The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at North Dakota State University and My Visions for the Future

American Historical Society of Germans from Russia
National Convention, Sacramento, California

Presentation by Michael M. Miller, Bibliographer, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo

26 July 1990, Radisson Hotel, Sacramento, California

The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
at North Dakota State University and My Visions for the Future

American Historical Society of Germans from Russia
National Convention, Sacramento, California

26 July 1990, Radisson Hotel, Sacramento, California

Presentation by Michael M. Miller, Bibliographer, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo

It is indeed a pleasure to appear before my colleagues, friends, and the membership of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. I bring hearty greetings from North Dakota State University and from the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.

I also extend best regards from Clarence Bauman, President, and the membership of the Russia Heritage Society. it was so good to have Dr. Larry Metzler, President of AHSGR, who joined us two weeks ago in Fargo for the Germans from Russia symposium and convention.

For me it is a humbling experience to join you here in Sacramento and in California as a son of a German-Russian family proud of my heritage. Growing up in Strasburg, North Dakota, I joined the family ritual on Saturday evenings listening to my hometown's most famous native son, Bandleader Lawrence Welk. Never did I dream that I would have the opportunity to speak in California where Mr. Welk gained his nationwide fame playing champagne music while regaling us with his strong German accent.

Germans from Russia pioneers like Ludwig and Christina Schwahn Welk, parents of Lawrence Welk, settled on the prairies of the Dakotas in 1893. Ludwig was born in the colony of Selz, and Christina was born in the colony of Strassburg, Black Sea region. Both were Kutschurgan colonies near the Black Sea. Today, descendants of those early settlers are now living in large numbers in the Great Plains states, Colorado and Washington, as well as in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in western Canada. Here in the Sacramento, Stockton, and Lodi areas many of the German-Russian people can trace their roots to former homesteads in the Dakotas.

According to Russian-German Settlements in the United States written by Richard Sallet, nearly 120,000 Germans emigrated to the United States from Russia between 1870 and 1920. The largest concentration was in North Dakota where some 70,000 lived in 1920, coming from the Black Sea and Bessarabian regions of Russia. A new book by Dr. Shirley Fischer Arends, The Central Dakota Germans: Their History, Language, Culture explains why the central part of the two Dakotas became overwhelmingly German. The Central Dakota Germans, which will be available in the convention bookstore, is a significant contribution to the literature of the Germans from Russia. Dr. Arends is with us here at this convention, bringing her parents from Ashley, North Dakota.

In a recent article in the Grand Forks Herald, "Germans from Russia: A loving look at a fading Dakota prairie culture", Dr. Arends states that "the reason that she kept working on this book for all these years was that all those older people were so grateful that somebody cared." "They were so eager to share their proverbs and their prayers. Outside North Dakota, people love what's going on here. We should love it and place value on it." Dr. Arends is with us this evening along with her parents from Ashley, North Dakota. May I ask her to stand so that we can extend a warm welcome and a thank-you to Shirley Fischer Arends for her contribution to the literature of the Germans from Russia.

Since 1950 the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies has been actively involved in collecting, preserving, and making available manuscripts, photographs, and published works documenting the life of the people of North Dakota. The uniqueness of the Institute lies in its rich holdings. Its manuscripts document the importance of agriculture and land development to the state. The everyday life of the pioneers and North Dakota's ethnic groups, especially the Germans from Russia, are highlighted. Just two weeks ago 85 researchers and scholars gathered for the Germans from Russia Symposium at North Dakota State University, using many of these resources.

To preserve the history and culture of the Germans from Russia the Germans from Russia Heritage Society authorized the establishment of the Germans from Russia heritage Collection at the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies on the North Dakota State University campus in 1978.

The Institute, the official repository for the Society's records, collects materials on the Germans from Russia, especially the Black sea and Bessarabian Germans, one of the major ethnic groups in North Dakota. The collection includes books as well as records, tapes, newspapers, maps, microfilm, and photographs. County, community, family, and church histories are also part of the collection.

Because of the need to provide a reference tool to the collection, the Institute published the annotated bibliography, Researching the Germans from Russia in 1987.

The bibliography is the most comprehensive and detailed resource in the United States and Canada of books and materials about the Germans from Russia. I have been most pleased at the response to the book in Canada, the United States, and West Germany.

Professor Timothy J. Kloberdanz, a well-known German-Russian folklorist, writes in the preface to Researching the Germans from Russia, "As the mere size of this bibliography attests, the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection is one of the largest archives of its kind in the New World...One greatly envies the new researcher who, hungry for information about the Germans from Russia, will discover this annotated bibliography for the first time."

