People from around the world came to Spokane this week to celebrate their heritage at the 41st Annual Germans from Russia Heritage Society International Convention.
The convention, which began Wednesday and runs through Sunday, features workshops and presentations on the history and culture of the ethnic group, including the history of German Brauche, or faith healing, religious life in German villages in Russia, how DNA can help with genealogy research, how to make German foods and the hardships endured in communist Soviet Union.
“I just think it’s important our children know what our ancestors went through, what they sacrificed so we could live in a free country,” said Shirlein Vetter, of Bismarck, N.D. “We don’t realize what we have and why we have it. It’s because of the sacrifices of our ancestors.”
Germans from Russia are descendants of Germans who immigrated to the Russian Empire between 1764 and 1862 at the invitations of Catherine II and her grandson, Alexander I, who wanted to populate the land south and east of Moscow and bring Western culture and industry to the empire.
About 27,000 German immigrants accepted the offer in the late 1700s, followed by another 50,000 between 1804 and 1862. They traveled by wagon or took boats down the Danube River, sometimes spending more than a year en route.
The immigrants largely maintained their own language and culture upon settling in Russia. Tensions began to rise as promises made to them by the Russian government were set aside; Russian language became mandatory in school and Germans were forced to serve in the military. A mass migration began in the late-1800s and immigrants settled in the Dakota Territory of the United States, where most farmed wheat.
The convention takes place in Bismarck, headquarters of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society, every other year. It takes place in a different city each year it’s not held in North Dakota. This year’s convention is hosted by the Inland Northwest Chapter, which was started in 2003 and has about 75 members.
“The chapter here is fairly new,” Vetter said. “They did an awesome job putting this together.”
Charles Pflugrath, whose grandparents immigrated to North Dakota from Russia, came from Richmond, Va., to attend the convention.
“I really do enjoy them,” he said. “You learn so much about the history of your people.”