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Memories of Rastadt, Beresan District, Ukraine

By Eugenia Gaertner

Wingham, Ontario, March 24, 1998


Eugenia Gaertner, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1958
Eugenia Gaertner in the Canadian Rockies, 2006

My parents:
Raphael Anton Gartner b Dec 21, 1909 Rastadt, Beresan, d Jan 15,1984, Germany.
Katharina Mueller b Apr 15, 1911 Rastadt, Beresan, d Sept 10, 1997, Germany.

My mother's maternal grandparents:
Johannes Thaler & Katharina Lerner.

Mother's parents:
Markus Mueller 1864 – 1921
Anna Thaler 1868 – 1914

My mother's paternal grandparents:
Jakob Mueller & Barbara Geil.

My father's parents were:
Christian Gartner Born February 18, 1878, Rastadt, Beresan; Died April 4, 1956 near Lueneburg, Germany.
Margaretha Resch Born July 28, 1876 Rastadt, Beresan; Died May 27, 1944, Gnesen [near Poznan]

Father's maternal grandparents were:
Jakob Resch
Margaretha Ell

Father's paternal grandparents were:
Josef Gartner Born May 14, 1835
Elisabetha Federer November 15, 1840

I have the Gartner family tree in direct line back to 1650.

In 1819 Sebastian Gartner, Born February 20, 1773 in Kirchhausen, now part of Heilbronn,
left with his wife and 7 children to settle in Karlsruhe, Beresan, and later
moved to Rastadt. This Sebastian is my great-great-great-grandfather.

Sebastian's father, Ignaz, Born July 29, 1738 in Kirchhausen, also settled there.

I could not go back beyond 1650 because church records were burnt during
the 30 yr war.

I always wanted to write these things down for my descendants; from my own memory and as told to me by my parents, Raphael Anton Gaertner and Katharina, nee Mueller, and my grandfather Christian Gaertner, 1878-1956. Perhaps some of you will find it of interest.

Czar Peter the Great ruled Russia from 1689-1725. His aim was to bring Russia closer to Europe, to do this he needed immigrants. But it was Katharina II or Katharine the Great who colonized large parts of the Ukraine and other parts of Russia. She was a princess from Zerbst, Germany, and was crowned on June 28, 1762.

In December 1762 and July 1763 she sent her agents to Germany to offer would-be immigrants religious freedom, freedom of taxes for 30 years, no interest on loans for farms and businesses, no military obligation and self-government.

Napoleon and his army ravished Germany, there were droughts, and his army had to be fed by the people wherever he went.

The first immigrants for Russia left Germany between 1764 and 1767; 23,000–29,000 people, mainly from Hessen, but also from Baden, Elsass, Pfalz and Schwaben. Some settled near Petersburg but most went to the Volga River near Saratov.

The second wave settled in the Southern Ukraine on the North coast of the Black Sea up to the Dnjestr River. This was in the years 1775-1785, another wave followed up to the 1800's.

Every family got 60 Desjatinen farmland; 1 Desjatin being 10,200 square meters.

The place I was born in was called Rastadt, spelled Rastatt as well, and was settled in 1808; named after Rastatt on the Rhein River in Germany.

The settlers had to be good farmers or good craftsmen, not have any debts and have
300 Gulden to start. [Gulden was the German currency at that time]

Rastadt was a town located in the steppe, the area being called the Beresan, named after a river. The River Bug flows in the East, the Dnjestr in the West and the Black Sea is in the South.

The town was about 125 km North of Odessa. After WWII Rastadt disappeared stone by stone, brick by brick, we were told.

Every spring the Russian government sent out agents to bring immigrants into unsettled regions of Russia. With horses and wagons they went through Bohemia, Silesia and Galizia to the Russian border at Radziwillow. Here they sometimes rested for 2-3 months. Young people got married here and were now able to get their own homestead in the new land.

From here a guide would take them to Odessa and from there to their new home.

Every family got a building lot in the future town for a house, garden and outbuildings.
At the edge of town were the parcels of land for each farmer.

