From the Guest Book for the Bessarabia Exposition in Hannover

Baumann, Arnulf. "From the Guest Book for the Bessarabia Exposition in Hannover." Mitteilungsblatt, November 2013, 8-10.

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

The exhibit “Fromme und tüchtige Leute… [Pious and Capable People…]” on Bessarabian settlements will continue in the Danube Schwabian Museum on Schillerstrasse 1 in Ulm through January 12, 2014. This exhibit is supplemented with valuable archival items from our Heimatmuseum.    

Between May 28 and June 26, 2013 the exhibit “Fromme und tüchtige Leute…” was available in the Forum of the State Parliament of the Lower-Saxony capital [Hanover]. Expressly for this event, Erika Wiener, deputy national chair of the Bessarabian German Association, set out a guest book, in which a gratifying number of visitors entered their names. This will be my subject and, as a rule, without explicit mention of any names, in part because they were often illegible in their handwritten form.

But first some statistics. A total of 555 visitors were counted during the duration of the exhibit, of which a great number did not enter their names in the guest book. Given the fact that the local press did not provide coverage of the exhibit, the number of visitors is considerable. The May 28 opening ceremonies, for which invitations had been issued, was attended by 125 people, another 71 came for the panel discussion on May 26, and the rest consisted of other invited Bessarabian Germans from North Germany plus “walk-ins” who noticed the exhibit while strolling around the Old City. One good indicator of the positive effect of the exhibit is the fact that fifty-four copies of Dr. Ute Schmidt’s book were sold, that is, to about ten percent of the total number of visitors; and four copies of the unfortunately expensive book Unter Freunden [Among Friends] were sold.

Entering their names during the opening day were mainly the official participants, among them several state legislators and church representatives and, in particular, representatives of other refugee groups, such as the Hilfskomitee der Ev.-Luth. Deutschen aus Polen [Assistance Committee of Ev.-Lutheran Germans from Poland], Gemeinschaf evangelischer Schlesier [Community of Lutheran Silesians], Evangelische Gesellschaft für Ost-West-Begegnung [Lutheran Association for East-West Encounter], Konvent Evangelischer aus Pommern [Convention of Lutherans from Pomerania], Verband der Siebenbürger Sachsen [Association of Siebenbürgen Saxons], Hilfskomittee der Galiziendeutschen [Assistance Committee of Galicia Germans], and Deutsch-Baltischer Kirchlicher Dienst [German-Baltic Ecclesiastic Service]. In other cases, visitors indicated that they were not from Bessarabia, but that they still felt the exhibit spoke to them. Examples: “For a ‘person not affected’ this was a very interesting excursion into a part of Berman history.” – “An outstanding, informative illustration and description of pioneering achievements in an extended sense.” – “Impressive, lively, informative.” (In many comments, we found words of praise for the presentation of the exhibit and for the plethora of information regarding the accomplishments of the exhibit’s creators.). – “I hope very much that with this exhibit you may contribute to keeping alive an awareness of the fate of the Bessarabian Germans—in the sense of furthering a good understanding between various population groups in the future.” A “Mennonite descendant” wrote: ”Worth seeing for me and my descendants.” – For a woman born in Breslau the exhibit evoked thoughts of events in her own childhood at war’s end. – Another wrote: “For me, a Danube Schwabian from Yugoslavia, there were many similarities.” – Another: “For me, too, a 72-year-old, it is a joy to see that not everything is denigrated that has anything to do with our cultural achievements. The symbiotic tie between the native population here and the German colonists becomes quite plain.” – “My homeland is Silesia, but neighbors of mine in Bremen-Borgfeld came from Bessarabia. The mayor of Borgfeld made great efforts on behalf of the refugees and even arranged social afternoon events for Bessarabians,. I find it wonderful that history remains alive through such an exhibit.” A Baltic German remembered “the earlier mutual history between 1940 and 1945 and close collaboration during recent years.” – Visitors from Dornbirn, Austria expressed their gratitude for “interesting historical information.”

There were visitors from other countries. A docent from Miskole, Hungary wrote: “Each year I conduct a course on the history of German language areas. I chanced upon this exhibit merely because I have been on a research trip in Hanover. In my specialty I can learn a lot here, and I will pass that on to my students in Miskole.” – Especially moving is the entry by two woman teachers from Hirtenheim (Ciabanovca) in the Republic of Moldova, who had come with our countryman Robert Weiβ of Verden-Walle. Liubovi Covalenko and Nadezhda Suchovich wrote: “This interesting exhibit opened the door for us on the history of our home village of Hirtenheim, which was founded by German colonists in 1887. At this moment we are experiencing the kind of feelings as if we were present there in earlier times. And now we have a good opportunity to tell many interesting things to our students.” – Not to be overlooked is the entry by Moldovan Ambassador Aureliu Ciocoi: “I would like to express my sincerest gratitude for this wonderful opportunity to exhibit here in Hanover the tragic history of the Bessarabian Germans.”