As stated earlier, we are concentrating our efforts in collecting materials primarily of the Black Sea and Bessarabian Germans. This includes many German colony histories published by West German authors. Recent additions of special interest to family historians and genealogists include histories such as Hoffnungstal, Heimatbuch Leipzig Bessarabien, Lichtental Bessarabien, and Katzbach 1821-1940. Many of these same colony names are names of towns in North Dakota today. You will also find these colony histories available at the AHSGR Library.

A recent and significant addition to the collection, Der Weg aus der Steppe by Konstantin Mayer, describes and illustrates the difficulties of the Bessarabian Germans as they left their Russian colonies with German forces during World War II. The book is now being translated for publication in an English edition.

The collection includes the complete holdings of Volk auf dem Weg, the official journal of the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus
Russland, and Mitteilungsblatt, the official publication of the Landsmannschaft der Bessarabiendeutschen. Both publications include obituaries, very valuable to genealogists.

The Landsmannschaft der Bessarabiendeutschen located in Stuttgart has an outstanding Heimatmuseum as well as extensive collections of photographs, archives, and books. The genealogy records of the Heimatmuseum, called the Christian Fiess Collection, are now available from the Church of the Latter-Day Saints' Family History Center, called the Christian Fiess Collection. These are invaluable records for Bessarabian German researchers.

The Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland also located in Stuttgart and within easy walking distance of the Bessarabiendeutschen society is deeply involved with the recent emigration of Soviet Germans to West Germany. They, too, are building their archives, library, and genealogy records. All of the manuscripts and records of the late Dr. Karl Stumpp are housed at the Landsmannschaft.

An interesting development in West Germany has been the establishment in 1989 of an institute for German-Russian studies at the University of Freiburg. This offers potential for exchange of scholars, students, and research.

Neues Leben, one of two newspapers published in the Soviet Union for the Soviet Germans, is another publication within the collection. It has been interesting to note articles regarding the possibilities of the establishment of the new Soviet German Republic. The latest news concerns the Soviet Germans' desire for a new republic in the northern part of East Prussia. We should be watching carefully for these developments.

Newspapers on microfilm in the collection include Nord Dakota Herold and Dakota Freie Presse, so important to the German-Russian researcher and family genealogist. These two newspapers along with Der Staatsanzeiger may be some of the most important newspapers for the German-Russian genealogist.

The Dakota Freie Presse is the oldest and may be the most important newspaper in North America of the German-Russians. Organized in 1873 in Yankton, Dakota Territory, the paper was transferred to Aberdeen, South Dakota, in 1906. The paper included news about the immigration and settlement. The contributions of the readers about their coming to the Dakotas, their settlement, and their experiences have proved to be of great historical value. Included also were letters from Russia about life in the German-Russian colonies. The published obituaries are most important to genealogists. Dr. Horst Fode of West Germany is indexing these obituaries from Dakota Freie Presse, which are being published in Heritage Review. In 1954 the paper ceased as an independent publication and joined the America Herold.

The Nord Dakota Herold was established in 1907 and was published every Friday in Dickinson, North Dakota. The readership consisted of 70% German-Russian, 10% German-Hungarian, and 15% German. It was owned by a corporation in which Catholic priests predominated. During World War I it was temporarily printed in English. Coverage included articles about life of the German-Russians who came primarily from Bessarabia. Letters from South Russia were printed. The North Dakota Herold is also valuable for the German-Russian family researcher.

Germans from Russia have been active in publishing family histories. Like the AHSGR Library, the Institute has been attempting to collect all histories relating to North Dakota families. The Institute also has an extensive collection of county, community, and church histories. A unique index to these histories is the North Dakota Biography Index. This 27,000 card file indexes over 100,000 biographical sketches found in more than 475 publications located in libraries throughout North Dakota. The index is an invaluable tool for those doing historical, biographical, and genealogical research. When funds become available plans are to computerize the index.

Besides the books about the Black Sea and Bessarabian Germans there are resources on the Hutterites, Mennonites, Vohlynian Germans, Volga Germans, and the Germans from Russia in the two Dakotas and throughout the United States and Canada. Also included are literature, folklore, census material, cookery, and song books.

Reviews of new additions to the collection are featured in Heritage Review, the journal of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society. These books are available through interlibrary loan along with many of the titles listed in Researching the Germans from Russia. Many of these same titles are also available at the AHSGR Library in Lincoln.

