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Mariental on the Kar’man River – Our Heartache and Our Love

A talk on the history of the village, delivered at a gathering of Marientalers in Osnabrück, Germany.

Lobes, Helmut, “Volk auf dem Weg, July, 2010, 42-44, concluded August-September, 2010, 36-38.

Translation from the Original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


Dear Countrymen,

It is very good that we loyal Marientalers, despite what separates us in time and space from our dear home village, are able to gather together again. In that vein, I wish to express a warm ‘Grüß Gott” and a sincere thank you to all participants and guests. Perhaps we can hereby provide a precedent that folks from Katharinenstadt, Frank, Balzer, Seemann – in brief, the descendants of folks from all twenty-two cantons in the Volga Republic -- might be able to emulate. Perhaps all of us might also come to the realization that we are Volga Germans who were driven off our homes, and that therefore we have truly something during these wild days of world history that we can try to hang onto, namely, our roots in the homeland villages and the heritage from our fathers in the Volga homeland.

So I am hoping, dear countrymen, for your approval when I allow myself to maintain that it is with this sense of responsibility to a higher task that we have gathered here. One of our people’s sayings states, “Ein Heimatvertriebener muss um so mehr Heimat in sich tragen, je weniger er davon hat. [A displaced person must carry in himself all the more homeland the less he actually has of it.]” Applied to our home village of Mariental, this statement concerns in particular the village’s unique history, the course of which comprises the core of the history of all Volga German people. For that reason it would be a very risky endeavor for me to illuminate that history in only half an hour. Let us therefore permit ourselves merely a few glimpses into it.

Of course one must begin with the river whose steep bank Mariental is located on. It is the great Kar’man, as the old Marientalers were to pronounce its name. It dug its bed deeply into the ground of the steppes and was thus one of the few rivers on the Wiesenseite [the so-called meadow side of the Volga River – Tr.] that contained flowing water the year around. Its steep banks, which once were covered with lovely forests of deciduous trees, frame a broad, picturesque valley, which can decorate itself properly only with the name of the Virgin Mary [the author does not explain this  – Tr.].

Here, some sixty-five verst [about seventy kilometers, or just over forty miles – Tr.] east of the “Cossack City” Pokrovsk, the first group of colonists consisting of 141 persons and led by Johannes Graf (35 years old) arrived on July 10, 1766 and on that same date founded the Graf colony. Four days later, on July 14, 1766, some 155 persons led by Georg Rohleder (58) arrived and founded the Rohleder colony. On July 16, 1766 there followed a transport of 355 persons, led by Peter Pfannenstiel (35), and it came to the site where the Pfannenstiel colony was established. And on July 14, 1766 a group of 114 persons led by Mathias Herzog founded the Herzog colony. Finally, 193 persons arriving on July 14, 1767 would found the Louis colony.

The dates when some of those “old Germans” arrived at sites on the banks of the Kar’man are considered the dates of founding of their respective colonies. For our Mariental this was the day of the establishment of the “Colony of the Leader Pfannenstiel.” Later it simply became “Pfannenstiel.” This naming convention the colonists used shows  how they wished thereby to establish a justifiable memorial to their group leaders, who unselfishly had led them throughout difficult travels from Germany, much like a father who takes good care of his children  Due to the time constraint we cannot pay more detailed attention to Peter Pfannenstiel today, except to point out for ourselves, in the words of our village chronicler Anton Schneider, that “he was a man blessed with many talents, not only mental ones.”

The group of colonists Peter Pfannenstiel led to Russia consisted of 180 men and women and 185 children, at least one being a mere month old. All 355 persons were of the Roman Catholic faith and they had come from forty-two different corners of “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.,” where they had been recruited by the Russian government during the previous year.
There they stood, speechless, looking at the “paradise” the Russian recruiter had promised them.

Nothing in that empty steppe pointed to any arrangements whatsoever for receiving these people, who had been selectively recruited for this very site. Their first and most urgent thought was: back to our homeland! That, of course, was out of the question for these poor folks. So the next step they had to take was to fashion temporary sod huts, making a start on their long-lasting struggle for survival. However, since the Saratov authorities had not even indicated an exact official site, the unsuspecting arrivals began to set up their dirt holes in the river valley which, they surmised, could protect them from wind and snow storms. During the next spring, then, the entire earthen hut colony was flooded by waters from the melting snow, so they all had to start from scratch again. The number of those who became ill or died during that phase remains unknown.

