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“I Vill Tell You Someting”

An Interview with Jacob Janke, a native Bessarabian

By Dwayne Janke

Data entry by Linda Haag


Jacob Janke, circa 1970s (in his early 80s).

Like most grandfathers, Jacob Janke enjoyed telling stories. He had a habit, before beginning his tales, of leaning forward, pointing his finger and then getting your attention with the phrase, “I vill tell you someting.” Unfortunately, too often these stories of yesteryear, of the old country, Bessarabia, and of the Janke family went unrecorded and unremembered.

After much thought, I finally realized that at 85 years of age, Grampa Janke, born in Bessarabian German colony called Katzbach, was a source of a vast amount of history. In 1979, I armed myself with a tape recorder and interviewed Grampa Janke for one hour, during which he did tell me “someting.” Not only was the information fasinating, but the alertness in the way this old man answered my questions astounded me, as I am sure it will you.

The following is a transcript of that taped interview on Saturday, May 19, 1979, in Jacob Janke’s home at Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. I have tried to keep it as realistic and as original as possible. Using his accented words (such as “wars” for was or were) or including the odd German word should not be taken as teasing or insulting. For someone who never attended an English school, Jacob Janke could have been proud of his English. Please note that I have included my own comments in brackets throughout the transcript to clarify or elaborate on what was said.

And finally to the descendents or relatives of Jacob Janke, take a special note. The history in these pages is your past too.
December, 1979
(revised and updated 2005)

Q. Can you tell me what kind of country Bessarabia was? What kind of land?

A. Good land. Wars not cold. Wintertime, it was mostly rain, you know. Sometime a little bit snow.

Q. Was there lots of trees or was it –

A. Yes, wars all kinds of fruit trees, grapes, all kinds. Only fruit—not oranges or so [not citrus fruits].

Q. Was it hilly or flat?

A. Well, it wars not hilly. What we will say—kind [of like] a coulee; goes up and down slow, you know [gentle sloping].

Q. You could see a long ways, eh?

A. Oh ya, some places. Oh ya.

Q. What kind of government did they have?

A. Dat wars Kaiser government. Nicholia, Nicholiaovich, wo [when] I wars out der.
[Nicholas II (Nickolai) 1868-1918, last emperor and tsar of Russia, from 1894-1917, son of Alexander III and Marie Feodorovna. Nicholas received little training from his father as a result he was a charming but ineffective and easily influenced ruler. By 1917, discontent within the country spread, the army was tired of the First World War, the food situation deteriorated and Nicolas was forced to give up his throne to the Bolsheviks. The tsar and his family were finally shot and burned on July 16, 1918.]

Jacob Janke, circa 1912, after coming to Canada from Bessarabia at the age of 16.

Q. Did you vote? Could you vote?

A. No, I wars too young. I wars only 16 years old wo [when] I move in here.

Q. Did the older people vote?

A. Oh ya, oh ya.

Q. Did they vote for people who were in government?

A. Yes. You know wars a mayor in—dat wars no town, wars a village—mayor, schulz we call him.

Q. What was his first name?

A. Oh dat wars Schulz—the first name? “Schulz, Schulz.” One wars Riedel, I remember. [The word “Schulz” meant mayor, colony leader]

Q. What kind of churches were there?

A. Lutheran

Q. Was there lots or just a few?

A. Just one.

Q. What did the people do? What kind of work did they do? Mostly farmers?

A. Farming. Raise a garden und fruit und grapes und…

Q. What kind of food did you eat?

A. Oh, we ate all kinds of food, you know. Pretty near like here in dis country.

Q. A lot of German food.

A. Ya.

Q. Strudla and things like that?

A. Ya.

Q. Did the farmers live all in a colony?

A. Ya.

Q. And so how much land would they have?

A. Well, somebody [some people] had 60 dessätin [1 dessätin=2.7 acres]. Dats a full [maximum]—what we should say—property. Some had a half. We had a half property, 30 dessätin. Dat wars a half, you know.

Q. Was the land in long thin—

A. Oh ya, dat wars in pieces, not like in one place. Here wars dis piece, der wars dat piece. Oh long stretches, you know.

Q. What kind of crops did they grow?

A. Oh, wheat, barley, corn—the most corn, you know.

Q. Was there lots of . . . did people break the law there too?

A. Break the law? Oh ya.

Q. What kind of things did they do?

A. Oh dem do anyting—steal a little bit, fighting a little bit, und make some people a
little bit damage and dings like dis. Und den wars der not like here—go to the police. Catch ‘em, put ‘em over the bench and give ‘em lashes. Got a peice of branch, you know, from lila [lilac bush] und give him about five, six, nine, 10 over the arsh [rear end] und den he know next time what he do (laughs).

Q. Was there doctors there?

A. Ya, we call him “felcher,” you know.

Q. There was just one? [in the village]

A. Ya, not a real doctor, “felcher,” you know. Oh, just a helper for a doctor, you know.

Q. Was there any hospitals there? Close ones?

A. Ya, dat wars in—what we call it—Tarutino, wars a village der.

Q. Tarutino?

A. Ya, Tarutino. [Tarutino, with a population of about 5,800 (3,700 of that German speaking), was one of the larger colonies in the southeastern part of Bessarabia in the Akkerman district. It was just north of Katzbach, where Grampa was born.]

Q. So you had to go there?

A. Ya.

Q. How far would that have been?

A. Oh, about 15 miles from my village.

Q. And you were born in Katzbach?

A. Katzbach, ya.

Q. Can you tell me how it was, how the village was? Was it big or small or—

A. Wars big. Sixty families wars living in dat—oh, ya, dat wars big. Wars about three werst long—we say mile here—we say werst, you know [1 werst = .66 mile].