The land around Rastadt is mainly flat with rivers running through and gentle hills on the sides of the rivers. The soil is black, often to a depth of nearly a meter; sand and gravel bottom.

In 1871 the people of Rastadt built their new church out of cut stone from their own quarry.

The church was about 37 m long, about 15 m wide, 11 m high ceiling and the towers were 34 m high. The cemetery is located 200 m SE of the church.

The school had 5 large classrooms, was built from cut stone. 210 pupils were taught by 5 teachers, grades 1-8. [That is where I started School] I remember nice wide corridors; they looked to me that way, anyway!

In 1910 the town had 338 farmers and 198 families of trades people, teachers, etc; in all 3,807 people.

210 families left Rastadt to immigrate to Canada and the USA around 1900; 58 families left for Siberia.

A bride in the 1800's did not wear white; she wore a brown dress with small blue flowers, white stockings, a white cap, and black patent leather shoes. Beneath that cap she wore a wreath of myrtle on her head.

The bridesmaids wore white dresses. The groom wore a brown shirt with small blue flowers, a blue jacket and a black silk scarf; the groom's men wore their Sunday best.
My Gartner grandparents were married dressed in this way.

Easter, Pentecost and Christmas were big holidays, 2 days each, as is still the custom in
Germany.

The Christkindl would bring the candies etc; a young lady dressed in white with a veil being the Christkindl.

About 100,000 colonists left Germany and by 1914 there were 1.7 million Germans living in these colonies, owning 9.5 million hectares of land; 1 hectare = 10,000 sq meters, 1 sq mile = 256 hectare [ha]. 100 acres = 40 ha. 1 sq km = 250 acres = 100 ha

In 1887 politics changed and the colonists had to serve in the army. Many left Russia for the USA and Canada.

My paternal grandmother's brother, Johannes Resch, settled in Vibank, Saskatchewan,
Canada.

My paternal grandfather had 2 sisters and 2 brothers settle in Sask.

Franziska Selinger, nee Gaertner, Vibank, Sask.
Maria Eva Selinger, nee Gaertner, St Peter's Colony(?) Sask.
They married brothers.

My mother's oldest sister, Maria Eva Mueller, married Jakob Pfoh, lived in Holdfast, Sask. and is buried there.

Grandfather's brother Peter Gaertner married Felizia Nafziger and moved to Craik, Sask.

His brother Hironymus Gaertner married Magdalena(?) Daratha and moved to Dilke & Holdfast, Sask.

Rastadt, where I was born, was a beautiful town. A river wound its way the length of the town with rich lower land on both sides of the river. The river was the border of the town on the N side; on the South side were gentle hills. On these hills many different flowers bloomed from early spring to fall, white, yellow, purple and mixed colors, from crocus to thyme.

The rich lower land along the river's N side was used for community pasture for cows, horses, sheep, hogs, geese and ducks.

The strip along the river on the side of the town was used for wonderful gardens, the soil was rich and black to a depth of 3', and it often was flooded in spring.

Since the colonists had to be self-sufficient they dammed the river, it was not a very big river, and stocked it with fish. [I compare it to a prairie river, as it sometimes nearly dried out in the heat of the summer]

They set land aside and planted orchards and enough land for gardens which villagers could rent from the town.

Vineyards were established; grapevines and fruit trees were imported from Southern Germany.

The main street, Auguststrasse, ran along the river, with houses on both sides of the street.

Farmers had their farm buildings in town and drove out to the land. Each farmer had his own well.

Rastadt had its own quarry, so there were lots of stone houses built from cut stone; most had thatched roofs. I lived in one like that.

There was a stone wall around each farmyard, a farmyard being rather big, as a farmer had all kinds of animals: cows, horses, sheep, pigs, ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys.

We had a summer kitchen; it was being used only in summer for cooking as it kept the house cool during the hot time of the year.

In early spring the mother geese were using this kitchen to sit on their eggs for hatching their young; 1 month about. Each goose had a wicker basket about the size of a bushel basket.

