“Bessarabia: Homeland in Pictures” appears for the 19th time in the year 1990. We wish you much true enjoyment from your Pictorial Calendar and hope that it will again serve as a pleasant companion through the year 1990.
Those who know of and love our calendars, know that we want to share only documented and worthwhile information about Bessarabia. In this edition we want to report on the manners and customs of the Germans in Bessarabia from the cradle to the grave. We hope that you will derive much true enjoyment from the pictures as well as the text.
Manners, Morals and Customs of the Germans in Bessarabia from the Cradle to the Grave:
The values, morals, and customs in the lifestyles of families, groups of people, and communities are often more than statute paragraphs governing the lives of people.
From 1814 to 1842, twenty-four German communities was established in Bessarabia on settlement territory of about 150,000 ha of land. The immigrants came from various German regions, mainly the South German kingdom of Württemberg, the dukedom of Baden and Schwabia. Others came in a roundabout way through Prussia – the Dukedom of Warschau, Galizien, and Wohlynien, as well as from Austria Ungarn by way of Banat, Batschka and Riebensbürgen. Also from the Cherson area in Russia.
For this reason, at the arrival of the Germans in Bessarabia, universal customs and life styles could hardly be expected.
Two very outstanding facts were the basis of measure of the rapid development and growth of the manners and customs of the Bessarabian Germans:
1. The Immigration Regulations established for the Bessarabian
Germans. Namely “Instructions for internal administration
of government for the new Russian foreign colonies.
2. The strict religious fundamental basics practiced by the Pietists and Chilistas immigrating from Germany.
The public welfare committee and the church were the guardians and protectors of the development of customs and morals as they were practiced in the native land of Germany.
Today I shall attempt to describe the dominant Bessarabian customs and usages from birth to death – from the cradle to the grave – and portray them in simple form as I learned them and lived them.
I shall begin with the family. Marriage is a holy sacrament. The wedding ceremony was an official act that only a pastor or parson could perform. Children were considered a blessing from God. Each married couple had the right to give life to many children. If the wife was pregnant some weeks after the wedding, luck was credited in home. The birth of the child was anticipated with joy and all preparations were timed as to receive the new citizen worthily.
Equipment and supplies for the child consisted of: a child’s bath tub, diapers, navel bandages, a nicely furnished cradle, a baby carriage, a carrying cushion and, not to be forgotten, the blanket.
The child received all the attention in the hour of birth and after. If it was very weak and in danger of dying, it was baptized immediately.
Naming the child was discussed by the family. It is interesting to note how in the time period of 25 years, name giving changed, but also how, consequently, in a family, old good names prevailed. Most common men’s names were Johann, Jakob, Christian, Frederich, Johannes, Michael, Immanuel, Matthäus. The most common names for women were Maria, Christina, Elizabeth, Katharina, Magdalena, Anna-Maria, and Johanna. These name prevailed from the time of immigration to the present. The newer names for men were Emil, Albert, Wilhelm, Eduard, Alexander, Erwin, Arnold, etc. For women: Emma, Else, Ida, Klara, Elfriede, Herta, Hildegard, Irmgard, as in fashion, came and went. Today name giving covers a wide spectrum.
We turn to the birth mother. The delivery took place in the home. Only in the last 10 years was there a Delivery Home in Sarata. In each community there were laymen midwives who were often equal in knowledge and practice to trained midwives. The larger Bessarabian communities we served by professional midwives.
It was customary for the new mother to be tenderly cared for by relatives and good neighbors during her child-bed period. There was the silent agreement that a good “midwife” diet was supplied daily. The first day it was pigeon soup, then chicken soup with chicken and wholesome trimmings. Carrying the food was an affair of honor.
The lucky father also had his special tasks. He faithfully tended to house and yard duties. He received guests and served them proper drinks and food, depending on whether man or woman.
In the first 2 to 3 weeks the new mother was spared from doing hard work. Her first outing was to attend Sunday church services. Then she could go shopping and visiting.
Baptism of the newborn took place as soon as possible. From the old church registers we can establish that it was 2 or 3 days after birth. Two to three weeks at the most. The baptism was performed by the pastor in the church or the parsonage; by a sexton performed in case of need or an Evangelical church member, but subsequent sanction by the pastor was required. The baptismal celebration took place in the home of the parents where the Godparents “Döde” and “Doda” took part with the family and nearest relatives as guests.
