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Memories of my Childhood in Bessarabia, Part 1

Ueltzhoefer, Erna Kaldun. "Memories of My Childhood in Bessarabia." Mitteilungsblatt, August 2009, 12-13.

This translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado


Translator's Note: The original writing tends to be a little choppy. I have not attempted to smooth it in translation. - Alex Herzog  

I would like to describe here as well as I can the first part of my life in Bessarabia, the time through my twelfth year of life. Together with my parents Anna and Wilhelm Kaldun and two older siblings, Alma and Waldemar, I lived in Tarutino, on the new street (on the village map you'll find it as "Blumenstrasse" [Flower Street]). 

In the Kindergarten [a group picture]

As far as I can remember, that time was entirely and completely characterized by Romanian rule, and I did not find it at all bad. For me the world was just right, even in those circumstances. I attended the Romanian kindergarten in the center row [of streets], and we had a Romanian teacher, who was an endearing person. We children all liked her. The bigger or perhaps older ones of us would often leave their house early and, usually carrying a small bunch of flowers, pick her up from her own home. Everyone wanted to carry something for her, be it her jacket or her bag - anything. She worked hard with us via various crafts and games, and with musical games she was able to introduce us rather easily to the Romanian language. In addition to the Romanian kindergarten there were two other kindergartens in our village. As much as I can remember, our teacher learned a lot from us German children - more than we learned the Romanian language from her.

After finishing kindergarten we attended the school which stood right next door. More and more, our German language receded into the background. On the walls in our classroom there were life-size pictures of domestic animals such as cats, and dogs, etc., all named in Romanian. Our reader and arithmetic books contained many pictures. Our school supplies consisted of a slate and a stylus, plus wooden sticks for counting. Tarutino had many small schools, two at each edge of town and a large one in the center.

In the center row of streets, close to the school, there was an old folks' home. During Holy Week we of the first garde sang a spring song for the folks and brought them eggs we had dyed. As of the fourth grade, we attended the large school, and from the fifth garde on, the German language was actually forbidden. We were even obliged to greet people in Romanian.

"Sonatate!" - that means "Gesundheit [to you health]!" Fortunately, we the German language was allowed in gymnasium [classical high school]. However, few were able to afford such a school. In elementary public school, only religion was allowed to be taught in German.

May 10 was a Romanian holiday - the birthday of King Karol. On the market plaza some stands were erected on which the Romanian government types presented themselves. A parade moved past the stand. First came the military, then many groups dressed in traditional clothing, then students from the gymnasium wearing their school uniform - the girls in dark green dresses and with white capes, the boys in dark blue pants and white shirts. Younger pupils wore dark blue dresses, white blouses and white shirts. The Little Pioneers came at the end. Certainly a colorful picture. Usually the weather was rather hot by the 10th of May. There was much being offered that day. Sometimes there was ice cream to celebrate the day.

Very close to our home there lived a young teacher couple, Herbert and Ida Koch, see Isert. They did not have children yet, but were very child-friendly, and we girls between the ages of seven and ten liked being there and were always welcome in their home. Summer vacations were always rather long. During threshing time, our parents had hardly any time for us, and so we were drawn even more to the Kochs' home. Herbert taught music and foreign languages at the gymnasium.

