Oral History statement by Pauline and Mary Luft, and Pauline Cleary. Interview by an unidentified person.

Previous Next Pioneers & Immigrants Exhibit Page Home Search
Record 159/261
Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
Admin/Biog History Oral history statement made by Pauline and Mary Luft and follow-up interview by an unidentified person. They discuss Luft family history, Volga German immigrants from Russia, life in Oshkosh, WI, religion, and life in Oshkosh with other German speaking Russian families. A transcript is on a file in the archives.
Classification Archives
Collection Oral History
Dates of Accumulation 1969
Abstract Cassette recorded oral history interview with Interview with Pauline & Mary Luft, and Pauline Cleary, Volga German Immigrant decendants.
June 8, 1978

Statement read by Pauline Luft:

…..Oct 7, 1879. Conformation took place on the 21st of May 1895. I remember him telling us of working as the equivalent in this country of a chauffeur. He worked for a well to do Russian family taking the children back and forth to school in a horse drawn carriage. Otherwise I believe he worked on the family farm. They raised tobacco though I think only for their own use. At the time that Catherine the Great rose to the throne, one of her enticements was to lure the Germans to settle in Russia, with the promise of the freedom from military and civil service; however, our father did have to enter the service for training but did not have to do active service. This must have been about 1902. On his return home, his father had died and he received his inheritance. In those days a fathers goods were divided amongst the sons. There were six sons and six daughters. I don't recall that the daughters received an inheritance. They brothers had divided the goods and our father drew the wagon and the two horses which the boys continued using and had about worn out. He felt they should have sold them so that he would at least have had the money. I only mention this as a humorous note. Dad came to this country in July of 1908. He and his first wife settled in Fort Collins, Colorado. She died of Typhoid Fever in September of that year. In November he came to Oshkosh, Wisconsin and after a year moved to Calgary, Canada where our brother and three sisters live. Mother came to this country after her marriage January 3rd, 1907. They left Russia on April 16, 1907. They arrived in Glidden Wisconsin on June 3rd. She was born June 3rd, 1887; baptized June 7, 1887confirmed October 6th, 1902. Her husband died in February 1911. There were two little girls from this marriage. Since mother was the only one from her immediate family to come to this country, she was very lonely though there were cousins of her husbands living in town. She and her husband lived in a small cottage in the woods. She was also frightened as there were often tramps wandering about. He had worked cutting timber. An uncle living in Oshkosh invited her to come with the children to stay with him and his family. Since there was nowhere else she could go she gladly accepted. In the meantime our father, then living in Canada, heard of his friends death. They had been good friends in Russia. He proposed by mail and mother accepted since her husband, when he knew he was going to die, told her in case Henry asked her to marry him told her she should feel right in doing so since he was a good man and would be good to her. They were married in Canada in April 1911. I and three sisters were born of this union. Father worked as a carpenter and then built a new home; however, business was bad and he later lost it. I guess things looked better in the states so they packed it up and moved to Oshkosh. Dad had a brother and sister living here. We lived in three rooms of an upstairs house. In the wintertime we only used two of the rooms to keep warm. There was a built in cupboard as long as a sink and pump for when there was water in the cistern. Water for drinking and cooking had to be brought up from the pump outdoors. As I recall only a few of the better homes along Sawyer Avenue had running water and electricity. Perhaps only the two parsonages. Our furniture consisted of a stove, table, a chair for each of us, two beds and a trunk which they had brought with them. The trunk was all we had for storing clothes and bedding. Hooks on the wall served for hanging garments. I'm sure this was typical of all our humble homes at the start. In Canada there had been running water and electricity and mother told us years later that it had been hard getting use to this way of living again. Conditions here as far as work was concerned was not much better. Work at Paine's was slack for some reason. Mother and Dad along with other Germans took the only other work available at the time. They walked out to the Daymo farm on Murdock Avenue and worked in the fields. Our aunt took care of us girls. This was hard work of course, but it was what they were used to doing when in Russia. One day the farmer's wife went out into the field hoping that one of the ladies would come and scrub her clothes for her. She looked the ladies over and chose our mother. Of course Mother was delighted because that was what she did best and it was better than working out in the heat. Later Dad was able to get a job at Paine's, and Mother found jobs washing and cleaning for some of the wealthier people in town. She loved to work and her ladies loved her. She worked for the one family the rest of her working days. She had difficulty mastering the English language. She always said she had a heavy tongue and some words just never