Q. Was there lots of streets . . . like here? Long streets or—

A. Oh ya.

Q. Was it a long village or a round one or—

A. No, dat wars a long village. Each side wars a row like here, the streets, you know.

Q. How many people do you think would have been living there when you—

A. How many people?

Q. Ya, about?

A. Oh, I know we had about—wo [when] I wars going to school—about over 300 school boys—big school. Und I wars going to Russian school and German school. One side wars Russian school, da other side wars German school. [According to the 1955 Bessarabischer Heimatkalender (Bessarabian Homeland Calendar), Katzbach had a population of about 1,100, all of which was German. The village, which originated in 1821, consisted of about 4,200 hectares.]

Q. What kind of buildings did the village have? Did it have—

A. All stone.

Q. All stone?

A. All from stone.

Q. Did it have walls in front of the houses?

A. Oh ya, oh ya.

Q. And then gates too?

A. Ya, ya.

Q. Was there stores, lots of stores or?

A. Stores?

Q. Ya, some stores?

A. Only one store wars in . . . dat village. No two. One wars with with the name
Schwabe, the other [was] a woman. Two stores wars der.

Q. What could you buy there, everything?

A. Oh, not everything. Some clothing, shirts und you know, bread, sugar.

Q. Was there any hotels there, like inns?

A. Not hotels, aber saloon wars der. Drinken wine, you know.

Q. So the houses were made out of stone?

A. Ya.

Q. How big were they?

A. Oh, some wars big, some wars not so big, just like here.

Q. Was there lots of rooms or was it just one big room?

A. Oh, ya, ya, oh lotsi rooms.

Q. Did most people have stoves and stuff? Did they have that?

A. The stove was nit like here. The stove wars built from bricks, you know. And den
wars a coverup—we call it “blit,” you know. Und . . . most[ly] we use wood, straw, with the fire, you know.

Q. Was Katzbach…hilly there too? Was there lots of hills?

A. Well, I don’t know what I should—not hilly, you know wars slow up and slow down. Und da village wars all the time in the low places, you know. Not up der.

Q. Was there any river close by?

A. Not river, aber wars a canal through the village, you know, und the water runs there.

Q. You got water from there?

A. No, we got water out a well.

Q. Each farm had a well.

A. Ya, ya.

Q. What part of Katzbach did the Jankes live at? What part—north, east end?

A. Let’s see—south, ah, west end from Katzbach. [Based on maps of the village in its early days and in 1940, it is clear that Katzbach had two streets running northwest to southeast. Grampa likely meant the northwest end of the village.]

Q. Was it right on the outside?

A. No, wars da—let’s see—da 13th house from the end. I know dat.

Q. So was there a name to the street . . . that your house was at?

A. Well, the name wars on the house, you know. The most people had the names on the house. Aber no numbers, just the name.

Q. So if—you said it was the 13th from the outside. Where would you have been coming
from? Where would that road have come from?

A. Well, we come from the west, you know. If we come from the east, we come from the east.

Q. Where did the road go? Another village?

A. Oh, ya, oh ya.

Q. What one, can you remember?

A. What one? Bulgar village, you know.

Q. Bulgar? [The only town in a westerly direction with a name similar to this that I have found on Bessarabian maps, is Bolgrad.]

A. Bulgar. Dat wars Chemlek [Tschemelek?], Gabraun [?], Tarutino, Paris, Krasna, Arzis—I know them all.

Q. Plotzk—was there a Plotzk too?

A. Plotski, yes. And further away wars a—

Q. Wittenberg?

A. Wittenberg, und a—what wars wo [where] Stickel [my maternal grandfather] lives?

Q. Albota?

A. Albota, ya.

Q. How far would that have been?

A. Albota—oh dat wars about, let’s see, about 20 werst or so maybe a little bit more.

Q. Were the roads just gravel or mud?

A. No no, just ground.

Q. Just ground.

Q. Did Katzbach . . . have any fires or floods or—

A. Oh ya, lotsi fire der. You know we had a straw pile in the yard, you know, behind
da—oh lotsi fire. Sometimes the houses burn. All kinds of fire, you know.

Q. They never had firemen?

A. Yes.

Q. They had firemen?

A. Yes, und we got a—we had a pump; pump it mit the handle. Und everybody carry
the water from the wells and put it in a big tank, und he pump it out der and make the fire out (laughs).

Q. What about—was there any tornadoes or anything?

A. Yes.

Q. There was?

A. Yes, tornadoes?

Q. Can you remember hearing about any?

A. Yes, I hear some, ya.

Q. You named the mayor. What kind of police—can you remember who the police were?

A. We call ‘em—dat wars just a man from the village, you know. I know one time—I
vill tell you someting—I wars standing in [under] the tree. I wars a young boy und he comes: “What you doing here so late at night?” und hit me an [on] my shoulder with a stick (laughs).

Q. They were tough?

A. Oh, ya wen dem come around in 10 o’clock, you muss be home—dat wars only for da school boys—10 o’clock, you muss be home. Und dem not talk very much—now you get und dat’s all (laughs).

Q. Did he have a gun?

A. No, no.

Q. He didn’t have a gun. Who were some of the rich people in Katzbach? Were there any real rich ones?

A. Oh ya.

Q. They had a lot of land?

A. Lotta land und lotsi money.

Q. Can you remember any of them?

A. Yes. My wife’s grampa—dat Finkbeiner—had a box about that wide [indicates a foot long with his hands] full of gold money, you know. He wars a very rich man. Dat wars my wife—granma’s—my wife’s mother her father, you know. He wars a very rich man—Finkbeiner. [Grampa’s wife was Lydia Sandau. Her grandfather was Friedrich Finkbeiner, 1847 (Katzbach)-1867 (Katzbach).]

