Journey to the Homeland June 8-24, 1996
A travelogue by Brother Placid Gross
Assumption Abbey, Richardton, North Dakota
"Da Haam in Russland" (at home in Russia). This is a
phrase I often heard starting from the time when I was still quite
small. As a child, I had a picture in my mind of how it was in some
far away place; indeed it was so far away that one could never,
ever go there. Maybe there were no roads going there anymore, or
maybe it was so far away that nobody even knew where it was anymore.
The older people talked about the good land, the nice and many kinds
of fruit they could grow there, the beautiful churches, and so much
more. I remember Grandpa Gross talking about "da Haam in Russland".
He said it was not nearly as cold there as here in North Dakota.
He said they would have two weeks of real cold weather, then alternating
freezing and warm days with a lot of mud. When the Fourth of July
came, and along with it all the noisy firecrackers, one elderly
lady in Richardton said "da Haam in Russland" we did not
have this holiday.
When I was a young adult (30 years ago), newspaper articles and
books began appearing and I was able to read about our history and
study some maps. Now I could see and believe that there actually
is a city of Odessa, and a Black Sea. There actually are small farming
villages where all the farmers live in town and every cow knows
her yard (home) when the entire herd comes in from pasture every
evening. The grandparents actually did come from a land that is
After many years of dreaming and months of yearning and planning,
the great day of traveling finally came. On June 8, 1996, a small
group of us met at the Bismarck airport and we picked up some more
fellow travelers at the Minneapolis airport. The tour was sponsored
by North Dakota State University at Fargo, North Dakota, with Michael
M. Miller as the tour guide and director. Earlier, we all had received
special T-shirts with the imprint JOURNEY TO THE HOMELAND. It also
had the flags of the United States, Germany, and Ukraine. By wearing
these T-shirts, we were able to find our fellow pilgrims in the
large airports. It was great to meet and get acquainted with those
with whom we had so much in common. Our total group was 30 persons.
Each one was a descendant of Germans from Russia. For some, it was
the parents who were born in Russia, but all had grandparents who
were born in Russia. One man was from South Dakota while all the
other 29 had roots in North Dakota.
Now in more recent years, many have moved and were from places
like Washington, California, Arizona, Arkansas, Virginia, and Minnesota.
There were pairs of sisters, pairs of brothers, pairs of cousins,
married couples, single people, parents with adult children, etc.
The one thing we all had in common was that we all were in search
of our roots. All of us wanted to see that land across the water,
so far away from where we had sprung. My brother, Pius Gross from
Phoenix, was one of the travelers. That was nice as we were roommates
and were able to share our common interest.
In 1914, when the First World War began, the gates of Russia were
closed and no one could leave Russia anymore. A few years after
that, the mail did not go through anymore and all contact with family
members ceased. During the Second World War in the 1940's, the remaining
Germans in Russia were exiled to Siberia and other places thousands
of miles from home where hundreds of thousands of them froze and
starved to death. Every German from Russia who had come to America
had some family who stayed behind in Russia. However, since there
was no contact, it was as if a big vacuum had sucked up our people
along with all our history. After the breakup of the Soviet Union
in 1990, there again was a possibility of traveling and researching
in the land of our ancestors. Everyone in our group had an eagerness,
a longing, an expectancy. We want to see the land from where our
roots had sprung.
Now, back to our travel. When one travels so fast across so many
time zones, strange things happen to the clock in your body and
also to the clock on your wrist. I kept track of the schedule to
show why one gets the illness known as "jet lag". I left
Richardton at 7:00 a.m., which means I was up about two hours already
before that. The plane left Bismarck around 11:00, and we left Minneapolis
at 3:30 p.m. At 5:00 p.m. Central Time, we were served supper. The
sun set at 6:30, but being we were way higher than any hills or
mountains the sky never did get dark. At 9:30 p.m. by my watch (four
and one half hours after supper), it was time for breakfast. This
meal consisted of pieces of melons, grapes, rolls, coffee, and tea.
Oh yes, before breakfast the stewardesses came with a steaming hot,
damp, washcloth which we used to freshen up our faces so that we
could feel and pretend to look as if we had a good and long night's
At 10:00 p.m. Central Time, it was broad daylight and the sun
was rising fast in the eastern sky. At 11:00 p.m. we landed at Amsterdam,
Holland. Now I turned my watch forward seven hours to make it 6:00
in the morning. It was seven and one half hours flying time and
I did not sleep even one wink. Now, tired or not, we are well into
a new day. At Amsterdam, we changed planes. Now being on a different
plane, we were served breakfast again. This time, it was an egg
omelet which tasted really great! At Vienna, Austria, we had a four
hour lay over. As we relaxed, we noticed that jet lag was setting
in. From Vienna, Austria, to Odessa, it was arranged that we fly
by Austrian airlines so as to avoid the poor Russian airplane. We
had a wonderful Austrian meal of hot buns, cold ham, and cold (cooked)
asparagus. We also received a large mint candy with a note that
it was Father's Day in Austria, and this was a special treat.
With all the horror stories I had heard of how poor things are
in Russia, I hoarded all the little extra leftovers that I did not
use such as the packets of salt, pepper, sugar, jelly, butter, napkins
and also the bottle of mineral water. A German proverb says "Save
in time of plenty and you will have in time of need". It was
one and one half hours from Vienna to Odessa, Russia (now Ukraine).
As the plane lowered and circled, all of us were wide-eyed as we
got the first glimpse of the Steppes (prairie land) in Russia. There
we saw the Black Sea and the endless, flat land - one could not
help but be filled with emotion. Even in their wildest imagination,
the grandparents could never have thought that 100 years after they
left, we would be making this historic tour to the Homeland. And
the way we came "flying like a bird" would have been unimaginable.
When they came to America, it took a minimum of three weeks and
now we went back in less than one day.
Along the runway of the Odessa airport, we viewed rows and rows
of old, rusted-out military airplanes. It's hard to know whether
they are there for showing or if they just never got around to hauling
them to the junk iron dealer. The grass beside the runway is tall
weeds and not mowed. This was the first impression of the former
Soviet Union as compared to western Europe where most things are
as neat as can be.
Centuries ago, this was the country of Ukraine. But in 1764, it
came under complete Russian jurisdiction. When the Czar of Russia
invited our ancestors to come and live here, it was Russia. In 1990,
when the Soviet Union broke up this country claimed its independence
and once again became the Ukraine. Our ancestors came from Russia,
but now we are visiting the same place and it is Ukraine. (Russia
is another country farther north).
