As the railroads had provided employment for the previous wave of immigrants, as track repair roundhouse men, coal men and cinder men, soon the sugar beet fields of Colorado and Nebraska employers of the hard working laborers. This would continue into the 1920s when migrant Mexican began to infringe on this field of employment.
Growers sent agents to the eastern Nebraska community to recruit workers for the fields from May until October. The entire family, pulling children out of school would move in loaded train cars, to single roomed migrant shacks in areas around Loveland, Fort Colorado and Johnstown, Colorado and Scottsbluff, Nebraska. The Standard Sugar Beet Company owned fields in the German from Russia settlements of Culbertson and McCook, Nebraska area at the turn of the century as well. They worked dawn to dusk. Though planted by horse drawn machinery, thinning and bunching had to be done by hand. The fields needed hoed several times. In September the beets were loosed mechanical digger, but pulled by hand and topped with a small machete.
The Pulitzer Prize winning Second Hoeing by Hope Williams Sykes is set in the beet fields of Colorado amid families of German from Russia descent. The later families from Merkel were found migrating to these locations. “As the Volga Gennans became more involved in the sugar beet industry, many established permanent homes in western Nebraska and eastern Colorado near the fields.” 52 Some Germans from Russia were promoted into managerial positions at the Great Western Sugar Company.
Many families from Merkel migrated to the beetfield regions of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska, including the following: Frederick BRUNTZ, Jacob FLOHR, August and Katie (KNAUB) GROSS and his brother Jake GROSS, Jacob WEGELIN Henry Ludvig FLOHR George FLOHRand Mary Elizabeth BUTHEUS, Fred MARGHEIM, George and Elizabeth (HAUF) MARGHEIM, Jacob and Eva (REIN REIN and her sister Elizabeth REIN, Wife of Alexander BUDERUS, Jolm Henry and Katherine Elizabeth (BUTHERUS) PISTER, Henry and Katherine (FLOHR) HAUF, Jacob and Kathryn (PEPPLER)FLOHR, George Heimich FLOHR, Henry George and Eva Elizabeth (KAUTZ) GROSS, Jacob and Eva (KNAUB) WEGELIN, Henry and Eva Elizabeth (HAUF)KAUTZ, Joham1 Frederick and Eva Elizabeth (REIN) KAUTZ, Jacob and Alma (KNAUB) , Heimich and Eva (SPECHT) HAUF, Jacob and Katherine (OBERMILLER) HAUF, Jobalm George REIN, Fred REIN, Heinrich REIN, Jacob and Katie (KAUTZ) SPECHT, George and Elizabeth (SPECHT) KAUTZ, JacobSPECHT, Benjamin SPECHT.
Gering. Nebraska, incorporated 1890, and neighboring Scottsbluff, founded with the arrival of the Burlington railroad in 1900. offered many opportunities for the new immigrants. Gering had a population of 433 in 1900. With the arrival of irrigation in 1902, the sugar beet industry blossomed, and by 1910, Gering had 627 citizens. Also in 1910. Great Western opened a sugar beet factory in Scottsbluff. With the construction of the Gering Sugar Factory, in 1915, Gering grew to 2508 by 1920.
At this time Jacob Flohr (born 1888, Merkel) moved to Gering From Ft Collins in the Fall of 1919. Here Jacob Specht introduced him to the owner of Gering Mercantile, who was in need of someone who could speak German with the customers. Mr .Flohr started family business in a new building in 1938 on a lot next to the Farmer’s Mercantile company. His son Victor worked there before and after school and all through college. During the war, as gas and tires were rationed due to the war effort, the market was able to get gas because the local board considered it a community service to deliver groceries. They averaged four deliveries a day. Helen Flohr made deliveries after school. In later years it was a popular spot for students to get their lunches. The store did well until closed in July, 1977.
Son Emmanuel Flohr (b. 27 April, 1911, Ft Collins.) As a young man he worked for Gering Mercantile Company, doing odd jobs, and taking care of the coal furnace on Saturdays, and after school. In 1938 Emmanul helped his father start his own business at 1516 1Oth Street, Gering, Nebraska.
Another entrepreneurial type was Heinrich Kautz, born 1885/6 in Merkel. Having moved to Fort Collins, Colorado in 1910 and to Gering, Nebraska in 1920, he worked for the Great Western Sugar Company and later ran the Gering Produce Company and a creamery. (Kautz’s Creamery was located at 1433 11th Street). He and his sons dressed chickens.
