Journey to the Homeland: Germany and Ukraine
North Dakota State University Libraries Tours
16 May 1998
Warmest regards from Odessa, Ukraine and the Chorne More Hotel
(Black Sea Hotel). Bob Dambach and I arrived safely on 15 May
after the long plane ride from Fargo - Minneapolis - Amsterdam
- Vienna -Odessa via Northwest/KLM and Austrian Airlines.
We have already found that Odessa is modernizing with new stores
and developments. Today I visit The Lighthouse Orphanage in Odessa
to speak with Deacon Alexander. Journey to the Homeland Tour members
arriving on 27 May in Odessa bring with them many items for the
orphanage including handmade quilts donated by North Dakotans
in the Tuttle area. We will also have many personal hygiene items
such as toothpaste and toothbrushes. Deacon Alexander and the
48 children ranging from 5 to 17 years anxiously await the visit
to The Lighthouse on 28 May.
A welcome visitor to the hotel was Pavel Anselm, a young dentist
of Odessa. His mother was ethnic German and his father is Russian.
Pavel met many of the tour members in May, 1997. If he receives
visas, Pavel and his father hope to visit Pavel's brother who
has immigrated to Germany. Pavel tells me how dental needs and
medical needs are in great need here in Odessa and the nearby
former German villages. We hope that we can help Pavel and many
others with our tours to Odessa. Pavel will be introduced to tour
members upon their arrival at the Chorne More Hotel.
On Sunday morning, 17 May we drive 8 hours to Simperofol, Crimea,
Ukraine. There we will meet members of the German Rebirth Society.
They will travel with us to the former Crimean German Lutheran
and Catholic villages.
Bob will do video filming for the Germans from Russia television
documentary and I will be doing still photography. Watch for photos
to appear this summer on the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
website of our days in Crimea.
We return from Crimea to Odessa on 21 May. On 22 May, I will
fly from Odessa to Vienna and on to Stuttgart, Germany. There
I will attend the Bessarabian Bundestreffen on 24 May in Ludwigsburg
near Stuttgart. The Bessarabian German gathering is held every
two years with 50,000 people expected. I look forward to seeing
colleagues from the USA attending the Bundestreffen including
Dale Wahl, Bremerton, WA; Ed Schulz, Bakersfield, CA and Curt
Schulz, Beulah, ND as well as Merv Rennich, Dunlap, IL, a May
tour member who traveled with me back to Odessa from Stuttgart.
On 25 May, I fly to the Vienna Airport where we will meet tour
members Marilyn Clark Wilkinson, living near Sacramento, and her
mother, Joan Keller Clark, Yorba Linda, CA. We fly together on
Odessa and await the arrival of the tour group on 27 May.
As the tour members in America prepare to leave next week for
Odessa, Bob and I want to let you all know that we are "safe and
sound" and happy to be again in Odessa with friends and colleagues.
We were warmly greeted with temperatures in the 60s. Tonight we
will experience "night life on the streets of Odessa."
With Ukrainian greetings,
--- Michael M. Miller
--- Bob Dambach, Prairie Public Television, Fargo
[Bob just told me my above text was ok to send.]
22 May 1998
Our days in Crimea and the former German villages
We arrived safely in Odessa without problems with warm greetings
from our Ukrainian friends. Odessa continues to change in
many ways but still faces many difficult economic challenges.
Bob and I continue to be amazed at the amount of progress
from May, 1997 to May, 1998.
On 21 May we have returned from Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine
to Odessa. Our visit to Simferopol, to the former German villages
and to Yalta, proved to be most valuable for Bob Dambach and
myself. Bob Dambach of Prairie Public Television joined me
to complete filming in the Crimean German villages.
We visited the villages of Friedental, Kronental, Neusatz,
Rosental, Staryj Krym and Zurichtal of the former Crimean
German villages on 18 May located near Simferopol. Kronental,
Friedental, Neusatz and Rosental were mother colonies. We
passed by many other German villages. The villages are within
easy driving distance of Simferopol from one to two hours
and good roads.
