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, 11 September 2008, 16.

(Editor's Note: This is part eight of Eric Schmaltz's history of the John Schmaltz family.)

Village of Kandel: On the Banks of the Dniester River

The main street of the village of Kandel, Ukraine, in the early 1940s.

The German word for village is Dorf (Dörfer in plural). By the latter part of the nineteenth century, a typical German Dorf in Ukraine had a wide, straight dirt street, with neat rows of houses on either side.

Once the villages were well-established, homes and yard walls were often constructed out of limestone, a local material that was widely available. The lime (a clay-like substance) was baked or sun-dried to make stone blocks for home and wall construction. These houses remind visitors of the adobe structures or stucco buildings often found in the American Southwest. Out of tradition, the Germans often painted their limestone homes in cheerful colors, such as light blue.

The large backyards of each house contained enough space for barns and animals. The typical German village also shared a common pasture for the horses, pigs, cows, and fowl. Along with the main water well, the church, primary school and administrative buildings were located in the heart of the village.

In all four villages along the Dniester-Liman, great orchards lay behind each home. The locale was blessed with many varieties of fruits and vegetables. In particular, villagers raised apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, plums, pears, and wine-grapes. They planted vineyards on the field behind the homes, producing excellent local wines. The fruit orchards expanded in Kandel, more so than in the other villages. For all that, the villagers’ primary livelihood was grain production.

In general, the Germans in Russia lived in villages based on religious denomination. The villages were either predominantly Roman Catholic or Protestant. In rare cases, a German village was divided roughly between Protestants (often Lutheran) and Roman Catholics.

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.

Late nineteenth-century Russian census records for villages like Kandel, however, indicate that small numbers of Orthodox Christians (mainly Slavs) and Jews lived side-by-side in relative harmony with their neighbors in these German-dominated neighborhoods. Some Jews engaged in trade between the villages. In some instances, as a legacy of the Reformation’s wars of religion, German Catholics and Protestants might have expressed more displeasure living next to each other than with Orthodox Christians and Jews. In general, this cultural mosaic within the German villages remained the norm until the brutal Nazi occupation and ethnic cleansing of the early 1940s. In Russia, a degree of economic and cultural interaction occurred between the villagers and outsiders, more so than is generally assumed.

Until around the mid-twentieth century, the main occupation of most Germans in Russia, like their counterparts in the New World, was agriculture. Land ownership and land distribution differed on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, however. Unlike in the United States or Canada, the Germans in Russia lived in actual communities—villages or small towns, or relatively compact cultural enclaves. Thus they were not dispersed among isolated individual farmsteads or townships.

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