The St Paul’s United Church of Christ in Mitchell, Nebraska was founded by German’s from Russia in 1920, and so was Zion Evangelical Church in Scottsbluff, in 1914.
Sugar City, Colorado was another stop off for these new immigrants, thanks to advertising by the Missouri Pacific Railroad. From the booklet, Attached To Sweemess: Chronicle of Sugar City Past ro Present’ it is surmised that in 1900 National Sugar of Maryland foresaw the advantages of rich irrigated land in Crowley county, and invested in a new plant. Soon Sugar City was a ‘boom town’, with people living in tents until more permanent structures could be built. Germans from Russia originally held German services in the Methodist church, which also dueled as a public school building. By 1902 the population was 2500 and needs for a new school were evident.
That same year Mr. Krug and Mr. Deines arrived from Russell, Kansas and opened the Colorado Saloon. These men were described as ‘gentlemen having a large circle of friends, and good citizens. According to a list in the Saccharrine Gazette, August 1903, Sugar City consisted of a 500 ton sugar factory, two churches, three general stores, one drug store, three doctors, race course, baseball park, two barber shops, photograph gallery, two meat markets, two large hotels, two rooming houses, three restaurants, one dairy, two dry goods and clothing stores, four secret orders, one blacksmith shop, one livery barn, two-story brick city hall, chemical fire engine, fire plugs on every corner, hose cart and hook and ladder, $20,000 water works system, $10,000 public school building. stock shipping pens, large feeding pens, one bakery, two grocery stores, one hardware store, three carpenters, one shoe shop. two coal, grain and feed stores, two public halls, one lumber yard, marble works, millenary store, complete telephone service, four saloons, national bank, and free reading room. Sugar City had the distinction of having a shipping agent for the Hamburg-American Steamship Line in town! The population dropped to 1500 by 1909. The construction boom was over and the settlers moved on. Cantaloupe became a new cash crop. The town was referred to as a ‘good town’ in 1913, even though there was a saloon at every corner! 1920 population was 1,100 with 5 churches.
From 1902, the sugar beet industry in Michigan saw an influx of Volga Germans from Norka, Wiesemnuller. Merkel, etc… to the Saginaw Basin, settling in Croswell, Capac. McGregor, Owendale, Unionville, Reese, Munger, Aus Gres, Tawas City and Bay City.-Sallet. In Russia there was a Menshevist-Bolshevist split in Social Democratic Party by 1903. The Russo-Japanese War, 1904-5, led to another period of Volga German emigration, as young men fled the draft.
In the Volga, crops were bad. and locusts ate most of what did come up. Report came that Russia was losing the war with Japan. and it was also reported that revolts against the Tsar were threatening. The Tsar was unjustly blaming German colonists of spying. This was followed by the October Revolution in Russia in 1905: the opening and dissolution of the First Duma, 1906: the meeting and dissolution of the Second and Third Duma in 1907: and the Bosnian Crisis in 1908. Many Germans fled Russia during these turbulent events in Russia.
The world was at war! Russia withdrew from this war, as the spirit of revolution overthrew the Romanov Dynasty in 1917, ending Imperial Russian history. Alexander Specht of Merkel, died army during this February Revolution, February 13, 1917. This was the beginning of the Soviet period. In the United States this period was marked by excessive anti-German sentiment, which had grown in the years prior to the war. Prior to this, German newspapers and church services had been acceptable. Many German students had trouble adjusting to English, as German was still spoken in their homes. They often referred to as “dumb rooshens”. Any use of German became suspect. President Wilson had warned that free speech and free press might suffer, which it did when churches and newspapers were ordered to use the English language and place an American flag near the alter which was contrary to some of churches doctrines of no symbols in the worship service. Harsh as it might seem. this did help to further along the Americanization of the second generation.
In 1918, Bessarabia conceded to Rumania. German colonists became Rumanians till 1940. Then in 1929, Joseph Stalin began his ruthless collectivization campaign, expelling or killing those farmers who rebelled against the state run collective farms. Famine in Russia killed millions of others. These villages experienced ‘starving times’ and persecution the 1930s. Rev. Hagelganz of Portland, Oregon visited Culbertson, Nebraska. late in the year ( August), to collect money for the Volga Relief Society. He collected $2,521.30 from Culbertson, $3,062.80 from McCook, Nebraska. This campaign is considered the beginning of Stalin’s terror that led to the purges of the 1930’s. Of the 21.5 million arrested, only one third survived to be freed by Nikita Khrushchev in 1955 when he denounced some of Stalin’s war crimes.
