1998 Memories of Tour Members
Kate Halverson, Vassar College, Poughkeepsee, New York (email@example.com)
I wanted to share the thank you message that I received from Kate
Halverson, senior at Vassar College, New York, a member of the May,
1998 Journey to the Homeland Tour Group. Kate has recently been
approved for a Fulbright Fellowship for Germany for the 1999 - 2000
academic year. Kate majors in German at Vassar College. Her Fulbright
research will relate to the Germans in the former Soviet Union who
have returned to Germany in recent years as "Aussiedler". This research
will be very valuable for scholarly documentation of the history
and culture of the Germans from Russia.
--- Michael M. Miller, April 4, 1999
"I hope this fine your well! I just want to thank you personally
for all your assistance and support in my pursuits. Without that
incredible opportunity to participate in "Journey 1998", I most
likely would not have received the Fulbright. That trip changed
my life in numerous ways and I just want you to know how grateful
I am for all that you've done for me.
I will do my best to make you all proud! I wish you a beautiful
Dakota spring and much success with this year's "Journey" trip."
"Thank you for helping me open another door."
By Duane V. Retzloff, Mountain View, California, native of Monango,
North Dakota (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Journey to the Homeland Tour, Summer of 1998 - Discovery of the
Hoffnungstal, Bessarabia Schoolhouse
We were taken to the former village of Hoffnungstal by our translator,
Lara Katan, our driver, Igor, and our overnight Bessarabian host,
Michael Bolkov. Michael was born in the village of Hoffnungstal
and now lives in the neighboring village of Mykolaivka.
Michael recalls that after his family moved from Hoffnungstal
to Mykolaivka, his father used to take them to their former village
to purchase goods from one of the stores there that was kept in
operation to service the military base located nearby. (The military
barracks are still there and the base is used for maneuvers held
there in the summer by the Ukrainian army.) He remembers walking
down the streets with the high walls on either side. It was a special
treat for him when his father would buy a sweet for him at one of
On the day that we visited, May 30, 1998, Michael gave us a personal
guided tour of Hoffnungstal, showing us where the village used to
be located, the cemetery to the east of the village on a hillside,
the marker put there several years earlier to commemorate the founding
of the village by the Germans from Russia, the remnants of the pathway
that once led from the cemetery down to the church, and the site
of the church, which was now just a high knoll at the valley floor
with a few rocks and bits of mortar to indicate where the foundation
of the church used to be.
As we stood there, a herder and his dog passed silently among
the trees along the side of the hill with his herd of cattle. It
was as if time had suddenly been rolled back and we were observing
Hoffnungstal as our forefathers first observed it when they first
At this point, I thought our tour of Hoffnungstal was over, however
Michael said he had one more thing to show us. He would not say
what it was, but drove us to the West up the concrete road leading
to the army barracks to where a sign in bold red letters warned
us against trespassing. At this point he stopped and explained that
we would have to walk the rest of the way.
He led us to the North along a rough country road that would have
been impassable for our van. To the right of the road was a power
line and after we had walked approximately a quarter mile, we noticed
a wall which started to rise out of the ground on our right (to
the East). The ground dropped off on the East side of the wall and
very soon, we saw a structure to the east of the wall hidden beneath
Michael told us that this was the old schoolhouse that used to
be at the center of the village and which had been moved to this
secluded spot to be used as a power substation for the military
base. I was totally stunned. I had not believed that a building
still existed from the former village and here was this very large
beautiful building in obviously very good condition. We never would
have found it on our own since it was in a very secluded spot away
from the previous site of the village, and in an area where it seemed
we were trespassing.
He took us into the yard through an iron gate on the North side
of the building and talked to the security guard who had an office
at the Northeast corner of the building. The guard was dressed in
civilian clothes. It seemed that Michael knew the guard and they
had a friendly conversation for several minutes. The guard then
led us around to the southern entrance to the building and used
his keys to open the heavy wooden door. He was going to give us
a tour of the old school!
As we entered the school, we found ourselves in an immense room,
obviously one of the main classrooms. A power generator was located
in the Northeast corner. Other than that, the walls and floors were
bare. The building was of very substantial construction, similar
to another German schoolhouse we were to visit in another village
later on. The windows were large, allowing a lot of light into the
room, and the walls were very thick -- at least two feet.
The guard then led us into several smaller rooms located towards
the back to the West which might have been offices at one time.
A central wall separated the North side of the school from the South
side of the school and we were not shown the North part of the building
where the military offices were located.
We noticed that there was a second story attached to the North
part of the building and were told that this second story was added
after the building was moved. I don't know if the red-tiled roof
was original, but it appeared to be in very good condition.
In comparing pictures of the school as shown in the village book,
"Familien und Sippenbuch, Hoffungstal, Bessarabien", by Albert Eisenbeiss,
the buildings are very similar, even in the shape and location of
the windows. However, it does appear that the roof is slightly different,
indicating that it may have been replaced since the earlier days
of the school when the picture in the book was taken.
When we walked back to the van, we saw that several Army personnel,
with rifles slung over their shoulders were talking to our driver,
Igor. Whatever Igor told them seemed to satisfy them and they allowed
us to leave without further questions. The visit to the school really
was the frosting on the cake for our Hoffnungstal visit.
Journey to the Homeland Tour, Summer of 1998 - Visit to Karlstal,
Our Karlstal visit would not have been possible had it not been
for our tour guide, Dr. Sergey Yelizarov, a professor at the University
at Odessa. I had been told prior to our tour that Dr. Yelizarov
might be able to help us in locating the former German colony which
was located on the estate of Count Vichey, later known as the Schellenburger
Estate in the vicinity of the former village of Karlstal, now know
as Syroka Balka.
Dr. Yelizarov agreed to be our guide and to help us locate the
site where the Germans used to live on the Estate of Count Vichey.