Jacob Janke and his wife Lydia (nee Sandau), circa 1952

Q. Was he a farmer, too?

A. Ya.

Q. How did he get so much money?

A. Well he work und save und . . . .

Q. Who was the preacher in Katzbach? Who was your preacher?

A. My preacher? “Haus,” dat wars the preacher we call ‘em, you know. Und the teacher
wars “Wilgang.”

Q. Do you remember his first name?

A. No. [an article in an edition of the Heimatkalender der Bessarabischer Deutchen
(Homeland Calendar of the Bessarabian Germans)
, called “From the History of the Katzbach Community,” author Otto Rossman lists a Christian Willing as the colony’s teacher from 1891 to 1902. A mention is also made of Jacob Willging as holding an important position in the town.]

Q. You can’t remember. Maybe you can tell me about the schools? How many years did you go to school?

A. I go to school seven years. In Russia school und German school. Seven years.

Q. So, both at the same time? Russian and German at the same time?

A. No. One hour we learn German, the other hour Russian, you know. Dem teacher changes. The German teacher goes from the other room to the other room und the Russian goes there und teach dem Russian.

Q. So how big was the school?

A. Oh, dem wars big! Oh what we should say. Oh dem was a big school—oh, bigger than the city hall [in Medicine Hat] –oh, far bigger, oh ya.

Q. Was it a tall building or long?

A. Oh, dem wars wide a little bit aber longer than wide, you know.

Q. So how many hours each day did you go to school?

A. Oh, dat wars I dink from 9 till 4 o’clock, like here. I think so.

Q. And that was summer and winter?

A. No, summers not.

Q. Not summer.

A. No. When July comes dem stops like here, you know.

Q. Then starts in September?

A. Ya.

Q. What kinds of things were you taught in school? What did they teach you?

A. What did he teach me?

Q. What kind of school stuff?

A. Everything! The same like here. Arithmetic, und reading, und learn something and tell the teacher . . . .

Q. Answers?

A. Ya, answer.

Q. Why did they teach some Russian? Why did they—did they have to learn Russian?

A. Yes. Reading, like German you know.

Q. Can you remember any poems or verses in Russian?

A. Yes sir (pounding on the table and singing)

Q. What was that?--

A. Rie rie ritta die
Harie ganie mutta lue yu
Rie rie ritta die
Harie ganie mutta lue yu

Dat “Bochetzer yachranee, “dat wars like a “God Save the Queen.”
We sing that every morning. [
[The Tsarist National Athem lyrics and music were created in 1833. In English it is actually called “God Save the Czar.” Its lyrics are as follows:

God save the noble Czar
Long may he live
In pow’r, in happiness,
In peace to reign!

Dread of his enemies,
Faith’s sure defender,
God save the Czar!
God save the Czar!]

Q. That was for all of Russia?

A. Ya, I dink so. Dat wars for the Kaiser [tsar], you know.

Q. Were the teachers rough?

A. Sometimes, when we do bad things it was rough—sometimes not. [Grampa recalled later that some of the teachers were known to equip their rooms with tree branches (switches) which they used to punish students with. This practice was not school policy, however, and when the school officials came to tour the classrooms, the branches would be hidden.]

Q. You said that there was 300 students when you went?

A. Ya, about, about [that].

Q. Girls and boys?

A. Ya.

Q. Were you [seated] in long rows, or in desks?

A. Ya, we had long chairs like a . . . .

Q. Benches?

A. Bench, not like dem small one—long one. We were sitting seven in one bench. Seven.

Q. Did you go maybe for, say arithmetic, for an hour then something else?

A. Ya, sometime.

Q. What kind of money did they have in Bessarabia?

A. Ruble.

Q. Rubles.

A. Rubles and kopeck.

Q. Was kopeck a coin?

A. Ya, dat wars a cent, you know. Und a ruble wars a dollar.

Q. Was there any banks there?

A. Well, not really banks—wars a place to the money on for save [to keep your money]. I don’t know what we call ‘em.

Q. Did the farmers sell their wheat? To who?

A. Dem haul it away sometimes 50 werst, you know. Haul it away. To the Megazin [German for store or warehouse], we call ‘em. You know wars some Jew people und dem buy it. Und the people haul it der with the wagon.

Q. Where was that?

A. Dat wars a Kilia. We call dat village Kilia (laughing). [Kilia could not be found on any of the maps of Bessarabia I have used. It could have been one of many Hebrew colonies.]

Q. So, did they [the farmers] have horses too? A lot of horses?

A. Oh ya. No not much, some had 4, some had six. Just how the farmer need ‘em.

Q. Were the Jankes in Katzbach—did most people know them?

A. Oh ya!

Q. Did they have any—did they work in government at all. The Jankes—did anybody do anything . . . . [hold important positions]

A. No, I guess not.

Q. Nothing like that. Were they well known for something? [explained in German, were they good singers, or anything like that?]

A. Yes, good singers und good player. My brother, John, down in States [Kulm, North Dakota]—he play anything! Und you know, in fall dem recruit soldier… dem hire him and he play with the “Blössbulga.” What we call dem?

Q. Accordion?

A. Accordion, ya. Und the other had a drum und (beats on his hands to show what the other person did—keep time).

Q. What soldiers did he play for?

A. For da recruit, call ‘em, not soldiers. You know dem müss go…und den he pick ‘em out, go to the doctor, und. Kieschineff, call dat. Kischineff—dat wars the place. [Also written Kischinew. A predominately Russian city, it was a main point of government activity for Bessarabia and also a governmental district or kreis named after it. The city was located due north of Katzbach]. When he wars 20 years, 21 years old, und about three weeks before he go der, he take the drum and und accordion und goes around in the village, und play und dancing und “Yuchara, Yuchara” und all kinds of dings.

