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Between the World Wars: Articles from the Syracuse Union, available through the New York State Newspaper Project


November 24, 1921 p.7, co. 5-6

German Song

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An Uplifting Portrait of the Impact of Homeland Songs

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by Arthur Iger

German song is an extraordinarily important factor in the preservation of the German character. Germans who emigrated to America, Australia and Africa have always declared that when they are gripped by longing for the old homeland they have no doubt that a German song will take them back home. German song transports us back to our childhood in mind and body. It's a traveling companion in hours of joy, a comforter in times of sorrow and pain. It accompanies the German across land and sea. It defys borders and custom barriers.

An uplifting portrait of the impact of homeland songs in days of need and hardship was rendered by the Baltic German Alexander von Stryk in his recently published work, In the Hands of the Bolsheviks. On February 10, 1918, a few months after the beginning of the Bolshevik takeover, Stryk, like almost all Baltic people of German abstraction, was taken from his hometown of Dorpat and transported to Siberia. What hardships the writer had to endure along with about 350 other people from Dorpat — The people from Talinn had it even worse — during the eighteen day journey through the frozen Siberian Steppes reads like a chapter from Dante's Inferno.

"We had many good singers in our railcar," Stryk said in his description of the hair-raising ride in the Siberian wasteland, "so we sang some songs starting on the second evening. Various folk and student songs rang out during the journey throughout the still Siberian night."

The cold was so great that clothing hung on the side of the car froze. To wash them we had to melt the snow with matches. But despite the ice and snow songs of the homeland sounded.

But the brutish Red Guard would not let us have even this simple pleasure.

"In Kamsk," Stryk continued, "our train stopped for a while. Our singers began their evening recital, which until that point we had only enjoyed while the train was in motion. One, two songs had been sung when there was a heavy thud on the window. The singers immediately went silent."

The abducted singers attempted to sing once the sad journey recommenced however the red henchmen went berserk again. Eventually there was a general ban against the singers for the remainder of the trip.

The sad, German singing was now truly silenced by the despotism of the Bolsheviks. It wasn't until the German-Baltics were brought to the prison in Krassnojarsk, Siberia that song once again lived. In this huge "House of Confinement," as the prison was called in Soviet Russia, the kidnapped victims were penned up with serious criminals, thieves, murderers, arsonists, etc. As the captives heard the gloomy singing of the Russian convicts their own love for German song reignited. Under the direction of Mr. von Schmidt, a very good singer, a quartet was formed which was allowed to sing its homeland songs of comfort and edification in Siberian exile. In his daily diary Stryk described life in the Krassnojarsk prison. He indicated that church services conducted by fellow prisoner, Professor Seesemann, played a significant role as did singing. Under the entry for March 22, it is written:

"There was singing again today between afternoon tea and roll call. A large number of singers and audience members came to us from other barracks. The quartet performed three times and the strong tones of the German songs resounded through the halls of the prison. It was an event completely new in the life of this facility."

At the end of March when peace was declared between Germany and Russia the abducted Germans counted the hours until their emancipation. Again it was German song which rose to heaven in thanksgiving.

Stryk's entry of March 28th reports: "Today is Holy Thursday. Just as I arrived for church service Professor Seesemann was preparing for departure. The celebration took place in a small side corridor. Seesemann began the service with an old hymn by Luther. The song echoed through the dark hallways: 'A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." The words had never resounded to strongly here before, especially in the German language by so many singers filled with devotion and reliance on God's help."

The hymn accompanied us on the long and arduous journey home but without the harrassment of the Bolsheviks. On April 14th the train crossed the Berezina River. It passed mainly through woodlands. The air was fresh and it smelled like spring. The car behind us was mostly filled with Austrian soldiers. They began to sing well known folk songs. All perferred hearing these to the rattle of train rails. "Das Heideröschen" [The Meadow Rose] and the "Lindenbaum" [The Linden Tree] were sung along with the "Gute Komrad" [Good Comrade]. Then "Es braust ein Ruf wie Donnerhall" [It Roared Like A Clap of Thunder] powerfully echoed from behind.

Anyone who wishes to work towards the moral refinement of the German people should apply his efforts to bringing the true gold of German folk songs to the throats of our young people. The instruction our youth is given today will be well used by the men of the future.

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Forest Rangers in Motor Boats

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In most of the national forests of the United States the typical forest ranger may be described as a forest horseman, however he may grow into other miscellaneous tasks. And he may still be assigned to communication and transportation jobs in his saddle and with his pack horse as so often represented in artistic paintings.

However the typical forest ranger in the two large national forests of Alaska is quite different. Most of the time he travels in his lake-crossing motor boat. Perhaps his new steed still rears up and neighs. You feed it gasoline rather than oats. You lead it with a wheel rather than a rein. It shifts to and fro at night at anchor in a sheltered cove instead of tethered in a mountain meadow. Instead of a curry comb you use a paintbrush.

These new forest rangers are mostly desired in Tonpass [sic - Tongass] National Forest, the largest in Alaska (trunk wood estimated at 70 milliard feet of board measure — simply incredible!) This forest covers no fewer than 12,000 miles of coastline with a magnificent ecosystem created by waterways. Both sections of the forest consist of thousands of islands, several with very large or very small coastlines. The Chugach National Forest to the north is about a third of the size of Tongass Forest, however it is of mighty importance for Alaska and for the entire world in need of wood products. It's expected that with proper management both forests will produce large quantities of cut wood for a long period of time without harming the overall environment.

Our motorboat forest rangers conduct their duties mostly in pairs, two men per boat. All boats are completely seaworthy, 35 to 50 feet long, with 25 horsepower engines and all essential living accommodations. In an emergency situation four to five men could travel together. Summer is the busiest time with work schedules of up to 20 hours per day.

The Alaskan forest ranger feels as proud in his red-orange motorboat as a Bedouine horseman feels about his noble steed on the Arabian steppes. And perhaps he may gain fame with his corresponding transport to the ship of the desert.

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Return From The Siberian Prison

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The 25-year-old son of laborer Auf dem Kampe has returned to Melle, Hannover. The returning soldier entered the campaign as a volunteer, was last assigned to the First Company of the 78th Regiment. On July 28, 1916 he was taken prisoner and he spent 5 ½ years in Siberia. After his capture was announced he was not heard from again and he disappeared without a trace. As a result he was declared missing in action and assumed dead. Now he has returned on a transport ship crossing over Constantinopel, Greece and Italy.

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Unbiased, logical and strictly just women! God preserve us! If women had these characteristics humanity would die out and the earth would become a wasteland.


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Translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks