The Final Christmas
in Bessarabia, 1939- The First Christmas in Germany,
Die Letzten Weihnachten in Bessarabien 1939
- die Ersten Weihnachten in Deutschland 1940
Ueltzhoefer, Erna (Kaldun). "The Final Christmas in Bessarabia, 1939- The First Christmas in Germany, 1940." Mitteilungsblatt, 20 December 2007, 1-2.
This translation from the original German-language
text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog,
For us children our beloved Christmas time was indeed
the most wonderful time of the year. The Christmas
Bazaar, which we always attended, provided us with
early and happy anticipation. It took place at the
Sportsverein [sports club] in Tarutino. The large
hall, with its gorgeous stage and the heavy, cornflower
blue curtain, was decorated for the Christmas season.
In front of the curtain, artfully crocheted covers
and doilies were offered for purchase. Filling the
entire hall were three long rows of tables arranged
end-to-end. The first row presented all sorts of food
items and drinks, fine baked goods, candies, waffles
and much more. In the second row there were hand-crafted
items and Christmas decorations, embroidered goods,
children's clothing and dolls. In the third row one
could find other hand-crafted goods such as wooden
toys made by pupils from the older grades.
For us girls of, say, ten to twelve years of age
this was a brightly lit, glittering, beaming fairytale
world. There we already had electric lighting, which
made for a powerful difference over the petroleum
lamps that were still providing light for all our
Only the main buildings and street lights were powered
by electricity. We nearly forgot that we must be at
home on time. The street lights were already burning.
Mother was already standing at the wall fence next
to the street and was looking for us to arrive. "Where
could they still be?" But as soon as she saw
our beaming faces and had heard about our joyous experiences
at the Christmas Bazaar, Mother's agitation was all
The market was offering Christmas trees - I don't
think that every family was able to get one, because
on the one hand there were never enough in supply
for a large village like Tarutino and, on the other,
the trees, having been imported from the Carpathian
Mountains and Sibengebuergen, were very expensive.
People were happy just to find small branches on
the street, which were likely dropped by someone else
taking a tree home.
Very apropos to this is a pretty song we loved to
The Christmas tree is the most beautiful tree we
have on this earth. In the smallest room - how lovely
even the smallest such miracle tree greens when its
lights are burning, lights are burning, yes, burning.
Christmas Eve was the highlight. Everyone in the
family would attend devotions in the gathering hall
of the Baptist community.
I can remember to this day how, with heart beating
and with serious stage fright, one had to recite a
small saying. Most of the time it worked out just
fine. Worship services were always very festive. And
while we were staring at the decorated Christmas tree,
the old well-known Christmas hymns we had learned
in Sunday school were intoned.
Sei uns mit Jubelschalle, Christkindlein, heute gegruesst.
Wir freuen uns alle, dass dein Geburtstag ist. Fuer
uns zur Welt geboren, lagst du auf Heu und Stroh,
sonst waeren wir verloren, jetzt sind wir froh. [Receive,
Christchild, with cheerful sounds, our greeting today.
We are all happy that today is your birthday. Born
for us into this world, you lay on a bed of hay and
straw, or we would otherwise be lost, but now we rejoice.]
or Welch ein Jubel, welche Freude. [Such jubilation,
From in front of the wondrously beautiful Christmas
tree each child received a gift, a small bag filled
with cookies and many other sweets. Then we would
sing "Oh, du froehliche." [Christmas song
to the tune of O Sanctissima - Tr.] After we arrived
at home, there was more giftgiving.
But first there would be a good meal, then the door
to the "good room" would be opened, and
there stood a beautifully decorated small tree. In
front of it there lay my doll, now wearing a new checkered,
pleated skirt and a white blouse. And for me there
was also a sweater. My older siblings also received
During the First Day of Christmas, a worship service
was held in the afternoon for all the school children.
We met at school, then went to the church that was
right next door, and there, too, each child received
a small bag containing all sorts of baked goodies
and candies. This was very special, because we never
received such good things during the rest of the year.
For some time, our small fir tree had its honored
place in the "good room." But as time passed,
decorations were gradually removed from the tree,
and eventually it landed outside in the yard. My mother
would sometimes snip off a twig and burn it so we
could enjoy the smell of the fir tree needles.
The resettlement to Germany occurred during 1940.
In mid-October we left Bessarabia and Tarutino, our
beloved home village. Following a journey by ship
on the Danube lasting several days, from the harbor
city of Reni to Prachovo (Yugoslavia), we continued
onward by train until we reached Bad Winsheim (Central
Franconia) and Waldheim ["Forest House"],
only about 20 kilometers [12 miles] farther. There
were only two houses in Waldheim. The building in
which people from Tarutino (around eighty persons)
were quartered had presumably housed a recuperation
home run by religious-order nuns, or a school. The
other building was an old folks home. The two buildings
were situated adjacent to a forest, down in a very
We had arrived there during late afternoon. It took
some time before we were all assigned rooms and found
out with whom we had to share a room. In our room,
there were beds one right next to another. My parents,
my sister, my brother and I, a man with a grown son,
and a young married couple with a baby - we were ten
people in all. But we immediately got along in this
Already in the building were a camp director (an
SS man), three Deaconess nuns and several kitchen
workers. They all were quite anxious to see what kind
of folks these Bessarabians were, what they looked
like, and whether they might be able to understand
us. Well, here we were, and to everyone's surprise
they also understood us. Meanwhile evening came, and
a gong sounded to indicate that supper was ready.
