Our Family History
Presentation to the Germans from Russia Club, Regina, Saskatchewan
Prepared by Josef Tuchscherer, November, 1995
A. Historical Background
1. Emigration of two Duchscherer brothers from Beinheim, canton of Seltz, district of Weissenburg, Alsace, France. Dionysius and Christopher Duchscherer arrived with their families in Russia on October 1, 1808. They settled in the village of Mannheim which was part of the Kutschurgan Colony. There is a gap in our family history from this 1811 census and 1891.
2. Founding of Colelia, Dobrudscha, in 1878-1880
-1876-1877 Russia-Turkish war
-A few families from Krassna and other German towns in southern Russia move into Rumania and eventually settle in the former Turkish village called Colelia.
-First settlers lived in primitive shelters; eventually erected houses along central Main Street.
-Emigrations from Colelia to Canada and South America in 1906-1913,1930, partly due to poor location and climate of Colelia.
-WWI: Both my grandfathers perish.
B. Life in Colelia before Repatriation of 1940
1. By 1940 Colelia was a German, Catholic village of about 80 families. It was located about 50 km west of the Black Sea harbor city of Konstanza and 50 km east of the Danube.
2. House construction
-Blocks of clay-straw mixture and stone fences
-Work-day: Sun-up to sun-set, Monday to Saturday
-Crops: grains, corn, sunflowers and other oil crops, vineyards. Garden: vegetables, melons, fruit trees, including peaches and apricots.
-Livestock: horse, cattle, sheep, geese, ducks, and chickens Community shepherds took sheep and cows to the pasture in the morning and returned them at night.
-Harvest: grains by stone boat, some by machine, grapes brought in by wagon, crushed and placed in barrels; wine yeast used to make yeast patties for baking. Corn was brought home and stalks were separated from cobs. These cobs would then be husked with the help of neighbors in a bee.
-Surplus grain was brought by horse and wagon to be sold in the nearest major commercial centre which was Cogelac, about 12 km from Colelia.
-Each family brought its own grain to the flour mill, had its own canola seeds processed for oil, and had its grape mash distilled into alcohol.
-Colelia had a small general store, including groceries.
-Resident shoemaker, cabinet maker, and smith served the needs of the community.
-Travelling Rumanian and Bulgarian merchants passed through town selling fruit, fish, and household items.
-Private transportation consisted of horse and wagon.
-A weekly bus passed within a kilometer of Colelia and served as a connection to the more distant destinations such as Konstanza.
6. Health Care
-There was no resident doctor. Bessel Anna was the community mid wife and general dispenser of advice and home-made herbal teas and ointments when sickness struck.
-Doctors were only visited as a last resort because most families could not afford their fees. There were instances where a doctor took the family farm in lieu of the fees if the family could not pay the fees.
7. Religious Life
-In the Roman Catholic Colelia, the priest, Father Polgari, was the central authority figure. In addition to priestly functions he was the teacher until the late 1920's. He was strict; used physical punishment in confession in church and as a teacher in school He played a role in selecting boys and girls to the religious life.
-In the early 1930's the village constructed a new church.
-No work was done on Sundays and Feast days. Church bells called parishioners to the Sunday Mass and the afternoon Vesper Service.
-The Angelus bell at 6 AM and 6 PM called everyone to prayer at home or in the field.
-On Corpus Christie Main Street was lined with tree branches. The total congregation, led by priest carrying the monstrance, made a procession through town and worshipped at the four altars. Young girls walked ahead of the Eucharist, spreading flower petals on the street.
-Easter: Holy Thursday to Saturday Mass servers announced church services with rattles. Midnight Mass was actually at midnight.
8. Social Life
-In the small town everyone knew everyone else and took an active part in their affairs. If a mother needed help with children, she simply asked a neighbor or relative for the assistance of an older child. If misfortune struck a family, neighbors and relatives of their own accord gave support. Field work was done by members of the village, if the father of a family was ill or was drafted into the army. To go visiting in the evening, "maje gehn", one did not wait for an invitation; everyone was always welcome. Every adult in the village felt a responsibility toward every child in the village, including administering discipline, when necessary. Children addressed every adult as "Vetter" and "Bessel" or "Wes".
-The influence of the church pervaded all social activities. All attended church services. After Sunday Mass the women returned home to prepare the meal. The men would visit over a game of bowling at the back of Vetter Anton's store. Young, single people visited in groups in the afternoon, and, after obtaining permission from Father Polgari, might have a dance outdoors or in someone's home. After dark girls were not allowed to leave home but the boys did congregate and might sing on the street corner.
-On Christmas Eve a group of young people brought the Christmas pageant to most homes. St. Joseph, Mary, dressed as the "Christkindel", a few shepherds, and the manger with a doll as the baby Jesus, made up the group. After a brief recital the girl dressed as "Christkindl" called each child forward to receive a gift, usually some candy and a piece of fruit, such as an apple. When this group left, to the horror of the children the "Belzebub" might come in. He was dressed in a fur coat turned inside out, and a belt consisting of a chain from which dangled a few cow bells. Belzebub would ask the parents if any of the children had been bad in the past year and elicit from any child called forward the promise to be good in the future.
