Interview with Elizabeth Gross
Kambeitz (EK) and Ken Kambeitz (KK)
Conducted by Brother Placid Gross (BG)
16 October 1998, Richardton, North Dakota
Transcription by Margaret Templin Editing and
proofreading by Mary Lynn Axtman
BG: Today is Friday, October 16, 1998.
I am Brother Placid Gross, a volunteer interviewer for the Germans
from Russia Heritage Collection, North Dakota State University
Library in Fargo, North Dakota. We are going to interview, Mrs.
Elizabeth (Wendelin) Kambeitz in Richardton, North Dakota. Her
son, Ken Kambeitz, is here and he will be talking also.
BG: Your name is?
EK: Elizabeth Gross Kambeitz.
BG: And your birth date?
EK: October 13, 1914.
BG: Where were you born?
EK: On the home place, 10 miles south and
one mile east of Napoleon.
BG: The name of your husband is?
EK: Wendelin Kambeitz.
BG: And when did you get married?
EK: October 8, 1940.
BG: Ok. Your father's name was?
EK: Raphael Gross.
BG: Do you know when and where your father
EK: In 1878, in Mannheim, South Russia.
BG: That sounds pretty good. Your mother's
maiden name was?
EK: Mary Fiest.
BG: Mary Fiest. Was it Marion?
EK: It was Marion.
BG: Do you know your mother's birth date?
EK: January 1.
BG: Do you know the year?
EK: I can't tell you. I know she was five
years younger than Dad.
KK: It was 1883 or 1884. In 1884.
BG: Do you know what village your mother
BG: What was your occupation?
EK: Farmer and housewife.
BG: And your father's occupation was a
BG: And your mother's occupation was a
BG: Has a family history been published
of your family? Your brother Matt wrote some family history.
EK: Yes, he did some.
BG: And there's the history you wrote in
KK: There's the history that stops about
then and there is the history that Brother Placid wrote under
Gross history. There is quite a bit.
BG: Do you know where your ancestors came
from in Germany?
EK: That I don't know.
KK: It looks like the Fiests' came from
Alsace, west of the Rhine, around Strassburg.
EK: In what is now France.
BG: When did they come to North America?
EK: My dad came in 1897.
BG: And your mother? They were the Feists?
KK: She came at age 16, so that would be
about 1900. She came alone.
EK: She came by herself.
BG: Her parents didn't come with her?
BG: Where did they go?
EK: Oh. They stayed back. Some relatives
sent a visa and so my Mom said, "I'll go."
BG: Did they come later?
EK: Yes. Frances, her sister who was a
little older, came the following year, I think. Then her parents
came with the rest of the family.
BG: Oh, I see. What were the parent's names?
EK: Leopold and Rosina Fiest. She was a
Schweitzer. We're double related with you.
BG: Do you remember how they traveled to
EK: All I know is by ship. I don't know
what the name of it was.
BG: You don't know anything about your
KK: She knows an interesting little story
about South Dakota or somewhere. Your mother stayed at the depot.
EK: Oh, that. Leo and I don't agree about
that. He says it different. I thought Ma came to Eureka where
she spent the night in the depot. Leo has a different town.
I don't know.
KK: Most likely they came to Eureka. Everybody
came to Eureka, from Minneapolis, to Aberdeen, to Eureka. Then
later on, the railroad was built to Ipswich, then much later
on to Linton. At first the railroad ended at Eureka, so almost
everyone came to Eureka but I don't know if they went on. It
depended on where they were going.
EK: Then Uncle Joe Fiest came to pick her
up with the buggy and horses and took her, I think, to the Grosses
in Zeeland where she worked. She had to work off her visa.
KK: She was terrified at night in the depot.
EK: Oh, yes! There was no light in the
depot and she was in there by herself and it was dark and she
was scared. The depot agent's wife came and brought her a piece
of jelly bread. It was a sad story and Ma cried. How terrible
BG: Do you know what the names mean, like
what Feist means?
EK: I don't know.
BG: We know what 'gross' means. It means
large but it also means great. So, we are important people.
Do you remember when German was spoken in your home?
EK: That's all we spoke at home. We didn't
speak any English when we started to school, only yes and no.
You know, it is surprising how fast a person picked up so that
you could speak.
KK: I know we don't talk German anymore.
BG: Do you know when and where your father
EK: He died on June 16, 1964 in the Wishek
BG: Where is he buried?
EK: At St. Phillips in Napoleon.
BG: Where did your mother die?
EK: At her home in Napoleon, in town, and
she is buried beside my dad.
BG: How many brothers and sisters did you
EK: I have five brothers and four sisters.
There were ten of us.
BG: Do you have any recollection of what
your mother told you about the old country, living in South
Russia? Did she talk about how it was in Russia?
EK: Well, I think from what I can remember,
what it must have been like for her. The companionship, and
the climate was so much milder than it was here. They had fruit
and nuts. I know that her grandma was a little more well-to-do
so they had a wooden floor in their house. Most people didn't
have wooden floors, and when you became a little bit richer,
then you put a wooden floor in. Otherwise, you would just sweep
it nice and put this chalk..., clay on it.
KK: They had a lot of clay. They used it
in building and they might have used it on the floors.
BG: My grandmother said here in North Dakota,
her first house and for a long time her summer kitchen, had
a dirt floor. Every Saturday they would bring water and fresh
clay in and smear it on the floor so it would be nice and smooth.