Q. Did—were the soldiers German? From your village?

A. Well dem wars German, some Russian, some Jew, some Bulger [Bulgarian], some—

Q. What war? Was there any war going on?

A. Yes. I remember wo I wars six years old. Japan und Russia wars fighting war, you know.

Q. So the soldiers were getting ready for that?

A. Oh ya. Und some people wars killed in dat war.

Q. From your village?

A. Ya, ya [The conflict referred to here was apparently the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-05. It grew out of the rivalry between Russia and Japan in Manchura and Korea. Believing it could easily defeat the Japanese, Russia risked entering an armed conflict hoping a victory would stop the threat of revolution inside its borders. To the surprise of the world, Japan crushed Russia’s naval fleet. The loss was so humiliating, it resulted in peasant revolts, industrial strikes and violent outbreaks in Russia known as the Revolution of 1905. The violence was limited to the central part of the nation. Grampa’s reference to the recruits is accurate. All medically fit male Russian subjects, when they reached 20 years of age, were subject to army service for six years thanks to the new military service law which came into force in 1874. The number needed each year to fill the ranks were chosen by lottery from all those subject to draft. Grampa’s brother, Reinhold, bought several tickets to Canada that he drew from the lottery in Bessarabia. Today, Grampa’s nephew, Andrew Janke, has the tickets his father bought to Canada with the markings 221 and 1.]

Q. That’s interesting. Were the Jankes rich or poor or?

A. Oh, what we should say—not very rich but make a good living.

Q. Did the Jankes have a big house or small house?

A. Well, we had a big house. We had a big house—we had four sleeping rooms, two kitchen[s], und two sitting rooms.

Q. And that was just for your family?

A. Ya. Aber you know dat wars my grandfather [who] own[ed] dat before my father lives in. My grandfather.

Q. What was your grandfather’s name? Do you know?

A. Ya, Mike, Michael (pronounces in German), my grandfather.

Q. Michael? Michael Janke!

A. Ya (laughing).

Q. Do you know was he born in Bessarabia or did he come—

A. He wars born in Katzbach, so far I know.

Q. Did you ever see him?

A. I can remember a little bit. He wars a big feller. You know he had a big belt, long belt on, you know.

Q. So he owned that . . . . [house]

A. Ya, I think he built it und den dat turns over to my father. Und my father lives in, und I wars born in dat house, und my brothers war born der, my sisters und—all in dat house.

Q. How much land was there again?

A. Half dessä—ah, 30 dessätin.

Q. Can you tell me where everything was on the land? [how the yard was arranged]? Like was there?—

A. Ya. Some wars south of the village, some north, some east und some all der, you know. [Grampa is apparently explaining the location of the village’s overall land holdings, or perhaps where the Janke family’s land was situated.]

Q. But what was around your house? Was there a horse stable or—

A. (laughing) Well around the house on da back wars a big ditch you know. One time [it] wars raining und I jump over und fall in da water. (laughs) Wo I wars a little kid, I remember dat.

Q. Did you have horses there?

A. Oh ya, we had horses?

Q. Can you remember how many horses?

A. Oh, so long my father lives—I can remember dat, I wars very young—I dink four or six, I don’t know.

Q. Did you have cows?

A. Yes. Sheep.

Q. Was there a garden there too?

A. Oh, big garden. Dat wars like—oh, like a half [city] block here. Oh ya.

Q. Boy, that’s big. What kind of things did you grow in there. Just like you grow here?

A. In the garden? We would put barley in a little bit.

Q. Barley?

A. Barley, grass, fruit trees, gooseberries.

Q. Potatoes?

A. Ya…

Q. …Now I want to find out any names, or where people were born in the Janke family. There was your family [that] lived there. How many uncles and aunts lived in the same village?

A. Well, I had uncles—dat wars in another village—dat’s from my mutter’s side—my mother’s side. Dat wars Brienne [southeast of Katzbach]. Dat wars Uncle John, Uncle Jacob, cousin Christian, cousin Daniel, und all so [and so on].

Q. Where did they live?

A. In Brienne—other village. Brienne call it.

Q. How far?

A. Oh, about 10 miles, I dink.

Q. Ten miles. What about the Jankes. How many uncles or aunts? Any?

A. Jankes. I had one, two, three—what I can remember—aber I wars very young. Und dem move up to States, you know [mostly to North Dakota, in the Kulm area].

Q. Before you went, they were gone already.

A. Before I grow up. Aber I remember, I remember.

Q. Do you remember their names?

A. Yes. One wars Gottfried Janke…Und one uncle wars Mike—Michael—wars here in Wetaskinwin, ya. Und, my aunt—or what we should say—my Bäsle—dat wars Boettcher. Dem Boettcher people, ihr mother. Die wars here in the north country, you know, in Schuler.

Q. So were the Jankes from Katzbach too? Your uncles, were they born there too?

A. Ya, ya, so far [as] I find out.

Q. Can you remember any other houses that were owned by Jankes there? In Katzbach?

A. No.

Q. You can’t. Were they gone by then?

A. Ya.

Q. Did you ever hear where the Jankes were before Katzbach? Did you hear?

A. Ya. Some wars in Eigenheim, the other village.

Q. Eigenheim?

A. Ya (laughing), dats the name of the village.

Q. In Bessarabia?

A. Ya, right. Not very far from Katzbach [straight east of Katzbach near the mouth of the Dnjester River].

Q. Did you ever—

A. Und my grandfather, he come from Poland, you know!

Q. Poland?

A. Poland. You know the Russian get people in from Poland. My grandfather wars from Poland. He wars born in Poland, I dink. Dat what I find out. [may be referring to great-grandfather, Mike Sr.?][What Grampa is referring to here is the colonization of parts of Russia, including Bessarabia, with people from Germany and Russia. The immigration to the Volga River, the Black Sea areas and other southwest Russian lands began as early as the 1760s after the German Princess, Catherine the Great, took control of the Russian government. She wanted the wild, empty lands colonized with European immigrants, particularly Germans. In 1763 Catherine invited settlers to Russia promising payment of traveling expenses, freedom of religion, freedom from taxation for 30 years, exemption from military services, continuance of the German culture and language and internal self-government. Most importantly for the farming immigrants was the offer of homestead lands. This mass migration to Russia, led mostly by German-speaking people, continued to the 1860s. It was during this period that Bessarabia was colonized and the Jankes came next to the area as Grampa remembers being told. See also next note.]