At this time, we did not know where in the vicinity of Karlstal
the estate had actually been located.
We drove to Karlstal the first week in June. As we approached
Karlstal from Freudental, 8 kilometers to the South, we were amazed
to come upon a large reservoir to the west of road and what seemed
to be a city of modern high rises just on the West shore of the
reservoir -- a stark contrast to the humble buildings we had just
left in Freudental. We were told that this was intended to be a
nuclear power plant (thus the reservoir which was to be used for
cooling). However a geological survey indicated an earthquake fault
directly underneath the facility so they converted it to a coal
power plant. They had built high rise apartments to house the many
people needed to run the nuclear power plant and the facility had
since been converted into a small city by the name of Tellodar.
The land surrounding Karlstal appeared to be very fertile and
the crops were abundant. They were primarily grain crops -- wheat,
barley, oats, but also some vegetable crops and flower crops, including
poppies. Many fruit trees were located in Karlstal itself and the
nearby town of Freudental. Karlstal is part of the Freudental parish,
with the church for both towns being in Freudental.
We drove into the town of Karlstal itself and talked to some of
the older people to find out if they knew anything about the Vichey/Schellenburger
Estate. No one we talked to knew of these names. We then drove to
the nearby village of Dovrochanovo just a few kilometers to the
west of Karlstal, hoping that this might have been the location
of the estate. There we found a lady who remembered the Schellenburger
name and who told us that Karlstal was the village where the Germans
lived who worked on the Schellenburger estate. She said that the
Germans lived on the South side of village, while the Russians lived
on the North side. She said the Schellenburgers had moved back to
Germany during the second world war, but members of the family still
came to visit Karlstal from time to time. She suggested we go to
Tellodar where we would find an old lady of German descent who once
lived in Karlstal and might be able to tell us exactly where the
Schellenburger estate once was.
We drove to Tellodar and Sergey, after a short search, came back
to the car with the German lady. She no longer spoke German (she
was only half German), but related through Sergey that a family
by the name of Alexander now lived where the estate used to be.
We went back to Karlstal and obtained directions to the Alexander
home. It was located on the main road going north-south through
the village. I have the address, written in Ukraine, and although
I cannot decipher the street name, it appears the number of the
house is R-4.
Once there, we met the housewife who lived there by the name of
Olga Alexander. At first she was hesitant to talk to us but, with
Sergey's gentle persistence, she welcomed us into her home and showed
us pictures of her family. She said that the German people that
once lived there came back from time to time and that apparently
their estate once stood where her present home and garden is now.
She told us that often when they tilled the garden they found rubble
that indicated a fairly large sized building once stood there. She
added that the people from Germany said that they often had the
same trouble of water leaking into the basement that her home now
Olga was extremely hospitable and took us out to her back garden
to show us where they had found the rubble and gave us several pieces
to take back. Before we left, she gathered an armful of vegetables
from her garden and gave them to us to take back with us. What a
wonderful way to top off our visit to this special little village
where our Retzlaff forefathers once lived! The Ukrainian people
are so very friendly and hospitable if you just get to know them.
Journey to the Homeland Tour, Visit to Kulm, Bessarabia, May 1998
Kulm, now called Pidhirne, was the first of our ancestral villages
that my aunt, Vicky Retzlaff Kearns, and I were to visit with the
"Journey to the Homeland" tour group in the summer of 1998. This
is where Vicky's father, my grandfather, Otto Retzlaff left with
his parents in 1892 when he was only 8 years old to come to settle
on the vast prairies of the Dakotas near the town named after it's
namesake, Kulm, North Dakota. Over the years I had heard about Kulm
in Bessarabia from relatives, read about it in books, searched for
it's location on old maps, and wrote about it in family memoirs.
Now, at long last, we were going to be the first family members
to set foot in this intriguing village since our forefathers left
to pursue a better life in the United States over 100 years ago.
It was hard to believe that we were actually here in person, ready
to witness with our own eyes the village our grandparents had described
As we headed north from Tarutino, some 12 kilometers south of
Kulm, the ground gradually rose from the broad Kogelnik valley into
the hills above and I was reminded how similar this was to Kulm
in North Dakota. The land was so very similar - the flat plains
below, rolling hills above, interspersed with pasture land and grain
crops of oats, wheat and barley. We started out from Tarutino on
reasonably good paved roads, but as we ascended into the hills,
the road gradually got worse until it was a very rough, uneven dirt
road, not at all suited for our van, but more for the horse and
carts that we began to see more and more often. It was as if the
window of time was ever so slowly being rolled back. Along the West
Side of the road the land leveled out and through the trees we could
see the beautiful green fields of wheat, oats and barley. If the
weather held, we were told they would have a very good crop this
As we drove along the brow of the hill and enjoyed the panorama
which stretched below us along the Kogulnik river - a green cornucopia
of fertile fields separated by rows of trees - all under a canopy
of fluffy white clouds in an azure blue sky. All the literature
I had read about Kulm did not prepare us for this magnificent vista
- it was breathtaking! What a hill this was, and what a view it
commanded of the valley below! As we rounded a bend in the road
we could make out in the distance what had to be the town of Leipzig
faintly etched along the valley floor like a shimmering silver vessel
in the afternoon sun!
