About my Experiences in the Old Homeland
(Originally published in Jahrbuch 1970)
Miller, Harry, "About my Experiences in the Old Homeland." Mitteilungsblatt, November 2010, 12-14.
Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO.
I am a Dobrudzha German and have been living in Canada for thirty years. After some countrymen let me see the “Jarhrbuch der Dobrudschadeutschen” [Yearbook of the Dobrudzha Germans] I was truly overcome with emotion. I simply cannot forget my birth place of Karamurat in Dobrudzha, and so I would like to draw on my memories to write about German life in Dobrudzha.
My father, Joseph, also called Ludwig’s Joseph, was one of the founders of Karamurat. At age twenty he moved from Krasna/Bessarabia to Dobrudzha. He married Katharina Söhn, daughter of August Söhn. My grandfather Söhn had taught the children reading and writing before there were [German] schools in Dobrudzha. The Müllers had come from Württemberg, and the Söhns from Alsace.
How things were and how people lived during those initial years in Karamurat has been mentioned a few times in past Yearbooks. Our own original ancestors were no longer struggling with poverty, but they remained god-fearing people. Their greatest wealth was their many children. On that subject I recall the following story from my school years. King Karl I and Queen Elisabeth were paying a visit to Karamurat. Their first stop was at the farms of Johannes Türk and Martin Fähnchen. They were shown everything, and they were effusive with praise. By that time the Karamuraters had worked themselves up to a higher level. Johannes Türk had the most beautiful horses in the village. When King Karl asked him how many children he had, he replied [in dialect], “I have no children, Mr. King.” That forced a smile on the king. Then His Majesty asked the next farmer (I don’t remember who it was) how many children he had. The answer: “Twelve, Mr. King,” which caused Karl I to laugh out loud. And so it continued: Michel Ternes – twelve children, Peter Söhn – twelve, David Ruscheinski – twelve, Jakob Buchmeyer – twelve, and Karl Ternes – eleven children. These large families were also among the founding families of Karamurat. Before the king left Karamurat, and while the people were still assembled, he said: “My dear sons of Swabia (Karl was from the House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen [in Swabia]), should any injustice be done to you and the authorities deny you a hearing, you must simply come to my castle in Bucharest, where my secretary will always be at your service.” Those were the words of the father of our country, and we were very proud of him.
I often heard my ancestors say: “Children in the family are a true blessing from God.” And when the Romanian government distributed land, some families actually received a great deal of it. At the time, every adult was eligible to acquire ten hectares [ca. 27 acres] for very little money. -- As time passed, our parents [ancestors] had become rather well-to-do. This certainly came to expression in the beautiful church in Karamurat. The German church was built entirely with the community’s own money, and it can be said that other significant buildings were also built with the German community’s finances. Germans did pay their taxes, and it would be interesting today to find out how much a large farmer in the community might have had to pay. Their economic growth can, above all, be attributed to the great diligence and frugality of our farmers.
Following World War I, further progress was made. The originally acquired amount of land had definitely been added too aplenty, as Turks and Tatars, and also Romanians, were bought out completely. For the most part, the high-quality land that had eluded our ancestors initially was by now largely owned by Germans. The German village had increased in size. – During 1922 first contacts were made with the Banat and Siebenbürgen. Dr. Kaspar Muth, one of the most prominent personalities of Germandom in Romania, had come to Dobrudzha from the Banat. I still remember vividly how he lived with us and how often he and my father discussed the German situation in Romania. He even told my father how farming methods could be improved. He praised our village as a model colony and as a jewel. Some of Dr. Muth’s suggestions were put into practice.
Then the Dobrudzha Germans even formed their own association. A people’s council was established, and Michael Leyer, an outstanding leader of the Dobrudzha Germans, was chosen as its president. It was largely thanks to him that the ethnic organization was re-established so soon after the war. During the first large ethnic convention I was able to get to know most of the leading men of the Dobrudzha Germans.
During my early years of life I had few chances to attend school. I was badly needed in helping out at home. This was a great disadvantage for me. Gladly would I have continued my schooling, but what sorts of opportunities were available for us at the time? With our Karamuraters it was like this: you either become a farmer or you enter into service for the church. Of the younger generations we did have a few who became priests. My greatest pleasure at home was when I was able to read good books, and that has remained the case to this day.
Here and there I still had some schooling. Before the dedication of the King Karl Bridge across the Danube near Cernavoda we had heard much in school about King Karl. And then the big day came. Our entire school took part in the dedication ceremonies in Cernavoda. That day I happened to stand in the very first row, very close to the royal couple. There was a grand parade, and when I looked at the many officers in their handsome uniforms I wanted to become a soldier right then and there. Everything that day made a strong impression on me. Every since then I had the desire to get away from Karamurat and to look around the world.
