Berg writes chapter in published anthology about German-Bohemian ethnic group

August 6, 2013

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John Leonard Berg

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — John Leonard Berg, coordinator of public services at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Elton S. Karrmann Library, wrote a chapter in the German-Bohemian Heritage Society’s recently published anthology “Heimatbrief: Stories of German-Bohemians.”

Organized in 1984, the German-Bohemian Heritage Society shares personal stories, genealogical research and historical perspectives about the German-Bohemian heritage and culture. Its recently published anthology includes letters written by German-Bohemians and their relatives and articles about their lives, culture, language and history as well as their expulsion from their homeland and immigration to the United States following World War II. Berg’s chapter discusses his search for his maternal ancestors, who were German-Bohemians.

“I was excited to hear that the article I wrote about my mother’s family was included in the anthology,” Berg said. “I have been doing research about my heritage and contributing news, articles and book reviews to the German-Bohemian Heritage Society for about 20 years. It is rewarding to know that my genealogical research can help others better understand and appreciate the German-Bohemian people and their culture.”

According to Berg, the German-Bohemian people originated hundreds of years ago and lived on the border of the Czech Republic, where their culture and language became a mix of German and Czech traditions. After World War II, the German-Bohemians were exiled from the Czech Republic and many of their villages were destroyed for security purposes.

In the 1880s, the German-Bohemians began to immigrate to the United States, a trend that continued throughout the 19th century. They brought their customs and traditions with them, some of which are still practiced today, such as the card game Sheepshead; Kloppein, the craft of lace making; and the making of Schmierkuchen, a pastry with prunes. Two of the largest groups of German-Bohemians exist in New Ulm, Minn., and areas around Milwaukee, Wis.

Growing up in New Ulm, Berg was immersed in the unique German-Bohemian culture, with many of the businesses having German names and many of the restaurants serving authentic ethnic food. In 2008, Berg visited the German-Bohemian villages in the Czech Republic and attended a three-day gathering of German-Bohemian people from around the world where he shared his research findings, acquired histories of the old villages, learned about the local folklore and heard firsthand accounts of German-Bohemian life.

“Preserving cultural identities is important,” said Berg. “Finding your roots gives you an appreciation for your unique background and helps connect you with others who have similar backgrounds. Discovering those deep, historical connections can enrich your life.”

“The most interesting thing I learned about my ancestors was that they were subsistence farmers, growing flax on their land during the summer months and spinning linen for cloth through the harsh winter season,” Berg stated.

“Each of us has a unique ethnic background and as the generations pass, traditions can be lost or forgotten,” Berg continued. “I didn’t want that to happen to my heritage, so I did everything I could to preserve my cultural history. By focusing my research and writing on the customs and language of the German-Bohemian people, especially my ancestors, I knew I was helping preserve their ethnic uniqueness. My hope is that the lives of my ancestors will not be forgotten and that my research and writing will continue to be a testament to their struggles and their lives.”

Much of Berg’s research has been presented at various library, genealogical and historical organizations around the state. For more information about the German-Bohemian Heritage Society and its recently published anthology, go to http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~gbhs/.

As coordinator of public services at Karrmann Library, Berg assists the humanities and performing and visual arts departments with their collection development activities and provides library instruction and reference desk assistance to university students and faculty.

Contact: John Leonard Berg, Elton S. Karrmann Library, (608) 342-1355, bergjo@uwplatt.edu

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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