A short tour reveals the hundreds of years of history of the Germans from Russia preserved at the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia headquarters in Nebraska.
A simple street sign reading, “Germans from Russia Museum” points the way toward a building housing a wealth of information.
AHSGR Executive Director Sherry Pawelko is proud of the research library and museum at 631 D Street in Lincoln.
“We have a treasure,” Pawelko tells Nebraska Radio Network. “We are an absolute treasure and we view ourselves as stewards of this important information and the artifacts that we have.”
A treasure the research library just received is the Flegal Library, a massive amount of research of Germans from Russia gathered by Arthur Flegal of California and donated to the library. “And it’s just an amazing collection,” Pawelko says. “We’re very proud of it.” Old and rare books, many in German and Russian, make up the library assembled over decades by Flegal in his home in Menlo Park, California. Binders bulge with information about villages along the Volga, the Black Sea, the Caucasus; migrations of Mennonites and Hittites. Maps and atlases, obituaries; all to enhance genealogical research.
Museum exhibits reveal life in a typical German village in Russia, including entertainment, such as the hammer dulcimer.
“You play by striking the strings,” AHSGR volunteer Norma Somerheiser tells us as she plays a bit. “It is the lead instrument in the German Russian band. It’s the one that you hear that makes your toes tap and you want to get up and dance.”
Music was important to the Germans who accepted Catherine the Great’s invitation to settle in Russia, both playing and singing. They carried it with them as the migrated to America and settled in Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, the Dakotas, eventually spreading throughout the United States. Then, there’s the books on display.
“We have books, books, and more books,” Somerheiser says. “It’s a problem, because we receive so many donations. They’re printed in German and not the German that is used today. It’s the old German printing.”
Many of the books are Bibles or religious in nature, underscoring the role faith played in the daily lives of the Germans from Russia who were quick to establish churches in America, many of which worshipped in German until only a few years ago.
Quilts, furniture, framed quotations, miniature reproductions of family compounds, maps that pinpoint German villages in Russia, brief histories of the invitation of Catherine the Great to settle in Russia. Then, the promises she gave, broken by her descendants; displays of the early days of life in Nebraska and throughout America.
Outside, replicas of a typical home, a store, a church; an indication to visitors, says Somerheiser, of the life Germans from Russia built when they moved here.
“I hope that they realize that our ethnic group came with hopes and dreams like everyone else.”
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [2:30]