Entering the country through the Odessa airport was like a military
experience. First, we noticed the very rough and broken up runway
(tarmac). The building itself is in a bad state of repair. The first
room that we entered and stood in while waiting did not have a light
that worked. The only light was through holes in the roof. It seems
that we went through half a dozen check points where we had to show
our visas, passports, and the sheet we filled out; which among other
things showed how much money we were bringing with us. The people
behind the desks wore what looked like military uniforms, none of
them smiled, all were very stern, and most were smoking cigarettes.
It seemed to take an awful long time. The luggage was brought from
the plane with something like an open stock trailer, and it was
slow in getting there. There were no conveyer belts and we had to
get it ourselves and carry it up some stairs., The public bathrooms
(toilets) was an experience in itself. In the men's room, the light
did not work so the door had to be left open to be able to see.
The toilet did not flush. The smell coming through the doorway was
intolerable so that people in the lobby would push the door shut.
The bench along the wall in the lobby had a broken leg on one end
so that the bench slanted down to the floor. The people on the low
end of the bench were real close to the floor.
It took almost two hours to go through this small air terminal
and we were the only plane coming in at that time. Why does it take
so long? Being travel weary and impatient, the emotions among our
group ranged from silly laughing to getting angry. We were getting
a very tiny glimpse of the former Soviet Union, except under communism
it was much worse yet. One member of our group summed it up with
the words "they sure are not tourist friendly". Now having
described my first impression of Russia, I will not dwell on this
topic any further. It was different after we walked through the
front door and into the nice, warm, and friendly sun and saw our
nice Intourist bus waiting to take us to the hotel. Just as friendly
as the sun were the people who welcomed us to Ukraine. There was
Elvira, the city guide; Irena, who made all arrangements with the
hotel for lodging and meals; the interpreters and general helpers,
Sergey and the other Sergey, Svetlana, Irena, Olga, and Pavel; Valery
the medical doctor; and perhaps several others whose names I cannot
Our lodging was at the Chornoye More Hotel, which in our language
is translated Black Sea Hotel. For seven nights we stayed here,
so we did not have to pack and move often. All the meals were in
the hotel dining room. The menu was especially designed for Americans
and was somewhat better than the average meal would be for the natives.
Before going, we were duly warned to be very careful about what
we eat because of contracting certain germs or diseases. Among other
precautions we were not to eat any raw fruit or vegetables that
we do not peel ourselves, and not to eat certain kinds of fish.
We should not drink water from the tap, or even brush our teeth
with their water. I went with good intentions of being careful.
I even took along some stuff to put into the water to purify it.
Shortly after arriving at the hotel, we were served our first
meal. The table was very nicely set and decorated and even had fresh
flowers in the center. The first course was cucumbers, fresh from
the garden, not peeled but sliced very thin, tomatoes from the garden,
fresh strawberries, and some other greens, smoked salmon, and a
tiny slice of bread decorated with caviar. The main dish was breaded
fried chicken breast which was very good along with about eight
(8) peas (one teaspoon full). Now my dilemma!!! How can I peel a
strawberry, or cucumbers, and tomatoes that are already sliced?
If these vegetables were washed at all, surely the water was from
the regular faucet and not with special, sterilized bottled water.
The bread and caviar were touched by hands that were washed in ordinary
water. I sized up the situation and realized that in one week I
will be mighty hungry and even thinner than I already am, which
I would not want to be. I quickly decided to eat everything on the
table and not to worry a lot about "precautions". Two
days later, I even drank the water people offered me in the villages
and ate their cherries that were washed in water from the garden
hose. Fortunately, I never had any ill effects from the water. One
of our men was sick one day. He thought he probably got it from
eating cottage cheese in a private home.
My room was on the 10th floor of the eleven story hotel, so I
had a fairly good view of the city. From the hallway, we could see
the Black Sea. The sky was full of birds swooping and flying in
circles and every one was squawking about something. They were similar,
but larger than our swallows and I imagine they were catching mosquitoes.
(We also had been advised to bring insect repellent, but I never
saw even one mosquito.)
Monday June 10--Breakfast at 7:30. Two kinds of bread, jelly,
a very tiny sliver of butter, cucumbers, and tiny slices of sausage
that contained a lot of fat. The second course was potato patties
and warm milk to use with the coffee. This is the last meal that
I wrote down what we ate. I would say that all the meals were adequate
and nourishing. The sliced cucumbers were there at every meal; morning,
noon, and evening. Possibly it is a different brand of cucumbers,
as the peeling seemed to be not so hard and not bitter. Noticeably
absent were all the American style, overly sweet desserts. There
always was a choice of either coffee or tea, but always only one
cup. The word for coffee sounds like the way we say it, but tea
is "chai". The kitchen ladies brought the plates already
dished up. That way, there was no possibility of a second helping
and no food was wasted.
At 9:00 a.m. on our first day, there was a Press Conference with
an Odessa newspaper called WORD. There were two reporters (men)
and one translator. They asked questions about our group and what
we are looking for and are hoping to find and see. Michael Miller,
our boss, along with Lewis and Dona Marquart were our spokespersons.
Michael said, that for us, it is a week long seminar rather than
a week of fun and leisure. Later, there was a big article about
us in the newspaper, but I do not know what it said.
At 10:00, we left for a bus tour of the city with Elvira, who
was our guide all week long. Odessa was founded as recently as 1794,
so it is not an ancient city. It is laid out straight and square.
The sidewalks are very wide and the streets are very wide with a
row of trees between the streets and sidewalks. The large shade
trees are white acacia, horse chestnut, maple, and sycamore.
Surely the most visited tourist attraction in Odessa is the Potemkin
Staircase. It is concrete stairs that lead from a main street of
the city down to the harbor of the Black Sea. There are 192 steps
with landings about every 14 steps. The top is about 100 feet wide
(my guess) but much wider at the bottom. The way it is designed
gives it the appearance of being much longer than it actually is.
The opera house is one of three great opera houses in the world.
I never did get to see the inside, however, a few of our group were
able to go to a ballet one evening. There are a number of statues
of famous people around the town. There are 14 nice, sandy beaches
within the city. Otherwise, the shoreline is rugged, rocky cliffs.
We did not have time for a swim in the Black Sea, but I did take
off my shoes and got my feet wet by a small wave. For noon lunch,
we were back at the hotel and did more sight seeing in the afternoon.
After supper, the bus took us across town to the Bavarian House.
This is a place where German people promote German culture and various
German educational programs. They had set up a very large display
of wonderful photos of the former German villages (our ancestral
homes). They gave explanations of what they do at this Bavarian
House while Sergey translated into English. One humorous word was
when he got the word "Kindergarten" and he translated
it as "childs-garden". Of course, that word all of us
knew. Groups of children and young ladies put on an excellent musical
program. Last, but not least, were the sweet goodies and koolaid.
