Interview with Anette Bamesberger (AB)
Conducted by Ronald Vossler (RV)
24 February 2002, Lodi, California
Transcription by Beth Freeman
Editing and proofreading by Peter Eberle and Reverend Marvin Hartmann
Prairie Public Collection
RV: Any kind of other memories of the time that you can tell so people will understand? I’m thinking about the grandkids - they won’t know about this world that you came out of.
AB: Well, my name is Anette Bamesberger; my maiden name was Schaffert. And my mom, Ida Schaffert and Jacob Schaffert. Mom was born in March of 1905 and Dad was born in September 1904. And we lived in our house until about 1937, in Hoffnungstal. They had then thrown my parents out of the house. And it was the - well, the government, the police they came. And they told us we had to leave the house. I was about three years old, well, a little older. And my brother, he was a preemie - he was a seventh-month baby. And he was really small and mom had to leave, she couldn’t even take diapers or anything. We left the house with just the clothes on the body. And our relatives were not allowed to take us in. But we did go to my grandfather, my mom’s dad. And I, I remember this, you know, when you’re a child, you can’t comprehend what, uh, the parents are going through. But Mom had this little baby. She threw herself down on the pile of straw which we were using to heat the house or cook with. And it was in the kitchen. Grandpa was sitting on the chair, and she threw herself on the straw and said, “I haven’t got nothing anymore but my two children.” And as Mom was - as they were leaving the house, there was a man from our home town, and he whispered to Momma as she was leaving, “Come back at night, I’ll put” - our ham, it was a big ham, you know, not like you buy them now. It was a big ham. He says, “I’ll put something through the window, on the roof, come and get it.” So, at night, when Momma went, we got that ham.
RV: Why did they throw your mother out?
AB: Well, they had picked up my grandpa, who was a successful farmer. And my father was the oldest son, so they came after him. And then they put Dad in jail. Grandpa was gone already. And -
RV: I guess we’re talking about why they - why they threw people out.
AB: Yeah. I do remember when they took my dad. It was - we had heard they were going to take the men - that they had gotten together that night. And then at the certain time over to the bond hole, to the train station. And that they were going to move them. So Mom packed a little, like a suitcase that was a wooden little suitcase that was a set of clothes in there for him and maybe a little piece of the ham to put in, to take along, and I remember how they took him. It was a lot of guys, walking, and I was running on the side, because Mom couldn’t go near. I was running on the side. They were taking my dad to the depot, and Mom had packed a little suitcase, and I was running along on the side next to Dad, and handed it over to Dad. Then we walked for a while and he said I should turn around and go home.
RV: Did the people who were to take them away, did they have weapons?
AB: I guess they did, I don’t remember that. Because there were some police guarding them, to take them back.
RV: And where were they taking the men?
AB: To - well, to Odessa. They were taking them to Odessa to the jail.
RV: And what did those people - why were they taken to jail?
AB: I think they didn’t do nothing [sic]. They just maybe needed that many people, and they would come and pick them up and suggest nothing. They didn’t ask anything, they didn’t need to ask. And we didn’t ask any questions why either. Cause we were scared.
RV: Did you ever hear or feel that this was because of your German background? Was German status a specific problem or was it different with different nationalities?
AB: At my age, I didn’t realize that. But our town was mostly German, so they took just the Germans. So I didn’t realize it at the time, but later on I knew it was because they were Germans. And my parents told me, why they took em, that they were farmers, and they had a little land.
RV: Were there other nationalities in Hoffnungstal?
AB: Yes, we had Russians, and we had a lot of Jews.
RV: Could you talk a little bit about 1937, give us some details of that time?
AB: Well, I was really kinda young at that time, was only eight years old. And really, politics was not spoken; we didn’t know anything about politics. And my dad had come home again, and we were let back in our house, and I can only say, my grandma was deported, she had to go to - leave the county, leave the state. And they [my grandparents] went back to the Krim. And they were not allowed to come home until [ouracenity??? A77]. And Grandpa was taken away again, and the night before he was taken away, that will was stated. We were there, and he said to me I should give him a hug and a kiss and I didn’t do it. And I will never ever forget that. Then that night they came and picked him up, and then they executed him. He was a sick man, he was an old man. Anyway, I thought he was old, he wasn’t probably that old, but to me Grandpa was an old man. And he told me to give him a hug and a kiss. You know how kids are, but I said no, like my grandson does now.
RV: Did they give a reason?
AB: No, they don’t have to give a reason.
RV: Were there other men taken?
AB: That night, they took about 12 men, when Grandpa was taken away. Without reason.
RV: What happened to your grandfather?
AB: I don’t think any of them came home. Whether they were executed or whether they died, none of them came home. And my grandma’s sister and her husband, they were both taken away, and they children were left alone. Relatives had to take the kids then.
RV: There were more then just a few people taken away.
AB: Oh yes, oh yes, there were an awful lot of people taken away. Very few came home. My grandma’s brother, I remember that real well, he was taken away, [Gottlieb SauerA98], and he - they let him free, then for years he was in hiding. And I remember one night he was under our bed. And nobody - I mean, Mom and Dad knew it, but I didn’t know it. And he was kind of moving around a little bit under the bed, you know how low the beds are, he was hiding under there, and we were looking and listening - what is it? And then mom told us, don’t say anything, it’s Uncle [Gottlieb A103]. And we had never - you know, as children you were so scared to talk about, we never told anybody, not even my cousin which I was really close to, I wouldn’t say nothing because Mom told us, “Don’t talk about that.” And Uncle was under - was in the house, they had hid him for weeks. Later on they picked him up anyway and sent him away.
RV: Did you have some of the same experiences - many people in historical records of the Ukraine, died because of lack of food - how did your parents survive, how did they keep you alive?