Apparently many Bessarabian Germans took advantage of the opportunity to find out more information about their own backgrounds. Often they arrived as whole families. Usually their origins are indicated rather briefly: “Good to be among Bessarabian people after a long while.” – “Greetings from Isselhorst, the village that is home to many Bessarabian Germans, most of them from Leipzig, including my wife…” – “Well, clearly the past generations of Bessarabian Germans were pious and capable people. Our wish is that these attributes may be attributed to many generations to come.” - “It was very good to find it documented that there are Bessarabian Germans in this region, too.” – “Very worthwhile for me and for my descendants.” – “I was able to learn several things about my family history.” – I wish I could talk with my parents about this, because I still have several questions.” – “There is much here that explains certain behaviors and traits of my father.” – “Last year we were in my mother’s homeland…. This was interesting and a refresher for what we had seen there. It is a living history.” – One visitor drew a well in the steppes and wrote: “It was good to see how my parents once lived.” – “This is how the history of our ancestors remains alive.” – “Thinking of the memories of our mother, this exhibit was very moving.”- “Our mother and our grandparents came from Teplitz; The exhibit seemed to make us feel very close. No longer being able to ask our mother, we were pleased to be able to take advantage of this exhibit.” – “I am very happy that this exhibit has found its way to Hanover. It allowed me to walk again in the paths of my ancestors, who migrated from Lodz to Krasna and from there to Katzbach in 1921.” – “This was an informative stroll through our homeland and through many memories.” – “In memory of my parents, the exhibit was very moving for me.” – “The exhibit provides an impressive image of the life of our forefathers and parents.” – “New for me was that the village names are being given as memorial names [??? – Tr.].” – “The trip from Newark/US and Minden was worth it!” – “The exhibit reminded me where my roots are and what has formed me, even though I was not born in Bessarabia, but my parents and ancestors were.” – “I was especially pleased about the presentation on post-war settlements in Lower Saxony. Here, too, I was able to breathe Bessarabian air.” – “I was only three years old when we had to leave Bessarabia, but our parents spoke often to us about it, and our children have been very interested.” – “We were deeply moved by this exhibit. We are proud of the achievements of our ancestors.” – “ I was again reminded of the home of our parents and of the difficult road they had to travel.” – “Once again it became plain to me how important it is to get in touch with our own roots.” – “The trip from Buchholz/Nordheide proved worthwhile for both of us, since our parents came from Bessarabia.” – “A very moving exhibit, which caused memories of deceased parents and other relatives to come alive again.” – “The trip from Halle to this exhibit proved to be very worthwhile.” – “We are happy that our forefathers are not forgotten. This exhibit helps us to understand them better.” – “Just having come back from a trip to Bessarabia and having stayed in Tarutino, still full of impressions, our understanding of what we had seen there was strengthened by this exhibit. It fills in the big picture of our origins from another world.” – “The panel discussion showed us the difficult and also the successful times here in Germany; the newcomers, too, have achieved great things.” – “The history of our forefathers moves us again and again. They demonstrated great pioneering spirit and stayed true to their ideals.” – “Good to be able to learn a little more about the home of our forefathers.” – “An interesting and important exhibit, because the succeeding generations no longer know a great deal.”

Representatives of the generation who experienced it all were in attendance sparingly: “The exhibit and the book have reawakened long-forgotten memories and have given me the feeling of reliving those times once again.” – “It was really good to see everything presented chronologically. I am very grateful.”

In various ways, visitors indicated or expressed directly their regret that those born in Bessarabia are no longer available to us: ”We descendants can learn a lot from the times of our forefathers.”

Places of origin in Bessarabia were mentioned: Leipzig, Tarutino, “formerly Kulm,” “formerly Birenne,” “formerly Sofiental,” Teplitz, Gnadental, “formerly Eigenheim,” Kisil, Klöstitz, Lunga, Manumeyevka, Friedenstal, Arzis, Paris, Friedensfeld, Eichendorf…

Some were reminded of specific persons: “Erna Ziemann and my mother attended the girls school in Tarutino. On a confirmation photo I was able to recognize my mother.” – “Here I was able to ‘re-enter’ my mother’s history. She was born in 1923 in Eichendorf. Next time I visit her I’ll tell her of my very positive impressions of this exhibit.” – “In this beautiful way I was able to bond with the life of my grandparents.” – “I am the daughter of a Bessarabian German, and in my thoughts I was again with my mother, who just died last January.” – “My aunt gave all her daughters the Bessarabian cookbook Dampfnudeln und Pfeffersoβ [Dumplings and Pepper Sauce]. My own copy ‘emigrated’ to New Zealand twenty-five years ago and continues to be used regularly.” – “I saw many things here my father often told us about, and I will report to him about all of this.” – “I was especially moved to see that my recently deceased mother was pictured on one of the photos.”

It is in the nature of things that negative entries are rarely written. However, they are not entirely lacking and should be mentioned. One family was missing any information about their home village. An apparently younger visitor expressed gratitude for the exhibit, but found it “superficial and too glorified.” Still, the positive entries were by far in the majority.

After viewing the totality of entries, one can see clearly that especially among those not from Bessarabia this exhibit expanded their knowledge of our history. It is unfortunate that the lack of press coverage kept more visitors from attending the exhibit. Overall, however, the guest book entries show that people from all over North Germany with Bessarabia roots had taken advantage of this opportunity to inform themselves better about the history of their ancestors. The “experience” generation was sparsely represented and felt more reluctant to express any observations. The great majority of visitors who provided guest book entries were from generations of descendants. They did not only write words of praise for the exhibit, but also provided indications of how the exhibit affected them.

Memories of parents and ancestors were reawakened. Feelings of pride for the achievements of ancestors were expressed. Many felt personally “spoken to,” they felt moved, and they sensed a connection with their own family history and with the history of the Bessarabian Germans as well as with the landscape of Bessarabia.

We can thus say that, for at least a limited public, the exhibit has increased awareness of Bessarabia and of the Bessarabian Germans. In particular, for descendants of Bessarabian Germans scattered across North Germany, the exhibit provided an important impulse to develop more interest in their roots, and it strengthened the bonds among themselves and with the past and present of Bessarabia. We are greatly obliged to the creators of the exhibit, Dr. Ute Schmidt and her husband, Prof. Ulrich Baehr. With their exhibit they have provided a strong impulse that will remain in effect long into the future.

During the Opening of the Exhibit “Fromme und tüchtige Leute”

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation and to Dr. Nancy Herzog for editorial assistance for this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller