Our German Bohemian Legacy
Robert J. Paulson
German Bohemian Immigrant Monument
GERMAN BOHEMIAN IMMIGRANT MONUMENT
The German-Bohemian Immigrant Monument is located in the city of New Ulm, Minnesota. It was erected in 1991 by the German-Bohemian Heritage Society to honor the German-Bohemian immigrants who had the courage and foresight to come to this country. The immigrants came mostly from small villages, with the largest number from the village centers of Hostau, Muttersorf, and Ronsperg. These were farm communities where the people lived and housed their stock, going out daily to work in the fields. Most villages had Catholic churches or chapels and the residents spoke a Bohemian dialect of German.
Inscribed in granite slabs around the base of the monument are over 350 immigrant family names. The first immigrants were farm settlers. As more and more arrived, and as they could all no longer farm, they settled in the city of New Ulm and some of the small communities to the west and north.
The bronze statue that rests on top of the granite base was designed and sculpted by the renowned sculptor Leopold Hafner, a German-Bohemian who now lives near Passau, Germany.
Text on the German-Bohemian Monument
This monument was erected in 1991 by the German-Bohemian Heritage Society to commemorate the immigrants to this region from the German speaking western rim of present-day Czechoslovakia. They emigrated from the counties of Bischofteinitz, Mies and Taus in the province of Pilsen, as shown on the European map and settled in the townships sketched on the U.S. map. Around the base in the granite slabs are inscribed the over 350 immigrant family names as they were approximately spelled when the families departed their old homeland. Known at the time of their departure as Bohemia, a crown colony in the Austro-Hungarian empire, this region in the twentieth century was included in the larger periphery of the Czech nation designated as the Sudetenland, more locally it was called the Bohmerwald, Bohemian forest, a ridge of high hills that forms a natural border with Germany.
The immigrants came mostly from small villages, with the largest numbers from the village centers of Hostau, Muttersdorf, and Ronsberg. These were farm communities where the people lived and housed their stock, going out daily to work their scattered non-contiguous fields. Most villages had Catholic churches or chapels and the residents spoke a Bohemian dialect of German. From New Years day to Christmas each year they observed special traditions spiced with large wedding celebrations and funerals attended by the entire communities. Music in every form–bands, singing societies, and choirs–permeated all the aspects of village life.
Family Names on The Monument
GERMAN-BOHEMIAN IMMIGRANT MONUMENT IDEA IS BORN
The German-Bohemian Society is Formed
Nearly fifty years ago the seeds of ethnic pride were planted in the heart of the founder of the Minnesota German- Bohemian Heritage Society, Robert Paulson, by his New Ulm grandmother, Matilda Helget, who told him stories of her beautiful homeland in the Böhmerwald. In the years to come these seeds sprouted, grew and developed into a keen interest in cultural history and genealogy, which ultimately culminated in the founding of this Society.
Following extensive publicity in the local newspapers the first meeting of the Minnesota German-Bohemian Society was held on November 3, 1984 in the New Ulm library meeting room. Mr. Paulson together with Dr. La Vern Rippley of St. Olaf college in Northfield presented an interesting program on German-Bohemian history, immigration and culture to the nearly one hundred persons in attendance.
The second meeting was held in January of 1985, and although the temperature was -26 degrees Fahrenheit, nearly sixty hardy souls ventured out from as far away as the Twin Cities to a gathering that featured a program devoted to family history in the United States and Bohemia. Local officers were elected on March 30, 1985, and Adeline Wilfahrt became the first president. In the summer of that year the first annual picnic was held at Hermann Heights Park, at which Otto Dietz was elected the Bohemian King, reviving a tradition dating back to the latter part of the 19th century.
The main purpose of the Society’s meetings during 1985 and 1986 was to gather information from its members regarding family history and to conduct folklore workshops. Robert Paulson escorted the Society’s first tour to Europe and the Bohmerwald in 1986, and many accompanying members were able to visit the actual homes in which their ancestors had lived.
