A guide to Germans from Russia

Everything you didn’t know and more

Elena Cornwell  & Verneé Norman

Sugar beets, bratwurst, and camel hair boots—all were once normal parts of daily life for a German from Russia living in Nebraska. Previously representing 25% of Lincoln’s population, the Germans from Russia are now better known for the Germans from Russia Museum located in Lincoln's Historic South Bottoms District.  

Germans from Russia, or G-Rs as they sometimes refer to themselves, began immigrating to the United States of America in the late 19th century to escape persecution from the Russian government. Their prosperity in a foreign land made them victims of a jealous Russian government, causing their diaspora to not only the United States, but to South America as well. The 350,000 who came to the United States settled as farmers, their most common crops being the famous Turkey Red wheat and sugar beets.

Deceivingly humble at first glance, the Germans from Russia Museum boasts a G-R genealogy record, a bookstore, library, as well as life-size replicas of a summer kitchen, church, general store, blacksmith shop, barn, and a room with replicas of traditional wheat grinding tools. The museum also doubles as the headquarters for the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia (AHSGR).

The tour begins with a brief video of the history of the G-R population before, during and after their immigration from Russia. After completing the video, visitors tour the displays within the building followed by the outdoor tour at 2:00 p.m. Seeing the authentic cash registers, wash boards and irons accentuates the rich history of the group.  

But the most memorable moments of the tour were spent talking with the staff and volunteers of the museum.

Wilhelm Doos was born in Russia but fled to Germany ahead of Hitler’s army when he was one and a half and, eventually, the United States.

“I was so young that I don’t remember the actual flight... We came over in a troop transport and landed in New Jersey.”

While Doos celebrates his heritage, he’s not shy to claim his adopted American culture. Dressed in simple jeans and a khaki button down, Doos’ cool style is reminiscent of James Dean. His green bomber jacket draws special attention and, as Doos explains, is a replica of the jacket his troop wore while fighting in Vietnam.

“I immigrated here but I consider myself American,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

And Americans have adopted G-R culture just as easily as Doos has. Runza, the popular Midwestern fast food chain, is named after the common German food by the same name. Three-ring binders, the Easter bunny and permed hair also made their way across the sea.

But Tom Ineck, editorial and publications coordinator for the AGR, pointed out that “the heritage is becoming diluted.”

Ineck confessed that he was not of G-R descent but identified the varied AHSGR membership as proof that the culture was healthy and relevant. Most members live in North America but many others reside in other countries that absorbed the G-R diaspora including Brazil, Argentina, and England.

The Germans from Russia Museum celebrates this history and invites the community to experience it by offering local events, such as the Broda Dinner on November 7 and a traditional soup supper in the spring. The Germans from Russia Museum is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is free.

Elena is a senior pursuing a personalized major.