Q. You don’t know his name though?

A. Dat’s the Michael you know, I tell you vorheir [before], ya.

Q. O.K., so it’s Michael and Christian.

A. Und my father’s name wars Christian. My mother’s name was Christina. Und my mother’s burtzname [maiden name] wars Krueger. She’s born in Brienne.

Q. In Bessarabia?

A. Ya, dort wo [there where] mein uncle wars living.

Q. So, if your grandfather was from Poland—

A. Dat’s what I heard.

Q. How come you knew German?

A. Ya, in Poland wars lotsi German.

Q. Lotta Germans?

A. Ya. He move in der when he wars young, you know. You know the Russian government give ‘em land for nothing. He wants farmer in der.

Q. Here, I’ve got something for you. I’ve found a book, that tells where all of the Germans and people came from to Bessarabia. And there’s a Michael on here. Michael [pointing to name] Michael, Poland. And he went to Friedenstal. [The book mentioned here is Professor Karl Stumpp’s The Emigration from Germany to Russia in the Years 1763 to 1862. The 1,018 page book, written after 40 years of research, contains alphabetical lists of thousands of names to Russia, their place of origin and where they settled in Russia. Under the surname JANKE, are four group entries. Three are individuals from Poland—Carl, Anna, and Friedrich. However, a forth entry also from Poland is of special interest—Jacob, Karl, Maria, and MICHAEL. The latter is most likely a direct ancestor to Grampa, that he refers to. According to the book, these people settled in Friedenstal. It appears that this group must be related in some way, perhaps as brothers and sisters or parents and children. One further note to this story comes from Adam Giesinger’s book, From Catherine to Khrushchev, a historical account of the Germans in Russia. In Poland, large numbers of Germans had settled in Warsaw, Posen, Plotzk, and Kalisch districts in the years 1796 to 1806. They had been encouraged to move into the area when the western part of Poland came under the Prussian rule in 1795. However, these settlers quickly became discontented in their new home. The Napoleonic wars caused the dissention. In 1806-07 Napoleon captured the area making it a French territory governed by the duke who was unkind to the Germans. Then in 1812 came Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, with his armies crossing the Polish countryside, interfering with farm operations, destroying crops, requisitioning cattle and horses. On November 29, 1813, the Russian government publicized a manifesto in Poland inviting settlers into southern Bessarabia. A total of more than 1,500 families left Poland for the area in the years 1814 and 1815; most in 1814. The battles of the Napoleonic wars supplied the names for the new villages: Borodino, Tarutino, Klostitz, Krasna, Kulm, Leipzig, Malowjaroslawetz, Beresina, Arcis, Brienne, Fare-Champenoise and Paris. In 1821, 28 families came from Poland to found Katzbach. In 1833, 87 families, mostly displaced by the Polish Revolution in 1830, founded Friedenstal. Although we can only guess at this point, the last two immigrations to Katzbach or Friendenstal seem to be the most likely ones in which the Jankes could have been part of. If we turn back the clock, then, it appears the Janke ancestors lived somewhere in Germany before 1800, then moved to Poland for several decades, and finally settled in Bessarabia.]

A. Ya. We had friend in Friedenstal. Up der wars Jankes too. I find dat out. Friedenstal. Aber dat wars before I wars born. Only I hear dat from—

Q. I think that Michael’s father was Jacob. [This appears to be erroneous.]

A. Maybe.

Q. According to this. I also have the same book which has the Stickels in and those are the right ones and here’s Jankes. And it says from Poland.

A. Ya, my grandfather—I hear dat saying, I don’t remember dat, I never wars born in dat time, you know—Aber my mother and my father und dem other people—the older people—tell me he moves in from Poland. Michael, his name wars Michael. You know how I know? My brother got a Bible, Reinhold—dem is about 200 years old und all da name in. Und da name is in from my grandfather, his father! Aber I don’t know dat. Andrew Janke got the Bible, you know. Und dem Bible is 200 years old.

Q. And it was passed—passed down from your grandfather to his son.

A. Ya, und my brother get it. He wars the oldest, you know. [The Bible mentioned here was actually printed in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1825, according to the New Testament title page in it. That would make the book about 150 years old. However, there are no names or dates recorded in the book. Reinhold Janke, grandpa’s brother, apparently had someone write the following message in it: “This bible (sic) was owned by the son of the family, the following are Michael Janke Sr., Michael Janke Jr., Christian Janke, Reinhold Janke, Andrew Janke, Clarence Janke.” By reading this message, one would have to believe that Grampa’s grampa Michael Janke had a father also named Michael. Researching Bessarabian church records has proved [this.]
The old brown book had apparently been rebound once before coming to Canada with Reinhold Janke and Grampa in 1910. Two large hooks kept it closed and inside, perhaps as old as the Bible itself, is a colorful peacock feature used as a bookmark. Peacocks, Grampa said, were common in the Bessarabian homeland. In any event, the Bible is a fascinating 175-year-old piece of the Janke family’s history.]

Q. Can you name your brothers and sisters?

A. Ya. The oldest sister was Louisa—she died wo she wars 16 years old. The second child wars Christina…und den my brother Reinhold, he is still alive. Und den my brother John—he died in ’59. Und den wars Adolf. Und den wars I, you know.

Q. You were the youngest?

A. The youngest, the baby.

Q. Can you tell when these people were born? Do you know? Or would it be in the bible?

A. I vill tell you something. I am born in 1894 und we all two years apart, you know.

Q. So if I go back two years—

A. You know I am 85 now. Und you can go back all the time two years. We wars all the time two years apart. I know dat.

Q. This Louisa—

A. Louisa? I remember von her. I wars very young. My vater still wars alive.

Q. What did she die from?

A. Oh, wars a kind of flu, very heavy sickness goes around. Dat wars like...in the lungs, you know. Like pneumonia oder so.

