Hoffnungstal, Bessarabia

Written in the German language by Rudolf Hofer in 1983

Translation from German to English by Frieda (Hofer) Schlecht, Gackle, North Dakota

Edited by DarEll T. Weist, Pasadena, California

This article was written by our uncle Rudolf Hofer with parts added by Reinhold Singer who is married to Dad’s sister. This article came about when Rudolph’s youngest son asked his Dad to document all that he could remember about Hoffnungstal.  Rudolph put an ad in the paper called the “Mitteidungsblatt.”  Rudolph asked for pictures and memories of Hoffnungstal.  The result was amazing. This article is based on the information from the people who responded and includes Rudolf’s own memories of the Homeland.

Hoffnungstal was the name of the village in Bessarabia where we used to live.  It lay idyllically in a flat valley named ‘Karadai”, surrounded by rolling hills. Through it flowed a small river called ‘Karadai’ (we called it a creek) which ran into the Black Sea.

Hoffnungstal was a beautiful village which does not exist anymore.  Grain, grapes, fruit trees were raised there.  Also horsemanship was practiced.  The Village stood proud with its beautiful one level houses and farm places. Now there is nothing left not even the Church, where once 2,221 people of German descent lived.  In October 1, 1940 everyone left and immigrated to Germany. The former residents of Hoffnungstal were scattered all over Germany even as far as Poland. After World War II families found each other and settled in many areas throughout Germany. (Rudolf Hofer and family settled in Fabergau because its many Vineyards and rolling hills reminded him of his Homeland.)

Hoffnungstal – Bessarabia belonged once to Russia, then to Romania and then to again to Russia and finally to a Russian Republic called Moldova.  In all of that time the people remained German.

Now that everything is open and permission has been granted by the Moldova for visitation, many of our people have made a trip to Bessarabia.  Rudolf decided that he did not want to but would rather remember the village of his Homeland the way it used to be.

At the time of this writing (1983) many years have passed since the Hofer family left a home proud to be called their own with 8 beautiful horses, a barn and well taken care of land and Vineyards .

(In Germany Rudolf worked in a “melting factory” in Kirachheiese am Neckar.  One child Wern i 4 years old died in Harthau by Chenimetz. Three other were all born in Germany, Gertrude, Werner and Rudi. In Lauffen ani Neckrer, Germany is where Rudi now lives with his family.  He feels at home there, taking walks, riding his bike, and looking at the Vineyards and land. It reminds him of the farm land he once owned and worked in Bessarabia.  They had created a little Germany which had their own German language, church and schools.  But all of this was not without a fight from the Russian and Romanian Governments.

Each year there is a get-together in Stuttgart Germany by the people from Bessarabia. But the numbers get smaller each year due to age and death.  It is over 50 years (1990) since we left our Hoffnungstal which was established in Bessarabia in 1842.)

The main occupation was farming.  They planted a variety of crops: corn, flax, wheat, oats, barley and of course grapes.  All the field work was done by the men with horses and plows and lots of elbow grease.  Manure was dried and used for fuel to heat the houses.  They raised cows, sheep, horses, pigs, chickens, duck and geese.  They baked bread in a large oven in which a dozen loaves were baked at a time.

In the spring before the field work began, all the plows and machinery had to be checked over and fixed if broken.  The wheels on the wagons had to be checked over and oiled.  The farmer was always ready but he had to depend on the weather for seeding to start.

Seeding usually started in March if the earth was free of frost and the ground was dry. Oats was sowed first, than barley, corn, soybeans and sunflower seeds.  The crops were rotated each year. By the end of April all the crops were seeded.  In addition watermelons and pumpkins were planted. The grape plants in the Vineyard were in need of spring care as the branches had to be trimmed. Men from the neighboring non- German Village came to shear the sheep.  After lambing time the sheep went out to the pasture and stayed there during the summer.  The Shepherd was usually a non- German. The cows were gathered after milking time in the morning during the summer months and taken to the pasture.  They returned each evening.