In Neusatz (today Krasnogorye), we visited the former German
school founded in 1876 where we spoke with teachers and students.
It was cloudy with rainfall outside so I asked if the lights
could be turned on for additional lighting for photographs.
The Ukrainian teacher informed me that the school had no electricity
for some months due to lack of funds. We chatted with the
students eager to learn about life in North Dakota. We sensed
a need for more learning materials in the school. There is
a lack of paid teachers so local people who know a subject
come to help such as the math instructor who invited us to
his junior high class.
We asked the older students about their future plans. There
was some hesitation when they finally expressed that many
would like to go to a technical school or the university in
Simferopol but their family does not have the financial means
since they now need to pay for part of their college education.
Many will stay in the village and work the land.
Our next stop was in Rosental (today Apomathoe), a former
German Catholic village with many descendants living in the
Dakotas. We were amazed at the condition of the church exterior
for photographs and the nearby pastor house both built by
Germans. The church is today Russian Orthodox. Nearby was
the school with about 300 students and still one of the most
well-known schools in the region. Many graduates enter colleges.
We meet in the library with teachers and students. The teachers
informed us that they had not been paid for 18 months. They
depend on the families of school children bringing food and
gifts. Many have additional jobs and sell garden vegetables.
Bob and I felt a "bondship" between the students and their
teachers realizing the difficult situation. The Rosental School
has an English teacher who shared many experiences. They learn
about the former life of the village, which was German, but
are interested to secure additional resource materials including
villagers who once lived in Rosental.
The students would be interested in developing pen pals
with American children whose ancestors immigrated from Rosental.
Their problem may be lack of money to pay for the stamps to
reply to letters. Bob and I did feel that the Rosental School
had many more opportunities and were much better equipped
than the Neusatz School. In Rosental one can find many German
Our next stop was Kronental (today Vinogradnoe) where we
were amazed to locate so many German houses. Both the Catholic
and Lutheran churches are still standing. The Lutheran Church
was reopened in 1990 as a Russian Orthodox Church. The Catholic
Church is used as a community center. Both churches are very
good for photographing.
At the Kronental cemetery we located a number of gravestones
of Germans including a Fischer and a Schneider. Further identification
of gravestones with photographs will appear later at the Germans
from Russia Heritage Collection website. Bob and I were impressed
to locate a number of German names in the cemetery with the
help of local residents who helped us once they knew we were
On 19 May, we traveled a longer distance to the village
of Starjk Krym of meet Irma (Ille) Tarusova born in 1919 the
nearby village of Zurichtal (today Zolotoe Pole). Irma spoke
a very good Swabish German dialect so we were able to have
a nice visit. She emphasized that her first language was German
and not Russian. Irma was a German schoolteacher throughout
her career and still provides German language study for Ukrainians
wishing to immigrate to Germany. She mentioned that when she
turns 80, she really wants to retire.
Like so many of the elderly Crimeans, since November she
has received only 60% of her monthly pension which totals
about $25 a month to live. She depends on selling her garden
vegetables for additional income. To date she received one
Red Cross package from Germany. Her relatives in Germany sent
her packages but they never arrived. Irma could immigrate
to Germany but she wants to stay in Crimea where she grew
up as a child and returned from Kazakhstan to Crimea in 1955.
Irma finished school in 1938. In August 1941, with her family
she was deported to the Caucausus. In October 1941, the family
went to Kazakhstan. From 1945 to 1949, Irma served in the
"Trud Army" as a wagon driver. Many people did not survive
the "Trud Army" yet she was determined to someday be a German
teacher again in Ukraine where she returned in 1955. Irma
buried three husbands and had no children.
The Lutheran Church in Zurichtal still stands and is being
repaired as a Russian Orthodox Church. Irma knows many details
of the villages, location of houses, traditions, holidays
and the cemetery. We hope that Irma will begin to write her
life story since she speaks in much detail.