EK: Yes, that's how they did it in Russia.
BG: Then sometimes they would get leaves
and grass. They then sprinkled it down and pushed it into the
EK: For the design?
BG: They would make a design in the floor
to get ready for Sunday. Maybe that is what they did in Russia,
EK: I think their ovens were made the way
they did and still do in Russia. They build these ovens and
put the bread in to bake.
KK: They built the ovens out of clay. They
would then put the cow pies (the dried manure) in to burn. The
oven got hot, then they would sweep the ashes out, put the bread
in and closed the door. There was enough heat left in the clay
to bake the bread. They didn't have fire underneath like we
did later on with the coal stoves.
EK: It was really amazing how they worked.
KK: The Pueblos in the Southwest still
use the old clay oven. They called it Horno. H-o-r-n-o, I think.
They got it from the Spanish, as far as I know. Those clay ovens
are elevated a couple of feet off the ground, and have a big
oval bee hive shape to the top. They are filled with wood that
is burned for a while. The wood is taken out once it is burned
down to hot red coals. They then put a corn husk into the oven
to see if it is ready for the bread. If it burns nicely they
put in all the bread loaves they can and close the door. Then
they put a big wet towel or something around it, and put a weight
against that to kept it as tight as they can. The bread is checked
through a hole underneath. They pull the finished bread out,
usually quite successfully.
BG: Do they use wheat bread out there in
KK: Yes. They use white flour, an enriched
kind of flour.
BG: Do you remember your dad saying anything
EK: I remember that he worked with the
thresher machine and he got his foot caught in the feeder. It
cut part of his heel off. He was taken to the doctor and the
heel was put back on but gangrene set in so they had to take
it off again. He only had a thin layer of skin over his heel.
That is why he limped, he walked on his toes on one foot. That
is how it happened.
KK: I remember the limp.
BG: How about your dad parent's over there?
Your dad was an orphan, wasn't he?
EK: Yes. He was orphaned at the age of
12 and raised by uncles.
BG: What did his dad die of?
EK: Scarlet fever at the age of 45. He
died in the hospital.
BG: Do you know what they called Scarlet
fever in German?
EK: Wasn't it, Scharlah? I'm not sure but
I think it was, Scharlach.
BG: Then one of his daughters died?
EK: Fourteen days after that, his daughter,
age 18, died of Scarlet fever, too. I mean Grandpa's daughter,
my dad's sister, Franciska.
BG: How many brothers and sisters did your
EK: Eddie and Barbara.
BG: Eddie came over here?
EK: Yes. My dad had him come over. Then
he asked his sister to come over but she said, I am 'verlobt'
(engaged to be married) and she wouldn't come. Later, she was
shipped to Siberia.
KK: We lost contact with her. We really
didn't have any contact with her.
EK: Well, they would write and my dad would
send money because they were starving and what not.
KK: When I went over there, I talked to
a daughter-in-law on the phone. Barbara married a Frohlich and
they got shipped to Siberia. His son and daughter came to Germany,
then the son died and I talked to the daughter.
BG: You are first cousins. Your Uncle Matt
has their address, he wrote to her. She would be Mrs. Frohlich.
KK: Alois's wife. They lived in Swabish
Gemundt. That is a town in Germany. Ask uncle Matt.
BG: Yes, I will. Anything else about the
old country or about your dad? Then your dad came over here?
EK: He came with his cousin, Matt Gross.
BG: He was how old when he came?
EK: I think he was 19.
BG: And your mother was 16? I think you
have already said that. Do you remember any stories of things
that happened over in Russia?
EK: Now what would be important? Oh! I
know the first time my dad's Ma took him to church. He thought
the alter boys were angels from Heaven. He didn't know what
to think. I think he was a good boy that day in church. That
was one story. He and my ma went to school there.
BG: Did they speak in German or Russian?
EK: My dad could speak pretty good Russian.
My ma understood some but I never remember her saying anything.
BG: But they learned German in school over
EK: Yes, they learned German in school
there. Then when they came to America, he went to night school
and he learned to speak English. He worked at the Campbell ranch
and there he had no choice but to speak English. That is how
he learned to speak English real well.
BG: Where was the Campbell ranch?
EK: In Kintyre.
KK: It was right on the east shore of Goose
Lake which is about a mile west of Kintyre. It is a beautiful
lake full of wild game and things. He learned to speak English
from a Scotsman so he had a Scottish brogue whenever he spoke
English. It was kind of comical.
EK: He didn't have any R's, like "hoses".
He didn't get to church in the winter so they had services in
the house with the Campbells.
BG: The Campbells were Catholic?
EK: No, they weren't but they....
KK: They were Protestant and they held
services in the house.
EK: They sang hymns like, "Just as I am,"
and he knew all those songs. So, that was interesting how he
learned the words.
BG: What kind of work did he do at the
EK: Well he... They had sheep and cattle.
He was buying cattle for Mr. Campbell. He sent him out to buy
BG: How did they ship them? He bought cattle
from the farmers and how did he bring them home? Did the cows
have to walk?
EK: I don't know. The boys probably know
KK: Maybe they had to bring them with horses.
There weren't that many fences in the 1890's. The railroad runs
right by that ranch, through Kintyre, then right past the lake.
EK: Maybe the farmers had to bring them.
BG: How long did he work on the Campbell
EK: I believe it was four years.
