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Russian Germans in bad Bergzabem: When Home Exists Only in Memories (Rußlanddeutsche in bad Bergzabem: Wenn Heimat nur in der Erinnerung ist ein Leben Swischen Zwangsarbeit und Zwangsumsiedlung -Rußland- Deutscher Gottlieb Prick hat in Bergzabem Seine Letzte Station Erreicht)

Stahler, Anja. "Russian Germans in bad Bergzabem: When Home Exists Only in Memories (Rulanddeutsche in bad Bergzabem: Wenn Heimat nur in der Erinnerung ist ein Leben Swischen Zwangsarbeit und Zwangsumsiedlung – Rsland – Deitscher Gottlieb Prick hat Bergzabem Seine Letzte Station Erreicht)." Die Rheinpfalz, 23 July 1994.

Translation of German to English complete by Alice Morgenstern, Munich, Germany


After a life of forced labor and deportation, Russian German, Gottlieb Frick has finally come to Bad Bergzabern.

After three tedious years, his ancestors traveled from Württemberg to their new home in Russia. It took Gottlieb Frick three hours to get from Moskau to Bad Bergzabern. The Russian German has been living there for the last nine months.

He is the descendant of emigrants who left the Kingdom of Württemberg in 1815 to settle in the Russian empire. Reasons for doing so were: the raids of Napoleonic soldiers, crop failure, high taxation, lack of arable land and religious quarrels.

A delegation of Württemberg citizens turned to Tsar Alexander I, who he stayed in Vienna after the Napoleonic wars. They asked him for permission to settle in his country. The conditions were: Religious freedom, exemption from military service and free land for the farmers. The Tsar agreed, and 3,000 families started on their journey in tow boats down the river Danube to the Black Sea. They aimed for new homes in the Trans-Kaukasus-region.

The winter was spent in Odessa, where they found many Germans already there. They learned that the Tsar had forbidden them to continue their journey to the Kaukasus, as the land was supposed to be too wild and too dangerous for settlements. But the pioneers were obstinate and finally in 1817 reached Tiflis (Georgia) in the fall. Conditions proved to be extremely hard at first. Diseases, like malaria, and wild animals diminished their number. But in the end the farmers prospered in 22 villages: Helenendorf, Alexanderdorf, Katharinenfeld, Rosenfeld etc. They raised cattle and cultivated wine, fruit and vegetables.

Youth in the Kaukasus

Gottlieb Prick was born in Traubenfeld, a small place (now Aserbeidschan), in 1925. His father died when he was nine, but the family was comparatively well off. They spoke German at home and at his school. Russian teachings only began when he attended the 7th form.

In 1941, he was a lathe-turner's apprentice in Tiflis by then. His life changed completely. On October 8th, the " Sttatsverteidigungskomitee”, the Committee for the defense of the State, had decided on the deportation of the Germans from the Kaukasus region. They were to be transferred to Siberia and Kazakhstan. They also had to sign a paper saying they would not come back to their old homes.

In November the family arrived in North Kasachstan, the region of Kustanai. At first they lived in the Roman Catholic German village, Pridoroschnoje, near Tobol. Then Gottfried had to join the workers' army, in order to build railway tracks near Ulanowsk (Wolga), for one year. Afterwards, they worked five and a half months in Workuta, next to Archangelsk at the Arctic Ocean. There he had to endure temperatures of -40 degrees centigrade and fierce blizzards.

When he was on leave he got released from forced labor by paying 500 rubels. He remained in Kasachstan, got married in 1949 and from 1956 to 1989, he lived in Tschu in the South. Then he moved to Slavgorod, Altai. The German newspaper there printed his memories about the forced labor camp.

In 1993 he and his wife found a home in Bad Bergzabem, Germany, where Gottlieb's sister already lived. The Fricks have 3 daughters. Although Gottlieb is glad to have come to Germany, he maintains that his Kaukasus village remains his true home. As a deeply religious man he finds comfort in his faith. He, his wife and his sister attend the Mennonite services at the 'Deutschhof’, regularly. "You can take away everything from a man, except his faith," he says.

The Circle has closed

Pia Frick, Gottlieb's wife, has come to live in that very place, Bergzabem, that her great great grandfather Anton Jager had left in 1807 to find a new home in the Ukraine. She had not known anything about her family history before 1989: A cousin, aged 87, came to see the Pricks in Slawgord and he knew where the family had originally come from. Great was their surprise then, because the Fricks had already decided to emigrate to Bad Bergzabem, where Gertrude Liske, one of Gottlieb's sisters was already living.

Das läßt sich nicht vergessen

You can never forget that one morning all the Germans had to leave their Kaukasian villages: Helenendorf, Alexanderdorf, Elisabethta1, Rosenberg, Georgsfeld, Annenfeld, Katharienenfeld, Eigenfeld, Gninfeld, Traubenfeld and many others. They were only permitted to take along the most necessary personal belongings. Everything else, especially their animals they had to leave behind, but still they had no idea that they were gone forever.

They had to wait at the railway station, which was far too small for the thousands. Only the following day ~ they were packed into the trains. During the night they had no light except for a candle, and they tried to console each other by singing old German Hymns ("SO nimm denn meine Hände..."). Their first stop was Baku, at the Caspian Sea, and they had to enter a steamer, which was far too small for 3000 passengers and 500 soldiers to guard them.

In Krasnowodsk, they had to stay over night on the bare and dirty ground together with Germans from other parts of Russia. Freight trains took them east to Taschkent, Kisil-Orda, Aktjubinsk. It was the beginning of November and very cold. Many of the old people and the children died on the way. Exhausted, they got from the train to Tobol station (Kustanai). The Kasachs had been told that Nazis prisoners of war were coming, but they proved to be helpful and friendly and gave the newcomers tea and Lepjoschki (flat bread made of wheat).

Gottlieb Frick ends his story saying, "War has cruel things in store for everybody, but it is twice as bitter if you lose not only your house, but your home, also. It is a fate that did not only strike Germans but other minorities as well. For us, however, it was even harder, as we were considered to be Fascists, although we were of German origin only.
Will there be people who will understand what we have gone through?

Will we ever get our old home back again?"

Our appreciation is extended to Alice Morgenstern for translation of this article.

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