They were very clean birds and were very proud and protective of their young. [And always after the hem of my dress!] That's how little Eugenia got dark blue spots on her chubby legs; geese have a lot of power in their bills.

From the street you entered through wrought iron gates into our farmyard, on the right was the well and the horse trough. The first building on the right was the summer kitchen, followed by the housing for the geese, chickens, pigs and sheep.

On the left was the front garden: the flower garden, here was also the wine cellar. After opening thick, heavy oak doors you could walk down stone steps and you were in a cool, cool cellar.

Next was the house, adjoining it Grandfather had his blacksmith shop, and then followed the housing for the horses and the cows.

Adjoining the farm buildings was the fruit and vegetable garden, a stone wall separating them to keep the garden safe from the animals. What I remember best are the cherries, the apricots, the grapes and the yellow plums.
Oh, yes, and all the different melons!! My fingers would stick together from the sweetness of the fruit juices.

In fall a man went from farm yard to farm yard with his horses and grape press. Father grew red and green [white] grapes for wine. We had huge [to me] oak barrels in the cellar for this purpose.

There was also the barrel of sauerkraut, the boxes of fine sand for root vegetables.

Mother never had to grow seeds in boxes to plant into the garden later, everything was just seeded in a row in the garden and thinned out later, tomatoes as well, and everything ripened on the plant.

Rastadt had a beautiful stone church, St Xavier, it was the model for the small church in Rastadt, Sask., near Kronau, Sask., near Regina, for this area of Sask. was settled by people from Rastadt in the Ukraine.

Rastadt, Ukr. had a nice school, a store, a pharmacy, a hospital, a mill to press sun- flowers for oil and one or 2 other mills. I remember the flour mill at the other end of town near Muenchen, the upper end of town. Muenchen was 1 or 2 km from Rastadt. Riga was across the river from my home.

I grew up at the lower part of town; my mother grew up in the upper part of town.

The river flowing through Rastadt was like a prairie river; sometimes it almost dried out with only pockets of water with frogs in them. How I loved those frogs!! I threw lumps of earth at them just to see them dive, could sit and watch them for hours. When I got tired I just laid down in the grass and slept.

When my father was a little boy, Mother's grandparents lived across the street and he would visit the old couple almost every day. He often had breakfast with them, sneaking out of his house early in the morning and snuggling in with my mother's Opa. Father often said: "I hope they know I married their granddaughter".

Nobody in town ever locked a door.

Traditions were carried on as they knew them from Germany. The language was a low
German, the towns were named after towns in Germany.

In some areas the towns’ people were of the Roman Catholic faith, in some they were
Lutheran and others were Mennonites.

Farmers grew: wheat, barley, oats, corn, millet, sunflowers, melons and grapes etc.

Since they mainly came from Southern Germany, they ate dishes made from flour, not so much from potatoes. Everything was homegrown. Yeast was not known, they grew their own hops for baking.

Every house had its oven for baking bread, in summer it was done in the summer kitchen.

Stoves and ovens were made from stone or brick and clay and were 2 separate items; one just to cook, the other just to bake.

The oven was coated with a thick, smooth layer of clay to keep in the heat, it was large and baked many loaves at the same time and did a wonderful job.

I do believe the climate must be the same as in the Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada, as there was snow and it did get quite cold, but we had prairie - like summers, hot and dry.

The fruit was much sweeter than anything I ever ate anywhere else - nothing comes close.
When the melons ripened in the fields one could smell them in town when the wind came from that direction. So could the dogs in town - they loved them!!

Our attic had rows of rust-free wire where we hung the grapes in bunches as they came off the vine; they dried and were used as raisins for baking and as munchies in winter.

We also dried apples, pears, plums and apricots. Spraying was not needed and not known back then.

We had an herb garden for the family's use; for cooking and for medicine.

The town hired young fellows to watch over the different animals of all the farmers in town when the animals were on pasture during the day.

