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The Beresan Colonies: Two Hundred Years

Eisfeld, Alfred. "The Beresan Colonies: Two Hundred Years ." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2009, 8-11.

Translation from the Original German-language text to American English provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado.

As we know, German settlement in the Black Sea region began in the fall of 1803 with the arrival in Odessa of first immigrants from the German Southwest. The Landsmannschaft reminded us of this during a jubilee celebration on September 20, 2003 in the White Hall of the New Castle in Stuttgart, and also with a special exhibit. The exhibit project “Two Hundred Years of German History and Culture in the Black Sea Region (1803 – 2003)” has been shown for an entire year in the headquarters of the Landsmannschaft . Smaller portions can still be viewed. A corresponding brochure is available on the Landsmannschaft web site. Also available is the catalog published on the occasion. 


Selz – religious service in the church ruins
Reception of the conference participants in Karlsruhe

A scientific conference that had been arranged and was carried out at great expense and with considerable effort by the Northeast Institute Lüneberg-Göttingen, and which was attended by forty-one researchers from Ukraine, Germany, Russia and Switzerland, resulted in merely a few presentations – to the regret of not only the conference participants. No one at the History Department of the University of Odessa seemed to be available to prepare papers for publication.

A completely different picture emerged at the Heimatkundemuseum [Homeland History Museum] in Odessa. There a special exhibit entitled “Germans in the Black Sea Region” [translated title] was available through the fall of 2003, along with a catalog describing 447 separate objects, some of them also pictured therein. It might be mentioned that the Landsmannschaft participated in the costs of printing this catalog. Part of the exhibit consisted of a larger folk history exhibit entitled “Steppe – Ukraine,” which continues to be shown for years now. In this way, Germans of the Odessa region were re-entering the memory of today’s population.

In the villages of the region there were, of course, still some homes, barns, cellars, wells and churches [from the past] (most of these having been rebuilt or in ruins), but no one was speaking of the German legacy there and at the time, at least not in public. During a conversation Eduard Mack said to me, “What would they know of our history?” – Mack, who in 1999 had self-published the first edition of his “Memories of the German Colonies in the Grossliebental Rayon near Odessa” [translated title] (a second edition followed later). He did not say this as a reproach, but with regret and with understanding. After all, the majority of [current] residents of our former colonies were themselves resettled in the Western regions of Ukraine against their will.

Mack further reports on correspondence with the few friend of his youth still living in Ukraine, with the village teacher, and with the village mayor. They were very open to his message and grateful for receiving any information on the history of their village.

Conference participants in the Karlsruhe church
Vladimir G. Pogorelov, Director of the agricultural firm “Stepovoye,” reporting on life in the village

During 2007 the founding of the Freudental colony (Mirnoye) was celebrated festively. Newspapers reported on the celebration, and the history of the village had finally been brought to the village school and into the conscientiousness of the children. Two years later, the 200th anniversary of establishment of the first school in Freudental was also celebrated. This, in a real way, constituted instruction of the children by the colonists themselves. Both recent events have now definitively found a place in the history of the village (www.freudental.narod.ru).

In academic circles in Ukraine, the history of our people actually found a firm place even before the 200-year festivities. About conferences, book publications, and museum collections we might report at some other occasion. Here we wish to point out merely the meritorious activities of the “Memorial” Society.

A state-sponsored program involving publication of a series of books entitled “On the Rehabilitation of Victims of Repression” [translated title] was initiated on April 17, 1991. Editorial control was assumed by the Institute for History of Ukraine in the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. The leadership of the Ukrainian Parliament, the Verhovna Rada, in a decision of April 6, 1992, provided the project with the status of a state-sponsored program.

Always in short supply, of course, are the funds required to carry on research in the regional state security archives. Still, four volumes have by now been published for the Odessa region, five for the Dniepropetrovsk region, four for the Nikolayev area, three for the Zaporozhye region, etc.

