The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at North
Dakota State University and My Visions for the Future
Society of Germans from Russia
National Convention, Sacramento, California
Presentation by Michael
M. Miller, Bibliographer, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection,
North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State
University Libraries, Fargo
26 July 1990, Radisson
Hotel, Sacramento, California
The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
at North Dakota State University and My Visions for the Future
American Historical Society of Germans from Russia
National Convention, Sacramento, California
26 July 1990, Radisson Hotel, Sacramento, California
Presentation by Michael M. Miller, Bibliographer, Germans from
Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota Institute for Regional
Studies, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo
It is indeed a pleasure to appear before my colleagues, friends,
and the membership of the American Historical Society of Germans
from Russia. I bring hearty greetings from North Dakota State University
and from the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.
I also extend best regards from Clarence Bauman, President, and
the membership of the Russia Heritage Society. it was so good to
have Dr. Larry Metzler, President of AHSGR, who joined us two weeks
ago in Fargo for the Germans from Russia symposium and convention.
For me it is a humbling experience to join you here in Sacramento
and in California as a son of a German-Russian family proud of my
heritage. Growing up in Strasburg, North Dakota, I joined the family
ritual on Saturday evenings listening to my hometown's most famous
native son, Bandleader Lawrence Welk. Never did I dream that I would
have the opportunity to speak in California where Mr. Welk gained
his nationwide fame playing champagne music while regaling us with
his strong German accent.
Germans from Russia pioneers like Ludwig and Christina Schwahn
Welk, parents of Lawrence Welk, settled on the prairies of the Dakotas
in 1893. Ludwig was born in the colony of Selz, and Christina was
born in the colony of Strassburg, Black Sea region. Both were Kutschurgan
colonies near the Black Sea. Today, descendants of those early settlers
are now living in large numbers in the Great Plains states, Colorado
and Washington, as well as in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba,
and Saskatchewan in western Canada. Here in the Sacramento, Stockton,
and Lodi areas many of the German-Russian people can trace their
roots to former homesteads in the Dakotas.
According to Russian-German Settlements in the United States written
by Richard Sallet, nearly 120,000 Germans emigrated to the United
States from Russia between 1870 and 1920. The largest concentration
was in North Dakota where some 70,000 lived in 1920, coming from
the Black Sea and Bessarabian regions of Russia. A new book by Dr.
Shirley Fischer Arends, The Central Dakota Germans: Their History,
Language, Culture explains why the central part of the two Dakotas
became overwhelmingly German. The Central Dakota Germans, which
will be available in the convention bookstore, is a significant
contribution to the literature of the Germans from Russia. Dr. Arends
is with us here at this convention, bringing her parents from Ashley,
In a recent article in the Grand Forks Herald, "Germans from
Russia: A loving look at a fading Dakota prairie culture",
Dr. Arends states that "the reason that she kept working on
this book for all these years was that all those older people were
so grateful that somebody cared." "They were so eager
to share their proverbs and their prayers. Outside North Dakota,
people love what's going on here. We should love it and place value
on it." Dr. Arends is with us this evening along with her parents
from Ashley, North Dakota. May I ask her to stand so that we can
extend a warm welcome and a thank-you to Shirley Fischer Arends
for her contribution to the literature of the Germans from Russia.
Since 1950 the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies has
been actively involved in collecting, preserving, and making available
manuscripts, photographs, and published works documenting the life
of the people of North Dakota. The uniqueness of the Institute lies
in its rich holdings. Its manuscripts document the importance of
agriculture and land development to the state. The everyday life
of the pioneers and North Dakota's ethnic groups, especially the
Germans from Russia, are highlighted. Just two weeks ago 85 researchers
and scholars gathered for the Germans from Russia Symposium at North
Dakota State University, using many of these resources.
To preserve the history and culture of the Germans from Russia
the Germans from Russia Heritage Society authorized the establishment
of the Germans from Russia heritage Collection at the North Dakota
Institute for Regional Studies on the North Dakota State University
campus in 1978.
The Institute, the official repository for the Society's records,
collects materials on the Germans from Russia, especially the Black
sea and Bessarabian Germans, one of the major ethnic groups in North
Dakota. The collection includes books as well as records, tapes,
newspapers, maps, microfilm, and photographs. County, community,
family, and church histories are also part of the collection.
Because of the need to provide a reference tool to the collection,
the Institute published the annotated bibliography, Researching
the Germans from Russia in 1987.
The bibliography is the most comprehensive and detailed resource
in the United States and Canada of books and materials about the
Germans from Russia. I have been most pleased at the response to
the book in Canada, the United States, and West Germany.
Professor Timothy J. Kloberdanz, a well-known German-Russian folklorist,
writes in the preface to Researching the Germans from Russia, "As
the mere size of this bibliography attests, the Germans from Russia
Heritage Collection is one of the largest archives of its kind in
the New World...One greatly envies the new researcher who, hungry
for information about the Germans from Russia, will discover this
annotated bibliography for the first time."
As stated earlier, we are concentrating our efforts in collecting
materials primarily of the Black Sea and Bessarabian Germans. This
includes many German colony histories published by West German authors.
Recent additions of special interest to family historians and genealogists
include histories such as Hoffnungstal, Heimatbuch Leipzig Bessarabien,
Lichtental Bessarabien, and Katzbach 1821-1940. Many of these same
colony names are names of towns in North Dakota today. You will
also find these colony histories available at the AHSGR Library.
A recent and significant addition to the collection, Der Weg aus
der Steppe by Konstantin Mayer, describes and illustrates the difficulties
of the Bessarabian Germans as they left their Russian colonies with
German forces during World War II. The book is now being translated
for publication in an English edition.
The collection includes the complete holdings of Volk auf dem Weg,
the official journal of the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus
Russland, and Mitteilungsblatt, the official publication of the
Landsmannschaft der Bessarabiendeutschen. Both publications include
obituaries, very valuable to genealogists.
The Landsmannschaft der Bessarabiendeutschen located in Stuttgart
has an outstanding Heimatmuseum as well as extensive collections
of photographs, archives, and books. The genealogy records of the
Heimatmuseum, called the Christian Fiess Collection, are now available
from the Church of the Latter-Day Saints' Family History Center,
called the Christian Fiess Collection. These are invaluable records
for Bessarabian German researchers.
The Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland also located in
Stuttgart and within easy walking distance of the Bessarabiendeutschen
society is deeply involved with the recent emigration of Soviet
Germans to West Germany. They, too, are building their archives,
library, and genealogy records. All of the manuscripts and records
of the late Dr. Karl Stumpp are housed at the Landsmannschaft.
An interesting development in West Germany has been the establishment
in 1989 of an institute for German-Russian studies at the University
of Freiburg. This offers potential for exchange of scholars, students,
Neues Leben, one of two newspapers published in the Soviet Union
for the Soviet Germans, is another publication within the collection.
It has been interesting to note articles regarding the possibilities
of the establishment of the new Soviet German Republic. The latest
news concerns the Soviet Germans' desire for a new republic in the
northern part of East Prussia. We should be watching carefully for
Newspapers on microfilm in the collection include Nord Dakota Herold
and Dakota Freie Presse, so important to the German-Russian researcher
and family genealogist. These two newspapers along with Der Staatsanzeiger
may be some of the most important newspapers for the German-Russian
The Dakota Freie Presse is the oldest and may be the most important
newspaper in North America of the German-Russians. Organized in
1873 in Yankton, Dakota Territory, the paper was transferred to
Aberdeen, South Dakota, in 1906. The paper included news about the
immigration and settlement. The contributions of the readers about
their coming to the Dakotas, their settlement, and their experiences
have proved to be of great historical value. Included also were
letters from Russia about life in the German-Russian colonies. The
published obituaries are most important to genealogists. Dr. Horst
Fode of West Germany is indexing these obituaries from Dakota Freie
Presse, which are being published in Heritage Review. In 1954 the
paper ceased as an independent publication and joined the America
The Nord Dakota Herold was established in 1907 and was published
every Friday in Dickinson, North Dakota. The readership consisted
of 70% German-Russian, 10% German-Hungarian, and 15% German. It
was owned by a corporation in which Catholic priests predominated.
During World War I it was temporarily printed in English. Coverage
included articles about life of the German-Russians who came primarily
from Bessarabia. Letters from South Russia were printed. The North
Dakota Herold is also valuable for the German-Russian family researcher.
Germans from Russia have been active in publishing family histories.
Like the AHSGR Library, the Institute has been attempting to collect
all histories relating to North Dakota families. The Institute also
has an extensive collection of county, community, and church histories.
A unique index to these histories is the North Dakota Biography
Index. This 27,000 card file indexes over 100,000 biographical sketches
found in more than 475 publications located in libraries throughout
North Dakota. The index is an invaluable tool for those doing historical,
biographical, and genealogical research. When funds become available
plans are to computerize the index.
Besides the books about the Black Sea and Bessarabian Germans there
are resources on the Hutterites, Mennonites, Vohlynian Germans,
Volga Germans, and the Germans from Russia in the two Dakotas and
throughout the United States and Canada. Also included are literature,
folklore, census material, cookery, and song books.
Reviews of new additions to the collection are featured in Heritage
Review, the journal of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society.
These books are available through interlibrary loan along with many
of the titles listed in Researching the Germans from Russia. Many
of these same titles are also available at the AHSGR Library in
In order to provide visuals for schools, libraries, family reunions,
and other gatherings, the slide/tape program, At Home on the Prairies,
was produced and is now available for purchase in videotape format.
It has been widely used throughout North America and can be borrowed
A traveling exhibit, The Germans from Russia, was completed in
1989. Both the slide program and the exhibit are valuable resources
in telling the story of the Germans from Russia.
Photographs constitute one of the most valuable resources of the
North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies. There are over 20,000
prints, 15,000 negatives, and 6,000 color slides. Of particular
interest to the Germans from Russia are the sod house photos. The
majority of the institute's photographs are on the laser videodisc,
Visual Images from the Northern Prairies, which is available for
Recently I have been involved with two projects which have important
significance to the culture and history of the Germans from Russia.
Patricia Eames, Director of Public Information at the National Archives
in Washington, D.C., is working with the National Archives of the
Soviet Union to assist them in organizing and developing their genealogy
and family history research materials. This has developed because
of the many letters of family research being received from the United
States. Representing the Germans from Russia on the national advisory
committee is Allyn Brosz, Chairman of the AHSGR Genealogy Committee.
Patricia Eames of the National Archives has been most impressed
with the organization and genealogy resources of both Germans from
Russia societies. In March a USA/USSR genealogical-archival exchange
team traveled to Moscow, Minsk, and Leningrad.
Recently I have talked to persons reviewing collections at the
archives in Odessa, Ukraine and in Leipzig, East Germany. Dr. George
Epp of Menno Simons College at the University of Winnipeg is most
interested in cooperating with his American colleagues in microfilming
and indexing records that are presently not available outside the
The second project with which I have been involved is the restoration
of the Lawrence Welk Homestead near Strasburg, North Dakota. Mr.
Welk is perhaps the best-known German-Russian in America. Shirley
Welk Fredricks, Executive Director of the Lawrence Welk Foundation
in Santa Monica, has been working closely with Welk Heritage in
Strasburg. Shirley was warmly received by the Southern California
Chapter members when she spoke to the group in January.
In tracing the roots of the Welk family, I would like to refer
to a well- written history by Jerry Klein of San Juan, Capistrano.
