Home History Culture Oral History Transcribed Interviews
(left to right): Michael Miller interviewing Dr. Adam Giesinger at his south Winnipeg home, October, 1997.
Interview with Dr. Adam Giesinger (AG)
Conducted by Michael M. Miller (MM)
28 October 1997, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Transcription by Joy H. Stefan
Editing by Mary Lynn Axtman

Prairie Public Collection

MM: Good morning, Adam. Today is the 28th of October, 1997. It's a pleasure to be with Dr. Adam Giesinger, here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I want you to know, Adam, that as a person who has been involved with the Germans from Russia myself, that in a long colleague ship with you, and now with electronic communications, it's a real pleasure and honor for me to be in your home in Winnipeg. We're going to begin our interview today with Dr. Giesinger, who is the author of from Catherine to Khrushchev, amongst his many publications and translations. I want to ask you, Adam, when did you begin your interest in the Germans from Russia? This whole history in your youth... how did this start that you became interested... who am I, as a German Russian?

AG: Well, my first interest arose about 1917 at the time of the Communist Revolution in Russia. There was a lot of talk in the family, because they still had close relatives over there; grandma's sisters and brothers still lived over there. So that's when I got curious about Russia. I was about seven or eight years old.

MM: And you were born in what year?

AG: 1909.

MM: You were born in 1909. When they had relatives back in Russia, where were they living, these relatives?

AG: Well, they lived in various places. The main group lived in Mannheim, but there were some in Selz. My grandma's people were in Selz. One of grandma's brothers was way out in Grunau. See, it was off, way out east.

MM: So the relatives were living near today's Odessa, Ukraine; part of the Kutschurgan enclave. And what religion were these people?

AG: They were Catholics.

MM: And they were quite strong Catholics?

AG: Oh yes, yes. My grandmother had an uncle who was a priest and a brother who was a priest. So they were quite a religious group.

MM: So you started this interest on your roots as a German Russian boy at the age of eight, and where were you living then in Canada?

AG: In Saskatchewan, on a farm.

MM: Were you interested in finding books and materials so that you could study these people?

AG: Oh yes, yes, I was.

MM: When someone asks today, "I'm a German from Russia", what does that mean to you? When they ask, for instance, that I'm a German Russian. A lot of people don't understand what it means to be a German from Russia. But in your mind, why do they call these people "Germans from Russia?"

AG: Well, because that's where they lived. They were German-speaking people who had preserved their German language and culture, and they lived in Russia, and they were there for about 100 years.

MM: Right. Of course there's a wonderful history in your book, from Catherine to Khrushchev, but for example, in the heritage of your families, when did they leave Alsace in Germany to Russia, and why did they go to Russia? Why did they come to these villages near Odessa?

AG: Well, they left Alsace in 1808. There was a lull in the Napoleonic Wars just then, in the years 1808 and 1809. There was a lull in the Napoleonic Wars, so there was temporary peace. But the wars had been so destructive and had lowered the economic situation so badly that these people decided to get away while there was a lull in the war. And that's when a large group went to the Black Sea region at that time.

MM: What were their occupations in Alsace?

AG: Farmers, most of them.

MM: Who invited them to come to South Russia?

AG: This particular group were invited by Alexander I. He was the Russian emperor then, and he had agents all over Germany collecting immigrants.

MM: But we have to remember that our people who went to South Russia, near Odessa, were not the first Germans to go to Russia. There were an earlier group, right?

AG: Oh yes.

MM: And what group was that?

AG: That was the Volga Germans.

MM: When did they leave from their homeland?

AG: They left, they went there in the 1760's.

MM: Right.

AG: And that again, was because of a war in Western Europe. There was a whole succession of wars: the war of the Austrian succession, then the Seven Years War, and the constant warfare. Of course that impoverished people and so the Volga Germans, they were in general a poorer group when they left, because the situation in Germany was exceedingly bad in their lifetime.

MM: Who invited the Volga Germans to come to the Volga region?

AG: Catherine.

MM: Catherine the Great.

AG: Yes.

MM: When they went to Russia, in the case of the Volga Germans, were they offered any privileges, or were they given any incentives?

AG: Very special privileges, and one of the really important ones for them at that point was, and that's for both groups, was the freedom from military service. They were promised freedom from military service forever in Russia.

MM: Any other privileges?

AG: Oh yes, they were given free land and self-government, the right to govern themselves.

MM: When the Black Sea Germans, or the people who went to Southern Ukraine into the villages, when they went there, were their privileges very similar to the Volga Germans?

AG: Yes, very similar. Except the land holding system was changed. In the Black Sea region they were given larger land holdings, about twice the size of what they received in the Volga.

MM: What was about the size, do you remember about how much land were they given?

AG: In our terms, the Black Sea Germans would have received about as much land as our people got in the homestead days here in America. So I would say 160 acres, something like that. 150 acres. Those would be the original holdings, and they weren't supposed to divide them.

MM: Now when these people came to South Russia, did they try to develop their villages according to their religion or according to their homeland back in Alsace or Germany? Was that important to them that they were together amongst their own relatives, or the people they knew, as far as religion was concerned?

AG: In general, they stayed with groups from their home territory, but in the Black Sea villages, you'll find that in most of them, say in the Kutschurgan area, that each village had groups from several places in Germany. But the three main groups were from Alsace, and the Palatinate - the Pfalz, and Baden. Those were the three main areas they came from.

MM: Then these people who came to South Russia, did they prosper and develop more land ownership?

AG: Oh yes. They spread all over the Black Sea region.

MM: Now in the case of your family, what were the family names? What were the family names that came? The Giesingers, of course. What other family names came to South Russia?

AG: Of my forefathers? Well, there were the Webers, the Webers were very common. The Giesinger family that went to Russia, three of their children married Webers. Webers from three different families.

MM: Really?

AG: So a lot of Webers are related to me.

MM: Did the Webers and the Giesingers prosper, and were they farmers too?

AG: Oh yes, they were farmers, yes.

MM: Did many of these farmers have to take up other occupations, like a blacksmith or other occupation?

AG: Oh yes.

MM: For more income.

AG: Oh yes. As time passed, you see, the land didn't go far enough. So they went into other occupations, and too, they went to buy land elsewhere.

MM: And they had large families?

AG: Oh yes. Large families.

695 KB

MM: As they prospered, they had, of course, schools, and they kept their German language through all these years. Was this true in the villages of your ancestors, they only spoke German?

AG: Yes, they all spoke German. And some of them didn't know a word of Russian. Towards the end, say in about the 1890's, Russian language became compulsory in the schools. So when my father went to school, for instance, he learned Russian. So he was fluently bilingual. He spoke both German and Russian.

MM: So then, later on, your forefathers that came to North America, they were bilingual already? They were already writing in German?

AG: Most of them could speak German and Russian, and very quickly picked up English too.

MM: Why did it develop that Russian became compulsory or mandatory in the schools?

AG: Emperor Alexander III forced them to learn Russian in their schools.

MM: Was this resisted by the Germans?

AG: Pardon?

MM: Did the Germans in the villages resist this mandatory Russian?

AG: Well, they adjusted to it. They didn't like the compulsion side of it, but they adjusted to it.

773 KB

MM: Then they, of course, heard about North America, and they decided to immigrate over here. In the case of your family, how did it develop that they came to North America? Why did they come over to Canada and the United States?

AG: Well, my grandfather, when they left Russia, had five sons. My father was the eldest of those. He was 16 years old. So one of the factors that made them come to America was that he was going to be supplying the Russian Army with recruits for the next 20 years, with all those sons, and they objected to that. He didn't want that. And you'll find that a lot of immigrants that came about the same time as he did... he came around 1900... there were some who came a little earlier than that and some later. But in all cases the military service law was one of the factors. It wasn't the only one, because some of them came because they heard about the free land over here and so on. But my grandfather had land over there. He didn't come to get land.

MM: When they decided to leave, were there already other villagers over here in Canada or the United States, or was he one of the first? Were there other people already over here that had immigrated from South Russia?

AG: Oh yes, many, many. My grandfather had, for instance, at least six or seven cousins who had come to America, some of them before him, and some of them soon after.

MM: And what years were those, about?

