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Interview with Frank Joseph Kambeitz (FK)

Conducted by Bob Dambach (BD)
July 2000, Leader, Saskatchewan

Transcribed by Aaron Johnson
Editing and proofreading by Peter Eberle and Reverend Marvin Hartmann

Prairie Public Collection


BD: And what is your name?

FK: Frankie Kambeits.

BD: And where do you live Frank?

FK: Medicine Hat.

BD: In Alberta but we are not in Alberta now where are we?

FK: We are in no mans land. Well I lived about two miles south of here.

BD: And did that town have a name?

FK: It was called Churchwitz and if we ride a little bit further over we lived out on one quarter what is called the section 12 and one in section one.

BD: So you lived on a farm did ya?

FK: Yeah we did but I was not born there I was born east of Regina and we farmed and lived in a sod house.

BD: You were born in a sod house?

FK: I was born in a sod house. My dad was the midwife and I made it.

BD: Where did your mom and dad come from?

FK: The came from the Black Sea part of Odessa. In south Russia.

BD: And about what time did they come?

FK: They came in the 1900’s.

BD: Do you know why they came?

FK: There were many reasons they all came from Germany and then they came out to be in France because there wasn’t, France and Germany go together and the border was only marked at busy places and the Germans seemed to be a little more industrious they built a long railway and that was during Napoleon’s time. And Napoleon went ahead and he drew a border and then it says if you were in German or France. And then all hell broke loose.

BD: So then they went to south Russia didn’t they?

FK: No they didn’t have to move but they worried. They didn’t know that they were in France because the border wasn’t marked. They didn’t know that German and France was together and the Germans were a lot more greedy over their land. And I don’t know but it turned out they were in France. Then somebody dug around, according to how it is written, and somebody found coal. Well both claimed it and then they were supposed to have found iron ore. Then the fighting started, I remember when it was the last year I went to school there was I was the I think it was 12 or 13 we had the Alexander Readers and in there there was the last letter in French well I read that and I remember at the time it didn’t mean a blessed thing to me.

BD: So they settled up here why don’t you tell me about your mom and dad they came over here from south Russian and settled in Saskatchewan where did they first settle?

FK: They settled right where it was what they called a colony. A German colony. About some 30 miles east of Regina and they took up settlement and then mother stayed with some other Germans and naturally Dad got a job working with two Englishmen bachelors. And all that they knew was no and yeah. They would take them by the hand and tell them to go get the fork or the spade and that was about it.

BD: So then they just spoke German when they came over?

FK: German and some Russian and but no French. Oh no they had no use for the French.

BD: Now when you were growing up as a boy what did you learn did you learn German first?

FK: Well sure that’s what my mother told me my mother could only speak a little Russian because she was born in Russia and German they emigrated from Germany but maybe you read about that. They were allowed to have there own schools and everything.

BD: Now when they came to Canada why did they move out here?

FK: Dad that the only thing he was good at in multiplying. The Germans and particularly the Kambietz and excellent at multiplying oh and I forgot how many years ago that the family was so small.
BD: Now how big of a family were you in?

FK: Oh a dozen, ten sisters and two boys.

BD: And were all of them born here in Canada?

FK: No two were born in Russia.

BD: When you moved here were they farmers out here?

FK: Oh yeah that was part of the reason they moved out here see my dads sisters and brothers they came out a lot later because there was no land available down around Regina [unintelligible]. They had to come out to Leader that was called Prussia in those days. And from there they had good land there when dad bought that there he didn’t house that there. But how it worked out he had a homestead down there, and he had a second homestead at Premption and around the Leader area.

BD: And what did they grow?

FK: Oh just wheat, oats and barley and stuff like that.

BD: But it was good land?

FK: Oh yeah it was good land if it rained well in the Leader area that was excellent land and they were told that land if its dry you can’t plow it the ground is too hard. And when it’s wet you can’t plow it because it’s too sticky. They could have had land in the Leader are and Prelate they went further east though with the sand and gravel in the ground.

BD: Now how far did you go in school?

