On an Adventurous Mission to the
Auf abenteuerlicher Mission bei den Russlanddeutschen
By Fr. Eugen Reinhardt
Heimatbuch 2001/2002, Landsmannschaft
der Deutschen aus Russland, Stuttgart, Germany, Pages 118 - 121
Translation from German to English by Alex
Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
About the Author
Father Eugen Reinhardt was born on June 5, 1935,
in Strassburg near Odessa. His father was shot in 1938 by Soviet
"agents." His family arrived in Warthegau [Poland] in
1944 and, after an adventurous escape, to Waiblingen. Subsequent
to receiving the Abitur [the German educational system's
exam taken for qualification for university studies, tr.] in 1957,
Eugen Reinhardt entered theology studies in St. Augustine, USA,
and was ordained to the priesthood in 1964. After he had served
for 25 years in pastoral care in the Philippines, the German Bishops'
Conference appointed him as their official representative for
the spiritual care of the Germans from Russia. In 1999 he was
named "Ecclesiastical Visitor."
Pastor Dr. Johannes Florian Mueller (died March
7, 2000) and Prelate Hieronymous Menges were both born in 1910
in Karamurat in the area of Dobrudscha/Romania. Both were professors
at the Catholic Theological Academy and in the priests' seminary
in Bucharest. Subsequent to the strong earthquake of December
10, 1940, the seminary was moved to Untertoemoesch near Brasov/Kronstadt.
They were both Germans born in Romania and in 1941 volunteered
for a pastoral mission to the German villages in Ukraine.
In 1981 Dr. Johannes Mueller, a loyal friend
of the Germans from Russia, privately published the book Ostdeutsche
Schicksale am Schwarzen Meer [Eastern Fate of Germans in the Black
Sea Area]. An excerpt follows from the book, beginning on
Serving as Backpack Pastors in Russia
in Odessa, 1942
Toward the end of August of 1943, Menges and I,
together with the seminarians, arrived back in Toemoesch, dog
tired after a hike in the mountains. In front of the seminary
stood Father Pieger¹ deep in conversation with Archbishop
Cisar and Seminary Director Durkovitsch. As we passed them, Father
Pieger called out, "Your Excellency, here are two young priests.
Let them come with me to Russia." Then he began to talk,
with his natural enthusiasm, about German Catholic communities
in the Odessa region in Ukraine that had not had a priest for
fifteen years and now, as the German Wehrmacht was moving eastward,
were eagerly waiting for German priests to serve them. Father
Pieger's description of the spiritual poverty in Ukraine and his
own enthusiastic words convinced us: Menges and I volunteered
for "backpack pastoral service" in Russia. The Apostolic
Nuncio in Bucharest, Andrea Cassulo, provided us with the requisite
authorization papers, and via Marshall Ion Antonescu we acquired
special permission to serve in the rank of captain in the war
On December 21, 1943, we took a fast train from
Bucharest to Kishinev, where we were to introduce ourselves to
the high command of the Romanian Army, so that we would be permitted
to enter the war zone. We arrived at a hotel in Kishinev late
in the evening. The hotel had neither heat nor water. Everything
had been frozen due to the extreme cold. But we were happy to
have a bed to sleep in, because the train had been filled past
capacity with soldiers on their way to the front. And so we had
to pass the entire 17-hour trip either standing up or sitting
on the floor in the train car corridor. We went to bed with our
normal clothes on, plus overcoats and felt hats. In the morning,
due to Marshall Antonescu's recommendation, we received our military
papers right away and took the first train to continue toward
Odessa. In the evening we arrived in Tiraspol, a small city on
the Russian side of the Dnjestr River. The city was filled with
German and Romanian soldiers. We looked up the local military
commander and asked for quarters. However, nothing was available
for staying overnight. So we walked out to the train station,
which was located three miles outside of town. We were hoping
thereby to get on the first train to Odessa in the early morning.
