Humor and Rumor among the Immigrants - Bin Musikalische Volk
Germans from Russia Heritage Society Convention
Pierre, South Dakota
July 9, 1994
Presentation by Dr. Carl Sunde, South Dakota State University, Brookings
Transcription by Rebecca Pettit and Jane D. Trygg
Proofreading by Linda Haag
Introduction: We used to hand around in grade school so that somebody would write something in there. You know they'd say, "Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, you know I love you". Then the girl wouldn't sign her name, she'd just put X so you didn't know who had said that.
Anyways, these are quotes. One said, "Yours till Sitting Bull stands up,” “Yours till Niagara Falls,” “Yours till the calf in your leg eats the corn on your toes,” "Yours till Germany gets Hungary and fries Turkey in Greece and eats it on China and then Russia's off to work," and with that "Yours till Doctor Sunde addresses us on Saturday."
CS: Thank you very much for that kind introduction, I think. Having a name like Sunde, of course, brings me into a good deal of difficulty on many occasions. I certainly want to thank the German-Russia Heritage Society and Mrs. Roesch for inviting me to speak here. Many of you are probably wondering why is a person with the name of Sunde is coming to address the German-Russia Heritage Society. I'm something of an outsider. I’m really Norwegian, not German-Russian. I'm not even German, but a Norwegian.
My assigned task for today is to be entertaining, upbeat, and light, a very difficult mission for a Norwegian. Perhaps it is even more difficult for a German. Let's get one of them out of the way right now. I thought that perhaps under the rules of political correctness, that the Germans from Russia wouldn't be telling any more Norwegian jokes. I've been to many of these conventions in the past, its Norwegian jokes all the time. And I thought that under political correctness, I could tell the Norwegian jokes. What happens this morning – my wife and I get up, we sit at the table at our hotel, and immediately a fellow German from Russia, I don't know which one he is, started telling us a Norwegian joke. Then what is my purpose in coming here, if I can’t tell Norwegian jokes.
As you looked in your program for the weekend and saw my name Sunde, you may have asked "Sunde? What kind of a German name is that?" That's what my wife asked when we married and changed her name to Amrhein (on the Rhine), a delightful name. Her family came from the Black Forest area from Schwaben, which lies in the southwestern part of Germany. Many of you are Schwabs deriving from that area. She wondered why I changed my name Amrhein to Sunde. If you put an Umlaut over the U in Sunde it becomes a German word for sin. She did not want to be addressed as Frau Dr. Sin in any case. My wife had to adjust to many of my Norwegian ways, as I had to adjust to her Schwabian ways. Both of us have a streak of stubbornness from the Schwabs and the Norwegians.
Let's get one of these Norwegian jokes out of the way right now: Ole and Lena, have you heard of them? I understand you tell German-Russian jokes and they're still Ole and Lena. [laughter] Ole and Lena had been married for about a year and Sven, who lived next door, came out of his house and he saw Ole in front of his house and he said to Ole, “Ole, Ole, Ole, you just got to start pulling down your shades in your bedroom. Last night I looked in your window and I saw you loving up your wife.” Ole was vastly amused, hit his thigh and said “Yoke's on you Sven, I wasn't home last night.” [laughter]
Well, marriage is an interesting situation. My wife and I have been married for twenty-three years. We celebrated our wedding anniversary not too long ago. People said it would never work, a marriage of goulash, Hungarian goulash. Her family grew up in Hungary, and Lutefisk and Spätzle were their foods, where as the Swabian national dish was Lefsa. A Norwegian Lutheran and German-Catholic, but we managed for twenty-three years.
