Interview with Michael M. Miller (MM)
Conducted by Rich Mattern (RM)
26 January 1996, KDSU Radio, North Dakota State University, Fargo
Transcribed by Joyce Reinhardt Larson
Edited and proofread by Jane D. Trygg
RM: First of all, Mike, can you
tell us some of the areas that you traveled?
MM: Yes, in early December and
early January I was in Germany and then traveled on to Odessa,
Ukraine. The primary purpose for going to Odessa was to review
plans for the university sponsored tours, "Journey to the
Homeland: Germany and Ukraine." So I spent a good amount
of time in Odessa and also in the villages. In fact, I stayed
in one of the former German villages that would be of much interest
to people in the Dakotas.
RM: I know that you are on a e
mail listing service, and I read electronic mail mentioning that
in some of those places in Odessa where many of the people face
some tough times there this winter. Can you tell us further details
about their situation?
MM: Oh yes, it was very difficult
for me to see what was happening in Odessa, especially in our
former German villages. While I was in Odessa between December
13 to December 21, there was developing a major influenza outbreak
throughout the schools. In fact, they closed for the Christmas
holidays two days early because of this epidemic which was then
spreading into the rural villages. Part of the reason was due
to lack of heat. There was absolutely no heat at the University
of Odessa, where the students were taking their final semester
exams. It was especially difficult for me to see in the rural
villages the lack of heat in the schools where I visited.
In fact, because of this lack of energy which means
coal shortages and rationed electricity, all the schools in southern
Ukraine with all their universities are closed until the first
of March when climate becomes warmer there.
RM: So the living conditions don't
meet basic comfort standards. I imagine that they don't have many
of the conveniences that we have over here in North America.
MM: Well, I think they are content
with their life. They smile, and it was before Christmas holidays.
One of their greatest concerns is that they want to be warm, so
in public buildings where there is not a need for heat all the
time, they conserve with no energy. That's, of course, a concern
especially for schools or public buildings. I was in the Odessa
State Archives where we were sitting in a meeting with no heat.
My personal comfort became cold after awhile. While I was sending
electronic mail messages back to North Dakota and throughout the
world, I was actually sitting at the computer center at Odessa
State University where the room temperature was no more than 45
or 50 degrees. So it's very difficult to work under such conditions.
I felt very badly for the young children in the
classroom, especially when I visited the village of Sofiental
where these children were wearing their coats and their gloves,
while trying to write and complete their school work.
RM: Okay, Mike, I know when you
were in Germany there, you met with some new immigrants from the
former Soviet Union. Are those people, some being our German Russians,
allowed to leave the Soviet Union freely now?
MM: Well, it's becoming more and
more difficult for an ethnic German to immigrate from the former
Soviet Union, especially from Kazakhstan and Siberia back to Germany.
Because many of these "spatt aussiedler," as they are
called, have married another ethnic group, for instance, a Russian
or Ukrainian. So they are having more difficulty to be recognized
as ethnic Germans. Immigration rates today during 1996 are still
uncertain, but 1995 listed an average of 15,000 ethnic Germans
who have immigrated back from the former Soviet Union to Germany.
This large influx of ethnic German immigration is
creating many problems and many concerns for smooth assimilation
German society, as they remain clustered in the same localities
or the same villages. The primary language for most of these people
is Russian because they were forbidden to speak German. Those
parents and grandparents who kept their traditional German language
in their home, usually those people that immigrated in the early
1990s, are far better off today in Germany because they know German
basics and have learned modern German more quickly. Plus, they
don't have as much of a noticeable accent as those that are arriving
RM: Mike, will some of those immigrants,
perhaps someday, settle up in North Dakota? Perhaps there are
some who have relatives in North America that may want to come
here. Have you heard of that possibility?
MM: Well, there have been frequent
cases where family persons are coming to the United States and
to North Dakota to visit relatives, but few are choosing to actually
immigrate to North Dakota. We are quite hopeful for Paul Krüger,
who was a nephew to former congressman Otto Krueger, which as
many relatives in the Fessenden, North Dakota, area and throughout
the United States, who immigrated back to Germany near Bonn from
We are waiting for Paul Krüger's spring visit
to the United States and North Dakota. His dream is to visit the
homestead and the farm near Fessenden where the Krueger family
homestead. He just returned from Siberia with all of his children
returning with him to Germany. The Krueger family in America are
sponsoring Mr. and Mrs. Paul Krüger travel from Germany to
the United States. During his visit here, we can talk with him
further about writing his own autobiography, which he is currently
preparing for us to publish.
RM: That autobiography sounds exciting.
During June of this year, forgive me if I mispronounce this, Bundestreffen
will be held in Stuttgart. Can you tell us more what your involvement
MM: Right, the Bundestreffen is
a large gathering of Germans from Russia which is held every two
years in Stuttgart, Germany. It has grown dramatically in the
last four years, simply because of the vast numbers of Germans
coming back from the former Soviet Union.
Our interests in attending the Bundestreffen is
to find people who may have relatives in the United States or
North Dakota and also to identify what their experiences have
been, Perhaps some will have genealogical material, some will
be willing to share their pictures and photographs with us, but
also to help them find their American relatives. They expect close
to 70,000 people on June 22, 1996, plus our two tour groups of
almost 100 members will be attending this event. We are hosting
what is called, The American House for the Black Sea Germans.
RM: Okay, you are speaking of a
hundred member tour. Is that tour group now full or are there
MM: No, vacancies! I have to inform
listeners that both tour groups, tour group I and tour group II,
each group that is traveling to Odessa and to Germany, are filled
at this time. We are taking requests for a wait list for future
tours, as we've already begun plans for a tour in late May or
early June of 1997. Perhaps two tours may result, because we have
been impressed with the interested response to these tours by
Dakotans and especially from the West Coast, California.
We have many future requests, looking quite promising
that we will continue offering these tours. Our present goal is
to make the tour experience in June of 1996 as memorable and historic
as possible for all of us traveling to Europe, so we can plan
for future tours.
RM: I notice we are quickly running
out of time, Mike. One last question, is there more of an interest
today by North Dakotans or, as you have mentioned, by those German
Russians in the West Coast for finding their ancestry?
MM: Well, there is a greater interest
than ever because of the records that are coming out of the former
Soviet Union, thanks to the Mormon church genealogical archives
in Salt Lake City. These archives are being indexed and are available
locally as microfilm throughout American family history centers
located in Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck, and Minot.
Those previously unavailable records are exciting
for researchers who pondered for so many years, "I'm at a
stop gap, I can't continue my family research." Now they
are uncovering many materials. I thank the Lord every day for
what I saw in the Odessa archives in December, 1995, because I
recognized other research materials which are deteriorating quickly,
but need to be micro- filmed and made available throughout the
world. So this is a genealogical records project which I find
valuable for the German Russian community throughout North America.
RM: Again, this is a topic which
we could talk at length about for a couple hours, but we are out
of time. Mike, I'd like to thank you. Our guest this morning is
Mike Miller, Germans from Russia Bibliographer for the North Dakota
State University Libraries. Thanks for being with us, Mike.
MM: Thanks so much. Bye Bye.