Memories of Antonina
It took but a few minutes, a hug, a prayer in German, and a drink of cherry juice while sitting at Antonina's table for my German to be responding to Antonina's inviting conversation. She took me by the arm and we were off through the village streets of Selz where my Welk grandparents once lived too. We saw what was left of Antonina's parents home. Her Welk grandfather's home is still there. We visited the Catholic Church so majestic and the cemetery. We were two hearts in rhythm. A feeling words cannot describe. May she rest in peace.
--- Loretta Mitzel Huschka, LaMoure, North Dakota
Meeting Antonina was like visiting our Aunt's home; German conversation, prayer, lots of food, and the warmth. I would never have imagined that traveling from North Dakota to Ukraine could create such emotions. To meet actual cousins of our mother's family still in the same village where my Welk grandparents lived was the ultimate. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to share a few minutes of Antonina's life.
--- Mary Lou Mitzel Roller, Hope, North Dakota
My dream to some day visit the village where my Welk grandparents once lived came true in May 1997 and was shared with my husband and two sisters. I knew of Antonina before our arrival and had sent her a letter that her cousins from America were coming. What a grand reunion in her daughter, Lidia's home. Antonina described it like a Christmas celebration. Antonina was very proud to have a priest cousin, Fr. Thomas Welk. Her desire was to receive a crucifix blessed by Fr. Welk which we were able to deliver. Tears in her eyes, she said her children would have someday, a reminder of Our Lord and the intense faith of her German-Russian people. Powerful.
--- Cindy Mitzel Longtin, Fargo, North Dakota
(Loretta, Mary Lou and Cindy are sisters. They were members of the Journey to the Homeland Tour to Odessa, Ukraine in May, 1997, sponsored by the North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo.)
We met Antonina near Baden, Ukraine. It was midsummer in 1990, when Mikhail Gorbachev was president of Russia and who had been detained in Georgia, Russia, by a rebellious political group, and statues of Lenin were draped in black or being destroyed. Our group picked up Antonina and her daughter Lidia. We traveled to Selz to visit the Catholic Church of the Assumption, where Antonina had attended church as a youngster. At one time the church had been a majestic place of worship, and during World War II it had been used as a hospital by German soldiers. Antonina had sang in the choir in this church. We asked to sing for us, which she did willingly. The song was Ave Maria. Her voice was rich and every note was on pitch with much expression. Every one felt it came from her heart. There were tears in everyones eyes. It was a sight we will always remember with Antonina singing in the church surrounded by the rubble and dirt.
Antonina told us that during World War II she was sent to Germany, where she had to work in a factory. She and a friend escaped back to Russia. They were shot at and she said that was when her hair turned white. Antonina had a good sense of humor even though she had a very hard life.
Our group gave her a Bible which she clutched with tears streaming down her cheeks. We asked her if she could read English, perhaps we could exchange it for one in the German language. She said no, no, no, her grandchildren could read it to her.
When we dropped Antonina and Lidia off at her home she was smiling through tears, and so were we. She was a beautiful lady.
--- Betty and Chris Maier, Linton, North Dakota and Apache Junction, Arizona
In June of 1996, I was a member of the group that made the Journey to the Homeland. I was able to see the villages and area where all four of my grandparents had come from. However, a bonus treat was to meet Antonina who had lived in that area all her life. She spoke exactly the same German dialect as my mother and aunts spoke when I was growing up, except Antonina did not mix in any English words. At one gathering she sang some German songs which reminded me of the name day parties at our home in the 1940's and 50's. My regret now is that I did not have more time to spend in conversation with her. However, I will forever relish the memories that I do have.
--- Brother Placid Gross, Assumption Abbey, Richardton, North Dakota