Moving to Russia for a Life Pleasing to God
Frommer, Heinrich. "Moving to Russia for a Life Pleasing to God." Mitteilungsblatt, August 2017, 20-21.
This translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO, with editorial assistance from Dr. Nancy Herzog.
On May 20, 1817, eighteen persons from Altbach set out for Russia to begin a life pleasing to God. Their leader was Georg Frick, a vine-dresser, with a wife and six children, the youngest having been a year and a half old.
As was the case in various other villages, the group had come together as a “harmony” community. The name in fact denoted an agenda, namely, living together like “siblings” in Christian love. The “Esslinger Harmony” was a case in point. It required that all pool their properties and all live off the common purse. This made it possible for the poorer participants to emigrate.
Frick and his fellow believers had experienced no easy life. They had gathered for Bibelstunden [group Bible study hours] and had thereby placed themselves into direct opposition with the Evangelical Lutheran state church and with the state of Württemberg. They did not wish to attend normal religious series, because they deemed them to be false and hypocritical. They did not have their children baptized nor send them to school. Some refused to serve in the military or to pay taxes. Some caused grave offense. People told of an Altbach woman who would attend services in Zell and during the sermon take up a position across from the pulpit. Everything the pastor said she would counter with what she deemed to be correct according to her faith. Frick himself had frequently been jailed for such fractious opposition.
The possibility of emigrating did not come until the death of Württemberg’s King Friedrich in 1916, after which his successor Wilhelm I seemed to deal more indulgently with “religious enthusiasts.”
At the time, Russia was ruled by Alexander I, who was considered an especially pious sovereign. He was eager to grant religious groups a place where they could live their faith without hindrance. Of course, he also had an economic interest in mind. Able and hard-working German settlers would enhance the value of sparsely populated and desolate regions of the South Caucasus. In addition, they would set an example for the local residents. Making the target area even more attractive were a number of preferential privileges the Tsar would grant.
With that in mind, Frick and the “Esslinger Harmonie” called the faithful to emigrate. They wrote, “It is not the desire for riches and prosperity in earthly life that urges us onward. We have rejected all those who wish to emigrate for earthly reasons. We long only to come to a land in which we can serve our Lord quietly and in all readiness await the future in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Under Frick’s leadership, the first group set out for the gathering place in Ulm. On August 12, twenty-eight more emigrants followed under the leadership of Jakob Barth, also a vine-dresser. The fully loaded wagons came together on the Bachstraße in Altbach, where at house number 21 the baker Stribel was plying his trade. His daughter and her family were among the travelers. In Ulm, Frick had organized everything very well. On ships called the “Ulmer Schachteln [Ulm Boxes - see the illustration. - Tr]” they continued down the Danube, via Vienna to Odessa on the Black Sea. Much more exerting was the land trip by way of Rostov to the Caucasus and Tiflis.
The goal was reached after four months, but the trip had been exhausting. Many, including two of Frick’s children, had died on the way. This was only a foretaste of the difficulties the new homeland would have to offer. Here, too, the following saying applied: “To the first [generation], death; to the second, poverty and need; to the third, bread [i.e., sufficient prosperity without hunger. – Tr.].” During the following years the Schwabian settlers fulfilled all expectations. Nine new flourishing villages came to be. Johann Georg Frick and family resided in Katharinenfeld, but he died very soon after arriving there. Helenendorf, with its 1,000 settlers by far the largest settlement, was where Jakob Barth resided. And finally the immigrants were able to lead their church life according to their own imagination.
Earthly politics eventually destroyed this beautiful, nearly paradisiacal world. Under Stalin, all Germans were exiled to Kazakhstan and uncounted numbers of people lost their lives. Their villages now belonged to others, and their cemeteries are destroyed. After 1980, many of these “Russian Germans” were able to return to their homeland or origin, among them descendants of the Fricks and the Barths. Today there is once again a small German church community that gathers descendants of those former settlers in Russia.
Ulmer Schachtel. A simply built, one-way boat which traveled downstream only. Used on the Danube since the Middle Ages to transport goods, passengers and troops. (Source: Wikipedia.)
Reprinted from the Internet pages of the Evangelisches Kirchenwerk of Esslingen, with friendly permission by the author, retired Pastor Heinrich Frommer. Source: http://www.ev.-kirche-esslingen.de/geschichtliches/serie-kirchenleute/johann-georg-frick/.
Appreciation is extended to Dr. Nancy Herzog for editing and to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.