As soon as possible I wished to become independent, and I got married at nineteen. Immediately after that I volunteered for military service so that I could finish it earlier rather than later. I enlisted with the “Caläras cu schimb,” a cavalry unit that required one to bring one’s own equipment and horse, but in which the term of service would be shorter and more pleasant.
When the war began, I, too, had to report for active duty. During early November, 1916 our regiment was deployed twenty-five kilometers [ca. fifteen miles] west of Galatz [Galati, in Romanian], in an attempt to recoup the losses we had incurred earlier. One day we met up with a long line of internment camp candidates under militia escort. It turned out that there were some of our Dobrudzha Germans among the group, meaning our fathers. We young ones were bleeding for Romania at the front while our fathers were being held as hostages. Sons were confronting fathers. Some actually succeeded to speak with each other. I remember that among the internees there were Germans from Karamurat, Kobadin, Tariverde, Kachria, etc. Even our regimental commanders shook their heads over this obvious nonsense, and they told us that. – Still, it was war time. [Even in the original, I cannot determine the exact nature and location of this confrontation, which the author does not explain very well – Tr..]
I was taken prisoner of war [on whose side? – Tr.] and ended up in Kronstadt. In a military hospital I became an orderly for Dr. Gustav Waber, and for me the war was thus over. Being in Kronstadt was really wonderful. It was situated in a very scenic area and had large, prosperous villages in its vicinity. I noticed quickly that the Dobrudzha Germans and the Siebenbügers had much in common. And we could still learn a lot from them.
On June 29, 1918 I was released from being a prisoner of war. Arriving home, I found everything in ruins. Here I met up with poverty, a lot of need, and misery The time had come to act, but I was no longer used to hard work, since I had lived like a king in the prisoner of war camp.. Bringing in the harvest caused me to sweat profusely. Those hot July days were unbearable. After two days of working my hands were full of large blisters and calluses. I was yearning for the days in Kronstadt -- the white bed linen, the good beer, the fine books, and not least the good family of Dr. Waber – they were all impossible to forget.
During post-war times, it was important to work yourself up again as far as possible. Still, everything was lacking, particularly money. For that reason, we Germans in Karamurat established the cooperative called “Cooperativa Izvorul.” This made it possible to acquire many things at a cheaper price. I became responsible for purchases for our cooperative and was thus able to travel all over Romania. My service in the military, even war imprisonment, and my activity in the cooperative – they all served me well. But Karamurat was not exactly the place to make quick progress. Our farmers had to work very hard after the war just to make ends meet for their families. The easier pre-war times were long gone. There was no more cheap land to acquire, and the state would, in fact, eventually make it nearly impossible for minorities to do so
As mentioned previously, our sons, if they did not wish to become farmers, would have to become priests. So I sent one of my sons to a secondary school in Bucharest, in order that he might be able to learn something different. However, one year in school for the boy cost as much as 42,000 lei. I could not afford that at the time. With that sum I could have bought five hectares [ca. 13.5 acres] of secondary-quality land. I had to call him home from school.
My experiences with the red fur
My excursions into the countryside brought about contacts with many different personalities. One day I was traveling to Bucharest in order to remit a large sum of money, namely, an inheritance of my brother’s, to Sofia. For that I required a certificate from the Banca Nationala. At the time, we Karamuraters were still wearing our traditional garb. For winter time I, as did everyone else, was wearing a large, long, red (dyed) fur, along with sheep’s hide boots and the unavoidable warm fur cap. Clad in this kind of garb, I arrived in our metropolis, went to the Banca Nationala, was led inside by informed servants, and I got in a line with many who were already awaiting service. Suddenly some lackey approached me and asked me to see the president of the National Bank. I was fairly surprised and fell from one surprise to another. That financial authority I was meeting happened to be a friend of my father. His name was Arimia Movila, at the same time a large land owner in Dobrudzha. His estate was situated south of Tariverde.
Movila led me into a private room and said immediately that he had recognized me by my red fur, which meant that I could only be a Dobrudzhaer. So we became better acquainted. Right away the president came out with a plan that involved asking me to be of assistance. He was planning to settle Germans on his estate. I was to help him by gathering fifteen to twenty families, who would be welcomed under favorable conditions. He would come up with the materials for constructing the necessary buildings, and he wished to agree to a twenty-year lease contract – something he could be satisfied with. I promised him to do my best, wished him the best with his position of much responsibility, took care of my own task, and took the street car to look for my friend Paul, who was serving in the royal winter palace of Cotroceni.