[My research of Katzbach church records indicates that the Janke family had 10 children between 1880 and 1894: Louise*, Christine, twins Christian* & Gottfried*, August*, Reinhold, Friedrika*, Johannes, Adolf, and Jacob. Those who did not reach adulthood/marriage age are indicated with an *. Several died of whooping cough and red measles.]

Q. I see, O.K. What did the Jankes look like? Were they big people?

A. Oh, some wars big, some wars small. Had the head swischen [between] the ears, you know. Some wars big, some wars small.

Q. Did you ever see any pictures taken of them? Of the family? Did anybody ever take pictures?

A. No, no.

Q. You can’t remember.

A. In dat days, you know, wo my vater wars living, I don’t know was not like now.

Q. Where were the people buried? Like where would your grandfather have been buried?

A. Dem all buried in Katzbach, you know. My father, und my sister—the oldest, Louisa—in Katzbach. Und da other buried in Neu-Elft in other village wo she wars married. Und her husband wars killed in the First World War.

Q. What was his name?

A. John Weiss.

Q. John Weiss?

A. Johannes Weiss, ya. Und her son wars killed in the third [must have meant second] war—World war. Und is two nieces left, und dem lives in Germany.

Q. In Germany?

A. Ya.

Q. Now can you tell me your story. You grew up in Katzbach—

A. Ya.

Q. In that house.

A. Ya.

Q. And then your father died.

A. Died wo I wars seven years old.

Q. How?

A. Oh, he had Schwinnsücht, we saucht mir auf English [what do you call it in English]…hard breathing, like asthma, you know. [He suggested emphasema, although the translation of “Schwinnsücht,” is often consumption or tuberculosis.]

A. Ya, ya. I know dat. I remember dat. He wars sometimes sitting and (pants) und den he says: “Oh, so much air und I don’t get it.” I remember dat. I wars seven years old.

Q. There was no hospitals or no one could help him?

A. I don’t know. What I should say, I guess not. I don’t remember.

Q. What happened after he died? What did the family do?

A. Well da oldest boy [Reinhold] wars going working out by the farmer. Und I wars home alone by mother ‘til I wars 16 years old. Und den I wars going out too and work out.

Q. Did you work with—one time I asked you before and you said something about Ed Schill.

A. Ya, Edward Schill. I work der. Und the last wo I move into Canada I move in other village by Vossler, with the name Vossler.

Q. What was the village called?

A. Neu-Elft.

Q. Neu-Elft. And he was a Russian?

A. No, German.

Q. He was a German.

A. Ya.

Q. What did you do for him?

A. Farming.

Q. Why did you go to this Edward Schill?

A. Oh, I wars young at dat time. You know I work a little bit in da yard, und watch the children der.

Q. Was he related?

A. No.

Q. No relation. In Katzbach?

A. Ya.

Q. Did you ever go to Neu-Elft?

A. Ya, for over a year.

Q. For who?

A. Wo I work for dat Vossler.

Q. For Vossler.

A. Ya (laughing). Oh ya.

Q. So how long were you with him?

A. Oh, about a little bit den over a year?

Q. Did he hire other people too?

A. No, only me alone.

Q. Was he a relative?

A. No.

Q. No relative. What happened after that? After you worked for him?

A. Oh den I go away to Canada . . . move in here.

Q. Where was Reinhold?

A. My brother?

Q. Ya, at that time?

A. He wars in Katzbach.

Q. Still in Katzbach.

A. In Katzbach. He wars living in dat house in my father’s house with mother, you know—Wo he was married. Aber wo he wars single he work out, you know. So soon he married, he goes back to der and farm our land, you know.

Q. What happened? Why did you leave Bessarabia? What happened, like what…

A. Well, I don’t know. Wars nothing wrong, you know. My brother goes and other Adolf und John wars in here und I thought we go too.

Q. Were the Germans treated bad or anything there that they wanted to go?

A. No. He don’t like to go away, no sir. Aber [you] weise [know], we wars free. He not can keep us there.

Q. What year did you leave?

A. 1910.

Q. And what month?

A. May.

Q. Was it still Russian government then?

A. Oh ya, Kaiser.

Q. Did the government make you talk Russian? Did they want you—

A. No, no, we wars free. We can talk just how we want.

Q. So what happened? Did you meet in a village and then leave with a wagon, or what happened?

A. With da wagon, oh, with da wagon. Dem friend what [who] wars still left, he bring us up to the station, you know.

Q. Where was that?

A. Dat station wars Kischineff.

Q. What kind of train was it? Big train, small train?

A. Oh, wars a big train, you know.

Q. Was there other Germans on the train?

A. Yes, German, Russian und all kinds of people.

Q. Were they all leaving too?

A. Ya.

Q. Can you remember any of them—any friends?

A. Well, do wars Pfeifer, Henry Krahn, you know our neighbors. Dat wars dat Henry Krahn, his father. Und some more. Let’s see, I forgot . . . exactly—from Katzbach, you know.

Q. Was there seats or was it a good train or a fairly old train?

A. Wars an old train. All from wood. Chairs war all from wood.

Q. What did you take with you? What kinds of things—clothes or what did you take?

A. Well, we take clothing, und a little bit to eat, little bit whiskey. Ya, dat’s right.

Q. Did you have papers to show that you were going—passport?

A. Oh ya, we have one.

Q. What happened when you came over? Did you throw it away—the passport?

A. I dink my brother got ‘em. My brother—you know, I go [on my] brother his name, his paper, you know. He wars like my watchman or what we call ‘em.