The child, carried to the church in a “carrying cushion.” Was dressed in a long baptismal trimmed in fine lace and adorned with a large ribbon bow – blue for boys and pink for girls. Fine little bonnets were worn on the heads of infants. Baptism was always a solemn occasion taken very seriously. Equally serious were the obligations accepted by the godparents. Visual signs of the commitment to the child were the Christmas and Easter gifts to the godchildren until they were confirmed. In most cases a special bonding developed and grew into a lifelong relationship of trust in Döde and Doda.
The children were enrolled in school at the age of seven. Registered were all pupils born from January 1 to December 31 of the corresponding year. Attendance followed summer vacation lasting from June 28 to September 15. While I attended public school and later, Werner School, the vacation days remained the same. They were Christmas vacation from December 20 to January 6. Easter vacation from the Saturday before Palm Sunday to the Sunday after Easter. Summer vacation from June 28 (Johannestag) to September 15.
When I was to enter school, the first World War was still in full force. The German teachers were called into military service and the German schools were closed.
I was born in 1910. My school attendance was not possible. My parents placed much value on my learning to read, write, and do numbers. I received religious instruction at home. During summer vacation, my first schooling came from Eduard Zimmer, a former Werner student. The school room was an empty carpenter shop of Metzger-Kellers. There we learned to read and write. At the end of the war, I entered the second grade.
The school terms were therefore no longer uniform since enrollment was no longer determined by birthdates, but according to a child’s ability to read. Yet soon these war disadvantages disappeared again. The basic schooling lasted seven years and ended with an examination. After four years of public school, one could attend a higher school. For us Bessarabian Germans, it was either the Werner School (a German teacher institution in Sarata), or the German boys or girls high school. Passing an entrance examination was required. Upon graduation from public school, professional training was pursued. Most of the farm boys and girls remained on the parental farm. Since the annexation of Bessarabia and after new land could no loner be acquired in large acreages as before, many sons of farmers learned a trade to earn a living. Especially after 1923. Through the increase of trade and industries many found new rewarding opportunities to earn a living.
The Farmers School was selected by many farm sons and daughters. It made further education possible.
Students of the Werner School and the Boys and Girls High Schools, who left after 4 years found preferred advancement possibilities in the trades and in industry.
As previously stated, the 7 year public school time was ended with an examination. That was true in Rumanian times when our public schools were nationalized. In Russian Czar times, the German colonists of South Russia, with whom we Bessarabians were counted, had German church community schools until the year 1891. These were controlled by the church under the supervision of the minister. In the year 1891, the church community schools were placed under the ministry of Public Enlightenment. The teaching language was then Russian. For German language, only 10 teaching hours out of 28 were allotted.
In spite of the efforts put forth to Russify the colonial schools, the previous church schools remained the places where the German language and the Christian faith were furthered and strengthened.
Regarding customs and tradition, several rules are to be considered without a doubt.
Morning Devotions in the Schools
At one half hour before 8 o’clock, the school bell called
the children of Sarata to classes. Tardiness was not tolerated.
It resulted in punishment. Promptly at 8 o’clock in the morning,
devotions took place in the great hall of the school. All teachers
and pupils were assembled. The Director (school leader) led the
devotions. The prayer was said in unison:
God, who can help,
Grant that I begin my work with Him.
Only with God will it go happily forth
Therefore it is my first request.
God grant it.
Then the pupils went the their classes and instruction began. The
teaching hours were also closed with prayer:
Now we go away from the school.
Lord, stay by us with your word;
With your mercy and blessing
On all our ways. Amen.
Deeply imbedded in Christian upbringing was the children’s church – their worship service. They were held to attending the services punctually. For those of the lower public school classes, as well as the pre-school classes, the services started at 8 o’clock each Sunday morning. The parents considered it their duty to have their children attend church regularly. The presence of a church director underscored the importance of the Kinderkirche (children’s church). It was conducted by the Sexton. He could have the older girls and boys installed to help him.
The song book “Das Kleine Gesangbuch für Kindergottesdient der Evangelischen-Lutherischen Kirche” (The little song book for children’s worship services in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church) was used. It was published by H.G. Wallman of Leipzig. It contained 125 religious songs for the church year separated for the church year and contained the order of service for a Kinder Kirche.
Christian instruction began in the parental home. Grandparents
were also responsible. In school the religious instruction was given
by a German teacher or sexton. It consisted of Biblical history
and the Katechism as well as the Bible. In religious instruction
the following books were used:
1. “Biblische Geschichte” (Bible Stories) published by the Society of Calw and Stuttgart
2. “Der Kleine Katechismus” (The Little Catechism) of Dr. Martin Luther for the Evangelical Schools of Bessarabia with the supplement of Evangelical Teaching for Confirmation
3. “Christliches Gesangbuch” (Christian songbook for the German communities of the Lutheran national Church of Bessarabia) published by Alexander Ffiess of Sarata.
