|Loretta Busch, in her Rugby, ND, home, holds a portrait of her ancestors from Russia.|
Nixon, Lance. "Letters From Russia." Grand Forks Herald, 3 May 1993, sec. 1B & 2B.
"A short time ago we received 10 Bibles in the German language from Pastor Wolfgang Wegert. I gave them to some believers in our congregation. Everybody thanks you for the Bibles."
Quite often the letters from Russia arrive in Rugby, N.D., with a formal greeting such as Paul the Apostle might have used if he had written German: "Liebe Loretta, William, samt Family! Gott zum Gruss und dem lieben Heiland zum Trost in den alten Tagen und schweren Leben!"
And Karl Wiederoder, who was born in Germany, turns the lines into English so they come out saying: "Dear Loretta, William and family. Greetings in the name of God and Christ our Lord who is our comfort in our old age and hard life!?
The letters have been coming for more than a year now, ever since Loretta Busch learned quite unexpectedly that she had a relative in the former Soviet Union who was seeking to renew contact with that strand of the family that had gone to America.
Jacob Huber had left czarist Russia with his family in 1905 to come to western North Dakota. The contacts with the old country broke down during the years after the Bolshevik Revolution so that the Jacob Huber's grandchildren knew little about Russia, only what their own father, Jacob M. Huber, had written down from his conversations with is parents and other immigrants.
Then, in September 1991, Dalton Huber - a grandson to the Jacob Huber who had emigrated and a brother to Loretta Busch - happened to read a newspaper story. The story was about the many letters that Michael Miller, the Germans from Russia bibliographer at North Dakota State University, has received from Germans in Russia seeking relatives here. People have been writing to Miller ever since a German-language newspaper in Russia carried a story saying Miller was eager to hear from Germans in Russia who were seeking their relatives in America.
Finally, a reply
One of the people who had written to Miller was Matthaus Gunthner of Tscheljabinsk, Russia, who was seeking descendants of his Uncle Jacob Huber and his Aunt Katherine. Gunthner believed they had emigrated in about 1907 with their young son Jakob.
Dalton Huber telephoned his sister soon after he read the newspaper account.
"He called and he said, `Can you believe this? Somebody is looking for us,'" Loretta Busch recalled.
Loretta Busch wrote her first letter to Tscheljabinsk in about November 1991, relying on her neighbor Karl Wiederoder to rewrite it in German. Matthaus Gunthner's reply came in December, identifying him as 76 years old at the time, while his wife, Galina, was 68.
"With great joy we received your letter. And with tears in our eyes did we read your letter," Matthaus wrote. "A few times I wrote to North Dakota but to no avail. My letters never came, and I also never received a reply."
The Gunthners have a son, Walter, who is a surgeon in the Army, and a daughter, Margaritha, who is an engineer. They have a granddaughter, Marina, who wants to be a doctor, and grandsons Sejoska and Dima.
Although Loretta Busch calls Matthaus "uncle" in her letters, it's an honorary title. Matthaus is really a cousin to her father, Jacob M. Huber, since they had the same grandfather, Max Huber.
Matthaus wrote that during the first years of the Soviet government, his family in Russia still kept in touch with Jakob Huber. But after 1935 the contacts ceased. As World War II arrived and Soviet Russia found itself battling Nazi Germany, the Germans in the Soviet Union found themselves treated as enemies.
"On August 28, 1941, all Germans were deported. We arrived at the deserted steppes of Kazakhstan. We had to abandon all our belongings. In January 1942, every male of 15 to 60 years of age was forced into a special army. It would be better to call it a slave army. Many died from excessive work, hunger and cold. After that all women ages 15 to 60 were recruited. Left behind were children and old folks," Matthaus wrote. " It wasn't until 1956 we became a little bit more free."
Matthaus went on to describe the troubled conditions inside Russia in the first letter. The pension of 400 rubles that he and his wife receive every month brings $2 on the black market. There is nothing to buy in the stores. There is civil war in many republics.
