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Reports from Journey to the Homeland: Germany and Ukraine, May 2008
Updated: 6/12/08


Hello from Odessa, Ukraine

24 May 2008
Internet Cafe
Odessa, Ukraine

Just a short note to let you know that our tour group arrived safely in Odessa, Ukraine on 22 May and all is well. We stayed at a hotel near the Frankfurt, Germany Airport for 21-22 May and then flew Frankfurt – Prague - Odessa on 22 May.

On 23 May, some tour members traveled to the Glueckstal villages in Moldova for an overnight stay returning to Odessa on 24 May. Other tour members went to visit villages in Bessarabia, Kutschurgan District, Beresan District and near Odessa.

We are waiting for tour members to return to Odessa from the Glueckstal District villages in the Trans Dnjestr Republic of Moldova. While returning from Glueckstal, they stopped in Neu Glueckstal and Kassel.

Ruth Tietz DeNault, San Clemente, CA, a native of New Leipzig, ND, returned with wonderful memories of her overnight stay in Leipzig, Bessarabia, at the home of her ancestors. She also visited Tarutino and Peterstal in Bessarabia.

Edward Hust of Medicine Hat, Alberta, visited the village of Rohrach, Beresan District. He was born and left the nearby village of Wiesental at the age of 9 in 1944.

Isabelle Roth Allen of British Columbia and her sister, Dorothy Roth Rapson of Alberta, traveled today to visit Speier, Beresan District, where their mother was born, and to Rastatt.

Other tour members and myself visited Elsass, Kandel and Selz of the Kutschurgan District villages. We went to the Elsass school to see the room for their museum. Elsass will celebrate their 200th Anniversary as a community and former German colony on 20 September 2008. Selz will celebrate its 200th anniversary for all of the six Kutschurgan District mother colonies with programs on 21 September 2008. Both of these September days will be important to the community of Germans from Russia with Kutschurgan ancestry in Germany, Canada and USA.

We will share memories from tour members when they have returned from the villages with another email message on Sunday, 25 May.

With best regards from Odessa,

Michael M. Miller

St. Michael’s Church, Kandel
Photograph taken by Michael M. Miller

 

Miller writes from Odessa, Ukraine

25 May 2008
Internet Cafe
Odessa, Ukraine

Just a short note to let you know that all is well with the tour members. Some tour members have gone to Odessa Opera House for the 6 pm performance of Madame Butterfly this Sunday evening.

This Sunday morning some of the tour members attended the church services at the St. Paul’s German Lutheran Church. There were two visiting pastors from Bavaria. The services were in German and Russian languages. We had an impressive tour of the parish offices and the restoration project of the church. The Bavarian House will have a new building by the church ready in 2009. This church was built in 1827 by the Germans living in Odessa and was heavily damaged until the re-construction began in recent years.

Melvin Bender of Alberta and Suzanne Haman Wanner of Illinois visited Kassel and two daughter colonies today. The Frahms of Florida traveled to Rohrbach in the Beresan District. James Hardt visited Gueldendorf near Odessa.

With the busy schedule and long days visiting the villages, tour members have not been able to prepare text of their personal memories of visiting former German villages, so we can send with an email message. It may be that we will send these memories via email from Stuttgart, Germany or when back in the USA.

On Monday, 26 May, we fly from Odessa to Prague, Czech Republic to Stuttgart, Germany staying there until 30 May. We will be visiting the Germans from Russia societies in Stuttgart on 27 May [Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland and the Bessarabiendeutschen Verein e.V.].

On 28 May, we will have a one-day bus tour of Alsace, France, where we will visit communities where tour members’ ancestors once lived before immigrating to South Russia [Ukraine and Moldova today].

With best wishes from Odessa,

Michael M. Miller

 

Hello from Stuttgart, Germany

27 May 2008
Internet Cafe
Stuttgart, Germany

We arrived safely in Stuttgart from Odessa, Ukraine, evening of 26 May.