Tuesday, June 11- At 8:15 a.m., was the moment of great excitement
for which we had come. We left the city for our ancestral home villages.
It was arranged that, as far as possible, everyone would get to
see the area from where their ancestors had come. About four different
cars or small buses (vans) headed out in four different directions.
Each van had a Ukrainian driver and one translator.
There were eleven in my group going to the Kutschurgan Colony.
This group of six original towns is on the east side of the Kutschurgan
River and are fairly close together and hence the title KUTSCHURGAN
COLONY. This was a solid area of Catholics. When some of these Kutschurganers
came to America, they settled approximately from Aberdeen to Hague,
Napoleon, Harvey, Rugby, Devils Lake, and up into Canada. Our group
had fairly easy traveling since all our towns are only about 35
to 45 miles northwest of Odessa. The road is somewhat like Highway
83 from Bismarck to Strasburg, ND, except here the pavement is broken
up. The land is fairly level with rolling hills. The water drains
off into streams and then into the river, as I did not notice any
lakes or potholes.
The first of our villages is Mannheim (the Russian name now is
Kamenka). The former Catholic church is easily visible as it sits
on a small hill almost in the center of town, so we stopped here.
All that is left of this church are the sturdy walls built of cut
stone. The steeple was torn down by the communists in the 1930's.
I believe the building was used for grain storage, but was abandoned
when the roof caved in. The floor also is gone and some weeds are
struggling to get established. There still are two rows of large
pillars standing. High up on the pillars and on the walls, one can
still see crosses in the plaster and cherubs (small angels). Otherwise,
everything of religion has been forcefully removed. The eight, large
windows on each side were closed with brick. Around the church,
there is a large, vacant area which is mostly just a goat pasture.
Mannheim is the village (farm town) where my Gross ancestors headed
for when they left Germany in 1830. The Grosses were not with the
original colonists, but were a family traveling alone. The legend
that has been passed down in our family is that my great, great,
great, grandfather died on the way to Russia at the age of 35. We
do not know where he was buried. The widow Martha (Fahrni) had to
stay over winter at Radziwilow, a town on the border of Russia.
Here, she had to sell the wagon and oxen for food. In spring, she
and the four or five children continued on foot to Mannheim. Being
that they were not among the original settlers, they did not get
any free land. The oldest boy, Mathias (my great, great grandfather,
age 12), along with the younger ones hired out as cow herders for
the village of Mannheim.
Now here we were, Pius and I, so many years later. We are in a
totally strange place and the people are strangers but somehow there
is a feeling of home. One cannot help but to become emotional as
we stand here taking in the sights and sounds of the surroundings
and imagining what it was like when this was home to our ancestors.
There are many emotions that stir in the soul. All one can do is
snap a lot of pictures and try to absorb as much as possible in
the short time that there is.
In a little while, we were already in Selz (the present Russian
name is Limanskoje). Selz is the former home of my Vetter ancestors.
My mother's father and grandparents lived here before coming to
North Dakota. Many of my customs, traditions, and dialect were formed
and nourished in this village. This was the largest village and
the administrative center in my grandparents' day. The church here
(of course now in ruins) is massive. It is big, big, big! The windows
are enormous. As far as I know, my grandfather left here when the
church was still in the planning and building stage and that they
never saw the finished product. But surely they heard of the building
progress with every new immigrant arrival in Emmons County.
During the early communist era, the church steeple was torn down
and anything that looked like religion was taken out and destroyed.
The roof and vaulted ceiling are still intact. The glass is out
of the windows and the doors are gone. Even the floor has been carried
away. All that is standing are the sturdy, thick, rock walls. In
my mind's eye, I could picture the very ornate main altar, and the
side altars. There had been a hand carved wooden pulpit, the pipe
organ with the many pipes. It was such a big, beautiful church and
then barely 40 years later it was destroyed. After 50 or 60 years
of neglect, it is amazing how the walls are still standing and actually
seem to be quite solid.
Around the church, there is quite a large vacant area which is
crisscrossed by paths leading from one side of town to the other.
The grass is good pasture for the dairy goats which are tethered
In this town of Selz, we had arrangements to meet with a 76-year-old
lady by the name of Antonina (Welk) Ivanova, who is a third cousin
to the famous Lawrence Welk. In 1944, she was deported along with
every other German person, but after three years she and her sister
came back. They were perhaps the only two people who were allowed
to return to their original village but still not to their own house.
Even so, she said "for a long time, every night the Communist
police would come and interrogate them". This Antonina is a
marvelous person to visit with and to get some history of how it
once was in a German village. She speaks the German dialect exactly
as my aunts or my mother would, except she does not use any English
words. I relish every minute that we were with her, although it
was much too short. At a community hall, Antonina had arranged a
home cooked meal for our group. The food was excellent and of great
variety. Several women from the town prepared the meal and our group
paid for it. During the course of the meal, Antonina sang several
Ukrainian songs and some German songs. There was one beer drinking
song that I remembered from my father and his friends singing at
name's day parties when I was quite little.
Before the meal, as I was taking pictures of the church, a lady
happened to be walking home from shopping and noticed me "an
outsider". She hollered "are you a German?" I answered
that I am a German from America. She introduced herself and would
not let me go until I promised that I would come to her house also.
After the meal, Pius and I ran over to her house. This lady is Louisa
Riesling. Here is a brief history of her life. She is 60 years old,
so she was born in 1935 or 1936. In 1937, her father was shot by
the communists, her mother taken away. Louisa and her brother were
taken to an orphanage. The mother was not allowed to use her husband's
name anymore and the children were not allowed to use their father's
name (which was Mautner) so they took on the mother's maiden name
which was Riesling. During the war years, Louisa went through all
the suffering like everyone else, but in recent years she had been
living in Latvia. She had some family documents, and through a lot
of political paperwork, she was allowed to come back in 1990 and
reclaim her family home. Five families had been living in the house,
but the government moved them out into other apartments. Louisa
has a husband who does not speak German; she has four children,
but only the youngest, a 16 year old daughter, lives here.
Louisa told us of how the house had been changed and the yard
was such a mess. They hauled out many truckloads of garbage from
the yard before they could establish a garden again. She and the
family are in the process of completely remodeling the house and
installing indoor plumbing. With the left-over rocks from part of
the house, they are building a kitchen. (We would call it a summer
kitchen). She showed us the back yard with the fruit trees and garden.
