Interview with Ingo Isert (II)
Conducted by Ron Vossler (RV)
29 May 1997, Stuttgart, Germany
Transcribed by Aaron Johnson
Editing and proofreading by Peter Eberle and Reverend Marvin Hartmann
Prairie Public Collection
RV: It is May 29 1997, and we are at the (Heimatmuseum
der Deutschen aus Bessarabien…A001) in Stuttgart, Germany.
RV: And we are speaking with Ingo Isert who is the
curator of the museum.
II: (German spoken…A004).
RV: Just say your title like that in German so we
have it on tape and that is fine, that is what we will use.
II: Ok my name is Ingo (Grunekit…A005) Isert
RV: Could you briefly describe some background information
II: I was born in (Waterland…A009) in Germany
but my parents are coming from Bessarabia. My father was born
in (Tutopponon…A011) and my mother in (Chapeaux…A011).
I went to school here in Gutenberg and after the decree I went
to Munich and studied there physics. After this I was two years
assistant in the University of Stuttgart and then I changed to
an industry, at first in the development department, and later
into the production. In this time I was very interested in the
(???...A018) area, I was very interested in familiar research.
It was very different for me foreign names of Bessarabian towns
I got contact with the museum and at this time I grew in the organization.
For many years we can say I was the right hand of Mister (Christian
Freishe…A022) who was the (German spoken…A023) and
with the year 1992 I got this position.
RV: Would you like to tell us some of your work
relating to the museum in general what you do?
II: The first we can say 40 years was mainly to
collect the documents and some (German spoken…A032) of the
Bessarabian. And now we have reached a situation where we have
to organize the (???...A033) and the documents. This means to
build up our archives also so visitors can use them. This means
we want to implement a computer to help to find the right documents.
And one of the main points is now to get the internal organization
and how we want to collect the documents and archives and what
systems we ant to use. And the next step is then to identify each
document and describe each document and to put into folders and
also into the computer. We started with the library, (German spoken…???A047)
the speed because the work is not very high because we had to
work with volunteers and they are only for a very short time here
and normally only one special person is here for one day here
per week. And the next day it is a different person and so we
had to change because we had to work with volunteers and we were
at a most disadvantage for our continuous work.
RV: In a broader way, perhaps you could explain
to an American audience what you hope to do by studying the Bessarabien
heritage? What is the value of what you are doing and how might
it affect people?
II: If visitors come to us we want to show them
a recap of 125 years they didn’t live in Germany. It is
in the future very difficult to answer such questions if we had
not collected all of this information and conserved it. It is
possible in Germany to find documents that go back up to the 15th
century. But for the time between 1840 and 1940 there was no document
center in Germany that could have collected this information and
to fill up this gap, we collect our information, all old papers
so research for this time can be made.
RV: Could you tell us what is the most interesting
part of your work? What you like to do the most?
II: There is two parts, one part that I am very
familiar also for others, is familiar research but this can be
done very quickly now with our documents. And the other point
is the history, to collect for each village the information for
the locations and the groups and clubs. We are finally in the
Bessarbian clubs and papers for the members of them. But kind
of theatre to be played and all this information we want to collect.
We collect also this information about the situations of the families
the middle of last century. Four years ago I was with two people
of (German spoken…A084) of Odessa. And we were sponsored
for our government and we found very very old documents of the
last century of the Bessarabien Germans. And we made about 5,000
copies and we brought them to here and now we have them to (Auchwitten…A089)
for content. And for instance for to explain what we have found
were two villages except description of each yard. The names of
men and wives of the yard, and their children’s age, how
many land they rented or they gave back, how many cows, horses,
porks, and sheep they had. How many trees for the forest, many
trees of fruits how many grape vines and so on. So a very detailed
description of each yard over the whole village and can say after
40 years, they are now welfare or not, what they have reached
from the original uncultivated country is now a cultivated country.
RV: Do you ever find journals or letters from the
II: Also mainly if they have problems with the official
offices, and also some many letters which were sent from one colony
to Odessa because Odessa was a central and that there were many
(A111) and the different colonies had there (A112).