The first third were executed immediately after their arrest, the others died in labor camps. By 1940, Russia had compelled Rumania to return the Bessarabian colonies. Stalin, not trusting these Germans wished to deport them to Siberia. Hitler agreed to assimilate some 90,000 of them in Germany and Poland. By 1941 these Germans received their citizenship in time to be drafted into the war. In 1941, Stalingrad, some 200 kilometers away, was marched upon by Hitler. The Volga villages were evacuated and when the German people, deported in two and a half weeks, by cattle cars, to various areas in Siberia, mostly the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan as Stalin feared their collaboration with Hitler. At this time Russian families moved into homes in these villages. The order for this deportation was issued in Moscow on August 28, 1941.
Dr. Igor Rudolphovich Pleve, in his Political Situations on the Lower Volga, stated that after the death of Stalin in 1953, the restrictions on Germans living in Siberia and Kazakhastan were gradually loosened. In 1964 the Russian government acknowledged that the measures taken against these Germans were illegal and the seizure of their lands, groundless. In March 1989 an organization called Wiedergeburt-Vozrozhdeniye, or Renewal, held its first congress in Moscow demanding autonomy. In Russia. unlike the United States, the development of an ethnic group’s nationality is guaranteed to every ethnic group only if it has its own state. This congress refused any compensation for the losses suffered in their evacuation, only that they have their autonomy restored, and be allowed to return to the Volga and re-establish their statehood. Due partly to opposition by Ukranian population in the Volga region, Russian government has not acknowledged this autonomy, and as a result, in 1990 and 1991 alone, ( 240,000 Russian Germans abandoned the former Soviet Union. The government did insult them offering, as a settlement site, the former military reservation of Kapustin Yor , an ecologically unsound former missile testing range. This opposition derived from former (and current) Communist propaganda that these Germans would put them out of their homes, and that they would be forced to learn German.
Most of this populace have not heard of the 2 million evacuated Germans for over fifty years, and associate the Germans of Siberia with left over fascists prisoners of war. Also, they found it incomprehensible that these Germans should wish to return to their homeland, as they were raised in Soviet tradition expressed in a popular song: “My address is neither house nor home, my address is the Soviet Union.” Also, the Ukrane was re-populated by a criminal element who had been forbidden to live in larger population centers, after the Germans were evacuated. The Wiedergeburt-Vozrozhdeniye, has since split into two factions: one seeking resolution to the problem, the other seeking evacuation of the Germans from Russia, no matter what develops. President Yeltsin stated, on a visit to the United States that the Russian Government intended to resolve this dispute, but it is questionable if the Russian Government would back his statement. as there are still many old guard elements in office.
Arthur E. Flegel wrote an article for the California District Council Report of the American Historical Society of Germans From Russia, Issue No. 13, Spring, 1997, entitled German Records Out of Russia, in which he describes the history of the Volga German Records: “During 1944 / 1945 of World War II when the German Army was besieging Volgograd and the invasion of the Volga Region was imminent, the Soviet Union administration collected all essential and classified archival materials, packed them into a series of boxcars and shipped them to a location north east of Kazan for safe keeping. Most of the records had originally been crammed into boxes where they remained for many years. Very little, if any, effort had been made to organize and catalogue these materials. Moreover, identification of the records that came from a number of widely separated archives was quite limited and inadequate when they were being loaded into the boxcars. After World War II was history, the Soviets decided it timely to return the archival materials to their original sources. On the return trip, the train was derailed at one point and one boxcar toppled over resulting in some of its contents being lost. However, we want to believe that this did not pertain to any of the German colonies’ records. Upon arriving at their designated destinations, the materials that had been somewhat mixed up previously were even now not carefully redistributed. Thus, materials which belonged in Saratov ended up in Engles or Volgagrad or Moscow or possibly even other archives where they have not yet surfaced. Ruth Kahre, of Wheat Ridge, Colorado, writes: “From my visit to the Russian archives last summer (1996), I learned that there is no heat in the Engles archives. One cannot work in there in the winter without risking frost bite. Although this slows the work, I was told that it is good for the documents. The freeze helps to control the mold and fungus that sometimes destroy old documents.”