Today we visited the headquarters of the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland and the Bessarabiendeutschen Verein. Ingo Isert, head of the Bessarabian German society visited with the tour group about the history and culture. The Bessarabiendeutschen Verein is preparing for their Bundestreffen or National Gathering for Sunday, 1 June where Horst Koehler, President of the Federal Republic of Germany, will speak. I am looking forward to attending this important event on Sunday.

Tour members will take a day trip to Alsace, France on 28 May and then they return to USA and Canada on 30 May.

Here are some memories from tour members of their visits to their ancestral German villages near Odessa, Ukraine between 23-25 May 2008:

Ruth Tietz DeNault, San Clemente, California, with roots to New Leipzig, North Dakota

"Yes, the trip home went well as did the entire tour.  I thank you deeply for this rich and meaningful experience in the former homeland of my grandparents and great grandparents.

I more fully understand their contributions to make this beautiful and productive land of farms, vineyards, and trees from the formerly open steppes.  Leaving this homeland for an uncertain future and hardship in a new land calls for profound admiration for their courage and faith.

The traditional German one story homes are easily identified by two windows on the street side and the entrances facing the L or U shaped series of out buildings.

The lovely church at Tarutino where my ancestors were married became a Nazi hospital during the occupation in World War II, and it was blown up when the Nazis retreated.  Today an administrative center is built on the foundation.

The driver, interpreter and I arrived in the village of Leipzig, home of my father's family John and Emilie Treichel Tietz and his parents, in a rain and hail storm.  The driver took refuge under a tree next to the school and a statue of Lenin.  I learned later that the community center across the street was partly built on the foundation of the former church.

The only German couple in Leipzig, Vladimir (Waldemar) and Lylya Reman, had returned from Germany to live in his mother's home.  It was immaculate. We left our shoes at the door and wore slippers.  Their hospitality was warm and generous.

Nothing remained of the cemetery in Leipzig. Today it is a field of grass and flowers.  A horse was tethered there.

Along the road we saw people cutting grass for hay and men loading hay into a wagon drawn by a donkey.  Everyone had large gardens.

Vladimir accompanied us north to Peterstal, now Petrovsk, the next morning to see the village where my grandmother was sent to work at age 12 when her father and grandfather died in a blizzard.  She was a baby sitter and shepherdess.  The countryside was more hilly and there were larger flocks of
sheep.

The villages have few young people, as they leave for the cities. Vladimir said he works part time as a stone mason in Moldova because the young people are not being trained in the trades.

The opportunity to see and experience these villages is a great blessing. Thank you for making this a possibility, Michael!"

Esther Opp Mertz, Napoleon, North Dakota, with roots to southeast of Dawson, North Dakota

“One of the highlights of this trip was definitely the search for the Neu Glueckstal village. The place where the former Glueckstal church stood was replaced by a school house.

Then it was a search for the cemetery where the Mertz ancestors had been buried. We searched where there was a big grove of lilac trees or tall bushes. There was a stone of cement in the form of a tree trunk as some later marker. Lilac bushes on grave sites was so common of early German settlers. After walking around, we found one tall monument in the grass, but could not read the writing on it. Also in the thick bushes were several more grave stone markers but could not be read them. This was the highlight of my trip and I am convinced it is where my great grandparents and roots of my ancestors on the Mertz´s are buried in Neu Glueckstal, today in Ukraine.”

Sylvia Feiock Frahm, Palm City, Florida, with roots to Towner, North Dakota

“This trip was a dream come true visiting and walking on the soil of my grandparents was a remarkable experience. We stayed overnight in Glueckstal with a wonderful family who were so gracious with fresh fruit and vegetables from their garden as well as eggs from their chickens. Leaving the village of Hoffnungsburg, I met an old woman who told me all about the cemetery of my ancestors.”

