Lincoln’s Germans from Russia Museum: Not an anomaly
By Maggy Lehmicke, NewsNetNebraska
Passersby that drive through South Lincoln are often taken aback by a single sign.
“Germans from Russia Museum,” it reads.
Located in the heart of Lincoln’s South Bottoms neighborhood, the museum is the international headquarters of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia (AHSGR). Open to the public, the museum welcomes between 150 and 200 visitors each month.
Without entering the museum itself, the average spectator could make a lot of assumptions.
“These aren’t simply Russians,” clarified Robert Wagner, the president of the AHSGR.
Targeting a remarkably specific ethnic group, the museum is home to a collection of old garments, antique instruments and many other historical artifacts, showing where German Russians and the people of the Great Plains intersect.
And this is no minor intersection. According to the AHSGR, the Great Plains region maintains the greatest concentration of Germans from Russia. More than 20,000 reside in Nebraska alone.
The majority of the German colonists that resided in Russia were farmers, said Wagner.
In 1762, Catherine the Great issued a manifesto that invited Western Europeans to settle in Russia. Many Germans sought political and religious autonomy, as well as the promise of land. By 1768, numerous German settlements occupied the Volga region, as well as the area surrounding the Black Sea, according to AHSGR.
As the political environment in Russia began to change, many Germans from Russia decided to emigrate to the United States.
According to Wagner, the majority of the German Russians that settled in Lincoln inhabited the North and South Bottoms neighborhoods. Many worked in Lincoln’s Havelock District.
Wagner said one of the most rewarding parts of his job is the uncovered history he encounters on a daily basis. One of the early founders of the organization recently donated approximately 5,000 items to the society, he said, filling up nearly an entire room at the museum.
“Just going into that area and pulling out information that he’s acquired and saved over the years is just fascinating,” Wagner said.
The international headquarters and museum is home to one of the largest libraries and research archives on German Russians in existence, as well as an extensive photo collection.
Exhibits display everything from traditional garments to musical instruments to bibles. Because religion played such an important role in the lives of German Russians, Wagner said, the museum’s bible and hymnal collection is extensive.
“We actually had to stop accepting bibles,” Wagner said.
An all-faith chapel was built at the headquarters to commemorate these strong religious beliefs. In addition to the church, there are on-site exhibits detached from the main building, simulating a summer kitchen, general store and blacksmith’s shop.
He said the society maintains around 3,000 members, not all of whom have German-Russian heritage. The society helps members trace their genealogical history and is undergoing extensive revisions to make that process easier.
As it turns out, the distinct sign on 10th Street may not be as peculiar as you’d think.
President Robert Wagner shares his thoughts and personal history