Memories of the Good Old Days in Bessarabia

Bullach, Renate. "Memories of the Good Old Days in Bessarabia." Mitteilungsblatt, February 2013, 14-16.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO.

From a conversation at the home of Renate-Bullach-Engel (b. 1951) during the summer of 1988. Present were Otto Engel (b. 1919) and Rosa Engel-Leinz (b. 1920) of Krasna, the only Catholic mother colony, and Alfred Fandrich (b. 1911) and Elvire Bisle-Fandrich (b. 1936) of Tarutino.

Elvire Bisle-Fandrich: In 1988, my father and I were guests at the home of Renate Bullach as her parents were visiting at the time. We sat on the patio in full view of the Weser levee and spoke of home.

Rosa Engel: “How much we enjoy the warmth here in Germany! My goodness, when I think about Bessarabia! How we suffered in the heat of the steppe! I was a farmer’s daughter. During threshing time we all had to work, adults and kids.

I had a dream at the time. I would have loved to attend the girls’ gymnasium [classical high school] in Tarutino. It was ten kilometers [six miles] from Krasna to Tarutino! Learning came to me easily.  And my father even had the necessary money. But: ‘Who knows what goes on there in Tarutino!’ my father probably thought to himself. Parents watched their girls very carefully! Not so much the boys. Still, we girls were allowed to work just like the men. No second thoughts about that.

Father had enough land, but he always wanted more. Land, only land, and more land! His sons were all to become farmers.”

Alfred Fandrich: “All farmers strove to get land, but the Krasna farmers especially had bought much land from neighboring villages. Getting to the new fields was therefore much farther than to the old ones.”

Rosa Engel: “And because my father was farming ever more land, we also had ever more work to do. During threshing time I often thought, ‘I can’t stand this anymore!’ Even before the sun rose we were already on our way to the steppe.

I still remember one particular morning as my sister and I were sitting on the water keg and both of us were complaining. Never in our lives would we marry a farmer! Never in our lives! We would rather enter a cloister. We would rather pray five times a day than work so hard day in and day out. And as we kept complaining, our wagon lurched into a deep hole, and my sister and I fell over the sideboards onto the dusty ground. The men began to laugh, and father mockingly said, ‘Well, there lies the cloister, right in the dirt! What will become of us if we get two more nuns in the bargain?’”

Afred Fandrich: “During threshing time our farmers did not sleep much. Some caught up a bit of sleep on the way to the steppe. Having come home, we placed the straw and the grain onto the threshing place and threshed it.”

Rosa Engel: “Most of the time, even into the late night, we were still turning the Putzmühle by the light of a lantern while the moon was already large and red above the horizon. How often I wished that it might be winter, when we might get some rest.”

“During the winter our families had it good,” Otto laughs, “they did not need to go out in the cold. Early in the morning we would be on our way to the neighbors to borrow Feier [fire).”

Rosa Engel: “That sounds as if we women did nothing during the winter. But woe to us if the fire went out during the cold! Then we had to go hurry to get some glowing embers so that the house might not cool down.”

Otto Engel: “Everyone at home looked forward to winter. Especially glad were we young lads. In Krasna everything was really strict. We all longed for a girl. Sometimes I just went to a place where there were girls. I just wanted to see one, nothing more. There were farmers who sic-ed their dogs on us.
            But when the snow was piled high, on Saturday afternoons we were allowed to invite the girls to ride with us in a horse-drawn sleigh. We had cleaned the horses so well that they had a shine to them, and we placed pelts onto the sleighs. People would stand on the street to look at us and to see which girl would ride on which boy’s sleigh. Some boys were so “skilled” that their sleigh keeled over.”

Otto Engle was laughing happily, and I could imagine that he, too, was “skilled.”

“So we had to help the girls to get back on their feet,“ Otto continued, “and to wipe the snow off their coats.” And then he continued, quietly, ”When I sat behind a girl on the sleigh, I would plant a kiss on her pelt. That’s how much I longed for a girl.”

Elvire Bisle: “Mr. Engel, was your father a farmer, too?”

Otto Engel: “My father was a dealer in horses. We did not have as much money as the rich farmers, but we always had what we needed. Even when there had been a bad harvest. Horses were traded all the time. How often we were on our way to the market in Tarutino or Arzis! During the winter we would drive to the market even when the moon was still high in the sky. We would wrap heated stones in rags and warm our feet with them so that we would not freeze. The cold was very bad in Bessarabia. Winters in Germany don’t compare with those in the steppes. Here in Germany – those aren’t winters!”  The three could only laugh about the minor cold experienced in Germany. 

