Interview with Helen Feist Krumm (HK)
Conducted by Peter Eberle (PE)
7 January 2003, Hague, North Dakota
Transcribed by Peter Eberle
Editing and proofreading by Peter Eberle and Reverend Marvin Hartmann
Prairie Public Collection
PE: Today is January 7th, 2003. I am Peter Eberle,
interviewer for the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, North
Dakota State University Libraries in Fargo, and today it’s
a pleasure for me to visit with Mrs. Helen Krumm in Hague, ND.
Helen, I’d like to ask you some questions. What were some
childhood memories of yours – what chores did you have?
HK: Well like all kids we have to feed the chickens,
milk the cows, weed the garden, pick the apples and then go to
school too you know, but when we come home we had to do some chores
too because ma and dad couldn’t do everything so we had
to do it too.
PE: What was your most favorite chore? Did you enjoy
most of them?
HK: Crawling up the tree and picking apples and
throwing down to the brothers and sisters. [Laughter]
PE: What were the tasks of the men and women when
you were growing up? What were the things that they each did?
HK: You mean when we worked in the Kolkhoz or stuff
PE: Before that.
HK: Well, my father was a carpenter. They built
houses and built wagons and all that stuff, and the mothers they
had the vineyards to take care and the vegetable garden to care,
take care of the chicken and take care of the cows and stuff what
we had you know to take care of – so make a living with
PE: Was your grandfather a carpenter too?
HK: Yes, and even the great-grandfather when they
came in from Alsace-Lorraine and they were all – Germany
had so many people, craftsmen, they did everything like…in
Strasburg I’m not sure but there was nine or ten. You know
there was Schnieders to make the clothes and there was Schumachers
who make the shoes because you couldn’t go to the store
and buy shoes and the one who make the wagon and the one who build
the house. And the ladies you know…like dresses and stuff
they were all made by the Schnieder that’s what they called
him. You buy the material and took it to the ladies and then she
took the measurement; they did the coats and everything. And the
shoes, you know, you go to the shoemaker and he measured your
foot. We had a lot of craftsmen. There was two flour mills in
Strasburg. You put your wheat down and they milled it and then
we had a big winery because where I grew up there was a lot of
people who had grapes; I don’t know I would like to say
a hectre, I don’t know is it…how you say it in English…so
PE: oh, acres?
HK: Yah, and this is Hectre. Well you could put
fruit in or you could put apples in or you could put anything
in but then the grapes too. The grapes we put in and we made our
own wine and everything.
PE: Was there a place in the village too, that you
could take your grapes to?
HK: Yes, the winery; there was a winery. When the
time come in October that’s when they start cutting the
grapes you know. We all went out and then be hired out to other
people too who had more grapes than we. So we picked them up and
then they put it in big baskets and took it down to the winery
and they put it in and squeezed it out and then they put the wine
in wooden barrels and then we took it home and put it in the cellar.
PE: In the previous interview you mentioned that
the men went down to the river and cut the tall grass, the rohr,
for the roofs.
HK: Yah, the rohr. That [was used] instead of putting
shingle on. There was no shingle at that time and they put that
rohr and that was ten feet, but they had to go when the river
was frozen see, and then they cut it up and make them bundles
like that, took it home and let it get dry and everything and
that’s what they put on the roof. And it was that thick,
about a foot thick, never rained through or anything.
PE: Did the richer people have that type of roof
HK: Yah, but then later on there was a factory who
made shingles (cement shingle; red shingles) that was in Strasburg
too. But the better people had wooden floor, but the poor people
had just other floor you know in the houses too then.
PE: Were there enough doctors in the village, Helen?
HK: No doctors. All the midwives – wives for
the babies – and old women like even too they go if you
got watery eye or what; what they call Brauche, you know, that
was, they took them.
PE: Healing doctors?
HK: That was – But like Strasburg and then
there was 3 kilometer [to] Baden and then 7 kilometer to Selz
and see there was a hospital built. Dr. Schmidt from Germany,
he came in and he built a hospital but they couldn’t cure
much whatever you have you know, but if you broke a leg or what
they shingled it you know they put some wood around and wrapped
pretty good stuff like that. But there was no doctors, no, m-m.
And the babies were all [delivered by] midwives – grandmas,
there was old grandmas that’s all that it was.
PE: Do you have any special memories of you school
years that were funny or otherwise?
HK: Yah, they were funny too you know. We had a
teacher and he came from Germany too, Schiller, Schiller and his
wife they teached, but then when you didn’t behave or what
they had a room locked up and they said (A58 Katsacellen) then
they had you sit in until you – because you didn’t
behave as good or you didn’t have your homework done or
PE: What’s a (Katsacell?)
HK: That was the punishment. The Katsa, it was just
like a little jail and then they put you in there until you got…next
time you behaved yourself. [Laughter]
PE: Did you have recesses?
PE: What kind of games did you play?
HK: Yah, like ball and jumping ropes and then we
had swings there too you know, yah oh yah. Well you could take
different – well like when we were up in the fifth grade
you know you had the choice you could take music or stuff like
that, different stuff if you want to go to higher school. But
the poor people had no chance because they knew we had to go to
Odessa and that would cost a lot you know so we just went to the
eighth and that was it.
PE: Were you done with the eighth grade when the
Communists took over?
HK: Oh yah, oh yah.
PE: Now [from a previous interview] you said they
didn’t teach religion in that school; you had to go to church
to learn religion.
HK: Church yah– that was religion, that was
teached by the (A70 kurchevater) they used to say. It was the
one who played the organ and everything and they called him (kurchevater)
and there they had the catechism. And at that time they only made
their first Holy Communion, you had to be twelve years old, that
long, you know.
PE: When were you Confirmed then?
HK: Two years after that, fourteen – fifteen.
PE: Was there any special celebrations like after
Communion or Confirmation?
HK: Oh yah, have a little party at home with the
(A77 Taufgidle and taufvater/ Godmother and father?)
and you have a little party there you know.