came out right. She learned to understand it though. Our two youngest sisters were born at this time. Many other of us German ladies also did this work and would help each other out when they were having their babies. We were always poor, but we did not stay in that miserable upstairs. We moved every few years but always to a slightly better place. The house we live in now was miserable, but it was sound fundamentally and Dad knew he would be able to improve it. They paid $975.00 for it. At first things were often bad but we never had to apply for relief. I remember we were accused of being on welfare and how upset our parents were at the time. I remember one Christmas time being invited, along with my two oldest sisters to a party put on by the Elks or some other fraternal organization for the children of the needy families of Oshkosh. Our parents would not allow us to go, as that was too much like receiving aid; however, the gifts and other goodies were delivered to us later. We each received a doll and a stuffed toy for our younger sister. This was the best Christmas we ever had as usually we only received a dress and a bag of candy and nuts from our church. While in Kindergarten at the old Pinoqua School, one of the James sisters, and I'm sure the people of my age remember the James sisters, I do remember the name of this particular one, I do not remember the name of this particular one. She made maybe once a month visits to our class bringing with her this lovely doll. She would try to teach us how to take care of and how to rock and cuddle a doll. In the meantime we were each given about a foot long stick of wood from the wooden blocks which were there for us to play with. We were to cuddle these sticks, as she did the doll. I can still feel the frustration of holding a stiff stick in my arms! Our father also made a doll for me and also out of a stick of wood, But he had drawn on a face and arms and legs but I still longed for a real doll. You can imagine how happy I was when I received the one. About this period of time there was an epidemic of some kind. Homes that had any contagious disease had black cards nailed to the front of their homes and no body aside from the immediate family was supposed to enter. We children were not sick at the time, but the Health Officers seemed to be making a door to door checkup. Mother was just preparing to wash clothes and had two tubs of water sitting on a bench when he came to see us. Before he left he took a vial out of his pocket and poured some liquid into each tub. It was supposed to be some kind of disinfectant. Mother tried to stop him but couldn't. She was so angry, the stuff smelled. After he left she threw the water out and started over, which meant she had to carry that water out and bring it fresh to be reheated. This may have been during the flu epidemic of 1918 when so many people died, some of them from our neighborhood. Our family escaped the disease even though Mother was working and helping where all but the man of the house, a doctor, were ill. Mother always said it was because we only had home baked bread and hot oatmeal for breakfast. She seemed to have the idea they did something to boughten (sic) bread. We do not know much of our ancestors who originally moved from Germany to Russia except they did so because of religious persecution. They were Lutheran by faith and naturally inherited that faith. I'm now only telling about what our parents told us. After settling in Russia, they still longed to continue their Lutheran forms of worship but since pastors were not very numerous amongst the immigrants they gathered together as usual and sang their hymns, had prayers and those of the men who were able to, read from the bible and attempted to explain the word and as it turned out delivered small sermons although they did not call them that. About once a month a traveling pastor came by and conducted a service and any other necessary duties, though later they did seem to have a regular pastor as I noticed that both our mother and father were baptized a day or so after birth. The same pastor also confirmed them in their early teens. Some but not all of our people continued the independent, and as they were later called, prayer meetings. Other colonies of our Germans followed this custom also. After immigrating to America they settled in various parts of the states and also Canada. Their love of God and each other and to be able to commune with each other led them to attempt together as travel and circumstance were open to them. They gathered at different cities about three times a year for what they called a convention. Those in the Midwest came from Chicago, Milwaukee, Racine, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, Fon du Lac, Oshkosh, and the farmers surrounding Oshkosh. There were similar groups in Michigan, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and the New York Area as well as the northwestern states. They followed the same general procedure as they did in the usual prayer meetings. They would have several speakers and of course, usually those from away. Some of them could have been considered Bible Scholars as they studied the Bible studiously and were very good speakers. They would usually gather on a holiday weekend. We, in Oshkosh, had it over Labor Day weekend. Great preparations were made for those events, cleaning our homes from top to bottom, preparing food, baking and so forth. Arrangements had to be made for our company to sleep.