I am reporting only how it was in my home community of Sarata.
The confirmation instruction took place in Sarata for all confirmands. They were prepared for confirmation by the pastor in a 14-day instruction period. During this time they had to reside in Sarata.
It was not until 1936 that the confirmands of Lichtental were taught by the pastor of their own community and were confirmed there. The neighboring communities had to send their children to Sarata. The time of confirmation school was, for many, a memorable experience. “Die Unterrichts Büchlein” (confirmation booklets) with the important questions and answers served as a companion throughout life. Several such booklets are in our Heimat Museum. They are a testimony to the knowledge and basic faith instruction through confirmation school.
Test were administered publicly on the day before confirmation in the church. Questions sampled all the material taught. Since the students did not know in advance which questions they would be asked, studying during the training period was always in order. Confirmation services usually took place on Palm Sunday. For those of the Werner School and high schools that opened in September, confirmation had to be shifted to vacation time.
On Confirmation Sunday, the confirmands gathered in the school house. Led by a trumpet band, they marched in twos, led by the pastor, along a flower strewn way over golden sand decorated with green branches. This pathway led them to the church.
The confirmation services were always solemn occasions. The confirmands decorated the church. The church choir and the trumpet band contributed their music to the festive occasion.
During the worship services, after the pledge and consecration, the confirmands received communion in the presence of the congregation. In the afternoon the group picture was taken. Festivities followed in the parental homes where the meaning of the day was emphasized. The godparents Döde and Doda were present and spoke earnestly with advice for the confirmands for the life ahead. The y presented a gift. Favorite gifts were the religious songbook, leather-bound with gilt edges and gold name imprints. The girls were given a gold cross on a chain; the boys, a pocket watch with chain. Wrist watches were preferred in the later years.
Confirmation classes were attended at the age of 14. In the last two decades, final high school graduation examinations were held in mid-June after confirmation.
Children’s Instruction-Christian Training
The confirmed and graduated young people were required to attend instruction classes on Sunday afternoons for four years after graduation. Previous Christian training was continued and deepened. For the first two years, students were obligated to participate in the basic catechism questions and answers. To remain in practice writing they were required to copy a page from the songbook or the New Testament and show it to their class. The copying was under the direction of the church director.
In the last two years, the Kinderlehr duties were reduced to “listening” with freedom from copying texts or answering questions. The students were also entitled to their place in church ranks. The lower classes had their place in the front rows of the church nave.
In the regulations, Kinderlehre (children’s instruction) was conducted by the sexton. Reading and speech were taken over by the church director. Unexcused negligence was punished with a fine paid into the church treasury by the father of the offender. That seldom happened because attendance at the Kinderlehre was an understood duty that one fulfilled. In the summer months, Kinderlehre was not held.
Engagement and Marriage Vows
When young people found each other, they were engaged. This was a mutual promise made in the presence of parents and then announced publicly.
For the engagement, the girl received a golden ring with a precious stone (the engagement ring) that she wore on the ring finger of the left hand. Now the engaged couple could appear together at public gatherings and celebrations. For weddings, both were invited. The engaged man visited his future wife on Sunday evenings and as a rule on Wednesday evening and sometimes on Saturdays. But at 10:00, 11:00 at the latest, he ended his visit.
The engagement period varied in time. One to two years as a rule.
This time was used to prepare the dowry and all things necessary
to preparing a mutual household. Who of us doesn’t like to
think back on his own engagement time?
A Wedding In Sarata
Weddings were held in the principal communities of Sarata and Lichtental. In the neighboring communities only an occasional service was held. Otherwise the engaged couple came to the parsonage in Sarata. It should be mentioned that in leaving the church after a wedding ceremony, the women filed out first followed by the older and then younger men. The young people followed last.
Death and Burial
Who of us does not know the church hymn No. 621 in the Bessarabian hymn book? In school we memorized all the stanzas and most of us know them still today.
Wer weisz wie nah emir mein Ende!
Hin geht die Zeit, her kommt der Tod.
Ach, wie geschwinde und behende
Kann kommen meine Todesnoth!
Mein Gott, ich bitt’ durch Christi Blut,
Mach’s nur mit meinem Ende gut!
Es kann vor Nacht leicht anders warden,
Als es am frühen Morgen war;
Denn weil ich leb’ auf dieser Erden,
Leb’ ich in steter Tod’sgefahr.
