Sarata – Paris – Alt-Elft

A Travel Report

Steudle, Heinz, “Sarata – Paris – Alt-Elft.” Mitteilungsblatt, February 2010, 17 - 18.

Translation from the Original German-language text to American English provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

The settlements of Sarata, Paris and Alt-Elft have great significance for our family. As children we often heard the names of these villages, and we were told many and various stories about them. So there was a long-lasting desire to go to Bessarabia and to take a personal look at those villages. We were facing an extensive trip. We really wanted to find out what those former German times look like today. We wished to explore the spacious expanse of the settlement region, the current situation of the villages, the landscape, the climate and the steppes. The “we” constituted a small group of five men ranging between twenty-nine and seventy-six years in age. A mini-bus would take us there.

Our most significant ancestor, Vitus Steudle, along with the followers of Ignaz Lindl, emigrated there, and that is where Sarata was established. The village of origin of those ancestors was Herbrechtingen in the so-called Swabian Alb. With his wife and two sons he set out at that time and thus established the Bessarabian line of the family. In addition, there were two other locales of interest to us, namely, Paris and Alt-Elft. Our father taught in Paris, and our grandfather was a pastor in Alt-Elft. So we clearly had familial reasons to undergo this trip.

Our travel-eager group consisted of three brothers and two nephews. The eldest of us was born in Paris in 1933, the next-to-youngest in the Ethnic German Camp in Dresden in 1941, and the youngest in Katschkau (in the former [Polish, but German-controlled] Warthegau) in 1943. [Unless the author is talking about the three brothers, there seems to be a contradiction about these ages, at least that of the youngest – Tr.] Our own family history thus reflects in many ways the most recent historical development of the Bessarabian Germans.

From Bavaria the trip proceeded through Austria, Hungary and Romania. To our great surprise, the major trans-country highways in Romania are in excellent condition, broad and freshly asphalted. Romania has profited from membership in the European Union. At the Galati (Romania) border crossing point to Ukraine and Moldova, there were delays. We then continued toward Izmayil and through a flooded area to Tatarbunary and, finally, to Sarata. Our actual destination was Lichtental. There we had reserved private quarters with a very nice family. From there we would go on our local tours.

The former church in Paris.

Paris. Here the Immanuel and Natatlie Steudle family lived for some time, and it was in the Paris church where grandfather preached.

Our nephew Johann had been able to study Russian via a fellowship at the Robert-Bosch-Foundation, and thus we always had a translator available to us -- a good prerequisite for this trip. In Paris we tried to make contact with people we met randomly. All were very friendly and freely gave us information. With that assistance we were able to zero in on the former house of our family.
In some of the homes Bulgarians are living today. A few houses of the Bessarabian Germans have not been lived in and are falling apart. To bring those kinds of houses up to the newest standards would certainly be very expensive. We were invited cordially and were able to view homes inside.

During the era of German settlement the village of Paris was essentially a farming community. The structure of settlement was determined by the economic conditions of the time. Today that structure is not exactly natural to living conditions of those living there now. In many cases single German homes were no longer needed. The economic development of the future remains open. Basically, the village should be adapted to the altered situation.

In 1916 the German colonists did not exactly choose their settlement areas in a thorough manner. They really had no other choices. The quality of water was then, and is still, bad, mostly because the water contains saltpeter. Today, as in the past, there are also periods of drought. It is remarkable and worthy of respect that the Bessarabian German farmers attained prosperity despite all.

The dilapidated Paris church building naturally was a significant part of our tour. Today it is more or less a ruin and without a tower. Inside it has been repaired only minimally, but it is of no real significance to the village. The walls, despite the effects of climate, sun, and rain, remain in fairly good condition. Worth mentioning are the large bricks that the locals of Paris had personally burned for the building. Its cast-iron columns, manufactured in Odessa, stir the imagination about transport and construction methods of that time. Only occasionally, perhaps once a year, is some kind of village celebration held in the church structure. 

Youth gathering in the former German villages.