It took two to three years before the people were able to move from the earthen dugouts into the so-called crown’s houses that had gradually been constructed. However, they had hardly recovered from the shock of the initial years when they were threatened by an even greater misfortune. That misfortune emanated from a gruesome, bloodthirsty enemy that murdered, plundered and ruthlessly conducted kidnappings. We are talking about the Kirgiz-Kossacks we are already familiar with. For centuries these tribes had lived a nomadic life in the trans-Volga steppes, and they wished to resist with force the Russian Empire’s right to those steppes. For them the young, defenseless colonists were naturally easy prey. Unhindered, for years they destroyed and plundered the colonists, and often they either simply killed colonists or dragged them off to Asia and sold them at slave markets in Chiva, Buchara, and Samarkand.

One of the last murderous plunder campaigns – a second one to hit Pfannenstiel -- took place on  August 15, 1776 and was conducted by a horde of more than a thousand robbers. It proved to be the raid with the worst consequences. The date is written in blood in the Mariental church records.
Pastor Friedrich Dsrine reports for us in his piece Schön’ Ammi von Mariental und der Kirgizmichel [The Pretty Ammi and Michel, the Kirgiz]: “The day of the feast of Mary’s Assumption had just begun and an early bell had invited the Catholic residents of Mariental to the weekly Sunday service. And suddenly it happened: 
            From the steppe, in wild hordes,
            Bloody barbarians arrived  and
            Overcame Mariental …
            The quill is dropping from my hand:
            Indescribable murder and torture! …”   

The latter was quoted from David Kufeld in his song “Das Lied von Küster Deis [The Song of Sexton Deis],” chapter IX, “Die Schreckenstage zu Mariental [The Days of Horror in Mariental]:” Without these two pieces of literature it is impossible to speak authoritatively of the history of Mariental and of the Marientalers, or even of the history of the Volga Germans as such, for the history of the people clearly forms the basis for the content of these works. No wonder that both pieces were very popular with our ancestors, who “read them often, at younger and older ages.”

Again, our time constraint prevents us from going more deeply into these historic and literary treasures of our people.

So let me therefore return to our village. There, where, most of those who had been adducted, plus the animals, were actually rescued by the hussars sent after them, things looked really terrible. The survivors found themselves in a completely destroyed and ransacked Pfannenstiel. And at the colony cemetery, beneath two hills marking two mass graves, were laid to rest the “old Germans” -- the victims of the days of horror at Mariental beginning on August 15, 1776 … 

The dead bodies were said to have filled six wagons, which meant that the population had been reduced by more than half. Parents had lost their children, children their parents. Married people had been separated. Whole families had been extinguished. The tenuous order that had been established in the village, the painfully acquired experiences in the economic arena – all was destroyed and scattered. And on top of it all there was the insurmountable fear of more death and of defenselessness. Therefore it should be no surprise to us that sooner or later a number from Pfannenstiel and from neighboring villages decided to make their way back to Germany. However, they were able to progress only as far as Pokrovsk, where they were caught by Kossack bands and chased and whipped back to their places of residence.
 
A practically new, tough and bloody beginning was necessary. Of primary importance was the life of the community. Since their prayer house had been destroyed by the Kirgiz bands and “the will to remain was shaken,” they decided to build only a small, but fairly roomy prayer house for those times and conditions, constructed from oak and fir wood, and they named it “Assumption of the Most Holy Virgin Mary.” At the same time, our ancestors decided to rename Pfannenstiel, calling it Mariental from then on, not the least because of the beautiful Kar’man valley.  

Meanwhile, the generation of “old Germans,” who had completed their terrible destiny and had, for the most part, been murdered, dragged off to slave markets, or all too early succumbed to famine and epidemics, quietly and melancholically were dying off …

And now, dear countrymen, as the Landsmannschaft der Wolgadeutschen [Homeland Association of Volga Germans] gets ready to put up a memorial on the banks of the Rhine in the capital of Hessen, each of us, and those far away, should agree: This memorial must be dedicated to those “Old Germans.” They more than deserve it. And we, their descendants, have owed this to them for a long time.

To their children, that is, those first Volga German Marientalers, they did not bequeath riches in today’s sense. But they did leave to them “Pfannenstiel character traits” that had been steeled in the struggle for survival, such as diligence, courage, valor, steadiness, and loyalty. They also left to them those initial positive and negative experiences and the emerging sense of reverence and humility toward their new home and toward its soil, which was soaked with their blood and sweat.

