Selz Jubilee Speech
By Merv Weiss, Limanske, Ukraine, 28 September 2008
Good afternoon, Mayor Zharikov, guests of this celebration, ladies and gentlemen of Limanske. I would like to give a special greeting to the organizers of this event, especially Luise Riesling and historian Bukovsky, Vladimir Jakovlovich.
Guten Tag, sehr geehrte Damen und Herrn aus Deutschland.
My name is Mervin Weiss, and I live in Canada. I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this special occasion.
I am very pleased that the people of Limanske are interested in the history of their village. And I am very grateful that they recognize that German people from the Rhineland territories of Europe came here in 1808 to settle this land.
My grandmother’s great-grandfather, Michael Fetsch, was the first mayor of Limanske in 1808. And her second cousin, Alexander Fetsch, was the last German mayor in 1944 when the Germans left this village. This was all wild un-tamed Steppeland when my ancestors came here, and they helped the Ukrainian people turn it into the Bread-Basket of Europe. Of course, this was all called Russia in those times. My grandfathers did not use the name “Ukraine”.
The Germans, to this day, have always called this village “Selz”. It was named after the town of Seltz on the Rhine River in the French province of Alsace. Both of my father’s parents were born in Selz or Limanske, and they married here, and this has always been known in my family. They emigrated to Canada in 1913.
What I want most to say is that the Germans loved Russia. It was their motherland. My grandparents did not leave because they hated Russia. Both of my grandfathers fought as loyal Russian soldiers for the last Czar. Konrad Weiss, born in Selz, fought in the war against Japan in 1904, and he was captured and taken to Japan as a prisoner-of-war. I cannot even imagine that experience. My other grandfather, Philip Schafer, fought as a Russian soldier in World War I.
But my grandfathers could see the changing politics inside Russia. They saw fewer and fewer opportunities for Germans to own land, to work at a trade in their villages, to speak German, to go to Church, to live their German culture. So they left.
But the journey to North America was very difficult. Starting a new life all over in a strange new world, on the great open plains of North America, was nearly as difficult as it was for their ancestors on the steppelands of South Russia or Ukraine. They were scared and lonely, and they wondered if they had made the right decision to leave Russia. They missed their families and friends and their comfortable villages back in Russia. And in fact, in North America, other peoples did not see them as Germans, but rather, they were referred to as Russians. Many times, my grandfathers and grandmothers wished they could go back to Russia, but they had no money to do so.
Five generations of my family lived here in Selz or Limanske. Five generations of my family have now lived in Canada. I was born in Canada, but my roots are here in the Kutschurgan valley. I am as German as the people who came here in 1808, and ploughed this land, and built this village. I am as German as the Germans who were forced to leave here in 1944. I accept and understand that this history is part of who I am. I want my children and grandchildren to understand that part of me. I want the people of Limanske to understand that about me, and about all of the visitors from North America and Germany who are here today, especially the Robert Schneider Tour Group. We come to walk the same streets our ancestors walked.
The Germans from Russia who live in Canada and in USA, and in Germany, will always remember Ukraine as the homeland of their ancestors. I congratulate the people of Limanske for this celebration of the history of their village. I thank them for all of their work to prepare the village for this special occasion. I thank Luise Riesling and her friends for all of her work in preserving the history of the Germans who once lived here.
I hope that in another 200 years, the people here still remember the Germans who first lived here and built this village.
Und zu meiner deutschen Freundin und Freundinen, ich wünsche Ihnen immer blauen Himmel. Bis nächstes Mal, Alles Gut, und Auf Wiedersehen.
Thank you again to Mayor Zharikov. Thank you Inna for translating.