Each spring it was time to trap and drown the ‘erdhase’ a type of Gopher or jumping mouse. This creature would eat the grain both above and below the ground.  It was a mandatory order set by the Village Elders to catch a certain amount of these varmints.

Next came the processing of the manure.  It was removed from the barn stalls and moved to the threshing area where it was packed down every other day with rolling stone until it was 6 -8 cm high.  Then it was cut with a spade into a 30 x30 cm squares. The squares were placed in rows for drying by air and sun. After 10 days the squares were stacked in pyramids for the final drying. It was then placed in a shed and used as fuel to heat the houses during the winter.  Before they dried the manure if it was determined that they had more than enough some of the mature was used as fertilizer in the fields.

Next was the haying time.  This was from the middle of June until the middle of July.

This was also the time for the first grain to be harvested.  First came the winter-wheat, then barley, oats and summer wheat. The grain was cut by a horse drawn machine. It was then raked by the farmer into piles for drying, then in an extended wagon hauled home for threshing.  The grain was unloaded at the threshing floor and spread out with pitch forks.  A pair of horses would then pull a heavy cement stone that would tear and loosen the kernels from the straw.  The stones were followed by a sled which had studded sharp metal knives.  This would cut the straw into smaller pieces which was used for fodder for the animals.  The other straw had to be turned several times by hand.  It was then removed and stacked for bedding for the animals.  The grain was pushed into a pile and cleaned by a hand turned machine called a ‘putzmukle’. It was then stored for winter. 

Fall left still much to be done. Potatoes, vegetables and fruit were planted for the farmers own use, not to be sold.  Then it was time for the Sunflowers.  They were harvested; the heads were beaten with a stick in order to release the kernels or seeds.  This was a family task and usually done in the evening.

The grapes were harvested in September and October. We ate all we could and then the rest would be pressed and made into wine. This was stored in the cellar, along with the barrel of sauerkraut and pickles which was also packed in barrels.

In the middle of September, winter-wheat was planted if the ground was ready. Corn was harvested in mid-October.  It had to be picked by hand and taken home by wagon.  Stripping off the leaves of the corn was always done in the evening in a get together with neighbors and friends. The leaves were used as filler for our mattresses called ‘strocksuck’.  This is what we slept on. An alternative for the corn leaves was straw for mattresses.  The fall plowing continued until the frost came.

In winter the farmer had some rest from the field work.  But the horses and cattle still needed to be fed and cared for.  After Christmas relatives would visit each other often by a sleigh ride to give the horses some needed exercise. Winter was a time when the women and girls did their knitting, crocheting, weaving and embroidery work.

The farmer and his family had to work long hard days but the work was blessed by God.  Often this song was sung. “So it does year in and year out with me and I thank my Lord for it.  I am always in a good mood as I know that Lord is the maker of everything good.”

After World War I according to the “Versailles Treaty” Bessarabia was given to Romania and it stay Romanian until 1940.  All the men and boys who served in the Russian Army during World War 1 and were still alive returned home. Life went back to normal again in time. Everyone took up where they left off. We had Farmers, Blacksmiths, Tailors, Furniture makers, Carpenters, Masons, Shoemakers and Teachers in Hoffnungstal.  We shared the Minister with Klostity which was a neighboring village. The change after World War I in giving Bessarabia to Romania and taking it away from Russia meant that we could keep all that belonged to us.  From 1920-1922 we had good crops. The 1923 winter wheat crop was one of the best.

The art of threshing with threshing stones was called ‘morgenlande’.  Before World War I some of the farmers invested in threshing machines but they missed the husks that were around the grain and had be

In the 1920’s were good years for grapes. These were raised for both eating and making of wine. We had several different kinds but the grape louse destroyed all the plants.     After that the farmers planted an Armenian kind of grape, both red and while.  These grapes were more durable and did not need spraying.  The grape louse did not touch these.  The grapes vines were not trained to climb on trellises, but had to be trimmed each year.   The wine made from the grapes only lasted a year.  Each year new wine was made.  The wine was stored in barrels in the cellar.