-It was customary for the god-child to go to his sponsor's home to wish him a "Happy New Year" and accompany the wish with the bang of a capsule pistol. In turn, the child might receive a gift of a coin or a candy.
-A suitor, accompanied by his friends, would come to the home of his girl and salute his sweetheart with a shotgun blast.
-In the afternoon of Holy Saturday the altar boys who since Holy Thursday had announced the Angelus and worship times with rattles, collected from each home some baking or other food. This would later be consumed in a party.
9. Personal memories of Colelia ("snapshots")
- Christkindl and Belzebub, New Year's wish, Corpus Christie.
- Carrying a water melon.
- The large mulberry tree in the yard of Vetter Natz and the taste of the fruit.
- Eating the flowers of the Acacia trees.
- Vetter Jakob marked my right shoe with a square of needle holes.
- Going with Dad after Mass to the bowling lane and getting a candy.
- Dad taking me along to the distillery and to the oil processing plant.
- The dancing bears.
- Wedding dance: The accordion player sitting on a chair on top of a table in the corner of a noisy room crowded with dancers. On the window there was a plate full off round cookies with a centre hole and red icing.
- In a funeral procession a lady cried in despair, collapsed, and had to be supported by some members of the procession.
- In school being in a panic before getting the needle.
- My first ice cream cone in Konstanza.
- Last event: My upset, expressed with loud crying, when the man took our bench on his wagon.
C. World War II: Resettlement and Repatriation
1. 1938-1939 German students register members of each family and their property.
2. Emigration on November 20, 1940. Everything was left behind; a limit was placed on the amount of baggage each family could take along. German authorities promised compensation for all properties left behind. Buses took the population to the train, and then the journey to Austria continued on the Danube. A train brought us to Bavaria east of Frankfurt.
3. The 80 families were split into two groups: One group was housed in the convent in the town of Luelsfeld, the other in the missionary school of St. Ludwig. We lived there until the resettlement in July 1942. Life during this time was stressful due to the living conditions. About a dozen families, many with small children, lived in one large room. It was impossible to sleep through the night since there were always one or more children crying. There was no privacy with bunk beds separated hardly three feet. Institutional meals were served in a hall. The men worked in factories Monday through Friday and so saw their families only during the weekends. During this time we were also given our German citizenship.
4. Resettlement in Poland
In July 1942 the Colelia families were transported to Poland and each family placed as manager of a farm. The farms were several kilometers apart, so families were isolated.
An inventory was made of each farm and a production quota was set by the German authorities on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis. The former Polish owners of the farms were forced to work as farm laborers for the German managers.
Dad and most of the other able-bodied men were drafted into the army after Christmas 1942, leaving the women to manage the farms. Many men from our village, including my mother's only brother, fell in the fierce Russian battles, especially near Stalingrad. Dad was fortunately assigned to the occupation forces in Norway, where he spent the rest of the war.
My only sibling, my sister Maria, was born on the Polish farm. Like the babies in Colelia, she was delivered by Colelia's midwife, Bessel Anna, right in our farm home.
The German penal system: An example-one of our cows delivered a still-born calf. Leo, one of our Polish workers, reported this to my Mother and asked for permission to save the meat of the dead calf for his family. Mom agreed. Later, when Mom reported the birth of the stillborn calf to the German supervisor, a team of investigators came to the farm and eventually accused Leo of intentionally killing the calf. Leo was immediately taken to prison, where he spent 6 months.
Leo had been a tall, strong man in his forties when he left. When he returned from Prison he seemed to have aged 20 years. He had lost much weight, his face was wrinkled, dark circles marked his eyes, and he walked with a cane. His description of the tortures at the hands of his German prison guards was upsetting.
Personal memories of Poland
a) Leo's return from Prison
b) Defense trenches on our farm
c) Learning to ride the bicycle and visiting Grandma
d) "Feind hoert mit" silhouettes on buildings
e) In school making paper tanks and airplanes as art work
f) Sending string-connected l00 gram parcels to Dad in the army
5. The flight in 1945
a) Censorship prevented news about the state of the war. We were forbidden to make any preparations for an escape to the west in case of a German retreat. At 3 AM on January 18, 1945 Mom was notified that we must leave immediately as the Russian army was only a few kilometers to the east. After spending most of the day preparing the wagon with the help of one of our Polish workers, while Mom was packing food and some of our belongings, we joined the wagon train which had been passing our farm all day. On our wagon were Mom, my 13-month old baby sister, myself and our Polish worker and his old mother. It was a cold winter day; the temperature was well below zero and the highways were covered with ice from the previous day's freezing rain.
b) All night we traveled with the wagon train that stretched in front and behind us as far as the eye could see. After midnight our driver decided to pass the wagons ahead of us. On the icy road surface the horses had very little traction, so when the iron-clad wagon wheels started to slip into the deep ditch, our wagon upset. A group of German soldiers who happened to pass by smashed the wagon to pull us out. The old Polish mother was dead. The soldiers placed us on a nearby wagon driven by two young men, since our wagon was inoperative. At this scene we lost all our belongings, which lay strewn about in the forest by the soldiers during the rescue attempt. My mother sent me to bring a little suitcase containing some cash and valuable papers. I failed to find it in the dark, so we left that scene with no more than the clothes on our backs.