Q. Guardian?

A. Ya, ya, ya, ya. [Grampa was included in the passport which his nephew Andrew Janke still possesses. Also included in the passport is a receipt document filled out by the ship company Norddeushcer Lloyd (North German Lloyd) at the time of departure from Bremen, Germany April 15, 1910 on the ship Brandenburg. It lists Jacob Janke’s age as 15 years although Grampa is correct when he says 16 years. One further note on the Norddeutshcer Lloyd. The company was formed in 1856 to provide a shipping service between Bremen and New York. By 1913, the line carried 240,000 transatlantic passengers, while its fleets consisted of nearly 800,000 gross tons of shipping with 100,000 tons under construction; second only to that of the rival Hamburg America Line. In World War I, nine ships were held and eventually seized in American ports with all the remaining ships seized by the Allies after the Armistice. Service by the Norddeutshcer Lloyd was re-established in 1922 after the repurchase of the line’s pre-war fleet from the Allies.]

Q. So where did you go on the train? How long did it take?

A. Dat take me 11 days from Russia ‘til Irvine here. Irvine. Eleven days we wars on the move.

Q. What countries did you go through with the train? Can you remember?

A. Oh ya. We wars going to durch through Poland und through one corner of Poland to Germany. One corner to States und just one corner und cross one corner to Halifax, you know. Halifax. Und he drive us all with the wagon. Wars no cars at dat time.

Q. So you mean that once the train ride was over they took you to this ship or that ship. Is that what you’re saying?

A. Ya.

Q. One time when I was talking to you before you said when you got off the train, [at Bremen, Germany before getting onto the ship] people were hollering at you?

A. Ya.

Q. Why? What did they say?

A. Oh, dem say all kinds of dings. You know dem German people in German says: “You Russian pigs” und all kinds of dings—wars rough.

Q. Why?

A. Ya, dats da German people. Dem rough. Dem don’t like dem when you move away from one country. He says: “You Russian pigs, you should stay home and work for Kaiser, not go away.” Ya, ya.

Q. Did you ever stop with the train or did it keep going?

A. Oh ya. We wars in Germany for a couple of days. In Bremen.

Q. In Bremenhaven.

A. Ya, Bremenhaven. For a couple of days und den we move on the ship. [Located in Northern Germany, Bremen(haven) was one of the main destination ports on the continental Europe for immigrants leaving to North America.]

Q. How much money did it cost to get out—to leave?

A. Money? Oh, dat’s hard to say. Oh, over hundred dollars anyway.

Q. You told me before that the administrator for Kazbach sold some land and gave you some money.

A. Ya. I get a dousand dollar my share. Dousand dollar.

Q. Did each villager get that much? Each person in the village?

A. No, no. Dat’s only from our land, dats from my family. My brother, everyone get dousand dollar und divide it and everyone get dousand dollar. Und dat administrator, he sold dat land, you know.

Q. For you—

A. —und send us da money.

Q. Send you the money. Do you know his name?

A. Ya. Dat wars Heinrich Riedel. Riedel, ya.

Q. What about the people that stayed behind? Were they talking of coming too?

A. Well, I don’t remember dat.

Q. Was there still lots living back?

A. Ya, my mother wars coming a year after I wars going.

Q. I’ll get that later. How long did you wait in Bremen?

A. Oh, I don’t know about four days or so ‘til the ship comes in.

Q. Where did you wait? In a hotel?

A. Well, wars like a hotel, ya. You know dat wars all in dat trip. You know, the ship’s name, dat big ship’s name wars Missler.

Q. Missler.

A. Und we pay all da money to da Missler. Und dat wars all included, you know. [The name Missler was not as Grampa says, the name of the ship. F. Missler in Bremen was the company who ran the passenger receiving office for Norddeutscher Lloyd steamships at the Germany port. This information comes from a canvas pouch which the passport was kept in. Andrew Janke still has the pouch.]

Q. Was there in Bessarabia—did they advertise this?…How did you find out about this boat? Was there advertising?…

A. Oh, dat wars some—what we call it—like dem real estates people, you know. Real estates men—he got dem—big shot like you (laughing) [probably steamship company agents].

Q. When you got on the ship, was it a big ship?

A. Oh ya! Oh ya, about maybe 2,000 people on. Oh ya, dat wars big. [According to ship records I have researched, the ship was the S.S. Brandenburg, a 7,532-ton vessel of the North German Lloyd Line, captained by Master H. Morgenstern. Built in 1901, it was capable of legally carrying 1,600 adult passengers but Jacob and his brother’s family were among only 315 passengers aboard (251 adults and 64 children—all steerage, third-class passengers).

Q. How long would you have been on the ship?

A. Oh, over a week. I tink about a week ‘til we wars in Halifax.

Q. In Halifax?

A. Ya. [Halifax, Nova Scotia and Quebec City, Quebec. were the two main arrival ports in Canada for European immigrants sailing via the Atlantic Ocean].

Q. What part of the ship did you sleep in?

A. Oh, dat wars some rooms down.

Q. Was it way down in the ship?

A. Ya, ya.

Q. Were the higher parts more expensive?

A. Ya. You know da young people wars separate. The old people wars separate, you know.

Q. Separate?

A. Sleeping. Und we all sleep in da rows. You know dem bed wars made from pipes—from iron pipes—und one wars laying here, da other wars laying here, other wars laying here [side by side]. All on top you know, separate [in a bunk bed fashion]. All on top, you know, separate.

Q. So what did you eat? Did they have meals?

A. Well, we got our own eat, you know, from home, from Bessarabia.

Q. Did people get sick on the boat?

A. Oh, I remember! I puke and shit, und [get] dizzy und ohhh!

Q. It wasn’t fun.

A. No no, very sick.

Q. What did you do while you were on the ship? Was there anything to do?

A. Nothing. Just lay around like pigs, you know.

Q. Can you remember if there was any friends from Bessarabia with you there?

A. Well not friends aber people, we hear und go together und make friends.

Q. Was there a lot of people from Germany too?

A. Ya. I vill tell you something. I wars laying—I wars 16 years old—und I wars laying all the time neber [beside] a German girl. From Germany! Aber wars a little pipe between you know (laughing).