We came to a fork in the deeply rutted dirt road and our driver,
Igor, not knowing for sure which way to go, stopped and waited for
a small rickety wagon pulled by a small old horse to come close
by. He, our interpreter, Lara, and my Aunt Vicky went to talk to
him. In the back of the wagon, nestled among some fresh-cut hay,
was a young girl - perhaps the old man's granddaughter. He told
us that the left fork bypassed Kulm and went into Leipzig while
the right fork would take into Kulm. Apparently we were already
at the edge of the village, but because the village was located
over the edge of the hill, it could not be seen from our current
vantage point. No sign marked the entrance to Kulm and the village
appeared below us as if by magic once we started down the right
As we slowly picked our way amongst the ruts towards the village
center, the grand scale the German settlers had used to lay out
the village impressed us. A huge open area separated the two main
streets that ran north and south through the village. The open area
in between was now barren. When my grandfather lived here, this
open area was planted in fruit trees and was used for open market
and special celebrations. There were almost no trees on this open
grassy area now - only a few staked horses and cattle grazed here
and there. The only structure that broke that openness was the church
in the distance a mammoth stone structure that must have been extremely
beautiful and stately in its time, but was now scoured with the
ravages of time, neglect and misuse. It was obvious it was no longer
used as a church. We had heard of many of the churches being converted
to granaries and it appeared that this church, which my grandfather
probably had attended with his parents and had been baptized in,
had probably suffered a similar fate. As we came down into the village,
located just below the top of the hill, the vistas of the Kogelnik
Valley to the east opened even more grandly before us until it appeared
as a beautiful quilt work of greens and golds. We couldn't help
but be amazed at the contrasts in the village - the well kept homes
behind orderly fences, rough dirt roads with mud puddles frequented
by hordes of ducks, geese and chickens.
I was taking a picture of an especially pretty little home, trimmed
in blue, when an old lady who had been sitting on a bench in front
of the home came up to Lara, our interpreter, and asked if we would
like to come into her yard and look at her home. She opened the
gate for us and bid us enter, meanwhile calling out to someone inside.
A pretty middle aged lady emerged with a young girl at her side.
Her husband, a darkly tanned man soon joined us from the backyard.
We found out that they were the Melikova Evdoki family. The lady
of the house and her mother were Moldavian and the husband was from
Kazakhstan to the east of the Ukraine. What an intriguing mixture
of races! We were to find out that this area, as well as this whole
part of the Ukraine, is the melting pot of Europe, Asia and the
Near East. It is said that over 100 nationalities live in nearby
Odessa alone! Many families in these villages are of mixed marriages.
They are a handsome people. The lady of the house was very happy
to meet us and greeted us warmly as if we were her best friends.
She introduced us to her family and invited us to come inside her
home. She was very proud of her home and said Germans had once lived
there. She pointed out the handicraft of the hand-fitted wooden
floors and the door frames and said they were the original German
construction. She showed us the ladder that led to an attic and
said that that too had been built by the Germans that had once lived
there. She led us from room to room, explaining in detail what had
been done to each room. I was especially impressed wit the fine
quality rugs that were hung from the walls. She then took us to
the kitchen where she and her husband poured each of us a cup of
heavy cream, sprinkled with sugar. They told us with pride that
this cream had come from their own cow. This was a very special
She then took us into her workroom where she explained that she
made her living by making special quilts for newlyweds of the village.
The couple would bring her the material of their choice and the
wool and she would do the rest. She said it took her about a day
to do one quilt and that she charged five Grievna - about three
dollars. She showed us a large layer of wool wrapped up in a roll
that she was about to use and she spread out the beautiful covers
for several quilts she was working on at the time. She also showed
us her sewing machine, reminiscent of the first electric Singer
sewing machines I had seen on the farm as a boy.
The father then took us out into the yard where a shed led off
from one corner of the house. In one of the small pens were three
pigs. He said he had had twenty pigs, but had just sold seventeen
of them. All about the yard were chickens and geese. He then led
us to another small shed in which there was a beautiful Holstein
calf. I could tell that he was very proud of this calf, as well
he should have been. It was a fine specimen. After that they showed
us their artesian well in the back of the house. It was a round
stone structure about four feet across and four feet high. He said
the German families before them had built this well. The method
of fetching water was the same as when our forefathers lived there
- they lower a bucket on a rope.
They then showed us their garden. It was quite large - more than
an acre in size and stretching from the back of the home to a wall
and an open field in the back - exactly as our grandparents had
describe it to us. In the garden were vegetables of all sorts and
numbers - all neatly tilled and in large quantities. We were later
to learn that these large gardens were essential to the livelihood
of the villagers. What vegetables were not used during the summer
were canned for the winter. These families were completely self
sufficient - just like in the old days. Whatever they needed they
grew or raised themselves.
The family then showed us their cellar. The entrance was just
outside the home and the cellar was directly beneath the house -
just like the cellar on our farm in North Dakota. The cellar was
well stocked with a wide assortment of canned goods, a pickle barrel,
a wine barrel in which they fermented their own wine, potatoes and
As we said goodbye to our new friends and were about to leave,
the grandmother came out of the house with a huge round loaf of
bread, which she presented to my Aunt. We found out later that this
was their custom and was their way of saying goodbye to friends
who were about to embark on a long journey home. These people were
so friendly. They obviously had very little, but gave gladly of
what little they had.
After the visit with the Evdoki family, we drove the short distance
north to the church which commanded a majestic view of the Kogelnik
river valley below. The main part of the church is about 45 feet
wide and about 100 feet long. Even without it's steeple, the church
rises approximately 50 feet in height. Scaling from pictures of
the church when it still had its steeple, the church would have
been over 100 feet high before the steeple was removed! At the time
it was completed in 1868, it was the tallest church in all of Bessarabia
and it was said that in clear weather one could see for 50 kilometers
from the church tower! We would have loved to have gone inside,
but the doors were locked, so we had to be content with a few pictures
We then decided to search out the cemetery to see if any headstones
remained. My grandfather's brother, Friederich probably died in
Kulm before they came to this country, so he would be buried there.
We stopped an old man to ask directions. He was old before his time,
grizzled, with a weather beaten face. He wore a heavy, tattered
suit coat and pants - out of step with the warm weather we were
experiencing at the time. On his head he wore a visor cap - the
kind of cap I remember some of the older Germans wearing when they
came to town on Saturday nights back in Kulm, Edgeley, and Ellendale,
North Dakota. The deep lines that etched his face and his hulking
frame seemed to reflect the story of this village - a strong heritage
buffeted by years of hardship and grief - now resigned to his fate
of whatever life dealt him, yet somehow, still proud.