PE: Do you remember any stories that you really
liked as a child like fairytales or stories that your parents
HK: Oh yah, like…it’s not like here
you go to K-mart and buy a big game or what; we made up our own
games you know. And like when Easter was and then they said well
the Easter Bunny’s coming and you got to make a little house
and put some grass in and everything and tomorrow morning the
Easter Bunny you know. And then we checked on our ma; at five
o’clock she went out, she put the eggs in – we didn’t
know, but we knew what she did, but that was the joke on her,
yah. Oh, the Easter Bunny she said, “Get up, we have to
look for the Easter Bunny.” And then my brother said, “Oh,
is he tired, did he work hard” you know and stuff like that.
PE: Was there any musical talent in your family
or didn’t you really have and opportunity…?
HK: Singing a lot, my two sisters Lydia and Bertha,
and I too. I was in the choir, in the church choir, our church
had 40…almost 50 person in our choir. We had a big organ
just like Hague has, a pipe organ what they used to call it. And
there was man that led; there was music, yah.
PE: In your schools did you have a chance to play
instruments or was that not available?
HK: No, not that time no. You had to go to private
teacher who give you the music lessons.
PE: What were the most common types of dances at
HK: Polka, polka, yah. And that was the nicest;
not the nicest thing but you know the floor was just ground floor
and it was so dusty, when you looked at your shoe you didn’t
know if they were black or gray. [Laughter]
PE: Yeah, you had to drink a lot of water to get
the dust down then, huh.
HK: Yeah, and a lot of wine; we had our own wine
you know. There was never – you bought never drinks like
rootbeer or anything but just wine you know, plain wine. But see
that was natural grape juice, there was nothing in, you didn’t
PE: Oh, I see, I was just going to ask that.
HK: Yah, you didn’t get drunk.
PE: Was there dances that were common outside of
a wedding celebration?
HK: Oh yah, well see there is like…each…I
don’t know we’ll say each street or what had a club
like from fourteen to fifteen and then from fifteen to twenty,
each one had their own when they want to have a dance or singing
or what they got their own club you know and that’s what
PE: Was the same type of music played at each club?
HK: Yah they played the harmonica and everything
you know; there was lots of musician. And all what they did like
Sunday afternoon they sit out a whole bunch around, chewed some
sunflowers [seeds] and drinked wine and played and sing. There’s
no show hall or nothing, you couldn’t go.
PE: You talked about celebrating your Christmas and Easter traditions
in this previous interview, were you able to celebrate them when
the Communists took over too or did it have to be more private
at that time?
HK: That was the end of it when the Communists took
over. I think the last time when we had Christmas you know each
street had their – there was five-six girls and the boys
and they went around to each house and brought the gifts to the
kids, but after that then it was it. Well see everything went
in Russian, you couldn’t talk German anymore, it had to
be in Russian, everything. You not even could have like a cross
or a holy picture on your wall, nothing.
PE: But before the Communists you could do that,
HK: Oh yah, oh yah.
PE: Put your Christmas tree up.
HK: The Christmas tree and like I said so many times
like in the Easter time you know. Here too you know when Christ
died and got buried, there the Mass server had to stay at the
– how do you say it – watched – so that the
body didn’t got stolen or what.
PE: Now we’ll kind of switch gears a little
bit – I know that in the kolkhozes they used tractors but
when you were farming outside of the kolkhozes before that did
you use tractors or horses?
HK: No, that time no, no, just horses you know,
but see when the kolkhoz and then they had the tractors with all
steel wheels and stuff, but all that stuff came from the United
States and from Germany, see Russia bought that you know. But
before there was just with the horse and two-share plow you know
and then the threshing too you know they cut the wheat and put
it in bundle and then they hauled it home and then they made a
big, they said (A128 flushblutz) then they put it on and they
had the horses going around and around and around; they took the
straw off and the put the wheats [kernels] together; that’s
the way it was you know.
PE: Did you have to help a lot in the fields then
too growing up?
HK: No, no. We had enough to do with the vegetable
garden and everything you know.
PE: That’s another thing – when you
had the vegetable garden you said the Jews would come in and contract…?
HK: Yah, see the rich Jews came and they said well
I’ll give you so much for your apricot tree or for your
apple tree or your nut tree, that’s what we all had and
when it was time to get them down then they came and we had to
pick’em up and then they paid you and they took it to Odessa
and that’s where they sold it.
PE: Was that only before the Communists came that
you were able to do that?
HK: Yah, oh yah.
PE: After that the Communists…
HK: After that, no, then everything you have to
work for the Communists at that time you know. Then the Jews couldn’t
come out anymore and from us to Odessa it was sixty-five kilometer
and they had the horses and wagon and they loaded in grapes you
know they took it to Odessa, but they paid you right there and
then they made a deal with you, next year if everything is nice
they can come again.
PE: Could you leave the villages when the Communists
were there? Could you go like to Odessa if you wanted to?
HK: Oh yah, oh yah. You could go, you could go;
well you drive with the (A145 Kucherhannachtan) that’s where
the train stopped see and it’s only maybe a half an hour
you can walk, get the ticket, go to Odessa, go shopping and come
back home again.
PE: You were able to go see Odessa than a lot huh?
HK: Oh yah. And the Black Sea. I had an aunt and
she lived in Odessa and she just lived not too far from the Black
Sea and when you look at the Black Sea it is dark, it’s
just black but when you go in with your feet barefooted it’s
clear you know. Oh yah, we seen a lot, Odessa. Well there’s
a lot of rich kids from ours you know who became teacher and they
went to Odessa for school.
PE: From the Strasburg area?
HK: From the Strasburg area, but the parents had
to pay themselves; the government didn’t pay for that you
know because if the government paid then they sent you where you
had to go, but if you go by your own you could find your own teacher’s
job or whatever.
PE: Now did your family have to join the kolkhoz
right away or did you kind of want to wait and hold off from joining?
HK: Well, you had no choice, you had no choice.
