Alexander Spack

47th International Convention of the American
Historical Society of Germans from Russia
July 11-16, 2016

Report of Convention Participant

On July 11-16, 2016, 47th Annual International Convention of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia (AHSGR) took place in Concord, California (USA). More than 250 members of its organization participated in the convention. Traditionally, American Historical Society invites to its conference guests from other countries. At that time, Dr. Reinhard Nachtigal (Germany), Jorge Bohn (Argentina), and Alexander Spaсk (Russia) participated in the convention as the foreign guests and speakers.

I was invited to participate in the annual conference of the American Historical Society a few years ago. But for various reasons, I declined the invitation. Another suggestion was followed by the fall of 2015. I assumed my participation in the conference in July 2017. I continued to think about it when suddenly in January 2016 Wilhelm G. Doos told me that society wanted to invite me in July 2016. It was quite unexpected. There was no time to think about. It was necessary either to refuse it again or agree. And I accepted the invitation.

For my part, I proposed two topics “Trip to some former German colonies on the Volga Bergseite, in May 2009” and “German Historical and Cultural Center in Zorkino (former German colony Zurich), Marxovsky Rayon, Saratovskaya Oblast”. Both were approved, and then work began on the preparation of the texts of reports and presentations. A great help in that case was given me by Yulia Tsymbal and Tatjana Schell.

In America, I wasn't alone. On that trip, I was accompanied by my elder son George, my assistant for the development of a website dedicated to the history of the Volga Germans, a member of the expedition to the German villages in 2009, and our photographer at joint trips. At the beginning of May, we received the US visas, and so our participation in the convention of AHSGR became quite real.

Early in the morning on July 7th, we flew from Moscow, using a transfer in Frankfurt am Main, and landed at the International Airport of San Francisco due to the difference in time on July 7th at 1:00 p.m. There my cousin Michael Grau and his wife Denise met us. Michael and I have kept in touch for more than ten years. He and Denise are the members of AHSGR. In organization, Michael is Nieder-Monjou Village Coordinator and Denise is Mariental Village Coordinator. Michael has a website on the Internet dedicated to the Volga German colony Nieder-Monjou where we found each other (http://volga.niedermonjou.org:8000/index.html).

Prior to the beginning of the convention, there were a few days, which we had to visit California and San Francisco. For more information, I will tell about it at the end of my report.

On July 11th, in the afternoon, Michael and Denise Grau, I, and George left San Francisco and went to Concord, where the participants of the 47th Annual International Convention of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia gathered in the Hilton Concord Hotel. The next two days, there was a preparation for the conference.

Hilton Concord Hotel

On July 11-13 continued arrival of the participants in the Hilton Concord Hotel. From Lincoln, headquarter of AHSGR, it was brought equipment: laptops, printers, large copier, projectors, mobile library, and bookstore. Several meeting rooms were rented to carry out all activities. In the lobby, there were placed the stands prepared by members of organization and dedicated to various colonies and regions of Russia and the former Soviet Union, where the Germans lived. A half of the stands was dedicated to the colonies of the Volga region.

A Mobile Bookstore

There is one of the stands dedicated to the colony Kautz.

Many stands were illustrated with photographs of my son George
and Vladimir Kakorin.

On July 14th, there was the Grand Opening of the 47th International Convention of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. At 8 o'clock in the morning, all participants, who were in Concord, gathered in the large hall. It was an opening of the ceremony. All stood. In the hall, there were brought officially the banners of the countries, where the Germans and their diaspora live today. The banners of the US, Canada, Argentina, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, and some other countries were set to the left and right of the presidium. The California District Council Susan Nakaji announced the official opening of the 47th convention of AHSGR. The participants sang one couplet of the well-known American patriotic song “America the Beautiful” and US anthems and Canada anthems: "O Canada" and "The Star-Spangled Banner". It wasn’t difficult because all of us had the conference program in the hands. It was a journal in which were scheduled days and hours of group meetings, presentations, lunches, other events, and information. There were texts of lyrics.