We children ended up on the floor laid on a feather bed. Featherbeds are warm for covering but they leave much to be desired to sleep on! I wonder now, where did our parents sleep? Some of our Lutheran churches were not always sympathetic or cooperative with these so-called conventions, which was the case in Oshkosh. We several times rented the Roosevelt School gym. Others of our people joined the congregational church and they had no difficulty and were able to have their gatherings in their churches. As and afterthought, we were able to have our regular prayer meetings in our meeting hall of the church. One of the customs that they probably picked up from the Russians was greeting each other with a kiss and bear hug upon meeting or not having seen each other for some time. Of course the men just kissed the men and the same with the ladies, otherwise a handshake was sufficient. This custom was looked on as amusing by outsiders but we see it all the time now on television when the Russians and even other dignitaries meet. These conventions are not held very often anymore, as most of our parents are now gone and not too many of the younger generation were ever interested in keeping up the custom. It was intended as a means of spreading the gospel, and doing evangelistic work. Perhaps one reason why this custom has disappeared is that the brothers, as they were called, were thought to be too pious and strict. They frowned on dancing, drinking, smoking, playing cards, wearing ties for the men, bright colors for the ladies or makeup, bobbed hair or curled hair or anything overdone. The wearing of ties for the men and bobbed or curled hair for the ladies was eventually overlooked. Before our family came to Oshkosh the Germans here on the West Side had to walk or take the streetcar to Christ Lutheran Church on the East Side of the river. It proved to be a hardship during the winter months so they decided to build a church of their own, however, before it was finished, there was a disagreement and a small group broke away and decided to start their own church. This church became congregational, though I don't think there was much difference in the ways their services were conducted. Now we had what they called the big church and the little church. When our family came later they joined the little church. This church eventually became Lutheran also. A custom that I regret to have seen pass was the ringing of our church bells every Saturday evening at six o'clock. This signaled the start of the holy day and reminded us that the next day was Sunday and our place was to go to Sunday school and church. As an afterthought, those of our people, our parents included, who participated in supporting and attending the prayer meetings were called brothers and sisters. More of the families belonged to our church than did the big church. Eventually they became reconciled and joined in attending these meetings. We still had the big church and little church. We outgrew our church on Arthur Avenue and had built and paid for a new church and parsonage on Eagle Street across from the West high school, which is not the best place to build a church. As I said before, our mother was the only member of her immediate family to come to this country. The oldest was a sister who died in childbirth. There were four brothers and mother was the youngest. Mother said she really did not want to get married after seeing the problems her sister had, but since it was expected of her she married a fine young man and shortly after they left for America. She was extremely homesick, and though friends encouraged her return to the homeland after her husband died, she preferred to stay here, as conditions were better. Her mother starved to death during the revolution. We had been hearing from mother's nieces up until about 1924 when there was silence. I do not know what happened to the brothers. At least two of them had served in the military. Our father came from a family of six boys and six girls. Two of his brothers and four sisters came to this country. Our father was the second youngest. I do not remember what happened to the rest of the family, but do remember our parents scrimping to be able to send them money; bedding and clothes as they were able, until they were told to stop, as they hardly received any of it. We received occasional letters from them until 1924, so we do not know what happened to our family. Occasionally we hear of our German friends telling of getting letters from their relatives. Our people lived entirely apart from their Russian counterparts in Russia and did not socialize or intermarry. That was considered a disgrace. As I said, our father worked for a Russian family. He learned to speak the Russian language. I also talked to one of our ladies who worked as a maid. Our people were very clean and particular about their food compared to how the Russian peasants lived. They seldom had any trouble with them, but they feared the nomad tribes who occasionally appeared. Mother told us of one of her experience with some of them. She had been asked to take some empty buckets down to the communal well, which might have been a block or so from their house, and fill them with water and then her brothers were to come and carry them back. There was some urgency for her to go ahead. Before her brothers arrived those ruffians came upon her, and seeing that she was alone, proceeded to pour all this cold water all over her. She was a young girl at this time. Fortunately the boys arrived before they could hurt her further. She said they were not Russian youths. I would say that our family was perhaps one of the last of our people to arrive in Oshkosh from Russia or in our case