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, 2 April 2009, 8.
(Editor's Note: This is part twenty of Eric Schmaltz's history of the John Schmaltz family.)

The “Long Trek”

Unidentified Kandelers posing in Nazi uniform in 1943. During that year, Emma (Schmalz) Rieger’s husband and two younger brothers, like many young males in the village, were conscripted into the Waffen-SS (military wing of the SS).

The equally dramatic odyssey of Barbara’s daughter, Emma (1918-2008), spanned the Ukrainian steppes, war-torn Eastern Europe, and the Dakota prairies, completing a full circle for the Schmaltz family’s wide dispersal, for she bridged Old and New Worlds. Not until the latter part of the 1990s did I learn the full story surrounding Emma’s arrival to the United States, as many people did not want to relive the events or make any kind of family connection with the Nazi occupation of Ukraine.

Emma was born in Kandel, entering a world already torn by profound political change and deep turmoil. She survived the Russian Civil War (1918-1920), the Leninist repression of the early 1920s, and the Stalinist mass famines and purges of the 1930s. Following Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, she and her family also experienced the Romanian occupation of Transnistria (western Ukraine) under Nazi supervision, beginning in August 1941. The feared Nazi SS established its area headquarters in nearby Selz, and existing records point to SS executions of Jews, Communists, and other political “unreliables” in the Kutschurgan Enclave. In early 1943, during the Nazis’ last great military conscription drive in the war, Emma’s husband and two younger brothers, like many young men in Kandel and surrounding German villages, were conscripted into the military wing of the SS (Waffen-SS).

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.

As the war turned against Hitler, the SS transferred a total of approximately 350,000 ethnic Germans from Nazi-occupied Ukraine to Nazi-annexed Poland between August 1943 and July 1944. The SS ordered the evacuation of Emma’s village on March 19, 1944. The more than 3,500 Kandelers had to make the long march on foot and by wagon and train for many hundreds of miles through Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. On May 22, 1944, after a two-month exodus, they arrived by train in Lodz, Poland.

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