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German heritage still dominates our community
Our big celebration this weekend originally started as German Heritage Days, but somehow was changed to simply Heritage Days over the years.
McCook does have a strong German heritage, as noted by Walt Sehnert in a column a few years back.
It’s an interesting bit of reading.
In short, Catherine the Great needed help farming unused land, as well as buffer zones around the Black Sea and Volga to keep the Turks and Mongolian hordes from retaking their territory.
She issued the Catherine II Manifesto, which offered freedom of religion, no taxes, exemption from military service, free land, ability to buy and hold property, pass land down to heirs and freedom to leave at any time to anyone willing to move to Russia.
The offer struck a chord with Germans, who were being oppressed by foreign and domestic powers, pressed into military service, taxed heavily, having their religious freedom curtailed and suffering crop failures.
Some 1.7 million Germans, 73 percent of them Lutheran and most of them farmers, took Catherine up on her offer, settling along the Volga River and Black Sea.
The German community prospered for a century, but lived apart from the Russian population, engaging in commerce, paying no taxes, speaking their own language, marrying within their own community and practicing their own religion.
Seeing the Germans as an economic and political threat, the Russians began to oppress the German community.
About that time, the U.S. Congress introduced the Homestead Act, which attracted the Germans to Russia, a migration that continued until the beginning of World War II.
While they were farmers in Russia, many of the Germans took jobs with the enterprise that helped them arrive in Nebraska — the railroad.
A roster of family names around McCook reflects the heritage — Harsh, Klein, Uhrich, Klug, Leibbrandt, Wackers, Fritz, Troester, Ackerman and on and on.
The British Isles are well represented in McCook’s demographics, about 15 percent of us calling ourselves English, Irish, Scots, British or a combination of the above.
But a majority of us are still Germans, more than 37 percent claiming German ancestry.
More recent German immigrant Vera Hanson of McCook points out that Oct. 6 is national German-American Day, which commemorates the day in 1683 when 13 German families from Krefeld, near the Rhine, landed in Philadelphia.
They subsequently founded Germantown, Pa., the first German settlement in the 13 original American colonies, and organized the first petition in the English colonies to abolish slavery in 1688.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed Oct. 6 as German-American Day, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the first settlement.
O’Neill has a big St. Patrick’s Day celebration, Norfolk an Irish festival, Crawford an Intertribal Celebration, Dannebrog a Danish festival, Lincoln, Hastings, Wilber and Hemingford have their Czech festivals, Bridgeport a Greek festival, Loup City Polish Days, Newman Grove Norwegian Days, Stromsburg a Swedish festival, North Platte Mexican Fiesta, and more.
McCook’s Heritage Days is a great celebration, as this weekend’s festivities will confirm. Focusing on McCook’s German heritage could make it even better.