we came from Canada. There were some other German families along with some Polish people who lived in the West Algoma Street area. I remember some very nice and kind people living to the rear of our house, the Revelen family, he was the fire chief at that time. He was one of these families. There were also two or more small groceries on our side of the creek. Perhaps the best remembered was Cober and Ott. Herman Ott ran the store, who never missed a chance to tease and joke with his customers. He was always available to make any necessary telephone calls whether it was to call a doctor or order a load of wood. I was once sent to order a load of cinders, which were to be used on our so-called driveway, which was only used to deliver wood and later coal. However, in the German, cinders and sand sounded much the same and I had Herman order sand. Mother was annoyed with me but dad understood how it could have confused me even though he had to find a place to put that sand. I remember how sorry I felt for him. There were few phones in those days. There were other grocers on West Algoma Street along with a butcher shop and ice cream parlor, a shoe store, a blacksmith shop and of course the ever present saloon. Happy John was the proprietor of the saloon and his name spoke for his disposition. I now remember the Katachy Drug Store, which was later the Miller Potter Drug Store. We as children could be found down west on Sunday afternoon to spend our nickel spending money providing our parents could afford it then. In those days people were allowed to raise chickens in their backyards, which we did while renting one of our homes, and then also when we bought this house. We even raised a pig to slaughter once, but I was glad it was the one and only time. Not only was it smelly, but mother would save the potato peelings from our meals and then when there was a kettle full she would cook them to feed the pig and that was smelly. Also they slaughtered it on Thanksgiving Day because our father and his helpers were off from work that day, so we were deprived of a Thanksgiving Day dinner, not that we could have had anything special except maybe a chicken dinner. I just hoped they wouldn't ask us at school what we had for our Thanksgiving Day. Many of our people also made their own sausage. It was rather highly seasoned so that it would keep, as we had no refrigeration. Some of it they had smoked at the Schubert Meat Market. The rest of the pork was salted down in crocks and kept in a cold place to have for the winter. This was the reason for slaughtering late in the season. Some of the ladies also made their own soap. Mother was in her glory when she was setting up her large black kettle in the back yard, built a fire under it and filled it with fat scraps, salt, lye, and water.
The neighborhood ladies would congregate to watch, give advice or suggestions. Some of them had a real knack and knew by the looks of the boiling soap whether it needed more salt or lye. They never seemed to follow a recipe. I think our mother would smile if she knew we still made our own sausage and our own soap. We use a recipe for our own soap and do not boil it. It is very good soap and like Ivory soap it floats. I know many Oshkosh people have heard of some of our Russian/German cooking, such as cabbage rolls, which we call Krauthugen. This, I'm sure, is something they picked up from the Russian peasants, as they were great on cabbage food. Blena, thin pancakes, is also Russian and which we probably copied from them. Strawberry dumplings has been another great favorite though not too many people want to go to the bother of making them. There is Gahacktis made with chopped raw potatoes and raw or cooked meat or hamburger seasoned and baked. We also had Koffekugen for a Sunday breakfast, either with a fruit topping or rivol as some people call them streusel. Our people were also very fond of soup along with thick slices of homemade rye bread made a meal. We often heard about how our people were thought to be odd and clannish in their ways. Of course they came, as they were, knowing they were entering a strange land of strange customs. Many of them had harrowing experiences on their journey over. Some of the ships were overloaded with the seasickness, making them miserable. Arriving at customs was also something to worry about, as many were rejected because of various diseases. In some cases families had to become separated because one of the members did not pass the test and had to return home. Not knowing the English language must have been difficult in getting to their final destinations. In the case of our people, from Yagagna, Pollyanna, they spoke a different dialect of German. While most were able to understand and perhaps even able to speak, if they wanted to the regular German, they were more comfortable speaking their own dialect, but they were hard to understand. Our people had been teased and laughed at good naturedly by our own people from other colonies, but they still come to their own way of speaking. For us it has been amusing to hear some of our old timers when they get together to reminisce, using what they call our Pukdoyche. Our people were not always accepted by other people they came in contact with. Ladies wore their heavy kerchiefs and heavy shawls in place of coats. The men wore heavy felt boots and stiff jackets. I remember our having a child's pair of felt boots, which we wore as we grew into them. They were toasty warm. So we must have been a curious sight and one is not surprised to find they were rejected, so naturally they kept to themselves.

