History Groups Discuss Surge of Germans
Originally published in 6-10-09 Press Newspaper
by Brian Nadig
The popularity of a Northwest Side pastor may be the reason that so many Germans from Russia who emigrated to the United States between 1910 and 1914 chose Jefferson Park as their home.
"Everything keeps coming back to Pastor (Johannes) Block," said Jerry Amen, president of the Illinois Chapter
of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. "He was someone they could trust." Amen added that while Block was a key figure, more research on the issue is needed.
Amen made his comments at a joint meeting of the chapter and the Northwest Chicago Historical Society which was held on June 6th at Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church, 5051 W. Gunnison St. Eden, which is celebrating it's 95th anniversary, was founded by ethnic Germans who emigrated from Russia.
The discussion at the meeting, on the topic "The Mystery of Jefferson Park," addressed some of the reasons why so many Germans were attracted to the area in such a short period of time and why their settlement pattern differed from other sections of the area and the country. While immigrants often relied on relatives who were already in America to send them money before they also emigrated there, many of the Germans in Jefferson Park came to the United States on short notice due to the rise of nationalism in Russia.
Thousands of Germans fled Russia before the start of the Russian Revolution in 1917, including many young men who sought to avoid military service. New policies led to requirements that ethnic Germans, many of whom had settled in villages near the Volga River.
U.S. Census records show that about 1,500 Germans from Russia settled in an area bounded by Bryn Mawr Avenue, Montrose Avenue, Cicero Avenue, and Austin Avenue between 1910 and 1920, according to chapter member Keith Wiegel. Block, a German who had been living in Russia, came to the United States in 1886.
Block was pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church at Argyle Street and Laramie Avenue. The church, for which Block is believed to have been the only pastor, was organized in 1916 and dissolved in 1952.
Amen said that the society has been unsuccessful in its search for records of the church, which was demolished. he said that the records reportedly were turned over to Block's daughters.
Block earlier served as the pastor of Jefferson Park Trinity Congregational Church near Winona Street and Laramie Avenue. The church later was converted to a home which remains on the site.
By 1930 there were an estimated 30,000 Volga Germans in the Chicago area, according to George Valko, who has written three books on Volga Germans. Valko, who was one of the speakers at the meeting, said that at least a dozen German churches were once located in Jefferson Park and Mayfair.
Northwest historical society member Dan Pogorzelski said that churches played a key role in attracting ethnic groups to Chicago. He said that in many instances housing developers donated the land on which a church was built.