AB: Well, there wasn’t much food. Mom had to try to save and try to make something out of nothing. You know, they would make sandwiches if they had a little flour and a little oil or something to make soup or something - they were very frugal, very frugal people.
RV: So you pretty much ate anything possible at all.
AB: Anything possible, oh yes. Oh yes. We didn’t have too much, but I was young, I didn’t feel it as much. Mom always tried to give it to the kids first, and then they came. So it was much harder on her.
RV: Were you aware of them taking the grain away?
AB: Well, I know it, but I didn’t really realize that that wasn’t ours. I was too young to realize that that wasn’t my parents work. That, when they came and took everything away. I was - I thought that’s the way life is. But yet we had to give up a room in our house and a Jewish family lived in it, and they would have food, they would have milk, they would have stuff to eat and I would go and cry and say to Mom, “Why can’t I have that?” And she says, “Well, we have to be satisfied with what we have.”
RV: Why was that different? Why did the Jews have more?
AB: Well, they mostly were working in the office with the government, and my parents were farmers, and we just thought, I did, that’s the way it is. And they would, they would tell you, well, they work in office and they get that food, you don’t.
RV: Were these people from your village who were governmental people?
AB: No. No. When the Communists started taking over they brought in a lot of Jewish people and a lot of Russian people came in. They had mostly - they had the jobs, and our parents had to work in the field. I remember Mom had to go and work on the field and we had to go like in a kindergarten, they called it. And we would cry and we didn’t want to go, and she had to chase us there, because she had to go out in the field, and there we got a meal. In school, yes, the government gave us a meal there. When we went to Kindergarten. It was until a certain age.
RV: Are there other memories you have of the 1930s?
AB: No, not really. You mentioned with Walter a funeral. The reason we walked up and down the street was where you lived. If you lived uh, three, four, five streets away from the cemetery, it took us to walk up and down the street. But what we usually did was we had the casket in the house, and that’s what the funeral started, and then we would walk down to one corner and the bells would - I still remember them in the early years. The bells would ring, the church bells. And people would stop there, and maybe sing a song. They would sing ["So nim meine hende," So, und?? B152] like, whatever their favorites were, but those were most of the favorites that people knew by heart, because they did not take - you couldn’t have the church books and stuff at home. They were hiding or they burned them or the Russians came and they took them away.
RV: Did you have church services separate from the church then? Like at home?
AB: Well, my grandma used to tell us about God, and she used to tell us some things, would teach us how to pray. My parents were scared. You were not allowed to talk about God. So Grandma would tell us stories. And when the holidays came, she would tell us, uh, that this was Christmas, and what Christmas was about and what Easter was about, but - that was the only place we heard.
RV: Tell the story of [unintelligible] coming to Lodi.
AB: Ok. We had the uncle and the aunt here in Lodi, that’s why we came to Lodi. And um, we were looking for - Joanne was born already and we wanted to be close to our babysitter and then we looked at this part of town, and we went over there, there was a duplex and the couple showed it to us. It was a one bedroom, it was a small apartment, but with our income it was a little bit pricey, and I said to Walter, “Gee, I like it. It’s nice and clean, and here we would stay awhile if they would give it to us for $35.” And then the man looked at me and says, “Well, if you want it for $35, you can have it.” I didn’t know they were German and I just whispered to him in German - I didn’t realize they would understand it, I didn’t know their name.
RV: You said that all in German, could you say that in German now?
AB: Oh, [German words B183]. Then, uh, they said in German, he said that, [More German B184]. That means that we can stay and we stayed there and then we ended up buying the duplex, and we ended up living there for a few years.
RV: So Lodi, there were a lot of people from Hoffnungstal in Germany, did it feel like home?
AB: Well, when we - there was an old man, he was from Hoffnungstal. But he had lived in Turtle Lake, and then he came down to Lodi. When he met us, he shook Walter’s hand, and he says anybody from Hoffnungstal is a friend of mine, and he had a five dollar bill and he gave it to Walter and that was - all what we got from anybody when we came down here. This was the only man who gave it to us, but he said to Walter, “You’re from Hoffnungstal; you’re a friend of mine. A relative of mine.” And it turned out to be a relative. And he was my Aunt Margaret Woehl's neighbor. That’s how come we met him. Our children always called him [Wallafather B197] because his wife had passed away, and he would come a lot and he would ask [Kochstrudler? B199] and then I would cook strudel, or the dumplings, or something from home and he would come, and he would - we're still friends with all of his children who live here in Lodi. He’s got about - five? No, but I mean the Heinz, and the [Wallafather B203] is dead, but five of his children are still in Lodi and we’re friends with them
RV: They came from Turtle Lake, then?
AB: Yes, they came from Turtle Lake. Yeah, he was born in Hoffnungstal and he was a man, too, he was in the service, in the Russia army. Yeah, he was in the Russian army. And there was a Jewish man, he got befriended with, and the man said to him, “Michael, if you want to go to America, go, because it’s time.” And he says, “Well I don’t have any money.” And he says, “You have a farm. Sell it.” And he went home and he talked to his wife. He was in the service, he was just about to be released, yah, and he said to his wife, this man says this, he says, “I don’t have any relatives over then that I should go to,” and he says, “I’ll fix it.” And he sent him to Turtle Lake, he had fixed all his papers and everything, see none of us knew anything that - the war was coming. The First World War, mm-hmm. And he said, “There’s going to be a war,” he told him, “And if you can get out, get out.” And they went home and he talked to his wife, and they sold everything, and he said that man, that Jewish guy had everything arranged, when he came to New York there was somebody and he had the tickets for him to go there, and to go there, and everything was prepared. Then what we did.
RV: [To quiet to hear]