Q: That's very interesting Pauline, you wrote most of it did you?

PL: Well, yes.

Q: There are some things that were so fascinating to follow up and ask more about. Just what exactly happened in Russia that made them want to leave there? When it sounded as if that would be a very wonderful life for them.

PL: Well as I say, I think I added in my original papers, I maybe forgot to include it in this, uh, although at the time they were enticed to come to Russia, they were supposed to be free of military service and they did not have to pay taxes and then later of course, there was the fear of the Russian-Japanese War, which they did not, and the men of course didn't want to enter into the service. Then, of course, there were the beginnings, mumblings of the revolution, and they were frightened.

ML: They had experiences with the Bolsheviks, I remember dad talking about the Bolsheviks, and how awful they were.

Q: Do you remember anything especially that you two talked about?

ML: I just remember, uh, I was very small at the time, him talking about it with a fear, you know. How they would come to the doors, knock on the doors and spirit people away for no reason. (asking Pauline) Do you remember that?

PL: Yes, I think we were, uh, that wasn't while our people were there, but in the letters from the people who still were.

Q: Now you spoke. . . We may jump around a little in bringing out other things. You spoke about they're not wearing neckties. That was interesting. Some of these people became Mennonites, apparently, from what I was reading. Were they all, even the Lutherans too, strict about their dress?

PL: No, . . . well they, it's just a belief they had that everything that was not necessary. . .

PC: (Pauline Cleary) ….and women didn't wear earrings.

PL: No. They couldn't afford it. None of those luxuries.

ML: I don't think they believed in them either, do you?

PL: One thing the ladies did wear and I haven't seen them, I've often wondered what happened to them, but ladies around here would wear these amber colored beads. You remember those big beads?

PC: Oh, regular amber beads, those they wore, I think they must have brought those along from Russia.

PL: Weren't they used to ward off sickness or something?

PC: Well…I think there may be a little bit of…

PL: Superstition.

PC: Whaddaya call it now…

PL: Superstition.

PC: Superstition, yes, right.

ML: I remember hearing that some people wore amber beads thinking they wouldn't have a goiter. But amber came from Germany did they was that Russia too?

PC: They must have brought that to Germany, people before.

M: Yes.

PC: The forefathers

PC: There may have been some that might have had earrings but they were very, very plain and pierced ears of course.

M: Their religion meant a great deal to them, didn't it?

PC: Well that's all they had.

P: Well not all the Germans had this it was just those who belonged to what we called the brothers and sisters. All the Germans didn't belong to it.

PC: No that was just a group by itself.

PL: Our family did, but Pauline's (Cleary) family didn't.

PC: I…no, my mother and father, we went up here to Zion Church, it used to be Zion Church. In fact my father was the instigator of that church being built because you see they used to have to walk down to Christ Lutheran Church on Sunday mornings even though the street car was only a nickel but they felt they could save ten cents going back and forth so, you know there would be a group of them that would gather and walk down to the church and walk back home again. That went on for quite some time and, of course, Pastor Wayne was wonderful to these people on the West Side, he did so much for them. So finally they got the idea and my dad said "Why don't we have our own church over here, there seems to be enough families?" He mentioned it one Sunday to some men and they said "Well you got a good idea, let's talk it around and see what the sentiment is of the people." So, more and more it caught on more and more and finally they decided that they would approach Pastor Wayne on it before they made any definite decisions because he'd been like a father over the whole group, you know and he said he thought it was an excellent idea and that he would help them all that he could. He would serve as their pastor until such a time that they thought they could afford their own, and that's what he did. Everybody was very enthusiastic about it and they worked and donated as much as they possibly could and so we got the church here, up on the corner right across from my house.

Q: Now would you women have dinners and suppers…

PC: Not at that time but they had what they called the Ladies Aid Society. There weren't all these societies in the church years ago as there is now but they did have the Ladies Aid Society and the men had the…

Q: Did they call it Fraun Frye?

PC: Yeah they used to call it Fraun Frye in the Ladies Aid Society and the men I don't think had anything at that time. Of course their amusement and pleasure was mostly visiting at each others homes and then they'd reminisce about the old country or talk about their work or whatever the case may be. Of course as far as reading material like Holly said here, over in Russia I think that most of the reading material was of a religious nature because there wasn't a newspaper published or any thing like that.

Q: Now this last has been told to us by Mrs. Cleary and she is also Pauline. Pauline Luft, they call you Paulie did you say?

PL: That's right, mmm hmm.

Q: We will have to designate…. Was your family story similar to that of the Lufts?

