The Upraised: Germans from Russia in America John Schemer Although the title of this paper stems from Andrew Rolle’s 1968 volume The Immigrant Upraised, this essay will illustrate that his assessment is not restricted to the Italian immigrants of his study. The group I have chosen to focus on herein is perhaps but one example of such a group typifying Rolle’s conclusion that “success was being achieved along American lines” while attempting to maintain “Old Cultures In a New Land.” If however, we desire to “mainstream” the Germans from Russia, their path of immigration would fit into John Bodnar’s theory of The Transplanted for reasons we shall shortly see. But the evidence will also illustrate the Germans from Russia played an important part in the development of the West, similar to Rolle’s Italians, but in much larger numbers. Before we continue further, let us first attempt to define, if possible, this particular group of immigrants, the Germans from Russia. The term itself to a “western” ear or eye seems out of place. Why not hyphenate the two nationalities, as we would “German-American?” This is not so simple a task in this case of people.
Self-identification has plagued them since their initial emigration in the mid to late eighteenth century to Russia. Surely, they could not be considered Russian, as they maintained their German language, culture and customs. Likewise, they could not be considered German, having fled their homeland migrating to the Russian interior. Nearly a hundred years later, in America, the same people came to be called “Roos huns” since their passports bore that nation as their origin. Emphatically denying anything to do with being identified as Russians, and finding it difficult to be accepted as Germans, the immigrants themselves preferred the term unser Lute or, “our people.” Identity will resurface later in the early and mid 20 th century and play a role in assimilation. The general consensus by historians and the public has been to refer to the immigrants simply as Germans from Russia.
OUT OF THIS FURNACE BY THOMAS BELL. Out of This Furnace tells a impressive story of a multi generational family of Slovakian immigrants who comes to the United States in search of a better life in the New World. The patriarch of the Slovak family was Djuro Kracha, who arrived in the New World in the mid-1880 s from the "old country." The story tells of his voyage, his work on the railroad to earn ...
From the historical record these immigrants literally trace their heritage to Germany before their ancestors emigrated to Russia, and then, some generations later, elsewhere, notably the Americas and Canada. Some background is thus required to understand the multi-staged emigration pattern of this group. By the mid eighteenth century Germany lay in shambles in the wake of nearly 100 years of devastating warfare. Beginning with the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), and continuing through the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), and the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763), the late Holy Roman Empire’s many sovereignties laid in political and physical turmoil.
Following such warfare, Adam Giesinger states, “The German peasant of 1763 had much reason to be unhappy. Poverty, malnutrition and unemployment were widespread.” The German peasant therefore was optimistic when Russia’s Catherine II issued her Manifesto of 1763. Catherine envisioned to not only populate the vast southwestern portion of Russia, but to stabilize the area as an agricultural, and possibly industrial, center of a modernized nation. For this purpose “she had in view chiefly German colonists.” Destitute, impoverished Germans welcomed the promises the Russian leader offered to “colonists.” The Manifesto produced many “pull” factors drawing the foreigners to the Russian frontier.
Such factors included religious freedom, self-government in closed communities (as “colonists”), tax exemptions, freedom from military service, interest free loans, paid travel expenses, freedom to settle anywhere in the Russian Empire, and the right to leave at any time. Not only did these provisions pertain to the potential immigrants, but to their successors as well. After nearly a century of suffering in continual warfare, destitute Germans sensed, in this Manifesto, the possibility of making a better future and a life anew. Catherine’s 1763 Manifesto (printed in German) Indeed, some 30, 000 Germans emigrated to Russia, particularly along the banks of the Volga River in the province of Saratov between 1763 and 1766 By 1798, with continued immigration, 104 colonies were founded as the number of German immigrants into Russia climbed to 39, 000 and toppled 218, 000 in 1861. An assertive recruitment program sponsored by the Russian government printed colorful brochures promoting what they had to offer. The Russians also employed immigration recruiters, Menschenfaenger (people catchers) paying up to 10 rubles per family and three parcels of land per 100 families and allowing recruiters to later be “directors” of 63 of the 104 colonies.
German Oct exports to U. S. , Russia, UK rise FRANKFURT, Jan 7 (Reuters) – German exports to North America, Japan, Great Britain and Russia rose significantly in October last year, while sales to euro zone countries declined marginally, the German Federal Statistics Office said on Friday. Exports to the United States were up 12 percent year-on-year, indicating an unabated appetite for German ...
One of the most prominent “crown” recruiters was Baron Ferdinand de Can neau de Beauregard. Though Beauregard “contracted” with some 4, 000 potential immigrants, only 2, 000 fulfilled the agreement to immigrate to Russia. Disappointed at the “lost” immigrants and a loss of approximately 7, 500 rubles paid for their transportation, Catherine swiftly dismissed Beauregard from the crown’s payroll stating, “I want nothing further to do with him.” Koch, Giesinger, Scheuerman, and Trafzer are all skeptical of the integrity and candor of crown recruiters, picturing them, as well as Russian advertisements, as propaganda, similar to the corrupt ticket agents in Mark Wyman’s Temporary Americans. Russian recruitment poster (also printed in German) (from Scheuerman & Trafzer’s The Volga Germans: Pioneers of the Northwest) For nearly a century following Catherine’s Manifesto, German immigrants reaped the rewards the Czarina promised, and thus prospered. German immigrants lived in self-contained communities with self-government, maintained their language, culture, customs, religion and public schools (in German).
Although their ordinary lives brought them in contact with ethnic Russians, ethnic conflict was unheard of. There was a mutual understanding between both groups that prevented violent outbreaks against one another. Ewald Riethmuller a North Dakota German from the Bessarabia region tells how “Many nationalities lived… in their own villages but were friendly to one another, enjoying the diversity of their land. In times of crop failure the different nationalities would help each other… People often came to the Germans asking how they managed their crops and farms.” Fredrick Barth refers to the retention of German ethnicity as “a structuring of interaction which allows the persistence of cultural differences.” The German’s retention of tradition outside the fatherland supports Ralph Litton’s argument that “when two societies and cultures have reached a working adaptation to each other, they may exist side by side without any discernible tendency to fuse.” One theory behind this is economical.
After the War of 1812, the new western frontier, the industrial revolution and the transportation revolution provided new opportunities for Americans. Despite the many opportunities the Native American Indians and the African slaves had very little offered to them. The new western frontier had numerous opportunities for Americans. The frontier initially was attractive to the farmers of the East ...
The Germans prospered in developing agriculture throughout the Volga region and introduced a variety of skills, techniques, tools and religious ideals to Russia. Agrarian superiority, land-holding percentages far above Russian farmers, neat and attractive villages, higher literacy rates, and over representation in government positions illustrate the success of German immigrants and the host society’s tolerance. Russia, however, began to take a completely different view of the German immigrants when Alexander II took the throne in 1855. Changes by Alexander II held economical consequences as well as direct reversal of Catherine’s Manifesto. Such economical consequences would become “push” factors forcing the Germans to look beyond the Russian border. Liberation of the serfs in 1861 created a new social class and ended the feudal system in the empire.
Russian free peasants now encompassed a new social class competing with that of the colonists. A “Russification” program implemented by Czar Alexander II continued into the 1870’s as control of the German colonies was placed in Russian authority, as was administration of schools. School instruction was mandated to be in Russian (vice German, as it had been).
In 1876 the special designation as “colonists” was withdrawn and the Germans became “settler-landowner” completing the social equalization of Germans and the recently freed serfs, though the serfs’ cultural progress was below the Germans. Arguably the most threatening and repulsed government action against the Manifesto was the 1874 reversal of the military service exemption. Not only did this conflict with the German majority’s religious faith (especially the Mennonites), it went against the long standing anti-militarism, harboring memories of a century of war in western Europe.
: I. -18-02010 Arkhangelsk Archangel, city, northern European Russia, capital of Arkhangelsk Oblast, on the Northern Dvina (Severnaya Dvina) River, near the White Sea (Beloye More). It is a major seaport, although icebound in winter months. The city is also a trade and processing center for an important timber-producing region. A maritime school, a forestry institute, and a regional museum are ...
Adam Giesenger, in From Catherine to Khrushchev, relates the feelings of Germans stating, “The law of 1874 represented a breach of faith, a unilateral repudiation of a solemn promise made to them in the manifesto. They were now subject to military service like all other Russian citizens and they were very unhappy about it.” Professor Timothy Kloberdanz supports Giesenger’s assessment relating that “The reaction to the new military law was one of utter disbelief and horror.” As their rights, privileges, and exemptions granted by the Manifesto of 1763 had been rescinded, the German colonists contemplated their options. Though Mennonites received permanent exemption status form military service in 1875 after three petition delegations to St. Petersburg, a mass migration from Russia seemed evident. Playing a part in their decision making were three distinct groups: relatives who had emigrated earlier, emissaries or “scouts”, and missionaries who had knowledge of the Americas.