When we arrived that morning at the next town, Altburgund, the wagon train made one of its frequent stops. My Mother left my baby sister with me to get some food and blankets at a nearby Red Cross station. While she was gone the wagon train started moving. I pleaded with the boys to wait for Mom, but they kept moving, saying that Mom would catch up with us shortly. However, Mom was gone and the hours passed by. As a 9-year-old boy I was not able to look after my baby sister properly, especially since we had neither food nor dry clothing or diapers. The baby was wet, cold, and hungry. We both cried most of the day, as I looked in vain all around for Mom.
When Mom left the Red Cross station to return to us, she realized that the wagon train had moved on. She ran past the wagons, with the hope of catching up with us, with no success. The bitter cold and the icy road surface made progress exhausting. She tried to catch a ride with a passing army truck, but the truck kept moving. They were totally exhausted and desperate. Mom positioned herself in the passing lane in front of an approaching small passenger’s car. The driver, an army officer, stopped. Not accepting a "NO" for an answer, Mom was given a ride to a point where there was an intersection at the edge of a town. Here Mom watched for us on every wagon that passed. Finally, at dusk she spotted us on the wagon. None of us will ever forget that day.
Images during Flight
a) Highway ditches lined with upset wagons, clothing and other personal belongings.
b) I pick up a green army coat
c) Crashed airplanes and army vehicles in fields
d) Soldiers and prisoners marching past the wagon train
e) The distant thunder and flashes of the front a few kilometers behinds
d) By getting rides on other wagons we eventually arrived in Berlin. Overloaded trains and constant aerial attacks kept us there for three days. Much of the time was spent rushing to underground bunkers to the wailing of the sirens. From Berlin Mom sent a telegram to Dad notifying him that we were going to Luelsfeld.
e) Luelsfeld: The last stages of war
We eventually left Berlin by train in freight cars and arrived back in Luelsfeld, which we had left in 1942. Through the mayor we were placed in the home of the farm family, Friedrich. In Luelsfeld we experienced the last stages of the war.
a) Around the town there were 9 large craters left by bombs that had fallen before we arrived. During February and March we ran for shelter many times as the drone of bombers passed threateningly overhead. We passed these moments in prayer.
b) Aluminum strips fell from the sky.
c) Almost daily German army vehicles and troops passed through town in retreat.
d) School was closed due to the constant threat of bombing raids.
e) Mom's train to Gerolzhofen is stopped and strafed by American fighters.
f) The town placed a token barrier across the road outside town to retard the progress of the American army.
g) March 16, 1945: Wuerzburg is bombed and burned.
h) The Americans arrive; white flags are hung from every house.
i) A lone bomber is fired on by the Schweinfurt guns.
6. Luelsfeld 1945-1950
a) Dad returns from the army on Nov.1, 1945.
b) We move from Friedrichs to Bauers. Germans were forced to take in refugees as tenants. We worked for the Bauers without pay, but paid no rent. Work was hard manual labor. Days were long. Food was basic and unsanitary.
c) Since we did not have an income, Dad, after working for a few months for Bauers, decided to find work. He found work at a saw mill first, then with the American army, and as a construction laborer in the city of Wuerzburg. He worked there till our emigration to Canada in 1952.
d) Post-war economy
The collapse of the 3rd Reich left the German economy in ruin. The Reichsmark was useless. The black market and bartering were the means of doing business. Consumer goods were in short supply; the government issued coupons to ration both food and goods. My Mother made several trips on foot to the next major shopping centre just to buy a cooking pot for which she had made an application.
e) During the first few years after the war, in Luelsfeld,typhoid fever broke out and many people, including teenagers, died.
f) In the months after the war live ammunition and live bombs, "Blindgaenger", were found in the woods and in the country side. Several children lost limbs when they found and played with live ammunition. In 1948 a live bomb was found near Luelsfeld. It was the size of an acetylene tank.
7. Wuerzburg 1950-1952
a) The post-war housing shortage in Germany was acute. Dad was eventually fortunate in locating a section of a barrack which was part of a temporary refugee housing camp. He partitioned and finished the interior and we moved into our own living quarters in 1950, the first time we lived in a space we could call "our home" since 1945 in Poland.
b) Between 1950 and 1952 Dad worked as construction laborer as Wurzburg was rebuilt. Mom found part-time work as house keeper.
c) The search for a future The post-war situation in Germany was not an encouraging one for refugees. The prospects for a secure future for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people looked poor. In this climate emigration offered hope for a better life away from war and its aftermath. Mom and Dad accepted Dad's sister's invitation to come to Bienfait. We left Germany on December 9, 1952 and arrived in Bienfait on December 22.