The Alsatians from Alsace, France

Germans from Russia Heritage Society Convention
Bismarck, North Dakota, 1989

Presentation by Jean Schweitzer, Strasburg, France

Transcription by Joy Hass Stefan
Edited and Proofread by Linda M. Haag

CL: My name is Carl Lacher. I’m from Roseville, MN. I was born down by Ashley, ND, and was a native of this state for 40 years before I moved out of the state following my job. I am German-Russian like most of you. My origin is, my name is Lacher, it comes from [? 006], Russia. My Dupchar [? 007] is my family line from Mannheim, Russia, Schweitzer from Strassburg, Russia, and Schlosser from Strassburg, Russia. All these people that went from Alsace to Russia trace back to Alsace, near Strasbourg, Alsace, which is about 40 miles from where they all settled and immigrated.

I have been studying genealogy for almost 25 years. I wrote a genealogy book in 1972 which I put in the library here at the GRHS, and I wrote a second one which recently has been finished. It will be seen the first time here at the convention. Many of my relatives have pre-ordered my books, but have not seen them, so they will go into the display room sometime tomorrow. When I finish my vacation I’ll send them their copies.

In 1988 I went to Alsace to do research for my book. There I had some difficulty in the archives because of reading in German. I met a man who was a professor at the University of Strasbourg, who was very, very helpful to me. He invited me to his home and served me an elegant dinner, along with my wife. I developed a rapport with him. Almost 50 documents were obtained which he translated for me, and I thought I owed him an invitation to the United States. This I did. I just finished a 4,000 mile trip showing him the Midwest and part of the West. So if he [? 28] out while he’s talking to you, you’ll know why. We just finished last night at 6:00. We were in the Black Hills and Yellowstone, and you know how hot it was the last two weeks. We’re also here for your beautiful Centennial in North Dakota. It was also very hot, as we all know, but well worth it. It was a very interesting Centennial.

The man I’m going to talk about is Professor Jean Schweitzer. Many of you that have done research know the name. He was born in Niederlauterbach, Alsace, which is approximately 40 miles from Strasbourg, France. They do everything in kilometers over there, but I’m more in miles and eyeballing it while I was there. He’s married to Germaine Reis. We have many people by that name in North Dakota. She is a retired employee of the French railroad.

At this time I’d like to have Germaine stand up so you can see her and talk to her tomorrow. You can speak Alsatian with her. [applause]. They have one son, I believe, and two grandchildren, right? Okay. Professor Schweitzer is a unique person in my opinion. He has several degrees in German, German-French, and in Political Science. His employment, as far as I understand it, has been mostly teaching German. He was at Grenoble, which is the capital of the French Alps, a very beautiful part of Europe. He taught there. More recently for the last 15 years before he retired last year, he taught at the University of Strasbourg half time. He also taught half time at a high school in Strasbourg, teaching German languages. He’s now retired and tells me that he really enjoys it. It is my hope to do that next year, and I think I’ll take his advice. His interests are family and place names. That became very evident as I took him down through the German-Russian settlements here. I took him to the cemeteries, and he must have shot 15 rolls of film. He has studied genealogy, local history, and particularly the Alsatian immigrants to the Black Sea. He knows an awful lot about those people that went from Alsace to Russia. He has had publications in German and French, done on local history, genealogy, Alsatian place names and surnames. Of course he collaborated with the late Professor Height and Dr. Stumpp in much of their work. In particularly you’ll see him with the big thick Greenburg work, Emigration to Russia, with all the names, you’ll find his name in there. He helped with that project. Like I said, he has many slides and we have a lot to show, so I’ll stop speaking and give him the microphone.

JS: Thank you for that nice introduction. [? 74 – 75], while they’re instigators of our presence in the States, and namely here in Bismarck. As he told you, when they were in Europe last year, they kindly invited us to spend the next holidays with them in the States. They are very busy with us. We mention also Carl’s brother Piers and his wife, June, who gave us very nice hospitality here in this month, as well as our friend, Mike Miller, here present. While attending this convention, it is a highlight of our exciting trip to the States. Thank you very much. We hope to [? 88] our families, and publicly I wish to express them both with our enormous thanks.

