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Odessa - Strassburg - Tiraspol - After 45 Years

"Odessa – Strassburg – Tiraspol – After 45 Years." Aus der Katholischen Welt (From the Catholic World), April 1990.

Translation from German to English by Alma M. Herman


Interestingly enough, we were never stopped by the militia or other authorities even though we did not serve the speed limits. We couldn't. Many times we drove 500 km in one day because we wanted to spend evenings in hotels. There were many Poles along the way, most of whom drove sleepers that all looked alike. With gasoline there were many problems, with diesel, on the other hand, we had no difficulties worth mentioning. Our little PKW was often the center of amazement and admiration because it ran with diesel.

At the entrance to the Czechoslovakian-Russian border (Ushgorod) we ran into a dismaying problem. With a serious countenance, the border official told us that our visas were valid only for entrance to Russia, and that we had no visas for the return trip and under no circumstances would he let us drive back. We swore to him that not even while sleepwalking would we think of staying in Russia forever. He told us that we should immediately go to Kiev to the Czech Consulate and have him issue a return visa. We had no other choice but to trust the guy. It is unbelievable that when we ordered the visas from the Czechoslovakian authorities we could overlook something so important. What tourist would want to go somewhere and not return! The entire procedure in Kiev cost us much nervousness and lost time. To add to the misery, we had no visa pictures. It took six hours to have them made. When I tried to explain to the photographer that in Germany and even Thailand or the Philippines automated equipment could spit out even colored pictures in minutes, he just shook his head in disbelief. At three o'clock in the afternoon we could at last drive on to Odessa, 500 km away. We were to arrive there before dark. At a speed of 80 km, legal in the Soviet Union, we would never have made it, so we went at a very high speed. We arrived hungry and thirsty at midnight. There were no rest stops on the way where one might eat or drink.

As usual, the hotel restaurant was overfilled. We could not find a place. The service was surly and unfriendly, as usual. Near 1:00 o'clock a small space became available to us.
A Russian, having slipped the management considerable money, was permitted to force himself into a space beside us.

He immediately brought out his vodka bottle and offered us each a shot. I tried one swallow and politely declined further consumption. My brother could judge the quality of the vodka by my facial expression and declined.

We talked to the stranger. He said he was an artist who would be showing his work at an art show. We soon keenly felt evidence of an anti-German attitude, but he slowly thawed out. Whether it was the alcohol that let him thaw out or our charming natures, I can't say. He said that before the war many learned the German language, but after the war English was preferred. In all the hotels one met people who understood English, but seldom German.

What became unpleasant was the many money changers who followed one constantly to exchange their worthless rubles for "valuta" (hard currency). Officially, for 100 DM one received about 36 rubles. The black marketeers, however, offered up to 500 rubles. That is a lot of money, but one cannot buy anything. Taking rubles out of the country is strictly forbidden. Near the border we stopped at a place and gave a little old mother the last of our rubles. For the first time in our lives we had more money than we could use. The little old lady was surprised to death because the 80 rubles was more than her monthly rent. Obviously, she thought of a heavenly phenomenon.

What gave me much food for thought and much to deal with was the sense of worth; the scale of values by which the people lived, traded and conducted business.

After every religious influence was prohibited and no private ownership was left, a new set of values had to be formulated by force of need. The attitude toward work changed. Without private property interest grew less as did initiative and devotion to work. The idea of "mine" and "yours" disappeared also.

In a conversation with teacher in Straßburg I asked her what she would be teaching her students about values or value standards. Astonished, she asked, "Which values -what are values?" When I answered that one should not steal or lie, she laughed loudly and said, "Literally, without stealing we cannot survive!" I gave up on that and asked about her rent. She said that she paid 60 rubles per month and with that she showed me her Lenin medals, or something similar, and proudly said that she never needs "Otscheretj” (queues), has to be offered a seat on public transportation and enjoys many various other privileges. What did she do to receive this medal? Earler in Collective Farming she was an exemplary worker. Later, she excelled as a teacher! Regarding religion, we could hardly converse. The teacher said that there was no religious material available. No books, no religious objects, simply nothing. Hardly anyone left in the village had any knowledge about religion. Only where little old mothers taught prayers to the children and gave them some religious instruction did a little bit stick.

This blameless religious ignorance is a great problem for the younger generation. They have no religious orientation. When they come to the West they soon go under if it is not possible to influence them in the very beginning. But this is a difficult undertaking because the Russian Germans are scattered throughout the entire Federal Republic.

It is extremely difficult to introduce religion to a young person as being something useful if he were thrown from an atheistic into a capitalistic world without help and guidance.

The importance of this problem is so great that it is deeply disturbing if one meditates over it even slightly. It is hard enough for a Christian to live by his faith and profess it in a capitalistic world. How much harder for one who comes out of the cold of atheism.

When one sees the sunflower fields in the Ukraine stretching to the horizon and when one admires the far-reaching lands of fertile black soil, he is overcome with sorrow and his own insignificance at the same time. Once the granary of Europe, it has been reduced to a poorhouse by a system that carries a curse. It enslaves many, holding them in poverty and misery only to have a few enjoy the benefits.

Our appreciation is extended to Alma M. Herman for translation of this article.

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