When the Communists took over they took the rich people, the Kulak,
what they called the rich people, took everything what they had,
sent them to Siberia and then the kolkhoz said, “Well, if
you live or you want to starve, you come follow us.” That’s
what it was, yah. Then you worked all year and they said well
you worked so many hours stuff like that you get twenty-five hundred
rubbles and that for the whole year and then you had to wait till
the next year again.
PE: What did you buy with that money then?
HK: Well, we need some clothes and stuff and keep
the houses up and everything yah, but we had no horses for our
own or nothing, everything was kolkhoz you know. We just could
have two cows, couple of chickens and a vineyard and stuff but
that’s all what we owned.
PE: You got to keep your own house though when you…?
HK: Oh yah, oh yah.
PE: You talked about there was millers in town,
did everyone take their grain to the millers to get milled or
did people mill their own; make their own flour too?
HK: No, no, everybody went to those two flour mills
you know. There were two brothers, one on that end and the other
on the other end and there was a small mill where we put the sunflowers
where they made the oil, to press the oil out. They had a lot
of sunflowers, a lot of corn and stuff like that.
PE: The sunflower oil, what did you use that for?
HK: Just cooking, yah.
PE: Did it cost a lot or not very much to get that
milled, or the oil pressed out?
HK: No, no, not too much.
PE: What were your heating sources, Helen, for your
HK: Heating? [Laughter}
PE: Yeah, how did you heat the houses?
HK: Cow chips and then like with the sunflower stalks
or the corn stalks they were cut up and chopped up. And the stoves,
you know, they were baked in the house you know and you stick
it full and then some dead trees were cut up and stuff, that’s
the way we heated the house, yah.
PE: Can you tell me some of your memories of the
first time you seen electricity or cars or radio or television?
HK: No, there was no television, nothing. Once in
a while you could hear you know Germany has a car they not even
have to put gas in, there was lantern on and everything but that
was just a picture show but nothing real, nothing real.
PE: So the first time you seen a television was
when you came to America?
HK: Yah, yah. Yah.
PE: But you had radio growing up though, or some
of the time?
HK: Yah, we had radio but if they figured out that
you listen to the radio then they took it away, they took it away,
yah. And like traveling you know you had to go by horses, there’s
nothing else; like if a couple got married or what they had to
get with the horses or somebody died you know they took you to
the graveyard with – all horses, yah.
PE: Did you think that things were similar to your
situation then outside of Strasburg because you weren’t
hearing anything else from the news or did you realize that you
had it harder?
HK: Well the people talked to each other, the people
get to know each other and be married like from Strasburg to Baden
from Baden to Kandel, they know each other but you couldn’t
say nothing, you couldn’t do anything you know, that would
be against the party. And like if they have a big meeting you
know, they got around, they ring the bell then you had to get
out of the house and you better go to that meeting if you want
to be here next week.
PE: Did you know people personally then that the
Communists took away?
HK: Yah, my – got three uncles. They were
sitting out in the steps one evening and they were talking about
– one had three boys and the other one – and they
said, “Yeah it would be nice now if we could each one give
them a farm and some land so they could start on their own, but
now with that Communists…” Two days afterward all
three of them were gone. And you not even could ask, they came
in the house and they said, “Well, John or Joe you put your
cap and your coat on and you go with us” and that was it.
PE: But you think your uncles were taken because
they were talking about…?
HK: They were talking about that, yah.
PE: Talking about doing something on their own and
that was dangerous.
HK: Yah, and you not even could come like in the
office and ask them where they took them or how long – are
they coming back? Nothing.
PE: Now before the Communists took over was there
a lot of problem with like burglary or…?
HK: Oh yah, oh yah. There’s a lot of Russian
were lazy bums you know and stuff like that. When the man folks
put the horses in the barn they had two iron on the door, one
up and one [lower] so they couldn’t get – and they
locked that so they couldn’t get the horses out. But see
that time they took the horses out to the prairie overnight over
the weekend, but they had to watch; they had to ride around, ride
around so they didn’t come and steal the horses, oh yah,
there was a lot of them.
PE: So Russians would steal and Germans would steal
too, everyone would kind of steal huh?
HK: Yah, there’s a bad one all the time, yah.
PE: Was there like police in the village then before
the Communists were there too?
HK: Well they called it – not the Marshal
– but they called something different you know, but they
took them up and they looked them up and said, “Don’t
do that anymore” and stuff like that “you pay five
ruble” and then he’s free again
PE: Not like here.
HK: Put them in jail or anything, no.
PE: Was there even a jail in Strassburg?
HK: Yah there is a jail but see the rich people
who got robbed and stolen stuff couldn’t say nothing because
the Communists said, “That’s just ours just like yours”
so they not even had nothing to say, nothing.
And see like when the Communists took over we had
a lot of rich people you know and stuff like that but they took
everything what they had. The Communists took it and then when
they were done with eating or what and they didn’t work
anymore then they had nothing either, see, that’s the way
PE: So then you were the last one to get the food
- get what was left?
HK: What was left, yah. And it’s like that
you know they said, if you worked in a big – like a vegetable
garden then there was cooked [food] for the people who worked
there you know, but like old grandmas and grandpas and stuff like
that, they didn’t mean nothing to them you know you had
to get food for them ready at home so they could eat too and stuff
PE: Now I’ve read that in the cities like
in Odessa there wasn’t the starvation that there was in
the countryside. Did you know that or did you think there was
starving all over?
HK: See the big cities that’s where all the
Communists, the leader will live, so they lived off the rich people.
But like outside Strassburg and different towns and everything
there was hunger. In 1920, my ma told me (I was born in 1920)
my ma told me in 1920-21 was the hungriest year, what they called,
of the world, people were just laying outside on the street blown
up and stuff like that. There was enough wheat, there was enough
everything but the Communists took everything so they couldn’t
have anything. They even came and opened your drawers and took
the last piece of bread out.
PE: Now that was even when you were part of the
kolkhoz they took that?
HK: Yah, in 1933 that was the biggest hunger. People
got so hungry people went out and start picking leaves off the
trees off the trees and stuff but then they just blow up. They
had wheat in the sheds and everything but couldn’t take
PE: Did you know people then that starved too?
