Celebrating Sixty Years of the Heimatmuseum in Stuttgart … and its original founding in Sarata ninety years back.

Fieβ, Heinz and Schreiber, Hugo. "Celebrating Sixty Years of the Heimatmuseum in Stuttgart ... and it's original founding in Sarata ninety years back." Mitteilungsblatt des Bessarabiendeutschen Vereins, May 2012, 10-11.

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

Anyone coming to the Haus der Bessarabiendeutschen [House of Bessarabia Germans] in Stuttgart will especially be inclined to pay a visit to the Heimatmuseum [Homeland Museum] and, if visiting for the first time, will be surprised by the excellent presentation and the variety of objects in the museum, and the materials in the archive. This well-equipped museum has for a while now been a fixture for Bessarabian Germans. Especially in this year, ninety years after its initial founding in Sarata and sixty years after its re-establishment in Stuttgart, the museum is well deserving of an attempt to write about its beginnings and to express pride over such a successful project.

Given these observations about the Heimatmuseum and its significance for the Bessarabiendeustchen Verein [Bessarabia German Association], we are reprinting a speech which Hugo Schreiber, former national chairman, delivered at a major celebration in the Rathaus of the state capital of Stuttgart on the occasion of the Heimatmuseum’s fifty years of existence.

Fifty-Year Celebration (Speech Given by Hugo Schreiber in Stuttgart in 2002): 

During a modest event held on May 25 [2002], the Heimatmuseum celebrated fifty years of existence since its re-establishment. The actual jubilee festivities are being held today [in the meeting room of the Rathaus in Stuttgart, capital of the state of Baden-Württemberg –comment added by Heinz Fieβ].

It was in our former homeland that some teachers first conceived of the idea of finding a way to  remind people of their culture and history. The actual idea for a museum, however, did not take hold until the 100-year anniversary celebration of the community of Sarata in 1922. For that event, Immanuel Wagner organized a special exhibit of objects, documents and other writings that had been preserved since immigration from Germany. That exhibit enjoyed a great response and during that same year led to the establishment of the “Cultural and Historical Homeland Museum of Germans in Bessarabia.”

A commission under the leadership of Immanuel Wagner subsequently busied itself to collect and exhibit even more objects that originally had been brought from Germany, plus whatever official documents and other written material that was still available. This was the beginning of the “Cultural and Historical Homeland Museum.” Still available was a plethora of objects stemming from the original time of settlement. During those beginnings the museum found its home in that of Immanuel Wagner, and in 1930 a suitable room was located in the Werner School [Sarata].

The work on the museum was abruptly interrupted by the resettlement [of Bessarabia Germans] in 1940. The Soviet government ordered the museum to be ceded to the state museum in Akkermann. Immanuel Wagner, however, was able to take some of the objects along to Germany [in this case, the German-occupied western part of Poland], where the objects were added to exhibits in the state museum in Poznan. But after the [westward] flight in early 1945, these objects became unavailable to us.

Yet, the idea of a museum continued to be kept alive. In the Mitteilungsblatt issue of February 2, 1978 Christian Fieβ wrote that, in a May 19, 1946 letter to his wife sent from a POW camp, he had told her of his ideas and plans for a homeland museum. But after he was released from the camp in 1947, Immanuel Wagner was no longer alive.

The idea for a homeland museum had also been kept alive by other personalities of our ethnic group. During a meeting on April 3, 1952 in Stuttgart the Welfare Committee of the Ev.-Lutheran Church and the Community Council of Resettlers from Bessarabia decided to re-found the former museum association and to re-equip the former Sarata Cultural and Historical Homeland Museum. Given the responsibility for executing this task and working out a basic framework for it was Christian Fieβ, teacher and son-in-law of Immanuel Wagner.

In the Mitteilungsblatt issue of May 1, 1952 we find an appeal by Hans Wagner for the establishment of the museum and in the same issue, an invitation to a foundational meeting, signed by Immanuel Schach, Albert Wagner and Christian Fieβ. On May 25, 1952, forty-four founding members gathered at Johannesstraβe 23 in Stuttgart.

During those early days there were plenty of doubts as to the availability of sufficient valuable objects for a museum, especially because during the 1940 resettlement only fifty kilograms [ca. 120 pounds] of general luggage and thirty-five kg [ca. 80 pounds] of take-on luggage per person had been permitted. Furthermore, bringing along church and community records was forbidden.

Well, in his festive speech on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Homeland Museum, Dr. Hugo Schneider had let it be known that he had had some reservations during the initial [re-]founding year of 1952. He told of having met Christian Fieβ in Stuttgart and telling him, somewhat mockingly: “The game is over, my friend, go home and worry about the future.” And at a subsequent meeting he had again said mockingly: “So, jetzt sammelschd au noch den alta Gruscht von drheim. Viel Spass au! [Well, so you’re collecting that old ‘crust’ from home. Have fun doing it!]” However, he changed his position later on and became a member of the Heimatmuseum.

This is only one example of [the thoughts of] many who in those needy post-war years thought similarly.

As further developments would show, that skepticism by our countrymen would prove to be unfounded. And Christian Fieβ never did allow himself to become discouraged. It is astonishing that so many valuable objects, documents and writings are available at the museum.

The successful efforts are remarkable for the very reason that, during post-war times, financial means were meager, and donations were fairly skimpy.

At first the material for the museum was housed at the home of Christian Fieβ. Only in 1954 did three rooms become available for the Heimatmuseum in the Institute for Foreign Relations on the Charlottenplatz in Stuttgart. And on May 25, 1964 the museum was able to move into the exhibit rooms at the newly erected “Haus der Bessarabiendeutschen” on Floriannstarβe in Stuttgart. Ever since that time the museum has enjoyed “home status” in our Heimathaus.

In 1992 Ingo Isert returned to an earlier concept for the museum, which he realized for the most part within subsequent years. I cannot go into more detail during this presentation.

At this point I would like to honor in a special way the representatives of our “experiential generation” who fifty years ago and with great optimism began the work on the museum and became decades-long supporters of the museum association. To them and, especially, to Christian Fieβ we owe great thanks. Even future generations possess in our museum a genuine source of information. Numerous exhibit pieces, books, chronicles and other documents provide information for how the German people lived in Bessarabia 126 years ago.

All further successful work became possible – in addition to major financial investments – due to the major efforts of member volunteers. They, too, deserve our gratitude. Special thanks are due to Ingo Isert for his selfless engagement that has produced visible successes for some years, first as member of the board and since 1992 as national chair of our Association.

The work in a museum is never finished. To the board and its associates I wish good fortune in the future, and a great deal of success in their work.

Additional Note from Heinz Fieβ: 

The Heimatmuseum was officially [re-]founded on May 25, 1952 by forty-four members. As its first chair, Christian Fiess [sic] took on his responsibility for forty years, before he handed over the chairmanship to Ingo Isert twenty years ago.

An original member still very active is Albert Häfner, who is best known to visitors for his extremely deep knowledge demonstrated during museum tours, and for his many oral and musical contributions at various events. This summer he will reach the age of 90, but that has not kept him from working a day a week in the archive of the Heimatmuseum. He is the only one who has been active and contributive to the Heimatmuseum during its sixty years of existence. For that we owe him the highest degree of acknowledgement.    

The spinning wheel pictured here was taken to Bessarabia in 1822 by Swabian immigrants, and it was preserved past the 1940 resettlement and 1945 flight from Poland. Today you can see it in the Stuttgart Heimatmuseum.
Albert Häfner, a sixty-year member and highly engaged worker at the Heimatmueum.

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

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