There were a small number of Germans who immigrated to the United States earlier in the 19 th century. Johann Ludwig Bette arrived with a group of German-Russian immigrants from the Black Sea village of Odessa in New York in the late summer of 1849. Bette proceeded to the Lake Erie coast of Ohio and prospered in cultivating wine vineyards. Others on the same voyage proceeded to Iowa and to Wisconsin.
By 1860, a prominent Evangelical missionary, Wilhelm Starkel, from the Volga region had visited Missouri and Kansas. By the time the military conscription law became active, Starkel had returned to his parish in Eck heim and, when pressed for information about the west, from his pulpit he disseminated the advantages of the New World. “He spoke about America and he emphasized again and again that if he were a farmer he would prefer going to America and farming there instead of staying here in Russia and becoming a soldier. In extolling America, Starkel related religious, political and personal freedoms as well as the availability of land under the Federal Homestead Act and urged friends and Congregationalists to emigrate.
... replaced with universal military training" and have Russian "replace German as the official language of instruction in ... to leave their homes in Southern Russia for North America, and specifically, Manitoba. It should be ... in Manitoba, part of a larger, North American group of Mennonites, is closely linked with ... which included favourable conditions and offers of land, were open to all immigrants with the ...
Along with Starkel, Pastor Karl Bone kemper of the Rohr bach-Worms Reformed church, who also toured America, urged his fellow Germans to immigrate to America. Like Starkel, Bette returned to Russia in 1872 describing life in America and his success from scratch. Starkel stirred up such a stir that, under threats of arrest, he fled Russia with assistance of friends. The wheels however had already been set in motion.
Villages and Congregations sent emissaries to America to inquire. These emissaries, or “scouts,” investigated the states of Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Arkansas in 1873 as well as Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Canada. Favorable reports from the scouts, returning with Nebraska soil, and proclaiming the climate and land of western America favorable, led several groups of families to immigrate, not even waiting to harvest their crops. In April 1873 four families looked for land in Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Nebraska before settling on Homestead Act public land in Yankton, South Dakota and southeast of Scotland, South Dakota.
Rightfully, the “colonists” referred to this community as Odessa Settlement, the area from which they emigrated. A group of about 400 arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska in the late summer of 1873, but found it difficult to purchase a land area large enough to establish a closed community. Lincoln land was scattered and already had risen to $12 per acre. The group eventually purchased 16, 120 acres for $112, 840 ($7 per acre) from the Burlington Railroad near Sutton, Nebraska.
Their development of the acreage increased its value to $500, 000 in 1881 Thus the early settlements and centers for future immigrant waves, Sutton and Yankton, resulted in the majority of the German immigrants locating throughout the north-central Midwest area of America. Today the Dakotas and Nebraska remain central to generations of Germans from Russia. It should be noted that not only the Homestead Act, but the railroad companies as well, played a vital role in the immigrant calculations in considering America as a target for immigration out of an increasingly oppressive Russia. Similar to Catherine’s crown recruiters, railroad companies in America desired to bring in immigrants not only to labor on the laying of track, but to populate the 130, 000, 000 acres granted to it. Barren land could not bring revenue to the companies. Populated with experienced settlers, however, agriculture and industry could transform the American hinterland and turn profits for traffic along the expanding railroads.
In 1781, the Articles of Confederation were ratified, providing a one-house Congress with each state having one vote. The Articles of Confederation failed because the central government lacked power. In 1787, delegates met in Philadelphia to create a new constitution providing a stronger central government. The delegates elected George Washington the presiding officer and adopted a federal system ...
The Sante Fe dispatched an agent to the western portion of Russia in 1875 and settled some 15, 000 Mennonites in Kansas, bringing with them a product that transformed the American heartland into the grain capital, hard red winter wheat. The Southern Pacific advertised in the German Russian newspaper Nash i Kolonia (Our Colonies) promoting settlements in Texas and California as well as discounted trans-American rail arrangements. A magnate of the expanding railroad and steamship system in the Pacific Northwest, Henry Villard, a German (Bavarian) himself, also was influential in settling German immigrants from Russian from the Midwest to the Northwest. Russian Germans in the Northwest reached 21, 480 by 1920. German immigrants sought large tracts of land, as they had in Yankton and Sutton in effort to maintain a closed community, one of just Germans from Russia. The migration to America was a calculated movement that provided the best possibility to “transplant” themselves from Russia to a new land.