The night was clear and very cold, down to minus 40 degrees [that
happens to be the same in Fahrenheit or Centigrade, tr.]. In an
attempt at keeping relatively warm, we marched in quick tempo
on the way to the rail station. Suddenly there was shooting at
the cemetery. We threw ourselves into the snow and awaited fearfully
what might happen. Three soldiers suddenly jumped up from behind
the cemetery wall. Brandishing machine guns, they shouted at us,
"Hands up!" I answered immediately in Romanian, "Don't
shoot! We are Romanian officers." They approached us and
demanded papers. Upon finding that we were priests in the rank
of captain, they saluted smartly. Then one of them asked whether
we had weapons. I told him we each had only a cross and a rosary.
With great astonishment, he made a huge sign of the cross and
said, "You need to know that there are many guerillas in
the area. We have just shot five Russian partisans at the cemetery.
Had you come five minutes earlier, you would both be dead."
He then told us that the train station was "up there"
nearby and that we should report to the German sentry there. The
station was full of soldiers and civilians lying around on the
In the train station there was a train for Odessa.
With great effort we were able to get into a cattle car that was
already overly full with Romanian soldiers. After several hours
we reached the so-called "liman," i.e., several small,
interconnected lakes northwest of Odessa. We knew that this was
the area in Ukraine where we would find the German villages. We
got off the train at the next station and marched off in God's
name. After about five kilometers we reached a long, stretched-out
village. Its layout and the large farmers' homes indicated that
this must be a German village -- it was Strassburg. We walked
on the long street toward the church. As we passed, people looked
at us in wonder. We entered the church of Strassburg. It was largely
empty, but clean. In the choir area there stood a table, on which
there was a Christmas tree and a large photo of Adolf Hitler.
The SS commander had announced a "German Christmas celebration"
for 7:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Several women and adolescents
were busy getting things ready for it. We entered the vestibule,
knelt down and prayed. The onlookers gaped at us as if struck
by lightning. Then we made the sign of the cross, got up and approached
them. "My dear people, we are Catholic priests and have come
to you to celebrate Christmas with you." Relieved and with
great joy, they kissed our hands, which were wet from their tears.
Anton, a 75-year-old but robust man, knelt down in front of me
and began to kiss my feet. When I tried to stop him, he spoke
tearfully, "Father, please let me kiss the feet that brought
you to us who have not had a priest for ten years."
Menges was taken by pony-drawn wagon to the community
of Kandel. I was provided with quarters in a farmer's home near
the church. We informed the people that we would celebrate Christmas
Mass at 10:00 p.m. in Strassburg and in Kandel on Christmas Eve.
Riders were sent out in order to take the happy news to neighboring
German colonies. After a bit of rest, I went to the church at
10:00 in the evening and found not only the church, but the entire
churchyard filled with people. I was barely able to make my way
through the throng of people toward the choir area of the church.
So on Christmas Eve 1943, another Holy Mass was celebrated after
ten years without one. I could not believe my ears when during
Christmas Mass those faithful folks began to sing our traditional
old Christmas songs. The singing was done with great enthusiasm
and ended in loud sobbing. It was an experience that cannot be
put into words. The happy news of God's saving message, which
Christ brought into the world during that Holy Night, was fully
During Christmas Day I also celebrated Mass in the
village of Baden and in the afternoon in Neu-Elsass. Menges conducted
Christmas services in the large church at Selz and in Mannheim.
The German colonies in this region were all very large communities
numbering 2,000 to 3,000 souls. Everywhere we went the churches
were filled beyond capacity with people who were so happy that
after so many years a priest had visited them again. During each
day of the following two weeks we celebrated Mass in a different
German community, and we baptized the children. Menges conferred
baptism on 320 children; I baptized 270 children in those two
weeks. With everything we needed for Mass packed in our backpacks,
we moved from community to community, celebrated Holy Mass, conferred
baptism and brought solace to the those who were sick or suffering.
The SS, who administered the German communities of Ukraine, became
alarmed at the throngs of people who were attracted to our divine
services. Menges was ordered to appear in Selz before the highest
SS officer in the area. Upon explaining his churchly assignment,
the SS commander told him, "We have no use here for such
heavenly comics. But as long as you stick to your churchly hocus-pocus
and do not get mixed up in politics or with other matters, you
can rest easily."