KK: I thought it was more like two years.
EK: Isn't it in the book?
KK: I don't think so.
BG: So, there were English speaking Campbells.
Then when he got married, then he took up his 'Deutsch' life.
EK: Then he took up the homestead in 1900
and he got married in 1904.
BG: Where was the homestead?
EK: Ten miles south and one mile east of
BG: Whose land was that later on?
EK: Leo, his son. He lived on the farm.
BG: Is anyone living there now?
EK: No. There is nothing left.
BG: What stories can you remember from
your childhood that you can still repeat.
EK: One was..., I will never forget. The
letters from Russia about how poor they were, and how they were
starving. Then on Saturday night when the "Nord Dakota Herold"
and "Der Staastsanzeiger" newspapers came, there were all the
letters in there from different people. They were all just about
the same thing: how they were starving and can you send them
some money. We had to sit there and be quiet. Ma was crying
and Dad held back his tears. That was very depressing for me.
It was hard for me to sit still.
BG: Was that in the 1920's?
EK: I was young. I was born in 1914, so
it must have been in the 1920's because I remember it.
BG: Was it in 1922-23? There was a famine
in Russia around 1922 and in 1923.
EK: That was when it must have been.
BG: Did your parents ever wish they were
back in Russia?
EK: No. My ma got very homesick because
she thought it was more beautiful there than here. She had good
memories and she got over being homesick. She used to think
if she could just see through those hills and see the country
again. I asked my dad one time, "Haven't you got a desire to
go back to Russia?" He said, "No, I'm glad I'm here." He never
wanted to go back.
BG: So, they waited for news from relatives
in Russia? We already have said that they got letters.
EK: Yes, sorrowful ones. I never looked
forward to those evenings when those letters would be read because
we had to sit still and it was the hardest thing for me to do.
We couldn't leave the room. We had to sit there and listen to
this and it used to make me so mad because my sister could sit
still. I never could understand how she could sit there and
listen to this and I would whisper. Dad would give me a look.
That wasn't a good memory. I didn't like that depressing time.
BG: Which sister was this?
EK: It was Bertha. She was younger than
BG: Can you still speak German?
BG: Do you make and effort to teach your
children some German phrases?
EK: I'm trying. Kenneth is trying to learn
because he wants to take this trip to Germany. It's kind of
hopeless, it seems like. (laughter)
BG: What childhood chore did you not enjoy
doing? What kind of work did you have to do that you did not
EK: My job was to get those blocks. I think
you call it blocks of 'mischt' to start a fire. The problem
was that I always put it off too long. If I would have done
it when the other girls did their chores, it would have been
alright. But I put it off until it was dark and the girls went
out to check, "Did she get the manure?" Then, of course, I had
to go to the summer kitchen where it was stacked for the winter
and get it. It was totally dark at those times. Nobody would
go with me but I had to go and get them. There were ghosts,
and devils and what not chasing me, I used to think. I never
learned to get it in time. I can't complain about it.
BG: Did you take a lantern with you?
EK: No, I guess not and I don't think...
I don't know if there was a flash light. They just told me to
BG: Did you have a yard light?
EK: (Laugher) No electricity, nothing.
Pitch dark and I had to go. I was scared but I never told my
parents. I thought they wouldn't care because I was suppose
to do my work on time.
BG: What work did you like to do?
EK: I liked to sing and to play. I did
my school work, though. I never had to be told to do my school
work but I didn't like to get that stuff.
KK: You said you liked kitchen work.
EK: I liked to wash dishes and I washed
my brother's diapers. I enjoyed that. I was a good baby sitter.
BG: Did you have to milk?
BG: Did you wear a dress when you went
down to milk?
EK: Yes. Most of the time it was a dress.
BG: Did you have a special milk dress?
A special dress to put on over your other clothes?
EK: No, I never put one over. I don't remember
how it was. Later on, we did put pants on.
BG: Did you work in the field?
BG: What kind of work did you do in the
EK: I had to get on the hay stacks and
stack. I had to get on the top of the stack and stomp it down.
The boys helped a lot. They made the corners and the front part
we stacked. So most of it was just walking around on it, for
me, I guess.
BG: What about the heddering? Do you remember
the heddering? What did you do with the heddering?
EK: Yes, I remember. I would drive the
horses. Not too much of that, but I did some.
BG: With the hedder box?
KK: I think you liked to kill gophers too,
EK: Yes, that was our pastime. We would
go to the pasture and catch gophers.
BG: How did you catch them?
EK: With traps and strings. We would make
those loops, snares. We would put it over the gopher hole. Then
we waited until he stuck his head out. Then you would kill them.
It doesn't look so funny now.
KK: Didn't you have to sit on a gopher
EK: I wish you didn't put that one in.
(laughter) We used to watch out for the gophers. My brother,
Raphael, went to get a pail of water. He told me I had to sit
on the hole until he came back, so the gopher wouldn't come
out. The gopher came up and bit me on the butt. I got off that
hole and I wouldn't go back anymore. It was really funny.
BG: The gopher wanted out?
EK: Yes. He wanted out and he bit me.
BG: Maybe he was hungry. Did it hurt?
EK: Well, yes!
BG: What did you do with the gophers? Did
you get money for them?
EK: Sometimes a penny, sometimes two cents
from the county. The county paid. That wasn't a bad price. That
was what they were paying us in the early 1960's, the Farmers
Union was paying us that.