RV: When a family left Germany, would they leave
people behind in Germany?
II: You could ask the relatives.
RV: So 120 years later you still had relatives there?
II: For instance, I visited relatives of my wife
in Belaria and they didn’t and their forefathers immigrated
to Bessarabia and were found together the roots. In some cases,
the roots came together in the 17th century and with these relatives
we have planned a major family reunion there with members of the
tree which stayed in Belaria and the members of the trees that
are still in Bessarabia and also we found now a tree that went
RV: You mentioned earlier that your parents came
from Bessarabia, if you could just give us a brief history of
when your relatives and your family, great grandmothers and grandfathers
went to, from Germany to Bessarabia, where they settles and why
they came back?
II: For my forefathers this is not the common history
of Bessarabia because my forefather came later to Bessarabia and
not on the normal way because he produced (Clousses…A147)
and he lived before in Russia and he came to Bessarabia because
he found out that they have different manufacturing and he found
a place in Bessarabia and he founded there. This is for the Isert;
naturally the other forefathers I have came from north Germany
and as far from the southern part of Germany. There are different
paths to Bessarabia so I have two roots on my side, the north
Germans and the South Germans. But most of the Bessarabian Germans
are coming from the South I would say 70 to 80 percent.
RV: Why were they invited into Bessarabia?
II: Well there was the so called (Ukarsh…A158)
of the 1813 Alexander the first Czar of Russia gave this (Ukarsh…A160)
to the Germans in Poland and Poland there lived many Germans of
the southern part and settled there many years ago about 10 to
15 years ago. And after this area was no more under the control
of Russia, they moved and went to Bessarabia because the southern
part of Bessarabia there was plenty of people and the German population
was promised a 60 hectare land in Bessarabia and many years free
of taxation. And also free of war services but this regulation
changed in the 17’s of the last century. Many Bessarabian
immigrated also to America because they wanted to didn’t
want to go into the (…???A177). Many of the Bessarabian
went to the area of the both Dakotas and the connection between
the Bessarabian and the families of the Dakota are distant. It
wasn’t interrupted and all those letters were sent and many
of these letters, which were sent to America they are, printed
in the North Dakota German newspapers. So we can read now for
us information about different events in Bessarabia and in the
Dakota German newspapers. And therefore we all can have microfilms
that are here in our museum.
RV: Now we talked about why they left Germany and
we talked about some of them in the 1970’s or so came over
to America what happened to the ones who stayed in Bessarabia,
after World War One?
II: It was in the history a brief interruption
with the Russian October revolution Bessarabia was in the past
always a part of the (Blexsie…A196) colonization and now
Bessarabia was cut off from the rest of Russia and it was reunified
with Romania and in Romania it is also a strong German minority
but a complete different dialect so German and Bessarabian there
is related and from this time is then beginning with about 1920
they started with their own organization. This was in the region
(frucksteu…A206) ethnography and also in the (Kiser…A207)
and therefore we have now also our own Bessarabian and German
organization. No more combined with the organization of the Germans
RV: Now because they are so different, the two
II: Germans of Russia are different groups but
they are the groups of Black sea Germans are almost the same group
as we are.
RV: What happened (???…A217)
II: It was a really hard time and the years between
1920 and 1940 because Romania tried to get out the lies and minorities.
Therefore the Germans heard that Bessarabia or Romania has to
give back Bessarabia to Russia and it was a major conflict. They
were very angry and frustrated of what would be the future and
thank the world we had an additional contract made between Russia
and Germany that the German population can immigrate to Germany
so it was a group of Russian and German officials which asked
the populations who wanted to leave the country and to go to Germany
and where could you get the ride to leave. Because only who was
German or who was marraged with a German got the ride to leave
Bessarabia so nearly 100 percent of the Germans left in the year
1914 within some few weeks Bessarabia was a very good organization
and over the Danube they came to Germany. They lived there in
Germany one to two years and then they got the opportunity to
settle in the eastern part of Germany. They got new years and
new homes but this was only for a short time. With the end of
the second world war they had to leave again so they left their
new home and they left and now most of the Bessarabian live in
the southern part in (Batengutenburgh…A255) where it was
original from there most of them their forefather came.