One area of our lives, however, has perhaps not been so successful. We prayed for twenty-three years for children. When we found out that there was a little bit more to it than that, it was too late for it anyway. We have, by the way, separate bedrooms, and perhaps that has something to do with it as well. But also I snore, gets on my wife's nerves, and cuts into my wife's sleeping time. But I'm reminded of Professor Marzolf’s story of a snorer and his wife who went to a pastor. She said to the Pastor, “Pastor, Pastor, my husband, he snores. I don't know what to do.” He said “Well have you tried cotton in your ears, have you tried poking him in the ribs, have you tried this,”have you tried that?” She said “Well, I'm not so worried about myself, it's the congregation.” [laughter]
Harry Delker [name unclear] isn't here today, but Cathy Schatz is, and maybe she'll remember. We were in a restaurant talking about the German-Russian Heritage Society and we were thinking about the Deutsche Kulturverein, do you remember that? We were sitting in a restaurant in Aberdeen and were working on the establishment of this new Kulturverein. The matter was going very nicely. I got the chance then to get to know Harry, and since Harry, s gone today, maybe I can tell this story.
Cathy actually told me this story about Harry, so he can blame it on Cathy. She said that Harry got married just a couple of years ago. When he was going out with his intended, he was not all that practiced, and had gotten out of practice somewhat in the area of amorous pursuits. Harry did what he was supposed to do. I guess he took his intended out for a nice meal, went to a movie afterwards, and got in the car and drove down to a nice country lane. Tender expressions were exchanged and his future wife cuddled up next to him and whispered in his ear, "Harry, want to get in the backseat?" Harry said "No! I want to sit in the front seat with you." [laughter]
Perhaps I was asked today to speak because my wife is a German from Hungary. Barbara, please stand. That's my wife. [clapping] She's also, as I said, a Schwab, and her native mother tongue is actually Schwäbisch. She grew up and started her early years in Hungary, as many of you German-Russians did. Your ancestors came from Russia or other parts of the world. She learned the High German, when she went to the University. She knows a little bit of Hungarian, but it's an interesting aspect.
Many of the people, the Germans from countries other than Germany, have retained their German heritage, but maybe the Russian language they've forgotten, or the Hungarian language they've forgotten. But the Schwäbisch dialect is very familiar to many of you, especially the Black Sea Germans. Herta Gross asked me to say specifically that Schwäbisch is a very respectable language. It's a very respectable aspect of German, and none of you should feel ashamed at all for speaking it. High German refers actually to standard dialect of German. When we speak of Low German, that's mainly in the lower parts of Northern Germany and that's Plättdeutsch. So what you're speaking is not Plättdeutsch. The Schwäbisch is a very lovely language in itself. Don't think of it as being of lesser value, than say some other language. Now compare the situation of Schwäbisch and High German with the Norwegians. If a Norwegian knows eight languages, seven of them are Norwegian.
Dialects are of course a great interest. You may want to compare, in fact afterwards, your German-Russian dialect Schwäbisch, against my wife's Hungarian Schwäbisch version. The Schwäbisch, of course, from those areas has been preserved in a way that Schwäbisch is not preserved even in Schwaben today. So you can be very proud also of your language.
We were sitting at the table just a moment ago, and my wife was talking about some of her experiences. Mrs. Pfeiffer said “You know I really think that your wife should be the speaker instead of you.” In my comments today, we do want to be a little bit light and upbeat, but I do want to give a little bit of perspective perhaps from a Norwegian on the Germans from Russia. But at the same time, being married to a German from Hungary it's exciting, very exciting.
Many of the Germans from Russia remember the trials and tribulations of your ancestors with a rather rosy glow. It is a source of pride of trials that have been overcome, and battles won. It was different for my wife and some of your ancestors, likewise, in that first generation. In the case of my wife, her experiences as a displaced person coming to the United States were ones contrary to those of you who want to remember. She is almost desirous of forgetting. It's still too painful for her and the first generation.
You may be thinking back of your ancestors of that first generation, of the up-rootedness of the wars, the past and so forth. My wife's family has been through a considerable amount. I, as a Norwegian from northern Iowa, growing up in a small town, and many of us here who have been Americans, are not really aware of how the rest of the world has lived, and the difficulties that are endured by many parts of the world. We have so many things including being together today to be grateful for.
Part of my interest in the Germans from Russia stems, of course, was the fact that my father was an immigrant from Norway. He died before I was born. He and his father, who was Norwegian seaman, deeply appreciated the opportunity that this country had to offer, as did the Germans from Russia and many other groups. We appreciate it sometimes more than those people who have been in this country for a longer time.