To this day I remain grateful for being able to read and spell, and this couple put out a lot for us children. Each child acquired the necessary school supplies, such as notebooks and writing materials, on its own initiative. Even musically we did not come up short. For Herbert Koch, being a music teacher, it was a priority to teach us German folk songs such as "Kein schoener Land in dieser Zeit [No more beautiful a land in these times]" or "Guten Abend, gut' Nacht [Good evening, good night (a lullaby - Tr.)]" and many others. He would say to us, "There may come a time when some of you might get to Germany, and there you might have to stand not even knowing a song. That would be very sad." The song "Kein schoener Land" to this day enjoys popularity at social gatherings, and I always think of him whenever I sing it. On the lot containing the Kochs' home there was also a small, old house that stood empty, and we were allowed to play in it. There were usually five or six of us girls. The highlight was playing "wedding." For such a great "feast," preparations were necessary. The room had to be cleaned well. The place where the church was supposed to be we always selected ahead of time. The wedding always took place in the garden house [gazebo]. We would gather and divide up the wedding party and, dressed in our finery, we would walk to the "church." On our return, coffee, baked goods and candies were on the table. Mr. Koch played an instrument to accompany our dancing and singing. We would perform folk dances we had learned from him. What a fine experience. Best of all, even today my cousin Elfriede and I still tell each other stories about those times. She usually was the groom at our weddings, but I can't remember who was the bride. In any case, it was always a beautiful wedding. With the Kochs we would also go on extensive outings, all the way to the edge of the woods or to the Mittelberg, and there was always a picnic basket. One day a new picture entered our small society. The Kochs were expecting. All of us girls naturally wished for a girl.

The day finally came. It was in June. There was a large bench in front of the house, and that's where we sat, all in a row, patiently awaiting the news. And suddenly there came the joyful message: "We have a girl!" After an appropriate wait, we were all allowed to see the newborn (looking only, no panting!). We were even able to celebrate the [child's] first baby before the resettlement happened (although in those days we were not really used to celebrating such a feast). For us this birthday celebration was something very special, and many guests came, some even by automobile. In honor of the occasion, we girls were all given a chance to rake a ride, the tour taking place from the first row of streets all the way to the market. The very first automobile ride of our lives - it was overwhelming!

Each summer a small circus and a carousel would come to our market place. At the time, the carousel still "ran" by people power. Three men were on its roof to swing the carousel into motion, and on the ground next to it a man would play they accordion during each ride. This entertainment equipment was always operated by Romanians or Russians. Naturally we always looked forward to this event. There was also a small booth selling sweets and drinks such as lemonade and Quast [a fermented drink]. The sweets included many a fine treat, e.g., a small cat made of sugar frosting, the cat wearing a small decoration around its neck including a small ring with a colorful stone. Usually this ring would even fit one of us, or we would simply exchange rings if it didn't. Also there were small bottles made of chocolate, colorfully wrapped candies, sugar cones, a sugar ring on a string, and roasted sunflower kernels.

The weekly market was also usually quite impressive: so many kinds of vegetables! For example, red, yellow and green peppers, tomatoes and those blue aubergines [eggplants]. Watermelons were heaped in large mounds in the form of a pyramid. The fruit market also provided many offerings, almost everything save bananas and oranges.

At the fish market the fish were placed on a large boxed wagon, resting among blocks of ice so that one could only barely see an occasional head or a fin.

Since the weather in the summer was usually very reliable, we often went swimming. Just outside the upper edge of town there was a dam, and that's where our little "beach" was. On one side the water was quite shallow, just right for children to learn to swim. On the opposite side it was rather deep. That's where the horses would be rinsed of their dust.

The threshing period of course did not pass without us, either. We helped as much as we could, but especially during the last phase when the horses came to the threshing place to pull sledges [laden with straw], and that's when we would be asked who would like to take a ride - they had to be weighted down. We were so happy to ride on the sledges and on the golden-yellow straw.

Often it was rather late when the final task of the day was completed. Anyone finishing earlier would always help the others. Threshing areas were arrayed adjoining and all in a single row. But after a hard day's work a good rest is very welcome, and we younger ones would usually be allowed to sleep with our elder siblings, barefoot on the huge pile of straw. We lay on the soft, warm straw, and above us was the star-studded sky - it could not be more pleasant. In my memory the Bessarabian sky always had more and larger stars - perhaps it was actually so?! My older siblings, and people of our own age, also maintain that this was so. Of course, by the time we fell asleep, the night was always very short!

(To be continued in the next issue of the Mitteilungsblatt)

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

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