Date of this Version
Standing at the corner of Tenth and O streets in the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, any week-day morning between 7:30 and 8 o'clock, you may see pass by you from ten to twenty women with little black woolen shawls on their heads. Ask any citizen who they are, and ninety-nine times in one hundred he will tell you they are "Russians" who live down on the bottoms, that they are going out into the offices and homes to wash and scrub and clean house, and that their husbands are street laborers or work for the railroad. He may then grow confidential and tell you that he "has no use for these people", that "they are only half human", and that he "would just as soon see the Chinese come here as those people". As a matter of fact the greater part of his information is incorrect, partly through race prejudice but chiefly through ignorance of their history.
These people, of whom there are about 4,000 in the city (Including "beet fielders"), are Germans, not Russians: they are Teutons, not Slavs; they are Lutheran and Reformed, not Greek Catholics. To be sure they and their ancestors lived in Russia for over one hundred years and they came here directly from the realm of the Czar whoso bona fide citizens they were—but they never spoke the Russian language, never embraced the Greek religion, never intermarried with the Russians, and many of their children never saw a Russian until they left their native village for the new home in America. They despise being called "Russians" just as an Italian resents "Dago"; a Jew, "Sheeny"; and a German, "Dutchman". Ask them where they came from and most of the children and not a few of the grown people will say, "Germany". If you pursue your questioning as to what part of Germany, they will tell you "Saratov" or "Samara" - two governments in the eastern part of Russia on the lower course of the Volga river.
The misconceptions concerning the desirability of these German-Russians as citizens arise from their unprogressiveness as compared with those Germans who come to us directly from the mother country. During their century's sojourn in Russia they have been out of the main current of civilization, a mere eddy in the stream of progress. They present a concrete example of arrested development, The characteristics which differentiate them from other Germans are not due to an inherent lack of capacity but to different environment. Notwithstanding this, the German- Russians have some admirable qualities. They bring us large stores of physical energy and an almost unlimited capacity for work. The majority of them are literate although the amount of their education is limited. They are thrifty and independent, almost never applying for public aid. They are law abiding, their chief offenses being those which are traceable to their communal life in Russia. They are extremely religious, all their social as well as spiritual life being bound up in the church which they support right royally. To be sure, the saloon gets their vote (the prohibition vote among them is increasing); but "was not the first miracle that Christ performed the turning of water into wine? If they would shut up the shows (theaters), they wouldn't need to shut up the saloons".
The object of this paper is to give the historical setting in which the German-Russians have lived as one means to a better understanding and appreciation of them by our own citizens.