FK: Oh, in the first place we were not encouraged to go to school. And the second day I went to school I got the strap because we were not allowed to speak German, and I was supposed to tell the teacher, an English teacher that the Germans had killed her dad and her brother. She got even with me, I couldn’t blame her. I couldn’t tell her and I got her an apple and the apple was red. The school was not for me and you got the strap. So after a few weeks, well we didn’t have the clothes ether. I was born in November when the sun was shining and it was getting cold. There was no school in the winter it was too cold. We were too poor we didn’t have the clothes it was a matter of survival not of education. That didn’t mean too much.

BD: So you were working on the farm a lot?

FK: Oh yeah.

BD: What types of things did you do on the farm as a boy?

FK: We had next to nothing we had a bunch of cattle, horses, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, you name it we had it. We had a huge garden it was almost a self-sufficient farm.

BD: Was it hard for your mom and dad to feed all 12 children?

FK: Well we was about two or three years apart by the time the younger ones came along the older ones were married and they all worked out.

BD: Now your older brothers and sisters did they stay in the area or did they move away?

FK: No they did not stay thee like the older sister she never went to school well I guess she went to school one day and she found out she didn’t like it there I forgot why she didn’t like it there. And she always bragged and she always said just as soon as you could walk you could work. She made it through. I thought it was 93 but then I could say 92. Because then I know it would be right.

BD: She lived to be 92 huh?

FK: Yeah she lived to be 92 maybe 93.

BD: Now where did she live?

FK: They came out west just a little bit there was no decent land available so they lived in the hills so they got a half section in the hills and rocks. And her husbands name was Leonard. He was willing to try anything so he couldn’t make anything farming so he managed to buy an old steamer and an old separator well when he got that working and he found a friend and I think they just got by the two of them just managed to make it just pay but they didn’t make any money off of it.

BD: So did she have a large family too?

FK: Well it turned out that in ’20 the early ‘20s Leonard had some sisters and she married a fella from the states it was in the same area the Yakima Valley I suppose you heard about that area. In that general area. And they decided to pull up the stakes and decided there’s no work down there.

BD: And what about you know what time did you get your own farm sometime?

FK: Oh yeah.

BD: How old were you when you got your own farm?

FK: That was when I was about 12 or 13 I would work and hire out so I did that while I would make money. And dad was up in years he didn’t know and he said no you don’t go you stay here and work with me and when you get married you get a quarter of the land. Not when I was a certain age but when I got married. So I held that to him and when I got married I got my quarter of land.

BD: How old were you when you got married?

FK: 23 but when you’re in your 30’s there is no goodness left in you so that’s where he went wrong.

BD: Now how big of a family did you have?

FK: Oh we had eight and one that we adopted nine all together there were all doing pretty good. We had the reunion not too long ago just last week before.

BD: So is Carroll your youngest daughter?

FK: No she’s in the middle yes she’s number five. We had five girls and three boys and then we adopted one.

BD: Now was your wife German Russian too?

FK: No not Russian her parents from Austria the part that I forgot what his name was, the ruler he wanted “Lebensraum” (living space).

BD: Now how did you meet your wife?

FK: Oh she was only living two miles way from us.

BD: So she was living in the area?

FK: Yeah she was living in the area yeah. And the folks like her folks and my folks were close friends.

BD: And how long did you farm for how many years did you farm for?

FK: Oh when I turned 70 I worked my own two sections of land, we had enough salted away I was known as a jack of many trades and master of none. See I knew they would come around with their mighty dollar there was blacksmith work or overhauling a motor or tractor or whatever it was. Then the radios and used to overhaul them and I could do pretty good until it hit the modern ones but once you came along with those ones there was nothing I could do.

BD: You learned to do a lot of things them with your hands?

FK: Oh yeah no when I was after the dirty 30’s we had no matter what came along if it was hauling grain from trucking or working for the customer like my oldest son, he looked the same and once the children are on their work, so can we truly go traveling so we globe trotted first we started in Hawaii twice and then we went to Europe two times it was really unreal see and then that’s where it was a long story but maybe it doesn’t fit in but lange winter so no radio and no TV, just the good old German Bible and a children’s Bible with pictures in it so I paid 50 cents to subscribe to Free Press Prayer time and that was so much fun you couldn’t afford it. So what do you do when all the chores are done you going to go learn your German? She said come and I’ll teach you and my mother was smart she says come here now and I’ll teach you the alphabet but we only got half ways through and I lost interest. Then she said well you know the “Our Father” and the “Creed” and a lot of prayers we have said and taught and memorized and the German Bible will have those prayers in there. In German so ok yeah “Our Father. Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel…” That’s what it looks like and that’s how I learned how to read German. Now the written the printed I can read. That’s because I remember old German newspapers.