AG: Well, the first cousin came in 1889, and he settled in Strasburg, ND. You know about that place.

MM: What was his name?

AG: Franz Giesinger, Frank. Old Frank, they called him.

MM: Then did he stay in Strasburg, or did he move somewhere else?

AG: No, he stayed in Strasburg, he and his family.

MM: When they left South Russia, the villages, what was the procedure in making application and so forth? What was the route they took when they left the village in Selz? Did they go to Odessa, and then how did they get to Germany to come to America?

AG: I made an interesting discovery among my grandfather's papers after he died. My grandfather died in 1936 and he left a lot of material. I was the oldest grandson, so of course I got to see all of this material. One piece was his passport, his Russian passport. From that Russian passport, I discovered for the first time, what his father's name was. I hadn't even known that. On the passport it mentions... they called him Ambrose Adamovitch, son of Adam. But the passport was a very interesting document because it was issued in the city of Kherson. The city of Kherson was sort of a government center, where they dealt with that. And he had to go there to get this passport, and it was issued, the date was given, and it gave the route they followed. Because at certain places there was a step. So I was able to trace him right from Odessa. They started in Odessa. They took a train to Poland, and it mentioned when they crossed the Russian border into Germany. Poland was then part of Russia. They crossed over into Germany, and I have the date for that, and from Germany they went by train across Germany to Bremen. They left from Bremen. And I have the date they boarded the ship.

MM: What year was that?

AG: That was in 1900. The Spring of 1900.

MM: Then, when they got to Bremen and boarded the ship, and there were many other German Russians with them, of course.

AG: Oh yes, oh yes. I have the passenger list of the ship they came on.

MM: Many other relatives?

AG: Oh yes. There was one of grandfather's nephews, one of his sister's children was with them. And there were others that he knew. There were not so many relatives, but people from Mannheim that he knew, that were friends of his.

MM: From Bremen, they left on the ship, and they went to where in America?

AG: New York. They traveled on the ship the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, and that ship was then in the Atlantic championship. You know how a new ship would be produced and it would become the champion, the quickest crossing. Anyway, my grandfather and his family came on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse.

MM: Did your relatives ever talk about this life on the ship coming to America?

AG: Oh yes.

MM: What are some of the memories you have about what they told you about the ship experience?

AG: Oh, really not too much. See, they traveled pretty comfortably on their ship. Some of the people had weird stories, but they didn't have any of those. They traveled comfortably.

MM: Did they come to Ellis Island?

AG: Oh yes.

MM: So, they went to Ellis Island and what was the next step? Once they got to Ellis Island, then what happened?

AG: Well, when they could pass there... they had no problems there at all. Then they took a train to North Dakota. My grandfather had a step-brother by the name of Müller, who was living in Aberdeen. So they came directly from New York to Aberdeen, South Dakota.

MM: On the train?

AG: On the train, that's right.

MM: Why did they come to North Dakota or South Dakota?

AG: Because there were others there that they knew. Some of their relatives were there and other people that they knew. They knew a lot of people that were there.

MM: These relatives before them, why did they come to the Dakota Territory?

AG: Well, I don't know. You'd have to ask them. (laughter) I think in all cases the problem was the military service. It was one of the factors, and the fact that they were poor. They had no land in Russia. That wasn't the case with my grandfather. He still had land, but you know the landholding in Russia was strange because they weren't supposed to divide it up. It was inherited by the youngest son. My great grandfather, whose name was Adam, he was the youngest son in his family, and my grandfather was the youngest son in Adam's family. So the landholding that my great grandfather had passed in its entirety to my grandfather, and the original Adam... he was the youngest son and he inherited the landholding of his father. So my grandfather still had the same landholding that his grandfather had when he arrived in Russia. In that respect he was well off.

MM: Now, did you ever hear what was the cost, in 1900, for instance, to leave the village, come on the train to Poland, which was then Germany, and then to the port, and then on the ship, then finally to Aberdeen? Did they ever say what this cost was in monies, to come over?

AG: Oh, I don't know.

MM: You never heard a figure?

AG: I never heard any figure, no, because it varied greatly for different people. Because they traveled in cheaper ships or more expensive ships, and so on. So it's pretty hard to tell.

MM: When they decided to leave the village, their sod house or their home in South Russia, what would they bring along with them? What items did they find most valuable to bring with them, coming to America? In their suitcases or whatever, what did they bring with them?

AG: Well, the only thing that I know of, that I saw, was some books. They had prayer books and that type of thing. Otherwise, I can't remember what they brought from Russia.

MM: Did they have like a family Bible?

AG: Yes, that's what I mean.

MM: So that tells me that their religious books were very important to them.

AG: Oh yes, oh yes.

MM: So when they came then, to the Dakotas, what was their means of transportation, and then where did they go?

AG: Well, they traveled to Aberdeen, and there was no land available there anymore at that time, so they went north into McHenry County. There were homesteads there, and my grandfather got a homestead.

MM: So, he homesteaded?

AG: He and his brother-in-law, his sister's husband, they came together. His name was Schwab, Wendlyn Schwab. They homesteaded near Towner.

MM: Near Towner, North Dakota, in McHenry County. Did they stay in McHenry County?

AG: No, no. They left after five years and came to Canada.

MM: Why did they leave Towner County?

AG: Because their particular homestead was not very good. They couldn't make a living on it. By that time, five years later, some of the sons were old enough to homestead in Canada. So when they came to Canada, they were able to get four homesteads... Grandfather and his three eldest sons got homesteads. So they had a whole section of land in Saskatchewan by giving up their poor quarter in North Dakota.

MM: Interesting. When they developed homesteads, were the regulations or the settlement of a homestead in Canada similar to North Dakota or in the United States? Same acreage? Was it 160 acres in Saskatchewan too?

AG: Same size, yes.

MM: Same size and so forth. And did they quickly secure more land and buy more land?

AG: Well, yes, they did. For most of them, a quarter section was not really enough to live on, so most of them bought another quarter section. And there was land available around because the homestead land was interspersed with land owned privately by land companies of various kinds. So they were easily able to find a quarter section near them that they could buy.

MM: Now when they came to Saskatchewan, they didn't have a house. What were the living quarters?

AG: They built sod houses.

MM: So they already had, in that time period, the early 1900's, your ancestors built a sod house.

AG: Yes.

MM: Do you remember that sod house?

AG: Oh yes. It was still there when I was six or seven years old. Oh yes. It was being used as a chicken house by then because we had built a more affordable, lumber house.

MM: Do you remember some other families still living in a sod house?

AG: Oh yes. Oh yes.

MM: What do you remember about the sod house, the size of it and so forth?

AG: Well, they were warm. That's one thing I remember about them. But I don't have too much memory of our life in that because we moved to the other house in 1911, so I was only two years old. But the sod house was still there. I remember it, but I don't remember living in it.

MM: Adam, when you were growing up in your family, did they receive any German newspapers or were there books, so if you were interested in studying on these people, did you have access to reading materials?

AG: Oh yes. My father was a reader. He always subscribed to German newspapers. There was a German newspaper in North Dakota he always subscribed to. I forget the name of it. Then there was a Canadian one that was published in Regina. He always had those two papers, and he also bought books.

MM: Now, relating to the newspapers and the books, when you were growing up in Saskatchewan, did you grow up only with the German language? Were you speaking German then, at that time?

AG: We and all our neighbors all spoke German. We lived in an area where there were a lot of Germans from Russia. I heard no English in my home when I was a child.

MM: So when was your first experience with the English language?

AG: When I started school, when I was eight years old. We were out in the country, about four miles away from the school. They thought I was too young to go when I was seven, to walk all that way. So by the time I was eight, they thought I could do it.

MM: Before you went to school, could you read already then?

AG: Oh yes. I could read German very well.

MM: You showed me from your private library this first reader series. The first reader, the second reader, the third reader, and the fourth reader. Tell me a little bit about these books, Adam. This is very interesting.

