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The John Schmaltz family of Emmons County: from Ukrainian Steppes to Dakota Prairies

Schmaltz, Eric. "The John Schmaltz family of Emmons County: from Ukrainian Steppes to Dakota Prairies." Emmons County Record, 26 February 2009, 14.
(Editor's Note: This is part eighteen of Eric Schmaltz's history of the John Schmaltz family.)

Time of Troubles: Schmalzes Who Stayed Behind in Russia

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

For John Sr.’s relatives who stayed behind in Russia, times of tribulation soon followed.

Only in recent years has more come to light concerning their hard fate during a dark time. For the village of Kandel, the period from 1914 to 1944 witnessed growing anti-German sentiment, civil war in Russia, Communist oppression, Nazi occupation, and the removal of all German villagers to Nazi-occupied Poland.

As early as the 1920s and 1930s, the Germans who stayed behind in the USSR found ways to inform the outside world about what was really happening during Stalin’s power consolidation and terror regime. At the time, prominent German-language newspapers in the United States, such as the Dakota Freie Presse (Dakota Free Press) in Bismarck and the Welt-Post (World Post) in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, ran hundreds of letters written by desperate German farmers to their relatives living abroad. Even small-circulation German-language newspapers in North and South Dakota carried moving stories of German Russians persecuted by the Soviet Communists.

On October 3, 1930, the German-language Dakota Rundschau (Dakota Observer) of Bismarck, North Dakota, published a letter from Josef Braun of the German-Catholic village of Krasna in Bessarabia, Romania, near the Soviet border. Mr. Braun related the dramatic story of two young friends, Ludwig Schmalz of Kandel and Eugenius Betsch of Selz, who had escaped Soviet Russia in the summer of that year as political refugees and sought refuge among fellow Germans in Romania.

In 2001, the letter resurfaced in an English translation in the Heritage Review, the official quarterly of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society in Bismarck. Braun informed the newspaper editor:

“…The story Betsch told me is frightening. It would be funny, if it were not so tragic. The Bolsheviks [Communists] are up to ridiculous schemes again; unfortunately, mankind, in its way, has to suffer.

“The German villages of the Kutschurgan region suffer like the destroyed Jerusalem; everything is topsy-turvy and there is no longer any semblance of justice. The young people are taught to worship the Antichrist instead of God [state atheism]. Values are kicked into the dust.

“Both young refugees are desperate, but we will help them. We still have enough caring, kind people here. Betsch has a brother in Vibank, Saskatchewan, Canada, named Pius Betsch who had already written to him and pledged his support….”

Braun also attached a short note from Eugenius:

Eric Schmaltz. The author is immigrant Johann Schmalz’s great-grandson.  Born in Minot, North Dakota, in 1971, he is Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, where he teaches Modern European and World History.  He expresses his eternal gratitude to old issues of the Emmons County Record as well as various extended relatives by blood or marriage who have assisted him with family history research over the past two decades, in particular Bro. Placid Gross, Mrs. Mary Lynn Axtman, Mrs. Nicole (French) Bailey, Prof. Amy Deibert, and Prof. Michael M. Miller.

“Dear Mr. Brendel:
“It has been three months already since my friend Schmalz and I fled from our homeland to Bessarabia, where we have found freedom again among fellow Germans. Freedom to do what we want to do, freedom to worship how we please; this is such a new concept. It is exhilarating to appreciate and live such freedom. Matters in Mother Russia are much different. People are carted off to the Ural Mountains, to Archangelsk, to Siberia, where they must perish in the end, at the whim of the government there. I still remember the day of your departure in 1927 and am still asking the question why didn’t all the Germans leave back then? Today it is almost impossible to get out. If the Bolsheviks would only let the people go, not only the Germans but also entire Russian villages would pack up and leave. The situation in the German villages is horrible. The ones who are not shipped out are forced onto the collectives to work.”

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

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