All of you are bringing over the best messages from Alsace, especially to those whose ancestors came from this area. Before beginning to talk about Alsace, I wish to record the memory of two late friends of mine, and of many of yours, friends I had the opportunity to work with for long years. You already know them, or if you know them at least by their names, the late American Professor Height and the German Dr. Stumpp. [? 98 – 100] I started my first words over 60 years ago in Franconian dialect from French and German school, with my father. I speak both languages fluently. Later on I studied English too, but only King’s English. American English is just a bit different, I think. I only regret not having more opportunities at home to polish my third language. I beg your pardon if I make some mistakes in pronouncing or confusing some words, or sometimes fumbling for my words. But I hope you can understand the session, maybe speaking American with the accent of your ancestors.

Now, let’s begin with [? 114]. Many of you have already been in Alsace. I don’t know. You easily imagine our important time I cannot give, but the galloping presentation of our little country. In the first time [? 119] we will get an outline of its history before evoking in the third part some aspects of Alsatian life and traditions with many slides.

Alsace is the name of an Eastern Province of France. It is small in size, about 3,200 square miles. Here you see Alsace on this map of Western Europe. Today it is a part of France. In some books I found that Alsace was in Germany. It’s sometimes in Germany, sometimes in France. It depends on the historical period. It stretches for almost 200 kilometers. 1 kilometer is about 62 miles, that is about 125 miles in length; along to the western bank of the Rhine, here, with Switzerland to the south, down here to the Palatinate frontier. All this length of river officially separates France from Germany today. It is about 125 miles long and about 25 miles wide, varying to about 45 miles at its widest point. This point is in northern Alsace. [? 151] consists of a mountain range called the Vosges in France, Vogesen in German, the northern extension being the [? 153]. Palatinate, the highest peak is situated in the south, 1400 meters high, about 5600 inches [feet?]. In Northern Alsace, the emigration area, the mountains are by far not so high, about 2600 miles.

In the Middle Ages many castles had been built on the top of the mountains. Some of them have been blown up when the French kingdom took possession of Alsace after the Thirty Years War. Now let’s examine the country from the west to the east. After the mountains, the Vosges Mountains, there is an area of hills with orchards and many famous vineyards chiefly in the south, for instance Rieslings, [? 168]. This is the German pronunciation; I don’t know how you say it. From the town a road and fertile valley and the plains extend to the Rhine. The chief river flowing through Alsace is called the Ir, which is near Strasbourg, which flows into the Rhine. The [? 174] indicates the chief occupation of the countrymen and the main crops being grain, potatoes, tobacco, and hops.

The villages changed very, very little during the last centuries, but very, very much the past 50 years. Today the population is concentrated around three large cities containing 1/3 of its inhabitants. Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace and a few words about [? 185] Administrative Divisions. Alsace, as I told you, is the name of a province. This is very important, because the provinces were abolished by the French Revolution. Nowadays, Alsace is divided into what we call départements. But beware of the meaning of the word département. It has not the same meaning as in English. Alsace is divided into two departments called Bas-Rhin from here to the north, to the capital of Strassburg, and Haut-Rhin the capital of Colmar. It’s very important to the genealogist because many genealogists don’t know if they have to write to Strasbourg or to Colmar.

The archives… we have archives in Strasbourg, and the other archives are in Colmar; that means the Upper Rhine and the Lower Rhine. In German you say Unter Alsace and Ober Alsace. Each department is administered by a Prefect. It’s a governmental official named by – sent from Paris. Remember, France is a highly centralized state. There is a Prefect in Strasbourg and there is another one in Colmar. The area comprises about 3200 square miles, the Banna 1850 and the other 1350. The population is 1,500,000. Each department is divided into arrondissements. You say kreis in German, or district in English. And each arrondissement is administered also by an official. A lower official coming from Paris and rarely acquainted with the local problems he has to solve. They stay only a couple of years and then are moved. Nearly all Alsatians came from the utmost northern district of Wissembourg, Outre-Forêt in French.