Sarata is a small city and possesses the “Cathedral of the Steppes” as well as an Internet Cafe dubbed “Ignaz Lindl,” which name is printed in Cyrillic characters. A memorial reminds folks of the preacher who led his followers to this place. The unique settlement plat must also be recognized. The current market attracts sellers and visitors. Offerings are plentiful and include tomatoes, grapes and many other items that are very tasty indeed. Prices are low. Home-made cheese and Bessarabian bread in its characteristic shape are also offered.

Only pieces of the walls remain of the former Werner School. Still usable are the few remaining yellow wall stones made of the local clay. To be sure, this is where they were educated in those days -- those teachers and other leaders of Bessarabian German society. It is particularly sad that this building has decayed so much. At least in the Sarata Museum one can still find objects displayed that stem from the German settlers’ times. These include agricultural equipment, clothing, and even some school uniforms of the Werner School. The walls display sketches, photos and textiles dealing with the history of the German colonists.

Editor Viktoria reported in the Sarata newspaper on our travels to our ancestors.

Conversing across the fence.

We also searched for and found the house of my grandparents. Two women who live there received us in a very friendly manner and were clearly pleased that some Bessarabian Germans were finally visiting their property, too. “All our homes here have had visitors from Germany, only ours did not. Well, finally it has happened, and we are very, very happy about it,” they said. What a fine reception we had!

The town of Alt-Elft made an impression on us of being maintained very well.  In front of the church, today without a tower, there stands a statue of Lenin, but it seems forlorn and forgotten. One cannot begin to imagine what the faithful and Pastor Simsont of those early times would have said about this Lenin memorial. These days the church building serves as a library and a house of culture. In one of the corners of the church loft there is a pile of documents concerning German settlement times.

Naturally we also wanted to visit the grave of our maternal grandparents. The former German cemetery is in very sad condition. Gravestones have been toppled, and inscriptions have been at least partially willfully marred. Hardly anything can still be deciphered. Thus the search for any specific grave is a rather hopeless endeavor. In Paris and Sarata one can actually no longer find any gravestones at all bearing German inscriptions.  

On our continuing trip we spent two nights in Sergeyevka and made contact with a whole group of German visitors also on a Bessarabian tour. Our own manner of traveling seemed much preferable, because it was freer and more individualized.

A side trip took us to Tarutino. Starting out from the Hotel “Bessarabian German House” we toured the town and had interesting conversations with an elderly lady of German origin currently living there. We also drove to Formushika. The road there is not an easy one, and during rainy weather one should probably avoid it. The planners and owners of the Formushika village are busy developing a new form of tourism. On a fairly large area, renovated houses and properties of various ethnic groups are displayed and described. Also, the town has reasonably-priced and rather good accommodations for visitors there, including, for example, a guest house for people who like to hunt. A large hall is available for various events. In an adjoining museum-like tract there is an exhibit of pieces of antique equipment that were used by former residents. The large tracts of surrounding land are used for growing grapes, and wine is produced in a local winery. Gigantic herds of sheep graze in the expansive neighboring landscape, and there are a great number of sheep barns. Time will tell whether something new and different will come about in this locale. 

Searching for ancestral traces.

It is unfortunate that Bessarabia is 2,000 kilometers [ca. 1,200 miles] distant from Germany. Trying to lure tourists there can’t be a simple matter. But it would be a worthy endeavor, not only for Bessarabian Germans, but for their descendants as well. The future of the region and its residents is difficult to picture. A viable economic concept would have to be conjured up.  Should Ukraine come into the EU, there might be further possibilities. We heard it said that an ecological protection program of the EU is being implemented, as a sign of trying to get groups to come together geographically, and in support of the concept of multi-ethnicity.

A stay in Odessa is also recommended. For our own stay we were able to rent a reasonably priced apartment in the city center and to gather positive and interesting impressions, among them our attendance of an Ev.-Lutheran worship service.

For the return trip one needs to keep in mind that there will be delays in crossing from Ukraine into the EU, and that customs and duty regulations are strictly enforced.

A southern route across Romania is preferable over a northern one.

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

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