As I approached the main gate in my large red fur, the guard looked at me quizzically. But he immediately asked for help from the caporal de guarde, who asked me whether I was a foreign diplomat. Apparently the fur had not failed to make an appropriate impression on him. Of course, I replied that I was not a foreign diplomat, but that I was there merely to see my friend Paul, who was serving in the palace. An adjutant appeared, and it turned out that my friend was no longer serving in the winter palace in Bucharest, but rather in the summer residence in the Carpathian Mountains. Off I went to Sinaia.
Arriving there I took great delight in the beauty of the area, where the Pelesch and Pelischer castles are situated so beautifully that one might think one were in a fairyland. Truly it was very good being here in the summer. I attempted once again to locate my friend and, as before, I experienced the same scenes regarding my fur. Someone asked me to come into the castle, and I, the red-furred farmer from Dobrudzha, found myself facing an officer of the mountain hunters. In his handsome uniform he made a very fine impression on me. The officer greeted me politely, asked me about my wishes, and began to ask enthusiastically about my fur, which he would never have deemed to be a sheep’s pelt. I was particularly happy to find that he knew a lot about our German villages in Dobrudzha and that he admired our beautiful horses. He said that he spent all his furloughs in Dobrudzha. Then, also having been able very happily to speak with my friend Paul, I returned to Bucharest.
In Bucharest I stayed at the Hotel Metropol, and there, too, I noticed people looking at my fur with great curiosity. When the hostess showed me to my room, she could not hide her own curiosity and asked me whether I was a bishop. “Yes,” I replied, “I am the bishop for the region adjoining the lower Danube.” This news seemed to spread like wildfire. But as I lay down for the night, I could not sleep, having to tell myself that I had taken the matter too far, so I got up, packed my things, paid my bill, went to the railroad station and rode back to Konstanza.
From there I drove home. I immediately told my farmer friends about Movila’s settlement plan, but I quickly found that no one wished to move to the Tariverde estate. Even young families without means preferred to stay in Karamurat. It should also be mentioned that the bank president’s father had done some things on behalf of our Germans, and that other estate owners had approached the famers, failing similarly to persuade them to work on their estates or to lease some of their lands.
My bus venture
In 1927 I purchased a bus to run the route between Konstanza and Härsova. Not being able to attract enough fares at first, I did what politicians would do who would come to our village prior to elections, namely, they would usually approach our pastor, even though I told them that he did not want to get involved with politics. They would speak with the pastor, anyway, and things would proceed positively from there. I decided to take similar action, went to see the pastor of the largest community in the area, and we became friends. The Pop’s family [a Pop is Russian Orthodox priest, who is allowed to be married – Tr.], that is, his parents and his two daughters Cleopatra and Virginia were given a few free rides. The two girls were very pretty and attended a lyceum [secondary school for girls] in Konstanza. And my venture finally became a success as the number of fares increased sufficiently. I must add that I became such a good friend of the priest’s family that the girls called me Uncle Eronim. One cannot forget such good friends as that family.
Success, as I imagined it, did not come with all my ventures, so I decided to emigrate to Canada. In reality, the deciding factor was not so much my business matters – it was something else. As my own children became old enough to be eligible for military duty, I began to hate war and everything of a military nature. And my wife, who was never enthusiastic at all about soldiering, supported my conviction. Her man had always been away, causing her to manage by herself. She thought that should not be the case for the children and that they should not have to take part in another war. Consequently I got in contact with the German Catholic Immigration Secretary for Western Canada, Pastor Kierdorf, and asked him to send me all the necessary information. Eventually, he traveled to Romania to talk in person with those who were eager to emigrate – and there always were some of those. Many also were penniless. The Canadian government covered travel costs to be repaid in the future. It was thus that we took off for Canada, albeit with heavy hearts. It was not easy for us to leave the old homeland. Still, we were not the only ones to leave, and I was able to receive a tidy sum when I sold my belongings.
In Canada we experienced good luck, even though we had some initial difficulties with the national language. But our children were free from military duty. Canada became for us the land of unlimited opportunities. Yet I cannot forget a sign I saw at Hamburg’s Hapag, which read: “Emigrants, go out and seek your fortune in foreign parts, but never forget your homeland.”
We now live in Vancouver at Canada’s Western Coast. A considerable number of Dobrudzha German families, mostly from Karamurat, have also come here. I am particularly pleased that our Dobrudzhaers come here with a good attitude and make good progress. Not long ago a Canadian man said to me: “These people from the Black Sea region can’t be beat. I am proud of them.”
We often think of Dobrudzha, of sweating on the threshing area, of life in the community, and so on. We can never forget any of that.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.