Now let’s come to a short history, the second part. Because of its geographical situation, Alsace has always been a crossing country. So many invaders come and go during the 2,500 years of its known history and are very poorly informed about the primitive people dwelling along the Rhine River. For many centuries, Alsace was inhabited by Serbs, who were the first invaders coming from the center of Europe about 1,500 years before Christ. Another step in our history, in 58 B.C., Alsace became dominated by the Roman Empire. Roman occupation lasted about 500 years. The Romans were all backed by German tribes, the new conquerors were a part of the Alamanni tribe. This is very important. At the end of the 5th century the Alsatians were conquered by another German tribe coming from the northeast and called the Franks. It is of the utmost importance for northern Alsace where the immigrants to Russia came from, because it will explain the later characteristic features of this area.

German tribes respected, more or less, the ancient Celtic borders, and in northern Alsace there was a kind of a [? 251] known as the junction corner of three Celtic tribes. Thus, Alsace, as far as a [? 254] became [?255]. The northern part became Franconian, and when this area began to be Christianized about the 6th and 7th centuries, the primitive dioceses took into consideration these limits. Therefore, the little brogue, Seltzbach, is still called today, the linguistic border between the [? 265] and the old Alsace in the extreme north, which is the district of Wissembourg. Here you see the [? 267] of Wissembourg during the Middle Ages. The [? 269] belonged to the diocese of Speyer which is in the north, and did not belong to Strassburg, which is in the south. It is very, very important that in the 6th or 7th century when Alsace was Christianized. You can still visit today some Franconian, famous Romanesque churches in northern Alsace.

I must summarize the next centuries; the great upheaval that took place in religious matters at the time of the Reformation in the beginning of the 16th century. Many little areas became protestant in accordance with the Latin motto of that time, Cujus Regio, Ejus Religio. It means such a religion – this means the subjets, had to adopt the religion of his lord. [? 284] played at that time a little role in the Lutheran Movement, because it became protestant for over 400 years. The people of Alsace revolted and burned many of the castles and monasteries. The uprising is referred to as the Peasant's War. In all of Alsace, the most powerful princes, the Earl of Fleckenstein and Count of Haguenau converted also to the Lutheran religion, and all their subjects were required to do likewise. The heaviest burden was paid during the Thirty Years War, lasting from 1618 to 1648. Our borders reached in between the German Empire and the vigorously expanding kingdom of France suffered heavily from the fighting. The war was ended by the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Osnabrück by which Alsace was annexed to the French kingdom. From now on Alsace was open to French influence.

(1871 and French) :
In the 18th century was a succession of wars during which our region was in the front line. The most important event in the 19th century in Alsace was the war of 1870. France had been defeated and Alsace went back to Germany. This was the period when our grandparents were born. They had to change 5 times their nationality in their life. They were French before1870; they became German in 1871, French in 1919, German in 1940, and French once more in 1945. These alternate periods explain why most Alsatians can speak French and German in addition to their own German dialect, which is Allemannic for about 90 percent of the population; Franconian, in the extreme northern part of Alsace, in the Wissembourg district bordering with Palatinate. Therefore all the [? 324] Germans speak the Franconian dialect, not the true Allemannic Alsatian dialect.

After the geographical and historical presentation you see the Alsatian people are something like wanderers between two nations or maybe even two worlds. Sometimes this leads up to a tragic event symbolized by the War Memorial in Strasbourg. We’ll see a slide later on – a mother and her two sons having fought each of them impending armies and foreign under opposite uniforms. Yet, Alsatians are a joyful people. They like their homes and flowers, their houses we’ll see in the third part, in northern Alsace with its life and tradition.

I think we can begin the slides. This is the center of Wissembourg from where most Alsatian immigrants came. The main city, I told you, is Wissembourg, situated here. It is a tourist mecca. It is in the northern Vosges Mountains, from where the Platt families and [? 350] families originated. This is a map of northern Alsace, the Wissembourg district after the Thirty Years War which was in 1648. You see the different… for instance this part in red belonged to the Bishop of Speyer, therefore these people remained Catholic during the Reformation period. The Fleckenstein, you see in the green, for instance, all this belonged to the Fleckenstein, and the Fleckenstein obliged that their people become Lutheran.