Emil Eberhardt, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with roots to Eureka, South Dakota

“I was impressed by the church buildings at the center of the villages. I was saddened by the disrepair of most churches. I was stunned how some of those churches were used for storage of grain. Some churches have been used for more respectful uses such as schools and community centers. As I looked at the church buildings in severe disrepair, I kept remembering, the church is not a building, the church is a people who call themselves followers of Jesus. That church will continue to exist and repair well in the future.”

Allean Mertz Boschee, Crookston, Minnesota, with roots to southeast of Dawson, North Dakota

“It was an experience of a lifetime to walk and visit where my ancestors came from. I better understand that many were hesitant to talk about their lives before coming to America. I can see many resemblances to the Dakotas such as beautiful valleys. But I felt a sadness that many of the churches were gone and so much destruction.

It was a joy to share this tour with family members and to make new friendships.”

Penny Kramer Eberhardt, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with roots to Ashley, North Dakota

“I better understand why our ancestors missed some parts of their life in Russia. The fertile soil, the large fields of wheat, the vineyards and fruit trees, where greatly missed when compared with the hilly rocky soil, no trees and endless wind in the Dakotas.

When I consider all the hardships our ancestors endured, first in Germany, then the long trip to Russia, the hard difficult years in Russia, the long ship ride to America, and finally the settling of the Dakota prairies, disease, childbirth complications, so forth - it is miracle that any one of us was born. I am grateful for each and everyone of my ancestral family.”

Julie Opp Burgum, Casselton, North Dakota, with roots to Napoleon, North Dakota

"Arriving at our ancestral village of Glueckstal was a highlight for me. A feast served in a private home consisted of potatoes, coleslaw, tomatoes, cucumbers and a Moldovian sausage. Added to that was a wonderful champagne and homemade wine. Tatana served a seven layer desert that was amazing! My mother, Esther Mertz Opp, sister, Pam, and myself had the proviledge of staying in the home of Marta Kamerer. She is the only German speaking person left in the village of Glueckstal. Marta's son, daughter-in-law, two grandchildren, and one great grandson live with Marta. She is 83 years old and reminded me of my grandmother - kerchief on head and apron around the waist. Even though there was not hot running water or bathroom in their home, there were so gracious to our group of three.

The next morning the family was getting ready for a special event - the last bell, last day of school for the year. The 16 year old grandson was dressed up and they had a beautiful spray of flowers for him. There was a shoe box on the table with tape around it. All of a sudden we heard a noise coming from the box and asked about it. It was some live doves to release during the school event. Marta sent us off with a bag full of fried kolaches, chocolate cookies and a bouquet of peoney flowers freshly cut from her garden. The whole experience was like stepping back in a bygone era."

Karen Boschee Horge, Grand Forks, North Dakota, with roots to Crookston, Minnesota and Napoleon, North Dakota

"Our trip to the villages was very interesting. The people were very kind and curious about us. The land is green and beautiful. We know why it was hard for our ancestors to leave. The people living there are Russian. The German people are long gone along with their homes and most of the churches are in bad shape or gone.

The people there are hard working and live very rustically. We saw many goats, cows, ducks, geese, chickens and horses. There are also large gardens of grapes, fruit trees, vegetables and flowers."

There isn't much left but I feel I understand much more and I’m so happy I came.

Beatrice Haman Tolle, Arvada, Colorado with roots to Towner, North Dakota

"Our trip to the Kutschurgan District villages started the day after our arrival in Odessa. A nice van awaited us and our first stop was Mannheim. Enroute the scenery was green with rolling hills much like areas in North Dakota. The areas were flat with luscious tall grains and grapes. Everyone had gardens with the women hoeing and the men culling hay with scythes, many years behind the farming equipment in North Dakota. The villages were small and people came out to their front gates to see who these strangers were walking their streets.

The most profound experience was walking around the ruins of the church in Kandel knowing that my father, Peter Haman, was baptized and made his first communion there. I gave thanks they had to leave this country. The war and Communism still is apparent with the poverty and the lack of employment in the small villages."