Even the sons’ generation would hardly be able to turn to the work of economic, not to speak of cultural development. They spent their physical and moral efforts primarily for survival. Just the continuing abduction of animals the Kirgiz would wage past 1800, as if it were an exercise in open trade, had to render nearly impossible any real development to benefit the colonists.

Still, even if one considers the unbelievable arbitrary way our ancestors were being administered, especially as their previously special rights were suddenly rescinded  in 1782, it is astonishing how those ancestors of ours were able to hold their own and even increase their numbers to a considerable extent.

Only by 1797, when Tsar Paul I canceled the 1782 decree of his mother and granted the colonists their own administration via the guardianship office in Saratov, did a gradual economic upswing develop even for the Marientalers. Our ancestors finally attained a certain degree of prosperity, their population numbers grew, so in 1800 the Mariental community built a new church, and even that church had to be expanded in 1816. In the history of Mariental, the period between 1815 and 1871 can be called a general time of blossoming, a heyday as it were.

At the onset of this, let’s say, blissful era for our ancestors – in the words of our village chronicler, Schoolmaster Anton Schneider – our former clergy, seemingly forsaken by God, were being replaced by the paters, the Jesuits, who began to arrive in Mariental in 1802.                          
 
Anton Schneider writes as follows about these admired clerics: “They cared for purity of heart and conscience much more diligently than their own health or their own lives, and this purity was the strong bond of friendship and the grace of God.” One of these remarkable clerics, Pater Aloisius Moritz, according to A. Schneider, was considered a saint even in his own lifetime. In 1905 he died a saint among his parishioners and was buried in the old cemetery in Mariental. Later on a chapel was built above his grave, the so-called Kerchhofkapelle [cemetery chapel].

A second chapel,‘s Kapelje [diminutive of Kapelle – little chapel] stood on the opposite bank of the Kar’man river, just peeking over the orchards above the valley on the gently sloping side of Kirgiz Hill.

Looking ahead just a little, I must mention here that this chapel of “The Great Social Cultural Revolution,” (which, as is well known, was marked by pure robbery and destruction) would eventually fall victim to that revolution.

It is remarkable that in the early 1930s people would dare to sing a mocking song such as the following [dialect on the left, loose translation on the right- Tr.]: 
          
D’r erschte Kollektiv                            The very first collective
            hat’n Volkshaus,                                  has a community house,
Un’ d’r zwete gibt ‘m nix ‘raus                        The second one won’t return  a thing to anyone,
Un’ d’r dritte, liwe  Lait,                      And the third one, my dear people,
            Der find’ ke’ Haus.                              Can’t even find a home.
Ai jai, jai, usw.                                     Ay, yay, yay, etc.

In the end, the Kapelje “on the Kirgiz Hill” would indeed be torn down by “Collective # 3,” and replaced with a clubhouse. A few years later the same fate would befall the parish church in Herzog, and its bricks used in building the Mariental middle school. Well, all this would happen a few decades later, during the turbulent times of our own parents’ generation ...

But let us get back to their and our forefathers. During 1920, the Marientalers, with a heavy heart,  had to say good-bye to the Jesuits, who were expelled from Russia.

Having recovered spiritually and even materially during that era when the Jesuits served them so well, the number of Marientalers grew so strongly that they could not avoid building a new, larger stone church. By 1834 the building was completed and, as the village chronicler reports, “the highly laudable church stood ready as a bride in her wedding dress, and with grand festivities it was given the title Maria Himmelfahrt [Assumption of Mary] that same year.” By 1849, when the church was finally and officially dedicated, Mariental had developed into a magnificent and, by then counting 3,000 residents, the largest village on the Kar’man River. Eventually it would rise to the status of an administrative and spiritual-cultural center.

By 1859, the population of Mariental had grown to 3,663 residents and, despite several climate-induced poor harvests, the final five decades of Mariental history have been called a “Golden Time.”  In the same period its first daughter colony, Neu-Mariental, was established about 30 kilometers [18 miles] south-east of Mariental. But soon this period of calm was to end, too.       
 
1871 marked the time when the lives of the Marientalers would be deeply impacted by changes enacted by the Russian state. According to a law dated July 4, 1871, all rights that had been granted to the original German settlers by that same state and “in perpetuity” were now rescinded in full.

Affected the worst were the schools. In Mariental, as in all the other totally German communities, the schools were Russianized. But since the colloquial speech was German, and only German, school instruction, which had already become fairly stunted, sank to near standstill.

As the German settlements officially received Russian names, Mariental became Tonkoshurovka, which would henceforth be used in official communication – a change which naturally did not keep the Marientalers from calling their village by the name they had given it. The Colonist Office in Saratov was abolished, and the German communities were placed administratively under the Ministry of the Interior. This ministry was also charged with the watching over “foreign confessions.” And as of 1874 the sons of Mariental were subject to military service in the Russian army.  

Since all these measures were nothing but efforts at Russification, this threat caused great unrest among the Marientalers, and they reacted with strong resistance. For the first time they made it known that, for the sake of their ethnic existence and religious freedom, they would be willing to give up all economic advantages and even to give up their home to leave the country. Specifically, their statement read, “You may take away the success of our work, but let us keep our German language and families, our German schools and our churches.”  They were not heard …

Thus, in Mariental as elsewhere, by 1874 the great overseas emigration went into full swing, people heading to the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, etc. Then came the inflammatory statement contained in the 1881 manifesto of Tsar Alexander III, “Russia must be for Russians!” which would in effect “do the rest” in bringing nasty consequences to the colonists and to future generations of Germans in Russia.     

The exact number of emigrants from Mariental, Graf, Herzog, Rohleder, etc. is yet to be determined. The number must be considerable, if one takes into account the resulting colonies in the US, in Argentina, and in Brazil that were established by immigrants from the colonies we have just mentioned and that carried the name Mariental.

However, most Marientaler immigrants during that wave of immigration that lasted some fifty years were scattered into all directions and by now have disappeared without a trace.

Well, let’s get back to our Mariental. There the horrendous effects of World War I lasted for a long time. Young men eligible for military duty fulfilled it in the Tsarist Army. Decried as helpers to the Kaiser, they died in great numbers on the Turkish front and from hunger, typhus and the cold in the gorges of the Caucasus. News from them reached their home village only in indirect ways, for they were not allowed to write in German, and most did not know Russian sufficiently.

Meanwhile, their loved ones at home were living under the great shock of the “liquidation laws” enacted by the Russian Duma on February 2 and December 15, 1915. These laws called for even the Volga Germans to be deported to Siberia, with a target date of April, 1917. 

The revolution of February [1917] stopped this craziness at least temporarily. For now, at least, the agenda of the country in turmoil included this item, written with emphasis: “the right of peoples of the Russian Empire’ to self-determination.” In an effort to fashion this right favorably for itself, the entire Volga region saw the emergence of political movements and activities, in which the Marientalers participated, too. And thus it was accomplished:

“The cultural life of the German colonists, the use of their mother tongue in the schools, in local administration, in the courts, and in public life is, as stated in the Soviet Constitution, not subject to any limitation” --  thus read paragraph 7 of the decree of October 19, 1918 “on the formation of the region of Volga Germans.”   

But at what price!

The years 1918 and 1919 brought good harvests. Accordingly, in 1919 Mariental delivered, as prescribed by the state-ordered plan, 200,000 pud  [more than 7 million pounds] of grain. In return, the Marientalers received an official letter of thanks from the Soviet “President,” M. Kalinin, who in the summer of 1919 visited Katharinenstadt to secure bread for Moscow and Petrograd.

The summer of 1920, however, was a very dry one. Hot winds burned the grain fields to the ground. Still, the official plan called for Mariental to deliver 250,000 pud [over 9 million pounds] of grain. So in the fall of 1920, grain stores and all reserve stores were emptied by the state authorities. This naturally had to lead to strong dissatisfaction and deep unrest among the Marientalers.

At this point, I may remind the reader that Mariental was a large, strict, Catholic community with seriously religious residents. Mariental was the seat of the “prelature,” and Father Kraft was one of the eldest and most active priests among the Catholic villages of Mariental, Graf, Herzog, Louis, Rohleder and Liebental. Thus it was to be expected that this state-ordered robbery would not be without consequences. These consequences ended with an uprising, which was beaten down in a very bloody way by the Soviets. Mariental lost around 300 of its best farmers. Father Kraft and Father Gottlieb Beratz from Herzog were among those who were shot to death. During the spring of 1921, hardly any fields were prepared, and a subsequent dry spell destroyed anything that was sowed. Consequently a horrible famine visited the streets and the dried-up farmsteads of Mariental.

I must reiterate: lack of time prevents me from even beginning to describe sufficiently the horror and the mass dying that afflicted Mariental. Any one of us, however, has sufficient opportunities to fill any need for further information on this subject.