AG: As I mentioned, I was the oldest grandson. Grandma lived just half a mile away from our place and so everybody took great interest in me. The oldest grandson... my father had six brothers and a sister, and they all lived close together. So they all took an interest in me. The first German book they bought me, I was five years old, and it was so feeble. I don't know what you call it in the English. It was a primary book which was mostly pictures. I had that when I was five years old. So they kept adding to them, and this is how I got the set of four. By the time I was eight years old, I had mastered those. What they used to do, they made me show off. They were all so proud of me, so they made me show off, so they'd give me one of these books when there were guests around, you know, visitors. They'd say, "You read this story for them," and I would read it. I could read any story they gave me to read. Of course, that was very impressive to these neighbors, I suppose.

MM: In looking at these books, it's even in the old German script.

AG: Oh yes. I had no problems with German script.

MM: So you grew up reading German, which was very important for your work later on in your career. When you went to school, you were quite proficient already in reading.

AG: Oh yes. Reading was easy for me and in the Fall of 1918, there was a flu epidemic. You probably heard about the flu epidemic. In the flu epidemic, they closed schools. Well, the school in Holdfast in town, that school opened, where our country school didn't open yet. So my dad thought I should go and stay at Grandpa's house. I stayed at Grandpa's house, and by that time I was in grade three. This was only... I'd started in the Spring of 1917, and by the Fall of 1918, I was in grade three. So I made rapid progress, and I remember when I went into this school in town the teacher... well actually, I was in grade two, but she gave me a grade three reader and I read it. So she put me into grade three. I got promoted right there. By being in school a year, I was able to read English. So I must have picked it up faster than most people did.

MM: Now, when you'd go home... that newspaper, The North Dakota Herold, that was published in Dickinson, North Dakota... that German newspaper... would you read that newspaper too?

AG: Oh yes.

MM: And did you find that quite interesting?

AG: Oh yes.

MM: What did you find in The Herold when you'd read it?

AG: There were, for instance, letters in there from Russia. My dad always read it very faithfully, and I always looked through it.

MM: When you, of course, were here in Canada, did all the relatives come to North America, or did some stay behind in South Russia?

AG: There were quite a few that stayed behind. My grandfather had one sister that came to America. She was married to Wendlyn Schwab, and my grandma had one brother that came to America. Now she was a Rissling. She belong to a Lehrerfamilie. Do you know what a Lehrerfamilie is? The teacher's family. Her father and her grandfather were teachers, and several of her uncles. So they were an educated group. But they all stayed behind except the one brother. They all died in Russia. You'll find in the book I wrote on my grandmother's people that there are some letters from there written over the period. So they used to hear from them periodically, quite a bit. Some of the old letters survived, and I grabbed them after Grandfather died. I translated them and they appear in that book.

MM: There was correspondence back and forth, then?

AG: Oh yes. Oh yes.

MM: And those relatives that stayed in South Russia, in the villages, did some of those survive and not immigrate to North America?

AG: Yes.

MM: Did you ever have any contact later, after the war and so forth?

AG: Well, we had some contact, but it was one family that had gone to Rumania. They were in the Dobruja. I don't know if you know the Dobruja. That's where they lived when they were evacuated from Rumania to Germany, during the war.

MM: What year would that have been?

AG: That would have been about 1940. From Germany some of them managed to come to Canada after the war. They live in Vancouver, and they are the descendants of my grandfather's sister, one of my grandfather's sisters. They are the only ones of that family that got here.

MM: Do you think there are still other relatives in Russia?

AG: I suppose there are, but I have not contact with them.

MM: Well, it's very interesting, Adam, when you mentioned the name Rissling. Because in the village of Selz today, there's a lady who came back to Selz and her last name is Rissling. And she came back, and she's one of the first former residents of Selz that went through the process, politically, to reclaim the house of the Rissling family.

AG: Did she get it?

MM: Yes. When we've been over with the tours, the Longtins and Brother Placid Gross, they know her. I want to see her when I'm there next May when I'm there. Mrs. Rissling to talk to me about something. But they're quite successful, but the last name is Rissling, which is rather interesting.

AG: You see, that's where my grandmother's family lived. Her grandfather and her father were both teachers over the years in Selz.

MM: In the school.

AG: Oh yes.

MM: Did the relatives talk much about the village, like the church in Mannheim, for example?

AG: Oh yes.

MM: Because there was a beautiful church there.

AG: I heard about their priests and so on. I have a lot of interest in that because there were at least six of my relatives who were priests in the German villages in Russia. Some of them my mother's relatives and some of them my father's.

MM: But these letters that would come from Selz and from the villages, were they telling about the difficulties they were having over there, about their life? What did they write about in these letters?

AG: Well, the early ones... you see, my grandfather came to America in 1900. By 1902 I think one of Grandma's brothers wanted to come very badly. So he wrote to them and he wanted a Freikart. Do you know what a Freikart is? A paid ticket for his family. Well, he thought that these guys were rich by this time. They weren't. He did manage to come about 10 years later. But he wrote letters, in I think 1902 or 1903, asking them to. And there were letters, all kinds of exchanges. Well, you can read about them in this book.

MM: And this book is rather interesting, My Grandmother's People. You wrote this book in what year?

AG: 1985. I can show you... here's Brief vun Deham, Letters From Home. Those are the letters, the contacts we had. They go all the way back to after the war and even after the Second World War. That's the Rissling. I had no communication from the Giesingers at all. You see, my grandfather was an only son, so he had no brothers. So his relatives over there had other surnames. They weren't Giesingers.

MM: When you were in school, you were in the town going to school and living with your grandfather. Did your parents or grandparents ever talk about wishing they were back home, or did they ever get homesick, about living in Russia again? Did they ever talk about getting homesick about the homeland, back in Russia?

AG: I can't remember that they were ever... I think they were glad they'd come. I really don't know.

MM: Did they ever say that they were glad they came to America? Did they ever talk about that they were glad they'd immigrated from Russia?

AG: Well, I'm sure they were glad they had come, but they didn't make a big fuss about it as I remember.

MM: When you were a child growing up, when they had Maistub, when they were talking with the other neighbors, because some of them had come here to live in Canada and the United States also, did they sit around and chat about the villager life over there in Russia?

AG: Oh yes, they used to do that. But we kids weren't too welcome in the midst of them. Little kids were a nuisance when there was a Maistub.

MM: But I think you took a little more interest than most.

AG: Yes, I took an interest.

MM: And that probably developed into your interest in writing and your interest in learning about your roots and your family history and so forth. Then later on you got interested in, and decided to write this major historical piece, from Catherine to Khrushchev, The Story of Russia's Germans. How did that develop that you decided to write this book?

AG: Well, it's a long story, because your interest grows as you get older and various things have developed.

MM: You have a wonderful piece here about how your history began.

AG: You learn things as you go along. As I told you, I learned about my grandfather's father's name. I didn't even know that until he died. Then I found out his name from the passport. Then things like I wrote to Germany. I heard about the Heimatbuch der Deutschen aus Russland, which was published after the Second World War, and I wanted to get a copy of it. I heard about it and I wanted to get a copy of it, so I wrote to the address and I got an answer from Dr. Stumpp. He happened to be the editor. That was in 1958. In the letter that he wrote to me, in answer to mine, he says, "I have a list of people that went to Russia," and he said, "in Mannheim there was a man named Jakob Giesinger; is he a relative of yours? Are you related to him?" This is what he asked me. Well, of course, I had never heard of this Jakob. I didn't know anything about the one that had gone to Russia. So anyway, I answered and I told him that I'm sure that he must be a relative because my grandfather and my father were both born in Mannheim, so they must be descendants of his. So then he sent me some more. Then he sent me the 1816 Census list in which the family that went to Russia is listed, and by that time I think they had about seven or eight children, and he listed all of those. Then I really got keenly interested. Now that was ignited in 1958, that special interest. That's really what started this book; that started me on this book. Then I wrote to him and asked how I could get literature. Could he send me a bibliography of books that I might be able to get in libraries about the Germans in Russia. And he wrote to me and he sent me a little booklet in which he listed all the things that had been written about the Germans in Russia, in the German language. Also his list told me in what library each of these could be found. So I wrote to those libraries and most of them said they would not lend me books overseas. They wouldn't do that, but they would make me photocopies. But I found one library that was willing to lend me books, so I started borrowing books. All through the 1960's I was accumulating knowledge and the books that are listed in here, for instance, the bibliography in this book, lists the books that I had read. Most of those I got from German libraries, and so throughout the 1960's I was working on this, using those books from German libraries. This was the first book. Nobody had even tried writing a book like this. My book was the first one in the United States. Father Aberle, he had written one, but that was a very poor book. People thought it was wonderful, but it was full of errors. Very full of errors. So mine was the first authoritative book on the Germans in Russia. And nobody has challenged anything in this yet. Nobody.