And just the way all of us took our places at table
that first time, that's the way it remained - for
Then something happened that I will never forget,
and the same for all who were present. Supper consisted
of spinach, boiled potatoes, and a fried egg for everyone.
The food we certainly tasted, but none of us was familiar
at all with spinach, so everyone went to bed hungry.
But in the course of time everything went well. Our
mothers began to help out in the kitchen, and thus
we had a genuine Bessarabian meal now and then, even
strudels and potatoes.
Very soon it was Advent time. Every Sunday morning
we received a small advent stollen [seasonal bread]
for breakfast. By the way, everyone was assigned some
kind of work. Women who volunteered were able to help
in the kitchen, others with the laundry and the ironing.
The men and all able-bodied youth had to work in ammunitions
factory in Oberdachstein. As mentioned above, the
building was situated deep in a valley and surrounded
by pine trees, ones that we had not seen in Bessarabia.
The smell of these pines was wonderful - and to get
to the bus station and the main street we had to walk
uphill through the pine forest, I can't remember how
many steps. This made for a kind of morning exercise
for everyone who had to go to work then.
Some of the young men had to report for medical examinations
for military service. School children like me - I
was twelve years old at the time - had to attend school
in Urvertshofen, a neighboring village. The children
there did not like us at all. Adjacent to the school
was a creek. At recess, the others would tear the
hats from our boy's heads and throw them into the
creek, while they pulled us girls by our braids. But
there were also some nice children who would even
share their buttered bread with us. None of us really
wanted to go to that school. The camp director seemed
to understand and allowed us to be schooled in the
During the medical examinations for military service,
the young man in our room, by the name of Otto Wonnenberg,
was inducted. And the way things were, some went out
celebrating. The young man came back to our room late,
while all of us were already asleep. Our room had
a bay window area, which contained his bed. He must
have confused the window for a door and fell out the
window, several meters down [ a meter is just over
three feet]. Someone heard a scream. It turned out
he was seriously injured and was taken to a hospital
in Ansbach., where he died very soon afterwards. It
was a big shock for all of our people, but especially
for those of us who lived in the same room with him.
During Advent, people made a lot of crafts by hand,
and the best products were reserved for presents.
Christmas Eve came, and the mess hall was decorated
festively, the tables had white covers, and there
was a large Christmas tree, decorated with pretty,
colorful balls and white cotton wool.
The camp director, wearing a black uniform, gave
the festive speech. I am unable to repeat it word
for word. He said something like: "Christmas
is celebrated because the Light of the World once
again burns and warms the people, because the evergreens
are still green, a renewal of nature." He did
not believe it was because some time back a child
with the name of Jesus had been born. He wished us
all a merry Christmas.
But somehow the Christmas spirit just did not come
up. Even the old trusted Christmas songs remained
muted - not a single one was sung. Over the radio
we were hearing new songs such as [here in somewhat
Deep night of bright stars, which stand like a far
bridge toward a deep, faraway distance, over which
our hearts reside. Mothers, for you all the fires,
all the candles are set. Deep in your hearts beats
the heart of the wide world.
For us a time has come which brings us great joy.
We wander across snow-covered fields, out into the
wide, white world. Brooks are sleeping, and lakes
lie under the ice, the forest dreams a deep dream.
Through the quietly falling snow we wander, wander
through the wide, white world. From the skies above
a gleaming stillness fills hearts with bliss. Under
a starlit tent we wander, wander through the wide,
We children were given presents, and that made us
happy. Every child received a present - a very nice
one, in fact. I got a question-and-answer game that
ran on batteries. Two colors would light up for "correct/wrong."
Our parents, however, must have gone to bed with other
thoughts. It was still the First Day of Christmas.
In the building we were quartered, in there was a
small, attached chapel that could be entered from
inside our building. Our mothers and the nuns had
convinced the camp director to allow them to use the
chapel for a brief devotion. People were happy and
joyous. Across from us was the old folks home, for
whose residents a Christmas pageant was presented
by the staff, who, to every one's astonishment, were
allowed to come across to our building and provide
us with some enjoyment as well. This was our first
Christmas in Germany, and for those who experienced
it that year it will likely remain in their memories
as long as they live!
Note: the remembrance of these times of my childhood
I owe to a stomach-intestinal virus, which for the
first time in my nearly eighty years caused me to
be bedridden on Christmas Eve!
Our appreciation is extend
to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.