Soon, however, the SS were noticing more and more
the strong influence by the Church on the German Catholics in
Ukraine, so that orders were issued from the SS central command
in Landau that the activities of the Catholic priests were to
The pastoral care of Ukraine was centered in Odessa
under the administrative office of Bishop Markus Glaser, a German
born in Russia in the diocese of Saratov-Tiraspol, and Prelate
Nikolaus Pieger. We had duly informed Odessa of our arrival in
Ukraine. However, due to our constant meandering among the various
localities, our contact with Bishop Glaser had been lost.
Just after the Feast of the Three Kings, we took
the opportunity on January 14, 1944, to hitch a ride to Odessa
on a truck. Four kilometers outside of Odessa the truck became
stuck in the snow. Darkness had fallen, and Odessa was an area
feared for the presence of partisan guerillas. We left the truck
and continued on foot. It was slow going on the icy road against
a strong wind from the East. Menges and I walked ahead, behind
us the sexton from Strassburg. Suddenly I heard that the sexton
was talking excitedly with someone in Russian. I turned and asked,
"What does that guy want?" The man hurriedly jumped
behind a wall and disappeared. The sexton, visibly shaken, said,
"Father, you just saved our lives. It was a guerilla partisan,
who demanded at the point of his loaded pistol that I follow him.
When you turned around, he became startled and decided to flee,
because he must have thought he could not easily prevail against
three people." We were quite aware of the danger and knew
that a number of partisans would be awaiting us around the next
buildings. Hurriedly we turned toward a westerly direction and
walked into town in a long, roundabout way.
The snow was deep, and the wind was icy cold. Yet
we continued to stomp through the snow; fear of the Russian partisans
drove us forward. Shortly before 10:00 p.m. we finally arrived
at the house we had hoped to reach. I peered through the iced-over
windowpanes and saw Bishop Glaser sitting there, obviously worried,
while Prelate Pieger was pacing back and forth. We knocked on
the door and informed Father Pieger about our identities. After
we entered the room, covered with snow from head to toe, with
icicles on our foreheads, noses and beards, Father Pieger exclaimed,
"My, oh my, you look like polar bears!" Then he opened
a bottle of Crimean champagne, and so we celebrated with great
relief the meeting we had longed for, since both he and Bishop
Glaser had begun to fear that we had been shot dead by partisans.
In the summer of 1944, Menges and I again returned
to the Ukrainian communities, this time for a duration of three
months. During his spiritual service in the German colonist communities
of Ukraine, Menges baptized 3,800 children, witnessed the ecclesiastic
marriages of 1,700 couples, led 900 youth to their first Holy
Communion and gave the sacraments to many sick and many old people.²
Today we must both admit: it was the most beautiful time of our
pastoral activities as priests.
¹Prelate Nikolaus Pieger became special representative
of the German Episcopacy for the spiritual care of the Catholic
Germans from Russia. He preceded Fathers Peter Macht and Eugen
Reinhardt in that office.
²In his own modesty, Mueller credits Menges
for all their achievements, but in reality their successes must
be ascribed to both.
A Personal Note by the Translator
I was especially touched by this article, because
my family came in contact with Father Nikolaus Pieger, both while
we were still living in Ukraine under German occupation and also
in Germany after the war. By means of Father Pieger's witness
through written affidavits, based on his personal acquaintance
with our family, we were able to reestablish identity papers that
became of utmost importance during the process of our immigration
to the United States in 1953. I personally remain in possession
of a carbon copy of such an affidavit letter by Father Pieger.
It may well be that our family even came in contact with Fathers
Menges and/or Mueller during their "backpack pastoral care"
in the German areas of Ukraine, but I cannot attest to that because
I was too young at the time. And there is no evidence of it in
either of my parents' written memoirs. A. Herzog
Our appreciation is extended to Alex
Herzog for translation of this article.