PC: Well, there may have been some similarity among all of us as far as that's concerned but. um…they of course had a larger family than we had. My mother had eleven children but she only raised four and I was the baby of the eleven and uh…I feel I missed out on a lot in life because I never knew my grandmother or grandfather or an aunt or uncle and so I feel I missed out on a lot in life.

Q: Your parents were the only ones of the family to come over?

PC: I'm the only one left from my family now, yes. My sister lived down the street here, right across the street from us but both she and my brother in law passed away and they were the parents of Dr. Charmin and then my other sister later on moved up to New York State, up in Warwick and Pineknot and that area. There's quite the settlement of Volga Germans there.

PL: Pauline's father was able to make it possible for many of the people over in Russia to come here, he sent them money so they could come, and of course they paid him back eventually.

Q: I noticed that in one of the books that you gave me to read about this whole interesting history, wasn't one of them written by a Mr. Charmin, was that the same person?

PL: No, no there are many Charmins.

PC: We sent enough money over there for seven people to come. There was a nephew and his son from my fathers side and then from my mothers side there was a nephew and his wife, a niece and her husband plus a single girl but the single girl, she backed out shortly after the money came. I guess she didn't want to leave her folks. The niece and her husband, he traveled as far as he could but they were checked at regular checkpoints and he had trachoma and although they didn't exactly pass him but he had the right to go as far as Raymond Germany, and then that was the final checkup and he didn't pass so, he had to go all the way back to Russia and those three fares we lost completely. The nephew and his wife came here and lived up stairs with us and then later on they moved up to Calgary and he lost his wife in that flu epidemic. They had two children in that marriage and then he married a girl up there that was a lovely person….

PL: She was our cousin.

PC: Yes, and they had how many… six children? About six children they had and then they finally moved back here to Wisconsin again. Getting back to this military thing. That was really I think what triggered the whole thing off, with the people over there coming over to America because the sons didn't want to serve in the military. I think I was always told they had to be in the military for about six years and couldn't return home at anytime you know, and didn't get furloughs I think. That's what prompted the thing and then you see my brother in law and my sister…my sister was married when she was seventeen years old and of course he wanted to get married and he was an orphan and he had some brothers there but his mother and father had passed away and they had owned a flour mill over there I guess and anyway, he wanted to come to America and so that's why they came. My sister was pretty young and of course, once you have a child who leaves you, you want to follow that child, and so then my mother and father got the idea that they wanted to come. We were in the process of selling our home over there, when my sister wrote and said they thought they were coming back to Russia. I guess they didn't adjust too well in the beginning and then the deal fell through on our house. Well, I don't know it wasn't too long before they wrote and said that they had decided to stay in America. So then we sold our home and came over and we landed in Baltimore and my father got a job on the same ship that we came over on. They were more or less like Stevedores and in those days, you see they didn't have the equipment to load and unload these big steamers, everything was by hand and they carried things on their backs and they had to reload that ship at a specified time when the sailing date was set. So they had to sometimes work around the clock until this boat was loaded and they'd carry salt sacks on their back and everything until their legs were raw. Then, finally there was some men from Oshkosh that came to visit us and they were telling about the working conditions here and that more or less prompted them to want to come here because it was easier, they worked their ten hours a day and everybody worked at the Paine Lumber Co. and Pastor Wayne again would help them find work. Of course, they all settled in the West Side and according to Mr. Metz's letter in the paper many of the people got a little bit riled about that but it didn't rile me because as I sort of digest the thing I thought he said nothing evil or wrong, he was quoting his mother and grandmother and when he said in there too that his mother and grandmother didn't quite like the idea of these people moving over here, well, that's where all the others lived and they wanted to live near their own people, you know.

Q: And it happened with other nationalities too.

PC: Yes, and she said that we were kind of clannish. Well, maybe we were, I can see where they would maybe get that impression but by the same token, they didn't care to have anything to do with us so we stuck with our own and we didn't know the English language and therefore we had no other choice but to be clannish but she also said that we were friendly people.

Q: Course the language barrier always does make difficulty.

PC: Well maybe somebody else has got something to say here. (Laughter all around)

Q: They came really by boat quite a ways didn't they?

PL: (Pauline Luft)Something I forgot to mention was this picture of a group of our German people who went to school up here at the Roosevelt School that was that night school to try to learn the English language and to write. Most of these people were preparing for becoming citizens and I really can say that most of our people eventually did become American Citizens.
This is Pauline's father here.(Pauline Clear)

PC: Oh yes, he was a proud man that day.

