A confession ­ plus a bit of history!

A confession � plus a bit of history! by Bob Karolevitz I�ve got a confession to make: I�ve been traveling under false pretenses!

Because of my late father�s nationality and my name (it was Anglecized from Karolewicz), I have always insisted that I was a Polish-American.

The truth be known, however, I am half German-from-Russia on my mother�s side � and that gives me an excuse to conduct a history lesson in this column.

We�ll start with Catherine the Great, an empress of Russia from 1762 to her death from apoplexy in 1796 at age 67.

She was noted for her many lovers � which could have caused the apoplexy � and for acquiring the Crimea and Black Sea regions following wars with Turkey.

Because various areas of Russia at that time were woefully unproductive, she wisely issued a manifesto inviting settlers from Germany and other European countries to develop the land.

To lure them, she promised freedom of religion, freedom from military service and preservation of their own cultures, including language.

That worked well until Alexander II came along and revoked the privileges. He began the �Russianization� of the settlers. The Russian language became mandatory in the schools, and the young men were subjected to the military draft.

The result, of course, was that a lot of Germans came to America. And in Dakota Territory towns like Leola, Freeman, Menno, Bowdle, Hoven, etc., were born. My mother�s parents came, too, and were married in Eureka.

Many Germans-from-Russia brought considerable money with them, as well as their business and agricultural expertise. Others, less fortunate, had only tenacity, ambition and willingness to work. (My grandfather became a second-hand man.)

They also brought their religions with them. They were Lutherans, Mennonites, communal-living Hutterites, Evangelical and Reformed Christians and Roman Catholics, a fact which some pioneers couldn�t always keep straight. (Grandma and Grandpa were Evangelicals, I think.)

Because of their dress and other peculiarities developed over the years in Crimea, they were erroneously called �Rooshians� � but they were as truly German as those who came from the Fatherland.

Not all the contributions of those industrious people were positive, however. Apparently they also brought the Russian thistle � South Dakota�s tumbleweed � with them. The plants multiplied more than the people � and that brings me back to my original mea culpa.

No longer can I claim that I�m 100 percent Polander. I�ve got to give Germans-from-Russia their due.

Of course, I can still fake it, like Phyllis says she�s Norwegian when she�s really half Dane. Thank goodness, we�re all Americans, though, regardless of our derivation.

Anyhow, I�m glad I got it off my chest. It�s been bothering me for a long time, and now my confession sets the record straight.

All of which doesn�t mean a thing to you � but I did manage to sneak in a bit of history, and that�s a plus!

� 2005 Robert F. Karolevitz

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