Growing Up in Glueckstal, South Russia
By Friedrich Gross, Sontheim, Germany, January, 2004
Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
To: Prof. Michael M. Miller
When I looked at an issue of "Volk auf dem Weg" and, as is my habit, leafed through it from the back forward, and saw the picture of the church in Glueckstal, I couldn't believe my eyes and I read what had been printed below the picture. I woke up! And I tried to figure out how you, Mr. Miller, succeeded in taking a picture of the church in Glueckstal when you had to come from so far away!
When I came into this world on May 12, 1930, born to my mother Maria Gross, nee Walth, and my father Johann Gross, all hell was breaking out, as I was told later on by my parents.
I lay on my mother's lap, naked and uncovered. Work was no longer that of our home, but in the sovchos --the collective. Grandmother took care of me so that my parents would be able to work in the sovchos to earn bread for me. For my parents I was a pain, and hunger and illness came about, too. Many came to my father, many went "home" forever.
Thanks to God and my parents we survived it. The time I attended school is still strong in my memory. The school stood behind the church, on the right. Class grades 4 through 7 were taught there, and on the West side, in the same school building, they taught grades 8, 9 and 10.
Behind the school there was a sports field. Above the church, where the tree stood (were there still trees there in front of the church entrance?), across the main street, was the parish office. The broad large street was called "Schwanzgasse" ["Schwanz" means "tail," as of an animal, and "Gasse" is a street.] It was called that because the animals had to be off the street by sunup.
The street was 2 km in length, stretching from the Schelaberg [a specifically named hill] down to the valley, where the road led to Grigoropol. Across the broad street from the church was the elementary school. In front of the East entrance to the "Lustgarten" [a park], a statue of their "god" Lenin was erected, and at the school they put up Stalin, and at the parish office they put up
Voroshilov behind a wall.
All three became visible after sunup, but the people, and most of us students, too, didn't look at them. Secretly, among the folks, they were known as The Three Gods on Earth, but you first had to look over your shoulder to see who was coming -- that's how strongly the people had been driven to fear.
To the right of the church entrance there was a dance floor where the brass band used to play. Those girls and boys who went there were said to be against Stalin! Nobody, though, set foot inside the church. On the western side of the church there was the path toward the cemetery. Pretty green bushes were growing next to the path, and where the cemetery started there was a beautiful wall-like lavender hedge.
In September of 1938 the bell tower was torn down, the cross lay on the ground near the entrance, the tin [probably from the roof] lay on the West side, and the smashed organ was all over the East side. During recess we kids were crying, "Why did someone destroy our church?"
Everything had crashed down until all the pieces had been thrown to the ground. People and kids just shook their heads, because you couldn't say anything or you would immediately have been accused of being against Stalin.
In school we were forced to learn Russian! From grades 1 to 3, and (learn) Moldovan on top of it all, while before that only Schwabian was heard in school and in every yard and home. For us kids that was a catastrophe. People told us that we'd be as dumb as the sheep here in our yard.
And now, when father comes with his whip, you don't know Schwabian nor German, and no Russian. We always told the older people, "say "Russich," not "Ruschschich!" And so the older folks became afraid that the grandchildren would eventually sell them off somewhere because they couldn't understand them anymore.
Their church was taken from them, and instead they were "taught" by the community government, so people were saying, well, maybe there will come another time when another generation will be freed once again. The ministers were put in jail or killed, so who is supposed to baptize them?! [Next sentence is not clear.]
So the people will be running around no longer knowing anything about the faith, not even whether you're Lutheran or Catholic or Baptist or Seventh Day; everything will get mixed up so that no one will know what you really are! Many a believing man would say, be patient, the Bible tells us otherwise, and when those days come, the Communists will lose their heads along with their hats, and we'll all be doing well again.
But what actually happened was that during the first week in July of '41 a German [plane] flew over the village and even hit the upper school. Nobody said whether any people were buried under the rubble. But everyone knew that it (the school) would be rebuilt!
So now we had to study from the Bible, until Christmas time, and then came Latin and writing with a slate and stylus. The way our elders sometimes wrote -- it was a bit laughable, but it was clear to everyone that paper was scarce. It took three years till the Russians received help from the Amis [Americans].
Finally, the young boys who had been inducted to the service by the Germans before the end of the war said to us: Get your own wagons ready! And so all the Germans in the Black Sea region clearly knew that the Germans were for us only a dream and that the time had to come when we would have to leave our homes and our farms, yes, our beautiful nut trees, and get out of the country.
On August 1 the church door had reopened, and our people once again had their free church, children were being baptized and confirmed. All those, too, who had grown up during the Stalin years. People got married, and children came along, life got better, and people began to laugh and have fun again.
But on March 18, 1944, we left our village forever, and the wordGlueckstal ceased to be. And we young people learned that we were in astrange land called the German Reich.
Dear Prof. Miller, because you succeeded in visiting the Glueckstal colonies I decided hereby to write a little about those old times. I am the son of Maria and Johann Gross, and my name is Friedrich Gross.
With friendly greetings from Schwabish Country.
Addendum of footnotes and other observations based on research by Margaret Aman Freeman and Janice Huber Stangl:
In our 2002 trip to Glueckstal, we had the impression that the building north of the Church was the "upper" school, while the elementary school was in the former Glueckstalgebiet offices to the East - the building that the current village administration recently tore down, where the tea can "time capsule" was found. It is entirely possible that the buildings were used differently in 1944.
The plane did not land on the school. The school was hit by a bomb dropped by the German plane. If this event did occur, and I have no reason to doubt Friedrich's story, the building had been repaired by 1944 when the Russians came back. However, we have seen a June 1944 aerial photo purchased from the United States Archives which shows that both the school building and the "Teachers' quarters" building north of the Church had no roof and appeared to be burned out. That is not the case with the church itself, which has its roof intact on the photo.
The roofs of the Gebiet headquarter/school building were also intact, as were those of the former Parsonage and the "Store" building south of it.
Johann Bollinger in "Marienberg, Fate of a Village," used the spelling "Kolchos" for a collective farm (this is a transliteration used by the German people -- Alex Herzog). Sometimes they simply say "collective."
The dates of the church steeples and bells being torn down probably varies from village to village. Certainly 1938 was in the midst of the Terror years. Johann Bollinger writes that 1938 was the year the German school in Marienberg was closed. Johann says that in Marienberg the church was closed in the early thirties; the bells and bell tower were taken down and the church building converted into a school house.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.