"The Communists want to keep communism but are not successful. Many times I think if the words that Grandfather Max said, `O Russia, O Russia, O Russia, you large noble land. We wear rags and sandals. We are like beggars,'" Mathaus wrote. "Seventy-four years cheating the Russian people, now the Communist Party is illegal. But the Communists have changed to democrats and remain on top."
Loretta - the wife of an Assemblies of God minister - asked in one of her first letters about religious freedom, and whether she could supply Matthaus and his family with Bibles. She had already some parcels of food and clothing and also some money to help her family in Russia with their living expenses.
Russia/ An invitation for the Busch family
"Since 1984, we have religious freedom," Matthaus replied in February 1992. "We are Lutheran, but we don't have a church yet. We meet and pray at a Bethaus (prayer house) on Sundays and holidays. It would be nice to have a Bible and other Christian literature. But I don't know how you could get it to us."
In April, Matthaus Gunthner repeated his request.
"We need Bibles and Christian literature if you could help get them in the German language," he wrote.
Loretta had been in touch with some organizations in the meantime. She learned of a minister in Germany who routinely is sending teams into Russia and sent Matthaus' address by fax to Germany. She later send money to pay for 10 Bibles.
In the meantime, the Busch family sent more parcels. Even Karl Wiederoder and his wife, Elizabeth, who had come to feel part of the family by translating the letterss back and forth, sent parcels of clothing.
Matthaus, who had written what size clothing he and is wife and granddaughter wear in answer to a question from Loretta, suggested from time to time that the family in America need not send the new clothes, used ones will do just as well.
"If they don't fit we can alter them," he wrote.
A letter in July 1992 tells that Matthaus and Galina's children had received a small plot of ground for growing vegetables and potatoes, so there would be hope of a good crop of vegetables for winter. Later that month, Matthaus wrote describing how Galina had stood in line for some American aid.
"Some time ago Galina received a Care Package from America," he wrote. "In it was 3 kg. rice, l kg powdered milk, 2 kg. Cream of Wheat, 2 kg. peas, and 400 gr. olive oil. And for this she had to stand in line from 4 a.m. until 2 p.m. We are very thankful for your dollars, and for your help. We have been able to buy the necessary things."
Few answers are found in politics
One of those letters in July also describes again the rising prices and the uncertainty of politics.
"We live only for today, what tomorrow will bring we don't know. Our health is not the best. We are still on our feet, have our daily bread and thank our loving Savior," he wrote. "Now that we are allowed our belief in God and are allowed to pray in the open, we call on Him to free us from all sins. We are not to blame that for 70 years, it was strongly forbidden to believe in God. We could only whisper our prayers and ask God to help us in our need. Now that we have our religious freedom we pray fervetly at home, and in our congregation. we received from Moscow prayer books, hymn books and other religious literature. Soonn we will have a German church, the work has already started."
Matthaus wrote in October to tell about the preparations for winter. There had been no rain in September, which had allowed the farmers to harvest most of their crops.
"We hope to come through the winter. With the help of my son we were able to store some potatoes, beets and carrots. The onions are spoiling. We may have to buy some more."
The Bibles that Loretta Busch had purchased through the German minister found their way to the Gunthner's home in late 1992. Matthaus wrote in December to say they had arrived, and to accept Loretta's offer of providing more books.
"If it is possible please send them to us," he wrote. "A short time ago we received 10 Bibles in the German language from Pastor Wolfgang Wegert. Many thanks for the Bibles. I gave them to some believers in our congregation. Everybody thanks you for the Bibles." Matthaus Gunthner's letters still arrive in the mail and Loretta Busch still answers them, but from the things he writes, she is afraid her own letters these past few months have been getting lost in the mail. Her letters are still concerned with the ethnic violence in some of the former Soviet republics, the food shortages and the uncertain future of the government.
Matthaus and Galina Gunthner have invited the Busch family to visit them in Russia. But even if that never happens, Loretta Busch said she expects to meet them face to face in heaven someday.
"It's so exciting as a Christian to look forward to that family reunion," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.