During the summer of 1986, Robert Paulson drafted a Constitution and Bylaws for the Society. The purpose of the organization was defined, the duties of its officers were clarified, elections and length of terms for officers set, and a meeting schedule for officers and for the general membership was established. The Constitution and the Bylaws were presented to and approved by the general membership on October 25, 1986.
The Idea for a Monument is Born
On March 14, 1987, Louis Lindmeyer was elected president of the Society and in August of that year he met with the Society’s founder, Robert Paulson, to discuss the future plans of the Society. The membership, along with Paulson and La Vern Rippley, had been working very hard gathering material for a book to be written by Paulson and Rippley about Bohemian ancestry, culture, and immigration. By late summer of 1987, the bulk of the material for the book had been collected and it was Lindmeyer’s and Paulson’s fear that the interest in the society might wane. Lindmeyer thought they needed a long term project to keep the group going. Lindmeyer thought that the society should erect a monument to honor their German -Bohemian Immigrant ancestors.
German-Bohemian Immigrant Monument Banquet Speech
Robert J. Paulson
Turner Hall, New Ulm, Minnesota, Sept 19, 1991
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
We came here tonight to celebrate, to celebrate our common cultural heritage. From the old world and the new we cone to celebrate the rich legacy that has been given to us by our forefathers, the common legacy that binds us together, that makes us all one people, German-Bohemian - Böhmisch.
We all have stories to tell - that is what history is all about. I would like to share with you a story, the story of the discovery of my cultural legacy, of the development of my cultural identity, and of the reawakening of a lasting pride.
My great-grandparents - the Helgets, the Rewitzers, and the Grossmans - immigrated here in 1869 and 1870. Later, they farmed in Cottonwood and Siegel townships along with my grandparents. My mother was born on a farm in Cottonwood, and after her father died in 1909, the family moved into town where my mother went to school, and where she later met my father, a Swede from St. Paul.
Even though my family moved from New Ulm nearly fifty years ago, I still consider this city my second home, the place that helped to give me my identity, to make me aware of my cultural heritage, to make me who I am.
I remember as if it were yesterday the family trips from St. Paul to New Ulm in our black '38 Plymouth 4-door. I can picture we three boys sitting on the mohair seats in the back, becoming more anxious as we drew closer to New Ulm, and Dad tapping time on the steering wheel, as we listened to the old-time music on station KNUJ, the "Polka station of the nation."
We were looking forward to our stay at Grandma's house on Washington Street and Fourth North. Grandma was Matilda Helget - born Rewitzer - a lady who would influence my life in many ways. I remember her as a tall dignified lady who was always busy working in the kitchen or in her large garden which she loved so much.
We three boys were looking forward to digging around in the attic, looking for treasure in the old immigrant trunks, the family photos - many taken in the old country - examining the cabbage cutter or the coffee mill, and the old clothes of heavy wool or shiny black damask.
We especially liked to climb up into the loft of the old shed to see what we could find to bring home old kerosene lanterns, old cowbells - these were our treasures.
Mom would want to visit with Grandma, speaking in the German-Bohemian dialect of course, so Dad would give us each a quarter and sent us uptown (to get rid of us for a while). This was always a big adventure, going to the "dime store" (otherwise known as the Ben Franklin store) was lots of fun. And, of course, we had to visit the museum every time we came to New Ulm. The Brown County museum fascinated us with its bits and pieces of history: the Burgs Battery, the old X-ray machine, and the many Native American Indian artifacts. We would always leave the museum with stories of the Dakota wars running through our heads.
After a restful sleep on the "feather beds" we would attend Mass at Holy Trinity - the most beautiful church we had ever seen. Then it was back to Grandma's for the highlight of the trip: Schmierkuchen! We loved Grandma's delicious German-Bohemian coffeecake.
There was an old photo that Grandma kept on her dresser, a picture of a very small chapel. I remember Grandma telling me with obvious pride, the story about her father, George Rewitzer, who had sent money back to the old country to the village where he was born, so that the villagers could build this tiny church. As a young boy, George had had to walk to the neighboring village to attend Mass, because there was no church in the village where he lived. The villagers named this church St. George, after my great grandfather. I was never to forget this story, and the unabashed pride my grandmother had in relating it to me.