ML: (Mary Luft)Do you have that picture Pauline?

PC: No, I would like a copy of it if you have a chance or if you let me take it I could get a copy made. My mother was going to apply then too but I don't know what happened or why she didn't

MC: Our mom isn't on there either but she did eventually.

PL: She went later.

(Side two of tape # 1)

Q: Course, women didn't vote then, so uh…

PL: Right after…

Q: They did right after that, did they?

PL: Yes, because our father voted…

ML: I can remember how he coached her to vote, you know. How he would say, "Now this is the way you pull the levers."

PC: Well, my husband had to coach me to the first time I voted. See, I wasn't a citizen either and I always talked about taking out my citizenship papers and my husband and I were going together at that time and he says, "Oh, why don't you wait, we'll be married soon and then you'll only need one paper. This way, if you apply now then you'll have to wait two years before you can apply for the second paper." So he said, "You wouldn't be anything ahead." He said, "You might as well wait a little while until we get married and then all you'll need is one paper." So then I did, but the joke was always in front of company, "Well if she doesn't behave herself, I'll have her deported."

ML: Was your husband a citizen?

PC: Oh yes, he was born here.

Q: Was he of German-Russian background?

PC: No…German and I think his Father was French. His father's folks came from Luxembourg, near the French Border and I think originally our name must have been Claire. The mother was German but his father was French. Originally the name was that.

Q: You know, the Director of Music at the University here, Mr. Pensis is from Luxembourg. He's there now I believe, conducting a symphony. There were a couple of other interesting things, you spoke about the Congregational Church here, is that the one on Washington?

PL: No, no I don't think they were affiliated with any other church in town.

Q: No, you spoke of some people becoming Congregationalists.

PL: That was just a group of people who broke away from the Zion Lutheran Church and they started a church of their own and they weren't affiliated with any other church in town. They were a small group and I don't know where they got their pastors from, but as I said, they turned Lutheran again it didn't make all that much difference to them.

Q: As children, you didn't have dolls and toys then, what sort of games did you play or were you busy.

PL: Well, we had very few toys, our parents were really too poor to buy Christmas presents for us…

ML: Played hopscotch.

Q: That's what you did, did you?

PL: Yes, yes.

ML: …and jump rope.

PL: …and Jacks.

PC: At Christmas time we'd get a doll and then the church at Christmas time used to, when they had their Christmas program, the children's program you know, then after the service the children would all get a bag of…Well there'd be an orange and an apple, there'd be hard candy in there, nuts and I think our parents, I think at that time…What did they pay for it…twenty-five cents, not even…Ten cents I think. Of course that was a great joy to the children after the Christmas program was over. As we grew older, we'd get ten cents on a Sunday and we'd walk downtown and go to the Colonial Theater for a nickel and when we'd go home, we'd buy us an ice cream for a nickel and we had a big day.

Q: Russian people are very clever with their folk dances, where your German group good folk dancers? Some of them were very strict about not dancing.

PL: Well there were the two groups. There were those who did believe in it and those who didn't believe in it.

PC: Well you should have gone to those Russian weddings years ago it was a three day affair.

ML: The Shivaries?

PC: And if the whole West Side wasn't invited, well those who weren't invited were deeply hurt. You know they'd go out the night before, a couple of men and carry a stick with ribbons on it and then they'd go to all the houses and issue the invitation for the wedding.

Q: And an invitation was by word of mouth, right?

PC: Yes, there were generally two men together and they would take certain areas, you know.

Q: And after the wedding there was always a dinner or banquet or lunch, was there?

PL: Well, they cooked up a dinner, I don't know how they ever did it.

PC: Barley soup I think it was…

ML: Chicken soup, with noodles.

PC: Barley soup, they used to cook in these great big copper kettles, wash boilers. And then there was a few of the women on the West side here that had a pretty good reputation for cooking for weddings so they were always in the kitchen, you know.

Q: Was there any drinking of beer or wine?

ML: Oh yeah.

PC: Whiskey, they didn't have Brandy in those days, that was too expensive.

Q: Did they make their own wine?

PC: Yes, my mother made a lot of her own wine.

ML: Everybody made it, in fact I think they even made beer.

Q: Did they raise grapes then, they must have…

PC: We had Choke Cherry trees in our yard and she made Choke Cherry Wine too.