Mein Gott, ich bitt’ durch Christi Blut,
Mach’s nur mit meinem Ende gut!
Ich leb indeß in Dir vergnüget,
Und sterb’ ohn’ alle Kümmerniß;
Mir g’nüget, wie es mein Gott füget
Ich glaub’ und bin es ganz gewiß
Durch Deine Gnad’ und Christi Blut
Machst Du’s mit meinem Ende gut!
Gräfin von Rudolstadt
Translation: Church Song No. 621 above
Who knows how near to my end I am!
Time passes and death comes.
Oh, how quickly and agile
Can my death trouble come!
My God, I beg that through the blood of Christ
Let my life end well.
Before night things can easily change
From the way they are in the early morning
For while I live on this earth
I live in constant danger of death.
My God, I beg that through the blood of Christ
Let my life end well.
I live meanwhile happily through you,
And die without all cares;
I am satisfied by the way God manages;
Through your mercy and Christ’s blood
You will let my life end well.
Countess of Rudolstadt
The very sick, old, and frail were as far as possible cared for at home with great devotion and sacrifice. Relatives and neighbors took a very active part in the care of the sick and suffering. They were visited and encouraged in their faith. When one saw that the end was near, the pastor came to the home and offered the dying member holy communion. All family members took part. If someone lay dying, a relative or nurse kept night watch. When death was near, all relatives gathered around the death bed and prayed together. One held the hand of the dying and tried to comfort him until his last breath. For the deceased, one quietly spoke the Lord’s Prayer, closed his eyes and folded his hands. The clocks in the house were all stopped and a white linen cloth was laid over the body.
The death of a church member was announced by the ringing of the bells. For an adult, the large bell was rung and after a short pause all bells were rung together. For children, the small bell was rung first and then all the bells were added.
Notice of the time of burial followed with the distribution of tags from house to house in more distant areas. Prompt distribution of the death tags was an honorable task and one was careful not to “get stuck”.
Burial attendance was important.
Even in the busiest work times like harvesting and threshing, as well as during inclement weather, time was taken to attend a funeral.
The corpse was laid out in the parlor of the home. The casket was adorned with flowers. During the night relatives kept a silent vigil. For burial the mourners gathered in front of the bereaved house after the second bell ringing. There the final blessing was said. With the singing of the first verse of the announced funeral song, the procession began to move led by the guests, then the casket, followed by the pastors and the mourners. All the bells were rung during the processional to the cemetery.
At intersections, in front of the church, and at the lower entrance to the cemetery road, the casket was set down. The sorrowing assembly sang the next verse of the earlier sung hymn while the pall-bearers changed sides. As a rule, there were eight bearers – relatives and friends of the deceased. They carried the casket on their shoulders, four on each side. Only in very bad weather was the hearse used. Accompanied by the pall-bearers. After a song and the committal dictum at the open grave, the pastor or sexton gave the funeral speech, then the pall-bearers lowered the casket into the grave. Now the prayer with the aronischen blessing was spoken on behalf of the assemblage.
After the conclusion of the religious service, graveside conversation could be exchanged. A memorial service took place in the church after the burial.
At the memorial service the pastor or sexton preached a sermon about the life of the deceased and gave his personal history. Words of hope and comfort, grounded in the Christian faith; the birth of Christ; His suffering and death on the Cross and the Resurrection were the final words spoken to the mourners.
Picture-page 1 Bessarabia In front of a Resettlement tent in Belgrad, Semlin 1940
Script Notation Dedicated to Mr. M. Miller Konstantin Mayer, L’lg. Nov 1989
Days of the Week: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday
January 1990 Bessarabia Wintry scene in Tarutino 1937
February 1990 Bessarabia Cooperative Society Friedensfeld
March 1990 Bessarabia Country scene with view of Arzis
April 1990 Bessarabia Church in Leipzig, built 1907 and 1908
May 1990 Bessarabia Feeding chicks in front of chick house
June 1990 Bessarabia Farmer estate in Neu-Eift
July 1990 Bessarabia Threshing with the threshing machine
August 1990 Bessarabia Maiden at a well in Tarutino
September 1990 Bessarabia Geese at the River Sarata in Eigenfeld
October 1990 Bessarabia Resettlement Wagon train 1940
November 1990 Bessarabia Farewell at the cemetery 1940 Tarutino
December 1990 Bessarabia Birthday celebration of a Werner school girl at Christmas time in Sarata
Brief Descriptions of the Pictures
Frontispiece This colored photo originated more than 50 years ago in the Resettlement Camp at Belgrad. There, as in Prahowo, the Resettlement ships arrived in Galatz. For two to three days the emigrants found shelter in a large tent town where they experienced the great friendliness of the Jugoslavian Germans. How thankful we were for their help then and still are! The women and children traveled ahead in wagons while the men followed with the luggage train arriving in Galatz weeks later. From Semlin to Prahowo they traveled by train to the Resettlement camps where the Bessarabian Germans stayed until they were settled.