They have a pen of chickens and a few goats. The garden area goes
right down to the water's edge of the Kutchurgan River. The old
German houses did not have basements, but everyone had a large root
cellar. At this house, the root cellar with a large outside entrance
goes down under the house. The root cellar is enormously large and
architecturally well designed. From the root cellar, there is also
a narrow spiral stairway up to the kitchen. She gave Pius a half-gallon
of homemade apricot juice from the shelf. It was delicious. We drank
it back at the hotel. Pius brought the jar home with him. She said
that she had an uncle with the Riesling name who was a priest. He
was shot by the communists and is buried in this town, but she cannot
identify the grave anymore. It was such a joy to visit with her,
as she spoke our dialect; but, as always, our van was moving and
we had to go with the group. In Selz, I also met two other quite
elderly German women, but did not have time for much visiting. One
is Emma (Braun) Vogel; the other is Eva Zander, whose father is
Balzer Zander, and grandfather was Joseph Zander.
We were scheduled for a visit at the Selz school. One classroom
was filled with children and about five teachers. Our group had
all collected and brought with us school supplies; that is crayons,
pencils, rulers, paper, notebooks, and etc. Each one of us carried
about one suitcase full of these things. Our leader spoke in English
and Svetlana translated into Ukrainian. We told them that we had
come to see the home of our parents and grandparents and that we
brought gifts from the children in America to the children in Ukraine.
Next, we went to the school in Kandel which is another village
just a few miles away. In fact, I think the two have now grown into
one continuous town. The Russian name for Kandel is Rybal'skoje.
One classroom was filled with children around the age of 10, along
with several teachers and other adults. Karl Lacher, our spokesperson,
explained to them that his grandfather had been a school teacher
in this same building 100 years ago. The children were allowed to
ask questions and I was impressed by their politeness. To ask a
question, children would stand up and wait to be recognized before
they spoke. In this school, we left the school supplies with the
teachers to be passed out later on as was needed. Our group did
open one great big box. I can still see the open mouths and wide
eyes of the children when they saw it was a revolving globe.
When we arrived at the school yard in Kandel, there was a group
of about 12 men and women to welcome us to their town. They had
a small table with a colorful table cloth upon which sat a large
loaf of bread and a small dish of salt. They had done the same for
us at Selz. This is the Ukrainian way of welcoming visitors to their
village or home. The guests are supposed to tear off a piece of
bread and dip it into the salt before eating it.
In this group, there were several elderly people who were German
and could speak the language. One woman had a father, or was it
her grandfather, who was Peter Vetter, the same name as my mother's
maiden name. I am sure she has to be my relative, but we could not
establish any common ancestor in this short period of time. I showed
these people a photo of the homemade iron grave markers that we
have in the old cemeteries in North Dakota. They said "Ya,
that is exactly what our cemeteries looked like". They added
that many cross grave markers had a photo in the center and that
the cemeteries were so nice and now everything is in ruins.
After the stop at the school in Kandel, we walked a short distance
to a winery. The manager of the winery, a man about 40 years old,
is a German from the Volga area. The winery is part of the government
collective farm. It is a big wine factory with very large "grain
bins," and several very large buildings house the huge wine
vats and big machinery. At the end of the tour, one of their ladies
ran quite a ways to get glasses to let us sample their wine. As
it turned out, very few of our group wanted to taste the wine. Some
thought the surroundings were not sanitary enough. As part of the
winery or collective farm, there were also quite a few pens with
pigs. The pens were primitive and a lot of manual labor is needed
to do the work. Also, the pigs squealed just like they would here
in North Dakota.
Wednesday, June 12--Our group of 27 again spread out in different
directions to see our ancestral territories. My group of 12 again
stopped at the Mannheim church being that it is right on the main
road. From here, our translator had to get directions for Georgenthal
which now has the Russian name of Sakretarka. Four of us wanted
to see Georgenthal which is a daughter village and was started in
1857. According to my maps, it is only two or three miles from Mannheim
but we drove at least 10 or 15 miles. Perhaps that was the best
road? My Gross ancestors came from Mannheim and were among the original
settlers when Georgenthal was started in 1857. This town was small,
and still is small, with only one street and about 60 houses. The
church had been a mission from Mannheim and is small compared to
some of the other really big ones. We stopped in front of the church
and, as in every village, there were people walking the dusty streets.
Actually, there are very few cars in any of the small towns. We
were told that the former church is now a community hall for dances
and meetings. The steeple is gone and a second floor has been put
in so that it is two stories. The top floor is the office for the
Collective Farm. A few of us went in and up the old choir loft stairs.
A corridor goes down the middle with offices on either side. The
office staff smiled and welcomed us in but when one cannot speak
the language it is difficult to ask any questions. The office space
seemed crowded and the furniture and equipment looked outdated compared
to our up-to-date Government Farm Service Agency Office.
The Peter and Magdalena Gross family, who now live in Canada,
had told me that their house had been the second one to the right
of the church. As far as I know, this would have been the original
Gross family home. Very likely, it was built by my great, great,
grandfather. I took several pictures, but did not try to visit with
the people in the yard.
Next, I hurried on to the end of the town. Gabriel and Oskar Gross,
who are in Germany now, and are second cousins to my father, asked
me to take pictures of their former house. They told me that it
is the third last one from the end. I took quite a few pictures
here. Our translator now caught up with me and we explained to the
lady by the door what we are doing. The far end of the house is
falling down and, in general, all of it looks dilapidated. I never
got inside a former German house that now is occupied by Russian
Beyond the Gabriel Gross house, the street turns into a rutted
out trail and a few blocks farther and to the left, we came to the
cemetery. This is the new cemetery, but there are old concrete bases
lying around which most likely are from the German iron grave crosses.
My Gross great, great grandparents were laid to rest somewhere in
this cemetery, but of course there is no possibility of knowing
the exact spot. I simply sat on a concrete base and offered a prayer.
The newer graves of the Ukrainian people have nice upright granite
markers with photos on some of them. They also use some simple iron
crosses. Many graves have a wrought iron fence around them.
From Georgenthal, we went to Elsass. Always, the first stop is
at the former church. Our Ukrainian drivers and translators do not
understand what we are about. Why would we want to waste time looking
at a building that is in ruins? What does it all mean? At Elsass,
the church is another Palace Of Culture and, from the outside, seems
to be in good condition. Of course, the steeple is gone so it looks
simply like a nice building. We did not see the inside. Also, we
did not take time to look for the cemetery here.