On 20 May, we drive two hours from Simferopol to Yalta passing
by a beautiful mountainous landscape. Yalta is a very impressive
city to visit.
In Yalta, we photographed the Evangelical German Lutheran
Church and the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church where
we met a young French seminarian of the Dominican Order finishing
his priesthood studies and learning Russian. Both churches
depend on financial donations from other countries due to
the lack of needed local support.
In the afternoon, we walked on the Yalta Prommande along
the Black Sea. Then we journeyed a short way to Livadia, the
former Palace of Alexander III, where the Yalta Conference
was held in February, 1945 with Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin.
These sights were spectacular and important to see when visiting
Traveling on 21 May from Simferopol to Odessa, we were surprised
to pass by the former Catholic German village of Alexandrowka.
There we photographed the impressive church still standing
but in disrepair in this northern Crimean village settled
by both Germans and Czechs. The cemetery close to the church
includes German tombstones but most were overgrown with shrubbery.
It was also interesting to pass by a new resettlement complex
with new houses of Estonians.
Our visit to the Crimea proved to be beneficial in many
ways. Even though the trip was close to 2,000 kilometers round-trip,
we discovered that it is not that difficult for travel from
Odessa. There are a number of Germans in Simferopol who know
the former German villages for location as well as local Germans.
In the villages, there still exist many structures, which
will be of interest to persons of Crimean German heritage.
Yalta is very important to visit as part of a Crimean tour.
Finally, on 22 May I fly from Odessa to Vienna and on to
Stuttgart, Germany. I will attend the Bessarabian Bundestreffen
on Sunday, 24 May. I look forward to my first attendance at
this important event in Ludwigsburg and meeting our Bessarabian
Germans. Then on 25 May I return to Odessa where I plan to
visit the Odessa State Archives and prepare for the arrival
of the "Journey to the Homeland" tour members on 27 May. Bob
Dambach and I are doing well and healthy. We enjoyed Crimean
German foods and especially the breads.
Special regards to all from Odessa, Ukraine.
--- Michael M. Miller
1 June 1998
Internet Cafe, Odessa, Ukraine
Tour members Carol Just Halverson, Homer Rudolf and I have
joined Dr. Sergey Yelizarov here at the Internet Cafe to share
the following messages with you. Let me tell you all that
the tour members are in good health and have experienced many
varied, unforgettable and emotional memories visiting the
former Bessarabian and Black Sea German villages. Now I want
to share with you their stories:
--- Michael M. Miller
Merv Rennich, Dunlap, II
Visiting Hoffnungstal, Bessarabia
The mere presence of being there and standing in the same
place where my grandparents and great grandmother had also
stood and from which I had heard referred to so many times
was awesome. I now know from just the lay of the land why
my grandmother talked so approvingly and lovingly of Hoffnungstal.
Duane Retzloff, Mountain View, CA
On this beautiful morning, accompanied by Michael, our host
from the previous night, we traveled to the Bessarabian village
of Hoffnungstal where my great grandfather, Karl Retzlaff,
was born. We had been warned not to expect anything, and that
all the buildings had been leveled, but we wanted to see the
valley that we had heard was so beautiful and fertile. We
were pleased and excited to find the copper marker on the
pedestal that commemorated the founding of the village by
the German-Russians, the nearby cemetery now overgrown by
lilac bushes, and the remnants of the cobblestone path leading
down the hill to the church site. This was already more than
we expected. Imagine our great surprise when our host, Michael,
led us to the beautiful, entirely intact village school which
was now being used to house a power substation.
Rosemary Ripplinger Schwan, Devils Lake, ND
Visiting the Kutschurgan villages of Selz, Strassburg, Kandel,
Mannheim and Elsass
I can hardly believe that there are very few German people
left in the villages. The Ukrainian people are just wonderful
and very helpful. They try to remember if there still are
German people in the village and they will want you to meet
them and talk to them. A small 86 year old woman in the village
of Selz said a prayer in German. This experience had everyone
spell bound and emotionally touched bringing tears as she
prayed for Mary to be beside her, help and guide her.
