The John Schmaltz family of Emmons County: from Ukrainian Steppes to Dakota Prairies

Schmaltz, Eric. "The John Schmaltz family of Emmons County: from Ukrainian Steppes to Dakota Prairies." Emmons County Record, 16 October 2008, 17.
(Editor's Note: This is part eleven of Eric Schmaltz's history of the John Schmaltz family.)

Village of Kandel: On the Banks of the Dniester River

A view of the interior of the former Roman Catholic basilica (the Church of the Assumption) in the village of Selz (Limanskoye), Ukraine, just north of the village of Kandel (Ribalskoye). Even today, the ruin of this grand religious monument retains its remarkable acoustic qualities.

Nor should we forget the Ukrainian Germans’ large magnificent churches built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Perhaps these churches—including an actual Catholic basilica in the village of Selz—could be better described as small cathedrals on the steppes. They rivaled some of the grand houses of worship in other parts of Europe. Along with stained-glass windows, church interiors were no less impressive and awe-inspiring, with their elaborate, well-crafted Christian artwork, altars, and organs brought at great expense from Germany. In no small way, these structures represented the ultimate expression of community pride and a higher spiritual life. The wonderful Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Strasburg, North Dakota, harkens back to these grand buildings of the old country.

At the turn of the last century, immigrants from these villages hardly deserved the rather unfair designation in North America as “dumb Rooshians” or “backward” Russians and East Europeans. Their American neighbors of West or North European stock stamped this derogatory label on them. This ethnic stereotype breaks down, however, when one examines more closely the history and material culture of Ukraine’s German villages in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Eric Schmaltz. The author is immigrant Johann Schmalz’s great-grandson.  Born in Minot, North Dakota, in 1971, he is Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, where he teaches Modern European and World History.  He expresses his eternal gratitude to old issues of the Emmons County Record as well as various extended relatives by blood or marriage who have assisted him with family history research over the past two decades, in particular Bro. Placid Gross, Mrs. Mary Lynn Axtman, Mrs. Nicole (French) Bailey, Prof. Amy Deibert, and Prof. Michael M. Miller.

The Soviet seizure of power in 1917 changed everything for the German villages, resulting in political turmoil, persecution, and poverty over the course of three decades, including the horrific Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933, in which millions of men, women, and children of various nationalities died under the regime.

A nearly 150-year history of German communities in Russia ended with the outbreak of the Second World War. Since 1944, non-Germans have mostly inhabited the villages, and these communities continue to suffer from economic disparities. Kandel is now called Ribalskoye, but it pales in comparison with its former glory.

The Soviet era reversed many of the gains of previous generations of Ukrainian Germans—from bread (Brot) to suffering (Not), and finally, death (Tot).

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

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