Through our interpreter, Lara, we asked directions to the cemetery.
He beckoned us to follow him as he led us from the church past the
old German schoolhouse on the East Side of the open area. The schoolhouse
was still standing, but it was in a state of complete disrepair
- its fading, peeling walls gaunt against the late afternoon sun.
The complex was comprised of two long, substantial structures -
the schoolhouse and, to the north, the former teacher's living quarters.
The schoolhouse was about 50 feet in length and 15 feet in width,
while the teacher's quarters was about 30 feet in length and 15
feet in width. The buildings were constructed of heavy quarried
stone, similar to that used for the church and the roofs were covered
with tile. Both buildings had many large windows on both sides,
so it must have afforded a light and pleasant environment for the
German student. Despite their now worn look, like the old man, one
could tell these buildings had a much prouder past. Those thick
stone walls, so painstakingly and proudly constructed, were still
a testament to the hard working German villagers of the old Kulm
and the high value they placed in the education of their children.
My grandfather, Otto Retzlaff, was eleven years old when he left
this village in 1892, so it is very likely he attended this very
As we were led down the hill we were impressed with the gardens
and fruit trees that we could now clearly see at the back of the
houses on the street. Every vegetable crop and fruit tree grew in
great abundance here - a testament to the richness of the soil and
the loving care of the owners. We saw grapes, lettuce, carrots,
watermelon, potatoes, squash, onions, turnips, beets, lettuce, grapes,
plum trees, apple trees, pear trees, cherry trees, strawberries,
other berry bushes, and much, much more. It seemed that anything
would grow here, once planted. I remember my grandmother, who grew
up in the neighboring town of Leipzig just across the Kogelnik river
from Kulm and who spent her last years in California, telling me
that "All the fruits we have here in California, they had there".
We could now readily see for ourselves that such was, indeed, the
The old man led us past a well-tended cemetery. Each plot had
an iron cross and many were surrounded by iron fences. "Not here",
the old man said, "The German cemetery is further down". (In reviewing
the town plot at the time the Germans lived here, it appears that
the new cemetery was built on top of the western part of the old
German cemetery) At the end of the new cemetery we came upon a bramble
of overgrown vines, lilac bushes and trees. "This is the German
cemetery", said the man. At first, no headstones were visible, but
eventually we did find a few, although the inscriptions were too
faded to make out. However the stone work was similar to some of
the old gravestones with German inscriptions that we had seen near
Kulm, North Dakota. We spent a little time here, just soaking up
the quite beauty of the place, the unique sounds of the birds, and
the view of the other side of the Kogelnik Valley over the tops
of the trees at the far end of the cemetery. Then, reluctantly,
we decided it was time to leave Kulm. It was getting late and we
still had to visit the village of Leipzig where my grandmother was
As we left the village, we noticed a large rusting building on
our right, now seemingly abandoned. It was a former collective farm,
the last vestige of a failed socialist state. This was to be a familiar
sight on the remainder of our trip. The collective farms now lay
abandoned about the countryside, accompanied by rusting machinery
piled ignominiously in heaps. After Peristroika and Ukrainian independence,
the workers left the collectives and went back to their villages.
The farms are now operated more like cooperatives, with villagers
working together to sow the grain and gather the harvest. However,
they cannot afford to repair or replace broken machinery, so, more
and more, the crops are tended by hand using horses and oxen, much
as they were in the old days.
As we drove down the hill toward the valley bottom towards Leipzig,
now plainly visible straight ahead and below us, the road wound
its way among small forests of trees and small fields of grain and
grapes interspersed on the hillside. Towards the bottom of the long
hill, we looked back towards Kulm. The town was barely visible among
the forests of trees that were etched in dark patterns across the
hill. It was much as my Grandmother had described her view of Kulm
from the village of Leipzig. As we made our way across the nearly
flat valley floor, we could just make out the narrow channel of
the Kogelnik river, which knifed through the wide valley floor with
Leipzig on the eastern bank of the flood plain. It was hard to imagine
that this small channel of water, barely 20 feet across at this
point, had once caused so much devastation and death in Leipzig
in a great flood in the early 1900's.
Fargo, ND and Henderson, NV
The Journey to the Homeland tour that both my sons and I took
this May and June, will be something that will never be forgotten.
Just walking the roads, streets, and paths where my ancestors trod
was a rare and moving privilege.
It seemed after we returned home, of course, that the trip went
by much too quickly, and that we could have spent much more time
looking at our ancestral villages. But because of the wars in the
Ukraine and the political situation there, the Russians destroyed
most of the vestiges of any Germans living in those areas, having
sent many to Siberia, killed many, and obliterating even the cemeteries.
Some of those fortunate enough to escape are now scattered somewhere
that it would be very difficult to locate them.
The extreme difference between our standard of living in America
and that of Ukraine and surrounding areas is almost impossible to
describe. Even in the metropolitan area of Odessa, our eyes were
opened wide by the standard of living. Two examples of these differences
come to my mind. First, the airport where we flew into had large
potholes in the runways, many older model passenger jets were lined
up in the grass fields next to the runways, apparently being used
for spare parts, and the condition of the main and only terminal
building was almost appalling. Second, the hotel that we stayed
at was one the better ones in Odessa, but the simple luxury of hot
water was not always available. I heard that the city of Odessa
furnishes the hot water through a central system to most of the
city, but that by and large there would be no hot water available
for four to six months.
Then imagine the conditions in the small villages, where the roads
were sometimes a mass of mud, many people walked wherever they went,
and some used horses and wagons for transportation. It certainly
makes me happy that my forefathers decided to come to the United
I was also fortunate enough to be able to see my ancestral village
on my grandfather's side in Germany, but there again I was unable
to visit anyone who might be related. Even the cemeteries there
were of more recent vintage.