Q: You know the food that you ate, you spoke of cabbage rolls, I remember hearing that when a people came from an area that didn't have much meat, cabbage roll didn't have any meat in it, when they came from an area that was a little plentiful then it was a little different.

PL: Well some people put a little meat in, we like it best just with the cabbage.

ML: I think because we were brought up that way.

Q: Do you put a sort of sauce over it or…

PL: Oh no, you just eat it with your hand…

PC: Well there were all kinds of cabbage rolls too. Rolls that we had was rich dough…
PL: Well I'm talking about Kraut Kugen…

PC: Yeah like Kraut Kugen, huh?

PL: Yes.

PC: Then there are those other kinds that have a little meat loaf with the cabbage leaves around them. You can bake them and then cut your potato into big pieces and your carrots and lay it in there and you put tomato over it and bake it and it's delicious. I just made it for my church club here a while ago.

Q: You make me hungry. What did you have for dessert?

PL: They didn't have dessert really…

PC: They would make some sort of coffeecake…yeah, Kugen.

ML: Apple pie…

PL: Well apple pie, mother never made a pie until she came to this country.

Q: Did your mother make her own bread? They tell me, she swore by her bread.

PL: Oh, yes.

Q: Did she grind her own wheat?

PL: Oh no, no she bought the flour.

ML: Made a lot of rye bread.

PL: Very occasionally we would run out of bread and mother would send us to the store to get bread and we thought that was really something.

ML: It was a treat because it was so spongy…

PL: Spongy, yes.

ML: And now a days I can't stand it.

Q: And a loaf of bread was five or ten cents?

ML: Did she use whole wheat, or was it the white?

PL: Well the rye bread, they made lots of rye bread.
PC: My sister, who lived down the street here, I can remember she had a great big pan, oh about that big around, with a cover for it, and I don't know how many times a week she would bake bread and use that pan.

ML: She had a big family.

PC: Yeah she had eight children.

PL: Well, they ate bread three times a day.

ML: There were a lot of men in that family too.

PC: Yes, there were quite a few boys and my brother-in-law was a big eater. He was a hard worker and uh, he worked for the Floor Brothers Construction Company for many, many years. He was a foreman there and there were a lot of accidents, you know, falling in his line of work. These eager beavers you know, if nothing gets done then he has to get in there and do it, you know.

Q: Well first aid was an important thing to know back then for the family, wasn't it? Take care of wounds and…

PC: Oh yes, yes. And they all built their own homes and as time went on they made alterations and improved them, and I remember there was a time, I told the girls the other night, when they started putting basements in their homes, my, they spread like wildfire. Everybody was putting basements in their homes for a few years, you know. Tearing out those great big, old wooden cisterns. I remember my folks had put a big cement cistern in the corner of the basement.

PL: Well then later running water came…

PC: And electricity, naturally.

Q: Of course it was too bad to give up that soft water to wash with. It was better in a way then the water we have now.

PC: And the rubbing boards that you rubbed your clothes on, you know, and in the old country they went down to the creek or a body of water and washed their clothes there and my mother said in the winter time sometimes, you had ice all the way up your arm.

Q: That would be the Volga river then, wouldn't it?

PL: I don't know, probably a tributary.

PC: I was telling the girls the other day too, the name of our village was Yagaden (?) and in Russian they say that means strawberry, because the strawberries grew very profusely. Wild and sweet as sweet could be. My mother said we never added sugar to our berries. And also apples, she said that you could never deny that you had an apple in the house, because if anybody walked in your door they could smell that apple. They were that good.
Category 6: T&E For Communication
Legal Status No oral history release has been located.
Object ID OH1978.1
Object Name Tape, Magnetic
People Luft, Pauline
Luft, Mary
Cleary, Pauline
Subjects Immigrants
Volga Germans
Title Oral History statement by Pauline and Mary Luft, and Pauline Cleary. Interview by an unidentified person.
COPYRIGHT INFORMATION ~ For access to this image, contact

NOTICE: This material may be freely used by non-commercial entities for educational and/or research purposes as long as this message remains on all copied material. These electronic pages cannot be reproduced in any format for profit or other presentation without the permission of The Oshkosh Public Museum. © 2005 Oshkosh Public Museum, All Rights Reserved   
Last modified on: December 12, 2009