A young German tailor by the name of Moritz Welk migrated from his
home village of Erbach in the region of Ulm in southern Germany
to the Alsatian village of Wizenbach. Moritz emigrated to the colony
of Selz in the Kutschurgan District. Moritz and Magdalena Arth Welk
had an eldest son named Kasper, who married Magdalena Gutenberg,
a native of the nearby Kutschurgan colony of Strassburg.
Kasper and Magdalena Welk had a son named Johannes, born and raised
in Selz. Johannes was a grandfather to bandleader Lawrence Welk
and was a blacksmith. Johannes married Marianna Schweitzer from
the colony of Strassburg and they raised seven children. One of
those family members was Ludwig, born in 1864 and father of Lawrence
Welk. Ludwig married Christina Schwahn, who was born in the colony
of Strassburg in 1871.
Like his father, Ludwig practiced the profession of blacksmithing
as well as being a farmer. Ludwig and Christina Welk were encouraged
to come to America by his young sister, Rosina, and her husband,
Michael Klein, who had come to Eureka, South Dakota, in 1892. Ludwig
and Christina arrived in New York in 1893 and headed to Eureka.
Later, they staked out their homestead on ground overlooking Baumgartner
Lake about four miles from Strasburg, North Dakota.
There were a total of eight children born to Ludwig and Christina
Welk. Still living today at the Strasburg Nursing Center is Anna
Mary, born in 1896; Lawrence in Santa Monica, born in 1903; and
Eva in Aberdeen, born in 1909. Six of the Welk children, including
Lawrence, were born in the sod house that stands on the homestead
which is being restored today.
The Welk sod house and the farm will be restored to what it was
in the 1920's. Included will be a blacksmith shop, a summer kitchen,
and other buildings. The story of the Germans from Russia will play
an important role in the interpretative center to be housed in the
restored barn. Welk Heritage will offer for the enjoyment and education
of future generations of Americans the story of the Welk family
and their pioneer experience in North Dakota, the heritage of Germans
from Russia, and the life of famous bandleader Lawrence Welk, who
has always treasured and honored the lessons and values that he
acquired wile growing up in these humble and beautiful surroundings.
There is tremendous potential in capturing the spirit, hard work,
and dedication of our German-Russian homesteaders. Welk Heritage
could become one of America's important interpretative centers on
the Germans from Russia.
Before I close my discussion relating to Lawrence Welk, I would
like to share with you a reading done by a young and talented North
Dakota author, Debra Marquart of Napoleon.
Now I would like to share with you my visions, challenges to consider,
and ideas to explore for the Germans from Russia. These visions
will closely relate to create a strong identity for the Germans
from Russia and their culture for future generations.
The Germans from Russia may be one of the most well-organized ethnic
groups in America. The founders and the membership of the American
Historical Society of Germans from Russia and the Germans from Russia
Heritage Society should be complimented for building these valuable
organizations. However, we must look to the future in an atmosphere
of cooperation among all Germans from Russia organizations.
It is especially important that the genealogy committees of GRHS
and AHSGR explore possibilities for resource sharing with the use
of computer technology. We need to create better ties of cooperation
in our genealogy projects, to avoid duplication and to establish
priorities. For example, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, there are valuable
Mennonite genealogy and archives resources perhaps unknown to many
of us. The Mennonite Archives Center is completing newspaper indexing
projects which could be of special interest to the Mennonite and
Black Sea Germans.
Today there exists three major Germans from Russia book collections
at AHSGR in Lincoln, at GRHS in Bismarck,, and at North Dakota State
University in Fargo. Mary Rabenburg, Librarian at AHSGR, and I have
been exchanging the catalogued cards of new books added to collections
in Lincoln and in Fargo. There is a need to develop a comprehensive
international bibliography of Germans from Russia collections in
North America and in West Germany. Unknown to much of the North
American audience are the valuable library resources in Stuttgart,
West Germany. I propose to AHSGR that we begin a dialogue in pursuing
such a project in developing a comprehensive bibliography of Germans
from Russia collections.
Other German-Russian collections that exist should be identified.