In order to provide visuals for schools, libraries, family reunions, and other gatherings, the slide/tape program, At Home on the Prairies, was produced and is now available for purchase in videotape format. It has been widely used throughout North America and can be borrowed from AHSGR.

A traveling exhibit, The Germans from Russia, was completed in 1989. Both the slide program and the exhibit are valuable resources in telling the story of the Germans from Russia.

Photographs constitute one of the most valuable resources of the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies. There are over 20,000 prints, 15,000 negatives, and 6,000 color slides. Of particular interest to the Germans from Russia are the sod house photos. The majority of the institute's photographs are on the laser videodisc, Visual Images from the Northern Prairies, which is available for purchase.

Recently I have been involved with two projects which have important significance to the culture and history of the Germans from Russia. Patricia Eames, Director of Public Information at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., is working with the National Archives of the Soviet Union to assist them in organizing and developing their genealogy and family history research materials. This has developed because of the many letters of family research being received from the United States. Representing the Germans from Russia on the national advisory committee is Allyn Brosz, Chairman of the AHSGR Genealogy Committee. Patricia Eames of the National Archives has been most impressed with the organization and genealogy resources of both Germans from Russia societies. In March a USA/USSR genealogical-archival exchange team traveled to Moscow, Minsk, and Leningrad.

Recently I have talked to persons reviewing collections at the archives in Odessa, Ukraine and in Leipzig, East Germany. Dr. George Epp of Menno Simons College at the University of Winnipeg is most interested in cooperating with his American colleagues in microfilming and indexing records that are presently not available outside the Soviet Union.

The second project with which I have been involved is the restoration of the Lawrence Welk Homestead near Strasburg, North Dakota. Mr. Welk is perhaps the best-known German-Russian in America. Shirley Welk Fredricks, Executive Director of the Lawrence Welk Foundation in Santa Monica, has been working closely with Welk Heritage in Strasburg. Shirley was warmly received by the Southern California Chapter members when she spoke to the group in January.

In tracing the roots of the Welk family, I would like to refer to a well- written history by Jerry Klein of San Juan, Capistrano. A young German tailor by the name of Moritz Welk migrated from his home village of Erbach in the region of Ulm in southern Germany to the Alsatian village of Wizenbach. Moritz emigrated to the colony of Selz in the Kutschurgan District. Moritz and Magdalena Arth Welk had an eldest son named Kasper, who married Magdalena Gutenberg, a native of the nearby Kutschurgan colony of Strassburg.

Kasper and Magdalena Welk had a son named Johannes, born and raised in Selz. Johannes was a grandfather to bandleader Lawrence Welk and was a blacksmith. Johannes married Marianna Schweitzer from the colony of Strassburg and they raised seven children. One of those family members was Ludwig, born in 1864 and father of Lawrence Welk. Ludwig married Christina Schwahn, who was born in the colony of Strassburg in 1871.

Like his father, Ludwig practiced the profession of blacksmithing as well as being a farmer. Ludwig and Christina Welk were encouraged to come to America by his young sister, Rosina, and her husband, Michael Klein, who had come to Eureka, South Dakota, in 1892. Ludwig and Christina arrived in New York in 1893 and headed to Eureka. Later, they staked out their homestead on ground overlooking Baumgartner Lake about four miles from Strasburg, North Dakota.

There were a total of eight children born to Ludwig and Christina Welk. Still living today at the Strasburg Nursing Center is Anna Mary, born in 1896; Lawrence in Santa Monica, born in 1903; and Eva in Aberdeen, born in 1909. Six of the Welk children, including Lawrence, were born in the sod house that stands on the homestead which is being restored today.

The Welk sod house and the farm will be restored to what it was in the 1920's. Included will be a blacksmith shop, a summer kitchen, and other buildings. The story of the Germans from Russia will play an important role in the interpretative center to be housed in the restored barn. Welk Heritage will offer for the enjoyment and education of future generations of Americans the story of the Welk family and their pioneer experience in North Dakota, the heritage of Germans from Russia, and the life of famous bandleader Lawrence Welk, who has always treasured and honored the lessons and values that he acquired wile growing up in these humble and beautiful surroundings. There is tremendous potential in capturing the spirit, hard work, and dedication of our German-Russian homesteaders. Welk Heritage could become one of America's important interpretative centers on the Germans from Russia.

Before I close my discussion relating to Lawrence Welk, I would like to share with you a reading done by a young and talented North Dakota author, Debra Marquart of Napoleon.