For each region of Ukraine and for the cities of Kiev and Savastopol these kinds of volumes are prepared and published with documentation and reports concerning court proceedings. Also contained therein, in addition to brief biographies of Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, Poles, etc., are data concerning Germans who were subject to persecution by Stalin’s regime. This must be qualified by stating that we are dealing with persons who were entirely innocent and have already been rehabilitated.

For example, in volume four for the Dniepropetrovsk region one finds twenty-five members of the Eisfeld clan. Most of them were arrested and sentenced to death in 1938. In volume 1 for the Nikolayev region, the name Wanner is found thirty-five times. Most of these persons were, following their “repatriation” of 1945, exiled to special forced-labor settlement areas in various parts of Siberia, Kazakhstan and the Komi ASSR. The sixteen Hartmanns fared similarly, most of whom having been born in Rastadt, Karlsruhe and Rohrbach in Ukraine. 

In registers of other regions, those repatriated were not even entered. One reason might be that internal administrations of various regions and autonomous republics simply did not transmit personal records for the “special settlers” to the Interior Ministry of Ukraine [that is, for people originating from Ukraine – Tr.], even after the special settlements had been dissolved. These records remain in the various regions of banishment.

In the series by the “Rehabilitated by History” Memorial, the victims, Germans among them, are being brought back into the conscientiousness of the [current] population. To get one’s hands on many a volume, however, remains to be extremely difficult. That is why we have yet to succeed in obtaining volume 2 for the Donyetsk region, even though it supposedly was published as an edition of 2000 copies.

N. Rublyova talking about the Catholic clergy in South Ukraine during the 1920s and 1930s
Memorial cross adjacent to the church in Speyer (Pistchanayi Brod)

The 2003 conference in Odessa constituted the start of a whole series of events that would remind folks of the founding of individual colonies. Foe example, in 2004 there was a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the very fist German colonies in Crimea. Peterstal near Odessa celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2005, and two years later the 200th anniversary of establishing its first school. During 2007 a celebrations took place in Güldendorf, and in 2008 in Selz.

The festivities in Selz in September of 2008 took place under heavy rains. Village residents and their guests from neighboring villages, from Germany, and from overseas celebrated a divine service in the church ruin. There followed a multi-hour concert in the Cultural House – an event that let folks forget earlier attempts by the local authorities of putting roadblocks up for the events. Available for visits also was the Heimatmuseum established by Lucia Rissling in the local technical school.

This year marked the 200th anniversary of the founding of the first Beresan colonies in Landau, Speyer, Rohrbach and Sulz. It would be wrong to assume that one thinks of this history only during round-number anniversaries. Three years ago, fore example, VadW (10.2006, pp. 24-25) reported on the Heimatmuseum arranged in Katharinental by Nina Denisyuk, on the unsuccessful renovation work at the church in Karlsruhe, and on the church in Speyer now being used by the local Orthodox community. Since then, in various places preparations were begun for various celebrations. In addition to the Northeast Institute and the Gottingen Work Group, our own Landsmannschaft also participated.

From the point of view of the Beresaners, it was not just an everyday happening when the Nikolayev regional administration came up with an official decision on August 1, 2008 concerning the carrying out of measures regarding the 200th anniversary of the founding of German colonies in the Nikolayev region and charged Vice-Governor D.M. Oboronko with full responsibility for it.

At that time, the Northeast Institute and the V.O. Suchomlinskiy State University of Nikolayev had already signed a cooperative agreement, and the regional archive of Nikolayev had begun working with the Göttingen Work Group on sifting through documents from various village, district, rayon and regional authorities in which the life of the local German population in the 1920s and 1930s is documented.

What is remarkable about this decision of the regional administration is that several sets of authorities and the administrations of the rayons of Beresan, Veselinovo and Nikolayev had been included via concrete tasks in the preparations. In the preamble of the decision, the goal of these measures was clearly stated as follows: “Strengthening of social harmony, consolidation of society to honor the German colonies on the territory of the current region of Nikolayev.” Clearly it would be too kind if one were talking here of a preparation without problems, but counts is the result.     