HK: Yah, some of our neighbors and some relatives
PE: Do you know what happened to letters and packages
that were being sent to people in Strassburg from other areas?
HK: They never got nothing. There was only one newspaper
who came and that was the Communist, the propaganda, but there
was nothing and then people who got some letters or packages from
Germany or from America they took them away.
PE: You guys couldn’t send letters out either?
HK: No, no.
Everything you know had to be the Russian you know, a lot of those
older people they not even knew Russian and stuff like that; they
could not even go and ask for a meal or get a loaf of bread or
what, they not even looked at them.
PE: So now you learned Russian in School, right?
HK: Yah up to the sixth grade was all German and
after that – and if they catched somebody out the street
who talked German they put him in jail, you had to…everything
PE: Was that like that too from the time ever since
you can remember or was that just later on?
HK: No, my ma too said you know in the early –
when she was younger too when they talked to each other they whispered
PE: I’m curious then, how did you ever learn
English? Did you know any English when you came over to America?
HK: Well see I was a nut for reading you know, I
just loved to read. We get some books you know so I would know
real good and then when I came to Germany, well that I knew, but
when I came over here and said, well I know Latin you know, English
and the radio and I not even went a day to school [to learn English],
PE: So you kind of knew that then when you came
over already, from books.
HK: Yah, but I always say the worst thing I made,
I should went a year to school here; see the spelling is different
here like from the Russian and the German and the English, you
know, everything is spelled a little different. Now when I write
letters I always have to have the dictionary. [Laughter]
PE: Helen, do you have any stories that you’d
like to share?
HK: Yah I’d like to. We had my mother here
for a year for vacation and Paul and David, you know the oldest
one, they were kind of like you say (A300 Bolshtatty) –
how you say that in English…
PE: Mischievous or something like that.
HK: Yah, and my ma didn’t know English and they didn’t
know German you know, so they were sitting up in the tree and
my mother said, “Paul, you go down, you tear your pants,
then I have to fix’em.” And he said, “In America
we don’t fix pants, we buy new ones.” And then grandma
said, “Well, well that’s something that you don’t
see in Germany.” And he said, “Well if you don’t
like it here why don’t you go home.” [Laughter]
PE: [Laughter] He told her huh.
HK: [Laughter] He told her, yah. So it’s kind
of…you know. But she came over here and she could not believe
it, she said, “Look at that wide road you have. In Germany
they could build trees here and there and then she said to Joe,
“You wasted so much land on the highway” [Laughter]
and stuff like that you know, she was kind of interesting. So
we wanted to talk her in, we said, “Well ma, you can stay
with us, you don’t have to go back.” “No”
she said, “you know it’s so hard to transplant a old
PE: Do you remember your parents telling you any
stories about your grandparents or your great grandparents?
HK: Well they didn’t do that much you know.
You had to be obeying and stuff like that; like when there was
company coming the kids would shoo in the corner, they didn’t
had to ask any questions you know, but we listened sometimes and
figure it out, but they were pretty good you know. Like I said
too with the spanking in school, you know, once in a while we
got a little ear twisted and stuff like that but they didn’t
mean so mean you know like here you cannot touch your kids, you
cannot do this and stuff; well you had to obey.
PE: Kids knew that then?
HK: Yah, um-hum.
PE: What were some of the punishments like if a
HK: You had to kneel on corn in the corner. They
put corn on the (A331 Hatgatsit), God’s corner, and they
put corn there and they had to kneel, but with no pants on they
PE: The kernels?
HK: Yah, yah, you had to kneel with the hand up
and sometimes it went down a little, “Put your hand up!”
PE: That was in school or at home too?
HK: That was at home, yah.
PE: But at school they’d uh….
HK: (A336 Katsabach) That was just a corner and
it was just like with railings and you could see out and everything
but as long as the teacher thought you didn’t obey then
you had to sit in there. [Laughter]
PE: And I’m sure they wouldn’t laugh
while they were in there.
HK: No, no.
PE: Ok, we can start talking about a little bit
more towards the World War II if you don’t mind. In ’42,
when the Germans came in, was that a big relief to the people
HK: We were waiting for that you know so the German
come. Most of what the people wanted was the church. The steeple
was down, all the windows were knocked out and it made [into]
a show hall and then they said well if Germans coming in they
gonna help us so they had their own chaplain with them, so they
figured that all out and stuff like that so they helped us. They
brought an altar in the church and they cleaned the church and
painted it and everything.
PE: I imagine the people were very, very happy for
HK: And it’s not just that; seven years from
’35 till ’42 we were out a priest. Can you imagine
how many people died, how many buried, how many got married and
everything. So those priests, those chaplains and even Bishop
(Klosser?) for three days that’s what they did. One day
they heard confession and the next they baptized all and the third
day they married all; they set them around – I don’t
know how many there were and they married them again the right.
Then they went out to the graveyard and blessed all the graves;
the people who died all those seven years. Like in our graveyard
like here too there was no wooden grave, everything iron crosses;
even my dad died in ’35 but he made his cross before.
PE: Was there a priest there when he died too?
HK: No, he was the last one to be buried, [by] Fr.
Koop, he was the last one to be buried and the next night they
took the priest away. See they took the priest away, then they
took the teachers away and then they took the doctor or smart
people you know. They took them one by one by one, see then we
poor people we had no chance.
PE: So when the priests finally came in –
that the Germans brought in, some of the children were seven years
old before they were Baptized and some of the people were married
for a while.
HK: And another thing like they say we make an act
of Contrition and then those priests say we know you went through
a lot so much so they have a whole community – like here
we go to confession for Christmas something like that –
you know you just hold hand and they blessed you and stuff like
PE: That was for Confession?
HK: That was for Confession and for Marriage and
for Baptism and everything; like for all those seven years people
got married; they made holy water on their own see then the Godmother
and the Godfather, they married you; they put two candles on and
holy water and then they said I take you so-and-so. That’s
what the people did and them priests said that was a good job
you did, yah.