The Program of 47th Annual International Convention
of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia

Looking ahead, I have to say that the whole conference was prepared in a professional manner. Before traveling to Concord, I imagined badly the work and structure of AHSGR. Once I was able to close and being personally acquainted with the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, I made for myself a conclusion that it is very serious organization. But let’s return back to the events which took place in the hall.

The conference participants were welcomed by the Mayor of Concord Laura Hoffmeister.

The Mayor of Concord Laura Hoffmeister

Then, the audience was addressed by the President of AHSGR Dennis Reich. By occupation, Dennis Reich is Lutheran pastor. Then, it was a joint prayer.

The President of AHSGR Dennis Reich

After that, welcome speeches continued. Among the other speakers, the former President of AHSGR Jerry Siebert made a speech to the audience.

The Former President of AHSGR Jerry Siebert

Then, event went smoothly to the general meeting of members of AHSGR. There were presented and approved AHSGR financial report for the past year and the budget for the coming year, listened to the records and reports of the President, headquarter, secretary, standing committee, provided the election of the members of the Board of Directors.

The official part was completed, and work of groups began. The convention was prepared in a way that at the same time various groups met in different conference rooms. Everyone defined where to go. Accompanied by Julia Tsymbal, we had participated in work of several groups. Group work was preceded by a meeting of villages’ coordinators. It was conducted by Maggie Hein. We had been familiar with Maggie since a meeting in Volgograd in June 2013.

On the same day, during a joint lunch in front of us, John Kautz, well-known Californian grower and winemaker, had made his speech. He owns 7,000 acres of wine grapes at the Kautz farm. In 1965, John Kautz was named the outstanding young farmer. It has the national awards. John Kautz told about his parents, who came once to America from the Volga region, about himself and his family, about how his business was emerging and growing. The story of John Kautz was accompanied by a photo slide show of the family chronicle.

In the evening, the premiere film screening of 30-minute documentary "Norka: A Passage in Time" took place. The film was prepared by a staff team of AHSGR that led by Sherry Pawelko and was based on materials amateur footage made by Henry Walker / Heinrich Wacker, a former resident of the Volga German colony Mink, who came to Mink from the US in 1928.

DVD Documentary "Norka: A Passage in Time"

In addition to the film, we were shown two half-hour documentaries, one of which was called "Heinrich & Magdalena's Fabulous Adventure", the story of two German families who came from Russia to America, told by two teenagers, Henry and Magdalena.

During our stay in Concord, many interesting meetings had taken place. One of the memorable highlights was a meeting with Jorge Bohn from Argentina, a member of our online forum.

Speaker from Argentina Jorge Bohn and Alexander Spack

My first presentation was held on July 15th at 4:00 p. m. Its topic was “Trip to some former German colonies on the Volga Bergseite, May 2009”. Willy Doos (Americans call him Bill Doos) read the report in English, I switched my prepared slides, and Julia Tsymbal helped me answer the questions.

To my surprise, the hall was fully packed for listening the report and viewing the presentation.

On July 16th at 9:15 a.m., my second presentation on “German Historical and Cultural Center in Zorkino (former German colony Zurich), Marxovsky Rayon, Saratovskaya Oblast” was taken place. At that time, in the hall, lights went out in order to view better the photos on the screen. Bill had a flashlight to illuminate the text of the report.

Also, as during the previous presentation, questions and answers had been. At that time, our interpreter was Bill Doos.

On the same day at 7: 00 p.m., a joint dinner and closing ceremony of the 47th International Convention of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia took place.

The Last Dinner of the Participants
of 47th International Convention of AHSGR

Dennis Reich, President of AHSGR, addressed closing remarks and prayer the audience.

During the closing ceremony of the convention, I solemnly donated to the library of AHSGR several rare and short-run books about history of the Volga Germans. Sherry Pawelko, Executive Director of AHSGR, took the donated books.