On September 29 a guided tour through Nikolayev was being offered. A small exhibit in the Homeland History Museum of the region marked the start. The museum is still located in the structure of the former church school of the Catholic community of St. Joseph. It will soon have its own building. Happy about this are both the museum, which should hopefully have its own space, as well as the Catholic community, which will be able to broaden its charitable activities.

St. Joseph’s Church is enjoying a special gift. Through a detour across Donetsk it received an organ from Germany. It was a gift from Bochum, and during Christmas 2008 it made music again. On March 28, 2009 the organ was dedicated by Bishop Bronislav Bernazkiy during a festive service.

Deacon Yaroslav Gischitzkiy of St. Joseph parish, during a guided tour through his church, reported with visible pride about how significant this organ was. No, concerts were not the church’s responsibility, but there were several local and foreign musicians in Nikolayev, and each time the church was filled to standing room only.

In the church interior, a memorial plaque reminds visitors of the one-time organist Leo Götte, who in the 1920s and 1930s was the victim of repeated persecutions. A slim brochure, which was published by Henriette Götte in the Russian language, reports on the church and Leo Götte. Readers of the most recent Heimatbuch are familiar with her name.

After a few minutes on foot we reached a pretty one-story building in which Emilia and Magda Duckert lived during the war. Before 1917 the building had actually belonged to the Duckert family, but there was no mention of this fact.    

Today the building houses a department of the Homeland History Museum, which contains documentation on the underground movement during the German occupation period, when (under the code name Korenyev) the chief of the local NKVD, V.A. Lyagin resided in that very building. In one of the glass cases one can see a resettler’s passport, papers of a self-protection unit member, and other documents from the time of occupation.   

No reply was given to questions concerning the start of cooperation between the NKVD and the daughter of a German estate owner and widow of a respected doctor, regarding the date of marriage of her daughter to the chief of the NKVD (who had a wife in Moscow), and about the status of Korenyev-Lyagin during the occupation (namely, as the husband of an ethnic German would he also be considered an ethnic German?). The young museum director had apparently not gone into that yet.

At another small distance by foot there is the Ev.-Lutheran Redeemer Church. About its history one can read in a pamphlet (in Russian and in German) published by the high church counsel Dr. Claus-Juergen Roepke of Munich. On our tour we had truly followed the traces of German history in Nikolayev. 

The conference itself was formally opened on September 30 in the great hall of the university. This was followed by a concert arranged by the regional German Information center and by the German Cultural Center of the Nikolayev area. Indeed an impressive concert! Beautiful voices! Students and other young people demonstrated their talents with great enthusiasm. Included were several modern pieces and some they had translated into German. These young people are to become teachers of German.

The concert was followed by a series of thirty-three talks by researchers, archive and museum workers of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and Uzbekistan. There was a breadth of topics ranging from the history of settling the Beresan Colonies (by Olga Eisfeld, Göttingen) to a report on everyday life of the Trud Army (forced labor brigades) in the Donyetsk region (1941 – 209, by Alexander Dinges of Donyetsk). In fourteen talks topics dealing with the time between 1917 and 1956 were addressed, including events of World War II. Most of these reports are worth publishing in German as well.

The conference on the Beresan Colonies was continued on the afternoons of November 2 and 3. Everyone that might be called a dignitary, from regional administrator to the local priest to a general from the Cossack Army, was in attendance. We were greeted and taken care of just like guests of State! Those who have been in these colonies were, of course, able to discern the true mood.

In Karlsruhe (Stepovoye) we saw that not only the covered church was thoroughly cleaned and outfitted with a new door that now prevents unsolicited entry, but the entire area around it, plus the streets, had also been cleaned thoroughly, and the curb had been whitewashed. The village museum also left a good impression. During the last two years several items have been added to the German part. A glossy brochure dedicated to the 200th anniversary of settlement there is a section covering the founding of the colony, about its development and also about relationships with former residents.