A relative of mine from Germany had written me several letters
during the last year insisting that I look up an old friend of his
in the town of Elsass. The name is Anton Tscheremush, he is a gypsy,
is Russian, but speaks the German dialect. A group of women directed
me to a house on the next block, so Svetlana our interpreter walked
with me. The man at this house told us that Anton Tscheremush, the
gypsy, died last year but pointed out the house where his widow
and daughter live. It was almost a fourth of a mile but we could
see the house on the outskirts of the village. Now that I think
about it, I believe this man must have been German because I understood
some of the words. I also was supposed to look up a German by the
name of Volk in this town, but there simply was no time. Our group
was ready to move on and the only reason our van had come here was
because of me and the gypsy. Anton is gone and I did not know if
the widow would have known my cousin in Germany, so I was willing
to go too.
Our tour bosses had packed a picnic lunch, which we ate around
a Russian statue behind the church in Kandel. I believe this is
also the exact spot where a number of our German people were executed
for their faith. Kandel is the town that my Schmaltz great, great,
great grandparents helped build in 1808. This is my mother's mother's
family. The church here is huge, a magnificent and architecturally
beautiful building. This, of course, is true of all these Catholic
churches. The church is big enough to have 14 large windows on either
side. Now the steeple is gone, and the windows are boarded shut.
In the 1930's, when religion was not allowed anymore, the church
was converted into a grain storage for the collective farm. By the
front door, a dirt ramp was built over the steps so the trucks could
drive into the door, and a door was added on back behind where the
altar used to be so that the grain trucks could drive out the back.
The building does not seem to be used for anything anymore, but
was still it locked so we could not see the inside.
The old German cemetery is to the right of the church and up the
hill a couple of blocks. Here, we saw a number of concrete bases
that once held the German homemade iron cross grave markers. Also,
we found about five iron crosses lying around. They are very battered
and bent out of shape. Also, there are mounds of dirt and sunken
graves, but it does make a good goat pasture. I am sure that I walked
over the graves of some of my Schmaltz ancestors and cousins. I
might add, that when the Schmaltz family came to America in 1893,
they came from a daughter village called New Kandel. Just when they
moved from here to help start the new village, I really do not know.
Thursday June 13--After breakfas,t we again headed out to our
respective home areas. At Selz, we picked up Antonina, the lady
who has been our most valuable adviser about the olden days. She
seems to remember where certain graves were in the old German cemetery.
(You must remember that all the markers have been forcefully removed
from the German graveyards.) If I got my story correct, there was
a chapel here and in the basement of the chapel is where the priests
were buried. All that remains now is a concrete foundation. Bishop
Anton Zerr (a son of the early German colonists) was buried in the
crypt. He was one of the last clergy to be shot in this area. As
I mentioned before, Bishop Joseph Werth from Siberia was a member
of our group and doing the same research as the rest of us. His
ancestors also were Germans who came to Russia. Here in this cemetery,
we had a short prayer service and Bishop Werth blessed the graves
as we prayed for, and to, our departed "landsleute" (fellow
country men). Being the cemetery is just up the hill a very short
distance from the school, it is a combination of playground and
goat pasture. The area is overgrown with weeds and lilac bushes.
These hardy lilac bushes, which seem to live forever, are for me
the connecting link with my relatives buried here to my family in
North Dakota. At the moment, it is difficult to put into words the
emotions I felt, to see, feel, and smell these lilac bushes. I could
not think of the name for the lilacs in our dialect until Antonina
called them "syringa". The new cemetery begins where the
old cemetery ends. Antonina's sister died two years ago, so we visited
that grave also.
While the others looked at the church one more time, I ran over
to Louisa's house. I brought her a stuffed Easter bunny and a box
of 98 color crayons for the grandchildren. However, my main reason
for going there was that I needed to have another look at the large
type Russian stove that our old people talked about. It is a combination
cook and heating stove that is built into the corner to heat four
adjoining rooms. Louisa was pasteurizing milk in a kettle on the
stove. I asked what that was because it must be about 50 years since
I had seen milk being pasteurized that way. She then offered me
a drink of milk. Well, I could not possibly and graciously refused.
By the front door of Louisa's house, I got interested in a stack
of red roof tiles and ended up lugging one home to North Dakota.
The imprint says "WILHELM WELK IN KUTSCHURGAN". These
tiles were manufactured before 1937 when Antonina's grandfather,
who was a rich man, had a tile factory. During the years of Communist
collectivization, anyone who had a little more money or property
was called a "kulak" and was disposed of. They were either
shot or taken to Siberia for slave labor until they starved and
froze to death.
The noon lunch was in the shade of the Mannheim church. Our leaders
had packed bread, cold cuts of meat, slices of cheese, whole tomatoes,
cucumbers, bananas, oranges, and water. Naturally the water never
saw any ice, whether at the hotel or on the road the water always
was "room temperature".
As we were having our picnic, groups of curious children came
by to check us out. We always handed out plastic bags of crayons,
pencils, pens and paper, etc. Then, they walked off quietly inspecting
their gifts. At one of the stops, there were four boys. I gave the
smallest one, about an eight year old, a good sized bag of goodies
and motioned that he has to share with the others. He inspected
the bag, closed it, and took off at top speed. The other three watched
him run and looked at me but I did not have anything else to give
away. I felt sorry for them, but at the same time I could not help
but burst out laughing at the way his bare feet were flying across
the grass and weeds.
In these farming towns, many boys wear knee length pants and go
barefoot, others have sandals. Most of the girls wear cotton dresses,
which are probably homemade. Very seldom do you see a girl or woman
From Mannheim in the Kutschurgan Colony northwest of Odessa, we
headed south to the Liebental Colony which is west of Odessa. The
Kutschurgan Colony was all Catholic whereas the Liebental area was
both Catholic and Lutheran. However, each individual village was
either one or the other religion.
At Franzfeld (Catholic), the former church is being kept up and
has a lean-to built on one side. The lettering above the door translates
into Palace Of Culture which actually is nothing more than a Community
Hall. We were not able to see the inside of the church. Most of
the group walked a long way (like half a mile) to the old cemetery,
but all that could be seen there were lilac bushes.
At Grossliebental (Lutheran) we toured the church, which was once
a large, beautiful building. In recent years, it was reclaimed and
now is a Russian Orthodox Church. The old front entrance has been
closed up and the door is now at the back where the altar used to
be. The floor is 12 inch wide, rough lumber. There are no benches.
Most of the windows are closed with brick because there is no money
to replace the glass. The Russian Orthodox priest was very friendly
and showed us a certificate of the last German person that was confirmed
here about 60 years ago before the church was closed. Ted, one of
our group, whose parents were born in this town, told the story
of how during the communist terror, every person in the entire village
was summoned to come to the church one Sunday morning. There, they
had to watch while a group of their own people were executed (shot)
on the church steps. I have heard these kind of stories often before
already, but it is different when one stands on the very spot and
sees it with your own eyes.