As reported in the book “Mariental – Sovietskoye” by the Marientalers Peter Hermann and Josef Gosnitz, printed by the publisher “Kasachstan,“ in the spring of 1922 Mariental counted 780 farmsteads and 4,570 residents, whereas at the beginning of the century the village had 2,000 farmsteads and 10,000 residents.

In 1922 the administrative counties in the Volga region were dissolved and turned into so-called cantons. The Mariental canton would comprise twenty villages, two sovchoses [state-run collectives] and a settlement near the railroad station Nachoi.

The year 1922 turned out to be a favorable one, and the surviving Marientalers were able to take a deep breath, even though the “successfully grown winter rye” had to be harvested by hand using crescents, scythes, rakes, and pitch forks. Draft animals were barely available, not even for the Ausreitstein. [In consultation with my cousin, Johannes Herzog, in Germany, I learned that this word is equivalent to Dreschstein, or Tretstein, namely, the hexagonal or octagonal stone about a meter in diameter used for threshing. It was pulled by a ridden (“Ausreit”) horse in a circular pattern over layers of grain brought in from the field. In this case, horses were not even available for this purpose.  – Tr.] 

The deceptive period of apparent calm did not last very long. After a few years, Mariental farmers, just like all the others in the entire region, would be subjected to a degree of economic and atheistic terror no one had ever seen before. It all began with the de-kulakization and the forced collectivization of all farmers and farms. [Kulak was the Stalinist/Soviet designation for any farmer who was or even appeared to be somewhat prosperous or “rich” – Tr.].  For Mariental this meant the immediate closure of the church, and the arrests and liquidation of all clerics.

By 1934 the church building was being used for grain storage. Then the altar was removed and the interior was completely transformed. On January 1, 1935 the building became the site for showing the first ever movie to the Marientalers. After that, everything speeded up even more. The approximately one hundred richest Mariental families were classified in three categories, dispossessed, and sent to Siberia. The remaining Mariental farmers were forced to join the collective. So, in the early 1930s, the Mariental kolchos [locally-operated collective farm] “N.K. Krupskaya” was established. The above-mentioned book by Peter Hermann and Josef Hosnitz describes in detail what went on in that kolchos.   

The Marientalers would no longer be able to lead a calm life. The atheistic and pseudo-economical craze was soon transformed into political state terror, and the hunt for people and the slaughter of newly discovered “enemies of the people” proceeded in great haste. That selected ethnic minorities would be declared as a group to be enemies of the people would only be a question of time and pretext.

Only three months after the stealth attack on Soviet Russia by Hitler’s Germany that time had come. The turn had come for the Volga Germans and the other Soviet Germans [to be branded enemies of the people].

On the morning of August 30, [1941] the Marientalers would read in their newspaper “Nachrichten [News],” the published decree by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR …

What happened to the Marientalers after that decree is generally well known. A few special concrete pieces of information have been given to us by the Marientaler Johannes Hermann, who as a seventeen-year-old was forced to go through the hell of Soviet concentration camps …

He writes: “Finally we arrived at Solikamsk. The railroad tracks ended here, so we had to go the next 200 kilometers [120 miles] on foot, and by February 23, 1942 we reached the Urals’ primal forest and the penal camp called Timsher. The original inmates had been transferred to another camp, and we were “sardine” in to take their places. We arrived at night, deathly tired, and as in a dream we crept into the barracks and fell asleep.

The next day, going outside and observing the camp, all of us sank into deep sadness. The question burned even more intensely, ‘Why? What are we guilty of? Why such a hard punishment without our time in court? Why are we in a penal camp? And there were a thousand more why’s.’ The camp was surrounded by a high wall consisting of posts that, tightly spaced, had been sunk into the earth. And at each corner there was a watch tower.    

The number of Mariental men remaining was forty-nine. The others had been taken elsewhere.”

Adjacent to this text [see below] is the “List of Marientaler Trud-Army-ists in the Timsher Camp.” I have retained all information provided to me by my countryman, and we agree on the entire list.

