Zuerichtal on Crimea Celebrates: 200th Birthday of the Swiss-Founded Colony

Zuerichtal auf der Krim hat Gefeieirt: 200. Geburtstag der von Schweizern Gegruendete Kolonie

Ruetsche, Norbert. "Zuerichtal on Crimea Celebrates: 200th Birthday of the Swiss-Founded Colony." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2005, 14-16.

Translation from the original German text to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

Guests being greeted with [the traditional] bread and salt (from left to right): Pierre Balmere, Representative of the Swiss Immigration Community of Bonstetten; Irma Tarusova, nee Ille, formerly of Zuerichtal; Christian Faessler, Swiss Ambassador to Ukraine. Photo by SDC/Viktoria Temyana.

By means of a grand folk festival and including attendance by numerous foreign guests, Zolotoye Pole on Crimea on September 17, 2005, celebrated the 200th birthday of the 1805 founding of Zuerichtal by Swiss immigrants. During the occasion, the Swiss Ambassador to Ukraine dedicated a museum for the history of the village. Especially gratifying was the participation in the celebration by several former Zuerichtalers and by their descendants.

Zuerichtal was the only colony on the Crimean peninsula, and one of only two villages in the entire Tsarist Empire, that was founded by Swiss immigrants. Surrounded by numerous German settlements, and because of its access to many foreigners from German principalities, Zuerichtal increasingly took on the image of a German colony, and its residents increasingly felt as if they were Germans. Still, the village name of Zuerichtal (the name stemming from that of the Zwiss Canton of Zuerich, the original home of the village founders), as well as many typically Swiss family names such as Illi/Ille, Vollenweider, Eberli/Aberle, Dubs, Naef/Neff, etc., consistently, even until the downfall of the colony caused by the events of World War II, and until its renaming as Zolotoye Pole, served as a reminder that it was Swiss immigrants who had founded Zuerichtal. (Concerning the history of Zuerichtal, see an article by Norbert Ruesche in the Kulturellen Jahresschrift 2004 by the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland.)

Ukrainian-Swiss History

Guests and Hosts of the Jubilee Celebration "200 Years Zuerichtal" Gathered in Front of the Village Church. Photo by SDC/Viktoria Temyana.

It was thus a special honor and joy for the Swiss Embassy in Ukraine to be participate in the jubilee celebration and to support the preparations for it, especially because Zuerichhtal represents an element of shared Swiss-Ukrainian history. This point was emphasized repeatedly by Ambassador Christian Faessler, who was officially representing Switzerland at the festivities. In addition to Ambassador Faessler, who had arrived with some of his aides, also taking part was a five-member delegation from those Swiss communities in the Zuerich Canton from which the majority of the Zuerichtal founders had emigrated 200 years back. Communities thus represented were Bonstetten, Ottenbach, and Wallisellen.

Because of the deportation in 1941 of the then German-speaking residents, of whom no descendants live in Zolotoye Pole today, it was by no means obvious that two people who were born in Zuerichtal prior to World War II would be coming to the festivities: Irma Tarusova (nee Ille, born in 1919) had worked there as a teacher of German and today lives in the city of Stariy Krym, not far from Zolotoye Pole. Arthur Reibold, born in 1931 as the son of the collective's accountant, had spent the first ten years of his life, up to the time of deportation, in Zuerichtal and today lives in Germany. Many other Zuerichtaler would have loved to attend the festivities, but were unable to do so due to health reasons or time conflicts. Still, several descendants now living in Germany did come to Zolotoye Pole, for example, the great-granddaughter of the Zuerichtal potter Stauber, whose daughter, Berta, taught German in Zuerichtal and currently does so in Germany.

Host of the festivities was the Kirovskiy Rayon, of which the village of Zolotoye Pole is part. On the beautifully sunny day of September 17, the rayon chair, Kadyr Osmanov, was able to welcome, in addition to the foreign guests -- among them a diplomat from the German Embassy in Kiev -- numerous visitors from Crimea, including representatives of the Crimean government, Crimea-German organizations and cultural associations, as well as a large group of media representatives. Around 20 journalists, including teams from all five television stations on Crimea, were reporting on the jubilee celebrations.

Memorial Plaque for the Village Founders

Walking Tour of the Lower Village Awakens Memories with former Zuerichtalers Arthur Reibold (2nd fr. left) and Irma Tarusovo, nee Ille. Photo by SDC/Igor Salnikov.

At the village entrance, Kadyr Osmanov and four women dressed in traditional Ukrainian, Russian, and Crimea-Tatar folk costumes, greeted the guests with the traditional gifts of bread and salt, after which all gathered at the former Ev.-Luth. village church that lies on a small rise between the former Upper and Lower Villages and today is used as a Ukrainian-Orthodox house of prayer. There, Ambassador Christian Faessler and Albert Grimm, a representative of the Zuerich immigration community of Wallisellen, unveiled a memorial plaque fastened to the church facade, which is intended to commemorate the Zuerichtal founders from Switzerland. The following text appears on the plaque that was financed together by three Swiss communities:

This divine house of prayer, erected in 1860 as an Ev.-Lutheran church, is today located on the grounds of the former colony of Zuerichtal, which was founded in 1805 by immigrants from Switzerland, the majority being from the Canton of Zuerich.

Based on a decision by the Council of Ministers of the Independent Republic of Crimea and with the agreement of the residents of the village, the building was turned over to the Ukrainian-Orthodox Diocese of Simferopol-Crimea in 1991.

This memorial plaque, which was created with the support of the Zuerich immigration communities of Wallisellen and Mettmenstetten and of the City of Zuerich and, on the occasion of the anniversary of "200 Years Zuerichtal," was unveiled today, September 17, 2005.