In front of the church, there is a large open area which was sort
of a gathering place. This place now is a Farmers' Market once a
week. There was a truck with live chickens and about 30 people standing
in line. Then they walked home with a live chicken under one arm.
There were rows of tables where they sold almost everything imaginable,
such as live flowers, cabbage and tomato plants, bread, live geese,
meat, lard, pig heads, sardines in a bucket of olive oil, pop, soap,
clothing, bunches of carrots, small plastic bags of flour, and many
The cemetery in Grossliebental is solid lilac bushes and I did
see at least one ornate iron cross just like the Catholics used
in the old cemeteries in North Dakota.
The next stop was at St. Wendelin's Church in the Catholic village
of Kleinliebental. This building is very big--long and tall, and
like most churches, had extremely large windows. This is now some
kind of factory and we did not get inside. To the right of the church
near the street stands a large building in ruins which we guessed
was the rectory, or it may even have been a school. We did not look
for a cemetery here.
Later in the afternoon, some wanted to go home earlier and some
wanted to look around a while longer. Being we had two vehicles,
we were allowed to choose in which we wanted to go. Naturally, I
chose to stay late. When the first car got to the corner where the
road goes into Moldova, (another country) Marvin lifted the camera
to take a picture of the policeman. Before he even had a chance
to snap, the car got stopped and the camera taken inside. The driver
and our translator had to do a lot of explaining and apologizing
which took about 20 minutes. After that, the driver was angry and
then drove too fast and got stopped for speeding. This took another
20 minutes. Our group in the late car were already eating supper
when the "early" carload came in. Everyone had a good
laugh over this and Marvin never heard the end of it.
Besides the villages mentioned specifically, we drove through
a number of others both Russian and formerly German.
Friday June 14--Today, our schedule called for us to stay in the
big city of Odessa, and what a blessing that was because today is
the only day that it rained. Our big bus took us to the Odessa State
Archives. The archivists seemed to be most helpful and explained
to us and showed us samples of what can be found in the records.
It seems that there is quite a lot of information about our German
towns and German people. However, many of their records and books
have not yet been catalogued and filed. Everything is written in
Russian so it takes one of them to find things. To get the records
that we genealogists would like to see will be time consuming and
therefore expensive. Also, they are finding out that perhaps the
"rich" Americans and Germans are willing to give money
to get copies of the records. So to sum it up, I would say that
there is a possibility that many of our German church records do
After the noon dinner at the hotel, we were taken to the Odessa
Scientific Library. This is one of those old buildings with very
high ceilings, elaborate wood carvings, and ornate wood furniture.
They let us see many precious old books. They also have many German
books. The rest of the afternoon was spent touring more of the city.
During the evening meal, we were entertained by a Ukrainian musical
group. I have a feeling that many of us did not appreciate it as
much as we were supposed to. For me, it was much too loud. After
supper, about 30 people who were university students and other adults
joined us for the evening. Our group had set up a large display
of excellent photographs of Germans from Russia life in North Dakota.
Our group also entertained the Ukrainians with several American
songs. Then, different ones were invited to come up and share what
we have seen and experienced, and how we have felt about our tour
so far. I will try to list some of the comments here in an abbreviated
- "To see with my own eyes what I had heard as I was growing
- "My parents cannot make the trip so I want to see for them".
- "To take pictures and to see how the people lived".
- "To see the churches where my parents worshipped".
- "To renew the memories that are fading".
- "To see the magical Fairy Land of my imaginations".
- "I am impressed with the many and beautiful trees both
in Odessa and out in the country".
- "Everything is just like I had always heard".
- When it was my turn, I was afraid I would become too emotional
and start crying so I chose not to express my inner feelings but
instead here is what I said: "As we are driving around the
country I have noticed that the women do all the milking and that
the men are no where near the cows". I continued "The
women here in Ukraine are very good and they also are very smart.
They know that men are absolutely no good at milking cows and
that is why they do not allow men to milk". This helped to
lighten up the evening.
One lady (the mother of Sergey, one of our translators) presented
Michael Miller with an embroidery she made of our logo. She does
beautiful work. The logo on our T-shirts consisted of the words
JOURNEY TO THE HOMELAND along with flags of The United States, Ukraine,
and Germany. Above everything, there is a flying dove with a red
ribbon in its mouth. The lady also added grapes to the embroidery
to symbolize some of the type of work that our people did in Russia.
During the course of the evening, Pius got acquainted with a German
speaking lady who invited the two of us to come to their house the
Saturday June 15--The different groups again went out to different
areas. As I said before, my group had it about the easiest. Those
going to the Beresan colony went about 80 miles northeast and their
driver kept getting lost and wasted a lot of time. Another group
went so far that they had to stay overnight in the village and in
Ukrainian homes because there are no convenient motels. One evening,
one group did not get back until 2:30 in the morning. They had an
interesting adventure! Today, no one went to the Kutschurgan area
so I signed up to go to the Liebental Enclave. Even though I would
like to see my home area again and again.
In Grossliebental, at the former Lutheran Church, we returned
the confirmation certificate which we took along the other day to
make photo copies of.
At the entrance to Neuburg, there is a very large concrete and
brick sign indicating the Collective Farm. The old Lutheran Church
in Neuburg is a Palace Of Culture. The floor slopes toward the stage
in front. There is a balcony in the back and on both sides. The
windows are so tall that some of the window is below the balcony
and some of it is above. In the cemetery, we did not see any evidence
of German graves but only the new Ukrainian ones with the wrought
iron fence around each grave anchored in a base of concrete. In
this town, I again became aware of how many people are walking,
instead of driving, along the streets. The small towns do not have
sidewalks, so everyone is in the street which usually is blacktopped
although there are many potholes. The ditches are full of weeds
and often trash.
One of our men knew of a German family in Neuburg by the name
of Fitzer. With the help of people on the street, we found the Fitzer
home. Here we met Wladimir (in German it would be Waldemar) Fitzer
age 52 and his son Igor Fitzer about age 25 or 30. The father of
Waldemar was Karl, but he is not living anymore. Waldemar cannot
speak German anymore, although he understands some of it. The son
Igor has studied German and was able to speak it somewhat. The two
men were adding a small kitchen onto their house. Waldemar had his
pants rolled up, and with his bare feet, was mixing the plaster.
The plaster was made of a mixture of clay, manure, small pieces
of straw and water. This they troweled onto the laths on the ceiling.
This was most fascinating to me because I remember stomping the
same kind of mud mix with my bare feet when I was six years old.
Our picnic lunch was eaten on the steps of the former Catholic
Church in Mariental. This church also is a Palace Of Culture. After
we had finished our lunch, a lady was coming back to work who let
us in and gave a tour. One area (small) is walled off for the town
library. There is a stage (platform) where the altar used to be.
