Military Service in Bessarabia

Rüb, Albert. "Military Service in Bessarabia." Mitteilungsblatt, October 2010, 15-16.

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

“The immigrants, as well as their descendants, are for always ([Russian:] navsegda – [German:] auf immer -- for always) exempt from levies for recruits and, likewise, from providing military quarters, except for the case when troops march through [locales].”

This privilege, promised to the emigrants [from Germany] by Tsar Alexander I in his edict dated November 29, 1813, was met with open ears by the people in Southwest Germany who had been oppressed by Napoleon. Numerous recruitment campaigns for Napoleon’s wars with their heavy losses, as well as forced quartering and feeding of foreign troops, plus a series of bad harvests, had exacerbated an already bad situation for the indigenous population. Despite the Württemberg government authorities’ warnings regarding the perils of emigration to the East, many people, with plenty of economic, social and religious reasons, moved Russian areas around the Black Sea, to New Russia and – our own ancestors – to Bessarabia.

Due to their clever and judicious work methods, and after years of privation and poverty, they attained prosperity and property. From acreage freed up by nobility landowners, mother colonies filling up with residents acquired lands to found daughter colonies on them. They became role models for other, neighboring ethnic groups, of which many were eager to imitate the way the colonists farmed, so that by 1898 it became difficult to distinguish between Russian and German farmsteads.

The relative prosperity and higher property ownership of the Germans would eventually cause the initial friendship of the other ethnic neighbors to be transformed into enmity. Mistrust and envy increased. And suddenly the Germans had become competitors in the acquisition and leasing of acreage. In the Russian press they were dubbed traitors to the country and were accused of being outposts for Germany.

Although the Germans always protested their subservience to the Tsar and the government, the authorities gave in to pressure from slavo-phile circles and in 1871 canceled the privileges they had been assured of. By 1874 the same act introduced military duty for twenty-year-old sons of colonists, and the Germans were placed on equal footing with the other subjects.

Proof of education actually reduced the term of military service. Having attended a four-year public school justified a four-year term, completion of secondary school a two-year term, and university students served only six months. Colonists’ sons would serve in the ranks of the Russian Army during the Turkish War of 1877 to 1880 and in the Russo-Japanese War between 1904 and 1905, particularly in the Battle of Mukden, where the Japanese achieved a decisive victory on the ground against the Russian.

Hatred for Germans reached its climax by the outbreak of the First World War, and even though the colonists pledged adherence to their obligations toward Russia, the army’s leadership was not convinced of the German’s loyalty. German army members were withdrawn from the Western front and reassigned to the Turkish front in the Caucasus.

Like wildfire on the steppes, the Russian Revolution would soon spread across all of Russia. Entire troop units, including colonists’ sons among them, were handed over by their own officers to the revolutionaries. But when Bessarabia was annexed to Romania in 1918, we were spared the misdeeds of colleagues in the red soldetska [soldiership] foaming with hatred. We became Romanian citizens and were subjected to the laws of the country. This also included service in its military. Colonists’ sons would enter their units carrying a Soldatenkischtle [dialect for “a soldier’s small wooden chest], which had a lock to secure their belongings from theft.      

Initially, lacking language skills often led to undignified treatment, unjust penalties and outbursts by the military leadership. However, among the commanders there were also those who were sensitive and who were solicitous of the needs of their underlings.

When language skills improved and the conscientious and trustworthy nature of the Germans became better known, they were in demand as orderlies, company clerks, and officers’ aides. There was the status of the so-called One-Yearlies (teteristi) for graduates of higher learning, which instead of twenty months [sic] required only twelve months of service. And anyone arriving with his own horse could also expect reduced service time.

Actual service was preceded by two years of pre-military training that took place every Sunday morning, when the young men were drilled mostly by lover-rank reserve officers. This also affected the students at the Werner School, who performed their “Premilitaria” under two leaders from Satul-Nou. Since Professor Ilie Modval at the Werner School was also the local commander of Sarata, those students could not cut training without serious reasons, or they would be disciplined by Monday morning.

Increasing danger at the Dniestr River caused by a massing of troops of the Red Army led to inductions and ditch-digging efforts on the Romanian side. Resistance to an incoming march by the Soviets would have led to a senseless bloodbath. The retreat by the Romanians in the face of a merciless invasive march by the Red Army would take on tragic forms. Their retreat from Bessarabia ended in days of mourning. German soldiers left their units and tried by various adventurous means to rejoin their families, where they were being awaited longingly and with great anxiety. We then became Russian citizens under German protection. Our resettlement [in 1940-41] saved us from the fate of many Germans in the Soviet Union itself. Eighty kilograms of luggage became our pitiable payment for 120 years of tough pioneering work.

The circle would finally close. Side by side, with the fathers and sons of those remaining behind, the descendants of the emigrants would do their duty on the front of a senseless war. Long lists of those missing or killed in action constitute eloquent evidence of our participation in the fate of the all-German people.   

Parade of the Pre-Military Members before Deputy Commandant Danescu

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of these articles.

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