Side Bar listing forty-eight [not forty-nine names as indicated in the article text], and in most cases it is not obvious what the parenthetical information means; they may indicate fathers’ names, Note also that some first names also appear repeated as middle names - Tr.]:

  1. Hermann, Johannes, Adolf (Kaschper)
  2. Germann, Johannes, Johan (Matze Hanes)
  3. Hermann, Alexander (Weise Sander)
  4. Hermann, Peter (Weise Peter)
  5. Hermann, Leo (Weise Leo)
  6. Hermann, Peter, Peter (Weise Peter’s son)
  7. Hermann, Alexander (Hörige Bartel’s son)
  8. Hermann, Alexander (Hörige Sander’s son)
  9. Kinderknecht, Klemens (Felde)
  10. Kinderknecht , Adolf (Felde)
  11. Korbie, Johannes (Leader of field construction)
  12. Korbie, Peter Johannes
  13. Rische, Adolf (Stofels)
  14. Rische, Johannes (Stofels)
  15. Rische, Alois (Stofels)
  16. Hunger, Jakob (chairman)
  17. Seite, Alexander (Singseitz)
  18. Gosnitz, Ewald (Kundels)
  19. Scheffing, Viktor
  20. Scheffing, Eduard
  21. Wolf, Alois
  22. Wolf, Alexander
  23. Kohlmeier, Peter
  24. Kohlmeier, Alexander, Alexander
  25. Gerstner, Alexander
  26. Bartel (bookkeeper)
  27. Gerstner, Alexander (Gerstner’s Martin)
  28. Schemberger, Peter
  29. Hermann, Albert (Feine)
  30. Seitz, Albert
  31. Seitz, Alois
  32. Weigel, Hermann
  33. Rohr
  34. Hermann, Peter, Johann (Hörige Sander’s son)
  35. Kinderknecht, Adolf (Scheppeter)
  36. Kinderknecht, Josef (Scheppeter)
  37. Gosnitz, Johannes, Johann (Kundels)
  38. Hansen, Alois (Tinese Alwis)
  39. Schneider, Adolf
  40. Hermann, Anton, Lavrenti (Matze)
  41. Hermann, Johannes, Lavrenti ((Matze)
  42. Zwinger, Peter (Anne-Katrein)
  43. Zwinger, Rudolf (Anne-Katrein)
  44. Seitz, Nikolaus (Singseitz)
  45. Leirich, Theophil (teacher)
  46. Gerber, Johannes, Johannes (Andrese Hans)
  47. Schemberger, Leo (Scherese Klos)
  48. Obholz, Kasper

What happened to Mariental?

It appears that, in order to wipe away all traces of Marientalers, the village was renamed to Sovietskaya. This is remarkable, this name Sovietskaya! Instead of, say, Ivanovka, Sergeyevka, Shapovalovka, etc, -- if you’re going to rename a village,  … 

During that same fall of 1941 the village was back-filled with a contingent of refugees. However, by 1944 the same group of people would move westward, so that by 1946 a campaign to attract residents had to be launched in the western part of the country. 

What does the village look like today?

It lies in devastation, just as other places where people were driven away, be  it in East Prussia or in the Sudetenland, in Silesia or in the land of the Volga Germans. It is now nearly seventy years after the banishment! One cannot dismiss entirely the thought that here we are dealing with not only a crime against humanity, as in all other places from where banishment took place, but also of immeasurable sins before God and His Son Jesus Christ, of sins against the Holy Christian Church …

In Mariental of today,  it [the church], which 175 years back had been given the name “Assumption of the Most Holy Virgin Mary,” looks burned out, like so many others. Unimaginable! The church, in which generations of Marientalers were baptized, with which they lived their lives and in which they were buried … this church is now merely a burned-out ruin …       

Similarly, the last remaining distinctive features of our Mariental one can still lean on are gradually disappearing. Are we, in our inactivity and with our destructive indifference, not also guilty of this moral decay?

I personally was seriously bothered by this feeling as I stood in front of the burned-out church. And it was just that feeling that did not allow me to converse with today’s residents about the burning of this church that been desecrated long before. I feared that the reply might be, “Well, do you even need this temple anymore?

Today I ask you, dear countrymen, for an answer to this question. Do we, Marientalers and Volga Germans, need it? Are we even still interested in our Mariental, in our home villages, in the Volga homeland as such? If so, then we should very quickly combine our energies and our wills to make something happen toward the maintenance of our history and of our origins before the last vestiges of our ancestors are completely erased. It is seriously doubtful whether, without origins, a humanly dignified future is even possible.    

Youth group in the Mariental school museum
Frieda Dercho (right), chair of the Osnabrück chapter of the Landsmannschaft, who has spent  years of effort establishing contacts with Mariental, shown here in the village school museum
A small old home in today’s Mariental
Exhibit panels at the Mariental Convention in Osnabrück
Exhibit panels at the Mariental Convention in Osnabrück

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

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