MM: It's the classic book. And how many printings have there been of this book, Adam?

AG: Oh, five or six anyway.

MM: When you finished high school in Saskatchewan, then you went on to college. What were your interests there for your studies?

AG: Well, I had no choice. This was a small college in which they had a standard course. You'd take it or leave it. So the courses I took there didn't matter, except there was a lot of Latin. It was a Jesuit college and you had to study Latin. So I studied Latin for seven years, and as a result of that, I can read Latin as easily as I can read English. Some of the vocabulary, of course, is gone, but I have a dictionary, and when there's a word there I can't read, I'll use the dictionary. But I can read these church records without any dictionary.

MM: Where was this college?

AG: In Regina, in Saskatchewan. One of the things that happened there too, that's of interest, is that I took high school there too. Four years of high school, and then three years of college for a BA degree. The last years, my father had crop failures. He was a farmer, and he had crop failures. He couldn't afford to send me on, so they gave me a job, teaching German to grades 11 and 12. Now this was when I was 18 years old, so I became a staff member while still a student.

MM: What was the name of the college?

AG: Campion College in Regina.

MM: Campion?

AG: Campion, yes.

MM: It was a private Jesuit Catholic college?

AG: Yes, that's right.

MM: Then, after you finished there, your BA degree, did you go on for more education?

AG: Oh yes. I got three more degrees after that.

MM: What were those degrees, and where?

AG: I got Bachelor of Education at the University of Saskatchewan, then when I came to Winnipeg, I was teaching in Saskatchewan high schools for a few years. Then I got an offer of a job, again from a Jesuit college in Winnipeg. St. Paul's College in Winnipeg. So I came to Winnipeg, and when I was in Winnipeg I decided I wanted to do graduate work. I had started graduate work in mathematics in Saskatchewan, so I wanted to carry on with that and they wouldn't accept any graduate students in mathematics at that time. Remember this was during the war time. They had a short staff, and the math profs were very busy teaching airmen. So I was talking to the dean and he happened to be head of the chemistry department, so he says, "Why don't you take chemistry?" So I said, "May I?" So I did. So I switched to chemistry and I got a Masters of Science in chemistry and then a PhD in chemistry. All the time I was still studying history, of course.

MM: Was this at the University of Manitoba?

AG: That was at the University of Manitoba, yes.

MM: Then you got your PhD in what year?

AG: I got that in 1957, many years later. I got the BA in 1929 and the PhD was in 1957.

MM: Then you continued to teach at the University of Manitoba?

AG: Oh yes. I've been on staff ever since.

MM: What year did you retire?

AG: I retired in 1976, twenty-one years ago.

MM: You were teaching chemistry at the University of Manitoba?

AG: Yes, that's right.

MM: But you always had this interest.

AG: One of the interesting things that happened... remember I was still teaching chemistry when I wrote this book. So when it appeared, and I had it printed myself, I didn't think any publisher would want to print a book like this. So I got it printed myself, paid for the printing, and when it appeared, people heard about it at the university. Adam Giesinger, chemistry prof, he has just written a book on history! And you know what I found? There were four members of the chemistry department besides me, that were also Germans from Russia.

MM: Oh my! Interesting.

AG: So they all got copies of the book right away and so the news spread rapidly. We never knew each other's backgrounds, you know.

MM: Now when I look at your collection here, Adam, and of course you have more books elsewhere, but you've developed quite a collection of books on the history of the Germans from Russia, and others - general history. How did this all develop, your interest develop, in this collection? You have quite a book collection here.

AG: Well, I was always bookish. I was always buying books, throughout my life. These go back to all sorts of places. This is an example. A book I picked up in a bookstore downtown, and that happened through the war.

MM: Let's go back to your own personal life. Of course, you raised your own family, but where did you meet your wife, and what was her name?

AG: It's a rather interesting story about how I met my wife. You have to go back to... what happened was a railway accident happened. In that railway accident, her eldest sister and her husband - that sister's husband, and a baby son were killed. These people happened to be friends of a fellow staff member at the college, at Campion; I was at Campion then. So I was teaching at Campion, and this other fellow was teaching, and they were friends of his. So he told me about them. He was very shocked because he had known both the sister and her husband quite well. The Spring when I graduated in 1929, Leo - this was my friend on the staff - Leo's girlfriend came, and Leo's girlfriend happened to be a sister of the one who was killed in the accident. So she's the first member of the family I met. That's my wife's oldest sister. Her name was Elisabeth. Bessie, we called her. So I met Betty. Then Betty and Leo, probably the following summer or a year later, they were going on a holiday trip in a car and invited me to come along, to go out to the Ingram home. This is where her people lived. There I met my future wife and her younger sister and their mother. The father was a highway contractor and he and his sons were away on a highway contract. So we drove out, we took the girls and the mother, and we drove out to the highway where they were working. That was further west of Saskatoon. That's how I met my wife. We actually sat in the back seat together, and I got to talk to her. So that's how I met her.

MM: And what was her full name?

AG: Margaret was her name.

MM: And her family name?

AG: Ingram. This was an Ingram family. They were a Scottish family. Anyway, she was then attending a convent school in Regina. A Sister's school for high school. She was doing high school work there. I was on the staff at Campion and her school was about a quarter of a mile away from my place, and I used to get her out. She was boarding there, and they weren't allowed out very easily. But we made a date each time for the next time, and we couldn't make the dates too often because the nuns would object. Now the nuns knew about it, but they'd close their eyes, because I was pretty well known in that area. I think they were rather amused that I would take to this little girl. She was pretty small, only three years younger than I, but she was quite small. This is how I met her and eventually she got her BA there, and by that time I was going back to University. I was at the University in Saskatoon, so she came up there too and we were in the same class, where I got my Education degree. She was in the same class, so she became a teacher.

MM: So you married in Saskatchewan?

AG: We were married a couple of years after that.

MM: I see, and then came to Winnipeg soon after that.

AG: Oh, that was some years later. We had three children before we came to Winnipeg.

MM: Have your children shared in this interest of the history of the Germans from Russia? Are they interested also in keeping on this tradition?

AG: More or less. But my children are an international group. My eldest son... now remember their mother is Scottish, and the eldest son married a girl of French background, who had an Irish grandmother. My eldest daughter married a Belgian who had an English mother. The next daughter married a Scot. Then my youngest son married an Irish girl. So when you get to the grandchildren, when you get to their children, you can see they have a lot of forefathers to think about. Not just mine. But actually, they probably know more about mine than they do about any of the others, because none of the others have gone in for family history. The kids all know about this, oh yes.

MM: When you look back in your own life to this history of the Germans from Russia, I'm interested in knowing about what was life like. Do you remember the era of World War I?

AG: The beginning? Yes, I remember that.

MM: And being a German in Canada, were there problems where you lived?

AG: There were. There certainly were. There were serious problems. There used to be fights in town. The area in which we lived, there were Germans from Russia east of town, and English / Anglos west of town. They'd all meet in town and there were lots of arguments and fights.

MM: Were you still able to speak German?

AG: Oh yes. I'm still able to now.

MM: But it was not forbidden that you were not supposed to speak German.

AG: Well, by that time it really didn't touch us. Because we were out in the country.

MM: You were isolated.

AG: It really didn't touch us. I think the people in town had to be careful, maybe. But there were German business people in town too, you see. You have to remember that, so we didn't have to deal with the English in most cases.

MM: Did you have people you knew, friends or relatives or whoever, who didn't want to let other people know they were German Russians?

AG: Oh yes.

MM: They weren't all that proud of it?

AG: Some hid themselves completely. They changed their names.

MM: Why did they do this?

AG: I don't know. Because they were afraid. I don't approve of that, by the way. I don't think people should be ashamed of their background.

MM: Later on, when there was Communism, and we're talking now about World War II, was there ever a situation, did you ever hear that these German Russians were called Rooshins?