BD: So you could read newspapers and stuff like that?

FK: Oh yeah, yeah I could.

BD: We’re in a cemetery. What cemetery are we in?

FK: This used to be the Josephsthal cemetary the church was called Josephsthal.

BD: Why don’t you tell me about some of the people there are probably a lot of people that are buried in this cemetery that you knew?

FK: Oh yeah see I knew they only lived about a mile well a little under a mile away from us and they were originally from the States they got the free land up here in Canada. They came out and they get half a section but then the flu epidemic and that just about wiped them out.

BD: So there are a lot of people buried because of the flu epidemic?

FK: Well there were a quite a few and they were all a part of it. I remember, my mother would say go get the old horse we called him old Bob, hitch him to the buggy were going to visit because she heard someone was sick. And Dad decided he was going to have a house built in the flu epidemic and we went in to Leader anschtekend (infection) it was about 25 miles away and there was someone around there [unintelligible] they didn’t believe that when we was kids that we would take a load of wheat out and sometimes we would load up lumber and sometimes we didn’t get it done and then the next day they walked around with handkerchief across the face. The youngest sister she had what might have been a touch of that but that was not what killed her. It was diphtheria. She choked to death.

BD: Now you were telling me a little bit earlier that there is an old friend of yours that was an alter boy with you that is buried here?

FK: Yeah but I don’t know where.

BD: You don’t have to know just tell me the story about him you were telling me the story before?

FK: Old John Wegenheiser, he was the one who taught us the well it had to be Latin in those days and I couldn’t for the life of me figure why it should be in Latin…I don’t know it! When I say something I want to know what it means. We were taught English and on Sunday we went to church and John Wegenheiser he’s buried some place he was the Deacon; he said you two boys have to serve Mass today. So we said ok there was local people and a crowd and Latin of all things. I didn’t understand Latin. So we stumbled through and that Sunday afternoon, see John had two sisters and they were friends of my sisters, and after dinner they came over in their buggies and I remember John sitting on the back with his legs dangling on there and the sisters it was in the spring and every bird nest around there. Stand beside grave,…we buried John, and I still cant see why that happens and sadly I still don’t know.

BD: And that was from the flu?

FK: He got a touch of the flu but it was diphtheria again. I don’t know something but it generates so much mucus that they would cough it up but they would just choke to death.

BD: It’s very sad when you lose your young friends like that?

FK: No, I couldn’t... Johnny and I we got along. So well.

BD: It was very hard at that time I bet?

FK: Yeah I was about eight or nine. I don’t get why do those things happen.

BD: Now were out here in the cemetery and you said some of your relatives are buried out here

FK: Yeah they had a little wooden cross on their but that cross had rotted away those are them around here somewhere I guess. Well the priest kept the record and I think one day, see I was gone from this area for a long time we moved down to Richmond in ’40 I think it was.

BD: But you said that you did your little bit of blacksmithing did you ever try to make one of these iron crosses?

FK: Nope

BD: Did you ever see anyone make one?

FK: Well there was one and now I don’t remember is it this style here I’m not too sure but the present mayor of Medicine Hat his name was Grimm well his grandpa was a blacksmith and I helped him and he made them something like this

BD: Were they hard to make?

FK: Well no this is just from the track from the barn door and those he would bend that cold you didn’t even have to heat it. It was really soft metal. No I wasn’t interested in that I was more interested in the motor mechanics because there was so much hard work. I could do a 412 engine stuff like the shar penny shares and cultivator shovels, like that.

BD: About how long do you think it would take to make one of these iron crosses?

FK: Once you have one made and you were satisfied with that then you have a pattern well then that wouldn’t take very long

BD: So were talking about one day or more than that?

FK: Oh yeah you could make one a day easy but that does mean you had to find one somewhere else. What they didn’t have was they didn’t have any emery wheels, like that… that one would have been a defect.

BD: When you come back to the cemetery do you come back and look at the names.

