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Vencel Shorma and Stalin

Today’s story is about Vencel James Shorma, who was born in Rovno, Poland, in 1889. He was still a child when his family moved to Russia, and in 1904 they moved again emigrating to America. Vencel was 15 years old when they arrived in Richland County, becoming farmers on land near Wyndmere, west of Wahpeton.

Vencel Shorma met and married Elizabeth Karel (known as “Bessie”), a young woman from Lidgerwood in 1915. He became a U.S. citizen in 1922, with Russia listed as his place of origin. Vencel and Bessie settled down on a “half-section of land” and had five children: Rudolph, Joseph, Mary, Angeline, and James.

When the U.S. entered World War II, life changed for Shorma. Even though he was 53 years old, he filled out a draft registration card, though wasn’t called to service.

The war brought unsettling news about the invasion of Russia by Germany; about dictator Joseph Stalin; and about the fierce Battle of Stalingrad. In 1943, Vencel told a story to a newspaper reporter about attending school with Joseph Stalin.

Shorma said: “Stalin and I were classmates at what is now called Stalingrad, but at that time was known as Leningrad. He was a surly youngster and was always talking about the coming revolution. His classmates did not like him.” Shorma claimed he knew Stalin when they were age seventeen.

The story appeared in the Breckenridge Gazette-Telegram, the Fergus Falls Daily-Journal and the St. Cloud Times, but then was forgotten in the endless stream of news from the war.

Was this story true? Stalin was 11 years older, and Vencel at age 17 was already living in North Dakota. Perhaps he did know Stalin, with the details becoming fuzzy over time, but a story about a local man who “went to school with Stalin” was seen as newsworthy at the time.

As for Vencel Shorma, it was on this date, in 1956, that he died at age 66. He was buried at St. John’s Cemetery in Wyndmere.

Had Shorma known Joseph Stalin in his younger days? We will never know for sure, but it is fascinating to ponder this immigrant’s tale.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department


Death date, Vencel J. Shorma, Find A Grave Index, ancestry.com, accessed June 13, 2018.

“Went to School with Stalin,” Fergus Falls Daily Journal, November 20, 1943, p. 5; “Pal of Stalin’s,” St. Cloud Times, November 23, 1943, p. 2.

“Venceslav James Shorma,” World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942, ancestry.com.

“Venceslav Shorma,” N.D. Naturalization Index, 1874-1963, ancestry.com.

“[Vencel] James Shorma,” N.D. Marriage Records, 1872-2017, ancestry.com.

“[Vencel] James Shorma,” U.S. Census, Richland County, ND, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, ancestry.com.

“Anton Shorma [brother],” World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, ancestry.com.

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