AG: Oh yes, oh yes. But you know, the Second World War was not nearly as bad. The First World War, our people were still very German, and the younger generation did not join the army until they were forced to. But by the Second World War, the situation had completely changed. They were Canadianized, Anglicized, the younger generation. So there wasn't the same ill feeling towards us. I had no problems. I had more problems when I first started teaching. If you applied to a school, one of the questions they always asked was, "What kind of a name is that?" They'd ask me, "What kind of a name is that?" And I'd tell them, "It's a German name." So sometimes, that finished you, when you applied for a school. That was after the First World War, but throughout the Second World War, I've never had any problems.

MM: You've never had any problems.

AG: Never, never. Everybody at the University of Manitoba knew who I was, what I was.

MM: And there were many other Germans, of course.

AG: Oh yes, there were lots of others there too.

MM: Direct German descendants.

AG: Yes.

MM: Especially during that time period of World War I, did they call these people Germans or German Russians? Did they categorize them with all Germans?

AG: We didn't have as much of that kind of thing as you had in the States. I don't remember them ever being called Rooshins. I really don't. They considered them Germans.

MM: They considered them Germans.

AG: Oh yes. That's right.

MM: Because they were speaking the German language, which was important.

AG: That's right.

MM: What I'm interested in knowing is, did you ever know Dr. Joseph Height?

AG: Oh yes, very well. I had much contact with him.

MM: How did you get to know him, through correspondence?

AG: Yes, through correspondence and in personal meetings. He has visited here in this house.

MM: Because Joseph Height, of course, did some wonderful works on the Germans from Russia, and has wonderful archives on the German Russians, and especially our Black Sea Germans. Joseph Height also grew up in Saskatchewan.

AG: That's right. As a matter of fact, his birthday is the same year as mine, 1909. He was born in 1909, but of course he died long ago, now.

MM: Yes. When you wrote from Catherine to Khrushchev what kind of reaction did you have to your book? Was it well received?

AG: Oh yes, it was. I got a first printing of a thousand. As you know, I financed it myself. The first printing of a thousand, and in a year and a half it was all gone. So I got a second printing. It is so much work, shipping these books out all the time that I decided to give the book away, and I gave it away. I gave the rights to... you can see, it's mentioned in there... I gave the rights to AHSGR. At that time I was president of AHSGR, and I decided to donate the book. I get no income from it at all. I should have had more sense than that. I should have said, "give me a dollar for each book that you sell." But I get nothing, and they've got a bargain, I think.

MM: What have you seen, Adam, in changes now, in the whole research on the Germans from Russia, and now with this technology and so forth, what have you seen evolve? When you think about when you began doing this research, and then of course the two societies developed on the Germans from Russia, and collections develop at NDSU and Fargo, and we've all got more interest in this. Do you find that today people are more willing to say that I'm German Russian, than it was earlier on?

AG: Oh, I think so, yes. A lot of them admit it now, which they didn't used to admit. Oh yes, I think so. I think they are more proud of their background.

MM: Than it was when you were growing up.

AG: Oh yes.

MM: And there is much more literature today.

AG: Oh yes. Of course.

MM: Are you using this new technology to find access to material? For instance, are you using the computer so that you can find material on your roots, or do you communicate with other people on the computer?

AG: Oh yes, I use the computer a lot.

MM: How has this helped you in your research?

AG: Well, it's really hard to say. It has helped me in writing it up. When I wrote my first book, from Catherine to Khrushchev, I was using a portable electric typewriter. I typed the manuscript on that myself. When I published this other book, My Grandmother's People, I was still using this typewriter. That was in 1985. This one, which appeared in '92, is completely printed on that machine there. Completely. I typed it. I typed the manuscript and the printers simply photographed it.

MM: And this book title is The Way it Was: A Family History and Autobiography, by Adam Giesinger. And this was printed and published in 1992?

AG: Yes.

MM: Very interesting. And what is this book all about?

AG: Well, it deals with... first of all, the first three chapters deal with the family history. Chapters four, five, I think up to six and seven, are my personal history.

MM: Autobiography.

AG: Autobiography. Then there are three chapters that deal with the Germans from Russia, my research in Germans from Russia. And finally, there's a sort of a "putting it all together" piece.

MM: People are always still digging for their roots. Have you found anything new in the last few years, that you didn't know, from research?

AG: Oh yes. In this book, for instance, there's only one thing I'd like to change if I could, and that is some parts of the family history. Because when I wrote this in '92, I did not know that my grandfather's father was a son of the immigrant. You know the immigrant family I'm talking about, the one that went from Alsace to Russia. Now my grandfather's father was the youngest son of that family. I didn't know that. I thought he was a son of the eldest son. See, there were two Jakobs. There was Jakob Sr., that's the head of the family, and the eldest son was also named Jakob. I thought that my grandfather's grandfather was Jakob, but the Jr. This tells the story, so if you go, for instance here, on I think page 22 or someplace... in any event, a lot of the connections between the immigrant family and ourselves here in America, a lot of the connections are wrong in this book. I'll give you a page which shows it. But in any event, if I could rewrite just a paragraph here and there, there's a paragraph on page 22. There is Jakob Giesinger Jr., you see, and I ascribed all sorts of things to him. Well, actually, he didn't do any of these things. It was his father that did them. His father, Jakob Sr.

MM: Well, how did you discover that this is incorrect?

AG: I discovered that by getting that material from Odessa. I don't know if you know the start of that. What happened was, Bob Schuh sent me a Latin document, which was a baptismal record of my grandfather's father, Adam Giesinger. By this time I knew the name, but I thought Adam Giesinger was the son of Jakob Jr. But this document told me definitely that he was the son of Jakob Sr. So everything I say about Jakob Jr. in there is wrong. It's scattered, of course. It's not a big section of the book, but pieces here and there. As a result of that, of course, what was an uncle or what was an aunt, now becomes a cousin. What was a second cousin becomes a first cousin. And all sorts of things change as a result of that. But that's all.

MM: Is this discovery, is this original papers in Odessa that appear in the archives?

AG: These are papers from Mannheim parish that are in this Odessa archive.

MM: So this tells us that had we not been able to get to these archives and look at these Odessa archives, a lot of things would be unknown that would not be accurate or people would not have certain...

AG: Most people going back through... remember, what we had really, was family tradition. Grandpa would tell you a story and later on you'd think about that. So you had a sort of a picture of the interconnection, but you were often wrong, because it was guess work. And that's true... everybody has that problem. They're all trying to document now.

MM: Right, it's better to have, if you can find original sources, and then look as best you can. So this, I think later in your life, then, this was quite new for you to find this new data.

AG: Oh yes. Very, very new. Remember, I wrote this in '92, and in 1992 I hadn't a clue then. I didn't learn about that until 1995.

MM: Have you found anything else new since then?

AG: Oh, all sorts of things. Yes, I've found many things. I now know the names of three additional children in that family; I know whom they married. I know this Jakob Jr., to whom I assigned so much, he never got married. There's no sign of a marriage in the records at all.

MM: Now how closely related would these people be?

AG: Remember that my grandfather was a grandson of the original settler. So all these who came to America were all cousins of his. They were all his cousins. They were the same level as he was. Only he was younger, because he was the youngest son of the youngest son.

MM: Do you have many relatives, Adam, in North Dakota or in the United States?

AG: Oh yes, all kinds of them, yes.

MM: And where are they living?

AG: Some of them are in the Strasburg area, but they're scattered. That's where they settled, but they scattered. There's another branch in Montana, and they're all over now. There's another group that settled in South Dakota, not in Aberdeen, but west of there, or east of there. Three brothers settled there.

MM: Do you still get much correspondence?

AG: Oh yes.

MM: Do you find that some of this correspondence is coming from people who are younger also? Younger people, are they interested in all of this?

AG: Oh yes, quite a few of them. I have made contacts, for instance through the listserve, with people who are related to me and whom I never knew about. They are grandchildren of, for instance, I mentioned Franz, who settled in Strasburg? Well I have grandchildren of his that are in this listserve.

MM: It's wonderful, because even at your age, you still can make communication, looking at a screen, and it's like you get to know these people. It becomes a real friendship, a renewed relationship.

AG: Yes.

MM: Now, are some of your children on the listserve also?

