A Criminal Act in Katzbach, as Experienced and Remembered by a Small Boy in his Home Village

Derwenskus, Ulrich von. "A Criminal Act in Katzbach, as Experienced and Remembered by a Small Boy in his Home Village." Mitteilungsblatt, March 2013, 18-19.

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

Shortly before Christmas, 2012 Edwin Stock, my uncle, paid us one of his regular visits. He lives only a few houses from ours in our village in the Lüneburger Heide [in northern Germany].

As always, a conversation developed between him and his sister, my mother, Herta Derwenskus (nee Stock), who lives with us. They talked in their Schwabian dialect, peppered with Russian and Romanian expressions.

Unfortunately, many resettlers from Bessarabia who came to and put down roots in North Germany have discarded that language because immediately after World War II it had “unmasked” them as refugees. I am glad that my grandparents continued to talk with their children exclusively in this unmistakable dialect, and that it has therefore been preserved to this day.

Whenever my uncle visits us, I usually join in if I have the time, and I listen to the rather amusing tone and intonation of their voices. And as usual, I cannot keep from steering the conversation to the subject of Bessarabia. That’s how it was shortly before Christmas, when I asked the two whether they might not talk about some event in their home village of Katzback, that is, something they still remember especially well.

Uncle, who was born in Katzbach the latter part of 1935, was not quite five at the time of the resettlement. My mother reached the age of seven exactly on the day when Pastor Rossmann held a farewell service at the Katzbach cemetery on the occasion of the resettlement from Bessarabia to the German Reich.

It is always astonishing for me how Edwin, despite his young age at that time, can remember certain events and situations, especially his family’s small property in Katzbach.

For mother, due to the two-year age difference, certain memories actually remain sharper, and they do not go away.

Edwin began to recount that it must have been just before Christmas when their cellar was broken into (given his young childhood and the memory capacities of a child, I concluded it must have been in 1939).

As we know, a German cellar was a separate structure, usually situated close to the home. It was a structure with semi-spherical roof, with its gable on the front (entrance) side, usually built of clumps of clay (later of tiles), that stuck up from the ground. The far larger part, the actual cellar, was under the ground.

The door was built into the gable side and, behind the door, stairs led into the cellar below, which housed mainly foodstuffs and, of course, the indispensable supply of wine.

Well, during the event being described, thieves had broken open the cellar door and had stolen mostly fruit, wine, and an earthenware jug full of “Griebenschmalz” [lard].

For the little tot Edwin it was a very exciting time. In the morning there was a great hullabaloo after the theft had been discovered. It was especially interesting to young Edwin that the thieves had left foot prints in the snow next to the cellar. He still remembers well that the shoe sole imprints showed a special profile. The shoes or boots were obviously “steel studded,” thus leaving a distinct pattern in the snow.  

It was very important for him, too, not to disturb those imprints, about which his parents had informed him in no mistakable way.

He approached the footprints with great caution, sliding carefully along the tops of the fence around the “Harmann,” the sheeps’ pen, and so he was able to get close to this place that was, from a criminal point of view, extremely interesting.

Alongside was the property-marking white-washed “fence” next to the street toward the Lower Village. On that fence he pulled himself across to observe the situation for a while.

He must have sneaked around the whole day, keeping low and at a proper distance from the “scene of the crime,” painfully aware not to disturb any traces for a potential forensic assessment.

However, in case the reader is expecting an exciting end to this “dramatic” story, I am sorry that I must disappoint. For whether the criminal deed was taken up and cleared up by the police at the time, whether the thieves would later be apprehended, and whether the Christmas celebration—despite the missing wine and indispensable Bratäpfel [baked apples]—ended up in a joyful way, well, Uncle was unable to say.

The fact is that a gang of thieves was apprehended in Katzbach as early as 1935. This is demonstrated in the Katzbachbuch [Katzback Book] Vom Leben und Schicksal einer bessarabischen Gemeinde in Briefen, Bildern und Berichten [On the Lives and Fate of a Bessarabian Community via Letters, Pictures and Reports] by Mrs. Gertrud Knopp-Rüb, which she based on correspondence and photos.

Subsequently, my mother recalled an event in Katzbach which she paid a lot of attention to and one she has remembered to this very day. However, we’ll perhaps report this story some other time.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.


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