My grandfather, who was a Norwegian seaman, went from China to North America to San Francisco. He often had occasion to see the Statue of Liberty in New York. When he settled on the small farm in northern Iowa, he had a picture of the Statue of Liberty in his living room, in a very prominent place.
As an outsider by ethnic heritage, but an insider by the virtue of the long membership to the German- Russia Heritage Society, I can draw a few points of reference between the Norwegians and the Germans from Russia. They share many values, including a sense of humor. As a Norwegian outsider, I can offer observations on the Germans from Russia and the Norwegians.
The Schwabs, what about the Schwabs? As a student in Tübingen, which is in Schwaben, a number of years ago, I heard observations about the Bavarians, Prussiand, Franks, and the Schwabs. Each group had its own color, dialect, and had their own way of living. These characteristics, do they continue today? The Schwabs today, for example, or when I was a student in Tübingen, were considered to be very resourceful. I think that carries over today. They said and continue to say about the Schwabs today, that a Schwab going up a tree completely naked could come down fully clothed. It was also sometimes said that the Schwabs were kind. Is that a characteristic? They said that a modern day Schwab’s joke lasts twenty or thirty years. A Schwab went mountain climbing in Switzerland and fell in a deep crevasse. The Red Cross appeared, and he looked up and identified them as the Red Cross and said, "No! I gave at the office.”
T he Germans, also the Schwabs today, have this expression, which may apply to the Schwabs right here today. They have the expression like "Schaffer, Schaffer, bake, neither bake nor night nacho den Mache scheme." "Work, work, build, build, but don't get distracted by the women." But that obviously is not true in this category, because many of you men have been distracted by the women. The Schwabs have surely proliferated on this side of the ocean.
Religion is a characteristic for the Germans from Russia. The Schwabs traditionally have been sustained by religion and music; not usually of the fancy kind, but a rather utilitarian kind has been a sustaining factor. We have, of course, Mr. Leroy Hoffmann of high culture, a noted opera singer, who has passed on now. I heard him several times. I also heard that phenomenon Lawrence Welk, who carved something of a niche, by himself, in a very difficult area of music.
The characteristic of the Schwabs might also include their persevering. Despite their considerable hardships, they continued. The Germans from Russia came from a rather harsh land in Russia, where they settled in the new world. They settled late and sometimes got the less desirable land. But the story is, when the Germans from Russia got off the train at end of the line in South Dakota, (Where is that? Eureka!), they looked around and they saw no water, they saw no wood or little water and said, "Eureka! This looks just like Russia, where we left. No water or wood there either." "End of the Line" of course was the name of this community for a while.
The Norwegians, likewise, sometimes settled in land that looked a lot like Norway. Only about three percent of the land of Norway is arable anyway. Norwegians didn't know how to farm nearly as well as the Germans, who had practiced in Russia and in Germany. This is a story of the German farmer, who was visited by Peter Norbeck, later our Governor and also Senator and Peter Norbeck, who at this time was a well driller. He went to this German-Russian farm and saw the German-Russians had come home from the Missouri River. He had his wagon load full of barrels of water, and its thirty miles to the Missouri River. He said, "Well here I am, a well driller. Why don't you just dig a well? "And the German from Russia in his persevering way said, "We've tried, but the Missouri is a lot closer."
Ole Rolvaag, the famous Norwegian immigrant novelist, was working at Elk Point in South Dakota. He was also one who was interested in preserving the Norwegian language, German or Schwabian, and the German-Russian heritage culture. We had a convention here with Professor Ripley, who was at that bastion of Norwegian culture that is to say at St. Olaf College. I'm sure that he could tell many more Norwegian jokes than I can, but political correctness has reigned at St. Olaf for quite a while. I'm sure they tell no more Norwegian jokes anymore. But during the settlement of South Dakota, Ole Rolvaag worked Elk Point, South Dakota and saw wagon trains heading west. On the wagon trains they saw emblazoned "Pikes Peak or Bust," "Colorado or Bust," or "Oregon or Bust." Then things got tough in Oregon, as well as South Dakota. He saw wagon trains going east from these areas, and emblazoned upon the side of them were the words, "Fifty miles from water, one-hundred miles from wood, to heck with South Dakota, we're leaving here for good."