PE: That’s good.
HK: And we made our – there was no rosaries
so you know the barley bread is kind of hard after awhile, the
flour, so people made rosaries out of them – pray the rosaries,
PE: Put a thread through them?
HK: Yah, a thread through, yah.
PE: Did families get together to pray or was that
HK: Well, when the Communists was we couldn’t
get together you know because you not even could have a holy picture
on the wall but later on you know then we had church for three
years and then well then that’s all.
PE: When the priests came in two years was it or
HK: Well they brought them in in ’42, and
’43, and ’44 that’s when we had to leave. But
it was such a sad day, I said it rained and snowed, the cats and
the dogs were sitting in the entrance and they were meowing, the
church bell was ringing and some Russian people came [and said],
“Why do you go away.” My ma and other people [said],
“Well you can come in our houses now.” “Well
we were such good friends, why you go away.” But we had
to go away so that’s.
PE: Now at what point were you married to your husband
then if you wouldn’t mind talking about that?
HK: In January, yah and see when the Germans were
in a year, then in ’43 they start to drafting, up to my
brother, my husbands, relatives, cousins. There was only man life
like we say from 45-50, the rest of them they all took.
PE: 45-50 years old?
PE: Then the younger ones they took?
HK: Yah, the other ones, then the German. See before
when the war started the Russian took some of them, but the Russians
thought well they didn’t need the Germans but then when
the Russian got bad, and the Germans came, so they took all those
young ones, yah.
PE: So the Russians took your brother first and
then later on the Germans took your husband?
HK: Yah, he come home then and he was home maybe
two months and then they mobilized everything.
PE: Oh, so your brother came home for a while but
then he had to go with the Germans.
HK: With the Germans, and my husband too. They took’em
all to Poland, the Germans, that’s where they trained them
you know and never came home, none of ‘em.
PE: Now did the people in Strassburg know what the
German Nazi forces were doing to people in the concentration camps?
HK: No, no, no we didn’t know it. And even
if we knew we thought that’s impossible, that they can’t
do that. But see when we went away and then we lived in Poland;
well we were two months and twelve days on the road, well there
was no more shoes no nothing, but you could not believe that,
how can Hitler or the German people [be] that rough.
PE: Was there rumors then about that kind of?
HK: Well the people who took us in from Germany,
they told us all what had happened, what Hitler did to them and
stuff like that so we knew it you know.
PE: Oh, the people who took you in when you made
it to Germany.
HK: Yah, in Germany.
PE: Well, that’s a question I was going to
ask you. In a previous interview you talked all about it and you
don’t have to go into all the detail you did there, but
could you tell us anything more that you can recall about your
journey out of Strassburg to Franzfeld you said and then from
there you crossed the Dnieper river to Romania, to Hungary…
HK: Yah, to Hungary and then to Poland.
PE: Now it was at Hungary where the German soldiers
said you’re on your own and that there’s a train that
will take you…
HK: Yah, because there was no – the horses
they were all died, we walked.
PE: The horses were dead already.
HK: The horse were dead and then they said in five
days there comes and train and they take you to Poland and it
took us five days; they were just cattle trucks, they were kind
of cramped. And then when we came to Poland they put us in a…it’s
almost like a concentration camp; first they deloused us and disinfect
us and whatever you know and uh…
PE: Did you feel extra scared at that point when
the Germans said that you’re on your own?
Did you feel somewhat safe when you were with the soldiers?
HK: Yah, we were, but they didn’t know what
to do either. There was no food. And the people like we come to
Hague or to Zeeland they not even let you get water from the well
PE: They wanted to keep it – they needed it
HK: For themselves and stuff and it was…it
PE: Going back just a little bit, when the Germans
came into Strassburg and things were back to normal, were those
HK: Well see when they came in and then they built
like – then they appointed a mayor for…that we had
to [do]… and the land you know we didn’t know whose
got who and whose got what and then they give you so many acres
you know you could start your plowing. But you had no horses,
you had nothing, you not even could do that [plow], yah, so.
PE: When you were in Poland you said you worked
in some factories there for the Germans.
HK: Yah, for the German army – sewing clothes.
Yah, that’s what we did.
PE: Then on January 20th, 1945, that was the day
when the Germans came and told you you had to leave.
HK: Germans came and knocked on the door and said,
“Get everything what you have together, the Russians are
twenty-five kilometer behind you. But we cannot help you, there’s
no horses, there’s no cars.” And they walked with
us the soldiers, but you could hear cannonball and everything,
ahh it was terr…and cold, cold; when you blow up in the
air icicle came down, that cold it was.
PE: If you don’t mind be asking or if you
feel comfortable talking, what was going through your mind and
heart during that time? Did you think you were ever going to get
to safety when they were behind you?
HK: Well, we thought…everybody said we got
to stick together and stuff like that, but people come from all
kinds of corner, not just German; the Poland and the Czech and
everything, but…there was nothing there you come into those
little villages and they were empty already; those people were
gone already and we thought how do we make it to Germany you know
and they said its well…I don’t know how many kilometers
they said, but it took us sixteen days to go to Germany. And we
came to Germany and Germany was bombed out; they had nothing themselves
you know; a person could not believe it you know.
PE: Now when you came to these little villages on
your journey, was there anything there that you could utilize,
like supplies or food that you could…?
HK: There was cats and dogs running around and stuff
but no food. Once in a while they said well there’s a train
coming and he give some packages food but the train never made
it. We always starved you know, the feet were swollen just like
PE: In January that would have been?
HK: Yah, and that was cold at forty-five below.
PE: Did some people freeze their feet and stuff like that?
HK: Oh yah and not just that, every once in a while
you see a body lay on the side, a blanket covered up; and we just
(end side A)
PE: Now Helen, when you finally came into Germany
and you realized that they were bombed too by the Americans, Russians,
and so on, what was your attitude towards the Americans at that
time, or towards those forces?