BG: Did you need to whole carcass or just
EK: No, just the tail. We took a rock and
laid the tail on it. Then took another rock and hit it, and
the tail came off.
KK: I heard our neighbor Fettig girl, Johanna,
she caught the gophers, cut off the tails and let them go so
they would have more young ones and she could get more gophers
tails. They were raising gophers too. We were saving the tails.
We had them in a coffee can where they stunk so bad that when
we would take them in, they would take our word for how many
were in the can.
BG: If you did not do your chores, what
kind of discipline did you get? Did they spank you?
EK: Well, I think, I just never... Got
by. They didn't spank me. They just hollered at me. I just had
to go and get it. There was another chore. Our bread box was
back quite a ways. You had to got through a hallway and, of
course, everything was dark. I had to take whatever bread was
left-over from the meal, carry it into that hallway and put
it in that bread box. There again, all these awful things were
after me, I thought. At Christmas time, it was Santa Claus and
I used to wonder how big my eyes were when I walked through
BG: Santa Claus wasn't just a good guy?
EK: He was the Belzenickel. I never looked
forward to that Belzenickel to come. I was glad when the Christkindl
came, she was better. You know, that was so dumb. I should have
told my parents that I was so scared. Maybe they would have
given this job to one of my older sisters.
KK: That wouldn't have helped. They would
have made you do it anyway.
EK: I used to wish that they would eat
all of the bread so there wouldn't be any to take back. Sometimes
I got by, they ate it all.
BG: Where did you hear this about the ghosts?
Who told you they were there?
EK: Oh, sometimes... No, we didn't tell
these ghost stories. You picked them up from company. I would
hear these awful stories about ghosts and that really scared
me. It also came from the other kids.
BG: What about school? How many years did
you go to school?
EK: The eighth grade. I passed the eighth
BG: Did you go to school nine months or
how many months?
EK: No, it was only seven months.
BG: Did you begin in October?
EK: Usually. Sometimes they couldn't get
a teacher early enough. We had to wait to get a teacher. Then
when school was out, German school started. Where we learned
to read and write German, catechism, and instruction for Holy
Communion and confirmation.
BG: So, there was the religion school and
they were teaching German at the same time?
EK: Yes. We learned the (German) A B C's.
I went to the third grade. I quit after the third grade.
BG: In the German school? Later on, we
called it catechism school but in early days it was called German
school but it was really catechism.
EK: It really was. We had Bible stories.
BG: Who taught the school, the priest?
EK: No, the school master taught us to
read and instructed us.
BG: Who was the school master?
EK: Martin Braun. After Martin Braun, I
didn't go anymore.
BG: Was Martin Braun a good teacher?
EK: Well yes, he must have been.
BG: How many students did he have?
EK: More than a hundred, like a hundred
and nine or so.
BG: Can you imagine what it would be like
to teach over a hundred students?
BG: It probably helped that it was religion
EK: Well, he really had control. He knew
how to do it.
BG: Did you have upper level, from the
little kids up to the bigger kids?
EK: Yes, we had different grades. We would
have to come up and read. Those in the first book had to come
up and read, then the second, then the third, on up to the sixth
BG: When I went to catechism school, we
had two class rooms: the little kids in one class room and the
big ones in the other class room.
EK: No, we were all in one. It was just
BG: Did he have some students reading sometime
while he would instruct at a different level?
EK: No. He had to do it all at one time.
BG: It was all one deal, everybody went
KK: He must have been a busy teacher.
EK: No wonder he got headaches.
BG: When you went to winter school, how
were the teachers there? Did you have good teachers?
EK: Pretty good.
BG: Are there any special memories from
the school, from the winter school? Did you have to walk to
EK: We walked to school because we lived
close by, about a fourth of a mile.
KK: Didn't you have a teacher stay at your
house at one time, since your house was the closest to the school?
EK: One teacher spent all winter at the
school house. Miss Kelly stayed at the school house. That was
before I went to school.
BG: It was just a one room school?
EK: Yes. She had some kind of a bed. I
wasn't going to school yet when that happened.
BG: Where did the teachers come from?
EK: I know there was one from Virginia
and one from North Carolina. They must have come by train.
BG: Most of them were not German Russian?
EK: No. They couldn't speak German.
BG: There was a lot of school teachers
who came from the East. They met men here and married here and
then they stayed.
EK: Then later on, we didn't get those
from far away anymore. The farthest away was from Kulm. Her
name was Amy Johnson. She came from Kulm. She was my fifth or
sixth grade teacher.
KK: Mrs Barnes. I think she was one of
those teachers that came from the East and married here. Another,
I think, was Bernstein.
EK: You know, I think those girls were
better educated than the teachers we had from around here. We
had too many.... there were some who only went through the eight
grade, but we didn't have any of those. I had one, my seventh
and eighth grade teacher, with only two years of high school.
BG: Were there other nationalities in your
EK: It was all German.
BG: Just German Russian? Did you speak
German when you were outside at recess?
EK: We were forbidden to. We had to try
to speak English.
BG: What did they do if you talked German?
EK: I can't recall if anybody got punished,
but we were told we couldn't.