Alfred Fandrich: “The cold was bad in Bessarabia. And we should not forget how dangerous it was when we drove in snow from one village to another. Sometimes the snowflakes were so thick that we couldn’t see our hands in front of our eyes.

Once I, with our two steeds, was on the way from the market in Arzis to Tarutino. During the day I had taken good care of the horses. As I was driving the sleigh out of Arzis, the way the horses were running on the hard-frozen snow was a joy to behold. They knew, ‘Now we’re going home!’ But even before I got to Krasna, it began to snow, lightly at first, but then increasingly more heavily. Near Krasna the snow storm was so dense that I could barely see the telephone poles. As it was, there were no bushes or trees along the wayside. In Krasna the church bells were ringing as I passed it.

I was fortunate on that particular day to have our Maria pulling the sleigh. I knew she would find the way. The wind and snow were coming straight at me. But after a while I heard the Tarutino bells, first faintly, then ever louder. I knew then, ‘We are saved.’ Somehow we got to the lower end of Tarutino, and by then the horses had found our property.”

Otto Engel: “How often I was on the road with my father when it began to snow! We did just like you did, Alfred. We, too, trusted our horses. In the winter it was important to have an experienced horse. Woe to the farmer who trusted only himself! He might just get lost and not find his way home again. There were indeed cases when we would not find the driver and horses until spring.

But Alfred, why didn’t you simply stop at some place in Krasna? Anyone in need on the steppes could always stop at some farmer’s place. Always to be considered also was whether you were a farmer, Jew or Christian, Russian, Bulgarian, or German, But everyone took in a person who could not continue due to bad weather.” “Well, it was probably careless of me to continue onward,” said Alfred Fandrich, “but I had trust in my Maria.”

Otto Engel: “And you knew that the Tarutino bells had a strong sound and that the wind came from a good  direction.”

Alfred Fandrich: “I was just thinking about what horses those Krasnaers had! They were as pretty as the flowers. Beautiful! How they carried their heads, how they ran! It can’t be described.” I saw how this praise must have pleased Otto Engel.

Finally Mrs. Engel explained how it happened that her husband and she had married after the war. “At home in Krasna Otto and I could not have married,” said Mrs. Engel, and her husband named the reason: “Because it did not fit well. A daughter of a rich farmer and the son of a horse trader? The parents would not have approved.”

Rosa Engel: “After the war, Otto and I saw each other again, and we started to work together. Otto had resumed a trading business. I simply went to the authorities and obtained the proper papers. Lack of schooling was really a problem for me! How much easier would I have had it if I had been able to attend gymnasium for just a few years! They even had German as the official language of instruction. After the war, many of our countrymen had it as hard as I did. With all the instruction in Romanian and the few hours we had in German, we had it pretty hard here in Germany. I often had no idea what the authorities wanted of me with some of their forms.

After Otto and I had worked together for a longer time, we asked ourselves: ‘What are we actually waiting for? The Krasna laws don’t count anymore. And the land is certainly not as available anymore.”

Otto Engel: “So we simply got married.”

Elvire Bisle, following a telephone conversation with Renate Bullach on December 12, 2013, in which Renate Bullach had reported: “My grandfather Isidor Engel was a respected farmer, I think that he was also a mayor for a while. Eight children grew up in the family. Usually one married at 18 or 20. All the sons were to get a farming place and the girls had to be ‘bought out.’ And all worked very much and very hard for it.

My parents had two children. A few wishes mother had so longed for actually came to reality in the lives of her children. My brother and I both got to attend gymnasium. I got a piano and received music instruction – both of which my mother had so eagerly wished for as a child. And I became a teacher, a profession my mother would surely have loved to be in.

Regarding the subject of ‘rearing children in Krasna,’ I remember another event. Until late in life my mother would tell me that as a child when she was sick, her father came to her bed and held her hand. Just once her father had demonstrated to his child, ‘We love you.’

The good old times? Were they actually good?  I am glad that our parents did raise us differently. They made sure we were educated in a way that we found appropriate and how they had wished it, and we would find true human closeness, something they had so badly missed.

My brother and I think of our parents with full gratitude.”

A “trough” wagon with a keg of water on the steppe – indispensable for man and beast.
Krasna, 1940: Girls in their Sunday clothes. Only unmarried women wore tasseled head dresses.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation and to Dr. Nancy Herzog for editing the article.

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