HK: See what we found out what those German people
went through then we thought maybe it’s good they came and
get rid of Hitler and all that stuff you know. But all those people
who left home, they had no home and the Germans said, “Well
we cannot take you up, we have nothing.” We were like a
homeless people, you have no country, you’re nothing.
PE: Displaced people right.
HK: Displaced people, yah.
PE: Did that make you feel really sad too because
you never…you didn’t have a home?
HK: Right. We didn’t know where to we belong.
Like you go, I don’t know what…like they say they
give you so much money for a pair of shoes, a coat or a pair,
or a shirt of whatever it is, but what those people, those farmers,
didn’t have much either and their money was gone. They changed
our money, they got nothing for their money too, they had to all
start allover again.
PE: That must have been a very good family then
to take you in.
HK: Oh yah, they were good, they were good those
people. I said too, I said I never forget them as far as…and
they took a lot of our side in but they couldn’t take everybody
in either you know, and like they had a law you know when they
were butchering they had to butcher at night you know they had
to be careful so nobody reports them, you only can have so much.
PE: Was that a Christian family then that took you
HK: Yah, they were Lutheran people, but I said,
Peter, I don’t know like in Germany the churches –
each family had their pew, they paid for that and stuff like that
and we had about seven miles walk to a Catholic church, but the
town Hermatausen that was Lutheran, but we walked to that Catholic
church and I don’t care, maybe God seen it too, we had to
stand on the aisle even if the pew is half empty because that
was their bench and that was it. So you knew you were a outsider,
you knew you were a outsider.
PE: Was there a number of people then that were
in your situation that…?
HK: Oh yah, oh yah, there was a lot of them there,
my two sisters they worked for people and they said - they had
horses, they could give us a horse and a wagon, “No, the
horses have to rest.” So we had to walk, but we had to work
next Monday too again.
PE: So every Sunday you walked that seven miles
HK: Seven mile to church, yah, m-hm.
PE: That was a good sacrifice for God, huh.
HK: Yah, yah it was.
PE: What would you do then during that time you
were in Germany like on Sunday afternoon, did you have to work
then too or I’m sure they gave you the day off.
HK: They gave you off, yah, yah. Well, if they need
you if they had company or what and fix supper or what, they ask
you nicely you know. Then if we had nothing to do we went out
for a walk, in Germany they always go walking so much out in…it
was nice you know.
PE: Did the family that you were with, did they
have a family too? Like kids and…
HK: Their son, their only son got killed in Russia
and the daughter got the farm then. So I still get Christmas cards
and write to them too, yah, m-hm.
PE: At that same farmyard they’re still farming
HK: Yah, yah, m-hm.
PE: So it’s the daughter that’s living
on the farm right now, the parents are passed on.
HK: Yah and when I figured out to come to America
then Grandma, Grandma Lena said, “No, Helen, what do you
want to do in America, they gonna kidnap kids and sell them kids,
the Indians.” So I said, “Well, I got to make a different,
you know, different start you know.”
PE: What was that name again, you said krama?
PE: [I still wasn’t sure what she had said
at the time] That was their names or…
HK: You mean the lady? Lena was her first name,
but she said, [B43 german phrase] They kidnapping the kindle,
the Indians, [Laughter] they hear them stories and stuff like
PE: At this time too Marie was growing up with you.
HK: Yah, she was six, yah.
PE: One question I was gonna ask – from your
previous interview you mentioned that you and your mother had
plans to go find your aunt Josefa, but the bombs came, did you
ever think about continuing with that plan after you came to that
farm or were you happy there and satisfied?
HK: We were happy there, but my mother went once
to visit her [aunt Josefa], but she was older than my ma and then
later on she died. She had one daughter and they lived in Byan,
you know in Germany.
PE: How did they ever get into contact with her?
HK: My ma knew where she lived, before, see.
PE: So she went to visit her sometimes?
HK: Yah, m-m. But that was luck too because otherwise
I said you know the front train was bombed and the back, and the
middle we were sitting and didn’t get hurt at all.
PE: Wow, hmm.
HK: Maybe that had to be like that, I think so too,
you know, I don’t know.
PE: Maybe you wouldn’t have found that farmer
otherwise, you would have went to your aunt’s. Now you said
that that family accepted you, but other Germans in general didn’t
except you because you were Russians and came to Germany.
HK: Yah, they called us Russian you know and they
wouldn’t – and see the worst thing was when we were
[there] two- three years and then some of the [German] boys, one
went with my sister Lydia and the other one with Bertha too, and
they said, “They don’t have no [B63 arpda].”
They didn’t think they could get anything you know.
PE: Oh, like when you get married.
HK: Get married you give you something. “They
have no arpda,” you know and them boys said, “That
doesn’t matter, we’re going to get married to them
anyway.” And so they both got married to them German boys,
yah, and they did good.
PE: That’s good.
HK: Yah. They didn’t get nothing; we couldn’t
give them nothing, you know, ma could give them nothing. “They
get no arpda,” you know. [Laughter]
PE: So one of the reasons why you couldn’t
have that pew in church too was because – was it only because
of the money or was it because you were outsiders?
HK: Outsiders, outsiders, yah.
PE: Did this farm family ever treat you like that?
HK: No, no, they were good. They were so good with
us, you know. I don’t know but you always have to think,
you’re still a outsider, you know. Like when I clean the
house once in a while there was twenty marks laying here and [later]
there was another money laying here and I always said, “Grandma,
here I found that money.” “Oh, must be forget it.”
But that was a test.
PE: Oh, I see, they tested you.
HK: They checked, yah.
No, they were real good those people. They treated us right, but
in ‘all over,’ the country, you know, didn’t
accept us, no matter what, you know. But then later on I know
my one sister she worked for the build the airplane and the other
one too she was a midwife and stuff like that, but they had to
work themselves up themselves you know.
PE: It was many years since your ancestors were
first in Germany, you said they were in Alsace-Lorraine.
That was your great-great-or great grandfather. You wouldn’t
remember what year that was when your great grandfather came?
HK: No, I don’t. That I don’t, you know.
