On History's Trail
Auf den Spuren der Geschichte
A Journey to Odessa, Hoffnungstal, Severinovka, Nikolayev
Eine Reise nach Odessa, Hoffnungstal, Sewereinowka,
Nikolajew und Grossliebental
Holzwarth-Kocher, Angelika. "On History’s Trail." Volk auf dem Weg, January 2004, 29-30.
Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog,
Looking for traces was one of the major reasons for the journey
by our group of 7 in the summer of 2003. During the previous spring,
family members (mother, sister, aunt and cousin) and friends, ranging
in age from 38 to 77, had spontaneously decided to enter jointly
into this adventure called Ukraine -- open for anything and ready
to get involved in unexpected situations. Who at that time could
have foreseen what an unforgettable trip it could be! We had all
expressed our preferences, and so Odessa, Hoffnungstal, Severinovka
(a Russian village), Nikolayev, and Grossliebental became part of
For some of our traveling group it would mean a journey into the
past, and for the younger ones (those of us in our mid-Thirties
to mid-Forties), all born in Germany, it would be mainly a trip
that would breathe life into the stories our grandparents had told.
Our flight from Munich to Odessa proceeded smoothly, allowing everyone
to get lost in one's own thoughts. What was awaiting us? What were
we expecting? Hilda, Edith, and Frieda, who had some familiarity
with Hoffnungstal from their childhood, allowed the past to pass
review, but at the same they remained quite aware that 60 years
had passed since they left their homeland.
Moreover, Edith's younger years were inextricably bound up with
Severinovka. Ludmilla and two of her daughters were following the
traces of her husband's family, and she was especially eager for
her return to Nikolayev, the place of her birth.
Edwin, Elisabeth, and I were in a curious and expectant mood, because
this journey would finally make it possible for us to sort out all
the stories we had heard in our youth, and to see with our own eyes
where our grandparents and parents had grown up and lived.
With the help of Edwin Kelm, national chair of the Landsmannschaft
of Germans from Bessarabia, I had made the organizational arrangements
for the trip, and thanks to his years of experience the entrance
and customs formalities following our arrival in Odessa went without
a hitch. From the airport we rode directly to the Hotel "Black
Sea," ideal for our stay because of its central location. The
rest of that day had been set aside for walks in Odessa.
There is much to see in Odessa, a city that has changed in major
ways during recent years. Its broad streets have their own fascination,
and a stroll past the Pushkin memorial and a view of the harbor
are part of it; likewise, the people who amble through the streets
in the evening; here a cafe, there a shopping arcade. Adjacent,
too, decaying building facades. Partially uneven sidewalks, with
deep dips appearing suddenly, without warning to the pedestrian.
Numerous stores offering expensive brand-name wares, yet the multitude
of western automobile models cannot cover up obvious poverty of
We usually ate in small restaurants or, as we say at home, in "a
pub around the corner." Favorite dishes were pelmeni and vareniki
and, of course, not to be missed was an occasional plate of borsht.
To us tourists (!) everything was available at unbelievably favorable
And then came the first day of our excursions. At 9 AM, our driver,
Slava, and we took in our minibus set out toward Hoffnungstal, which
these days goes by the name of Zebrikovo. Excitedly, expectantly,
and eagerly, today and other days, we were awaiting the goal of
The sky was devoid of clouds and the sun was burning even as we
left Odessa. At first we were driving on a very good road, which
at home would be rated a national road. We passed endless fields,
including the famous Ukrainian sunflower fields; and we drove past
melons galore that had been piled up and were being sold by the
side of the road.
After we left the good road, we were soon bumping along on rather
adventurous paths, and at the time we were happy for the dry skies
that had been around for weeks, because we were spared getting stuck
in the often deep mud and at worst were risking a broken axle! Our
driver had the bus under optimal control. By now were very much
in the country, and I was thinking about the many long hours the
colonists had spent plodding their their way to Odessa in those
There were some signs, but few and far between in the direction
of Hoffnungstal/ Zebrikovo. Instead there were helpful people who
showed us the way. Road maps are one thing, the number of meandering
and crisscrossing roadways we met quite another. So we would turn,
then go straight, turn again, go back, turn off, and go straight
once again ...
Suddenly, without fanfare or announcement, we had arrived in Zebrikovo/
There, in that summer of 2003, we were standing on the village street
of the former German settlement that, during the 19th Century, covered
4,309 "desyatins" and was 100 "verst" from Odessa
and 50 "verst" east of Tiraspol and the Dynestr River.
The original village of Zebrikovo with its 17 unfinished houses
was at first intended to house Bulgarians, but instead was eventually
transformed by the German colonists into the comfortably well-off
village of Hoffnungstal. The name Hoffnungstal was officially designated
in 1819. So we were standing also on the village street where on
March 18, 1944 the Great Trek took off from Hoffnungstal, thereby
sealing the end of a flourishing community.
We quickly arranged for a place to meet our driver later on, and
off we went. We who "had come home" were not to be stopped,
age meant nothing, and hardly anyone was aware of the 38-degree
heat (Celsius, which is about 100 degrees Fahrenheit) that day.
Quickly we slung our cameras on our shoulders, and fortunately our
movie camera was also ready to roll, so there was nothing keeping
us from our grand inspection of the village.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.