Emil Knapp tickles the keys of his
accordion while Marlene Reich strums her guitar during the potluck
picnic for the Lodi Chapter of the American Historical Society
of Germans from Russia on August 10 at Micke Grove Park.
Many Lodians Share Heritage With Society of Germans
Snyder, Jennifer. "Many Lodians Share Heritage With Society of Germans From Russia." Lodi News Sentinel, 18 August 2004, 6.
German heritage rang through the tunes of the accordion
to those gathered at the potluck picnic for the Lodi chapter of
the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia.
The chapter met August 10 at Micke Grove Park. The group is for
anyone who is interested in the history of Germans from Russia.
And many people in the Lodi area could be interested, as several
have an ancestry of Germans who emigrated to Russia. Out of those
ancestors, several made a stop in the Dakotas before moving to Lodi
for richer farmland and a warmer climate, Pastor Herbert Schaal,
chaplain of the group, explained.
Lodi's chapter started in 1972, and there are currently more than
60 members. Chapter members and guests gathered around the picnic
tables with plates of ethnic food including bratwurst, sauerkraut
and stuffed cabbage rolls. They shared stories about themselves,
where their families came from and what they've discovered in their
genealogy - all goals of the society. Emil Knapp, of Lodi, well-known
in German music circles, provided accordion music, and Marlene Reich
accompanied him on the guitar.
Every member has a different story to tell, but each is unified
by their similar ancestry and their desire to know more.
So how did they go from Germany, to Russia, to the Dakotas (or
other states) and end up in Lodi?
Two main groups of Germans went to Russia at different times. The
Volga Germans left Germany in the late 1760s, and the Black Sea
Germans went to Russia in the early 1800s.
One reason Germans left was because of an invitation by Catherine
the Great to settle in sparsely populated lands by the Volga River.
A second wave of immigrants went to southern Ukraine near the Black
Sea. German colonists eventually went west because of social unrest
in Russia, according to group history.
When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, which
offered 160 acres of land to immigrants, according to history by
Walter Kiesz, a former president of the club, German families from
the Black Sea area settled in Dakota Territory. They continued to
immigrate up to World War I. Many of the Germans from Russia ended
up taking a train to the Dakotas from New York. Wilheim Hieb, who
lived in the Dakotas, traveled to the San Joaquin Valley in 1896,
according to Kiesz. He was called "Columbus" because he
led the way for the Germans from Russia to move from the Dakotas
- for a warmer winter and better farmland. Many familiar family
names - Hieb, Mettler, Gottlieb, Schmiedt, Preszler, Baumbach, Bechtold
and Kirschenmann - settled in the Lodi area to become farmers. While
about 25 percent of the population in North Dakota were of German-Russian
decent, the estimate of the Lodi-area population in 1933 was 50
percent, according to Kiesz's history.
"Lodi was the promised land - the mecca," Schaal said.
The American Historical Society of Germans from Russia was founded
in 1968. The goal of the group is for individuals and families to
research their past and find out their ancestry. Some members of
the group have even found that, in a roundabout way, they are related
to one another. The society is now international, with chapters
in Canada and other countries including Argentina, where Schaal
found people whose ancestry included Germans from Russia, and he
started a chapter there.
Lodi's chapter meets six times a year. Meetings usually include
a history lesson, presentations about culture and a genealogy session.
They meet for a German (and English) worship service in December
and a picnic in the summer.
Emil Knapp provided music for the evening with his accordion. Accompaniment
was done by Marlene Reich and Leon Adamsen, on the guitar. Ken Isaak,
membership chairperson, said Knapp travels all over and is one of
the few Lodians who plays accordion.
"Emil is well-known in German music circles," Isaak said.
Schaal said the German-Russian heritage has influenced the Lodi
area in many ways. He helped name Heritage School, which was almost
named Columbus Hieb School, as suggested by a woman of German-Russian
ancestry. He helped do a survey of homes in the area to see what
the native language was and found out 17 different languages were
spoken. Columbus Hieb would be too narrow a name. He suggested the
name Heritage, and it was used. Still, members say that Columbus
Hieb has been suggested for other buildings or landmarks -maybe
someday it will stick.
Stories to tell
Eunice Friederich has been a member since 1979. She joined after
trekking to South Dakota and New Mexico to do genealogy. She started
by going to a small town in South Dakota and walking in a store
that bore her family name. She was told to go to the library, and
she found out she needed to travel to New Mexico; there a person
who helped her told her to join the society so she could get more
help. In the society, she has gone to conventions and spent some
time at the LDS library.
Friederich said when she was a child, she was teased about being
German and was associated with Attila the Hun, even though the Huns
were not part of her ancestry.
Other young Germans in the 1940s also had difficulty with teasing
and were called Nazis, even though their ancestors immigrated to
Russia and to the United States long before the rise of Adolf Hitler
"Americans were often blinded with propaganda," Schaal
said, adding that many people rejected their ancestry because of
hatred of the Germans and Russians.
Pauline Litfin joined the group in 1984 after giving a presentation
to the group about her life - something that she had tried to forget
for 30 years.
"It was hard for me," she said. "At first I was
afraid to talk about it."
She was born in Ukraine, southern Russia. Her family left Russia
during World War II and resettled in Poland. Then they took a month-long
wagon ride to Germany, where her family worked on a farm for seven
years. When the United States was open to refugees, her father's
uncle, living in Kansas, wrote and asked if they would like to move
to the United States; he would sponsor them. They lived on the Kansas
farm for a year and then decided to move to Lodi, where Litfin's
father had cousins who were grape growers. Though Litfin was a fifth
generation born in Russia, she had German ancestors.
Members of the group have many stories to share, and their common
ancestry brings them together.
The next meeting of the Lodi chapter is Oct. 10. For more information,
call Ken Isaak at 368-2334.
Reprinted with permission of the Lodi News-Sentinel,