After Father Iossif, village Pop of Zolotoye Pole, delivered a message of greeting from the Metropolit Lazar, president of the Ukrainian-Orthodox Diocese of Simferopol-Crimea, he led a tour of his church for the guests. Aside from current furnishings, and except for the missing bell tower that was destroyed in the 1930s, the church building remains just as the Zuerichtalers remember it from their childhood. Afterwards, the guests undertook a brief walking tour of the Lower Village of the original Zuerichtal village. There they rediscovered what is left of a well familiar to all during Zuerichtal times, and they visited an older colonist's house. Guests Irma Tarusova and Arthur Reibold were able to contribute a few stories of their childhood.

Museum and Renovated Schoolroom

A subsequent highlight was the formal opening of the "Museum Zuerichtal" in the elementary school in the new part of the settlement. By means of numerous archival documents, photographs, letters, maps, and many other items, the museum tells the history of the Zuerichtal coplony from its founding in 1805 to its end caused by World War II. The person responsible for establishing and maintaining the content of the museum is the historian and specialist for Crimea-Germans and Crimea-Swiss, Juriy Laptev, Director of the Museum of Crimea in Simferopol. He and his team, together with a Swiss advisor, planned and expertly furnished the museum. All signs and explanations are printed in Russian and in German.

Kadyr Osmanov (left), Chair of the Kirovskiy Rayon, and Ambassador Christian Faessler Officially Dedicate the "Museum Zuerichtal." Photo by SDC/Igor Salnikov.

The museum in its present form would hardly have become a reality, had former Zuerichtaler residents and school children of the former Zuerichtal German school, and their descendants, not made available many documents -- for example, school report cards, baptismal and confirmation certificates -- and photographs for the museum to copy. A great deal of support also came from the State Archive of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in Simferopol. Its staff located various documents relating to Zuerichtal, and copies of many of these are exhibited in the museum. For example, mention should be made of the baptismal book put together (in German) by the very first pastor of Zuerichtal, Heinrich Dietrich. Like the majority of the first residents of the village, Heinrich Dietrich had come from the Canton of Zuerich and between 1822 until his all-too early death in 1827 led the parish of Zuerich.

Further items in display in the museum include a Swiss flag, numerous photos, books (especially village and community chronicles and picture albums), maps, post cards, other flags, coats of arms, etc., of the area of Switzerland from which the Zuerichtal founders had immigrated 200 years back. These are gifts from the Zuerich area immigrant communities and from the government of the Canton of Zuerich to the "Museum Zuerichtal," and they are intended as a sign of solidarity and friendship between Switzerland and Crimea in general.

The museum was made possible thanks to the Swiss Embassy in Ukraine, which provided complete financing. It was for this reason that Ambassador Christian Faessler who, together with the rayon chair, Kadyr Osmanov, cut the red ribbon at the entry to the museum. Christian Faessler expressed his admiration for the fact that the community of Zolotoye Pole, and especially the elementary school, have shown such great interest in their history, even if the vast majority of the residents have no direct ties to the Zuerichtal era.

In addition to the museum, the Swiss Embassy also financed the renovation and complete new interior, complete with school furniture and technical equipment, for one school room each for instruction in history and in foreign languages, in the elementary school of Zolotoye Pole. The school has about 400 school children. The Embassy demonstrated thereby that it considers of great importance the education as a means for improving the future of children and youth. Since these school rooms also served for a press conference following the opening of the museum, journalists were able to gain first impressions of the renovated rooms.

Folk Festival and a Grand Concert

The afternoon was exclusively reserved for a grand concert and a folk festival on the plaza in front of the House of Culture of Zolotoye Pole. The entire population of the village, numbering around 3,,500, was invited. Accompanied by the gorgeous weather, numerous folklore, singing and dance groups performed, thus demonstrating the cultural richness of the various nationalities living in and around the Kirovskiy Rayon. Additionally, several Crimea-German groups had traveled to Zolotoye Pole in honor of the 200th birthday of Zuerichtal and to perform German songs and dances. Even the famous Swiss folk song "S' Vreneli ab em Guggisberg [Untranslatable -- AH] " was sung by Crimea-German voices and heard all over the plaza, in honor of the Swiss village founders -- a truly moving moment especially for the guests from Switzerland.

Crimean-German Group of Simferopol Singing German and Swiss Songs at the 200th Birthday Celebration of Zuerichtal. Photo by SDC/Viktoria Temyana. ]

In his speech, Ambassador Christian Faessler reminded his audience on the plaza that the founding families had left Switzerland due to dire poverty, in order to make a new beginning in the wealthy Russian Tsarist Empire. He also expressed his hope that this celebration might be just the beginning of further contacts between Switzerland and the Crimean Peninsula. He thanked the organizers of the festivities for the invitation and for their great work, the museum workers for their wonderful dedication, the many groups and artists for their performances. In particular those former Zuerichtal residents who were in attendance, and their descendants, for their active participation, and for representing therewith all those who had been unable to attend.

As the concert on the festival plaza continued into the evening hours, the guests from Switzerland were invited to a wine tasting at the winery of Zolotoye Pole, whose wines and liqueurs during Soviet times used to be delivered to cosmonauts and other space-exploration workers in Moscow. Nowadays the vintner hardly works at all, even when the wine cellars are filled.

On returning to the plaza, the guests enjoyed a few more performances by song and dance troupes, before the festival "200 years Zuerichtal" was concluded with fireworks after dark.

We can hope that many from Switzerland or from Ukraine and other countries who might be interested may find their way to Zolotoye Pole in order to discover in the museum more information about the beginning, the boom times, and also the downfall of Zuerichtal, that village which once was considered one of the most well-to-do colonies on Crimea.

Norbert Ruetsche, in Zolotoe Pole

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