RV: So in that way they have very different histories?II:
We can say we had the fortune that we get the possibility to immigrate
and came out under the commission of the regime the Germans did
not have this opportunity it was about that time with the collectivity
and the deportation of them to central Siberia.
RV: Were any of them taken back when the Russians
II: Some Bessarabians of some communities couldn’t
flight quick enough from the Russian front and they were over
rode and some communities (Tibbits…A273) for instance. Many
of the people were transported to Siberia and I believe for six
to nine years. Before they could move out of Siberia and came
back to Germany This was for a small part but also for a part
of the Bessarabian (German spoken…A278)
RV: Now I saw a wonderful new church that had
been restored. It was to my understanding that a portion of that
money came from donations from the people of Bessarabia and the
Germans. When we were there I did not see very many Germans. Why
don’t the people that are living now in Germany that went
to Bessarabia feel this link to go back and to tell people about
II: Also in the 18’s of our century many
Bessarabian tried to visit their old villages but they had many
difficulties. In many instances they got no allowance to visit
their villages. They couldn’t drive to their village because
in every village they had to get this type of allowance and their
passport. And with 1990 with the change in the political situation
it was more open and with many Bessarabians came to their villages
and they saw the situation they saw also that nearly all churches
didn’t exist more and they were more interested in their
original condition many churches there are made to collapse or
were attacked or were completely destroyed. One church the oldest
church of the Bessarabian was a church of (Sarata…A306)
this is the oldest one and it was decided in our community to
try and build up this oldest church. Only this church not all
the churches as a sign of the German existence in Bessarabia and
to also give a sign to the population that the different reaches
groups in the area had a new possibility to make it happen. So
this renewed church used many Bessarabians, which are not Germans
but can use this church.
RV: Now the majority of Bessarabian people are?
II: Of the Germans only three villages are open.
RV: Now I saw the church there when I was there
last week. Are there many Ukrainians now coming to this church?
II: Yeah the people who live there I think the
most of them are Bulgarians.
RV: The church is being used?
II: Each week, sometimes twice per week.
RV: Many Bessarabian Germans living in Germany
now try to visit their origins in Ukraine, why do you think that
is so, why is it so important?
II: The Germans have lost their home they left
and they want to see and refresh their memory about their youth
and perhaps a neighbor to speak with them and to see where they
were born. I have learned from many people that I saw the room
where my mother gave birth to me. This is part of their history
and which they can relive again. And the second part is that they
are trying to help they try to help now the population there many
books are brought from Germany to Bessarabia also medicine and
instruments all will help to build on something.
RV: This is really a commitments to people who
are feeling towards their heritage and their ancestors it is not
just we want to go back and live there, it’s we just want
II: In the case between the Bessarabians there
is no doubt. We are now in Germany and with a good situation and
I don’t know, only one person who would want to live there
forever, only for some weeks but not forever. Because now our
home is here but we have a good connection to the population and
we want to hold on this connection.
RV: Do you get much contact with people from Bessarabia
who did emigrate to America whoa re talking to your group about
what’s happening in Bessarabia and wanting to help like
the German people are helping?
II: No connection to the North American communities.
Some few today there are a group that visited us one or two years
ago. Sometimes a Bessarabian professor who is German who lives
now in America and this professor also will visit the museum.
RV: Do Americans ever ask you for genealogical
II: They ask us in some cases, not really from
our people, which live in Germany but in some cases from Canada
or United States.
RV: What kinds of traditions have you kept in your
own family that is the Bessarabian traditions and maybe why have
you kept these traditions.
II: Also a common discussed tradition is the food,
which we brought from Russia. I can remember in my youth if I
told my friends what we have eaten they would get big eyes, asking
what is it. Also tomatoes were unknown here in Germany and paprika
and all these things also. But it is only one side I think another
very important side which is not very often reported perhaps it
is inside is hospitality. It is now in fact that the Russians
were extremely hospitable if you spoke of something you are invited.