1924 and 1925 were not good years.  We had very little rain. In 1926 winter wheat was sparse but barley, oats and corn were good.  In 1926 a lot of pasture was plowed up and that made very good farmland. Watermelon and muskmelon grew well on this new land.

1927 was a catastrophe.  Everything was ripe and ready to be harvested, and then came the storm.  On July 1st, which was a Sunday, a bad hail and wind storm ripped out trees and broke the windows in the houses. Half the village was affected.  The greatest damage was done from the Church to the north end of the village. The southern part of the village had less damage and they were able to save some of their grain.  But the vineyards, fruit trees and a many hectors of crops were damaged.   About 70-80% of the crops were damaged and lost that year.

In 1928 we had little rain, the harvest was meager. Then came the very cold winter of 1928/1929, it was a winter which no one will ever forget.  The Winter Wheat froze. We lost many of the grape plants and fruit trees.  We did not get into the field until April and May but still we had a good crop that year. That year also the grain price was very good.  Then came Black Friday that happened in the United States and it affected the markets in Europe.  In a few months the price of grain dropped. Those low prices lasted until 1933.  1933 was a year good crop year but also too much rain.  The grain did not finish drying and as it laid on piles the kernels started sprouting.  The grapes did not ripen nicely and that gave the wine a sour taste.  It did not produce good alcohol.  So we could only drink it as juice. Our grain which we sold was taken to a neighboring town call Beresina.  This town had a railroad Station.  There was also a drying station established in the town and so we took our grain by house and wagon there to be sold.

1934 and 1935 were still poor years but the grapes were plentiful.  In 1936 we had a good year and from then on the harvest improved and life was better for the farmer and the rest of the people.

In the 1930’s we also planted a bean called ‘Fckenbohneu’.  A bean that was covered with a shell that had sharp stickers on it. This was then grounded up and used as feed for the livestock.   This                     bean was planted in smaller patches. Harvesting it was a tedious job because it had to be handpicked. These ripe balls with stickers attached were hard to pick.  The seed was inside the hulls and the beans stickers were like cactus stickers.  The best time to pick them was early morning to 9 AM because the hulls and stickers were damp and soft from the morning dew. 

In 1936 my brother Eduard and I planted 2 hectors of these beans.  We had a very good crop. The beans were sold for oil and sold at a very good price.  To prepare the beans they had to threshed with a kind of grader rubbing against each to remove the shell from the bean. Then they had to be cleaned and put through a hand driven mill.

In the 1930’s we stared planting soybeans.  In 1936 we planted 6 hectors of these soybeans.       That year the crop and price were good.  They were sold directly to Germany.  The threshing of soybeans was done with rolling stones similar to the threshing of the other grain crops. Soybeans were also a good pre-crop for winter wheat.

1938 was a good crop year for all the grain crops and also Grapes. As far as I remember this was the best crop ever.  During this time things were looking up and everything was going well for the Hoffnungstal farmers. Many could now afford to buy new machinery and plows. In 1938 a group of the farmers, Adolf Schott, Wilhelm Laib, Balthaser Singer, Eduard Hofer and myself took a trip with horse and buggy to a city call Kishinev (Chisinau) and bought new plows and machines.  There was a store in Kishinev which imported machinery from Germany.

In 1939 the crop was good.  Grapes and fruit trees delivered abundantly.   Also potatoes were also plentiful.

Then came 1940. This was the year of transportation to Germany. It took place in early October.  Grain had been harvested but there was no time to harvest the corn, grapes and soybeans.     This was the time all the people from Hoffnungstal and all the German descendants from Bessarabia were transported by the German Military to Germany.

(PS  This article was written by me, Rudolf Hofer in 1983, a former Bassarabien farmer of Hoffnungstal.  In this time people that are 60 years or older will remember the years that have gone by.  I wrote this article to the best of my knowledge.  If I made some errors, please forgive me.  It has been 43 years since we left our homeland.   Rudolf Hofer. Rudy and his wife Emma both lived to be 95 years old.)

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