FK: Well if you can see them but see there’s if you walk around and don’t be surprised if you go down some, remember they are wooden coffins and that ground stood ok until the wood is all gone and you will see some bodies buried for 80 some years. I have.

BD: Why don’t you look at the name on this tombstone and tell me about the people.

FK: Well those Reicherts see they were all over when we were boys. See there was Jack he was around 17 or 18 and the other two were older they were in there 20’s and they had come up from the states for the free land. They lived over about a mile and a half from our place. They were German that was a German name.

BD: When you would visit like your friends down the road what sort of things would you do, would you sing would you play cards what would you do?

FK: Oh I don’t know what we did that was way back there was always something we had all that there was not one day that there wasn’t nothing to do. We had to keep care of livestock and feed the chickens and pigs and Lord knows gathered the hen eggs…and every doggone thing.

BD: But did you ever go to dances with things like that on a Saturday night?

FK: Oh yeah but I was not interested in dancing. Way later on when I was in 18 or 19.
BD: Well when you were 18 or 19 you would go to a dance and they would play German music?

FK: Oh yeah well barn dance music you know the kind. There would be some relatives like Joe Schmidt he was a few years older than I was he died about a year ago. His son was down in Ottawa lived down there and that was the last of that family.

BD: You and Joe would go to dances together.

FK: No he was a musician. He could play well like later on he was the he played the saxophone. He was a popular man.

BD: Maybe well walk down and see another name you will recognize.

FK: You step on something and you feel the ground go down you remember that is where there was a wooden coffin and the ground might not be settled yet.

BD: Here is a name but I don’t know if it’s a name you will recognize. That was someone who died in 1918?

FK: Ludwig Berne no I knew his son they lived in Burgsthal his name was Ludwig too. He died some time ago. Ludwig there was [unintelligible].

BD: They thought they were a little better than other people?

FK: That’s like they say I’ve known some people that they couldn’t resist if there was something available well they just had to have it. That’s a bad disease. I’ve seen some very nice people when they’re sober, but ei yei yei…

BD: Another Reichert

FK: Oh yeah another Reichert, yes I think this was the father and there were his two boys. Yeah I knew all of them very well.

BD: When you were growing up as a boy, what type of food did your mom make for you?

FK: Food?

BD: Yeah did you eat German food?

FK: Kraut, Krupla und fleish, and that was the mainstay that’s all you needed.

BD: Do you ever get that food anymore?

FK: Well my chewing business doesn’t work like that anymore.
BD: What about this one?

FK: Yeah.

BD: There is no name on it.

FK: There is no name on it if the good Lord doesn’t remember then I don’t know.

BD: It’s kind of interesting the corners up there too.

FK: They are all twisted together somebody had more time then that one there.

BD: Now someone told me you had some inventions with Massy-Ferguson.

FK: Yeah well you could always find work to do when we lived close to the farm there was a big building there I had to overhaul the motor and the generator and then I remodeled the machinery. Like the cultivator I had a six-foot cultivator my neighbor hooked them together and it was flexible and you could pull the two with a tractor. See one was too small and then the disker I had the change to buy it was 21 feet well I went ahead see the war broke out it was before that I was in the wrecking business the worthwhile equipment I saved that I saved everything until the war came along. Then if you were a farmer you were only allowed 500 pounds you had to go through everything and you couldn’t get equipment so I had all this and I had bought a short wave radio from the states and sometime early in the morning I could catch Adolph say “Gott verdammte Juden.” That man had nothing good to say about the Jews and the boys of the rising sun would get that sometimes.

BD: So you could make out some of the German on the short wave?

FK: Oh yeah sometimes it would come in waves like it was not really stead and then German extraction so ok now somebody maybe had reported that but Frank Kambietz. I had argued with some of the politicians and we were starving and we had no money and they couldn’t help us see we were on welfare for about four or five years. When the war broke out there was there was no money in the business. I bought a rifle and I was not too bad a shot at that when I saw the old Scotchmen hit the policeman at Fox Valley, I told Frank next time you come down here I’ll get you a rifle. I know a few words of French so I bring my rifle down here they make those laws it is my job to enforce them we got in an argument and we were in between the cow barn and the horse barn now it seems to be a natural for a cow before she is going out, she will find a hiding place. She goes in the horse bar and that when there was a little on in there what is it a calf or a colt, and the male come in there and you never mind. You tell me that I was born by my parents and they were mainly German but my grandmother was French she was a teacher. I’ve never been to Germany and what I understood was little of what was said you can have “Gott verdammten Jugen.” So it was, I think, about three or four weeks after that I met the police men after that and he said Frank come over to the office, ok we go to the office and he goes to the cell and there was hundreds of guns in there because it was a German settlement and he said now look.