I just remember you know when pa said you know his dad told him
you know and when great grandpa came in to Russia and there what
they said when they drove out in the field they turned around
right away and they made the horses and the wagons stay that ways
otherwise they wouldn’t get lost, that high, everything
was grown with weeds and stuff.
PE: Where at, now?
HK: In Russian – in Ukraine, by Strassburg,
PE: Oh, ok, because there was no houses or anything
HK: There was nothing built, there was nothing there,
but then they turned around so the horses and the wagon go like
that and they worked the weeds and cut and stuff like that, and
they plowed with wooden shares, wooden plows, yah, m-m.
PE: When you got those care packages from Joseph,
did you get a number of those packages from them before the letter
came that asked if someone wanted to come over here?
HK: Well see those packages came, like Msgr. Aberle
and Msgr. Lauinger and Msgr. Neibler they got this group of people
together and they said well every month each one is suppose to
donate twenty five dollars and they buy rice and sugar and needle
and all that stuff and then just send it over and then over there
the Catholic church found a family who was in need and stuff and
they divide it. And this package what we got put the address in
a shirt inside and that’s how we get to know each other.
So we wrote back you know and after awhile – see they had
no children Joe and Catherine, and then they thought well would
you mind come over and stuff like that. It took two years till
I made my mind up but I still you know am glad I did it.
PE: Glad you came, huh. Do you ever wonder –
I suppose you don’t wonder too much now – but at the
time wondered what your life would be like if you decided not
to come over?
HK: But you know I said too so many times there’s
hard times and sad times and good times but in Germany I would
be a single person maybe for the rest of my life and raised Marie,
she would be out on her own and who do I belong? Here at least
I have a family and I said too, I said I could stayed in Germany
too, but its just would be such a hard start.
PE: So you knew about the opportunities available
HK: Yeah, but you know I was homesick too, you know
sometimes thought I was going to walk home, but where is home?
Monsignor Neibler said, “I was homesick too when I come
over here, that’s gonna get better.” So…[laughter]
PE: Oh, he came over too.
HK: He was from Germany too, Msgr., yah. And he
was here 38 years and he said don’t feel bad if they laugh
when you talk English, I still make mistakes and I’ve been
here 38 years already,” he says, [Laughter]. But I know
when I hear some people talk, I think I talk better than they
PE: Maybe it kind of helps you remember about your
past too when you talk the way you used too.
HK: Yah, right.
PE: Did the people from this community make you
HK: Yah, but [B128 german word] what is it, ah…trying
to find out everything you know, and there was these people living
across the street. Lipp, Mike Lipp and he was an older man, but
he come over lots of time and he said, “You’re a Catholic
[B131 german phrase, da bish kadolish,] you know he said. And
I said, “yah” and he said, “In Russia did they
have two epistle too in the church.” See in the early days
there was two..
HK: Reading, one over here and one before the church
went out and he says, “Yah, now I know you’re kadolish.”
PE: Kadolish? What’s that?
HK: Catholic. He thought maybe I wasn’t and
I just pretend and he said, “Now I know da bish Kadolish.”
[Laughter]. And there was a couple of women in town here, older
ones you know. They said they were the leaders like the Altar’s
society and everything and then they came up once, Joe and Catherine
went someplace, I not even know, and they said, “Can we
come in.” I said, “Yes,” Yah, and can I say
it in German now, it sounds good.
PE: Go ahead.
HK: Then they said, “[B143 german phrase]
[laughter] Yah, I had my hair permanent and everything, “Yah”
I said, “I’m a [B144 german phrase]. I’m a lady
just like you are. [Laughter]
PE: They didn’t have the hair the same way
HK: No, no. But I mean it’s kind of funny
people getting thinking you know why did she came all over here,
and stuff like that.
PE: Did you ever meet other people who came from
Germany that were from Russia originally over here in this area?
HK: No, nobody, nobody. You know when we came to
New York, and then well they give you your ticket where you gonna
go and you get a tape, “North Dakota” and this one
lady said (she went to Chicago) she said, “Oh my God,”
but she said it in German, “you go to North Dakota, oh my
God.” I didn’t know what’s what and then when
I came and see all that snow and then I said oh that’s why
that lady said oh my God. [Laughter]
PE: She knew it was cold and snow up there.
HK: Yah, snow up there you know, yah.
PE: Did you know that there was a town by the name
of Strasburg near Hague before you came here?
HK: Yah, Joe wrote, he wrote [that] there’s
a lot – and when I came a lot of Strasburg people came down
and they wanted to know if you know uncle John, uncle Carl, uncle
Joe and yah I knew a lot of them, but see I knew Msgr. Aberle’s
PE: Oh…over in Germany then?
HK: No in Russia, in Russia, yah. And when I came
then he came and he wanted to know – see all his brothers
got to the concentration camp, he knew that before. But I knew
his mother real good.
PE: Msgr. Aberle was one of them from Strassburg
HK: …who came over here. Well see his parents
sent him over to study history, not history – what you call
HK: No, bank and business, something like that,
and then when he was [here] a year he changed his mind and he
wanted to become a priest and that’s what he was, yah. And
see he came to Zeeland there, well see his mother had an aunt
in there, and see that’s where he came over here so.
PE: That’s all the questions I had written
down here but is there anything else that you’d wish to
share about your life in Russia or your coming over to America
or your life in America?
HK: Well, Peter, I always say like the older people
used to say you know not every country, government is right, you
cannot please everybody and I said when we came over here we came
to New York and everybody, people kneeled down and they cried
and they kissed the ground and I said and I wouldn’t go
back, they could give me whole Germany or whole Russia, anymore.
I said, but people have to accept stuff like that too you know,
you cannot deal with everybody you know and sure there is trouble
in Germany, there is trouble in England, well America cannot fix
everything either you know, but I would not go back for anything
in the world you know.
PE: That’s good.
PE: Your memories, just a little bit more about
your childhood I guess if you don’t mind me asking?
Were you one of the younger sisters?