BG: We always got punished. We had to write,
"I will not speak German anymore," about 500 times or we would
have to stay after school and write, "I will not speak German
anymore." That was punishment for me. The main discipline problem
was getting us to always talk English. She was always catching
us because we were talking German. For every teacher, every
year that was always the biggest problem. Now the Indians complain
that the missionaries made them talk English and they were not
allowed to talk their Indian language. Now they are mad about
that. I would like to tell the Indians that I was mad too. They
were not the only ones that suffered.
EK: That's for sure.
KK: I've told my students that sometimes.
Even when I went to school, there were a number of kids who
still spoke German as their first language, in 1957, in my first
grade year. The nuns told us, we were not going to speak German
or they would wash our mouth out with soap. I think it was done
at times with certain kids.
BG: What kind of games would you play at
EK: Baseball. That was the best one.
BG: And when there was snow on the ground?
EK: Fox and geese, sleigh riding, ante-i-over
and stuff like that. Sometimes, we played in the school house.
On the stormy days, the teacher would play games with us.
BG: I think we have already talked about
this but what kind of discipline did the teachers use? How did
they make you behave?
EK: Standing in the corner was one thing.
BG: Did you think the town kids were smarter
than the farm kids? Did they get a better education or were
they better off?
EK: In some ways, I think so. What was
bad was when the farmer's kids would come to town to school.
The other kids would kind of laugh at the farmer's kids because
of the way they spoke English with the German brogue and the
way they were dressed.
KK: I know. I used to think... I don't
know how old I was, if I lived in town, I would not have to
study English in school because town kids already knew English.
So, I would not have to take that English course. I thought
if I lived in town, I wouldn't have to study it because I would
already know it.
EK: Well, there was a lot to learn.
BG: In what way was religion and church
education important in your up-bringing?
KK: It was greatly important?
EK: Yes, it was. You know what I think
sometimes? We had to learn the German prayers, the Our Father,
the Hail Mary, the Ten Commandments, and that was so very hard
because of the words. The German language is so much harder
to speak than the English. Don't you agree?
BG: Like when you learned...?
EK: Like when you say, the Our Father,
that is hard. Even if I can still say it. Then I think, I was
able to learn that because it seemed so hard to me, while the
English is so simple.
BG: You said it in High German. You couldn't
say it in your dialect.
EK: Oh no, we couldn't.
BG: I think the reason it was so hard was
because we spoke one language and we learned to pray in another.
The prayers were in the High German which was a different language
from the dialect we spoke.
KK: And that always was, all the way back
to Russia and even back to Germany. In Germany, they must have
used their own dialect for their prayers and such.
EK: No. You had to learn it like it says
in the book. The school master made you learn these prayers.
BG: The way it was in the book and not
the way we talked?
KK: So, there was no Bible other than the
High German Bible, and that went for all the rest of the religious
writings and teachings.
BG: Do you remember when Church switched
from German to English?
EK: Yes. It happened when Father Weberholdt
came to St. Anthony. The first sermon he gave was in German
and he didn't know it was not so great. It didn't go over so
good for him. He went back into the parish house and he cried.
BG: What about baptism and confirmation,
was that a big thing?
EK: Relations would come together. With
my brothers and sisters, I don't remember. I was one of the
youngest. But later on when my brothers got children, then it
was a kind of a celebration.
BG: Did you get the baptismal certificate
BG: Were your parents and grandparents
involved in starting a new church?
EK: Yes, they were.
BG: Did they talk about it?
EK: They talked about it, but you know
how it is when you are young, you don't listen good enough.
I know they were involved.
BG: How did your family respond to or behave
towards death? When somebody died?
EK: It was quite different than it is now.
It was very solemn. It was scary, it was more sorrowful, especially
in St. Anthony. When they buried a person, they immediately
lowered the coffin into the grave. Then the men would start
to throw the gravel on the coffin and it would make such a noise.
That was horrifying. It's much better now. That's better that
they don't put them in the grave right away.
BG: And did they sing that song?
EK: Oh, that song. That Schicksal? That's
BG: Did everybody cry?
EK: Oh, yes. That's what they wanted, I
think. I think they were looking for that and the people would
start crying. We didn't understand death then as we do now.
I know when my sister died, I was fourteen and she was eighteen.
That was very hard and you know, we don't ever get over it because
it wasn't explained to us. I couldn't get over it. I had all
this homesickness for her and all this grief. I never went to
my parents and told them how I felt.
BG: They wouldn't listen to you any how?
EK: Probably not. I don't know.
BG: At that time, children were just ignored.
When somebody died, the children were ignored?
EK: There was no counselors or no one to
explain to us or pay attention to the children. The children
had to cope with whatever they could.
EK: And then I would get so terribly homesick,
and I never told my parents how homesick I was, and why I was.
BG: For your sister, you mean?
EK: Yes. Then I didn't sing for a long
time and it was getting to be sometime toward fall. Alois said
to me that I should sing with him. I said,"I can't." Then he
told me our sister was better off in Heaven and that helped.
My parents could have helped me with this, but I never went
to them. I just held it all inside.
BG: You were how old when your sister died?
EK: I was fourteen.
BG: What did your sister die from?
EK: She had a sore throat all winter, she
had very bad tonsils. Then she got an ear infection and lost
part of her hearing. Dr. Simon used to wash it out, there were
no antibiotics at that time. After a while, she got awful tired
of those ear-aches. She pestered Dad to have her tonsils out.