After this trip, I get the feeling that the more I learn about
my forefathers, the more interested I get, and the more I want to
learn. I also now would like to try to trace my mother's Norwegian
line, and visit Scandinavia in the future.
I would encourage anyone, who has an interest in their roots,
to consider signing up for a future 'Journey to the Homeland.'
By Dick Doll, Tucson, Arizona
We (Ruth & I) went on an interesting and exciting trip this past
summer. We would like to share and express our feelings and findings
about our trip (tour). There may be others who would have interest
in a tour of this nature (not necessarily the same locations) but
with similar interests in their ancestral history at other locations
where their ancestors came from.
Both Ruth and I are originally from North Dakota, although we
lived 26 years in the Denver County area prior to moving to Saddlebrooke
in 1993. Both our great-great-grandparents (on our father's side)
originally immigrated from Germany to southern Russia (now Ukraine)
in the Odessa area where numerous German (Catholic and Lutheran)
villages were settled by the German people during the Catherine
The Great period (1800's). Farming land was given to the Germans
if they would settle in the areas around Odessa and so they immigrated
from various points in Germany to the Odessa area and farmed the
land. Their farming is somewhat different than United States style
of farming since there are not individual farms as we are use to
seeing in the midwest but instead they settled in villages (various
sizes) and than go to their farm land each day and return to village
at night. Of course not all were farmers as there were carpenters,
We were primarily interested in three villages which I had obtained
information on during my ancestral research (on internet etc.) which
is where our grandparents and fathers immigrated from to the United
States in the early 1900s and settled in the North Dakota area.
We toured with a group (approximately 35 people) that was scheduled
by the North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, with Michael
M. Miller, Germans from Russia Bibliographer, as tour director.
He has taken a a group since June, 1996, on a similar Journey to
the Homeland Tour since traveling has been allowed in the country,
Our purpose of the trip was to be able to see the land where our
ancestors lived and experience the feeling of walking on the same
land after approximately 100 years gone by. We wanted to see the
homes, churches (now being restored after Communism) and schools
where our grandparents lived.
We first met the group, taking the tour, in the Twin Cities and
then flew to Amsterdam and than on to Vienna where we switched to
Austrian Airlines and proceeded to Odessa, Ukraine. The airport
there has a lot to be desired. Their runways were all cracked with
numerous weeds. The terminal was an old building with no accessories.
We were greeted by our tour guides and translators to get us through
customs and boarded a bus to our hotel, where we would be staying
for seven days. The Chorne More Hotel was supposedly a four star
hotel in Ukraine standards but would not meet our one star standards.
We did have our own bathrooms and small beds with running water.
Hot water was only available about fours per day mostly in the evening
or early morning. All our meals were provided by the hotel in our
own dinning area and our box lunches, for our daily tours were also
provided by the hotel. We did have to drink bottled water in our
rooms and in the restaurant. Also, was provided on our trips to
the villages. (We did pick-up some homemade wine in a village which
went great with our plain box lunches).
Our first visit to villages was to villages in the Beresan Enclave
which included two villages of interest to me. The village named
"Katharinental", is where my grandparents lived and my father was
born. It was a Catholic village of about 650 homes. Having a map
of the village which reflected the surnames of the individual families
I knew where to look for the DOLL home. We visited the home, where
a Ukraine family now live-in and talked to them thru an interpreter.
The home was the original rock and sod type where the living quarters
were in the front and the attached barn in the rear, where the chickens,
ducks, geese and cow roamed. They said the only new thing on the
house was a tin roof and they now have lights (like our old REA).
They still have to use well water and outside john's. They actually
still live like they did about 100 years ago. Their form of transportation
was strictly by horse and wagon. They all have large gardens and
farm the land around the village like a co-op operation.
We did not find the Catholic Church as it had been destroyed in
the war and the old school, which we did find, was just a gutted
building. Their are newer schools in the area as well as churches,
that have been restored. The old cemetery was also destroyed during
the war and all the headstones had been removed from the land and
used for building materials during the war. You could find an old
headstone in a bridge foundation and possible some printings applied
such as dates.
The next village I was interested in visiting was where my grandmother
was born and raised which was in the same Beresan Enclave called
Speyer. Most all the villages had German type names but are all
renamed twice since (Russian and now Ukraine). We visited the school
that my grandmother must of attended since it is over 100 years
old. I didn't have a map of that village so we didn't see the actual
house (ASSEL) where my grandmother lived. We did find the Catholic
Church, which had been restored and looked great. All the churches
were previously used as storage buildings during the communism regime.
We did go to the old cemetery that was pretty well destroyed during
the WW II.
Our next interesting trip was to Ruth's grandparents village (Lutheran)
in the Liebental Enclave. The name was "Freudental", which we did
not have a map of either. We toured the village and found the old
school and churches. The old cemetery was just an open field next
to the new cemetery, with no more headstones available. We looked
at a lot of the old German homes (you can spot them by their length)
and were able to find a small bakery where we bought some bread
and pretzels. Had that to eat with our box lunch and the homemade
wine we purchased at a local home.
Each day we went to various villages that other people from our
tour group were interested in (had ancestral connections) and they
all were pretty much the same. As stated before they all had previous
German names but now have Ukraine names. Most of the elder people
living there now still remember the German names but most of the
Germans are now gone. A lot of them , like our grandparents, immigrated
to the States (or back to Germany) during the Russian revolution
in the early 1900's and many of them who lived thru the revolution
were shipped off to Siberia during WW II to work in the mines, etc.
After WW II, when they returned to their villages they found their
homes occupied (if not destroyed) by Russians, so they once again
immigrated back to Germany when they could.
