Ancestral Villages of Local German-Russian
Raile, Penny. "Ancestral Villages of Local German-Russian Families Visited." St. Francis Herald, 1 August 1996.
The year 1885 brought the first of many German-Russian
families to Cheyenne County. The settlement northwest of St. Francis
was part of a large movement of German-Russian emigrants from
the Black Sea area that primarily settled in the Dakotas. (The
other German-Russians in Kansas were from the Volga area of Ukraine.)
Families with names such as Bandel, Burr, Eberhardt,
Feikert, Gienger, Hilt, Holzwarth, Keller, Knorr, Krein, Landenberger,
Leibbrandt, Lippert, Lutz, Miller, Ochsner, Peters, Raile, Rath,
Reichert, Rueb, Schauer, Schlepp, Schlittenhardt, Straub, Wagner,
Walz, Willt, Zimbleman, and Zweygardt settled in the area between
The German-Russian emigrants could trace their
ancestry to Germany in the late 1700's when Catherine the Great
and then later Alexander I offered them freedom of religion, freedom
from military service, freedom from taxes and, most important
of all perhaps, free land and the right to acquire additional
land in Ukraine.
The Germans settlers developed a rich agricultural
area in Ukraine. The Germans built their own churches, their own
schools, their own communities, and by the standards of their
new country, they prospered. Out of jealousy, this prosperity
caused the government to start taking away some of their special
The first change came in 1866 when the Germans
started to lose control of their schools. Russian instead of German
was decreed as the language of instruction in the German schools.
Then in 1874 the Military Law was introduced which abolished the
exemptions the German colonists had enjoyed for decades. Young
German men were eligible for conscription into the Russian Army
which was considered a death sentence in many cases.
Along with religious persecution and several years
of crop failure, the German colonists started a movement of relocation
to United States, Canada and South America. They were motivated
by the economic opportunities in the New World learned through
German newspapers printed in the United States and sent to the
Ukraine. Also, personal letters from pioneer emigrants described
a better life, and railroad agents were sent to persuade the Germans
to emigrate with the promise of homestead land.
The German inhabitants remaining in Russia when
the Bolsheviks staged their revolution in October 1917 had their
property confiscated by the Communists. Requisitioning and looting
of the colonies assumed alarming proportions. When Stalin announced
his "Five-Year-Plan" in October of 1928, collective farms were
established and German families were "resettled" (forcibly deported
to labor camps by cattle cars in Siberia and elsewhere).
For decades, life in those small German villages
in Ukraine which had long enjoyed an enviable reputation of prosperity,
were distant memories. Access to the villages by Americans was
almost impossible. However, North Dakota State University recently
organized a tour called The Journey to the Homeland to
visit the villages long thought destroyed by war and neglect.
Raymond and Fleda Raile of St. Francis and their
daughter, Penny Raile of Los Angeles, California joined the tour
group in June of 1996. After a week of touring southern Germany
and Alsace, France, they arrived in Odessa, Ukraine staying at
the Black Sea Hotel. The Railes were particularly interested in
visiting the Lutheran Glueckstal Colonies (Glueckstal, Neudorf,
Bergdorf and Kassel, which is now part of Moldova), the Lutheran
Beresan Colonies (Rohrbach, Worms, Waterloo) and the Lutheran
village of Hoffnungstal of the Bessarabian Villages. These were
the primary villages of the St. Francis emigrants. The village
of Sarata of the Bessarabian Villages (home of the Bandels and
Kellers), was visited by other tour members.
On their second day in Odessa, the Railes joined
by 32 of the 49 tour members, boarded an Intourist bus with six
interpreters. After a three hour drive over rough roads that included
crossing the Moldova border, they arrived in the village of Glueckstal.
They were greeted by the mayor of the small village of about 1,500
with the traditional Ukrainian ceremony of welcome that included
the presenting of bread and salt (khleb i sol') as a sign of hospitality.
After the welcoming, tour members spontaneously
dispersed through the village and were surprised by the warm-hearted
and zealous reception of the locals who insisted they come into
their homes for wine, cheese, buttermilk and bread. Many of these
homes were the original German-built homes that typically had
red tiled roofs, two windows in front, extra thick walls and sat
in large courtyards with summer kitchens, threshing areas, barns,
flower gardens and orchards. The old German Lutheran Church built
in 1845 still stood. Original flooring and architecture were visible
in the church that was being used as a cultural center. The tombstones
in the cemetery had been removed.
In the evening, a traditional Ukrainian meal was
served with singing and dancing at the local school. Late in the
evening, the very tired Americans retired to individual homes
of the locals only to find more food and wine waiting for them.
Not being able to speak each other's language did not deter anyone
from a memorable experience (including finding the outdoor facilities).