January As previously reported in the pictorial calendar in past years, the winters in Bessarabia were severe with much snow.
February In 1897 “Konsum” in Sarata was founded. It was the first German cooperative store. Soon this cooperative was followed by nearly all German communities. These stores developed into noteworthy establishments of great benefit to the communities. The Friedenfeld Consumers Union originated before the First World War, but had to be disbanded during the Russian Revolution. After the occupation of Bessarabia by the Rumanian troops, the Consumers Union was reorganized under the name of “Universum” and developed rapidly. To this thriving general store business, another business was added. A community dairy and slaughter house.
March After long, cold wintry days, one especially enjoyed the coming of spring. In Bessarabia one might say it came “over night” and spread over field and meadow where greening and blooming began. Each year it was a new experience of a special kind. The community of Arzis was located at the steppe river Kogälnik. Arzis was a market center and the center of the German Industry Union and the Farm School. It developed into a Farming Center.
April The community of Leipzig was founded in the year 1815 and belonged to the Tarutino parish. In 1926 it became an independent parish. On June 3, 1907, the corner stone for a new church was laid. It was dedicated on the occasion of a harvest thankfest on October 25, 1908. A successful, impressive structure was created to honor God. The church could call its own a magnificent organ, masterpiece of the world renowned Organ Firm of E.F. Walker and Co. in Ludwigsburg.
May Chickens were raided by nearly all families. A flock of 100 was not unusual. Raising chickens was a branch of the farming industry but the farmer did concern himself much with the work. Poultry was the responsibility of the wife. She, therefore, had control of the money from it and used it in a store or the sell to peddlers. The egg money was controlled by her. The usual native chicken was raised; a mixture of various breeds. One chicken laid about 70 eggs in one year. Only in the last decade before resettlement did a profitable chicken raising industry develop through the procurement of new breeds like White Leghorn, Rhode Island Reds, Wyandotte, Orpington, etc.
June Neu_Elft was a mother colony. Stately homes and barns attested to the prospering of the farmers in the community. Besides an open well of often hard water, many farm houses had a cistern in which soft rain-water was gathered. This was often used as drinking water and for laundry. In our picture a small boy made himself comfortable in the cistern. The well is visible at the left of the background.
July The traditional method of threshing with threshing stones remained in use in many Bessarabian communities. Yet before the First World War, the threshing machine was introduced.
August Also this picture shows the beauty and loveliness of the Bessarabian region. The old draw well supplied with precious and comfortable moisture without which the steppe could produce nothing.
September From spring until fall, many flocks of geese fed in the meadows, one flock usually consisting of 20-40 geese. Often they stayed out overnight or in mornings were driven to the little stream and in evenings brought home. Usually a family kept 3- 4 geese and one gander of gray land geese for breeding. Laying time began at the end of February or the beginning of March. One goose lays ten to twelve eggs and hatches them.
October After the Second World War broke out the political situation for Rumanians grew even more critical. The USSR saw the right time to demand a return of Bessarabia that in 1918 without consent was united with Rumania. On June 28, 1940, the Red troops marched in and took possession and by July 1, 1940, occupied Bessarabia and North Bukowina. It took weeks before the Resettlement agreement was completed after difficult negotiations. A German-Russian Commission took all the necessary steps in the resettlement and in the last days of September the Bessarabian Germans said heavy-heart farewells to their beloved chosen home at the Black Sea. After most of the women and children had departed, the men followed with baggage and supplies. Before the ships were boarded, horses and wagons had to be surrendered.
November Before the first Resettlement transport units left the
villages, farewell religious services took place in the churches.
Then one said farewells to the dead in the cemeteries. Once more
the graves were decorated, and with a heavy heart one took final
leave from the loved ones who on God’s Acres of Bessarabia
found their final resting places.
December When a birthday falls in the Christmas season, there is double reason for joy and celebration – thus also in our picture of Werner School girls and boys.
Sources: Heimatbuch Leipzig/Bessarabia and Heimatbuch Sarata/Bessarabia
Translation by Alma M. Herman June 1991