Pamela Opp Galegher, Thompson, North Dakota, with roots to Napoleon, North Dakota

"I enjoyed the old cemetery in Neu Glueckstal. It is on a hill separate from the village. It was very quiet and serene. A stork built a nest atop a tower near the cemetery. The tombstones were unreadable and the lilac bushes overgrown, but very peaceful."

Lori Gauper Kishel, Lita, Florida, with roots to Fargo and Napoleon, North Dakota

"From beginning to end this trip was organized perfectly. I had no idea how difficult it would be to get into the villages, but thanks to your wonderful guise, planning and experience, it went beautifully. I was also surprised by the warm reception we received from the village people. I know I will be exchanging emails and Christmas cards with my host family for years to come. Thank you so much for all you do for the Germans from Russia. It was such a blessing to be able to take a trip like this and even better that it was taken with family and so many new friends."

Isabelle Roth Allen, Kamloops, British Columbia, with roots to Bow Island, Alberta

"This was an unforgettable trip and brought my sister, Dorothy Roth Rapson, and me back to our roots. I especially enjoyed the trips to the village of our parents (and ancestors for that matter) and being where they live their lives. I have also come to appreciate the courage and tenacity these Germans from Russia carried with them and passed on to us.

This journey to the Homeland has been an awesome experience. After researching my families' history for over 30 years and then actually walking where they walked, was a moving experience. I could envision them working in the fields, cooking, tending their animals and going to church. Locating the Speier church, which our mother and her parents and brothers had very likely attended, was definitely the highlight of the trip. She and her mother had fled the village after the Bolschevik Revolution. The church was in good condition, having been refurbished by the local Ukrainian people. The Orthodox priest had set up a monument next to the church dedicated to the German Russians who had lived in Speier so many years ago.

We felt honored and inspired by their tribute. We performed our own tribute by sprinkling some southern Alberta soil near the monument in remembrance of our Hertz ancestors. In turn, we gathered a small amount of soil from the plot and will repeat our ceremony back home in southern Alberta where our parents are buried. We had also performed the ceremony in Kendal, the home our Roth ancestors."

Dorothy Roth Rapson, Bow Island, Alberta

"I have been reading all your emails from the precious trips to the Homeland, and always wished that I could be there too. So actually going with you on this trip was so awesome. The first day going to the Kutschurgan villages was so thrilling, and of course Kandel was our father's village. Being in the ruins of the church and then the cemetery where they would have walked was very heart warming.

The highlight of the trip of course was at Speier, where our mother was born and lived until she was 26 years old. The good part was that the church was still there and the cemetery. My sister, Isabelle, and I sprinkled our Alberta dirt there and at the Kandel cemetery. I was moved to tears there at Kandel and Speier, as I was always close to my parents. Thank you for this great experience."

Eduard Hust, Medicine Hat, Alberta, with roots to billages in Beresan District, Ukraine

"I enjoyed my trip to the Homeland. I thought that time would stay still for 64 years. But as a song goes, you can go home but you can't go back. I am happy I walked on the ground that my grandfather and grandmother walked and where I was born."

Melvin Bender, Medicine Hat, Alberta, with roots to Hilda, Alberta

"Grossliebental - Thanks to Alexander, the Deputy head of the Municipal Council, who took the guide and me around to the Germans from Russia public buildings and homes having great knowledge about the village history. The church has been renovated into an Orothodox Church.

Hoffnungstal - Thanks to the majority who took time from her Saturday day off to show us Germans from Russia resources at her office and to point out special homes. The church is now a disco theatre. We visited a root cellar.

Kassel - We had a great guide with Sergey. I had seen the ruins of church before from pictures. In addition, we located Woinitoschi and Freidorf, birthplaces of my grandparents, Bender and Eslinger."

