Speech by Congressman Toby Roth, Wisconsin
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.

Bundestreffen der Rußlanddeutschen
Stuttgart, Germany
22 June 1996


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I thank you for your kind invitation to speak to you today. This is a special privilege for me as an American who is, like you, a German from Russia.

Today we celebrate our reunion, the reunion of the Germans from Russia, but more than that, we celebrate who we are, a proud people with ancient heritage. We stand together shoulder to shoulder with one another. We will never forget those who came before us, nor can we forget those who are still waiting for us in the states of the former Soviet Union to join us.

My ancestors emigrated from Alsace in 1806 to the Kutschurgan Region near Odessa. In 1905 my great-grandparents left for America because of military conscription and in search of a land of their own. They worked very hard and sacrificed to build better lives for themselves.

The times and their lives were hard, but they loved life and they had a motto that "the past can never equal the future" and that their children would have a better life than they had.

Wherever they lived our ancestors were a credit to the community where they settled. For they were a proud people who contributed much and did their share of the work. Germans from Russia carry that same reputation to this day wherever they live, even though they have had to undergo many different and difficult beginnings.

When I was a young man visiting my grandmother in a little town in America- Strasburg, North Dakota- she was reminiscing about bygone days.

Ich fragte meine Großmutter, "Was waren denn das für Leute, die aus Rußland nach Amerika kamen?" Und ich weiß noch genau, was sie mir sagte: "Sie hatten eine harte Natur und einen großen Glauben an Gott."

America was not a land of honey and milk that had been promised. When my ancestors arrived on the great American Prairie, they found no water and no trees. There was no wood for shelter or warmth from the bitter cold winters. To build their homes, they used blocks of earth and grass. They set their homes into the sides of hills.

The hot summer often scorched the land. Drought, insects, tornados, and storms were their constant companions. Prairie fires would be sparked by a bolt of lightning and then rage across the open landscape, destroying crops. But they persevered. They were free men and women with the blessings of liberty, and these American pioneers proceeded to build a lasting home and country.

Our ancestors knew that life can be not only hard, but painful as well. My grandmother told me that when she left Russia, her grandmother was on her death bed. My grandmother and her mother had to leave my great-great-grandmother behind. They had to get on the train to Bremen, and from there, embark on a ship to America. My grandmother was only a little girl on that day, but the pain of that parting stayed with her forever.

For all Germans from Russia and for all those whom we lost contact during the events of the last half century, let us today ask God to remember them. We ask God to remember those who have gone before us, for we owe them so much. We thank our creator for the many blessings he has bestowed on our people over the thankful that we were spared the fate of others. I would like to remember and ask God’s blessing for those who are still trying to find their way home. Despite the fact that I come from America, our common language, our old German dialects, are proof of our relationship.

While we remember and are proud of our ancient heritage, we cannot be shackled by it. I tell my children that today we must move again just as our ancestors did. We must be adventurous again. Now we are moving into the third century since that first fateful migration. My children must have the courage and determination to pull up stakes and move again--not to move from one country to another, but to move from one age to another.

Rather than being best with a horse and plow, our children must now be best with a computer, for this age of computer. Rather than being best in farming, logging and mining, today our children must be best educated. We must see to it that they receive the fine education they deserve. Just like our ancestors were bold, so we must be bold, too.

But I would like to believe that our children have an advantage. They have inherited the determination to work hard and take risks. They are heirs to the German spirit. What our children have inherited from our ancestors they will have to earn over again for themselves or success will not be theirs.

From here we must make a firm resolution that we will stay united and stay in touch. Modern telecommunication and information technology allow us to do that. We look to individuals, like Michael Miller for leadership in bringing us together.

Life is a journey filled with great change. So as we begin the journey into our third century, let us remember that as we go through these changes those things our ancestors believed, those timeless values will never change.

  1. That faith in God gives meaning and purpose to human life;
  2. That tomorrow will always be better that today;
  3. That we must keep faith with one another, respect and help one another--for we are one family, one people.
Let us go forth into the third century and blaze new trails and accomplish great things-let us leave our mark on History and the Wold as our ancestors did. If we are true to our heritage we can do no less.

U.S. Representative Toby Roth (Wisconsin) visits with recent immigrants from Siberia at Bundestreffen (large German-Russian gathering), Stuttgart, Germany, June 22, 1996. Congressman Roth was a featured speaker at Bundestreffen attended by 50,000 people.

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