Dr. Simon said, "Don't do it. She has infection and it will
kill her." My dad finally gave in to her and the week before
Easter, he took her to the hospital. They didn't do anything
about the infection but they just took her tonsils out. Then
she got pneumonia, double pneumonia, and Easter Saturday, she
died. That was a hard time.
BG: Was it really from the tonsils?
EK: Because she had infection, they should
not have cut on her. That was a big mistake they made. Dr. Simon
must have been a wise doctor and he said, "Don't do it."
BG: What kind of wake did you have then?
EK: She came home by train...
BG: She was in Bismarck in the hospital?
EK: Yes, she died at St. Alexius. They
brought her home by train and then on a truck to the farm. Of
course, that was very painful for us.
BG: To have her in the house on Easter
EK: Easter Monday. Was she buried Easter
Monday? I think it was Tuesday.
BG: Did a lot of people come to the house?
EK: Yes, a lot of people came and there
BG: Did they bring food?
EK: I don't recall.
BG: Did somebody stay up all night?
EK: Yes, somebody stayed up all night.
BG: Somebody stayed up by the coffin and
prayed all night?
EK: Yes. My grandmother would come and
BG: Do you remember those iron crosses
in the cemetery?
BG: Does anyone in your family have one
of those iron crosses?
BG: Does your family cherish any heirlooms
or objects of sentimental value that has been handed down to
your generation? Have you got anything from Russia? Does anybody
in your family have anything that came from Russia?
EK: I don't think so.
BG: Do you have a shawl that your mother
EK: Yes. Bertha has one. I don't have anything
much. She has the shawl, my mother's shawl.
BG: With the long fringes?
EK: Yes. I think she made it here. I don't
think it came from Russia.
BG: Do you know how to make that shawl?
EK: I haven't made one. I have an idea.
I used to sit and watch Ma do it.
BG: The Weinachten? How did you celebrate
EK: In a way you look forward to Christmas,
then again, there was that Belzenickel, that scared me. Although
he never did anything to me, I was still scared. So, I was glad
when it was over with. I got my doll, we always got a gift.
We always got something, goodies and a toy.
BG: Did you make baskets?
EK: Yes. We lined them. The outside we
put wall paper, there was always samples of wall paper that
my ma had, and we would fix up our baskets. We would put handles
on them, and put wallpaper around it. We thought they were pretty,
maybe they weren't.
BG: Where did you buy the paste?
EK: We made our own paste with corn starch.
Our teacher showed us how to make it.
BG: How did you do it?
EK: You mix a little water with the corn
starch, then you add boiling water to it and it is kind of transparent.
BG: Could you use flour?
EK: We never wanted to use flour. We always
used corn starch, it looks prettier. They would put little clove
spices in to make it smell good, that was our paste in school.
BG: It made it smell?
EK: Yes, a little cloves made it smell
BG: What did you do with those baskets?
You made them before Christmas?
EK: We made them before Christmas, then
after Christmas that was what we put our goodies in. There was
another problem with me, I wouldn't eat my stuff. That made
the other kids angry because I didn't eat mine, I saved it.
One time, the boys were searching until they found it and they
ate it all up.
BG: You were saving it until you were really
EK: Well, I'll tell you, sweet stuff like
candy never agreed with me. It was not a hardship for me to
save it. I got stomach aches if I ate too much.
BG: Who put the goodies into the basket?
EK: Well, Ma did but the Christkindl had
it under this material that was hanging over her, and she would
give us these baskets. First, she had this stick in her hand
and we would come there and we didn't know whether she would
hit us or not. That wasn't nice either. So, she finally gave
in and gave us the baskets. She had material and ribbons on
her head, she was decorated. I thought she was pretty. I don't
think that any more, but then I did. I thought it was pretty.
Now, do you remember the Essel, the donkey? I was scared. It
had a face like a mule, but it was all white with big designed
eyes and had strawberries hung on him. You could buy those candy
strawberries at that time. I thought that was so pretty. Then
they put a stick back, somehow didn't they? A stick in back
and covered with a sheet. He would come up to you and go, "gggurrrk".
That scared us. Christkindl has a present and the Essel comes
along and does this. Why did they go and put us through this
BG: What was the purpose of the donkey?
EK: I guess to try to help the Christkindl
to scare the kids like, "gggurrrk". That scared me.
BG: I suppose that goes way back to when
Mary and Joseph rode on the donkey, and everybody rode the donkeys.
EK: One year we had such a good Christkindl.
I think it was the good weather, they couldn't come to our place
and my sister was dressed up as a Christkindl. She was so nice,
but of course, we didn't know it was our sister, Margaret. We
were so happy because there was such a good Christkindl that
BG: Did you hear those stories before?
KK: Not really. I'm still wondering how
the Christkindl could put the things in the baskets. You didn't
see it when that happened?
EK: No, but Ma had done that earlier.
KK: Didn't you put the baskets outside?
Did she put the baskets outside earlier?
EK: They must have. I suppose they were
put somewhere in the entry way. Of course, we were too scared
to go in the entry way that night because you never knew when
Santa Claus would come. When Santa Claus came, he was shaking
heavy chains and making lots of noise.
BG: That was the Belzenickel. Did you ever
see the Belzenickel?
EK: Yes. He would come and knock on the
door. Then he would try to get in. Ma was trying to hold the
door shut. She would say, "Should I let him in?" Then we would
all scream, "No, no." She wouldn't let him in, and he had to
BG: So, this was a local person who had
come to your farm? They would go to several farms?
