Hidden History of North Dakota

Germans From Russia Leaving Their Mark

Hidden History

Bismarck – America was built on the blood sweat and tears of the immigrants who traveled thousands of miles to call the new world home, and that includes North Dakota.

Many of us have heard countless stories of those who were forced to leave their country in the hopes of a new life in America.

From the Ireland Potato Famine to Europeans seeking to escape political regimes.

But for the Germans who eventually called North Dakota home, their journey to the new world, included a pit stop, in the Soviet Union.

“There’s a whole lot of history behind us, that’s what made us what we are, between our hard-working ethics, our faith, that’s Germans from Russia,” said Rachel Schmidt.

Yes, you read that correctly, Germans, from Russia.

Their story begins hundreds of years ago in 17th Century Germany.

Deutschland was in turmoil, Curtis Mertz heads the Germans from Russia Heritage Society and tells KX News if it wasn’t religious persecution or war, the German people were either starving or incredibly poor.

“Catherine the Great’s son put them under a lot of persecution and such, and that’s I think one of the biggest reasons is they were being persecuted in many different ways,” said Curtis Mertz, President of the Germans From Russia Heritage Society.

But then a lifeline was thrown to the Germans, from the wife of Russian Czar Peter The Third, you may remember her as Catherine the Great.

In a Manifesto, she invited the Germans to settle in vast empty portions of Russia.

The Germans were made many promises including freedom of religion and an exemption of military service.

Many ended up calling the Black Sea region home.

They had such a strong belief in the family, that they were going to do what’s best for the family,” said Mertz

But the honeymoon would last less than 200 years, and once the Government began the Russification program, made to turn Germans into Russians in the early 1880s, many of the old promises ended and severe persecutions began.

Soon after, the Germans got word of the U.S. Homestead Act, which provided 162 acres of land if certain conditions were met.

So, once again, the Germans packed up everything they had and made the long dangerous trek across the sea to America.

“And I know Our Current Generations would never even think of doing that, because when they came over here, they didn’t speak English, they spoke only German, it was a huge leap of faith to do something like that”

“A lot of them you know if they did come over and were able to obtain a covered wagon, they would sleep in the boxed portion and sleep in there. They were basically building sod houses, I think that was the biggest challenge because of the harsh winters getting someplace to live,” said Mertz.

Many of those Black Sea Germans would find solace in the Dakota’s…which reminded them of their Russian homeland.

Many once again started out with nothing, so they built homes out of clay and mud, and many failed to survive those early harsh North Dakota Winters.

But once again they persevered, Rachel’s Schmidt’s ancestors came from the Glitchtale region and she tells KX News the German’s from Russia footprint has been left all across the North Dakota Landscape, even to this day.

“One of them is Strasburg, Strasburg is a village in Russia, it’s also a town here in Emmons County. Leipzig was a village in the Bessarabiya Region, We have New Leipzig here. That’s where these families came from,” said Schmidt.

The Germans from Russia who still call North Dakota home say they survived through all the tough times for several reasons, their faith, their strong sense of community and their common belief that hard work, makes life sweet.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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