Early the next morning, the Americans boarded the
bus to continue their journey. The next stop of Neudorf, a thriving
beautiful village of about 1,000 people, was only a few miles
Many St. Francis families can trace their relatives
to the Neudorf village (Eberhardt, Feikert, Gienger, Krein, Landenberger,
Lippert, Miller, Raile, Schauer, Schlepp and Walz). The village
streets were lined with the fruit trees planted by the Germans
years ago. The bus first stopped at the old German Lutheran church
built in 1825 that was being used as a school. Once again, the
tour members immediately dispersed with old maps in hand to look
for ancestral homes. Many of the old German homes remained. The
Railes felt confident they located the Gottlieb Raile home that
was guarded by a ferocious goose. Unfortunately, time was limited
and the bus moved on to the third Glueckstal village called Bergdorf.
Bergdorf was smaller. The old German Lutheran church
built in 1851 and the pastor's home still remained. A statue of
Lenin was in front of the church now used as a cultural center.
Lenin statues were quite common throughout the villages and remained
only because no one wanted to take the time or expense to remove
them. The landscape in all of the Glueckstal villages was rich
with foliage. The hills were rolling and the wheat fields were
ready for harvest. The land is still owned by the government and
operated as a collective farm.
Time did not allow the group to visit the fourth
Glueckstal village of Kassel. A three hour "delay" at the Moldova/Ukrainian
border by guards that did not know what to do with a bus load
of Americans in torrential rain just added more adventure to the
For rest of the week, smaller groups of tour members
visited German villages closer to Odessa. Penny Raile and another
tour member were able to spend an entire day in the village of
Hoffnungstal. This village was home also to many St. Francis families
(Hilt, Leibbrandt, Rueb, Zweygardt). Fortunately with the help
of an Ukrainian interpreter and the luck of stumbling into the
only German left in the village, the two were able to document
a wealth of information about the village that had suffered very
little from the war. The old German Lutheran church stood in the
center of town. The wide streets were lined with mulberry and
cherry trees. The fruit supplemented an already hearty picnic
Word spread fast that Americans were in town. Curious
locals came out of their homes for a look, offered information
and willingly posed for pictures. The village transformed time
back one hundred years. Dairy animals grazed in the front yards.
Mother chickens, ducks and geese directed their young to safer
ground. Horse drawn hay wagons were driven through the town. Women
milked the cows and goats in the fields three times a day.
In the Old German cemetery, a few tombstones were
visible including the names of Bamesberger, Metzger, Fischer,
Krauss, and Keller. German cemeteries are hard to find in the
Ukraine since the Russians had used the markers for various things.
One group found markers with visible inscriptions used as the
under-structure of a dry creek bridge.
Several days later, the Railes headed for the Beresan
villages with a group of fifteen. Families from St. Francis that
can trace their roots to this area include the Holzwarths and
Zimbelmans. The villages of Rohrbach and Worms had suffered some
in the war, but the German homes could still be seen and older
locals fondly remembered the Germans as the ones who built beautiful
The old German Lutheran church in Worms was being
restored to a Russian Orthodox Church. The group was allowed to
crawl to the top of the steeple by the construction workers with
a series of homemade ladders and the assurance that everything
was safe. OSHA would have had a heart attack! The aerial view
from the top showed almost level land similar to northwest Kansas.
No woodland was visible. The wheat fields were ready for harvest,
and the sunflowers were just blooming.
The Journey to the Homeland was an opportunity
for the Railes and other German-Russians to return to the birthplaces
of parents and grandparents. Homes, schools and churches built
by ancestors were visited. Stories were heard of how the German
inhabitants had worked hard to make the land prosperous and the
villages beautiful. Old German emigration records were found in
the Odessa State Archives and plans will be made to retrieve the
Traveling in Ukraine taught the group to be flexible,
open-minded and not in a hurry. The accommodations were most adequate
despite daily unannounced turn off of water and electricity. Arriving
and departing the Odessa Airport was time consuming and annoying,
but at times quite comical. American dollars could be exchanged
to Ukrainian coupons (if you could find a bank with enough to
spare). Six dollars could make you a millionaire in coupons. While
there has been an increase in crime, the group felt safer in Ukraine
than in most North American cities. The biggest danger they faced
in Odessa was crossing the streets with drivers who ignore pedestrians.
With all of the inconveniences, everyone returned
to America feeling their dreams had been fulfilled. A bonus was
the heartfelt reception received from the Ukrainian people who
provided the group with a link to their ancestors. The American
visitors were moved by the generosity and kindness displayed every
More tours are being planned for 1997 and 1998.
For more information, contact Mike Miller at North Dakota State
University, P.O. Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105, Michael.Miller@ndsu.edu,
or by phone at 701-231-8416 or Penny Raile at 213-656-8084 in
||The village sign of Karmanova formerly call Neudorf. The
village was founded by Germans in 1809.
||Woman canning cherries in her front yard in Glueckstal (now
||Woman of Glueckstal (Glinnoje) taking her cow to graze in
||Horse and wagon in Rohrbach now know as Nowoswetlowka. The
village is about 66 miles from Odessa. Rohrbach was first
built in 1809.
||The old German Evangelical Lutheran church of Neudorf built
in 1825. The building is now used as a school.