As the Yankees pulled up stakes and moved farther west or back east, the German-Russians came, settled, and prospered. They were used to hardship and deprivation, and knew they had to plan for bad times. If the small crops died, you had to have some other kind of row crops. If the chickens got sick and died, you had to have geese from Russia. They knew you had to plow deep to get the moisture. They also had heard from several speakers that the rust resistant wheat and the Russian thistle at difficult times, helped saved several farms.
You’ve also heard about the sod houses. Now my wife says,
"I've heard so often about these German- Russian houses. I
continue to find them fascinating, because they're so well adapted
to the South Dakota prairie, if you do not have logs or you do not
have wood. This is of course the way to go. These are not truly
sod houses, but they're really Batzen as the Germans call it. It's
an ancient way of building. The Egyptians had the Israelis make
in the Old Testament bricks without straw. This form of construction
was very popular here in South Dakota. It seems to me,
that the Germans for Russia don't appreciate that fact enough, and this is from a Norwegian perspective certainly. Everybody who had the chance immediately put up a frame house, like everybody else in the United States, but these old houses deserve to be preserved. They are marvelously suited to South Dakota.”
If we think about the Germans from Russia, we have this popular
appealing image of wagons trains going west. But for the Germans
from Russia, who came relatively late, they came mainly by train.
Iowa, if we think about South Dakota or the Dakotas, became a state
in 1846, before Dakota became a territory. Nebraska became a state
in 1867, Minnesota in 1858, and the Dakotas, after changing the
territorial border several times, became states in 1839.
Nebraska 1867, Minnesota 1858, and the Dakotas after changing the territorial borders several times, became states in 1889.
The railroads had entered South Dakota in 1872, and brought in thousands of German-Russians, and others in the ensuing two decades. So powerful were the railroads in South Dakota, North Dakota, in parts west, like Menno and Freeman (Do we have anybody from Menno and Freeman?). When the railroads came through the stations, they changed the signs Menno and Freeman. They got them mixed up. The people in town said, "Well, all right. If the railroads want it that way let them have it." So, the towns exchanged their names, Menno and Freeman.
Many immigrants had to change their names in the new world, and having a name like Sunde, perhaps I should have changed mine to Amrhein. How many here have changed their names? Anybody? How many of you, as immigrants to the new world, had to change your name? Ok. From what to what? All right, all right, anybody else? So, the changes were not particularly significant, some of them were. But you may think about the poor Scandinavians, many of them were John Johnson, Ole Olson and so forth. Those names sometimes had to be changed, or were changed. Many of the Germans from Russia came before 1894; of course, Ellis Island was opened in 1894. Many of your families came before that. That's a fact that many people are not quite aware of, and some of my ancestors came before that time too.
There's a story of a Norwegian immigrant coming through Castlegarden, New York, which proceeded pretty much before Ellis Island. The people at the gate asked him, "What's your name?" He said, "Ole Olson." Next one came through and he said, "What's your name?" "Ole Olson." The third one came through, he said, "What's your name?" "Ole Olson." The fourth one came through and he said, "What's your name?" "Sam Ting." So that was his name forever after. The story is, or course, not true, but it does give us an idea of what could happen to names when they came to a new world.
The Germans from Russian sometimes settled places that may look like Russia, and named them after ancestral towns and cities in Germany and Russia. The Norwegians tended to settle in places that looked like Norway; hilly, rocky, and little suited to farming. The German-Russians, however, knew how to farm, and many Norwegians knew not much.
