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, Fargo.

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 and prosperous.

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 lady).

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 memories.

Lilia Schweikert.
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.

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