Another floor has been added to make an upstairs. The upstairs also
is a theatre, however most of the windows are broken and the seats
are pushed to the other side. It looks like only the birds are using
In this village of Mariental, we somehow got to the home of George
Loewenstein. George was born here in 1919, and after the war, was
allowed to come back because he had been a soldier in the Russian
army. The father of George was Daniel Loewenstein. George was named
after his maternal grandfather, George Kress. His mother had a brother
by the name of Nariys Kress who went to Canada. George, perhaps,
has first cousins in Canada of whom he knows nothing.
Everyday, as we crisscross the countryside we see herds of red
cattle with several people herding the cows. At noon, the herd is
brought to the water, which might be a pond or a well where they
drink and chew the cud. Here, the cows are also milked. Today, we
came upon a herd right against the road so I hollered STOP! STOP!
This was a golden opportunity for the camera. In this case, it was
a small herd of only about 30 cows and they were in a make shift
corral. (The corral would not hold any cow that would want to get
out). The women and a few children came walking from the town, which
was at least a mile or farther away. Each had a pail or two and
some brought a stool. In the pail was a small amount of water and
a rag which they used to wash the cow's udder. Then they poured
the water on the ground and began milking. The cows are not tied
up, and the only movement they make is with the head and the tail
trying to chase the flies off their backs. In other places, we saw
where the cows were not even in a corral but simply out in the wide
open. (This is how I remember the tame cows from when I was little.
When my mother and sisters milked in the yard I would come barefoot
and with my tin cup to get a drink of fresh warm cow milk). I was
told that they milk three times a day: In the evening and in the
morning they milk at home, but at noon they milk out in the field.
Then they carry the milk all the way back home. Most of these cows
are solid red in color, but occasionally one sees a Holstein or
some other cross. These red cattle were brought from northern Germany
many years ago and were developed by our German ancestors to be
of good quality for beef and dairy. Now, however, they seem to be
of poor quality and all are quite skinny. I do not think that the
breed has any specific name because in German-Russian books, they
are referred to simply as the German red cow. I am sure that these
cows are the direct descendant (maybe ten times great) of the red
cows that my two grandmothers milked over one hundred years ago
on these same Russian steppes (prairie). Now I wish I would have
asked that lady if I may milk her cow. I would pay $20.00 if I had
a photo of me milking a red cow in the wide open spaces of Russia.
At another spot we stopped for a close up inspection of the vineyards.
There were also large fields of either rye or winter wheat that
were about ready for harvest.
After supper, the lady whom we had met last evening was there
to take Pius and me to their home. She grew up German with the maiden
name of Goehring, but her husband's last name is Kikot. We got along
fairly well with our German, even though her dialect is quite a
bit different. Her husband does not know any German. We went by
taxi, but now the taxi had a dead battery, so the driver got out
and I got out from the back seat and we got the car rolling enough
to get the engine started again. Ludmilla had an uncle who went
to the United States many years ago, but the family had lost all
contact until about a year ago when she got in touch with her first
cousins in America. She was very happy and excited about that. Ludmilla
and husband have two sons ages 19 and 20 years old. They know some
English and a few words of German. She and the husband both are
medical doctors. However, the country has socialized medicine (state
operated) and the country is broke financially so the doctors are
not getting paid. They have not been paid for six months. Their
only income is from a one acre garden three hours away out in the
country. He does not have a car but he can go by public transportation
(train), however, he still has to walk the last ten miles unless
he is able to hitch a ride. To bring anything back to sell in the
city, he carries it on his back. It was a very interesting evening
as we visited, toured their humble home, ate strawberries, cherries,
kuchen, and drank camilla tea. At 11:30, they brought us back to
the hotel. They wanted to take a trolley bus, but none came so they
flagged down a taxi. Here is another example to show that the country
under communism has gone so far backwards that it is almost a "third
world country". They have free public transportation and the
trolley bus (street car) is supposed to come every 20 minutes, but
often they do not come for two hours and then four will come one
behind the other. There are traffic lights at the busy intersections,
but at some streets the lights do not work and nobody is there to
Sunday June 16--The 13 or so Catholics in the group went to the
Catholic Church for Mass, about a 20 minute walk. Bishop Joseph
Werth, also a German from Russia, like us but now the bishop from
Siberia was with our group as a regular tourist researching his
ancestral roots. Just before Mass, Bishop Werth asked me to do the
scripture reading in English. I did the first reading and, after
the deacon read the gospel in Ukrainian, I read it again in English.
The only other words that I understood of the Mass was an Alleluia
Our group sang two songs in English and then at the closing we
sang "GROSSER GOTT" (Holy God) in German. One quite elderly
lady had tears running down her face so we knew she was German.
After Mass we met her and I walked with her to the trolley bus,
then I had to run to catch up with our group. Her name is Hatzenbuehler,
her father was Bartholomew Hatzenbuehler (the name is common around
this area) but she is not aware of having any relatives in America.
At 1:00 p.m., our bus left for the village of Peterstal in the
Liebental Enclave (colony). This is perhaps 20 or so miles southwest
of Odessa. We toured temporary housing that was put up for the German
people that are coming back from the far east regions like Siberia
and Central Asia. Germany is spending a lot of money trying to help
the people stay in the former Soviet Union (Russia). At the same
time, Ukraine and other CIS countries do not want the Germans to
leave because they need the good German workers. However, the Germans
are leaving as fast as they can. Every year since 1990, over 200,000
Germans from the east are migrating to Germany. Many more would
come if Germany would allow them. Here in Peterstal, we toured a
bakery which was built to supply some work for these German people
who are not permanently settled. They bake 300 loaves of bread each
day along with many other bakery items.
In the community hall was a program where Mike Miller presented
them with the American flag. There were some short speeches and
musical numbers. After listening to their very excellent German
Choir we were embarrassed to go on stage to do our American songs.
Maybe we would have felt braver if we had been first.
As I am coming to the end of my travelogue in Ukraine, I have
to fill in a few gaps that seem to be incomplete. At Strassburg
(spelled with a double "s"), which now has the name Kutschurgan
we stopped to see the bazaar. This "farmers market" beside
the highway at the edge of town has been in this same spot for many,
My great, great, great grandparents Anton and Christina Schweitzer
were among the original colonists of Strassburg. Their son Markus,
who was eight when the family came here from Germany, is my great,
great grandfather. Markus died at Strassburg but his wife Mariana
(Mitzel) my great, great grandmother came to North Dakota and is
buried near Hague. The Strassburg church with the steeple removed
is being used, but I do not know for what. We did not get inside.