On our initial visits to the villages we took numerous gifts of
school supplies and medical supplies to their clinic, which were
generally operated by nurses. There was very poor facilities and
equipment available. They were very appreciative for anything we
could give them. Our first feelings were of depression but after
a few days of visits we could see how the communities lived and
worked together and were family oriented we begin to wonder if they
weren't better off than a lot of us, where we are more materialistic
The city of Odessa, which we toured and attended the Opera House
for a show, has a population of about one million people. They are
getting more modernized and you see a lot of new businesses starting,
such as Reebok stores, Radio Shack's etc. They also have a great
rail system for their workers to get to the heart of the city from
out-lying areas to a central rail station and from there they board
electric street cars (which are FREE) to their final destination.
We visited historical sites in the port city such as the Opera House
etc. as well as their beach areas.
After a week in the Odessa area we flew to Stuttgart, Germany,
(where Ruth and I lived in 1986-87, while working for DFSC-US GOV)
and attended a meeting of Germans that had immigrated back to Germany,
which is called "Bundestreffen" in Stuttgart. German Chancellor
Helmut Kohl gave a speech and vowed to have all the remaining Germans
in Russia allowed to return to Germany in due time. It was an opportunity
for many Germans to meet their lost ancestors etc. Their were about
60,000 people attended the Bundestreffen.
We toured the city of Stuttgart and took the S-Bahn to the town
of "Echterdingen" where we lived , outside of Stuttgart, while working
in Germany. Had a great visit with our former landlords who we have
kept in touch with since living there. We have always enjoyed Germany
(especially it's brats-sauerkraut and BEER).
All in all our trip was very exciting, even without all the conveniences
we are normally used to, and we will always remember the people
we met our great tour guides and translators as well as leaders
of the group((Mr. Miller)). It was a great experience to be able
to make the trip called: "Journey To The Homeland." We are fortunate
to live in the good old USA!!!!!!
Dick and Ruth Freier Doll
The Journey to The Homeland Tour was a very exciting and pleasurable
trip. It was all what we had hoped for. We were able to see and
to walk on the very land our fathers and grandparents were born
and lived until the early 1900's. The visit to the German Villages
(Katharinental-Speyer-Freudental) and the stay in Odessa, Ukraine
will always be remembered. How our ancestors endured then, and how
the people in the villages live now has not changed all that much.
It was depressing to see at first BUT upon further study and thought,
we wonder if their family values are much better than ours and a
lot less crime (we are more materialistic minded and they are more
We enjoyed meeting all the tour members and having their company
throughout the tour. We wish to thank Michael Miller (NDSU); Stuart
and Cindy Longtin and all the interpreters, and guides for their
management of the tour. It was a memorable trip we will never forget.
THANKS to all!!!!
Lola Fritz Parsons
The German cemetery is in better shape than I had hoped for after
seeing other cemeteries in the days before at other villages. All
of the headstones left were overturned and most are broken, however
a Bamesberger and a Metzger headstone are legible. Also there is
one that could have been read, had we had the proper equipment.
Many grave sites are evident due to the sunken earth and the entire
area is covered with grasses and some remnants of lilacs perhaps
planted by our ancestors. The cemetery is located just behind the
newer cemetery that is in use now. It is unfenced with cattle staked
out to graze at the edge and is a very peaceful place.
The former church is another matter. It is now a theater and has
been altered to the point that no trace of it's former use is left.
The churches I saw in the .Kutchergan were in ruins, some with only
walls standing, but it was very apparent that they were churches,
although in ruins, and still had a spiritual feeling about them.
Unfortunately, that is not the case with the Lutheran church in
The original pastorate is being used as an Ukrainian Orthodox
church until a larger one can be built. It is good to see that some
form of religion is being practiced once again in the village.
The quiet in the village is rarely broken by the sound of a car.
The streets are quite wide and, except the main road, dirt and deeply
rutted by the horse and wagons after the rains. The area between
the street and the fences surrounding the homes is 40 to 50 feet
wide with grasses and trees growing. Here many of the people stake
their cattle and goats to graze and chickens run free.
All homes have large gardens, many have fruit trees and most have
a root cellar to store their potatoes, cabbages and other vegetables
for the winter. Also, wine is stored there.
Many of the old German homes left standing and in use still have
the summer kitchen, but it appears that most of the other outbuildings
are no longer usable, if they even exist.
Scythes are still used to cut grasses for the cattle. It is brought
to the house yards to be spread out to dry by any means possible.
Some use a small motorcycle with a side car, others lashed poles
together and drag the 'hay' home. The principle method for moving
larger loads appeared to be horse and wagon, and the other means
of transportation seems to be walking.
Traveling to my Grandmother, Christiane Fritz Hereth's birthplace,
was a wonderful experience. To know that she played in those same
streets as a child, that her grandparents lived close enough for
her to have walked to their homes as I did to hers as a child gave
me a wonderful, warm feeling. It was an unforgettable time for me.
Mary Jaeger Marando
Crown Point, Indiana
The purpose for going was fulfilled. There were emotional highs
and also many lows and I still experience them as I recall events
of the trip or view the photos. But I did it! I walked the streets,
especially Elsass, Strassburg and Mannheim. I entered the churches
or what is left of them and prayed not only for my ancestors but
for those who desecrated these German churches and cemeteries. I
wandered thru the cemeteries, thinking of my ancestors, especially
my great grandmother Eva Hoffart-Jaeger who died in November of
l898, while her children and their families were on the ship to
As I rode in the bus or van, looking out at the country side and
fields, I thought of those early days of mine when my Dad made me
visit North Dakota to visit relatives. The land is so much the same,
vast and beautiful. Unfortunately, I did not grow up in North Dakota
nor did I know my great grandparents or grandparents. But, I knew
my Dad, and somehow he instilled in me the importance of our ancestry,
the need to know it and feel it so that we may keep close our family
and faith to grow to whatever heights we choose. So a big thank
you goes to my Dad, Joseph P. Jaeger for starting me on this quest,
also to my deceased husband, Joe, for being so supportive over the
years and our trips to North Dakota to search. Also thanks to my
daughters Cathy Quinn and Marian Paskash for encouraging me to take
the Homeland Tour trip and my grandson, Michael Patrick, for doing
without my hugs for the weeks I've been away. And, I must be most
thankful for NDSU and you, Michael for making this dream possible.
