Memories of the Black Sea Germans: Highlights
of Their History and Heritage
By Joseph S. Height, 1979, 372 pages, softcover.
When Dr. Joseph S. Height, professor, linguist, historian, wrote
his two important books about the Germans from Russia, Paradise
on the Steppe, which informs about the initial Catholic colonies
and Homesteaders on the Steppe, which tells of the Lutheran
colonies, he had more information than would fit into those books.
He gathered this additional material into this book, Memories
of the Black Sea Germans. It has two subtitles, The Odyssey
of a Pioneering People on the cover and Highlights of Their
History and Heritage on the title page. But, though the book
is neither a compilation of personal reminiscences nor an organized
history, as the title and subtitles might suggest, it is also more
than an addendum to the other two. It is a fascinating collection
of primary and cultural material and additional information, and
it will answer questions many German-Russians have assumed have
no answers. It repeats some material from the first two books, but
it is useful even if you have read both of them.
There were two portions this reviewer found especially interesting:
That the Black Sea colonies succeeded at the level they did was
in part, at the beginning, to a people-friendly genius, the Duc
de Richelieu, who served as governor of Odessa and the surrounding
for 11 1/2 years. When Alexander I brought Germans and a few other
farmers into South Russia, he did not just abandon them to their
devices, he appointed Richelieu as governor to supervise them. Richelieu
was a man with energy, intelligence, and imagination, plus a sense
style. Bored with life in Paris, he had come to Russia and participated
in the battle of Ismail, an important event in the war that preceded
call for settlers. He wrote a directive, dated February 23, 1804,
which he outlined the pattern of settlement in the area. Dr. Height
provides us with a copy of this. Richelieu, who was full of ideas,
up Odessa, where he arranged for the construction of Orthodox, Lutheran,
and Catholic churches, established a hospital and a sanctuary for
poor, and an institution of higher education that later became the
University of Odessa. He was a hands-on administrator who thought
carefully about how the colonies should be organized. He established
nursery and pushed for the planting of trees and commercial crops.
personally visited the colonies and got to know the people. Beloved
all the people, he had a paternal interest in their welfare and
progress, listened to their grievances, gave them friendly counsel
encouragement, settled their disputes, and distributed alms to the
He...was strict in matters relating to discipline, thrift, and
industry,.." After he left South Russia and returned to Paris,
arranged for shipments of grain from the Odessa area to ease a famine
France. The President of the Colonist Welfare Committee called him
greatest benefactor in the history of the colonies."
Among several first-person accounts, in this book, of life at the
of colonization, is one written by J. G. Kohl in 1838. Kohl was
of roving reporter from Germany who spent some time in Lustdorf
years after its founding. (Kohl's report also appears in Homesteaders
the Steppe.) "The sight of so many settlements really came
to me as a
surprise. I never encountered a similar scene on the steppes."
the presence of Greeks, Russians, and Cossack villages in the area.
report has descriptions of the German villages, the achievements
enterprise of their hard-working people, and the gardens (bashtans),
which watermelon (arboose) was king, though they also grew onions,
cucumbers, pumpkins, potatoes, and a surprising variety of other
vegetables and fruits. He observed an amusing habit among the Germans:
"The people have an amazing skill in separating the sweet [sunflower]
kernels from the small shells or husks, and they bite and crack
incessantly the livelong day. ...Even when they are traveling across
country, they usually take along a large head of sunflower seeds
hold it under one arm while they pick out kernel after kernel with
other." He inserts a human-interest vignette about the love
life of a
farmers daughter "Babele," but he also does some
He compares the Russian farmers unfavorably with the industrious
Germans. He notes that the colonists were required by the government
provide labor, such as general maintenance of roads and other common
facilities. They were also required to lodge soldiers and provide
transportation for persons connected with the government. He describes
the primitive harvesting technology that wasted much grain. He notes
setup of the government within the colonies, and also the power
Colonists Welfare Committee. On page 122, Dr. Height includes a
of Lustdorf dated 1944.
In this book, you will find the following materials, listed here
roughly in chronological order, not necessarily in the order in
the items appear in the book:
-A Prospectus of Privileges of the Colonists dated March 20, 1804.
This list, circulated in Germany when Russia sought colonists, is
German-Russians probably know from memory even if they have never
the document itself.
-Information about who came to Russia and their experience along
way. Dr. Height describes the routes to Russia and the length of
treks. There are drawings of the flimsy Ulmer Schachtel, on which
immigrants sailed down the Danube. He tells of the quarantines and
suffering and hundreds of deaths that occurred.
-There are several early personal accounts by German-Russian pioneers.
-Dr. Height tells how Karl Stumpp obtained his records.
-A chronology and traditional celebrations of Christmas are instructive.
-There are lists of names. One that might be of interest is of persons
who emigrated from Alsace.
-Stories are told in the German dialect as it was spoken in the
Kutschurgan colonies, and there are poems in both German and English.
Dr. Height paid attention to preservation of the language.
-Descriptions of customs and traditions, including verses are
-In an account that is always a favorite, Dr. Height includes an
of a festive 3-day wedding in Krasna.
-There are verbal sketches of some of the Catholic colonies.
-George Rath tells of the shooting of 87 men of Selz.
-There is a story of a villages flight west, just ahead of
advancing Russian Army, on March 12, 1944.
-In an excerpt from Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn praises
the qualities of work and determination to survive and achieve that
German deportees brought to their lives during the Stalinist exile.
-A man named Leo Ochs tells of the peoples determination to
Christmas in a slave labor camp. "After the roll call and supper--a
single bowl of sour cabbage broth--five of us who had our bunks
corner of the barracks sat down together in a circle, and celebrated
Christmas Eve. We celebrated the long-awaited first Holy Night,
in our hearts, in memory of the beautiful Christmases we had enjoyed
while we were still living in freedom."
-"A Mother Returns from Siberia" by Wolfgang Meyer describes
how it was
for a mother to embrace her son after 30 years.
-Dr. Height moves on to recount the lives of pioneers on the Dakota
prairie and the story of the settlement of German-Russian Catholic
families in Canada. This is refreshing because, though things were
tough, nature was their challenge, not erratic governments and ethnic
-The book has many maps and black and white pictures.
Dr. Height ends with a personal reflection in which he tells
his familys sojourn from the Kutschurgan colonies in Russia
North Dakota and then to Tramping Lake in Saskatchewan (where he was born
1909). He relates how he came to write his three books and how,
search to touch his heritage, he could visit Alsace in 1964. No
Russia were possible in his day.
Masset sod house with vestibule and low annex added later. McIntosh
County, ND, circa 1900.
cairn erected in 1975 near Selz, ND, in honor of the Catholic
pioneer settlers who immigrated from the Kutschurgan District
villages today near Odessa, Ukraine.
Memories of the Black Sea Germans
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