These visits to New Ulm gave my life a very special direction: they guided my grandmother was to play a very significant role in my later life, and ultimately to affect the German-Bohemian community in New Ulm.
Old time music, feather beds, klöppeled lace from the old country, sauerkraut, schmierkuchen, dumplings and pork, beer - Hauenstein arid Schell - head cheese and sausage from Saffert and Schnobrich meat markets, my love of nature and the outdoors, my religious faith centered on the goodness of God and his creation, the stories, songs, poems and sayings that were handed down to me by my mother and grandmother. All this cultural wealth made up the rich' legacy that I brought from New Ulm, that gave me my cultural identity, that made me who I am, and made me very proud!
About fifteen years ago, along with many others, I became interested in my "roots", in the origins of my cultural heritage. I looked once again for the old photo of my great grandfather's chapel, and found, in addition to this, many other photos taken in the old country. I soon discover that this "old country" was Bohemia. I rediscovered much of what I had forgotten.
I spent much time in research in the libraries and museums of New Ulm and the Twin Cities, the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society. Much to my surprise, I found there was nothing written about these German-Bohemian immigrants - nothing about my forefathers.
I also contacted many well known scholars in German history, and was told that although they knew of the German-Bohemian immigrants, nothing had been written about them. We were like a lost, silent people. Many other immigrant groups were well documented: the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Italians, and the French. The history of New Ulm, founded by the Turners, the Indian wars were all well researched and documented, but there was nothing about the large numbers of German-Bohemian immigrants who came to this area as early as 1856, two years after the founding of New Ulm, and nothing about the contributions of the German-Bohemians to the history and culture of this area. This lack of recognition puzzled and angered me. Were my immigrant forefathers less important than the others?
I was determined to do something about this. This was the impetus that led to the founding of the German-Bohemian Heritage Society in 1984. This group was formed to gather people together to share what we had in common, to study and learn about our rich history and culture, and to tell the story of our German-Bohemian ancestors. This society has grown to over two hundred members from all over this country.
Along this journey in search of my roots, I have found many wonderful people. I have made many close friends, both here in New Ulm and in Europe, friends with whom I share a close cultural bond. The Paul Kretsch, Louie Lindmeyer, Angie and George Portner, and Marlene Domeier are more than friends: they are my kinsmen.
I have been fortunate enough to be able to visit my Heimatland, my homeland in Bohemia, several times, visiting the villages from which my ancestors emigrated, finding the houses in which they were born. It was a very moving experience to walk on the same soil where my forefathers once walked. Unfortunately, my great-grandfather's chapel, and the village of Neubäu where he was born, are no more. They were destroyed in the 1960's by the Communists, as they were too close to the Iron Curtain.
During my travels I also met many wonderful people in Europe, fellow kinsmen or "Landsmänner" who were expelled from Bohemia after World War II. These wonderful people are keeping alive the German-Bohemian culture in Germany today.
I feel particularly close to Rudolf Kiefner and his family, and the Egerländer Trachtengruppe and Egerländer Musikanten who have traveled from Germany
German-Bohemian Immigrant Monument Dedication Speech
Robert Paulson, GBHS Founder
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
We came together this afternoon to dedicate a monument to commemorate our German-Bohemian immigrant forefathers.
It is noteworthy that, after many months of searching, a site for the placement of the monument was chosen that had great significance to these early settlers. A park called "German" had significance because these people were ethnically German. They emigrated from Bohemia, a part of the Austrian empire. It was not until much later that Bohemia formed a part of a country that is known now as Czechoslovakia. With great care, they chose New Ulm as their final destination. That this community was German was most important to them..
Our monument overlooks the Minnesota River. The earliest immigrants arrived in New Ulm aboard the stearnwheelers that plied the waters of this river, setting foot on Brown County soil for the first time at the boat landing just south of here in Riverfront Park. These hardy souls began arriving hers early as 1856, just two years after the founding of this city.
