas absolutely wanted to know more about his relative Johannes Haas, a teacher in Teplitz. Mr. Victor Knell of Fargo, North Dakota, has been doing genealogical research about his family and has written a book. He asked me to pass the book onto Dr. Hugo Knöll.

It is indescribable how these people care about their ancestors and their relatives. One woman brought me a newspaper clipping from a German Russian periodical in which my booklet, “Licht im Dunkel,” had come up in a book review by Victor Knell. I could then tell the bystanders about the further fate of my departed wife, Cornelia Mayer-Odenbach.

Dr. Arends spoke at twelve noon about her book, The Central Dakota Germans: Their History, Language, and Culture.

Also attending the conference was Mr. Hans Massini, coming from Baden/Cherson and now living in Düsseldorf. Although Mr. Massini came to Germany from the Soviet Union not too long ago, he started as a sheepherder and now own 2,000 sheep. He learned about the symposium through Volk auf dem Weg and therefore came to Fargo.

At the close of the first part of the symposium, Michael M. Miller gave a review and thanked all participants. He was pleased that guests from the Federal Republic (of Germany) were also attending: Konstantin Mayer, Emil Weiss, and Hans Massini. Subsequently, the president of North Dakota State University expressed gratitude for the work carried out by the Russian German societies. He very well appreciates the achievements of the Russian Germans here in North Dakota, in America, and in Canada. Without the Germans from Russia, whose forefathers once created the granary of Europe, and without the Russian Germans in America, North Dakota would not have become the granary of America.

Mr. Miller called upon the attending guests from Germany to sing the German national anthem. Since no one besides me expressed their willingness, I alone sang "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit." I was honored by thunderous applause.

The Germans from Russia Heritage Society presented the following programs at the Fargo Holiday Inn, July 12-14, 1990. About 400 persons gathered at this location. They came from all directions of the United States and Canada.

President Jim Ozbun of North Dakota State University started the meeting and especially welcomed guests from Germany. Here Dr. Shirley Arends from Virginia spoke first about the history, tradition, and culture of the Dakota Germans. Then presentations in various themes of emigration of Germans to Russia and immigration of Russian Germans to America and Canada were given in other rooms. The large display of Russian German literature, where hundreds of people tried to get information about their ancestors, met with very great interest.

Professor Marzolf entertained the participants in the great hall with German songs accompanied by guitar. In the evening dancing took place with a Russian German band playing. Victor Knell also provided a super hit parade of German folk music.

On July 14, the last day, all officers of individual chapters were recognized with a special mention. Leaders of new chapters were sworn into office by President Clarence Bauman of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society. There are now twenty-three chapters.

Because of a late banquet program I could not begin my presentation until 10:00 p.m. I feared that by the time that time the hall would be empty but was pleasantly surprised to find the room fully occupied in spite of the dance music next door.

I spoke freely without notes and Dr. Shirley Fischer Arends interpreted accordingly at intervals, very precisely and correctly. About 300 persons listened to my speech, sometimes with tears in their eyes. I spoke of the emigration of German Russians, the Soviets who devised the Kolchos system, the Germans from the Black Sea area, the Ukraine and Volga areas. One million Germans who were deported to Siberia died, and two million Russian Germans are still in Siberia today. I confined myself to speaking only about the conditions in the Soviet "paradise." My home colony, Seimeny, was the only village of Bessarabian Germans located directly at the Dnjester, Liman. Everyday we could look across the seven-kilometer-wide Liman into the Soviet Union. Again and again, fugitives came to us through the jungle of reeds and reported conditions in the Soviet Union, so that we were always familiar with the latest developments.

Stalin, with the help of different tribes, like Trotzki-Kaganowitsch, Berija, and so forth, committed offenses not to the German population alone. Who of you, dear countrymen, knows that in the year 1933, twenty million farmers in the Ukraine died of hunger? Did you know that before 1933, Stalin killed forty to fifty million people, Russians and others, among them, one million ethnic Germans? Did you know that in the war in 1939, Stalin ordered the murders of 15,000 Polish officers, among them, 5,000 Polish officers whom I saw as a German soldier in 1943 in the woods of Katy near Smolensk? Did you know that after the war in 1945, fourteen million refugees of eastern East Prussia, Schlesien-Warthegau, were expelled and in January of 1945 fled in frost and cold to the west, whereby one million froze or starved to death? My own family was held in captivity in Poland for three and one-half years. By the time they reached the extermination camp Schikawe near Lodz (Litzmannstadt), 5,000 Germans had already been exterminated. News of their submitted discharge reached them through the American embassy. Before that, the Poles had given my father-in-law, Mathäus Odenbach, an injection. He was dead the next morning. Stripped of his clothes in front of his relatives, he was tossed into a mass grave, and then my family could be released. Many women wept during these descriptions. At 11 o’clock, when I ended my speech, many women came forward and embraced me with tears in their eyes.

Michael M. Miller thanked the audience and me. He invited those present to direct questions to me. I was thanked with a standing ovation for a wonderful speech.

In summary, I must judge my impression of the process of symposium and the convention in such a way that, in spite of the great distance, an organization has come into being which is comparable to the Landsmannschaft, the Hilfskomitte, and the Heimatmuseum der Bessarabiendeutschen in the Federal Republic of Germany. The Russian Germans in America place primary emphasis on genealogical research. I personally was very impressed with the meetings and am not sorry to have taken part in them.

My book, Der Weg aus der Steppe, was often commended and admired. However, as most of the German Americans can no longer read German, not to mention the children, we have arranged that my book, Der Weg aus der Steppe, will be translated into English by Professor Paul and Mrs. Esther Bierwagen (Valparaiso, Indiana) and Alma M. Herman (Fargo, North Dakota). It will appear on the American book market in 1991. Great interest is shown in this book. For the warm and friendly reception, I hereby express my deepest thanks to Michael M. Miller.

Our appreciation is extended to Alma M. Herman for translation of this article.

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