Books that now exist in private collections or in chapter libraries
should be considered to be part of nearby public or college libraries.
These resources would then be cataloged and become part of computerized
networks so that other researchers will know what is available.
Perhaps someday we shall see the reality of a national data-base
of Germans from Russia research.
To provide continuing education experiences about the Germans from
Russia, we need to consider offering college courses, workshops,
and symposia. Earlier in July on the campus of North Dakota State
University 85 people attended the Germans from Russia Symposium.
They came from throughout Canada, the United States, and West Germany.
These people had a chance to carefully review the Germans from Russia
Heritage Collection and to pursue further research tools. Could
not such a symposium with joint sponsorship from a college be held
in other locations? Perhaps it might be titled, "The Germans
from Russia Settling in California".
With the large German-Russian population in Washington would not
the Seattle-Tacoma area be a potential location for a college-sponsored
symposium? Joint sponsorship of a symposium between AGSHGR and the
University of Nebraska in Lincoln might also be considered.
It is important that AGSHR develop close ties with colleges and
universities so that courses and symposia can be offered for college
credit. Are we exploring additional opportunities on college campuses
for students to learn about the heritage and folklore of the Germans
from Russia? Is there a close working relationship between the history,
German, and anthropology departments at the University of Nebraska
and AHSGR? With such a valuable library collection, professors need
to encourage their students to actively use the AHSGR Library in
Lincoln. Is a course being offered on the Germans from Russia at
such places as Kansas State University, the University of Nebraska,
the University of South Dakota and here in the heart of California's
German-Russian country. I propose to AHSGR that a committee be established
to review means of providing educational experiences and to survey
what is and could be done. I am deeply concerned that we offer to
our youth the desire to know more about the Germans from Russia.
Should we explore the idea of developing a correspondence course
on the Germans from Russia that would be available to all ages desiring
to learn more about our heritage?
I applaud the efforts of Arthur Flegel, Gwen pritzkau, Margaret
Freeman, Carol Harless, Alice Waltrip, Carolyn Wheeler, Peter Klassen,
and Larry Metzler for their efforts to provide workshops and presentations
throughout California and the Northwest. We need to encourage colleges
in California, Washington, and elsewhere to offer Elderhostel programs
on the Germans from Russia. I challenge the AHSGR chapters in California
to explore with local colleges and continuing education agencies
ideas for workshops, Elderhostel programs, and courses of the Germans
We need to encourage both undergraduate and graduate students to
pursue studies, theses, and dissertations on the Germans from Russia.
Had it not been for Dr. Shirley Fischer Arends pursuing her doctorate
dissertation at Georgetown University her research might never have
been published. We need to encourage your sons and daughters and
their children to learn about their heritage. They are the writers
and scholars of tomorrow who will author family histories and document
their ancestors as we approach the 21st century.
The efforts of Ewald Wuschke and Helen Hahn of Vancouver, British
Columbia, Gerald Frank of Calgary, and Ron Neuman of Edmonton should
be recognized in developing an organizations of Germans from Volhynia
and Poland. The latest edition of Wandering Volhynians provides
us with an outstanding publication.
The work of Margaret and Robert Freeman and Carolyn Wheeler with
the Glückstal Colonies Research Association Newsletter should
also be acknowledged. The association is providing valuable finding
aids for the Glückstal colonies of Bergdorf, Kassel, Glückstal,
Neudorf, and their daughter colonies.
In North Dakota, through the efforts of Timothy Kloberdanz, the
wrought iron crosses in North Dakota cemeteries were placed in nomination
for registry as a National Historic Site and approved in 1989. These
iron cross sites are near Zeeland, Karlsruhe, Balta, Selz, Orrin,
Berwick, Hauge, and Strasburg, predominantly Catholic Black Sea
These wrought-iron crosses among the Black Sea Germans of the Dakotas,
the Volga Germans in western Kansas and Saskatchewan, and the Black
Sea Germans in southeast Texas need to be preserved for future generations.