The Priest Ioann talked about the history of the Catholic church and his own Orthodox church that was established in the former pastor’s house. It is his wish, and that of the community, that a cross be put up next to the church to commemorate the founding of the colony. Moreover, if at all possible, this should be completed by November this year [2009].

Why this year? Karlsruhe was established in 1810. That is a fact. However, colonists had arrived in this Black Sea region as early as 1809, he replied. One can not object, especially as the community is determined to do everything to provide the church with a real roof.

Earlier, Vladimir Pogorelov had already promised participation by the agricultural concern. However, more help will be needed, and all eyes turned to the few guests from Germany. Can Germany help? The reply was that we will do everything we can. Support for the memorial cross already exists from the Landsmannschaft; the Historical Research Association of Germans from Russia; the Spiritual Care office for Catholic Germans from Russia, Kazakhstan and other CIS nations, plus a private donor. The Priest Ioann was not able to hide his joy. At least one of his wishes has been fulfilled.

In a large meeting room at the house of culture – a room that would fit in anywhere in Germany – our conference was continued with talks on the Catholic clergy in South Ukraine during the inter-war period (by N. Rublyova of Kiev) and on everyday life of the German residents of the Beresan Colonies (by V. Solodova of Odessa).

In Speyer, next to the formerly Catholic church, there now stands a cross memorializing the founding of that colony. It was donated by the Elvira Wagner family and dedicated in 2007 by Archbishop Pitirim. Inside the school, a portion of a hall is dedicated to the history of the colony. This particular exhibit has been there for some time now and was not just put up for our visit.   

Anyone who might still harbor doubts about the warm-heartedness of the local people was taught better in during that evening. Nearly all conference participants spent nights staying in Landau (Shirokolanivka) and in private homes. This would be a very short night for all.

However, the next morning’s visit of the buildings still remaining would bring everyone back to reality. The church, used for a long time for storage or as a work shop, stands empty. There is no use for it as a church since there are no Catholics and the place has its own Orthodox church. Only ruins remain of the girls’ gymnasium [classical secondary school] and of the central school. The postal building had been remodeled completely and is hardly recognizable. The hospital uses only in the building standing parallel to the street. Here, too, there has been some modernization. The big hallway stoves that had heated the facility are no longer. Buildings that house the district administration offices and the police are in good condition. Only the theater building has been completely rebuilt from the ground up through funds spent by a locally resident business man who is hoping that his investment will pay off, for even in a rural area people like to enjoy a pleasant environment.

In Katharinental (Katarinovka), in addition to the museum that has been managed for years by Nina Denisyuk, there is now a second one housed inside the pastor’s manse. She bought this building and thereby saved it from being demolished. Most recently it has once again become a residence. The interior and the brochure have its flaws. But then I stop myself to reflect on the fact that we have been able to see remarkable many traces of German life and work in these few days! How many people are actually interested! One can only wish that the descendants of the Beresaners now in Germany and overseas will remain interested in their own history.

Newspapers and TV in Nikolayev provided several reports on the conference and on the journey through the Beresan Colonies. Almost concurrently 200-year-annviersary celebrations took place in Worms and in Kassel, even without support from the regional administrations and without a scientific conference. These were simply village celebrations and were arranged by the villagers, local administrators, school leaders and the “Memorial” Society. There, too, there was much joy and sentiment.    

Alfred Eisfeld

P.S. While writing this article I called the Priest Ioann in Stepovoye to find out how the memorial cross project was faring. The reply was surprising. The obelisk had already been ordered and its foundation built in concrete.  An obelisk? Yes, Pogorelov had doubled his donation, so now it would not be a cross merely two-meters high [ca. 7 feet], but a six-meter high obelisk [ca. 19.5 feet]. The upper part was to look somewhat like the Catholic church. Donors were invited to the dedication on November 9.  

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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