Odessa - Strassburg - Tiraspol - After 45 Years
"Odessa – Strassburg – Tiraspol – After 45 Years." Aus der Katholischen Welt (From the Catholic World), April 1990.
Translation from German to English by Alma M. Herman
Interestingly enough, we were never stopped by the militia or other
authorities even though we did not serve the speed limits. We couldn't.
Many times we drove 500 km in one day because we wanted to spend
evenings in hotels. There were many Poles along the way, most of
whom drove sleepers that all looked alike. With gasoline there were
many problems, with diesel, on the other hand, we had no difficulties
worth mentioning. Our little PKW was often the center of amazement
and admiration because it ran with diesel.
At the entrance to the Czechoslovakian-Russian border (Ushgorod)
we ran into a dismaying problem. With a serious countenance, the
border official told us that our visas were valid only for entrance
to Russia, and that we had no visas for the return trip and under
no circumstances would he let us drive back. We swore to him that
not even while sleepwalking would we think of staying in Russia forever.
He told us that we should immediately go to Kiev to the Czech Consulate
and have him issue a return visa. We had no other choice but to
trust the guy. It is unbelievable that when we ordered the visas
from the Czechoslovakian authorities we could overlook something
so important. What tourist would want to go somewhere and not return!
The entire procedure in Kiev cost us much nervousness and lost time.
To add to the misery, we had no visa pictures. It took six hours
to have them made. When I tried to explain to the photographer that
in Germany and even Thailand or the Philippines automated equipment
could spit out even colored pictures in minutes, he just shook his
head in disbelief. At three o'clock in the afternoon we could at
last drive on to Odessa, 500 km away. We were to arrive there before
dark. At a speed of 80 km, legal in the Soviet Union, we would never
have made it, so we went at a very high speed. We arrived hungry
and thirsty at midnight. There were no rest stops on the way where
one might eat or drink.
As usual, the hotel restaurant was overfilled. We could not find
a place. The service was surly and unfriendly, as usual. Near 1:00
o'clock a small space became available to us.
A Russian, having slipped the management considerable money, was
permitted to force himself into a space beside us.
He immediately brought out his vodka bottle and offered us each
a shot. I tried one swallow and politely declined further consumption.
My brother could judge the quality of the vodka by my facial expression
We talked to the stranger. He said he was an artist who would be
showing his work at an art show. We soon keenly felt evidence of
an anti-German attitude, but he slowly thawed out. Whether it was
the alcohol that let him thaw out or our charming natures, I can't
say. He said that before the war many learned the German language,
but after the war English was preferred. In all the hotels one met
people who understood English, but seldom German.
What became unpleasant was the many money changers who followed
one constantly to exchange their worthless rubles for "valuta"
(hard currency). Officially, for 100 DM one received about 36 rubles.
The black marketeers, however, offered up to 500 rubles. That is
a lot of money, but one cannot buy anything. Taking rubles out of
the country is strictly forbidden. Near the border we stopped at
a place and gave a little old mother the last of our rubles. For
the first time in our lives we had more money than we could use.
The little old lady was surprised to death because the 80 rubles
was more than her monthly rent. Obviously, she thought of a heavenly
What gave me much food for thought and much to deal with was the
sense of worth; the scale of values by which the people lived, traded
and conducted business.
After every religious influence was prohibited and no private ownership
was left, a new set of values had to be formulated by force of need.
The attitude toward work changed. Without private property interest
grew less as did initiative and devotion to work. The idea of "mine"
and "yours" disappeared also.
In a conversation with teacher in Straßburg I asked her what
she would be teaching her students about values or value standards.
Astonished, she asked, "Which values -what are values?"
When I answered that one should not steal or lie, she laughed loudly
and said, "Literally, without stealing we cannot survive!"
I gave up on that and asked about her rent. She said that she paid
60 rubles per month and with that she showed me her Lenin medals,
or something similar, and proudly said that she never needs "Otscheretj”
(queues), has to be offered a seat on public transportation and
enjoys many various other privileges. What did she do to receive
this medal? Earler in Collective Farming she was an exemplary worker.
Later, she excelled as a teacher! Regarding religion, we could hardly
converse. The teacher said that there was no religious material
available. No books, no religious objects, simply nothing. Hardly
anyone left in the village had any knowledge about religion. Only
where little old mothers taught prayers to the children and gave
them some religious instruction did a little bit stick.
This blameless religious ignorance is a great problem for the younger
generation. They have no religious orientation. When they come to
the West they soon go under if it is not possible to influence them
in the very beginning. But this is a difficult undertaking because
the Russian Germans are scattered throughout the entire Federal
It is extremely difficult to introduce religion to a young person
as being something useful if he were thrown from an atheistic into
a capitalistic world without help and guidance.
The importance of this problem is so great that it is deeply disturbing
if one meditates over it even slightly. It is hard enough for a
Christian to live by his faith and profess it in a capitalistic
world. How much harder for one who comes out of the cold of atheism.
When one sees the sunflower fields in the Ukraine stretching to
the horizon and when one admires the far-reaching lands of fertile
black soil, he is overcome with sorrow and his own insignificance
at the same time. Once the granary of Europe, it has been reduced
to a poorhouse by a system that carries a curse. It enslaves many,
holding them in poverty and misery only to have a few enjoy the
Our appreciation is extended to Alma M. Herman for
translation of this article.