Now I would like to share with you my visions, challenges to consider, and ideas to explore for the Germans from Russia. These visions will closely relate to create a strong identity for the Germans from Russia and their culture for future generations.

The Germans from Russia may be one of the most well-organized ethnic groups in America. The founders and the membership of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia and the Germans from Russia Heritage Society should be complimented for building these valuable organizations. However, we must look to the future in an atmosphere of cooperation among all Germans from Russia organizations.

It is especially important that the genealogy committees of GRHS and AHSGR explore possibilities for resource sharing with the use of computer technology. We need to create better ties of cooperation in our genealogy projects, to avoid duplication and to establish priorities. For example, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, there are valuable Mennonite genealogy and archives resources perhaps unknown to many of us. The Mennonite Archives Center is completing newspaper indexing projects which could be of special interest to the Mennonite and Black Sea Germans.

Today there exists three major Germans from Russia book collections at AHSGR in Lincoln, at GRHS in Bismarck,, and at North Dakota State University in Fargo. Mary Rabenburg, Librarian at AHSGR, and I have been exchanging the catalogued cards of new books added to collections in Lincoln and in Fargo. There is a need to develop a comprehensive international bibliography of Germans from Russia collections in North America and in West Germany. Unknown to much of the North American audience are the valuable library resources in Stuttgart, West Germany. I propose to AHSGR that we begin a dialogue in pursuing such a project in developing a comprehensive bibliography of Germans from Russia collections.

Other German-Russian collections that exist should be identified. Books that now exist in private collections or in chapter libraries should be considered to be part of nearby public or college libraries. These resources would then be cataloged and become part of computerized networks so that other researchers will know what is available. Perhaps someday we shall see the reality of a national data-base of Germans from Russia research.

To provide continuing education experiences about the Germans from Russia, we need to consider offering college courses, workshops, and symposia. Earlier in July on the campus of North Dakota State University 85 people attended the Germans from Russia Symposium. They came from throughout Canada, the United States, and West Germany. These people had a chance to carefully review the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection and to pursue further research tools. Could not such a symposium with joint sponsorship from a college be held in other locations? Perhaps it might be titled, "The Germans from Russia Settling in California".

With the large German-Russian population in Washington would not the Seattle-Tacoma area be a potential location for a college-sponsored symposium? Joint sponsorship of a symposium between AGSHGR and the University of Nebraska in Lincoln might also be considered.

It is important that AGSHR develop close ties with colleges and universities so that courses and symposia can be offered for college credit. Are we exploring additional opportunities on college campuses for students to learn about the heritage and folklore of the Germans from Russia? Is there a close working relationship between the history, German, and anthropology departments at the University of Nebraska and AHSGR? With such a valuable library collection, professors need to encourage their students to actively use the AHSGR Library in Lincoln. Is a course being offered on the Germans from Russia at such places as Kansas State University, the University of Nebraska, the University of South Dakota and here in the heart of California's German-Russian country. I propose to AHSGR that a committee be established to review means of providing educational experiences and to survey what is and could be done. I am deeply concerned that we offer to our youth the desire to know more about the Germans from Russia. Should we explore the idea of developing a correspondence course on the Germans from Russia that would be available to all ages desiring to learn more about our heritage?

I applaud the efforts of Arthur Flegel, Gwen pritzkau, Margaret Freeman, Carol Harless, Alice Waltrip, Carolyn Wheeler, Peter Klassen, and Larry Metzler for their efforts to provide workshops and presentations throughout California and the Northwest. We need to encourage colleges in California, Washington, and elsewhere to offer Elderhostel programs on the Germans from Russia. I challenge the AHSGR chapters in California to explore with local colleges and continuing education agencies ideas for workshops, Elderhostel programs, and courses of the Germans from Russia.

We need to encourage both undergraduate and graduate students to pursue studies, theses, and dissertations on the Germans from Russia. Had it not been for Dr. Shirley Fischer Arends pursuing her doctorate dissertation at Georgetown University her research might never have been published. We need to encourage your sons and daughters and their children to learn about their heritage. They are the writers and scholars of tomorrow who will author family histories and document their ancestors as we approach the 21st century.

The efforts of Ewald Wuschke and Helen Hahn of Vancouver, British Columbia, Gerald Frank of Calgary, and Ron Neuman of Edmonton should be recognized in developing an organizations of Germans from Volhynia and Poland. The latest edition of Wandering Volhynians provides us with an outstanding publication.

The work of Margaret and Robert Freeman and Carolyn Wheeler with the Glückstal Colonies Research Association Newsletter should also be acknowledged. The association is providing valuable finding aids for the Glückstal colonies of Bergdorf, Kassel, Glückstal, Neudorf, and their daughter colonies.