Nearly a century spent on the Russian steppes enabled the Germans to retain their language, culture, customs and religion. When new laws threatened the freedoms promised by Catherine, they as a whole contemplated what to do. Congregation and village meetings established scouts to survey a variety of locales of emigration. Their migration to America’s vast hinterland (especially the central Midwest) enabled them to establish closed, ethnic communities and retain a German heritage. Shirley Fischer Arends in her published Ph. D.
dissertation concludes the Dakotas provided the Germans to isolate themselves geographically, continue to be an agrarian people, maintain a common Lutheran religion (Catholic Germans tended to settle in Kansas), and to retain a homogeneous language and cultural traditions. Arends shows that the language and religion blended together and that English services became the norm only as recently as the 1980 s! For nearly a century the German language not only was the center of the church but the community as well. In an interview with Herbert “Herb” Babitzke on October 19, 2002 in a retirement community in Mesa, Arizona, the conclusions made by Arends were evident. Herb grew up in the “badlands” in a German home. German was spoken in the home, though he learned English through public education. When asked what it was like growing up in a German home in rural America, Herb responded that everyone around, everyone he knew was German, spoke German, followed German cultural standards and maintained a German heritage.
He never encountered prejudice or discrimination for being German. He sadly seemed depressed in stating that he felt out of his “element” here in Arizona, where the only connection to his heritage is through a local chapter of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. The maintaining of an agrarian lifestyle was upheld in the person of Elvera Reuer, who emigrated from the Bessarabia region to Nazi controlled Poland and then to North Dakota in 1949. Elvera married Ernie, another German from Russia, and a hereditary farmer. Elvera, along with their five children, endured hard work on their farm through the 1950’s. Like Herb, Elvera retired to Mesa and maintains her heritage through being a noted author of her own experiences.
To date she has published two underrated pieces about Germans from Russia; one dealing with her experiences up to arriving in America, the other her experiences in America. Germans from Russia in America faced similar conditions as in late nineteenth century Russia. American patriotism in the World War I era as well as the World War II era provided an avenue for ethnic (or native) “Americans” to openly discriminate against German speaking people. The reaction of the German people, however, differed from their reaction to Russification. Again, their economical situation dictated their reaction. In Russia oppression and federal withdrawl of their rights and privileges effected their pocketbook.
In America the same Germans (or successive generations of the same) were in a position completely opposite that in Russia. Their farms were not being taken or foreclosed, personal freedoms remained. In fact their agriculture became even more important to the efforts of the country into the war years. Successive generations however, shed their self-identification as Russian-German in the war era as well as in the cold war era when fear of being labeled a Russian Communist was widespread. American born Russian Germans increasingly have shed their heritage consciousness through the 1960’s. The earlier separatism that categorized the hinterland Germans slowly dissipated due to a number of factors as stated above.
Assimilation and acculturation is more evident in the Russian Germans in America under fifty years of age. The younger generations tend to be, according to Timothy Kloberdanz, ambivalent and ignorant toward their ethnic heritage. Since 1968, however, with the establishment of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, a growing number of individuals seek to preserve their heritage. The society presently claims some 5, 000 members through its 24 chapters in the United States and Canada. Perhaps the transition over the past 230 years is just beginning to display the disintegration of the Germans from Russia identification. The 100 years in Russia following Catherine’s Manifesto granted the German colonists seclusion unto themselves.
The time in America, though allowing the same seclusion late in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, offers no evident or forthcoming changes in personal freedoms. A sense of trust in the measure of freedom perhaps distinguishes the loss of ethnicity in a free society from other societies. A cherished free society provides ethnic and racial interaction in a permissive climate vice governmental compulsion, thus providing for voluntary assimilation. But it is clear that migration from Russia to America upraised the “colonists.” Success in agriculture on the vast plain states, cultivating the amber waves of grain under the protestant work ethic led to a relatively rapid rise in economic status. Dr. R.
Dale Copsey states it best: Almost no descendent of my generation [Dale is 75 at the time of this writing] or younger speaks German today unless he / she learned it in school. Ochsners in America have fled the farm to work in industry, government, education, military, science, electronics, clergy, business, banking and nearly every field on could mention. My grandmother… would be amazed to discover that many of her grandchildren, and nearly all of her great-grandchildren, are college graduates, many with master’s and doctor’s degrees. While the German culture was maintained for the sixty-five years they were in Russia, and for a couple generations in America, most Ochsners today would consider themselves as American as Smith or Jones, and few know or even care about the path their ancestors traveled. The common thread I find in the Ochsner story is a desire for freedom and economic improvement.
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