The Farmers Museum in Friedenstal – Donated by Dr. h.c. Kelm to the Bessarabian German Association

Isert, Ingo Rüdiger, "The Farmers Museum in Friedenstal – Donated by Dr. h.c. Kelm to the Bessarabian German Association." Mitteilungsblatt, December 2009, 3-4.

Translation from the Original German-language text to American English provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
Threshing separator  machine in the exhibit room for agricultural implements.
Cabinet exhibiting china from “Gute Stube” [the “good room”].

“September 13, 1998 was a grand and festive day for former and today’s residents of Friedenstal, known these days as Mirnopolye/Ukraine.” That is how Gertrud Knopp-Rüb began her report on the dedication ceremonies and festivities around the village museum in Friedenstal. It was indeed a grand celebration. The front yard could not hold the mass of people; many had to stand outside it. Visitors from Germany and many, many locals were in attendance, among them the so-called “official types,” including the mayor, the Pop [Orthodox pastor – Tr.] of Friedenstal, the regional administrator from Arzis, representatives of the German Society for Technical Collaboration, of the Odessa Cultural Office, of the museum in Akkerman, and the lady school superintendant from Arzis, just to name a few.

What was his background for this celebration? Edwin Kelm had acquired the deteriorating building of his ancestors, had restored the house with its two apartments, and had missing outlying buildings rebuilt – all under one common “roof,” which was covered with tile from the 1940s. On the far side of the yard he also had the summer kitchen rebuilt, with its two rooms and a (shorter) way to the cellar. He looked for and located the place where the former well and had it restored in its entirety. With a nod to modern times, only the former “Nushnik” [outhouse] was not rebuilt.

One of two apartments was re-furnished (a wardrobe, a table, chairs, a stove and dishes) – using nothing but originals from the 1940s that had been discovered in neighboring villages. On entering this apartment, the past comes truly alive. In the farming building there is a variety of original agricultural implements and equipment, and on some of them one can still read the original Bessarabian writing.

At the time I presented, on behalf of our own Heimatmuseum of Germans from Bessarabia a special gift to the Farmers Museum, our “ideal daughter,” i.e., a wall hanging with a stitched beloved old Bessaarbian saying, “Sei fröhlich in Hoffnung, geduldig in Trübsal, halte an am Gebet [Be happy in hope, patient in sorrow, and keep praying].” This particular wall hanging had come all the way to Germany during the resettlement of 1940 and now, in 1998, it had returned to its home in Bessarabia.

A grateful handshake.
The gifting document has been signed! From left: the Kelm couple, the district attorney Tatyana Tishuchrai, V. Skripnik, I. R Isert  (photo courtesy of V. Skripnik).
The district attorney hands over the gifting document in the yard of the Farmers Museum. In the background: the summer kitchen.  Photo courtesy of Herbert Halblizel ].

The Farmers Museum in Friedenstal would become a travel destination and a highlight of travels for Bessarabian Germans. It was not simply the diving back into the life of Germans from Bessarabia of the 1940s, it was also the experience to be served, in grand company, Bessarabian foods and wine. The white bread was baked and the borshch cooked in the summer kitchen – just as the Germans had done in Bessarabia before 1940. I have always been pleased to visit the Farmers Museum.  

The more the ovens and the homes of our parents and grandparents in Bessarabia have fallen apart, the more this restored farming place has become a true display object and a fine memorial to our past.

As time passed, Edwin Kelm made arrangements and efforts to cover the rest of his time on this earth – but still missing was the actual future of the museum in Friedenstal.

With a nod to a statement by Richard Weizsäcker, a former German Federal President, I said in 1998: “To be prepared to participate and to take on responsibility, that is why I am standing here representing the Heimatmuseum of Germans from Bessarabia in Stuttgart …”  Well, the time had come to fulfill that promise. Dr. Kelm’s wish and plan was to transfer the Farmers Museum in Friedenstal to our Bessarabian German Association, and the board of the Association had happily accepted and agreed to the transfer.

However, Ukrainian legislation, which during the 1990s would have made such a plan an easy and speedy  action, but in the meantime it had come up with comprehensive laws and regulations that, of course, had to be observed. All documentation was gathered and translated into Ukrainian by a female interpreter sworn in for this task. Then, at 10 AM on September 17, 2009,  as the Kelm couple and I met with the officials in the district offices of Akkerman, it turned out that we were lacking two additional documents, one from the land registry and the other from the property tax office. It was not necessarily a miracle, but simply the flexible nature of Valery Skripnik and the organizational talent of Dr. Kelm that made the required documents a reality for us that very day. By late afternoon we were back in the offices at Akkerman. Stamp after stamp was placed on the documents, and signatures were affixed. By 5:30 PM it was all complete – the gifting document had been signed by all, and the faces of all participants were beaming. Despite all the difficulties, the deed was accomplished!

For the next day a tour of Friedenstal had already been planned for our travel group, and now it was possible to extend it to a celebration on the occasion of the transfer of management of the Farmers Museum. The celebration began on the heels of a plentiful and excellent meal. It started with a concert by the Friedenstal women’s chorus, all wearing their beautiful traditional Ukrainian folk costumes. They included in their repertoire the Homeland Song of Germans from Bessarabia. In the meantime other guests arrived – the mayors of Friedenstal and Tatarbunar, the district administrator from Arzis, the lady district attorney from Arzis, and various residents of Friedenstal. After some initial welcoming speeches, it was my turn to honor that day of festivities. I began with a citation from Fyodor Dostoyevski: “To be without a homeland means to suffer.” That must have been the feeling of Dr. Kelm whenever he would visit “his” Friedenstal and again and again witness its ongoing decay. A feeling grew into an idea, and then – not an unusual event with Edwin Kelm – the idea became a reality. In 1998 the original ancestral home, built in 1868, became a museum. Many thousands have “experienced” the museum there during ongoing visits ever since then.

I also expressed thanks to Alona, who had been taking care of the Farmers Museum all this time, to the district attorney and the district administrator for their exemplary support during the realization of the transfer document. The greatest thanks, of course, went to the donors, the Kelm couple.

Afterwards, I asked those present, “Have you, ladies and gentlemen, recognized the extraordinary generosity behind this deed, behind this donation?”  The answer to my question was strong and lasting applause.

The Edwin-Kelm-Museum, the above-mentioned “ideal daughter,” after exactly eleven years has become a legitimate daughter of the Bessarabian German Association.  It constitutes a very good extension. While we in Stuttgart can exhibit only models, there, in Friedenstal, we can view actual originals of threshing machines, threshing stones, and an entire farmyard. With the assistance of museum experts – the lady director of the museum in Akkerman has already promised her participation – we wish to make sure that the Farmers Museum in Friedenstal continues to be a real attraction.

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

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