KTWU Program Follows Germans from Russia to Kansas
Blankenship, Bill. "KTWU Program Follows Germans from Russia to Kansas." Capital-Journal, 8 May, 1999.
A people who first broke the sod of the Russian steppes, then
repeated the task on the North American plains will be celebrated
in a documentary KTWU-TV will air Sunday and Monday.
"Germans from Russia: Children of the Steppe, Children of
the Prairie" will be shown on KTWU Channel 11 at 1 p.m. Sunday
and repeated at 8 p.m. Monday.
"Germans from Russia" was a four-year project by the
North Dakota State University Libraries and Prairie Public Broadcasting,
which is based in Fargo, N.D.
Nearly one-third of North Dakotans are descended from Germans from
Russia, an ethnic group that also settled in Kansas and whose culture
and heritage is celebrated across the state, including Topeka.
So how did these German-speaking pioneers get to the High Plains
by way of Russia?
The hourlong film explains it started when a German princess, Catherine,
later called "the Great," ascended the Russian imperial
throne in 1762. Seeking to populate the Russian interior, she offered
settlers free land, local self-rule, religious tolerance and freedom
from military service.
Thousands of German colonists -- Moravians, Catholics, Lutherans,
Mennonites and others -- migrated to Russia -- and spent the next
hundred years building homes and communities in Ukraine and along
the Volga River.
In the early 1870s, Czar Alexander II began a policy of "Russianization"
in which there was to be "one czar, one church and one people."
Unwilling to abandon their culture, more than 300,000 of the Germans
in Russia emigrated to North America.
The Public Prairie filmmakers researched, filmed and interviewed
in Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, German, Alsace in France, California,
Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota.
They very well could have traveled throughout Kansas from the Volga
German-settled community of Catherine in northwest Kansas to Topeka,
where the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the Oakland neighborhood
will again celebrate its Germans from Russia heritage June 5-6 at
the annual Germanfest.
The film's writer says he wanted the documentary to show the complex
-- even contradictory -- nature of Germans from Russia: a practical
people who sought eternity; a people rooted to the land who were
also wanderers; progressive, yet traditional; who wanted to forget,
yet always remembered.
More information about the documentary, including how to order
a videocassette copy of it, can be obtained by calling (800) 359-6900
or at the Prairie Public Web site at www.prairiepublic.org.
Topeka also has a chapter of the American Historical Society of
the Germans from Russia, which meets every other month in the basement
of St. Joseph's Church, 229 S.W. Van Buren. For information about
that group, call its president, Frank Jacobs, at 246-2821, or check
out its Web site: www.ahsgr.org/ksnorthe.html.
Reprinted with permission of The Topeka Capital-Journal.