Wally Duchscher, Havre, MT
Visiting Elsass, Kutschurgan Enclave
Elsass was an experience of a lifetime. We visited the school
and were met by its principal, the teachers and its pupils.
They were excited to see us and visit with us. Many of the
children could speak fairly good English. After touring the
school, the children put on a program for us in English consisting
of poems, short stories, dances and music. The teachers then
shared a fantastic lunch with us, which they had prepared
themselves. After lunch the teachers sang Ukrainian songs
for us. The school is private and is in need of financial
help. The students and teachers are very up beat and positive!
Using an old map of the village of Strassburg, I started
walking through the old German part of the village looking
for my great-grandmother Schall's residence. While visiting
with one of the Ukrainian women, she told me of an old German
lady that still lived there. We went to her home and she showed
me my great-grandmother's house which was two houses down
form her home. She also went into her home and brought out
a photo of my great-grandmother, which she said her mother
gave her. She said the photo was taken sometime in the 1800s.
She said there were more old German ladies still living in
Strassburg. Her mother's maiden name was Richter and she also
gave me a photo of her mother's brother and sister.
Naomi Reimer, Sumner, WA and Francie Jacobson, Clarkston,
Visiting Elsass and Mannheim, Kutschurgan Enclave
In the village of Elsass, we toured the school of 300 students.
Their hospitality was more than we expected. We visited several
classrooms while final exams were in progress. One class was
an English class. The students gave us a musical program of
singing and dancing. After the program, we were treated to
a sit-down lunch with the teachers. The food was excellent
and beautifully served. Many toasts were made with vodka and
champagne to our health and future friendships with these
most generous people. We all felt this was an emotional experience,
one to be remembered. As we left the school, we were given
bouquets of peonies.
LaVern and Lillian Miller, Williston, ND
Visiting Elass and Mannheim, Kutschurgan Enclave
This being our first tour ever to Ukraine where my mother
was born, has been a heart warming and learning experience.
The school we visited in Elsass, the program they presented
in the English language and their own songs and dances were
very touching. We then were served a fine dinner with the
teachers dining and visiting with us. After dinner we were
presented folksongs by some of the ladies. A wonderful day!
Greetings to our family and friends in the USA, we were
privileged to have a German family, the Rieslings, invite
us into their home. We got to see the inside of the house,
the pride he took in his huge garden and root cellar. At the
end we all sat down to a wonderful lunch. A very fine and
enlightening day for the both of us.
Marilyn Clark Wilkinson, Granite Bay, CA
Visiting the village of Sulz, Beresan Enclave
I would like to share a part of my day with you. It appears
that many people have tried to visit Sulz while here on their
Journey to the Homeland Tour in the past, however, according
to our interpreter, once they came upon the horse and wagon
trail they decided not to forge forward. Well, our driver
was fearless but that is a story unto itself. We found the
beautiful valley nine kilometers outside of Landau where Sulz
once thrived. According to the Old Russian sheepherder, who
helped pull us out of the ravine we fell capture to, the Army
had completely dismantled Sulz and they used the materials
in the surrounding villages. The Army then built a military
training facility where Sulz had thrived. Bombs have since
demolished the facility. What was once Sulz, the village of
my ancestors, is now a beautiful serene valley with lush vegetation
and a marker stands among the flower bushes. The Sulz Bridge
is strong and sturdy. I have taken photos of Sulz and its
bridge so if anyone would like a copy, please send me your
address by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walter C. Aman, Portland, OR
Visiting Landau, Speier, Kathariental and Waterloo, Beresan
For me going to the village of Landau where my forefathers
lived from 1809 to 1889 was a very emotional experience. The
people now living in these villages seem to be aware of the
German beginnings of these villages and were very cooperative
in providing information for locating old buildings. At Landau,
I found the one remaining German speaking woman, Rose Raimer,
who had been sent to Azerberjan for 10 years and has lived
and worked again in Landau for the past 40 years. At age 73,
she has worked at the Catholic boarding school as a food preparation
worker. She reported financial hardship. Much of the transportation
in the villages seems to be with horse and motorcycle with
sidecar and many people were walking along the roads. In general
the people appear optimistic.