AG: No, no. Not yet.

MM: We'll have to get them interested.

AG: They're on e-mail, though. Practically everybody in my family is on e-mail.

MM: What we'll have to do later, is that if you can get me some of their addresses, we can let them know about all of this.

AG: They know, but when you've got eight great-grandparents, each of a different nationality, it's pretty complicated.

MM: I see. But fortunately, they have a grandpa who wrote a book on his roots. It makes a difference.

AG: They're all interested in that.

MM: So your library collection here, Adam, and all of your materials go back how many years?

AG: This collection? Well, it goes back to the beginning. That one about the history of the First World War was published in 1919.

MM: And this is a book that you had as a child.

AG: That's right.

MM: Let's talk a little bit about the folklore and folkways, food ways of the German Russians. Let's switch topics a little bit and talk about what you remember as a child in the home. First of all, I'm interested in knowing about the folk medicines of the German Russians. Do you remember much about that?

AG: No.

MM: Did you go to a regular doctor?

AG: I know they used to do things like brauche, but I have no personal knowledge. One of the things that you have to realize is that I left home when I was 13 years old to go to college. I attended a boarding college, so that I missed a lot of things that the others might have heard. But I never heard them, because I was gone.

MM: Did you come home summers?

AG: Yes, but in the summer we were busy farming.

MM: You had to help with the farm work.

AG: Oh yes. I was with the bailer or plowing, or on a binder.

MM: Were they still using horses yet?

AG: In the early years. In the 1920's they were still using horses, but gradually it went over to a tractor. By the 1930's they were in tractors.

AG: If you read my story in there, you'll see some pictures. I remember we had a thrashing machine; this would be about 1927 or thereabouts, my dad bought it. And we had a tractor, that in the earlier years, they used to use steam tractors, but by this time they were using gasoline ones. My father had this John Deere outfit, and of course, they used it to plow and to do everything else.

MM: What about the food ways? Your mother was German Russian too, so there was a lot of cooking of German foods. They did a lot of cooking with all of the German tradition. Were there a lot of noodles in the home?

AG: Oh yes. Noodles. Borscht soup I remember. But eating was not a specialty of mine. I didn't pay too much attention to that.

574 KB

MM: When it came time for Christmas, how do you remember as a child growing up, what was special about Christmas? Anything special that you remember?

AG: When I was small, the Christkindl used to come. It was somebody dressed up, usually one of the younger relatives. I don't remember too much about that. Except we always went to Midnight Mass. I remember that, and I liked that.

MM: Was the service in German?

AG: Yes, the service was in German until... in the 1920's it was still in German. They gradually switched over.

MM: So they even had the German service in church, even in World War I, in German?

AG: Oh yes. The service was still in German.

MM: Well, did they have a German priest then?

AG: Oh yes. An immigrant from Germany. They were Oblate priests that would come from Germany. They were the parish priests. Oh yes.

MM: What about a wedding in your family? Were weddings quite a large activity? A wedding celebration?

AG: Yes. I don't remember too many of them, again, because the weddings were usually in the Fall. When I was old enough to be interested in something like that, they were in the Fall, and I was away at college. I never saw much of them. I can remember one wedding in 1920, in which one of my mother's cousins got married. The wedding was in my uncle's house. They had a big farm house and the wedding was there. I can remember that just vaguely. I was only 11 years old.

781 KB

MM: At the age of 13, when you went to this boarding school in Regina, high school and college, were there a lot of other German Russian children there?

AG: Oh yes. Oh yes. But we didn't really worry much about that. I can tell you one thing I remember, though. At this college we had our people, the German Russians. And we had some Irish and French Catholics as well. Occasionally there would be little wars, a bit of fighting go on. Somebody would say something insulting, and I can remember, I was a little guy at that time, when I first started there. I had big brothers, older ones, they looked after us. I can remember one guy... one guy hit me, and this guy came along and BANG... they always defended us. So we stuck together, not even realizing our people had come from Russia. We didn't realize that. We just naturally gravitated towards each other. We knew we were German-speaking.

MM: When you were going to school then, in the high school, amongst yourselves, those that were German Russians, did you speak German?

AG: No, no.

MM: English?

AG: English.

MM: Already then it was English.

AG: By that time we were Anglicized. We always spoke English. But we took German in high school. We still studied German in high school. And later, as I mentioned, I actually taught high school German there for awhile.

MM: But when you'd come home summers, with your folks and the rest of the family, you'd speak German?

AG: Oh yes, yes. Always. No English spoken in our home.

MM: Your parents learned to speak English?

AG: My father did. Not my mother.

MM: Your mother never learned?

AG: She never learned.

MM: She never learned?

AG: No. She understood some, but she never spoke it.

MM: But your father learned English.

AG: Oh yes. My father knew it quite well.

MM: And he could read the newspaper in English.

AG: Oh yes. Oh yes. And books. Many of the pioneers were illiterate, or nearly so. So when you had somebody like my father... he had a year of high school in Russia, and so when they set up a school, I remember this was one of the things that happened. They had to elect a school board. Well, they needed somebody who could read and write to be secretary. Well, my dad was picked for that. So he was secretary of the school board for quite a few years, until the younger generation came along and then it passed to other families.

MM: So your father and your mother felt it was important their children became educated?

AG: Oh yes, oh yes.

MM: Was that true of the neighbors too?

AG: I think I was the first one in our neighborhood that went on to high school. The first one. By the time my youngest brother, my two youngest brothers... there was a high school in town. But there hadn't been when I was high school age. You had to go away. Many people couldn't afford that.

MM: What about the young girls? Could they go to high school?

AG: No. They went less. Later on, yes, when there was a high school in town, the girls used to go on, yes. But not when they had to send them away.

MM: When the German Russian girls would get married, what would be the normal age when they got married?

AG: Oh, I suppose 18 to 20, somewhere in there.

MM: That young. Were there arranged marriages, yet, then?

AG: Not too much. The young were rebellious about things like that. There were some who tried to arrange marriages, but it didn't work out very well usually. I don't remember; I think in most cases the young couple made the choice themselves.

MM: But those early years, were the parents like your parents careful that their children, if they were going to get married and so forth, it didn't matter to them if they married another German Russian, they could marry another ethnic group?

AG: Well, we didn't really ask them. (laughter) As far as I was concerned, they heard about it indirectly, at first that I had a girlfriend who was Scottish. But they liked her. After we got married and we used to visit, my mother liked her a lot. She liked my wife a lot.

MM: But your mother and your wife...

AG: Didn't communicate very well. They got along.

MM: Interesting. What about religion? Was it very important that they married... like you were Catholic, that you find a Catholic girl?

AG: Oh, I think that they liked that. I think they considered that very important. Yes. But that didn't always happen either. As the years passed by, there was less and less control of that kind of exercise.

MM: So you went off to a boarding school, and this meant that you didn't experience all of this home life because you were away at school, from the age of 13 on.

AG: Yes.

MM: For nine months. And you'd come home in the summertime, and of course, it was very busy and you didn't have too much time. Were there times in growing up where there were a lot of hardships, where there were poor crops and you didn't have enough money in the family?

AG: Oh yes. There were crop failures. Southern Saskatchewan had a series of crop failures in the early 1920's. That's when I was away at college too, and eventually it got the best of my father. He couldn't afford to send me to college anymore and I got a job teaching there, teaching German.

MM: Did they finally have to give up the farm?

AG: Oh no, no.

MM: He kept the farm.

AG: He retired from it eventually.

MM: And then they sold the farm?

AG: He didn't sell it, but his son that farmed it, he sold it eventually. That was after my father's death.

MM: So, it's no longer in the family?

AG: No, it's no longer in the family.

MM: How many brothers and sisters were there in your family?

AG: There were six of us. Actually, I had an older brother that died before I was born. But there were five of us then; a sister and four brothers. I mean there were six of us. I had one sister and four brothers.

MM: Are any of the others still living?

AG: My sister is still living. She's next to me in age. My four brothers have all died. They were all younger.

MM: And how old is your sister?

AG: She is two years younger than I am.

MM: She is 86.

AG: Yes.

MM: Living where; in Winnipeg?

AG: No, in Regina.

MM: In Regina.

AG: Yes.