One man looked after the horses, those that did not get used for farm work as there were no tractors yet. Someone looked after the cows and offspring, someone else after the pigs, yes; they too, were put on pasture, also the ducks and geese.

Toward evening they all came back into their own yard, got their grains and settled in for the night. Seldom was a strange animal in ones yard, as the young learned it from their parent.

All the farmer or his wife had to do was open the gate at the appropriate time, morning and night. It sure was a sight to be seen.

In 1917 was the Russian revolution. Things got worse for the German people in Russia as well. There were many famines; they were created by Stalin and his kind.

In those days seeds were not treated with poisons against bugs in the soil. The communists came and took the farmer's seeds away - even swept the floors of the granaries.

Without seed a farmer cannot grow a crop. Famine followed.

The Farmers' land was taken away, the family was allowed to live in the house, and this was in the year 1929. The family was allowed to keep one cow and a few chickens but had to give so much milk, butter and eggs to fill their quota. Very little was left over for the farm family.

Husband and wife had to work for the government for very little pay, often on the land they once owned.

Churches and Schools were closed. The priests, teachers, doctors, pharmacists etc were taken away, as were many farmers - never to be seen again. They had to work in the mines in Siberia etc.

During WWII, in 1942 the German soldiers came into our area and the farmers were given their land back.

On a beautiful sunny morning, March 14, 1944, we had to leave Rastadt around 8 a.m., I can still see the green meadows in the sunshine - I was 3 months short of my 8th Birthday.

Now we were refugees!!

The cows had been milked for the last time, Father opened all the gates and doors to the barns -the new lambs looked so cute - there would be no little goslings this spring!

We loaded up 2 wagons with necessities, one wagon for Grandma and Grandpa, one for us five. Father, 34 years old, Mother almost 33, me 7, Margaretha 4, Anna 16 months old.

Each wagon was drawn by 2 of our own horses. The "trek" started at the upper end of town, drove through town in orderly fashion; one neighbor following the other. When it was our turn our horses drove through our wrought iron gates one last time. How difficult it must have been for my parents and grandparents and all of the other adults, yet they were singing: Muss I denn...muss I denn....

We drove to a town called Hanowka [or Anowka] to the railroad station, where horses, wagons and people were loaded onto the railway cars. Only women, children and old men were allowed on those trains. The younger men like Father had to have another of their wagons and horses to haul ammunition for the German army.

We went by train until we had to stop because they were bombing the railroad tracks. The place was called Bender, Besserabia.

When the bombing stopped, Mother took us 3 children back to the tracks to say good-bye to her sister Julianna Benz who was dying in the "hospital car", still on those tracks. She was buried there, we heard years later.

From Bender we were taken to Darudjina, April 3 and 4, 1944.

We were loaded into a van this time but did not get very far. Easter 1944 we spent in that stripped van, 11 people from our town.

Three days and three nights we were stuck in a cold van, stuck in a snow bank and a blizzard without end it seemed. Anna's feet and legs got frostbite - Mother was worried about Anna losing her legs.

A little boy died of diarrhea and was buried in the snow. His mother and grandparents were with him.

When it was finally over a local farmer pulled us out with his horses.

In all that chaos there was order. We did meet Father again at a certain town. From there we went with him with our wagon and horses that he had been transporting ammunition with.

The other horses of ours we never saw again.

With Papa we trekked on to Hungary where we were allowed to rest a day or two. We all needed a rest by now, people and horses.

This rest took place on a big frozen pasture. Some straw was put on the ground and our bedding put on top. We slept on and under our wonderful featherbeds from home. In the morning Mama took some straw and brushed the freshly fallen snow off before we got up so our bedding would not get too damp.

Some time later we again were loaded onto a railcar and transported to the Warthegau where we arrived on May 14, 1944.

The schools were closed - they were needed to house the refugees - us!!

It was a one room school, a big room. On one side of the room there was lots of straw along the wall; on the other side were tables and benches.

Here we slept, ate, played and lived for a few weeks. After what we had been through, it was like heaven for us kids. Now we were warm and had a roof above us and one did not hear the noises of war.