With the coming of the Winona and St. Peter Railroad in 1871, our immigrant ancestors began to arrive from the coast by rail. In later years, they also traveled from St. Paul and Minneapolis aboard the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad. These railroads also provided employment for a great many German-Bohemian immigrants. Thus it is significant that our monument overlooks the railroad yards and the New Ulm depot.
New Ulm was also a major milling town. Our monument overlooks the sites of the various mills, notably that of the Eagle Roller Mill. Many of our forefathers were very poor when they arrived here. Some came already oweing the money for their passage. The mills provided much needed employment for these early arrivals.
And we must not forget the German-Bohemian ethnic neighborhoods, which were communities unto themselves: Goosetown and Wallachai. Because they spoke their own special Bohemian dialect, our grandparents and great-grandparents formed their own ethnic communities complete with stores and shops. The Goosetowners rarely climbed the hill to do business on Minnesota Street; they even consulted their own doctors and lawyers. They tended to keep to themselves.
In the earliest days the immigrants lived and worked in Goosetown only long enough to earn the money needed to purchase their first farm land. In later years, however, when most of the prime farm land had been taken up, Goosetown and Wallachei became stable ethnic enclaves for the German-Bohemians, developing their own special character. Many stories are told about these very unique neighborhoods arid the people who lived there.
Just down the hill is the old band and to the south, on Center Street, is George's Ballroom, symbols of one of the most important contributions of the German- Bohemian people to the city of New Ulm, the state of Minnesota, and our country. Old- time music, the life-blood of our ancestors. On many a Saturday night, one could hear the sounds of the old time bands at George's playing for wedding dances, and nearly
every Sunday evening large crowds would come here to German Park for the summer band concerts. From the Silver Cornet Band and the Second Regiment Band to the New Ulm Municipal Band, from the Lindmeier and Gag to the Hofmeister and the Meidls, these were all German-Bohemian bands. Dumphi Domeier, Whoopee John Wilfahrt and countless many more made New Ulm and old time music synonymous. All German-Bohemians.
And now we came to the monument itself: a representation of an immigrant family - heads up, looking to the west, up toward Minnesota Street, the commercial center of New Ulm, where many became successful in business: the Poltas, Wilfahrts, Kretsches, Penkerts, Arbes; Muellers, Voqels, Schnobrichs and Safferts, the lawyers Flor and Kunz; the doctors Seifert, Vogel, and Eckstein; tradesmen Zwach, Halla, Hofmeister, Gag and Rewitzer, just to name a few.
However, the vast majority of our immigrant forefathers came to this country for one thing: land. There was an abundance of rich black soil in Brown and Nicollet Counties - after all, most of these immigrants worked the land in Bohemia
Looking to the north and west, we see the steeple of Trinity church, and further still, we see St. George:"God's country." The German-Bohemian people have always had a personal relationship with their God, and an awareness of the manifestation of the goodness of God in the beauty of his creation. They were people close to the land, people of the earth. The center of their existence was their church. This is most graphically expressed by the magnificent symbols of their reverence for God, namely, the beautiful churches they erected: Holy Trinity, St. George, St. Mary (Sleepy Eye), and later, St. Mary’s in New Ulm. It is further expressed by the fact that many retired farmers moved back into town to be near their church of Holy Trinity.
With the erection of this monument, the German-Bohemian Heritage Society has ensured that, for years to came, this place will have great significance for the descendants of these German-Bohemian immigrants. I can envision their great- grandchildren caning to this place, as they identify themselves as German-Bohemians by seeing their family names that have been cut into the granite tablets at the base of the monument; as they learn of tthe rich German-Bohemian culture and history by reading the text etched into the massive granite pedestal of the monument; and as they experience the feeling of hope, strength and determination, and of pride cast so expressively in the bronze faces of the immigrant family.
I am very happy that I was able to play a small part in the rekindling of pride in the German-Bohemian heritage of this community. I am very proud to be one of you. I am proud to be a German-Bohemian