Joanne Mertz Gauper, Fargo, North Dakota, with roots to Napoleon, North Dakota

"This has been an eye opening experience. Seeing the villages of our ancestors, and the burial sites was a highlight for me. Our hosts at the Glueckstal village were so gracious and cooked a wonderful meal. We partied into the night and left as friends. Sergey was such a help translating for us from Russian to English, staying the same home in Glueckstal. I will never forget this well planned and interesting trip. It was so educational."

William Hardt, Ashland, Oregon, with roots to St. Francis, Kansas

"The trip was unique in many ways and very interesting. I was most impressed by the church centered communities that were founded and built up to a thriving agricultural economy in less than 100 years. Then in the next 100 years, this was almost totally destroyed under state planning, Communism, and wars.

Even in Odessa, the people still suffer from repression and distrust. We can be thankful for our forefathers who had insight to leave for a free market system."

Kathleen Kuntz Wellmann, Hanska, Minnesota, with roots to Devils Lake, North Dakota

"I have dreamed of doing this trip for many years. Thank you for doing this tour. I will always remember being in the villages where my forefathers lived."

Suzanne Haman Wanner, Dahila, Illinois, with roots to Towner, North Dakota

"We visited Mannheim of my Schiele ancestors, Strassburg, Selz and Kandel of my Haman ancestors. We walked the streets in Mannheim village and soaked up the local flavor. Then we stopped at the home of an Armenian family who was making a flat bread that looks like lefsa but a different taste. They were making the Armenian bread to sell at the outdoor market in Odessa. They also treated us to homemade cheese and wine, which was phenomenal.

In Selz, we stopped at the home of Louisa Riesling. She showed us her house and the root cellar. The cellar was two huge rooms. Louisa was so hospitable and treated us to pickles from her cellar. She accompanied us to the church which is somewhat in ruins, but still reflects a beautiful architecture. We went to the cemetery, but just stones left.

In Kandel we saw the cemetery, but again not a lot there. The church was beautiful, but has suffered a fire and deterioration. However, just to know my Haman ancestors worshipped there, overwhelmed me with feelings unable to describe.

The next day we visited Elsass, where we went to the school to see the museum room. I presented the museum with a small wall quilt which they were excited to receive. The mayor joined us and had a nice discussion.

I also visited Kassel of the Glueckstal District villages of my Wanner family. We saw the church and visited four houses of Wanners. I saw the cemetery but was overgrown with lilac bushes. There is a memorial cross at the cemetery.

"Yes, the trip home went well as did the entire tour.  I thank you deeply for this rich and meaningful experience in the former homeland of my grandparents and great grandparents.

I more fully understand their contributions to make this beautiful and productive land of farms, vineyards, and trees from the formerly open steppes.  Leaving this homeland for an uncertain future and hardship in a new land calls for profound admiration for their courage and faith.

The traditional German one story homes are easily identified by two windows on the street side and the entrances facing the L or U shaped series of out buildings.

The lovely church at Tarutino where my ancestors were married became a Nazi hospital during the occupation in World War II, and it was blown up when the Nazis retreated.  Today an administrative center is built on the foundation.

The driver, interpreter and I arrived in the village of Leipzig, home of my father's family John and Emilie Treichel Tietz and his parents, in a rain and hail storm.  The driver took refuge under a tree next to the school and a statue of Lenin.  I learned later that the community center across the street was partly built on the foundation of the former church.

The only German couple in Leipzig, Vladimir (Waldemar) and Lylya Reman, had returned from Germany to live in his mother's home.  It was immaculate. We left our shoes at the door and wore slippers.  Their hospitality was warm and generous.

Nothing remained of the cemetery in Leipzig. Today it is a field of grass and flowers.  A horse was tethered there.

Along the road we saw people cutting grass for hay and men loading hay into a wagon drawn by a donkey.  Everyone had large gardens.

