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On History's Trail

Auf den Spuren der Geschichte

A Journey to Odessa, Hoffnungstal, Severinovka, Nikolayev and Grossliebental

Eine Reise nach Odessa, Hoffnungstal, Sewereinowka, Nikolajew und Grossliebental

Holzwarth-Kocher, Angelika. "On History’s Trail." Volk auf dem Weg, January 2004, 29-30.

Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


Looking for traces was one of the major reasons for the journey by our group of 7 in the summer of 2003. During the previous spring, family members (mother, sister, aunt and cousin) and friends, ranging in age from 38 to 77, had spontaneously decided to enter jointly into this adventure called Ukraine -- open for anything and ready to get involved in unexpected situations. Who at that time could have foreseen what an unforgettable trip it could be! We had all expressed our preferences, and so Odessa, Hoffnungstal, Severinovka (a Russian village), Nikolayev, and Grossliebental became part of the plan.

For some of our traveling group it would mean a journey into the past, and for the younger ones (those of us in our mid-Thirties to mid-Forties), all born in Germany, it would be mainly a trip that would breathe life into the stories our grandparents had told.

Our flight from Munich to Odessa proceeded smoothly, allowing everyone to get lost in one's own thoughts. What was awaiting us? What were we expecting? Hilda, Edith, and Frieda, who had some familiarity with Hoffnungstal from their childhood, allowed the past to pass review, but at the same they remained quite aware that 60 years had passed since they left their homeland.

Moreover, Edith's younger years were inextricably bound up with Severinovka. Ludmilla and two of her daughters were following the traces of her husband's family, and she was especially eager for her return to Nikolayev, the place of her birth.

Edwin, Elisabeth, and I were in a curious and expectant mood, because this journey would finally make it possible for us to sort out all the stories we had heard in our youth, and to see with our own eyes where our grandparents and parents had grown up and lived.

With the help of Edwin Kelm, national chair of the Landsmannschaft of Germans from Bessarabia, I had made the organizational arrangements for the trip, and thanks to his years of experience the entrance and customs formalities following our arrival in Odessa went without a hitch. From the airport we rode directly to the Hotel "Black Sea," ideal for our stay because of its central location. The rest of that day had been set aside for walks in Odessa.

There is much to see in Odessa, a city that has changed in major ways during recent years. Its broad streets have their own fascination, and a stroll past the Pushkin memorial and a view of the harbor are part of it; likewise, the people who amble through the streets in the evening; here a cafe, there a shopping arcade. Adjacent, too, decaying building facades. Partially uneven sidewalks, with deep dips appearing suddenly, without warning to the pedestrian. Numerous stores offering expensive brand-name wares, yet the multitude of western automobile models cannot cover up obvious poverty of many residents.

We usually ate in small restaurants or, as we say at home, in "a pub around the corner." Favorite dishes were pelmeni and vareniki and, of course, not to be missed was an occasional plate of borsht. To us tourists (!) everything was available at unbelievably favorable prices.

And then came the first day of our excursions. At 9 AM, our driver, Slava, and we took in our minibus set out toward Hoffnungstal, which these days goes by the name of Zebrikovo. Excitedly, expectantly, and eagerly, today and other days, we were awaiting the goal of our travel.

The sky was devoid of clouds and the sun was burning even as we left Odessa. At first we were driving on a very good road, which at home would be rated a national road. We passed endless fields, including the famous Ukrainian sunflower fields; and we drove past melons galore that had been piled up and were being sold by the side of the road.

After we left the good road, we were soon bumping along on rather adventurous paths, and at the time we were happy for the dry skies that had been around for weeks, because we were spared getting stuck in the often deep mud and at worst were risking a broken axle! Our driver had the bus under optimal control. By now were very much in the country, and I was thinking about the many long hours the colonists had spent plodding their their way to Odessa in those early days.

There were some signs, but few and far between in the direction of Hoffnungstal/ Zebrikovo. Instead there were helpful people who showed us the way. Road maps are one thing, the number of meandering and crisscrossing roadways we met quite another. So we would turn, then go straight, turn again, go back, turn off, and go straight once again ...

Suddenly, without fanfare or announcement, we had arrived in Zebrikovo/ Hoffnungstal.

There, in that summer of 2003, we were standing on the village street of the former German settlement that, during the 19th Century, covered 4,309 "desyatins" and was 100 "verst" from Odessa and 50 "verst" east of Tiraspol and the Dynestr River. The original village of Zebrikovo with its 17 unfinished houses was at first intended to house Bulgarians, but instead was eventually transformed by the German colonists into the comfortably well-off village of Hoffnungstal. The name Hoffnungstal was officially designated in 1819. So we were standing also on the village street where on March 18, 1944 the Great Trek took off from Hoffnungstal, thereby sealing the end of a flourishing community.

We quickly arranged for a place to meet our driver later on, and off we went. We who "had come home" were not to be stopped, age meant nothing, and hardly anyone was aware of the 38-degree heat (Celsius, which is about 100 degrees Fahrenheit) that day. Quickly we slung our cameras on our shoulders, and fortunately our movie camera was also ready to roll, so there was nothing keeping us from our grand inspection of the village.

Edith Bader (2nd from left) and Katya (3rd from left) -- meeting again after 60 years
Postscript to the second installment of this report in the previous issue: nothing else is left of the cemetery in Hoffungstal/Zebrikovo
Looking for home of my birth in Nikolayev Nikolayev



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

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