Germans Describe Hardships of Life in Siberia
Tschaekofske, Cora Wolff. "Germans Describe Hardships of Life in Siberia." Dickinson Press, 10 August 1997, sec. 6B.
Choir here for concerts
(Cora Wolff Tschaekofske is a native of Golden Valley. She grew
up in a German-Russian family speaking the German language. Cora was
married to the late Otmer Tschaekofske. They ranched and farmed
near Golden Valley for 43 years.)
In Stuttgart, Germany, there is a well-known choir, the "Heimatklaenge
Chor." The word Heimat means "Home" and the choir
group sings songs of the homeland, because every member of the choir
has long been in search of a place that they can truly call "Home."
They performed between July 18-27 including Jamestown, Streeter,
Strasburg, Bismarck and Dickinson. Their final concert performance
in North Dakota was at St. Mary's Church, Assumption Abbey, Richardton,
on Sunday, July 27. The concert tour of North Dakota was arranged
by Michael M. Miller, Germans from Russia Bibliographer, NDSU Libraries,
To have been privileged to hear this choir was a pleasing occasion
beyond description. These ethnic Germans who immigrated in recent
years from the former Soviet Union including Siberia, Kazakhstan,
Ukraine and Moldova, at long last are living in Germany. For them
life has been a series of brutal uprooting. These people, their
parents and grandparents had lived in the German villages in southern
Ukraine region near Odessa on the Black Sea. They became victims
of Russian Communistic rule. They were robbed and ruined by the
thousands simply because they were honest, hardworking farmers and
peasants who had long enjoyed a reputation of being industrious
To have had the opportunity to visit with the choir members and
to hear them tell of the fate that befell them, gives one a new
appreciation of the freedom we enjoy in America.
Iilia Schwelkert, a 61 year old choir member, who was born in Neu
Kronental, Ukraine, cannot remember ever seeing her father who was
"verschlept" (seized from his home) during the Stalin
regime when she was only two years old. They never saw nor heard
from him again. Her mother with two little daughters were returned
to Germany during the Hitler era, then relocated again to a village
in Russia. Then along with about 30 village families they were loaded
on sleds and transported to Siberia where they were dumped into
the cold of winter and snow. She described it as "snow below
and sky above."
They were given three barrels of fish and some flour. All were
forced by necessity to build huts of snow to survive. The huts often
had to be rebuilt as they melted. Their diet consisted of chowder
made of fish and flour which was carefully meted out in meager portions
to each individual in an effort to keep from starvation. After three
months some hafer and gerste grits (oats and barley grits) was delivered
to them, which too had to be divided and used sparingly and portioned
out each day.
Lydia Schwan Klein was born in Strassburg, a former German village
near Odessa, Ukraine. Strasburg, North Dakota, was founded by German-Russian
immigrants who left the village of Strassburg near Odessa, Ukraine.
Not all families decided to leave these former German villages.
The Kleins and Schwans, who decided to stay behind, later suffered
the tragic fate in their lives. Lydia's daughter, Marina Klein Bauer
(35) is director of the Choir of the Homeland. Marina began her
musical career studying music in Siberia.
Lydia's oldest brother, who at the age of 14 was denied an education,
worked to help his mother support the family. Together they worked
like slaves in the Siberian forest in all situations of brutally
cold temperatures. Lydia herself was fortunate enough to be able
to attend school because she was an excellent student. She attended
an evening course and succeeded in becoming a bookkeeper.
Also in the choir are members of the Clemens and Amalie Martin
family who lived in Siberia for 51 years. Clemens labored in the
gold mines for little pay and with the resulting ailment of gold
dust in his lungs. Their income now is a meager pension, plus whatever
earning Amalie obtains by being a "Puttsfrau" (cleaning
Every choir member can relate similar episodes of their lives.
Together they can now enjoy their new-found freedom in Germany.
Lydia Schwan Klein expressed her thankfulness to Germany for having
welcomed them to return so that they might have a homeland.
Finally, the Choir of the Homeland returned to Germany with many
new friends in North Dakota, many photographs, and unforgettable
Eugen Schwan, Stuttgart, Germany; Cora
Wolff Tschaekofske, Dickinson; Ramona Wolff Sailer, Hazen; and
Lydia Schwan Klein, Stuttgart, Germany, become acquainted at
the German-Hungarian Club, Dickinson.
Reprinted with permission of the Dickenson Press.