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Review of Die Deutschen am Schwarsen Meer zwishen Bug und Dnjestr

Book review by Roland M. Wagner, PhD., San Jose State University, San Jose, California


John Philipps was born in the German colony of Landau in the Black Sea region, and raised during the crucial transition period of the late 1920s and the 1930s, while the Soviet collectivization progra, was imposed. He attended an agricultural college and became a professional agronomist. While serving in this capacity he was able to travel throughout the Black Sea region, where he became intimately familiar with local agrarian and social conditions in the German colonies. One of the most important facts that should be emphasized about this book is that it was based on information acquired on a first-hand basis, by a trained expert, who had wide exposure to local socioeconomic conditions and who was in a unique position to observe the events that transpired during these crucial decades.

In an earlier book, Die deutschen Bauern am Schwarzen Meer (Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, 1994, 106 pages), Philipps shared some of his first-hand information and impressions about life in the German village during the early Soviet era. In this current book he has greatly expanded the information (The new German edition is nearly double in size). While the focus remains on the Beresan colonies, Philipps includes brief sections on the Kutschurgan, Glückstal, and other regions as well, and also on some of the major individual farmsteads or Khutors (Sattler, Schwarz, Schardt, Reisenhauer, Meuchel, etc.). He provides valuable information about a wide variety of topics, including the Civil War, the great famines of 1921 and 1932, and operations of the sovkhoz and Kolkhoz collective farms. One useful resource for specialized translation is that he provides German terminology and descriptions for various farming implements, some of which readers may recall, such as the Putzmühle, the Dampfmaschine (Parowik), the Dreischarpflug, and so on. His narrative is enrichened by stories of everyday tribulations of the farmers in the Ukraine, such as their struggles with gophers (Erdhasen, or Ziesel), devilishly efficient little diggers who could destroy fields with their deep tunnels. The final pages of the book are quite moving, when Philipps speaks personally abut the occupation by the Wehrmacht during the Second World War, and the evacuation of the colonists to the Wartegau. He participated as a team leader in this mass migration. He describes how the colonists felt when they had to abandon the colonies that had been foounded by their ancestors 150 years before, as they began the long trek to unknown territory in the Wartegau, and the conditions they encountered there.

The volume is enriched by numerous photographs, regional maps, and detailed village plot maps, showing the names of families and where they resided in the Beresan colonies. He also incorporates some of the new information that is forthcoming from Russian archives, providing lists of names of Germans who were "liquidated" during the Stalinst years of oppression. This goldmine of information is now being expertly translated by Brigitte von Budde of the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, and it should soon be available to a wider English-speaking audience. In either the German or English forms, it is valuable reference work for all those who are interested in the German colonies of the Black Sea region.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
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