It was a very small town called Hasenpoth, Kreis Eichenbrueck, not far from Posen [now called Poznan] My grandparents got placed into a town called Gnesen. There grandmother died on May 27 1944. Father and I took the train to go to her funeral and I carried the cross for her grave.

The lilacs were in full bloom and her grave was covered with them, both white and blue. To this day lilacs remind me of her.

After a few weeks of our arrival at Hasenpoth places were found for each family, rooms, that is.

Each family had a room in some farmer's house or in his worker's housing. This room was your family's bedroom, living room and kitchen, and if you were lucky, you had a tub large enough for a kid to take a bath in, in the middle of that same room.
Father was there with us - we felt blessed. But that soon would change. Father was drafted into the army and had to leave very early in the morning of Sept 1, 1944.

Two days later his brothers were drafted, now all 5 were in the army. They were sent to Paderborn, Germany for training, all of them never had a gun in their hand before, and most of them were farmers.

Soon after this Grandfather came to visit and asked Mama if he could stay with us, which was fine with all of us.

On Jan 18, 1945 once again we had to hit the road to get out of the way of the armies. Papa had gotten to know a farmer in Hasenpoth before he was drafted.

When the orders came to leave we no longer had any of our horses as the German government took them and the wagons. The farmer Papa befriended sent his daughter with a team of horses and a wagon for us to use.

Westward we trekked, Opa, Mama and we 3 little kids; this time of the year being the coldest!! From sun-up to sun-down we went.

The Warthegau now is part of Poland, the Warthe is a river.

At Schneidemuehl we entered Germany and at Belitz-Greifenhagen we crossed the Oder River. We were lucky - shortly after our crossing they closed it for the refugees as they mined the bridge - the Russians were too close.

At a small town called Berlinchen, about 60 km from Berlin, we almost did not make it any further. The Russians had broken through the German line with 7 tanks. We had just stopped to make a warm lunch and Mama went to the small store in town to buy some pasta as it does not take long to cook and it stores well. The lady in the store had the radio on and suddenly the music stopped and a male voice said: Achtung, Achtung, flee immediately.

We never did get that much needed warm lunch but we all lived to tell about it.

When we crossed the Oder River there was lots of snow, it crunched when we walked and the sun was very bright; it was in the morning and was ever so cold, I remember it to this day.

In Germany, January/February is the coldest time of the winter; and here we were living on the road: a young mother, her three little girls and an old man.

On Feb 18, 1945 we arrived at our destination: Kolkhagen, 15 km South of Lueneburg in Lower Saxony, Germany, a very small farming town. Two adjoining rooms were found for us in the School house, where the teacher and his family had their living quarters as well.

I had started school in Rastadt and now after a while, when school started up again, I could go to school once more. We did not learn very much for we spent a lot of time in the shelters because of air raids. We would have been safer in the classroom as the "shelter" was just ditches dug into a sand hill behind the school and covered up with boards and sand on top.

In that one-room school I went up to grade 8, so did Margaretha and Anna, my sisters.

Mama worked on the farm next to the school, just for food, as food was not plentiful anywhere.

We never were hungry though. Everyone had food stamps, without them there was no food.

Everything was difficult to get so people bartered. If you did not smoke you had something to barter with - the stamps for cigarettes or the cigarettes themselves.

On June 12, 1948 Papa returned to us, having been a POW in England. None of the five brothers were injured during the war. Papa met his brother Joseph in England and brought him and Papa's best friend home with him when he was released. The families of Joseph and of his friend were caught by the Russians; the wives died there and the children were able to come back to Germany after the Berlin wall came down in 1989.
I never forget how happy we were when Papa finally was home again.

That war took 2 of my cousins: Paul Mueller and Raphael Mueller and Uncle Johann Fritz, Papa's brother -in - law. His family too, came back after the wall came down.

Papa was home now, the Reichsmark became the Deutsche Mark; an exchange of 10-1, for 10 RM you got 1 DM, however there was a limit to what one could exchange.

