Wolga Gesangbuch — The Volga Hymnal
When Germans began emigrating to Russia in response to Catherine the Great’s offer of 60 dessiatines of free land, they took more than their meager possessions. They also took their rich tradition of singing hymns — especially the German hymns of the Reformation.
In the Volga region, the German-Russians published their own hymn book, the Wolga Gesangbuch.
Included in the Wolga Gesangbuch are such standard hymns of the faith as “A Mighty Fortress is our God” (Ein’ Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott), and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” (Lobe den Herren). In addition, the Volga Germans developed a special affection for a few lesser known hymns, especially, “O take my hand, dear Father” (So Nimm Denn Meine Hände.)
“O take my hand” was written by Julie Katharina von Hausmann, born March 7, 1826, in Mitau, Kurland, Latvia. She lived until her seventy-fifth year. The daughter of a school teacher, Julie worked for a while as a governess, but eventually cared full time for her father, who had gone blind. After his death in 1864, she lived with sisters in several different European countries.
It is easy to see why her poetic, tender words would so appeal to the Volga Germans, who endured the hardships of immigration, and later the forced famine of Stalin. Her beloved hymn is reproduced on this page.
Last year, the Jamestown College Concert Choir (Jamestown, North Dakota) presented several German-Russian hymns in their Spring 2004 Tour, “Hymns of Faith Both Great and Small.”
Their performance was included in a Prairie Public Television documentary about the history and culture of the German-Russian entitled “Heimat: Music from Home”. The television program aired on PBS.
A CD of the Jamestown performance is available and can be purchased on the web at: http://www.lib.ndsu. nodak.edu/grhc/order/tapes/JCChoir.html.