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Die Sippe von Johan Peter Gerber aus Durstel im Elsass

Book Review by Ingeborg Smith, Western Springs, Illinois

Häfner, Hugo. Die Sippe von Johan Peter Gerber aus Durstel im Elsass. 1988.


At first glance this book appears to be of interest only to members of the Gerber family. Its typesetting, which looks like a manuscript, not a book, is forbidding; the long lists of people are off-putting.

Actually, a careful reading gives one a good grounding in the history of Alsace and Lorraine since the time of Charlemagne, especially concerning French expansionism around the time of Louis XIV, plus religious intolerance and suppression of the German language, customs and costumes. As to Durstel, our author traces the village itself to 718 A.D., and nearby caves to 750-450 B.C.

Under the principle of "Cuius regio, eius religio" (Whose the rule, his the religion) the inhabitants of Saarwerden were forced to change religion six times in less than 100 years. Only the French revolution brought religious freedom for all.

Anyone interested in his own family will find here an efficient way of listing them, including two family trees, one for the Dursteler Gerbers and one headed "Gerber in Teplitz, 1988." Each Dursteler family member is given a number, which refers to the listing in the book. The Teplitz Gerbers also shows where the various branches of the family moved. To avoid the confusion of various family names, this family tree refers only to sons or daughters, whose illegitimate child bore the Gerber name. However, the lists include everyone. The daughters who married are listed separately. Each member of the clan is given a number; one can tell from the number to which generation the person belongs.

The photos are meant to be generic, showing places and not necessarily particular persons. Information was gathered from church registers in Germany, as well as German settlements in Bessarabia; some of the latter have apparently been destroyed. The Mormons have microfilmed some records, which are available in Salt Lake City.

There are five maps, town plans, an index of persons and of places, and a bibliography. There are lists of famous people with the name Gerber, one of whom developed the Gerber Daisy.

Johann Peter Gerber (aus Durstel in Elsass) is the grandfather of the author's maternal great-grandmother, Regina. This is Hugo Häfner's third book about his ancestors and the different branches of his family. The emphasis is on the emigrant and his descendants, on his "Sippe." Mr. Häfner explains that, according to Brockhaus, Sippe includes ancestors related by blood, the siblings of these ancestors and their descendants, as well as the ancestors of the relatives by marriage (not related by blood), which are often missing from compilations. These people are scattered all over the world and we are told about the difficulties of collecting the information. It was difficult to get information from Argentina and from Russia. Not only was it hard to get addresses in Russia, but some people were afraid to answer, some no longer knew German. Some were very cooperative because they hoped to return to Germany. These didn't grasp the purpose of the author's correspondence. The book includes about 80% of the members of this large clan.

Johann Peter Gerber apparently left first, because of difficult economic conditions and ruinous taxes. He slipped from landowner to day-laborer in a comparatively short time. He did not immigrate directly to Bessarabia; in 1786 he and his family went first, to a part of Hungary called the Batschka, where they were invited to a new settlement called Sekitsch. In 1918 this became a part of Yugoslavia, and in 1945 the Germans were deprived of their property and fortune and interned, finally being expelled to Germany, which Mr. Häfner points out was the original home of only a few of the inhabitants. Our author also points out that, according to the guidelines set out by the Nuremberg Tribunal, these actions constituted crimes against humanity.

The Gerber descendants in question avoided on, having moved to Bessarabia, apparently in 1817, and being resettled to Germany in 1940. At present, the clan Gerber is scattered over the whole world, North and South America: Russia, both European and Asiatic, and eastern and western Germany.

Gerber translates as tanner. We hear about and see woodcuts and coats of arms of the occupation; we are told about the three types of tanning: animal, vegetable and mineral, about the guilds. The etymology of the word is traced.

All in all an interesting and worthwhile book, Mr. Häfner's relatives must be grateful to have such an exhaustive and well-organized archive.

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