And I think a little bit of this behavior the Bessarabian Germans
brought to Germany and if I make the relations between Bessarabians
and Germans then I have the impression that the hospitality is
RV: How many times have you visited your family’s
village and your feelings?
II: I told in the beginning that I am also interested
in the family research and to this belongs also that I write down
the history of my family. All of the dates that they are born
and died, what they did in the mean time, and also I made a map
of the area where my fore-fathers lived and I can very well remember
the first time I came to the village,(Tutopponon…A434) it
is a bigger village. And to this day I remember I had no paper
with me and I told the driver now you are to drive over the bridge
and after you get over the bridge stop on the left side and I
will get out and then I will go the small river until I came along
until I came to the place where my parents lived. I recognize
the surprised driver he is coming one of middle-Europe, has no
paper, is not born here and exactly where I have to hold and here
I think must be the area of my father and grandfather and I saw
his eyes and he was unsure. He couldn’t believe this and
then a very old wife came along and she saw that we were foreigners
and asked what we are doing here and then it was translated and
I asked her can you remember that here lived Germans. Ahh yes
she knew this, and then I asked her why she knows this and she
said I was a maid in a German family and I asked her which family
and she said the name. She said that the family had eight children
and I said no the family had 12 children and continued and I saw
the eyes open and from this time up the driver believed everything
from this point. Then we had also contact with the mayor and it
is so good relation. It was the second time I was there and I
came the city hall and I looked for the mayor and saw him in a
room with his back to me. He turned saw me, went to me and embraced
me and then he said to his deputy for this day he has no more
time and you shall take my place and come with me and he took
the holiday and he showed me all I wanted to see in (Tutopponon…A484).
RV: Is your wife also…?
II: In the same situation as me I was not born
in Bessarabia but both parents are coming from Bessarabia.
RV: Is that pretty common to be in a very close
community where people have come back here continue to marry people
who have had the same experience?
II: No, we had here some meetings of Bessarabian
youth especially the (???B007) and so on and this was one or two
weeks very often. In this time we had the chance to see other
youth and so I met my wife here and I know three other couples
that were there because most of the Bessarabian are spread over
RV: Is it pretty much like America where people
spread out and marry into different ethnic backgrounds. Perhaps
one last question is what you see is the future of Bessarabian
societies as many of the people who have been here grow older
and die. The younger generations don’t all have the same
ties, what do you think is the future?
II: We see for the future also a biological problem.
Older generations, which were born in Bessarabia, died and will
die in the next time. And we are sure our community will be reduced
from its original size if I look to our (German spoken…B023)
in the first time at about 10,000 and now we are about in the
range of 3,000. And this will be reduced even more at next year’s
dramatically but I am sure there will always exist enough people
of succeeding generations who will be interested in the history
and for these people we can offer our collections and our rooms
here so that the idea will not die and I can make (???B035) to
another small group which came to the Southern part of Germany
here in Gutenberg in 1699 this was refugees of France. These completely
integrated here, but nevertheless they have their own museum and
a different distance and in I don’t know the distance, maybe
two or three yeas they have a reunion where they had the deserters
come together and remember the events 300 years ago.
RV: You used to have some French?
II: No but the Hugonoughts were a similar group
but smaller. And I think in a similar way this will eb the Bessarabian
Germans. They will then remember if they make their family research
their fore-fathers was coming from Bessarabia and with this information
automatically, I hope so they will get us information that we
need here in Stuttgart with the help of Bessarabia and so we can
RV: Now you would be interested in American with
this heritage getting in contact with your organization.
II: Surely. Mainly on the basis of Bessarabians
who are coming originally from Bessarabia. Our task is not only
for Germany but we are also into other countries.
RV: There were Bessarabian-Germans in South America
perhaps too, they were spread out?
II: Also. Not so much went to Canada or the US.
But also a part went to South Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.
RV: Would you say that most of the Bessarabians
are in North or South Dakota?
II: In both of the Dakotas. And Canada is Alberta.
TAPE CUTS OUT