There is a great Norwegian violinist and composer by the name of Ole Bull, who wanted to settle Norwegians in a land that looked just like Norway. Hilly, rough, it was in Pennsylvania, a mountainous area in Pennsylvania. From this we have one of our immigrant treasures, at least from the Norwegian perspective, it's called Oleanna. Named after Ole Bull, and his statue stands in Loring Park in Minneapolis. This melody goes something like this; we'll be singing some German songs later on, let's try a partly Norwegian song now. "Ole Oleanna, Ole Oleanna Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Oleanna." All together. "Ole Oleanna Ole Oleanna Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Oleanna." "Norwegian text" "Ole Oleanna Ole Oleanna Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Oleanna." "To be in Oleanna there's where I would rather be, than to be in Norway, and bear the chains of slavery." "Ole Oleanna Ole Oleanna Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Oleanna." "Little roasted piglets run up and down the street, inquiring politely, do you want some ham to eat?" "Ole Ileana Ole Oleanna Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Ole Oleanna.”
This is the big rock candy mountain of America, this was the Promised Land. The American fever had driven the Germans from Russia, and the Norwegians and many other ethnic groups to the new world, and there was also a negative side to the American dream. There are hardly words to express the insanity that sometimes prevailed on the prairies, especially among the women. The women did not have the chance to get out and bargain in town. They had to stay home and take care of the kids. Many of them did not learn English, were very isolated, and it was a very, very difficult life.
The Homestead Act of 1862 was an enormous boon to immigrants. One hundred and sixty acres, you got about the same as was offered, to the Germans who settled in Russia by the Czars. And consider the number of Irish here, who offered the largest proportion of their population to the United States. Vast areas were devastated when the Irish left, being the highest proportion, first the potato famine and so forth was the push factor. We also have Irish still coming to this country, and they again are the highest proportion of all the ethnic groups. The Norwegians, the Swedes, and the Icelanders were next, with about one-third to one-fourth of their population going to the new world. But unlike the Germans and the Norwegians, the Irish settled in the cities and took over town hall; and the Germans took over the gymnastics club. The Norwegians and the Germans from Russia, however, tended to settle on the farm. They loved the land. That is an aspect that has appealed to both the Germans from Russia and the Norwegians. They settled in rural areas more than other groups, but the struggle for the land was even stronger among the Germans from Russia than among the Norwegians.
Brenneman's book about the Germans from Russia around Eureka, The Land They Possessed, could just as well have been called “The Land That Possessed Them.” Both in Russia and in North America, the Germans from Russia and Norwegians have been among those who have retained their heritage more than most of the other ethnic groups, partly because of their ethnic settlements in isolated rural areas, and the love of a religious center, a place, a location, something to congregate around.
Of course, the Hutterites, our most conservative ethnic group in South Dakota, are also Germans from Russia. There's the story of one of the Hutterites who was trying to enter town. He drove by another colony and he saw one of his Hutterite brothers out in a field, digging a large hole with a shovel, and he said to him, "Jakob, Jakob what's happened? Why are you digging that big hole?" Jakob said, "My Horse has died.” He said, “Fine.” So he went into town late that evening and drove on back. There was Jakob, out in the field, digging an even bigger hole. He asked Jakob, “Why are you digging a second hole?” “I have to. The first one wasn’t big enough.”
Among my students it seems to be the Germans from Russia and the Norwegians have held on tightest to their heritage. Most of the Norwegians and the Germans from Russia can say a few words from their ancestral tongue. They can say a few items about delicacies they may have at Christmas or other holidays. But it has occurred in the last twenty years since I've been teaching that I use to get a number of Germans from Russia who could still speak German, even if in a dialect, but they could speak it. That seems to have disappeared.
Ole Rolvaag, whom I mentioned before, mentioned that language, (in 1925 he helped found the Norwegian American Historical Association), was the core. Without the ancestral language the culture essentially disappears. Now we've seen in our classes and elsewhere that the language has pretty much gone, but nevertheless I want to congratulate you, the Germans from Russia, on your dedication to your own background, to your own culture, and to the immigrant legacy which you have preserved for such a long time in such a splendid fashion. I do believe that there are things worth retaining aside from the language and obviously you do too.