There are these books:

1) Minkh A.N. Historical and Geographical Dictionary of the Saratov province: Southern Counties Kamyshin and Tsaritsyn. The modern version. / Ed. I.O. Tyumentsev. Volgograd, 2010. – In the US, they did not know that a new edition of Minh was published. The hall was impressed.

2) Raith A.G. The history of the village of Zurich. 1767-1941. Moscow-Saratov-Stary Oskol: Fund “Zurich-Zorkin”, 2015. – How could not I bring that book if one of my presentations was devoted to restored Lutheran church in Zurich / Zorkin?!

3) Die Ufer. Almanach der Russlanddeutschen. / Coasts. Almanac of Russian Germans. M. - Kaliningrad, 2014. – For convention, I represented the website „Geschichte der Wolgadeutschen“ (History of the Volga Germans) and the online forum of the Volga Germans, so I definitely had to give our almanac to the organization of AHSGR.

4) Spaсk A.A. Administrative-Territorial Changes in the Volga German Area in 1764-1944. Volgograd, 2012. – No comment.

5) Administrativ-wirtschaftliche Karte der ASSR der Wolgadeutschen, Stadt Engels 1938 (Administrative-housekeeping map of ASSR of the Volga Germans, Engels, 1938). Reprint reproduction. In German language (Latin). Offset color printing, coated glossy paper, 80 g / m2, size 61 X 70 cm. - 2 copies. – Also, maps were an unexpected surprise.

6) Calendar of Russian Germans “Twelve stories of success”. – By the way, Lydia Valentinovna Matytsin sent me 2 copies of the calendar. One of them is in AHSGR library now.

And I was bringing the book of Andreas Idt and George Rauschenbach “The resettlement of German colonists in Russia in 1766”. But already, this book has been in AHSGR library. I knew it. And Andreas Idt, who gave me the same book and my book because I didn’t have any copy of my book from Germany, told me that because there was his and George’s book at the American Historical Society, I could present it to whom I wanted. And I did. I brought and presented all!

After the end of the official part, a brass band started a performance of orchestra “Grand Island Fire Brigade”. The music had been playing during the whole evening. Accompanied by the lively sounds of German polkas, old ladies and gentlemen went back to the good old days.

The Performance of Orchestra "Grand Island Fire Brigade"

The guests from Russia couldn't sit, too.

Sherry Pawelko and George Spack
are dancing to the music of a brass band.

In the morning, on July 17th, we left Concord and spent the day with Dr. Nachtigal in San Francisco; at 8:45 p.m., we departed from San Francisco International Airport towards Moscow.

The Last Picture on the Platform in Concord

Ten days that I and my son spent in the United States were very busy scheduled. Moreover, we participated in the 47th International Convention of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia personally, we were also able to visit the many different interesting places, located in the state of California. During that time, we had visited three national parks, located in the Sierra Nevada:

Yosemite (Yosemite National Park – there is Yosemite Fall, the highest waterfall in the United States),

Sequoia (Sequoia National Park was established in 1890; there are growing the world's largest redwoods, age of some of them reaches 3 thousand years.),

and the adjacent park, Kings Canyon (Kings Canyon National Park, established in 1940).

In San Francisco, we visited a lot of attractions: Chinatown – the oldest and largest Chinatown in North America;

National Historic Maritime Park;

Golden Gate Bridge, built across the Golden Gate Strait in 1937, and for a long time, it had been considered as the largest suspension bridge in the world.

We rode the cable cars

and, of course, went to the Pacific Ocean.

In our following visit to San Francisco, we went to Golden Gate Park – the largest park in San Francisco. Its area is 400 hectares. It was established in the XIX century, and it's now one of the most famous parks around.

And on the day of departure from San Francisco, accompanied by Dr. Reinhard Nachtigal, we visited the Coit Tower – tower-memorial of 64 m in height, placed on top of Telegraph Hill.

Translated by Elena V. Edelson (Seattle, WA)

Pictures by Alexander and George Spack (Russia), Denise Grau (USA), Jorge Bohn (Argentina), Michael Frank (USA)

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