Dick and Ruth Freier Doll, Tucson, AZ
Visiting Landau, Speier, Kathariental, Beresan Enclave
We visited the German Catholic village of Landau where we
went to the village clinic to present gifts to the nurses
and took several pictures (some with a Polaroid camera so
we could give some pictures to the nurse). We also visited
the secondary school to present gifts to schoolteachers from
Elaine Helbling Hundley. We then went to the village of Speier
where my grandmother, Fransizka Assel Doll, was born and attended
school which is still in use. We presented gifts to the school
principal and teacher, Jonik Sveltana Nikolaevna. We visited
the Catholic Church, which has been restored to a Russian
Orthodox Church and looks great. Then we visited Kathariental
village where my grandparents and father lived until 1911
when they immigrated to the USA (Mandan, ND). There we found
the Dollhouse, which is still being used by a Ukrainian family.
The school is only a shell now. The Catholic Church is gone
and also no cemetery markers exist. A memorable experience!
Gerald Fiechtner, Fargo, ND and Henderson, NV
and sons, Matthew Fiechtner, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado
and Jon Feichtner, Tekamah, NE
Visiting Hoffnungstal and Neu Beresina, Kherson District,
Black Sea, Odessa
We found hardly any trace of anyone with German roots in
the villages. The combinations of wars, the Soviet system,
and time have apparently erased most of the German contributions
to these area villages. Even the cemeteries were in complete
disarray. One could not help but be deeply moved by the style
of the life of these Ukrainian people surviving in the villages
that we visited. We hope to learn more when we get to the
Bundestreffen in Stuttgart. We also plan to visit the ancestral
villages in Germany.
Beverly Reinert Runkle, Billings, MT
Visiting Worms and Rohrbach, Beresan Enclave
Have not yet visited my villages of Worms and Rohrbach,
however, I rode along to the Kutschurgan Villages yesterday.
The few Germans left in those villages were very hospitable,
and so very glad to see us! Their stories were of almost unbelievable
hardship but they persevered in returning to their ancestral
villages. Makes one wonder if we could do the same.
Walter and Irene Neuharth, Long Beach, CA
Visiting Glückstal, Kassel, Neudorf
It was pure joy to find 3 ancestral homes in Kassel and
to walk where they did and to see the beautiful land and the
crops of wheat, sunflowers, and large gardens. I felt the
comradeship of the German ancestry. The churches were very
precious to us. In Neudorf, where the church was taken over
by Orthodox Church, we were thankful that it was being used
as a church and that the building was being restored.
Janice Huber Stangl and Tom Stangl, Sterling, VA
visiting Glückstal, Neudorf, Bergdorf and Kassel
The moment one leaves Odessa City, one can see the same
flora (and weeds) and fauna as the Dakotas. The surprise for
us was the vastness of the orchards, and sunflowers and wheat
fields (still on collective farms.) Many people are out hoeing
in the fields. They have their sack of bread and water before
they return to their homes in the hottest part of the day.
Odessa region is an area of great contrasts. The lush growth
in the countryside and the many large, half-completed buildings
(because of lack of money since the end of the Soviet Union.)
The people are very friendly and seem to be very glad to meet
us - strangers in their land - especially the few German families
left in the villages.
The visit to Glückstal was a very emotional experience,
which will be long remembered, even by those non-German residents
we met. Contacts have been made which we hope will continue
in the future. The Mayor of Glückstal has promised to do all
she can to see that the church is restored and reopened for
the entire community.