This is a political map of old Alsace after the year 1648. It’s very, very complicated. There were many, many overlords here. This is something more present. The Maginot Line, the French line, and on the German side, you have the Seigfried line. The Maginot Line was built up when I was a very little boy, about the years 1930 to 1935. This is the big fortress of the Maginot Line at the entrance. It’s about 3 kilometers inside and about 30 meters underground. There is a train inside. This is the same fortress – I don’t know if you can find it in the front of the Maginot Line. [? 385] about 5 meters underground, anti-tank, there were about 10 to 20 rooms.

This is a monument I talked about in Strasbourg, a mother with her two sons, one in the French army and the other in the German army.

This is the Alsatian landscape. Our villages and our towns are clustered around the church. We have no room like here in the United States. We are short of room. This is an old view of Wissembourg, dating from the Middle Ages. I put it in, but you can also recognize today the [? 406], the abbey territory. What you see in the background is already German. This is an abbey church of Wissembourg – the old Romanesque tower only remains from that period. Just in front of the abbey church of Wissembourg. You can see our altars are trussed together. This is an old building in Wissembourg from the monastery, an old half-timbered house in Wissembourg dating from the 15th, 16th century. A house in [? 427] was a background for a very famous film they made before the war. This is a little chapel west of Wissembourg about 4 miles, just about 200 meters from the German border, a pilgrimage church. The Franciscans are here. This is a church of [?437] Romanesque church. See Wissembourg was founded in the 7th century, where as [? 439 – Agginstadt?] was an old Roman, there was an old Roman castle here. This church is older than that. This is [? 443] is a little room which is considered as a frontier.

Here is what we call a [? 446]. The women came once a month to wash their big linens. This is what we call the Wine Road just after the border in Wissembourg. There begins the German Wine Road. This is a gate indicating the beginning of the German Winestrassen, 500 meters from the border in Wissembourg. This is a wine press here near the gate.

I took this picture because maybe some people were in Russia in Seltz. This is the French… the village of Seltz. There are many roads like [? 469]. I’ve never seen one here in the States at all. This is a very interesting church, a [? 474] church near Seltz. It’s the only church in Alsace in half-timbered Alsatian style, the only church of this style.

This is near Seltz, what we call Merkwiller-Pechelbronn. There is a little museum there now, before WWII there was a big oilfield here. It was bombed during the war, and at the end of the war in 1944 by American fortresses.

These are road signs. Some people emigrated to Russia came from [? 494-498].

I told you that the Alsatians like to, flower their houses; here you see a well. This was a common well. When I was young every farm had its own well. Now we have running water. But the farmers in the 19th century had common wells on the street sides, like here.

These pictures are all from the Wissembourg district, not from the other parts of Alsace. Here is the entrance of [? 517].

Now we go to another part of Alsace. This is what the scientists call a [? 521]. A [?] was a stone, a gravestone of the Celtic period, over 2500 years ago.

This is an old view of Seltz. The old church was destroyed during the last war. Because many steeples were used also as observatories and therefore they were bombed by the enemy. We see the nice new church now. This is [? 534]. This is a schoolhouse in Seltz where I spent one year when I was born in 1925, which I do not remember. Then we moved a year later.

This was a very old inn in Seltz, for the stagecoaches in former times. This is a new church in Seltz. At the entrance here is my wife and granddaughter. This is the entrance here.

Seltz was founded by the Romans under the name "Saletio" in 12 B.C., before there was a celtic village.

This is a bridge in Seltz. You can cross on a ferry. This is French port that makes a shuttle between France and Germany. You see, the wood here is German. Here you see the ferry crossing. You can cross with your car, but in peak times you must wait half an hour, maybe an hour. It is very nice country here. This is a reservation for wild animals.

This is [? 579]. Several families that immigrated to Russia came from [? 580]. It is a curious village. It is a frontier. Before World War II Seltz inhabitants were all Alsatian. A few German civil servants and policeman lived in Seltz during German annexations between 1871 and 1918, and 1940 and 1944. Now people in Seltz (3.200 inhabitants) are from Alsace, from the rest of France (or both), from all over the world and from Germany.

[End of taping on Side A – 590. Begin side B here]

[Side B recording begins at 079]

… the chapel of a church in Heidelberg. The Geisingers boys escaped from here. It’s the Hyde family. The church on the side… it is a little small village, one of the smallest in this area. This is the church at Seigen [? 83]. The Weimar came from Seigen. This is the church at [? 85].