EK: To scare the kids and make them happy.
I don't know why the scary part had to be.
BG: Was the Christkindl also a roving around
person, usually? Somebody you didn't know or an uncle?
EK: Yes. They went around like that on
the sled to get to the farms.
BG: Did this happen every year?
BG: So there really was a Santa Claus for
EK: There really was a Belzenickel.
BG: That was before Midnight Mass? In the
evening around supper time?
EK: Yes. We would eat supper and then they
came. First, we would have supper. No doubt we all were nervous
and not eating much.
BG: What did you get in the baskets?
EK: Oh, nuts, candy, an apple and a orange.
It was unusual to get an orange so that was special. Another
thing, I would save that orange for a long time. Very seldom
did I get to eat it.
BG: Was the candy hard ribbon candy?
EK: There were some different kinds, including
BG: Was it 'boughten' candy, was it bought?
EK: Yes, it was bought. Candy was so cheap
then. You would get marshmallow cookies. That was some of the
stuff we got. Something different than you usually got.
BG: Did you get any toys?
EK: Yes. We always got dolls and little
tea cups and stuff.
BG: Were the toys bought? Did they buy
them in town or what?
EK: I don't know. I don't know where they
got them, possibly ordered them. There were a lot of wind up
toys. A guy that would jitter bug and things like that. Cars
that would run. It was interesting what the boys used to get
but we all got a gift. Then you'd get a harmonica or a horn
KK: What do you call those things. A top?
EK: Those tops, that was quite interesting.
BG: Were you already married in 1930? When
did you get married?
EK: I got married in 1940.
BG: During the Depression, you were still
home? Was there enough money for the toys and gifts?
EK: There was always something. We always
did get a gift from our parents.
BG: Was there anything special about Midnight
EK: There were the Christmas songs and
the Christmas tree. What used to be funny was your grandpa had
to watch the Christmas tree. There were wax candles on the Christmas
tree and you never knew when one of those candles would tip
over and the tree would catch on fire. So, he had to have a
rag, I think it was a wet rag. He must not have been able to
attend Mass very well because he had this tree to watch all
BG: He was standing by the tree?
EK: He was there by the tree in the front
pew. As soon a candle tipped over, there he was putting out
the fire. That was interesting to me. I thought the trees were
decorated so pretty.
BG: Was it a big tree?
EK: Yes. They were big trees.
BG: I wonder if they had live trees already
then? Where would they get a green tree?
EK: Yes, I wonder. They did have artificial
ones at that time.
BG: They probable did have an artificial.
They were so cheap.
EK: They probably ordered them from a catalog.
KK: What other decoration were on it besides
EK: Glass balls. There were balls already
and other things.
KK: Did the balls have long strings?
EK: Yes, they had nice decorations. The
women decorated it. It was nice, and there were icicles on it.
BG: There was?
EK: Yes, there was stuff like that.
KK: We called it the tannenbaum or did
you ever get the name?
BG: What about Easter? Did you make Easter
eggs at home when you were little?
EK: Yes, when we were little. We didn't
get to see them do that when were little. That was a day when
we had to stay outside. We couldn't understand why we couldn't
go in the house. The older girls saw to it that we stayed outside.
BG: What did you color the Easter eggs
with? Did you use cake dye or what colors did you have for the
EK: I think it is very much as it is now.
I don't remember but it was different color.
BG: Did your mother make dye?
EK: No, she bought the dye.
BG: Some people made it from onion skins.
EK: That's a hassle.
KK: We never did but we saw people who
used onion skins.
EK: We were always able to buy the dye.
BG: Were there any special activities at
church, special Easter activities?
EK: They sang the Passion. You know, the
passion of the Lord, they sang that. That was nice. I enjoyed
listening to it.
BG: What about weddings? Do remember any
weddings from when you were little? Did you get to go to any?
EK: Yes. One thing, the bottles were set
on the table and they could help themselves with this red eye
all day long. I guess some would get too much. Oh, the feast.
You would have a shot of red eye and then you would eat. Most
of the time it was Chicken noodle soup and that's about what
KK: At the church kitchen or the church
EK: No. At your house. The weddings were
in the houses.
BG: Maybe they didn't have church halls
then. The German school could have been used. They did start
to do that then. They went to the Octagon in Napoleon. That
KK: That was much later.
BG: When you got married, what did you
do? You got married in 1940.
EK: We went home to my parent's house to
eat and then maybe have some dancing.
BG: Did they dance in the afternoon?
EK: Yes, in the kitchen.
BG: Was your house big enough for dancing?
EK: Yes. Somehow it was always big enough.
No, it wasn't so big but the weddings weren't so big in the
house. You couldn't have too many people, closest relatives
and some neighbors.
BG: The accordionist sat on the table,
EK: Yes, it was set on the table. The table
was pushed in the corner and he was on there.
BG: Was it an accordion or did you actually
EK: They played an accordion.
BG: Did they have a pump organ?
EK: No, just an accordion.
KK: An accordion and a drum.
EK: I suppose so. There was a drum.
BG: Did you ever have a fiddle?
KK: Who played when you had a wedding?
EK: I think it was Frank Sperle.
BG: Did they ever have an dance in the
EK: Until about 10:00 o'clock. The dance
was at the house.
BG: You didn't go to Bernstead?
EK: No, just right at the house. There
was a noon meal and a supper. Then we danced a while and it
was time to go.