Duane Bittner, North Highlands, CA
Greetings families and friends, we had a very interesting
and emotional two days visiting our ancestor villages, especially
seeing the destruction and desecration of the churches and
cemeteries. Our thoughts and prayers to all at home.
Cora Tschaekofske, Dickinson, ND
visiting Bergdorf, Glückstahl, Kassel
I am writing this right after returning from a trip through
the villages and I am overwhelmed with the contrasts. The
rich, productive soil, the well kept, large gardens, the miles
of lush grain and corn growing in such large fields and then
the stark realization of poverty, of farmers, mostly women
hoeing by hand. I rejoiced when I saw two large tractors with
cultivators working in a cornfield. How wonderful that some
people would be spared from the job of hoeing by hand. Although
there is poverty, the people here are completely self-sufficient.
They raise almost all the food they eat. They have chickens
for eggs and meat. Cows for milking and cheese and butter
and vegetables of every kind. God has been good to them.
Gerry Sommer, Mesa, AZ
Visiting Glückstahl, Neudorf, Hoffnungstal and Neu Glückstahl
A teenage boy saw a member of our group giving out gifts
to young children. He wanted to share something also with
us, so he ran home then came running back with a pamphlet
and a new - unused Bible, and pointed to the sky and said
God... and then to the book. It was very touching and emotional
at the same time. But, on the ride back I realized how little
the Word of God meant to him for him to give it away so easily,
but happily. The following day we attended church services
in Odessa, which had 3 adult baptisms and 10 confirmations.
Katharina Halverson, Student at Frei and Humboldt Universities
in Berlin, Germany
Visiting Glückstal, Neudorf, Bergdorf, Kassel
Isn't it funny that I could travel halfway around the world
and still feel like I'm sitting in a North Dakota meadow after
a spring rainfall, taste my grandma's pickles, (from someone
else's cellar) and hear the same deutsche that's spoken in
Wishek, Berlin, and Edgeley, North Dakota?
Carol Just Halverson, St. Louis Park, MN
Visiting Glückstal, Neudorf, Bergdorf, and Kassel
To the memory of Salomea, Katharine, Magdalena and Elizabeth:
I have walked the streets you once walked in Kassel and Neudorf,
visited the churches that witnessed your baptisms, confirmations
and weddings. With my daughter, Katharina, I have planted
Hollyhock seeds from my birthplace in North Dakota in the
churchyards and cemeteries where your loved ones lay buried,
now in unmarked graves. With my companions, I sang "Gott ist
die Liebe" at the Kassel cemetery and said a prayer of gratitude
for the courage it took for you to leave your loved ones and
journey to Dakota Territory so I could have a brighter future.
To my friends on the listserv: I wish all of you could be
here with me. Experiencing this pilgrimage with the other
members of the tour has enhanced my own experience tenfold.
This is truly a Journey to my Homeland.
Homer Rudolf, Richmond, VA
Visiting Glückstal, Neudorf, Bergdorf, & Kassel - Glückstal
The absolute highlight of the trip will have to be the two-day
trip to the Glückstal villages, with the overnight stay in
Glückstal. Only about 6 German-speaking families remain there
(none are originally from Glückstal). The dogs are kept in
the fenced yards so the families of ducks, geese and turkeys
can roam freely through the village. The milk cows are herded
back to the village at the end of the day, and they all know
where their home is -- just like it was when I grew up in
Wishek. The church is now a dance hall, part of the parsonage
is a bar. Life for most is very simple and labor intensive.
My hosts, an elderly couple (75 & 80 yrs old) have no apparent
income (probably get a small pension) and live a self-sufficient
life style, much like our forefathers. They have a large garden,
a grape arbor, 3 hens with broods and about 20 more chickens.