In North Dakota, through the efforts of Timothy Kloberdanz, the wrought iron crosses in North Dakota cemeteries were placed in nomination for registry as a National Historic Site and approved in 1989. These iron cross sites are near Zeeland, Karlsruhe, Balta, Selz, Orrin, Berwick, Hauge, and Strasburg, predominantly Catholic Black Sea German-Russian areas.

These wrought-iron crosses among the Black Sea Germans of the Dakotas, the Volga Germans in western Kansas and Saskatchewan, and the Black Sea Germans in southeast Texas need to be preserved for future generations.

In the book, Iron Spirits, Professor Kloberdanz so articulately describes these iron crosses: "The wrought-iron grave crosses of the German-Russians with their unbroken hearts of metal, brightly-painted stars, endless circles, banner-waving angels, sunburst designs, power-charged lightning bolts, exquisitely-formed lilies, and rose blossoms that rust but never will evoke the defiant spirit, this defiance was tempered and hammered into one timeless language of iron."

Photographs showing the craft of these German-Russian blacksmiths could become part of a national traveling exhibit on the Germans from Russia. Both AHSGR and GRHS have existing exhibits. We need to explore together the idea of developing a larger Germans from Russia traveling exhibition for use throughout the United States and Canada.

Germans from Russia need to know about their colleagues whether they are Volga, Bessarabian, Mennonite, Hutterite, Volhynian, Black Sea, or Dobrudscha German. Such an exhibit could reflect the diversities of the contributions of these people and their heritage to American and Canadian societies. I recommend that we work together in seeking private and federal matching grants to develop a traveling exhibit that will reflect a visual history of all the Germans from Russia.

I have shared with you some of my dreams and visions for the future. We must all work together to explore and to accomplish these visions. Today we are on the threshold of increasing our identity as Germans from Russia. The new wave of Soviet German emigration to West Germany opens for us opportunities to uncover the trials and tribulations of our people. Our borders have been opened once again. Die Deutschen in Russland gestern und Heute (the Germans in Russia yesterday and today). They are our brothers and sisters, the Volga Germans, the Bessarabian Germans, the Black Sea Germans, the Volhynian Germans, the Mennonite Germans, the Germans in Siberia, and the Germans from Russia throughout the world. Today these people we call the Germans from Russia are again searching for a new homeland as they return to West Germany.

I applaud JoAnn Kuhr and AHSGR for their efforts to develop contacts in West Germany. AHSGR, GRHS, and I have been working together to assist persons searching for their relatives. This sharing of letters and resources will be beneficial for all of us.

Today the sons and daughters of these German-Russian homesteaders are proud of their culture and heritage. They formed thriving organizations to preserve and provide identity to their culture. They saw the need to develop research collections for future generations.

They began to write family histories of the Zimmermans, the Heidts, the Marquardts, the Schmidts, the Walds, and the Schweitzers. They shared their memories and expression in such books as Let's Talk German-Russian with Ernschtina un Hanswurscht, recently authored by Arnold H. Marzolf.

The life of one of these German-Russian families is vividly told in the new book, Far From Home; Families of the Westward Journey. "The book offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of three families on the Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, and North Dakota frontiers. A stunning contribution both to family history and the history of the United States frontiers," stated one reviewer of Far From Home.

They gather in such places as Milwaukee, Aberdeen, Bismarck, Regina, Calgary, Lincoln, and here in Sacramento to trace their roots, to speak the German language, to study their folklore, to sing, and to dance.

I, too, am proud to have been reared as a son of a German-Russian family speaking both English and German. I stand tall when I say I grew up as a son of German-Russian grandparents who came from the colonies of Krasna, Bessarabia and Strassburg, Black Sea.

It is important that we work together to assure our immortality and to preserve our heritage. We must share our memories and preserve our memorabilia. Today's generation is the mirror of our inheritance we call the Germans from Russia.

Now, in the prime of my life as we begin a new decade, I hope that you will join me in a new spirit of friendship and cooperation among all Germans from Russia people, the societies, and their chapters in Canada, the United States and in West Germany.

These homesteaders came to the prairies with strong Christian beliefs. Today they gather for family reunions in country churches built by their ancestors.

And now the sons and daughters of these Germans from Russia homesteaders come together here in California. As a son of these Dakota homesteaders, let me say that it has been an honor and a privilege to share these precious moments with each of you.

Revised 20 August 1990


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