But the Germans from Russia remained, as they came to the Dakota Territory, a rather crafty bunch. Bauernschläue sometimes the Germans would call it, slyness of farmers. There's the story of two brothers, who were Germans from Russia. Together, on the Homestead Act of 1862, each one of the 160 acres, placed one house right on the border between two 160 pieces. The one could live on one side of this property in his house, and the other in his house on the other side of the property. Cases like that happened.
There's another case of a farmer who realized that he had to prove up his land under the Homestead Act, and he got 160 acres and he's expected to build a house and plow some land. So, this German from Russia decided, well perhaps I have a solution to this, so he plowed one straight furrow with a five acre plot on one side and an eight acre plot on the other. The Homestead officials asked him, "Well, how you coming with the plowing?" And he said, "Pretty well, I've plowed between 5 and 8 acres." But we may hope that this farmer was not like the Norwegian bachelors Garrison Keillor has made so famous. We, of course, don't think of these as being the Germans, maybe Curtis Schultz could tell a joke like this, but I guess I'm going to tell about my own ethnic group.
Have you heard of the bachelor farmer who became so lonely that he wanted a family, so be taken out an ad in a newspaper. The man was so lazy that he took out a personal ad for a woman who was already pregnant? Many of the Norwegian jokes, as we call them, are really reflections of Swedish-Norwegian rivalry. Such jokes have been pulled across the border from Norway to Sweden for generations. The rural Norwegians have always admired and respected the more cultivated Swedes, and more cosmopolitan Swedes. The Swedes have looked down upon the Norwegians as being country-bumpkins. The Norwegians were so delighted when they discovered oil, and now could gloat about the Swedes somewhat.
Militarism and politics, of course, are not something that would be appropriate for the Germans from Russia, but if we tell jokes about the Germans, often these jokes are appropriate for some Germans but not for others. This is something that would not apply to the Germans from Russia. It's totally foreign to their nature, so even some German jokes, perhaps even Norwegian jokes do not apply to the entire group.
After World War II, a former diligent Nazi had been de-Nazified and the Americans put him in charge of de-Nazifying his area of Germany, and this was a big thing. Get out the Nazis, change them into democrats. As for the former Nazi, he stood in front of a large group of people and he said, "Today, we will de-Nazify twenty Germans, next year we will de- Nazify ten-thousand Germans, the year after that we will de-Nazify a million Germans, the year after that we will de- Nazify all of Germany, then we will de-Nazify England, then France and then the whole world." This of course is something that is an item of humor which you would not like for the Germans from Russia. Certainly, the Germans from Russia, as in Russia and the Volga, tended to be rather peaceful. They tended to want to mind their own business and not be too concerned about politics.
The great German author Goethe once said, "To possess a culture, one must acquire it." It is not enough to be German from Russia or Irish, it is not enough to be Norwegian, Native American, it must really be earned. In my case, my immigrant Norwegian father died before I was born. He was a very successful farmer in northern Iowa. Some said he worked himself to death. In our family there was little emphasis on Norwegian, but later becoming aware of that good distinction, I tried to learn Norwegian, and the culture of Norway. In learning, I learned about myself and my heritage. I'm probably the only one in my family who has. At the same time, I was learning German and gaining an appreciation for the culture and history of Germany.
As the child of an immigrant, myself, the Germans from Russia and the Norwegians somehow, especially in this transition period coming from the old world to the new world, I thought to be very appealing. While in Germany, I suggest this to you, visit the Stuttgart museums and Bessarabia house. They had mock-ups, as many of you know, of some of the buildings, some of cities, in fact, in Russia. You may find your own building or street in Russia in one of those mock-ups. I also happen to be a member of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society and the Sons of Norway. Intriguing as well along with the Batzen, the brick houses that characterize the early days in South Dakota, and the steel crosses which were put up from Canada to Argentina by Germans from Russia, you've seen pictures of those as well. They have a marvelous display of the crosses outside of the room. The Germans from Russia shared that characteristic with the Ukrainians and the Czechs.