Q. Would there have been long rooms? Long rooms with beds?

A. Ya. Und dem bed wars each side on the wall und in the center und in the other wall makes like this, you know [shows they were stacked like bunk beds].

Q. Were they high?

A. Oh, three wars. One low, da other second und da third. Only three stories, oder what we should call it.

Q. Did you have to climb downstairs to get to it?

A. Ya. Und climb up on top. One time we wars sitting on top und dem big walls of water comes up; we getting wet! Dat comes over the ship. Wars so much wind.

Q. Was there bathrooms on there?

A. Ya. Und den he chase us all down to the rooms, you know. Und cover up the ship dat the water don’t run in, for over a day, I dink. You know the water—da high winds make the wall come. Big ones [waves]—like dat house!

Q. So it was a steam ship?

A. Ya. [Andrew Janke recalls that his father, Reinhold, said the same ship was used to haul livestock back to Germany. To put it mildly, the trip was far from a luxury liner cruise. Tragedy also struck the family group. Grampa’s 12-year-old cousin Otto contracted diphtheria and died during the trip. The youngster was put into a metal coffin and buried at sea. The prospect of also being infected scared Grampa and his relatives because if found to be suffering contagious diseases at the Canadian port of entry, the immigrants were often sent home. Strangely enough, this bit of bad luck was predicted to Grampa’s sister-in-law Katharina, who consulted a gypsy fortuneteller before leaving Bessarabia. She was told, as her son Andrew recalls, the group would experience some “difficulty” but would make the transatlantic trip.]

Q. So can you remember the date you left Bremen?

A. No.

Q. When did you come to Canada to Halifax?

A. Not to Halifax but I know I come to Irvine [on] May 10, 1910.

Q. What did you do when you got to Halifax? Did you have to have a check-up? Did they check you?

A. Oh, ya! Pure naken [naked], pure naken. Und we get—what call dis—

Q. A shot [vaccination]?

A. A shot und a Pocka.

Q. Chicken pox?

A. Ya, ya, ya. I still got it here (points to arm laughing).

Q. So what did you do after you got to Halifax? What did you do—get on a train again?

A. Ya, we go on da train und come to Irvine und den I get a right away a home, new home. Und dat wars Dave Deering [of Medicine Hat], his father.

Q. His father.

A. Ya, I work there. Dat for [why] I Dave Deering good friend, you know. Aber he wars not born in dat time.

Q. Did you know he was here?

A. No.

Q. Well, how did—when did you know where to stop, get off the train?

A. Ya, I don’t know. You know der wars one feller with the name Sulz—Jacob Sulz. Und dat wars Dave Deering—dat wars the old man, you know, he had a crooked leg und I wars 16 years old und he—what I get five or six dollars a month or so. Und I work for him a whole summer. Und I had a good home, oh ya.

Q. Was the train when came a lot of people on it?

A. Oh ya.

Q. All kinds of people.

A. Ya.

Q. So what happened after that? When did you get the homestead at Walsh?

A. When I get it? 1914, I dink, before I wars married. I know the war wars—I dink wo the First World War starts.

Q. Now your mother came a year after.

A. Ya, 1911.

Q. Alone?

A. She came with Stock, with a Katzbach farmer, Stock. You know Jack Schacher’s wife’s father. You know Mary Schacher…

Q. How long was she here? Where did she go?

A. She wars here by my brother, oh about four or five years. Und dem somebody comes up from the States—Mike Posdech. Und she married him und she wars living down der a couple of years und den he come up to Walsh und buy a quarter land and farm der.

Q. When you came here were you surprised at what the country was like here?…Was it different than what you thought it might be here in Canada when you came?

A. Different?

Q. Ya, then what you thought it would be?

A. Oh, we wars scared, you know, we thought we muss [must] starve here (laughing). You know wars no people here, all wars empty! Indians wars driving with the horses und got a cover on the wagon. Und we wars scared for [of] dem. Dem steal us und we never come away.

Q. So when you stopped at the train station here, what did you do then, did you drive out?

A. We wars in Irvine maybe morning from 10 o’clock ‘till evening. My brother wars going out with Jacob Sulz to Dave Deering. Und I right away had a job und…not a job but a home, you know. [Andrew Janke, Grampa’s nephew, says the group stood at the Irvine train station looking a little lost when then Jacob Sulz mentioned here, follow them. Although he didn’t know the Jankes, he was a fellow Bessarabian who had earlier emigrated to Canada. He asked the group where their destination was. Their tickets said Irvine and they replied, mispronouncing the name, Irvinee, without knowing they were already there. After discovering the group had no relatives in the area, Jacob Sulz said he couldn’t leave the immigrants to fend for themselves. Before the day was over, he had placed them at some relative’s farms, as Grampa refers to.]

Q. What about all the other Jankes? They all in the States now?

A. Ya.

Q. So when did you go to south of Elkwater? When you go there?

A. Well, dat’s hard to say.

Q. To Norton.

A. 1927 to Graburn wo I start farming again.

Q. Why did you move?

A. I move with the wagon.

Q. Why?

A. Well, I sell dat the land. Andrew [Janke] lives on in dat land dat wars a homestead. Und den I buy here a section und we move over here and start farming.

Q. The train that you went from Kischineff to Germany—can you remember any name? Was there any name to it? Or who owned it? Can you remember?

A. I don’t know. Dat wars all from the steamship wo we move in. Dat wars all Missler’s business. Dat wars a company, you know. Like CPR. CPR owns many ships, you know. Dat wars da same ting. Dat’s what I find out. Und dat company calls himself Missler…


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