And, you should thank Stuart and Cindy for keeping us happy. They
were so very helpful to me and just a neat couple to be around.
I certainly encourage every descendant of German/Russian ancestry
to do this trip. Unfortunately, I'm not very good in written word
or verbally expressing my inner most feelings, and this trip sure
gave one some inner thoughts to ponder.
Good wishes to you and NDSU!
Duane Retzloff, Mountain View, California
Thank you for sponsoring the 1998 Journey to the Homeland Tour.
It was an incredible experience - the trip of a lifetime for my
Aunt Vicky Kearns and I. On the way home on the plane, we relived
many of our experiences and both of us just couldn't get over how
fortunate we were to have decided to make the trip. You have really
made a difference in our lives - thank you again.
I still have a piece of a tile from the roof of the German home
in Freudental. This is the one I showed you at the hotel. The roof
was very unusual as it had three different colors of these tiles
intermixed. Do you still want this for the collection at NDSU? If
so I will send it to you along with a picture of the house and a
I would be interested in reading the e-mail that the other members
sent while we were there about their experiences on the trip. Is
there a way for me to access this information? Thanks.
Mary Frances Filer Jacobson
Mohave Valley, Arizona and Clarkston, Washington
Concerning my trip to Odessa and Stuttgart, first and foremost,
I want to emphasize, that I am so grateful to live in the United
States of America.
On May 26, 1998 my sister, Naomi Filer Reimer, and I left the
Seattle/Tacoma airport for Minneapolis, Minnesota to join other
members of the tour group going to Ukraine and later to Germany.
With a total of 35 members on this tour, we flew from Minneapolis
to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Vienna, then from Vienna to Odessa, Ukraine.
We left Seattle at 8:50 AM on May 26th and arrived in Odessa May
27, 1998 at 4:30 PM. We lost a total of 10 hours on the clock. We
were all tired.
We boarded our bus to transport to our hotel We arrived at the
hotel about 7:00 pm. Our welcome dinner for the tour was at 8:00
PM. Most of us were so jet-lagged that we did not remember any of
the orientation announcements for that evening.
Our hotel reservations did provide each room with a private bathroom.
For this, I was grateful. Previous to touring, we did not know if
we should have to use a bathroom down the hallway. The entire water
system to Odessa city is shut off each midnight until 5:30 or 6:00
AM. Hot water is not always available. In the morning, when there
was hot water, one hurried for a shower. If not, you would wash
the essential minimum and hope for hot water in the evening. The
plumbing (when the water was turned on) constantly leaked. Not very
environmentally frugal, much water went down the drain unnecessarily
from those many leaks.
During the first full day, we toured the City of Odessa on a chartered
bus. The streets of Odessa had much car traffic, belching smoke
and pollution. There are evidences of Odessa, at one time, being
a beautiful city: 1) The boulevard streets are tree-lined on both
sides; 2) the buildings have grapevines growing up the walls; 3)
the building architectural styles were ornate with a beautiful past.
Now they are deteriorating, crumbling, and some are dirty.
Most people live in apartments, usually two rooms with a bathroom.
If you had a three-room apartment, you were very privileged. The
buildings were 3-4 stories high. There were many dogs and cats on
the city streets. Either they were strays or they were street life
because their "masters" lived in the facing apartment building where
the animals wandered.
The city is very cosmopolitan with the international influences
of Italian, French, Armenian, Jewish, and Korean, in addition to
the Ukrainian and Russians. Much of the architecture, we were told,
was historically influenced by the French. We did not drink the
tap water in Odessa, we purchased bottled water to safely drink.
I did not even brush my teeth with the piped water. Some people
We were fed three meals each day in our hotel. We could not complain
about the amount of food provided. There was large quantities of
food; however an unaccustomed menu. We had tomatoes (fresh), cucumbers,
and cheese usually three times a day---breakfast lunch and dinner.
Meats were salami and assorted cold cuts. Generous amounts of bread,
mostly dry, occasionally with butter available. Generous portions
of yogurt. When we were served hot cereal for breakfast, no fresh
milk was provided. The bottled beverages during every meal was usually
mineral, carbonated water. Hot tea was served with every meal.
The second evening (during the first full day after arrival) of
our tour, we went to the Odessa Opera house for an evening performance.
We did not see an opera, but a mixed production of classic ballet,
choir chorales, and selected orchestra music. The building is rated
second only in beauty to the Opera House in Paris. Not having seen
the Opera House in Paris, I cannot attest to this reputation, since
this building is in disrepair, as are all buildings in Odessa. Odessa
Opera House architecture is in a process of restoration. The interior
focus is a very large crystal chandelier weighing 2 tons. The decor
inside was very ornate with filigree.
Since the college in 1990 of the Soviet Union, Russian power-brokers
are frustrated to no longer rule the best seaport on the Black Sea.
Because of this dilemma, Russia claims that Ukraine owes Russia
much money from the past, when Ukraine was part of Soviet Union.
The military and anyone else employed by the Ukrainian Government
have not received their pay (wages) for about 6 months. It appears
that the finances exist, but the top echelon keeps the money to
themselves to earn further interest. The masses are paid at the
whim of the authority figures.
We visited an orphanage in Odessa to which we took various donated
articles---blankets made by senior citizens in North Dakota, pencils,
paper, clothing, soap, toys, and various and sundry other items.