We have two villages in northern Alsace which produce pottery. This is [? 087] and the other one is [? 088]. It is very nice pottery.

This is a churchyard in [? 090]. About 30 families emigrated from here to Russia.

This is an old picture. This was a wedding at the beginning of the century, in old dresses you see.

This is the parish house. This is a community hall by the parish house. This is a restaurant today. They are very nice people.

These are costumes of your ancestors. They were worn also at the beginning of the century, until 1950, about.

Most of the immigrants, you see Alsatian houses. Some are high and other ones are smaller. Most immigrants from Alsace would have come from smaller houses. This is a gate from a typical Alsatian farm. This is the little village of [? 110]. There you see the protestant church. This is one of the most beautiful in Ober? [? 114]. Here’s another picture like this one. The [? 115] family are Huguenots. See you have a French name, a call name. It was a very nice farm in former times.

This is not in Alsatian style, but in modern style. These pictures are from Salem. This is a farm near [? 122]. This is the town hall of [? 125] and a Catholic church at [? 126]. It was a very old church, dedicated to St. Martin. All churches dedicated to St. Martin are old churches in Alsace.

This is a churchyard, a very interesting picture. You can see all the inscriptions that are on the graves here. This is a Friezon [? 134]. Friezon [?] is a very popular name here, a typical name. This is a church [? 136]. The Weimar came – one part of the Weimar came from here. My father was a school teacher here for nearly 25 years. This is the parish house there. This is a schoolhouse where I lived with my parents when I was 10 years old, and then my father sent me to boarding school. I was sent to boarding school very young.

This is an abandoned house in [? 145 – Auerbach?], the parish where my parents were born. It was the semi-centennial of this church last year, but there was another one from the Middle Ages which was destroyed in the 18th century.

This is a new house in [? 152], where my grandparents of my wife lived. This is a shrine in [? 155]. There are many shrines. This is another Alsatian style house where my wife was born. This is the entrance of [? 159], a nearby village of [? 159]. About 20 families emigrated from here to Russia. This is a church at [? 161]. This is a crucifix about 8 or 9 miles from Wissembourg. Wissembourg is in the west.

There is dramatic fall in the population of our villages. This village, the village of my parents; this village had 1760 people in about 1875; then after the immigration to Russia and the immigration to America, there are only 600 inhabitants here today.

[? 183…] you go down to the kitchen, and these two rooms are for the grandparents. [? 189…]. There is a little room for the grandparents, the outhouse is here, for the pigs, the threshing machine here, [? 195], the halters, the pigs, the oven, my grandparents spent … it was a kitchen in summertime. My grandfather was a big farmer. He had a grand castle. Not everybody had a grand castle. The grand castle was a little distillery. [laughter]. They made schnapps. They made schnapps for half the village. But I have never seen him drunk. I didn’t know him. He died when he was 45 years old. He was mayor of the village. He died in a car accident, in the WWI, in 1915. I was born 10 years later.

This is the furniture. Not every Alsatian house had Alsatian furniture. This is a rather wealthy family with a Armchair, and so on. This is a well. This is the outer part of the oven. The oven was not completely inside the house. We have many pictures of Alsatian costumes. These are the costumes of the Wissembourg region. The costumes of the young girls were brighter than the costumes of the older people. The wife’s costumes were generally darker.

This is a picture of my family. This was my grandfather when he was 5 years old. He was born in 1870. This picture dates from about 1874. This was his parents and this was his grandfather. This was his older sister. She was blind.

This is the costume of the region, Wissembourg District. This is typical of [? 241] east of Wissembourg. My aunt wore this dress. It is a typical dress of the Alsatian farmer at the beginning of the century until 1950. [? 246-248]. It is around the region of Salzburg. [? 253…]. A grandfather with his grandsons, you see. This is a costume – this picture was taken about 1936. These are costumes of the Lauderbach, which were at last year’s the bicentennial.

These two girls were with us, remember, at the airport. Here are other dresses. This was a very famous painter. His name was Hoffmann. This is in the Wissembourg area. This was an older one. I cannot remember where this was taken; also from Wissembourg. This is the costume of the Lauderbach.

