Germans From Russia Preserve Their Past: Heritage
Society Will Move Into new Headquarters December 13, 2000
Tobin, Paulette. "Germans From Russia Preserve Their Past: Heritage Society Will Move Into new Headquarters December 13, 2000." Grand Forks Herald, 26 November 2000.
In a couple of weeks, the Germans from Russia Heritage Society
will move into its new headquarters in Bismarck, a reflection of
the interest Germans from Russia have in discovering their roots
and connecting with their rich heritage.
It wasn't long ago, however, when many Germans from Russia kept
quiet about who they were.
Because of Germany's role in World War I and World War II, there
was a time when anything German was branded as Nazi or evil. And
being a German from Russia could mean a double dose of ill will,
because Russia also became an enemy to America, said Janice Huber-Stangl,
a society board member who lives in Sterling, Va.
"It wasn't until the 1970s and even until the early 1990s
that I felt comfortable in saying my ethnic background was Germans
from Russia," Huber-Stangl said.
Today, however, in chapter meetings and conventions, through historical
groups, newsletters and Web sites, and from records still being
brought out of Russia, the Germans from Russia are learning more
and sharing more about themselves.
Founded in 1971, the Germans from Russia Heritage Society since
1981 had been headquartered in 2,000 square feet in a building in
Bismarck, said Rachel Schmidt, society office manager. It eventually
ran out of room to collect and preserve its historical documents,
and about two years ago its board began talking seriously about
looking for new space.
"We felt as leaders that if we did not make an effort to provide
resources and the space in which to store those resources, the society
would stagnate and possibly eventually die," said Ted Becker
of Williston, N.D., a board member and chair of the building committee.
Thanks to $250,000 from its members and a $500,000 donation from
Roger and Roberta Haas of Portland, Ore., the society broke ground
last summer for its new international center and home of record.
The new building is just south of Interstate 94 at Exit 157.
That the land and building are already paid for is a reflection
of the group's tradition of thriftiness and how its members feel
"We as German-Russians are going to make darn sure that sucker
is paid for when we build it," Becker said.
The new building, which has just under 6,000 square feet, was designed
by Ritterbush-Ellig-Hulsing architects of Bismarck in the manner
of the traditional long, low home, the "baurnhof" or farmyard
of the German villages in Russia.
"We tried to keep it traditional. Those buildings were very
utilitarian," Schmidt said. "Our building has two wings
with a middle connector, and there is a small courtyard."
One wing will be a library and research area. The center part will
have a reception area, work room and office, and another wing will
house inventory and the conference room. The courtyard will have
a plaque naming the building for August and Kathryn Schauer Haas,
the parents of Roger Haas. It also will have an iron cross, the
traditional grave marker for the Germans from Russia, and a walking
"Both represent us very strongly," Schmidt said. "We
believe in the cross, which is faith, and the plow, which represents
The Germans from Russia left Germany about 200 years ago to escape
wars, economic hardship and religious conflict. They settled in
south-central Russia, invited by Czarina Catherine the Great and
later by her grandson,Czar Alexander I, and were promised self-rule,
freedom from military service and other benefits. But by the late
1800s, Russia's leaders had forgotten their promises, and the Germans
began moving, this time to America.
Many of the society's members are the second and third generations
to live in America, and society members hope its new headquarters
will help it connect with the fourth generation, Becker said.
Huber-Stangl, who grew up at Bowdle, S.D., and co-authored Marienberg:
Fate of a Village, about Germans who stayed in Russia, said
past generations didn't always appreciate their heritage, either.
"There is an old saying that the grandson wants to know what
the grandfather wants to forget," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.