There is a Russian oven in the summer kitchen and a German
oven in the house. She uses a homemade spinning wheel, with
a bicycle wheel for a wheel. He was once a good cabinet-maker,
and they have a couple of nice pieces of furniture in their
house that he built. Their story is similar to that of other
German-Russians who stayed in Russia. In 1943 they were sent
from their native village to Poland for 2 years, then to Germany
for less than a year. Twelve years followed in Siberia, where
they lived in snow caves for the first winter. He worked with
the timber industry, including riding logs down the river
to steer them to their destination. Next they spent some time
in Kazakistan, and finally they were returned to the Ukraine,
in Glückstal. It literally takes one back a century in time,
except for a few amenities like electricity.
So now we end our messages from Odessa, Ukraine with many
memorable experiences for each of the tour members. Today
tour members traveled back to the Kutschurgan, Beresan and
Liebental Enclave villages. On 2 June, they will visit the
Odessa State Archives and the Bavarian House. Our last message
from Odessa will be on Wednesday, 3 June before we leave from
Odessa for Vienna on Austrian Airlines. Some tour members
will stay overnight at the Novotel Hotel near Vienna Airport
while others will travel on to Stuttgart, Germany. All tour
members will be together at the Kongress hotel in Stuttgart
from 4-8 June. The large German-Russian gathering is Saturday,
6 June where 50,000 are expected to attend in Stuttgart. We
will host the Amerika Haus to assist families locating their
long lost North American relatives. The Bundestreffen should
be another lifetime experience for tour members.
In closing, I want to extend warmest regards to all of you
from the land where many ancestors once lived with Dakota
and North American roots. This is a struggling country and
life is difficult for the Ukrainian people. Yet they have
hope for a better future. We shall see what develops. I am
doing well and in good health, as are all the tour members.
With warmest regards from Odessa,
Michael M. Miller, Tour Director
Journey to the Homeland Tours
North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, ND
3 June 1998
Dick & Ruth Doll, Tucson, AZ
Visiting Katharinental, Speyer, Fruendental
We have completed all our German village visits and each
had it's own unique interests. Some villages had German houses
to visit and some had old German schools, no longer in use,
while others had churches that had been restored and other
churches destroyed. We went to cemeteries that could be located,
but in most cases all headstones were missing. The German
Army during World War II used many for construction material,
such as bridge construction. All in all the trips to the German
villages were very interesting and shall never be forgotten.
Being where your grandparents lived and walking the same grounds
gave a wonderful feeling. We hope to share our memories with
relatives and friends in good old USA.
Vicky Retzloff Kearns, Napa, CA
Visiting Leipzig and Kulm, Bessarabia
It has been a life long dream to visit my ancestral villages
of Leipzig and Kulm in Bessarabia. I am so grateful to have
my nephew, Duane Retzloff, accompany me on this trip. Duane
has previously published an excellent genealogy book on the
Peters family on his mother's side. He has put in relentless
efforts in researching the family history of the Brandenburger
and Retzloff families.
I am so grateful to Michael Miller for organizing these
tours. He has wonderful assistants Cindy and Stuart Longtin,
who have also committed the past year for making the tour
I extend my gratitude also to the wonderful people in Odessa.
Our tour expert Elvira Zahorova, Dr. Sergey Yelizarov, and
Laura, our interpreter, who were tireless and never left a
Lavern and Lillian Miller, Williston, ND
Visiting Worms, Rohrbach, Waterloo, Speyer
Today was a long day at the villages. The former German
village of Worms is a Lutheran village. It was at this village
the only church we have seen that restoration had started.
There was a new steeple made of brick and mortar in appropriate
height for the size of the church, and the first phase of
their restoration. Also the visit to the school and kindergarten,
where we were all welcomed, will make this long day one to
file in our memory.
