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 July 2009, 12.
(Editor’s Note:  This is the twenty-fifth and final installment of Eric Schmaltz’s history of the John Schmaltz family.  The author wishes to thank editors Allan Burke and Tim Haas for their kind assistance in preparing the series.)

Scattered Across the Expanses

The first and only Schmaltz family reunion held in Linton, North Dakota, in the summer of 1985.  Standing here were John Sr.’s surviving children and their spouses.  Front row (left to right):  Clara and Leo Schall, Agatha Truax.  Back row (left to right):  Michael, Mary Heer, Cra, Eunice and Leo, Doc and Agnes, Eva, and Hugo.

In July 2006, I presented a paper on the topic of the Ukrainian Germans’ evacuation to Nazi-occupied Poland toward the end of World War II, including Emma (Schmalz) Rieger’s dramatic story, to the Iowa Wild Rose Chapter of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia (AHSGR) in Des Moines. My parents had come down from north Iowa to attend, but there in the audience was Prof. Amy Deibert from Ames, Iowa. Earlier that summer, Amy had read the AHSGR announcement of my talk and decided to contact me about my upcoming paper as well as my family background.

Amy was born in South Dakota.  Her paternal grandmother was a Schmaltz. These Schmaltzes also came from Kandel, Ukraine, to the United States around the turn of the last century. Subsequently, Amy and I determined that we were fourth cousins, sharing the same ancestor Josef Schmalz, who went to Russia in 1808. We even discovered that we share the same Fischer ancestors from the neighboring village of Selz.

The highlight of my Des Moines talk occurred at the end, when Amy stepped forward to present me with a small souvenir from the old country—a tiny piece of Kandel’s former St. Michael’s Catholic Church. Amy had visited the former Kutschurgan villages just a couple of years earlier. As I held this memento, I realized at that instant that the once great church, built in 1892, had undergone drastic and terrible changes and turmoil under Communism following Great-grandfather’s departure. The Soviets had torn down the steeple in 1935, but St. Michael’s still stood, a shell of its former self. Today, it is used for coal storage. This precious relic of a distant time and place remains a personal treasure and reminder of all those Schmaltzes who preceded me. I will carry it with me to pass on to the next generation at the appropriate time.

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 shards of the now decrepit Kandel church, which Amy and I now preserve, suggest the remarkable continuation of a great human drama that really has no end. In that spirit, I have brought together here countless story fragments about the Schmaltz family. These people have traversed more than half the earth over the past two centuries, and they continue to scatter far and wide. You might never know where to expect them. Yet their long and winding trail reminds all Germans from Russia—indeed, all peoples and creeds—about how all our stories have coalesced to create an amazing human portrait on the northern prairies.

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