Vladimir accompanied us north to Peterstal, now Petrovsk, the next morning to see the village where my grandmother was sent to work at age 12 when her father and grandfather died in a blizzard.  She was a baby sitter and shepherdess.  The countryside was more hilly and there were larger flocks of
sheep.

The villages have few young people, as they leave for the cities. Vladimir said he works part time as a stone mason in Moldova because the young people are not being trained in the trades.

The opportunity to see and experience these villages is a great blessing. Thank you for making this a possibility, Michael!"

 

With best regards from Odessa,

Michael M. Miller



Hello from Hotel Astoria, Stuttgart

Hotel Astoria
City Center Stuttgart, Germany
30 May 2008

Just a note to let you that many of the Journey to the Homeland tour members leave from the Stuttgart Airport this morning to Amsterdam, Holland and on to destinations in the USA. Four tour members and I are staying additional days in Germany. I return to Fargo on 10 June.

On Thursday evening, 29 May, we had a memorable experience at the Haus der Heimat in Stuttgart with the Heimat Choir of Stuttgart, who are primarily Germans from Russia coming to Germany from the former Soviet Union in recent years. The choir was rehearsing for a performance on 1 June at Pforzheim, Germany for a festival of Germans from Russia choirs.

The tour members introduced themselves and their ancestral villages. Then the choir members each spoke in German telling where they were born, ancestral villages and when they came to Germany. They were from Siberia, Volga, Caucasus, Crimea, St. Petersburg, Black Sea and Kazakhstan. For many, they immigrated to Germany since 1991. One lady told how her father was taken from the family in the 1940s and sent to the Trud Army in Siberia never to be seen again. Her mother had to raise the family alone with great difficulties moving from Siberia to Kazakhstan and then to Kirgizen before coming to Germany 12 years ago. This family had to leave three homes during their life story only with their suitcases for Germany.

Choir members shared how grateful they are living in Germany and that their extended families are the other choir members.

This choir from Stuttgart was in North Dakota in July 1997 to perform at the GRHS Convention in Jamestown. Then they made a concert tour in North Dakota - Streeter, Napoleon, Strasburg, Assumption Abbey at Richardton, Dickinson and Bismarck. Three years ago they traveled to Argentina for concerts in Volga German communities.

On Sunday, 1 June, I am looking forward to attending the Bessarabian Bundestreffen in Ludwigsburg close to Stuttgart to meet many of our Bessarabian Germans.

With best wishes from Stuttgart,

Michael



Hello from Augsburg, Germany

Friday, 6 June 2008
Augsburg, Germany

Warmest regards from Augsburg on my way this afternoon to Munich, Germany.

On Sunday, 1 June at Ludwigsburg, Germany, I had the wonderful experience of attending the Bessarabian Bundestreffen at Ludwigsburg, north of Stuttgart. Horst Koehler, President of the Federal Republic of Germany, gave an emotional and historic presentation about what his family told him of leaving Bessarabia in 1940 for Poland with the German military. He shared how proud he is to be of Bessarabian German ancestry. Attendees wore name tags identifying their ancestral Bessarabian village of birth. The audience at this event was largely older, who were born in Bessarabia.

After visiting Munich, I look forward to returning to Stuttgart on 9 June to be at the home of Ruth and Stefan Kloetzel. Ruth worked for many years at the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland. She worked closely with Dr. Karl Stumpp with his research. Stefan was born in Mannheim, Kutschurgan District, near Odessa, Ukraine today. At age 19, he was drafted into the German military. Stefan has vivid memories of growing up in Mannheim. He has shared that from 1930 to 1941, his family and the Mannheim villagers never had enough food.

I look forward to returning to Fargo, North Dakota on 10 June from Stuttgart.

With best regards to all,

Michael

 

 

 

 

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
Libraries
NDSU Dept #2080
PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050
Tel: 701-231-8416
Fax: 701-231-6128
Last Updated:
Director: Michael M. Miller
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