BG: Did they sing at the wedding? Did they
sing any German songs at your wedding?
EK: I don't remember at my wedding but
I remember at some weddings they did sing.
BG: Did they sing the 'bride's song' and
then did they cry?
EK: Yes. I never knew that song, I never
knew the words.
BG: My brother John come up with it. It
was a song giving advise to the bride. Pretty soon the mother
of the bride would cry, then pretty soon, all the women would
cry. ET: What a wedding!
BG: Can you remember any German poems?
EK: Not really. Not anything worth repeating,
I don't think.
BG: Did you have any special food at your
wedding? You had chicken soup?
EK: Kuchen I guess, and a cake.
BG: You had a cake? Who made the cake?
EK: I don't know.
BG: Did you have a Hochzeit Schnapps?
EK: There was red eye, I know. My folks
served cider. You bought it in barrels, about a 30 gallon barrel
of this cider and it was red. It was real good stuff, people
BG: Was that alcohol free?
EK: Yes, it was alcohol free.
BG: Did they have a special cook?
EK: Yes, I think it was Mrs. Matt Bitz,
Sr. was the cook.
BG: Did you have a white dress and veil?
BG: Who were your bride's maids?
EK: Frances Sperle and Maggie Kambeitz
were the bride's maids.
BG: What relation are Frances Sperle and
Maggie Kambeitz to you?
EK: Frances is a second cousin to my husband
and Maggie is Wendelin's sister.
BG: So, both of them were related to Wendelin
and you didn't get to pick one for yourself?
EK: Maggie was my confirmation sponsor.
So, I picked her.
BG: Was she older than you?
EK: Younger. I was her sponsor, I mean.
BG: You were her sponsor instead of the
other way around. Who was your best man?
EK: Wendelin had his godfather, Wendelin
Werner. He was their hired man when he was born so he became
his godfather and the other one was my brother, Alois.
BG: Did you have any special flowers?
EK: No. I didn't even carry flowers. I
carried a rosary. I didn't want flowers. I wanted to take a
BG: Did you take pictures?
EK: With the camera. We didn't have a photographer.
BG: Did you two have a wedding picture?
EK: Yes, I do.
BG: What social event did you have when
you were a teenager? Where did you go? It would have been in
the 1930. What did you do?
EK: There were dances at the community
hall, at St. Anthony's. We also had them in the granaries, clean
them out, and at people's houses. We also had birthday parties.
We went to town to dance at what is now the Golden Age, and
we also went to the Miller Hall. We went to movies. Later on,
when there was no more theater, we went to dances there, and
to Bernstead also. There was a hall in Bernstead where you could
go to dances.
BG: So that is where you met your husband,
he was a neighbor?
EK: No, it is not where I met him. He would
tell me, from when he was nine years old he always knew I would
be his wife. I wasn't interested in boys at that time. If he
would have told me then, I would have said, "Get out of here."
He told me when he was in German school he picked me to be his
BG: He had a very good eye. What outdoor
work was expected of women to do?
EK: Milking cows. You mean when I was at
home? Some women had to work hard in the fields.
BG: Did you have geese, chickens and ducks?
EK: Yes. We raised chicken and ducks as
our projects, and we had a garden. We made pickles and sauerkraut
in the cellar.
BG: Did you girls have to butcher anything?
EK: The chickens and all of the poultry.
BG: Did you learn how to butcher?
EK: Yes, I did.
BG: And you cut off the chicken's head?
EK: I did.
BG: Did you look the other way when you
EK: No, I didn't. I was tough, just like
when I caught a gopher last year in a trap and then I had to
kill this gopher. It wasn't fun anymore like it used to be.
I started to get feelings. I did it though. I had no choice.
I was here alone and I had to kill him. It's not funny.
BG: Do you remember any special German
food that your mother made and do you remember the smells of
EK: Yes, I do. I remember I liked the dumplings.
It was a good smell when she made the dumplings. When she made
that custard, Kuchen, that I thought was really good.
BG: Do you still make the German food?
Do you know how to make Borscht?
EK: Yes, I still cook the German food including
the Borscht and the Blajenda.
BG: Can you make Halupsy?
EK: I can but I don't make it anymore.
I make egg noodles. You call it 'rham' cream noodles.
KK: The egg noodles you used to cut by
EK: I didn't do much of it. I used to make
it but not much now.
BG: Do any of your children make any of
the German foods?
EK: They make the dumplings.
KK: Some of us make Kuchen.
EK: The Wedding Kuchen type.
EK: Did you have a lot of music in your
home when you were young?
EK: Yes, we did. My brothers were musical.
Leo played the banjo, the organ, and the guitar. Alois played
the guitar and the organ. All of us could play a little.
BG: Did your father play?
EK: No, but he got us the organ and the
phonograph. We danced with each other. He made us sing a lot
and he would sing with us. There was a lot of music in our home
which was good.
BG: Did your mother sing?
EK: No. All she would sing was when she
would put the baby to sleep but otherwise, she didn't sing.
BG: What did she sing?
EK: "Schlof, Kinder, Schlof." Those kind
of [German] songs from Russia.
BG: Do you know the rest of it? That is
EK: [Sings German song. Not translated
into English]. Now that is one of the songs she would sing.
KK: Were the songs self taught or did someone
teach you, like Leo? He is pretty good at music.
EK: Well, it was self taught.