Before the DM arrived the shops were empty - overnight they were full to the brim after we had the new money.

Every family got 60.00 DM [if I remember correctly] That was my parents' new beginning; 3 children and 3 adults to care for and no jobs for anyone - everything was in ruins.

For 2 years the 3 men were without jobs, but there were berries in the woods and ditches and lots and lots of mushrooms of all kinds in the woods. People were hungry; any food could be sold easily. We picked blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, elderberries, etc.

Soon after we got to Kolkhagen in Feb 1945 Mama traded some cigarettes for a pregnant rabbit, got a dozen day-old chicks, so one fine day in the future we would have our own eggs!!

Well, they were good at sorting the chicks by sex even at that young stage. We had one hen and 11 roosters, but the roosters tasted good!! Since nothing got sprayed in those days we could pick the grass growing in the ditches for our now plentiful rabbits; we made hay for them to eat in the winter.

Grandfather had made the cages for the rabbits from bits of discarded wood and chicken wire soon after we arrived in Kolkhagen.

I remember his smiling face when he returned from the town dump one day carrying a wheel of a bike with some spokes in it yet. He must have borrowed some tools, for we had none, and made Mama 2 sets of knitting needles; what luxury. Five short knitting needles for knitting socks and mitts and a pair of long needles for knitting sweaters and such. With stones he smoothed the points so we could knit beautifully with them.

One day Mama took some stuff to the dump, she found a relic of a large basket - just hanging in shreds. She put her treasure into the woodshed and set about to gather willow twigs, soaking them and weaving them into a beauty of a basket, using the relic as her pattern. Because of our mother life was so much better for us than for a lot of others around us. That wonderful lady could make things out of almost nothing. Mama was way ahead of her times - she was liberated long before anyone ever thought about it!!

When you loose your mother at 2 years of age, your father at 10, you learn to look after yourself early in life, she used to tell me.

For all of us living in 2 rooms was quite difficult, so when the first opportunity arose to buy a place of their own Mama and Papa jumped at it and fixed it up and we moved in - how nice that felt. Now we had an even bigger garden, chickens and 2 pigs and the rabbits. That rabbit liver sausage she made was wonderful; one can't buy tasty sausage like that.

This was in 1951.

Some time before we moved the 3 men were able to get a job in a saw mill and construction company. Now Grandfather got a small pension and things got better slowly.
Papa was still not well from the effects of the war- it took him years to get his health back.

Grandfather had always told me about his siblings in Canada. After high school I decided to go to Canada for 2 years or so. Well, I am still here.

On Nov 27, 1954 I left my family and started my voyage on the "Arosa Kulm" across the Atlantic. At this time of the year the Atlantic is quite choppy - most of us were sea sick for days. On Dec 10, 1954 we docked on Canadian soil, landing in Quebec City. Went by train to Montreal and after some hours of touring the city I went by train to Regina, Sask. where I arrived on Tuesday Dec 13, 1954 at 8 p.m. There was no snow on the ground yet.

Regina had a very beautiful train station I noticed. From here I was picked up by Papa's 2 cousins, Mrs. Euprosina Sali, nee Selinger and Mrs. Katharina Resch, sisters. Mrs. Resch was married to Jacob Resch, son of Johannes Resch, brother of Papa's mother. Both ladies were Papa's first cousins.

I lived with the Salis for a short while and took a job as a nanny for a family with 6 children.

I had taken English in high school but thought with children one learns to speak a language more quickly. They were good to me and I liked my stay there.

Following that I worked in the housekeeping department at the Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina at Victoria Park. I loved living in Regina - the city had a population of 54 000 when I arrived, it was easy to get to know it. [now almost 200,000]

After some time I got myself a job at the Army & Navy catalogue office just off Broad St across from Eatons. I worked there until June 1958

Some items were taken out of the book by Father Konrad Keller.

This is just a story about my life and some of those in my family before me, written simply and plainly so my grandchildren can read it and perhaps enjoy it.

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