In the book, Iron Spirits, Professor Kloberdanz so articulately
describes these iron crosses: "The wrought-iron grave crosses
of the German-Russians with their unbroken hearts of metal, brightly-painted
stars, endless circles, banner-waving angels, sunburst designs,
power-charged lightning bolts, exquisitely-formed lilies, and rose
blossoms that rust but never will evoke the defiant spirit, this
defiance was tempered and hammered into one timeless language of
Photographs showing the craft of these German-Russian blacksmiths
could become part of a national traveling exhibit on the Germans
from Russia. Both AHSGR and GRHS have existing exhibits. We need
to explore together the idea of developing a larger Germans from
Russia traveling exhibition for use throughout the United States
Germans from Russia need to know about their colleagues whether
they are Volga, Bessarabian, Mennonite, Hutterite, Volhynian, Black
Sea, or Dobrudscha German. Such an exhibit could reflect the diversities
of the contributions of these people and their heritage to American
and Canadian societies. I recommend that we work together in seeking
private and federal matching grants to develop a traveling exhibit
that will reflect a visual history of all the Germans from Russia.
I have shared with you some of my dreams and visions for the future.
We must all work together to explore and to accomplish these visions.
Today we are on the threshold of increasing our identity as Germans
from Russia. The new wave of Soviet German emigration to West Germany
opens for us opportunities to uncover the trials and tribulations
of our people. Our borders have been opened once again. Die Deutschen
in Russland gestern und Heute (the Germans in Russia yesterday and
today). They are our brothers and sisters, the Volga Germans, the
Bessarabian Germans, the Black Sea Germans, the Volhynian Germans,
the Mennonite Germans, the Germans in Siberia, and the Germans from
Russia throughout the world. Today these people we call the Germans
from Russia are again searching for a new homeland as they return
to West Germany.
I applaud JoAnn Kuhr and AHSGR for their efforts to develop contacts
in West Germany. AHSGR, GRHS, and I have been working together to
assist persons searching for their relatives. This sharing of letters
and resources will be beneficial for all of us.
Today the sons and daughters of these German-Russian homesteaders
are proud of their culture and heritage. They formed thriving organizations
to preserve and provide identity to their culture. They saw the
need to develop research collections for future generations.
They began to write family histories of the Zimmermans, the Heidts,
the Marquardts, the Schmidts, the Walds, and the Schweitzers. They
shared their memories and expression in such books as Let's Talk
German-Russian with Ernschtina un Hanswurscht, recently authored
by Arnold H. Marzolf.
The life of one of these German-Russian families is vividly told
in the new book, Far From Home; Families of the Westward Journey.
"The book offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of three
families on the Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, and North Dakota frontiers.
A stunning contribution both to family history and the history of
the United States frontiers," stated one reviewer of Far From
They gather in such places as Milwaukee, Aberdeen, Bismarck, Regina,
Calgary, Lincoln, and here in Sacramento to trace their roots, to
speak the German language, to study their folklore, to sing, and
I, too, am proud to have been reared as a son of a German-Russian
family speaking both English and German. I stand tall when I say
I grew up as a son of German-Russian grandparents who came from
the colonies of Krasna, Bessarabia and Strassburg, Black Sea.
It is important that we work together to assure our immortality
and to preserve our heritage. We must share our memories and preserve
our memorabilia. Today's generation is the mirror of our inheritance
we call the Germans from Russia.
Now, in the prime of my life as we begin a new decade, I hope that
you will join me in a new spirit of friendship and cooperation among
all Germans from Russia people, the societies, and their chapters
in Canada, the United States and in West Germany.
These homesteaders came to the prairies with strong Christian beliefs.
Today they gather for family reunions in country churches built
by their ancestors.
And now the sons and daughters of these Germans from Russia homesteaders
come together here in California. As a son of these Dakota homesteaders,
let me say that it has been an honor and a privilege to share these
precious moments with each of you.
Revised 20 August 1990