This "potlatch" was a moving experience. One feels so fortunate
to benefit from the overflow of material things that we have for
I toured the actual village of Elsass, where lived Rosa and Anton
Meier our ancestors, now called Cherbanka. I had no address of Rosa
and Anton's residence when they lived in Elsass previous to 1900.
Unable to seek out their actual home for a photograph, I did view
the church structure that had been their church. Both the church
and cemetery were in shambles! There was no roof on the church,
stained glass windows gone, walls crumbling, floor overgrown with
grass and weeds. The cemetery was completely overgrown with lilac
bushes. This makes one speculate that a lilac bush had been planted
at each grave site when the bodies were buried. Can't verify this.
However, no tombstones remain, being destroyed and/or stolen. There
has been no reverence for grave sites observed, so any genealogy
researching was impossible that one would hope to do. In the cemetery,
we offered a short prayer and a few moments of silence in remembrance
of our ancestors who had been buried there.
While in Elsass (Cherbanka) we toured a day school. The teaching
staff and students were aware that we were coming that day, so we
were given a grand welcome. The children gave us a program of singing,
poem reading, dancing. They were very excited to practice their
English with us. Each of us were given big bouquets of blooming
peonies. The school was so hospitable to 15 of us that had traveled
to Elsass. Others in the tour group of 35 persons had gone to other
villages not in the Kutschurgan group.
The children were all very well-dressed, thus we assumed they
were in their best clothes in our honor. There were no rebellious
evidences of sloppy haircuts, or untidy clothes from the youth.
All were well-mannered. This lack of licentious behaviors was a
refreshing and poignant experience for showing of purity and innocence.
We were fed a lunch prepared by the school teachers. The table
was "groaning" celebrating food because of the quantity. We all
knew that they hardly have much for themselves, but yet they shared
enormous amounts with us. There was cucumbers, tomatoes, breads,
cold cuts, cheeses, cakes, champagne and wine and vodka. This meal
was presented during noon time.
In my normal eating, I reserve one alcoholic drink per month because
I am subject to migraine headaches. Imagine my consternation facing
all of this alcohol at midday. One cannot refuse their symbols of
hospitality, because it is considered rude. There was toast after
toast. I managed to sip at the alcohol and not appear too rude.
We were told that custom dictated that after the toast, one was
to drain the whole shot glass with one's head tilted back and then
hold the glass upside down to show you drank it all. The last drop
or two was supposed to drip out on the table. Of course, many of
us tourists dozed during our bus ride back to the Odessa hotel!
They were so generous, despite having little for themselves. We
ate international food of Ukraine called varenikes. This was potatoes
or cheese enfolded in pasta and boiled. Some of our tour members
mentioned this food is in fact a German-originated food with a German
We also toured other villages of the Kutschurgan group--Mannheim,
Kandel, Strassburg, and Selz. We went to these villages two consecutive
days by tour bus. These villages are 30 miles distant from the city
of Odessa. These villages have no grocery stores to purchase food,
but use occasional market place. Most houses had various gardens,
a goat or two tethered in the yard, maybe a cow. Root cellars were
in evidence. Chickens were running free-range. The yards were usually
well kept. The need for beauty was shown in garden display of flowers,
peonies, roses, and daisies. The villagers were very friendly. When
we arrived up in our tour bus, we were like a magnet drawing many
people out of their homes to see us. Many were eager to talk with
us. There are very few Germans left in these villages, mostly Ukrainians
The German Catholic churches and German cemeteries in these villages
have been destroyed or used for other purposes. The church structures
have been used for sports arenas, warehouses, or taverns. So sad!
These churches seemed over-sized, compared to the size of the village
in which they were built.
The mode of transportation in these villages ran the spectrum
of horse-drawn carts, motorcycles, bicycles, and very few cars.
In one village we visited a bakery (yes, there are a few merchants,
but not many). The bakers gladly gave our tour group 6-7 loaves
of just freshly-baked bread, still warm, so delicious. Such generosity
We went to a Farmer's Market in Strassburg. We were told this
market had been conducting business every day for 200 years. Some
of us purchased selected items.
On Sunday we went to mass in a Catholic church, located 8 blocks
away from our Odessa hotel. Several of us walked there. (Others
in the tour group were bused to Odessa's Lutheran Church.) The Catholic
Church was large but in disrepair. They are in the process of restoring
with replastering and repainting. We had worship among scaffolding,
cement mixers, bricks on the floor, and much dust. The worshippers
seem very devout, since they lived so many years unable to attend
the religious services of their choice. The worship languages were
Russian or Ukrainian with much singing, chanting, and incense.
One day in Odessa, we went to the Open Market, where they sell
produce, meat, milk, cheese, butter, dried beans, rice, etc. There
is no refrigeration, and the flies are prolific. I do not desire
to eat meat or drink any milk sold from that market, which covered
about 10 square blocks.
Another day we went to an art and craft "fair", which is in continual
operation. I purchased some Matruska dolls. These are nesting dolls
that start with a very tiny doll that fits inside of another doll
and so on until there are about 10 dolls per set. At this art and
craft fair, the vendors were very eager to have us pay in American
dollars. They want the American dollars to be as new and crisp as
possible, because this money stays in continual circulation locally
without being exchanged into Ukrainian money. The American dollar
is very popular.
The weather was overcast the first two days we arrived in Odessa;
later it warmed up to be very humid and muggy. The hotel rooms,
having no air conditioning, did cool down sufficiently at night
so sleeping was possible.
We boarded our airplane for Germany on June 3. This itinerary
involved flights on two separate legs. Germany is more comfortable,
being a very modern national life style.
I enjoyed this heritage tour very much, which reminded me how
thankful I am to enjoy the daily living benefits, as a citizen of
the United States of America. We must all thank our family ancestors
for their courage to leave their homes to begin a new life, when
coming to the USA. We are so fortunate of prosperous benefits here.