MM: Does she share this interest on her German Russians?

AG: Oh, to some extent. But she's not too keen. She doesn't worry too much about it.

MM: Who do you think, in your family, of your children or grandchildren, is going to take on, to continue all this work that you've done? Do you hope that someone will continue this work?

AG: Oh yes, I think so. I have an idea that my eldest son, after he retires, that he will be getting busy into this. He took me on a trip through Europe, visiting all of the ancestral home places.

MM: In Alsace?

AG: In Alsace and elsewhere in Germany. We had forefathers who lived in Austria and we visited Austria, Switzerland and Alsace, and the Palatinate and so on. Oh yes.

MM: Because that is very important with such a collection, that it be continued in the next generations. Now with this new technology...

AG: Rob was the only one of my children who took a German class at the university. So he has some interest in the language too, but he has forgotten what he learned. But it'll come back.

MM: We'll have to make communications with him, so he knows about what we're trying to do with all of this. Later on.

AG: Oh, he keeps track. He visits me two or three times a year, and he looks at the new records I have.

MM: Do you think there are more records that you would like to find? Are you still searching for more material?

AG: Not too much, no. There's no end to it, you know, but I have my Giesinger forefathers back in a full straight line back to 1632. A man born in 1632. His name was Hansjörg. Johannes Georg Giesinger. And he's the first one whose name I know. I know whom he married; I know when he died; I know the names of his children. And I can trace my Giesinger ancestry from myself back to him. No missing links anymore.

MM: That's on the Giesinger side.

AG: That's on the Giesinger side. Then the Rissling side, that's my grandmother's people, I'm only back to the 1780's.

MM: But that's very important for me to get a copy of something because we need to show that to Mrs. Rissling in Selz today, because that could be a relationship.

AG: You'll find the letters that I translated, they're very interesting.

MM: Very interesting, yes, I've read those letters. Now, as far as you know, you've never had any contact with any relatives that stayed behind. In recent years you've never had any correspondence with anyone. You don't know of anyone who was ever sent to Siberia.

AG: Remember, there's also my mother's people. I've had contact with some of my mother's people.

MM: What was their name?

AG: Their name was Seelinger. They came from Rastadt.

MM: Oh, I see.

AG: I've had correspondence with two different ones that are in Germany now, of that Seelinger family.

MM: Did they come out in 1944 - '45?

AG: They came after the war. Some of them as late as 1950.

MM: So they were never sent to Siberia.

AG: Oh yes, oh yes. They were in Siberia. But they survived and got out eventually.

MM: But none have immigrated recently.

AG: What?

MM: When did they immigrate to Germany, 1950?

AG: 1950... some of them all the way to the 1970's.

MM: Some were able to get out then?

AG: They were not all at the same time.

MM: And you correspond with them?

AG: Yes, I've corresponded.

MM: Do they freely write about what was life like when they went to Siberia and all of that?

AG: Oh yes, yes. But they're more interested in me than in supplying me with information. They're interested in what happened to us. Now, my mother's people too, I have traced back all the way. There are no gaps, back to 1632. He happened to be born the same year.

MM: What name was that?

AG: 1632, I have them traced back.

MM: And what family name?

AG: Seelinger.

MM: Seelinger, way back to then.

AG: Yes.

MM: Your mother and father. Were they both in Selz or in Mannheim? Where did they meet and get married, your parents.

AG: My parents. They met in Saskatchewan.

MM: Oh, they really met in Saskatchewan?

AG: Oh yes. My father was 16 years old when they left Russia and they came in 1900. My mother's people came in 1903, and she would be about 16 years old then, too. They didn't meet until they were settled in Saskatchewan.

MM: But your mother grew up, as a child she was in Rastadt, in the Beresan villages?

AG: That's right.

MM: Very interesting. When your parents came, did they come through North Dakota?

AG: My mother's people? No. My father's people did.

MM: But your mother's people came directly to Saskatchewan.

AG: Yes. To Canada.

MM: So they came via the northern route.

AG: Yes, that's right. They landed in Halifax.

MM: They landed in Halifax, and then they took the train?

AG: They took the train to Regina. In Regina, they would learn about where there were homesteads.

MM: By then they probably already had relatives over here.

AG: They had relatives there. They had relatives living near Regina. They had many relatives. There were Seelingers and Eberles. Eberle was my grandma's family name; there were some of them too.

MM: When you were growing up and there were still some relatives in North Dakota, would they go down and visit those relatives?

AG: Oh yes, yes.

MM: Or they would come up to visit?

AG: There were visits back and forth, oh yes. There was a family, particularly, in Rugby, North Dakota... Jakob. They were in McHenry County. They were pioneers... Jakob Giesinger. And his son John lives in Rugby. He was on the board of GRHS, John Giesinger. His parents and my parents visited back and forth.

MM: Did you ever go down to visit in North Dakota? When you were growing up, would you go along with the parents to visit in North Dakota?

AG: No, I don't think, because those visits were when I was at college. I don't remember ever going with them there. But on my own, I've visited all of those places. I've visited all of the relatives. All the various relatives.

MM: When your grandparents decided to immigrate North America, how did they find out? Through relatives over here already, that they could homestead and get this land, or would they find out through an agent, or through the railroad company?

AG: They found out through relatives who were over here.

MM: Through correspondence.

AG: Yes. You see, my grandfather Giesinger, he had a step-brother named Müller, Englebert Müller, who lived in Aberdeen. He came to America in 1893, and they corresponded. This step-brother was because my grandfather's mother had married after his father's death, and she had married a Müller. So these are Müller step-brothers. All the Müllers in Aberdeen and in various parts of Canada are relatives in that way. Anyway, that's how the Giesingers heard, then the Seelingers... there were all sorts of relatives. There were relatives of theirs that came to Canada directly in the early 1890's. 1891, 1892. They had correspondence with them. So they didn't get it through an agent.

MM: Those that came earlier on in the 1870's...

AG: No, not any of mine.

MM: Not any of your relatives, but the early settlers. How did they find out about this land availability in the Dakota Territory and then into Canada? Was this through the railroad companies doing advertising over there?

AG: Oh yes. There was advertising in Odessa. Yes.

MM: That's very interesting, because when I was in Odessa at the Odessa Scientific Library, they showed this German newspaper in Odessa which had these advertisements in it.

AG: Oh yes. That brought a lot of them over here. The first ones came that way. But then after that there was a lot of correspondence.

MM: The first settlers, then more came. They would come where the other ones were and so forth.

AG: And you see, the shipping companies advertised in Odessa all the time. They found customers.

MM: Yes. Then they started coming in large numbers and of course, later settlement came to Saskatchewan and Alberta. But a lot of them came via North Dakota and South Dakota.

AG: Oh yes, oh yes.

MM: Through Eureka, of course.

AG: The earlier ones came through there, and it wasn't until 1905, 1906 that they moved from North Dakota into Saskatchewan. There were quite a few. Several hundred families from North Dakota settled, came to Saskatchewan.

MM: But before 1905, there were not many German Russians in Saskatchewan?

AG: Oh yes, there were some that came directly from Russia. The Seelinger relatives, they came in the 1890's.

MM: Were there many that settled in Manitoba? German Russians?

AG: Oh yes. The Mennonites.

MM: The Mennonites, of course.

AG: Not ours, not many of our people.

MM: No. About what time did the Mennonites come?

AG: Oh, they came in the 1870's.

MM: They came much earlier then. When you have done your research and so forth here, what have you depended on in your collections? You've developed quite a collection of books and so forth, but your research today... where do you get most of your material that you're still working on today, when you want some material? Is it more from your work on the computer?

AG: I haven't gotten much help over the computer. I think I've learned about one relative through my membership on this listserve. One relative that I heard about that I didn't know about beforehand. I've contributed far more than I've gained.

MM: Yes, I'm aware of that. And I think that will develop as that all gets ironed out on the listserve. The listserve has told us that you've got all kinds of German Russian people out there. Our German Russian people, when they were over in Russia, when they were in Germany, when they came to America... you have all different kinds of people with different interests. And how willing they are to share information. I think the good thing is that with this new technology and writing and so forth, and publishing, that the younger people are also getting more interested. Because I've always heard that it's only the older people. When you go to the German Russian conventions, you see mostly older people. But they have to remember that the younger generation may not be coming to these conferences. They're finding their material other ways. Of course you're aware of that and this is what's happened because we're well aware of that in how they're using our web sites and so forth.