This was a parade in Ober[? 277]. It is very famous for costumes. This is a wedding. The bride and the bridegroom… you can see the protestant church in the background. This is a parade. This is a, I don’t know what you say, when a lady was just married, the bride was bringing her furniture. [dowry] These are wooden boxes. They brought the swine to her husband. There was only one husband in the village for several swine. [laughter]

This is a [? 294]. Maybe you know for what it is used? When they killed the pig, they had to boil it a little. I don’t know whether you know this tradition, they call it a [? 299]. When a child was baptized in Alsace, it was part of Alsace. Godfather and godmother gave him a sheet, maybe the first times they were written, then colored. They were handmade because [? 305]. They are very, very rare because when the person was baptized and the person died, they put the [? 308] into the coffin. There are only a few left. It was a printed [? 310]. This was the [? 311] of my grandfather. My father, he was born in 1868, and when he died, my father couldn’t put it in the coffin because he was cremated. It was during the war. My grandfather died in 1939 and he was buried in southern France. And my father wanted to get a souvenir from him.

See, this is the frame of the [? 320]. I made this for a family meeting. This is another kind of [? 322]. It’s printed, this one, but colored by hand.

These are the kinds of pictures people put on the walls of their houses to be protected. You know what this is? Can you explain… when you have a calamity, for instance, illness in the family, you make a… what do you say? You pray or you provide something… a promise, yes a promise… and this is in a thing to the Virgin, for instance. You see, the child was ill, and when the child recovered the family put a picture into the church.

This is a dialect map. I told you that the Wissembourg [? 346] speaks Franconian, whereas in the other part of Alsace they speak [? 348]. For instance, in my German you say “heis.” In Franconian, you say “heisto”. The Alsatians say “heist.” The Franconian says, for instance, [? 355-379 – several pronunciation differences between the regions]. We have started a very big work on Alsatian dialect. It’s what we call [? 381] in several [? 382], maybe five, six or seven [? 383], and this is a map showing the pronunciation of the different localities here. But it’s not very clear. How we pronounce the different place names, for instance, [? 388-392]. It’s very, complicated, our dialect.

This is the map I have formed for the immigration area to Russia. Here are localities of Catholics, the green localities of the [? 401]. Here this means not over 10 families immigrated. This means between 10 and 20 families immigrated, and this means over 20 families immigrated. This village, for instance, it’s not very clear… over 20 families immigrated.

This is a road of two Alsatian immigrants who descended from Europe. These are the different steps. They have their passports in Frankfort. These are the place names of the immigrating areas, the place names immigrated to Russia. What I have indicated in red are the Alsatian place names which immigrated. Here, these are the place names for Baden, and these are the place names from [? 427] Palatinate. All these names, you’ll find all these names in Russia in the Black Sea region.

This is a map of the oblast of Odessa, from Alsace that I bought two years ago when we were in Russia. This is Odessa here.

Now I present some visitors to Alsace, German-Russian decent. This is Dr. [? 438] from Wichita, Kansas. This is one of the Geisingers, the son of Professor Geisinger. We see him when he visited in May this year. This is the same picture. This is Carl’s son.

This is on the top of the mountain, St. Olivia. Our patron saint of Alsace is Olivia. She has founded a very famous abbey here on the top of mountain. We pray day and night all year long here. Here is a hill. This building is now the historical museum of the town.

This is a poster for the European election that took place on the 18th of June this year. This is the Rhine. This is a new bridge. The old one was destroyed during the last war. This is a new bridge. We call it the European Bridge, the link between France and Germany. If you are on that side you are in France, on the other side is the German border. The Rhine is about as wide as the Mississippi. But the Rhine is [? 471] 150 years. This is the border – the French customs. It is a different franc. You see not always European francs, but also American francs. Here is a French custom house. We are not too late? [applause]

Excuse me that I do everything in a hurry, but I couldn’t do otherwise. If somebody wants more information… thank you very much.

[488 – end of taped session]

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
NDSU Dept #2080
PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050
Tel: 701-231-8416
Fax: 701-231-6128
Last Updated:
Director: Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Library North Dakota State University North Dakota State University GRHC Home