BD: So most of the people had to give up their guns?

FK: Oh yeah the Germans and another thing I was in the scrap business for some time and I had landed some things that should have never been because they were antiques. And I got some three wheelers of different makes they should have never been dismantled they should have been saved. Maybe that was the only one that was ever made, never mind I don’t like the laws. You start them in early and when you’re small I remember the name but I don’t know any Lepps see he died in 1917 and he came out from the east in 1916 and I was away and that was before my time really.

FK: Who made these crosses?

BD: You were the blacksmith?

FK: I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the mayor’s grandfather who made that.

BD: What was his name?

FK: Bernard Grimm yeah I new him very well he was a nice fella but you could see some things.

BD: Now why did some people have iron crosses and some people have the other type?

FK: Iron crosses are the people who had a little bit more money they once said that like my sisters they just had the wooden cross. It was long before we would be dead long before the cross. Some couldn’t even afford that and some well they just get a little coffin and that’s all its all going to be rotten.

BD: So the iron crosses were expensive then?

FK: Well he might have got about 25 dollars for that and that was a pile of money for that I had to work for a whole bloody month for 20 dollars and I never saw a cent of that. He had to pay that money away before I started working.

BD: So that would be expensive for the iron crosses. Oh here are some more names over here why don’t we go over here and look at these?

FK: Joseph Hirsch that’s the old fella I knew the younger ones, but not the old fella.

BD: Where would there land have been?

FK: Oh there’s a lot of them the same well I don’t see where they would have been in the old country, Germany. One was just married as a Hirsch yeah good friends they were in the Josephstahl in fact where the church was he is right across the road.

BD: And how far was the church from here.

FK: There is only about mile and three quarter south of [unintelligible] we had to walk to that church many a many time

BD: Why was the cemetery so far from the church?

FK: Well we didn’t want it that close because of the farm yard you remember there was a farm sometimes in every quarter and in a half section that was a large farm. And if you had three quarters or four you must have had a lot of grown boys

BD: Ok why don’t we walk down there is a couple in the ground here that I don’t know.

FK: Dear mother yeah.

BD: Now was this an unusual when they were first put in did they have to stake the grave when they first buried them?

FK: No this was done in the early years and they started doing that way later. See this job the men come out from Medicine Hat and they line up the jobs and some of the men do that I think.

BD: So when would this have been done do you think?

FK: Oh yes out in the Richmond area when that was done.

BD: So this might have been out in the 1950’s or something?

FK: Yes, just as soon as I was on my own I couldn’t keep my mouth shut I was full of it and I was involved.

BD: That name over there is that a name that you recognize?

FK: Schwengler. Yes Joseph yes he was younger than I was he was harrowing a field just south of here and it started raining. He had horses on so he stopped and found shelter for the horses the lightning bolt killed him and I think all of the horses instantly the whole works. And a little bit further south well about a mile and a half or two I was outside working when the flash of lightning and the loud noise was heard and then they found him and one horse was laid dead on top of him.

BD: It could be dangerous out in the field?

FK: Well who knows when lightning will strike?

FK: Well here are my sisters and my wife I’m old 91 and a half.

BD: And your wife never tells you how old?

FK: Well she’s three years and ten months older than I am and three years meant a lot of a difference to me. Let’s see died in ’48 yeah I knew that was her husband John. He is buried here someplace I think. He was the Deacon he taught me the Latin Prayer.

BD: Now I see the picture is that unusual to see a picture on the?

FK: Yeah as long as people leave them on there some people you don’t know what they are doing they knock them off sometimes. This one has been knocked over broken and fixed. (???…A519) there are some more Wegenheisers someplace.

BD: Well that’s about it are there any other memories you would like to share?

FK: Well I’d like to find Johnny Schell but I don’t think I will. His people were poor and I don’t know none of them around around here. I don’t think they had any kind of money to have that done.

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