But I'm talking now of the cross that Caroline Wolf showed me in a field, empty of virtually anything but waving grain, and buffalo berry trees. The place had been called Hoffnungstal, the Valley of Hope. The church was gone and in the middle of this trackless area, I saw a little cemetery. On one of the steel crosses, it was one of those made in Bismarck mass produced-some of the others were of course much more imaginative, they would simply screw on a name. And on that cross I saw Gottlieb Goetz. Maybe some of you are related to him. 1864-1911 all this in German of course. Born in Hoffnungstal, South Russia, died in Hoffnungstal, South Dakota, the Valley of Hope. 1864-1911. Think of that! Within a few generations, his father, his forefathers came to Russia, probably settled shortly after 1800. This man died about the same age as my father. He had this enormous experience in his memory of going from Germany all the way across to Russia to the Black Sea area, settling there under extreme deprivation. The early settlers had it very, very difficult. I said they got about 160 acres of free land. The Russian government also promised them livestock and other things which usually did not arrive. The first years were extraordinary difficult. But the Germans from Russia persevered, and I think, as a Norwegian, the word that describes the Germans from Russia is perseverance.
When he had the opportunity in the 1870's, probably in 1874, when the Russian government revoked many of the privileges that were granted to the Germans from Russia, he left. Came to the United States, all the way across Europe, maybe back through Germany again, maybe by sea, all the way across the ocean and having settled, got the land up and established villages and towns, so forth in Russia going to South Dakota, or Montana, or Colorado and doing it all over. My father came from Norway, fairly prosperous.
It's an interesting story, but compare this story of a basic immigrant with your stories, with Gottlieb Goetz. We see this grave stone and we wonder. “Who was he? What was he interested in? What is his story?” And it's marvelous about you and this organization that you're doing some research on the thousands of other people like him who have connections. I congratulate you and applaud you for your interest in your own heritage. Gottlieb Goetz was among the Germans from Russia. They had a sense of humor, they suffered, worked, and they worked a good deal, harder than most people. Also, they needed a greater sense of humor; perhaps despair and humor go together.
The Germans from Russia never despaired. They centered on their church and culture. But at the same time, the terrible things that have happened that many of us of course, in looking back upon our own past, we do not know how it felt. Just as most Americans don't know how it feels in comparison, for example, to my wife. They had hard work with a lot of discipline, there were very few frills. But with work, discipline and with perseverance comes also headwork, resourcefulness. The Germans from Russia, like the Schwabs, would go to a place that offered very little, and as in the proverbial story, go up the tree bear naked and come down fully clothed.
Another aspect for the Germans from Russia, which I admire from my Norwegian perspective, is a strong sense of needing a spiritual center. They remain rooted in their religion, in strong, loving families, often in families with extreme discipline. They retained their rooted ness in their tradition. Another aspect that I appreciate about the Germans from Russia is a love of the land-probably greater than that of many of the other groups. They also have a gratitude for the opportunities that this country offered them as immigrants, and a willingness to take advantage of these opportunities. Another aspect of the Germans from Russia that I appreciate, as a Norwegian and a member of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society is the friendliness, the helpfulness, the kindness and lack of pretension of so many Germans from Russia. I thank you very much for some of these lessons to a Norwegian.
I could tell you some aspects about the Norwegians likewise, and many of these aspects are the same as we find in the Germans from Russia. But I continue to have students in my classes who are Germans from Russia and I say, "Do you know anything about this? Do you know anything about your background?" They don't know. This isn't just the Germans from Russia. I mention the Germans from Russia especially because their story is such a fascinating one. I thank you very much for this opportunity to share a little bit in your heritage today. Thank you very much for your attentiveness.
I have a few song sheets that I brought along, and at the time that I was asked to speak. I was not aware that we would have so many beautiful sing-a-longs. I heard Professor Marzolf earlier with his sing-a-long. All of you got some of these sheets. Take them home with you if you like. Some of these are songs that my students expressly enjoy singing. Some of them I got from Joseph Height's Folk Songs of Our Forefathers, and I wonder if we might ask Professor Marzolf to lead us right now in a song or two of his choosing from the sheet. Would you be willing to do that?