AG: I have a pile this high of e-mail letters I've received from members, asking for information.

MM: Why do you think, now that there are different ways of finding their roots... you have through books, you have through correspondence, you have through letters, you have through archives, and now technology. Why is it important to trace your ancestral roots? I know that I've been to Russia now, to Ukraine, and those people said they're not supposed to do this. But in Canada and the United States they're very interested in tracing their roots. Of course, especially you, and some of us, have been very interested. Why is it important that people should know about their forefathers? What made you interested in doing this?

AG: Well I'm doing it because I'm interested, that's all. That's all I can say. Some people consider it of no importance at all. Some of them have said to me, "Why do you bother? What's that good for?" I'm just interested. There's no special reason for it.

MM: I just have a feeling there's a lot of other people interested. There are many people who are interested.

AG: Of course there are. There are many people interested, and they don't know why they're interested. You don't have to know why. You're just interested. Why, for instance, did I buy all these books? No particular reason. If you ask me about a particular book, why did you buy that book, I don't know. I'm just interested. It has nothing to do with me personally, yet I bought it.

MM: But I think, because of your interest, you've generated interest in your children and grandchildren to continue this tradition of being interested.

AG: Of course they will.

MM: Because it's important to know about, also, what was pioneer and homestead life in Saskatchewan and North Dakota and South Dakota, and not only back in Russia or back in Germany or Alsace, but they need to know about life here too. Now we can't ask too many people anymore, about what do you remember about life in Russia, because they can only answer what they found out from their parents or grandparents, and a lot of them didn't talk about that issue many times.

AG: No. You know, our people did not talk very much about Russia. Did you ever?

MM: No.

AG: They seemed to gradually forget it altogether. When I was small, they used to speak about the 'Deham 'n Russland'. They still called it home, the 'Haam in Russland'. Whereas, say ten, 15 years later, they never used that expression anymore.

MM: That quickly it changed?

AG: Yes. A gradual change.

MM: But we have to remember they were coming over here usually with big families and very little income. They had to struggle and make a life for themselves. So they didn't have access to a lot of reading or time to do a lot of research and so forth. I think the only thing they would do is get together with Maistub and talk about it, and that was as far as it went. But fortunately, there were people like yourself that had an interest and remembered some of this, so you documented it in books. A lot of our other people should do that, and I think the literature of the Germans from Russia has improved considerably in the last 25 years.

AG: Oh yes, oh yes, it has.

MM: I would have to say that from Catherine to Khrushchev was a leader in beginning an authoritative research tool, recognized, not only in North America, but also worldwide by the Germans from Russia. That's very important. Then other publications came about and then Dr. Stumpp's material became available, and then Dr. Height published and so forth, and now we're publishing new things. There needs to be a lot of research also on the folk ways. The big question now is, that a lot of our people are so used to watching the video screen or the television screen that they don't want to read as much and they want to look at something visually. That's why we're hopeful in producing this documentary, because we want to give them an umbrella or a very basic background on who are Germans from Russia. Because some people, as we know, don't know their ancestral story like they should. And they don't always want to buy a book to read it, or take the time to read it. They want a one-page summary and they think, "that's all I need." Which is not the way it is. We find that out!

AG: There are still a lot of people who don't read.

MM: They can read.

AG: They can read, but they don't read.

MM: They don't read too much, and not all, but other ethnic groups... our German Russian people are not, generally speaking, book-buyers. We know that in the number of members in the society.

AG: Yes.

MM: The two societies that should be much larger.

AG: As you probably know, I was an original member of both AHSGR and GRHS. I was in both of them from the beginning. I've served on the board of both of them. So I'm very familiar with that and one of the things I was always told... I tended to be intellectual when I gave a talk, and some of them didn't like it. Why bother with that was sort of the attitude. Now these are people... why were they in this society? For social reasons. They liked the company, but they weren't interested in the history.

MM: Right.

AG: There were a lot of those in both societies.

MM: And still today of course.

AG: Still true, isn't it?

MM: Right. But I think a lot of those who are interested in the intellectual, they're finding their information other ways than coming to the conferences. That's how it is; that's how it's going to be. I sense that more and more. I think that this communication through other vehicles, which is, of course, this computer, has helped somewhat, for people who are isolated. There are a lot of people who are out there in certain situations, where they don't have access to collections. They are far away from where they can get to North Dakota or Manitoba where they can get to these collections, so it's helped in that way. Those people are buying books. I'm quite surprised at how they are buying books from our web site. They want to find out. What our hope is, is that we can develop a link so that all those people coming back today... not all, but many of those people, like the Kutchurgan people that are coming back today from Siberia. There are some that still have good memories of their life in the '20's, '30's and 40's. Of course they're older, but they're coming back to Germany, and those people need to be documented. Because they can remember yet, about what it was like.

AG: Do you find them easy to interview?

MM: It's getting... yes, if they're back in Germany. The biggest problem is that for some, it's very difficult to talk about it.

AG: And some of them don't even know German very well.

MM: No, but fortunately, the ones we're interested in, their grandparents or parents saw to it that they continue German. I would have to say that of all the people I've talked to, that those that were of Kutchurgan heritage, that were sent to Siberia... their grandparents or parents made a real effort for them to keep German. The ones we're interested in. So we're going to start an interview program with those and they have promised that they're going to help because we can't do all this work from over here, financially. We're also interviewing... we have a student who has majored in German in Odessa, who has now done 16 interviews for us of people who are ethnic Germans that are in Odessa or that are in the villages, that stayed behind. Those interviews are very good.

AG: That should help a lot.

MM: But the problem is, they won't answer certain questions.

AG: No, no.

MM: Which is understandable. But we have to leave those questions aside. They don't want to talk about the Stalinism era, because they're afraid that there are relatives that still want to come to Germany or they're afraid. They still have this comment of, "Who's going to listen to this tape?"

AG: Yes, there are certain things they don't want to talk about.

MM: The people who are returning to Germany from Siberia write to us, or some of them were here this summer. They say to us that please help us to tell the story to the people in North America about what happened to us in Siberia. They say that hasn't been documented well enough. They say people know about the stories about what happened to the Jewish community, but they don't know what happened to us during the Stalinism period. They say that it's documented, but not the stories. So I said, "Well, you have to help us write your stories." It's interesting because a lot of those people who are in their 60's and so forth say that we that can speak German but we can't write it well enough.

AG: You mentioned a Rissling lady in Selz. Now, is that her maiden name? Rissling?

MM: That's her maiden name. She took back her maiden name. But she was one of those who was sent... she was one of those in Latvia, and she came back about 1991 or '92, and she persevered and claimed, and she went through all the red tape and has gotten back the original Rissling house, which is very interesting. She, of course, knows Antonia Welk Ivonova who is in old Selz too.

AG: I'd like to form some sort of contact with her. Would she be able to write German?

MM: Oh yes.

AG: She can, huh?

MM: Oh yes. The best person would be for you to contact... remind me with an e-mail message. And the Longtins in Fargo know her. They have her address, and Brother Placid Gross in Richardton has her address. He was there, had lunch with her and so forth, and they did to. They would know more about her, as if she can communicate in German. That I don't know for sure, if she knows German yet. Because I've never met her. Did you meet her, Bob?

Bob: Yes, twice.

MM: Did she speak German?

Bob: She was speaking German, yes.

MM: He met her. Bob met the woman.

AG: And she speaks German, does she?

MM: I think, if I remember right, Brother Placid is writing to her in German. So we'll have to get you the address.

AG: I'd like to get it.

MM: Because that stamp on that envelope is very expensive for them. Mrs. Rissling, according to the Longtins, is doing quite well. They have a nice house, big garden and everything.

AG: What Rissling, what would be the name of the Rissling man who lived there before?

MM: That I don't know.

AG: She would know that, wouldn't she?

MM: Well, Brother Placid knows that at Richardton. I can give you his address. You know him, don't you? Have you had correspondence with him? Brother Placid Gross. He's from Napoleon originally.

AG: No, I don't.

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