HK: No I was the oldest and then was my brother,
we were just a year apart, and then there was Lydia and Bertha,
PE: So you played when you were younger. Who did
you play – did you play with all your siblings or?
HK: No we had different friends, yah, different
you know, you got your own club you know and you know who you
get along with and stuff like that or do something to get them
back [laughter] or something like that you know.
PE: You mentioned that you’d play like ball
and stuff like that in school, but what kind of things would you
do outside of school? Could you get together with your friends
outside of school?
HK: Oh yah, oh yah, hm-mm. Then we’d get together
and have a little party. Like we’d have thanksgiving, in
Germany you say, [B191 german word] and then when the fruit and
everything is done and then there was a big…three days party
you know, you could dance and have food and stuff like that.
PE: But like you say when you got home from school,
did you have to do chores right away?
HK: Yah, we had to do chores, and in Russia too
you know. Yah, the yard had to be swept you know and everything
PE: Leaves raked off
HK: Leaves raked, and another thing [was] we have
to go and get the fire wood and stuff like that and the manure,
I don’t know how you say it in English, but they pressed
it down with some and then they had to cut it and then put it
in a big pile and then in the winter you put some in and stick
it in the oven and that was our…
PE: That’s how it burned, huh. Did one of
those blocks last a while?
HK: Oh yah, yah, and then they had a bakofen see
and then the bottom was the fire and in the top you baked your
bread and baked popcorn and everything. [Laughter]
PE: So when you had school was there nine months
of school like we have in America or…?
HK: Right, yah, right three months off, right uh-huh.
PE: What were some of the things like…at nighttime
did you do a lot of reading?
HK: That I have to tell you another story. I just
loved to read. When I got books, and at that time you have the
kerosene lamp, but you only have so much for a month, and I then
I said, “just one more page mom, just one more page.”
“Turn it off!” “one more page” and I was
sitting and reading and the lamp [was there] and my mom took her
shoe off and she hit it too me [Laughter] and then the kerosene
lamp fell and I said, “now look what you did and now the
lame and everything is gone, and I still had my book. [Laughter]
PE: You really wanted to read that book, huh.
HK: [Laughter] Yah, “one more page,”
I said, “one more page.”
PE: Were your brothers and sisters like that too.
Did they like to read?
HK: Joseph not, when he had to go to school he put
his books behind the fence and he went out with the guys out the
horses, so he wasn’t much [for reading], but the girls were
PE: If you could explain to me again, when did you
start getting into contact with English books, where you would
HK: Well see in Russia there was a library you know
you could check out books. But you have to check those books out,
but you couldn’t check out something against the country
PE: So you would check out some English books then
and try reading on your own.
HK; Yah, hm-hm. Oh I love to read. Now days too
I just read, I just love to read. Well I think if you read you
educate yourself. Yah, I know like even when you read a book and
then you go over it and say well that should be like that or that
was like that and then you educate yourself. All my kids they
all love to read, they all read, yah.
PE: Now the radio, when were you able to listen
HK: When I came over here.
PE: Just when you came over here?
PE: Did you enjoy that more than the TV when you
first came over or did you have a TV?
HK: At that time we didn’t have no TV but
a radio, then and a station came in from Yankton, SD you know
and there was stuff like that and then later on when the kids
– Joe bought a TV, I remember Philco or whatever it was
PE: Did you enjoy the Lawrence Wellk show?
HK: Yah, hm-hm. And can you imagine he was over
80 years old and he still had that German accent, you know, [Laughter]
PE: Well that was – Thank you very much Helen
for sharing with us and doing this interview.
HK: You’re welcome, you’re welcome.
If I remember something or you want to know something just give
me a call. I love to talk about it. Sometimes I think it is even
good if people know what a person went through and stuff like
that. I have to tell you this when I got arthritis so bad on my
knee I had a doctor’s appointment and Dr. Groovy said, “What
brought that on with your knees.” I said, “Don’t
you know, mileage,” I thought he fell off the chair, he
laughed so… yah I said “that’s mileage.”
Can you imagine you walked two months and a half, just walked
and walked and walked. Stood beside the wagon and fell asleep
and the next day you going again.
PE: Now was there anyone that was able to jump on
the wagon and ride or was that just for…?
HK: You couldn’t. That was just for we had
little clothes and the horses they not even could pull the wagon
anymore you know and then there was mud like that you know. Do
you remember “Wagon Train” that movie, there you go
that’s the same thing, that’s the same thing.
PE: And the older people had to kinda walk too or
HK: Well some grandmas and grandpas were sitting
up there and we sometimes got stuck and we had to push the wagon
out and then we had no more feed for the horses. My sisters had
such a beautiful scarf, she went in town and she traded up for
a sack of oats for the horse, yah, it doesn’t last for more
than two days and then. The horse had no more hoove, nothing,
it was just terrible.
PE: So by the time you were going to Germany then
there was no horses or anything?
HK: No, nothing, they were laying beside the road
and I said there were so many people just beside the road and
being buried and stuff like that.
PE: No you said from Poland when you walked to Germany
there was people from all over like Czechs…
HK: From all over, there was Czechs and Poles and
Russian and German soldier, they even tore their clothes off and
put lady’s clothes on sometimes, and we always said, “didn’t
you hear it, 25 mile, the Russian 25 mile behind you.”
PE: Did you walk as a big group then?
HK: Yah, groups, people got stuck together.
PE: How big would you say the groups would be?
HK: Oh…maybe 25-30 people you know and that’s
when we lost one of my sisters. She got mixed up with the wrong
group and then finally three days afterwards we found her again.
PE: Were the groups close to each other while they
HK: Yah, yah. They helped out each other. They helped
out each other, yah. And then they said people are going to take
you in the train and the train came, got the cars there and the
engine drove away. They never even picked the people up.
PE: Is there anything else you’d like to share
HK: No, I think that’s ok. I’m glad
PE: I’m glad you were able to do this. This
will conclude our interview [with Mrs. Helen Krumm] on January
7th 2003 in Hague, ND.