Perhaps it is another "Palace Of Culture". The cemetery
is to the right and back of the church. I could not see any evidence
of any German graves, so perhaps the new graves are on the exact
same spot as where the old German cemetery was. My great grandparents,
John and Christina Schweitzer, and my grandmother, Barbara (Schweitzer)
Gross, came from here to America. I can say I saw the church and
school that they attended. In 1944, there were 240 families here
so it was a rather large village.
With the villages so close together and so many farming families
in each village, one can understand why they had to branch off to
start daughter villages. Then, as the land became harder to obtain,
they began coming to North and South America. Seeing the towns and
seeing the land way out helped me to understand why they would camp
in the fields overnight during seeding and harvest time.
The farm crops are very similar to what is being raised in North
Dakota. Besides the different kinds of wheat there are oats, barley,
rye, buckwheat, corn, sunflowers, soybeans, and potatoes. The fields
are very large, so they apparently have large machinery; but I did
not see any actual field work.
The field work that I did see was people (mostly women) hoeing
the potato fields and even the corn fields. We saw people hand picking
the potato bugs off the potatoes. I saw men and women raking hay
together with hand forks. They hauled hay with horses and wagons,
but there were also a few tractors. The hay was loaded by hand and
the hay racks and loads were quite small.
Many weeds in Ukraine are easily recognized as they are the same
as those in North Dakota. Some of the easier ones to identify by
name are creeping jenny, which shows up everywhere, leafy spurge,
wormwood, Russian thistle, musk thistle, fox tail, pig weed, plus
a few others whose names I do not know. Most of our weeds came from
across the ocean, but there are several in Ukraine which I have
not seen yet in North Dakota.
The farm wagons have rubber tires, but a few old-type wagon wheels
can still be seen. It appears that the Collective Farm is still
the rule, but the geese, goats, and one or two cows are privately
owned. The grass in the road ditches must be free because that is
where the old men sit herding their one cow. When our ancestors
came here, there were no trees but only the barren steppes (native
However, sometime or other, the Russian government was into planting
trees because all the main roads have one or two rows of trees along
side. As we drive along, it is often difficult to take a good picture
of some interesting field scene because a tree gets in the way.
Of course, many trees have died out and have not been replaced.
In the villages, there are also many trees; but not many large
shade trees. I would say they are mostly fruit trees that have been
hand planted. Some of the fruit that I heard mentioned growing there
are apples, peaches, plums, apricots, grapes, walnuts, and two kinds
of cherries. When we were there in the middle of June, the Bing
cherries were in season and just perfect for eating. The cherries
are planted and cultivated in the gardens, but they also seem to
grow wild like our chokecherries. There were places along the street
where we were able to pick cherries and eat them right off the tree.
Out in the country, older men and women and children were sitting
along the highway trying to sell their small pail of cherries. Often,
they must have to walk several miles because there are no houses
in sight and they do not have vehicles sitting nearby and not even
a bicycle. The few private homes that we got into they always offered
us cherries to eat. I always ate them even though I knew they were
not washed in store-bought, purified, bottled water.
The houses which our German people built are still standing, except
for some that may have been remodeled or what ever. The walls are
made with square pieces of cut stone. It is like a soft sandstone
and is found in certain areas like our gravel pits. In some places,
there are underground mines where it is dug out. The roofs of the
houses are made with lumber which was shipped in to Odessa and then
bought from there. The houses are one story only. They are not really
wide, but very long. The rooms were very large, especially when
compared to our old houses that were first put up on the prairies
of North Dakota. The attic is low and was used mostly for storage,
often for sacks of grain. There are no basements. Many yards had
a root cellar, which was very large.
As far as the weather goes, I would say that, where my grandparents
came from, the winters are much milder than here in North Dakota.
The Black Sea is a large body of water and that keeps it from getting
so cold. They do get snow and freezing temperatures, but it does
not last so long.
Now having given "all my insights", I want to point
out that I did not see the entire former Soviet Union and cannot
speak for that. What I saw is only a very, very tiny corner of it.
Odessa is the only big city I was in and the countryside that I
saw is all within 50 miles of Odessa. Other members of our tour
got out farther and observed different things and perhaps would
express very different opinions.
In those very few short days in the old homeland, I tried to do
everything I could to get the feel of how it might have been in
my grandparents' day. I dug my fingers into the rich black soil,
and even brought home a tiny handful; I took off my shoes and stepped
into the Black Sea; I ate the fresh fruit and vegetables that were
in season; I saw the large German houses; I prayed in the churches
(even though they are in ruins); I looked at the moon and the big
dipper in the sky and wondered if that is still the same big dipper
that my grandfathers saw as they went to sleep in the fields at
harvest time; I let the wind blow in my face and sniffed the air;
I saw the German red cows which are the granddaughters (maybe 10
or 20 times great) of the cows that my grandmothers milked early
every morning and every evening. Milk from these cows was used to
make cheese that was packed for lunch the first days of their journey
to America. Oh, what a moment, what a thrill, what a privilege!
If only the immigrants to America would be alive now because now
I "know" so many questions.
One thing I wanted to see very badly, but never saw, was the stork
that brought all those German Russian babies. (It seems they have
become extinct in this area). Some of our group did see storks quite
a way farther west from where I was. They even saw a nest with young
ones on the peak of a house roof.
Monday June 17--A little more touring of the city and a bit of
shopping. After dinner, we got to packing and said "good-bye"
to the Black Sea Hotel at 2:30. Eight of our Odessa workers accompanied
us to the airport and helped with the luggage. These guides, translators,
and helpers have been with us for only one week but it seems like
we have known them forever and that they are our best friends. Their
friendliness canceled out all the not-so-friendly people at the
Odessa airport. People exchanged addresses and both sides said "come
see us". I have to add that, in general, all the people in
Ukraine were friendly and courteous. The thought that often came
to me was "are these the people that I was always scared would
drop a bomb on me"? They did not look like the communists I
had pictured in my mind. These are nice people.
It was a touching experience as we saw "unser heimat"
(our homeland) from the air. There were the villages of our grandparents,
the large land, the rivers, everything. My eyes almost pulled out
of my head as I strained to get every last glimpse of the Old Country.
I would like to have stayed much longer. There are so many pictures
I did not take and questions I did not ask. Maybe some day I can
go back. Until then, I say "Auf wiedersehen".
Back at home, the question most often asked is: "What struck
you or impressed you the most?" To that I would have to answer
that everything "Da haam in Russland" (at home in Russia)
is pretty much exactly the way I had always imagined it from the
descriptions of the old people. It was (and is) a beautiful country,
but they wanted to get out of there because of the way the government