Duane Retzloff, Mountain View, CA
Visiting Karlstal, Josefdorf
Our visit to Karlstal was a real adventure! Although we
had requested to see the village, no one had been able to
locate it until Sergey, our guide, was able to research its
location several days before we left. Even so, we were not
sure of the location where our forefathers lived on the Schellenburger
Estate owned at that time by Count Vicky. We assumed that
nothing would be left of the former German Colony. Imagine
our surprise when we found out that the village of Karlstal,
now Scheromberchowa, was actually the site of the former German
Colony, and that the homes on the Southern part of town included
many homes of the original German settlers. Not only that,
but we were able to find the site of the former house that
belonged to the Schellenburgers! We felt like archeologists
who had just discovered an ancient city.
Josephdorf, now called Plagenta, was not actually one of
our ancestral villages. It was Irvin Vogel's, but finding
this village was one of the most memorable experiences of
our trip. The village was shown on a Karl Stumpp map that
Irv had, but it was not shown on any modern map. So Laura,
our guide and translator, had to estimate its location. We
drove to several villages in the area and asked about Josefdorf,
but to no avail. Laura said, "Perhaps it doesn't exist anymore."
In the next village, Laura spoke at length with an old man
sitting on a bench underneath a tree. He told her that there
was a village in the next valley where Germans once lived,
but he only knew it by the name of Plagenta not Josefdorf.
We decided to give it a try. By this time, though, we were
in the far reaches of the back country of the Bessarabian
colonies and very close to Moldova for which we had no visa.
As we came over the top of a high hill we came upon a breath-taking
scene. There stretched far below us, like a picture postcard,
lay a little village snuggled up against a little river. On
the outskirts of the village we were directed to an old man
in his 80s who was hoeing his field, and who was said to be
the most knowledgeable about the village.
Our driver, Igor, and Laura walked through the deep ditch
and across the field to talk to the old man. He took them
to his home where he brought out an old map of the village.
Imagine our delight when we read the name "Josefdorf" on the
map. As we spoke with the villagers, we realized that we were
probably the first Americans to ever set foot in this village,
and that we had rediscovered Josefdorf. What a great feeling!
Jan Stangl, Sterling, VA
My thoughts of visiting Odessa and the villages
A person must have hope, or there is nothing. One must work
to eat or one starves. These two main thoughts have been expressed
by several of the dear babushkas I have conversed with. All
struggle with the decision of whether to leave family here
in Odessa to join family already in Germany. The separations
break their hearts.
Each and everyday I marvel at the optimism of the young,
also the beauty of the people, flowers and earth. However,
each day I thank God that my forefathers had the courage to
7 June 1998
Kongresshotel Europe, Stuttgart, Germany
I write this message from Stuttgart as Journey to the Homeland
Tour members prepare to leave on 8 June from Stuttgart for
Amsterdam and Minneapolis.
Today we have the pleasure of a concert by the Homeland
Choir of Stuttgart (Heimatklaenge Chor) along with a wonderful
reception. The choir sang a special song for the Americans:
Battle Hymn of the Republic, in the German language. The choir
once again extended their thanks for the warm reception they
received in North Dakota in July, 1997 during their concert
On 6 June, we attended the large Germans from Russia gathering,
the Bundestreffen. There were 60,000 in attendance and what
an experience for all of us. Our "Amerika Haus" was well-attended
and well received. Chancellor Helmut Kohl spoke at the Bundestreffen,
stressing that we must keep the doors open for immigration
from the former Soviet Union to Germany. Today there are still
a total of 1.8 million ethnic Germans still living in the
former Soviet Union. Close to 2.1 million have received permission
to immigrate to Germany in recent years.
Chancellor Kohl stressed the importance of "keeping the
doors open" in Germany for the immigration of Germans from
Russia, Siberia, Kazakhstan and other locations.
Tour members have had quite an experience in Odessa, in
the former German villages, touring Alsace, France, the Bundestreffen,
and the special concert by the Homeland Choir.
Tour members are in good health and doing well. They will
have many memorable experiences to share with family and friends
when they return home this week.
With German regards from Stuttgart, Germany,
--- Michael M. Miller