Finding her Roots Reaps Indescribable
Holstege, Sean. "Finding her Roots Reaps Indescribable Experience." Tri-Valley Herald, 10 July 1996.
LIVERMORE, CALIFORNIA - When Marge Jergentz-Stout
arrived in Friedenstal she sobbed, overcome by a "tremendously
All the gravestones were gone. They were stacked
neatly in a cow pasture some distance away. The town, west of
the Ukrainian city of Odessa, was renamed Mirnopolje.
When Adolph Hitler marched his armies on the Soviet
Union, Joseph Stalin sent all of Mirnopolje's German-speaking
inhabitants to fight or on cattle cars to harvest trees in Siberia.
For every tree they cut in the labor camp, they got a slice of
bread to supplement a diet of insects. Many died.
Jergentz-Stout, a Livermore woman who teaches people
how to write their family histories, had no family left in the
place she recently visited as a village coordinator for several
She sobbed, too, because she never thought such
a journey would be possible. Only the painstaking research of
German-Russian genealogists made it possible.
"I never dreamed in my lifetime I could ever research
my father's side of the family," Jergentz-Stout said.
"Standing in the place that they had stood so long
ago is just an indescribable experience. It brings a person full-circle.
It's a completion. It's like coming home," she said.
Jergentz-Stout returned last week to Livermore
with a huge round loaf of bread. In family custom, each member
broke off a piece and dipped it in salt--symbolizing their bond.
She had just returned from a two-week exodus to
trace her roots. Friedenstal was the second leg. The week before,
Jergentz-Stout joined the first U.S. delegation to attend a conference
in Stuttgart, where the German government tries to repatriate
Russians of German ancestry and link them with local relatives.
Some 65,000 lined up at tables to find their relatives.
Many were separated by the war, half a century ago. Jergentz-Stout
watched the reunion of two long-lost cousins there.
The trip to Germany and Ukraine was arranged by
North Dakota State University.
Germans began settling parts of Ukraine three centuries
ago, at the invitation of Catherine the Great, who wanted to repopulate
land that had been retaken from the Turks. The Lutheran Germans
were happy to flee the turmoil of the Reformation.
Modern residents of Mirnopolje--including a family
from Chernobyl living in the home of Jergentz-Stout's great-great-grandfather--have
no knowledge of that history. As they shared a meal, the family
admitted having no idea the village was once Friedenstal and that
the sports center was once a Lutheran church.
Jergentz-Stout's family arrived in Friedenstal
in the 1830s and stayed until the 1880s. Then it emigrated to
the United States. In 1921, her grandfather went to work in wineries