1998 Memories of Tour Members
Kate Halverson, Vassar College, Poughkeepsee, New York (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I wanted to share the thank you message that I received from Kate Halverson, senior at Vassar College, New York, a member of the May, 1998 Journey to the Homeland Tour Group. Kate has recently been approved for a Fulbright Fellowship for Germany for the 1999 - 2000 academic year. Kate majors in German at Vassar College. Her Fulbright research will relate to the Germans in the former Soviet Union who have returned to Germany in recent years as "Aussiedler". This research will be very valuable for scholarly documentation of the history and culture of the Germans from Russia.
--- Michael M. Miller, April 4, 1999
"I hope this fine your well! I just want to thank you personally for all your assistance and support in my pursuits. Without that incredible opportunity to participate in "Journey 1998", I most likely would not have received the Fulbright. That trip changed my life in numerous ways and I just want you to know how grateful I am for all that you've done for me.
I will do my best to make you all proud! I wish you a beautiful Dakota spring and much success with this year's "Journey" trip."
"Thank you for helping me open another door."
By Duane V. Retzloff, Mountain View, California, native of Monango, North Dakota (email@example.com)
Journey to the Homeland Tour, Summer of 1998 - Discovery of the Hoffnungstal, Bessarabia Schoolhouse
We were taken to the former village of Hoffnungstal by our translator, Lara Katan, our driver, Igor, and our overnight Bessarabian host, Michael Bolkov. Michael was born in the village of Hoffnungstal and now lives in the neighboring village of Mykolaivka.
Michael recalls that after his family moved from Hoffnungstal to Mykolaivka, his father used to take them to their former village to purchase goods from one of the stores there that was kept in operation to service the military base located nearby. (The military barracks are still there and the base is used for maneuvers held there in the summer by the Ukrainian army.) He remembers walking down the streets with the high walls on either side. It was a special treat for him when his father would buy a sweet for him at one of the shops.
On the day that we visited, May 30, 1998, Michael gave us a personal guided tour of Hoffnungstal, showing us where the village used to be located, the cemetery to the east of the village on a hillside, the marker put there several years earlier to commemorate the founding of the village by the Germans from Russia, the remnants of the pathway that once led from the cemetery down to the church, and the site of the church, which was now just a high knoll at the valley floor with a few rocks and bits of mortar to indicate where the foundation of the church used to be.
As we stood there, a herder and his dog passed silently among the trees along the side of the hill with his herd of cattle. It was as if time had suddenly been rolled back and we were observing Hoffnungstal as our forefathers first observed it when they first settled here.
At this point, I thought our tour of Hoffnungstal was over, however Michael said he had one more thing to show us. He would not say what it was, but drove us to the West up the concrete road leading to the army barracks to where a sign in bold red letters warned us against trespassing. At this point he stopped and explained that we would have to walk the rest of the way.
He led us to the North along a rough country road that would have been impassable for our van. To the right of the road was a power line and after we had walked approximately a quarter mile, we noticed a wall which started to rise out of the ground on our right (to the East). The ground dropped off on the East side of the wall and very soon, we saw a structure to the east of the wall hidden beneath the trees.
Michael told us that this was the old schoolhouse that used to be at the center of the village and which had been moved to this secluded spot to be used as a power substation for the military base. I was totally stunned. I had not believed that a building still existed from the former village and here was this very large beautiful building in obviously very good condition. We never would have found it on our own since it was in a very secluded spot away from the previous site of the village, and in an area where it seemed we were trespassing.
He took us into the yard through an iron gate on the North side of the building and talked to the security guard who had an office at the Northeast corner of the building. The guard was dressed in civilian clothes. It seemed that Michael knew the guard and they had a friendly conversation for several minutes. The guard then led us around to the southern entrance to the building and used his keys to open the heavy wooden door. He was going to give us a tour of the old school!
As we entered the school, we found ourselves in an immense room, obviously one of the main classrooms. A power generator was located in the Northeast corner. Other than that, the walls and floors were bare. The building was of very substantial construction, similar to another German schoolhouse we were to visit in another village later on. The windows were large, allowing a lot of light into the room, and the walls were very thick -- at least two feet.
The guard then led us into several smaller rooms located towards the back to the West which might have been offices at one time. A central wall separated the North side of the school from the South side of the school and we were not shown the North part of the building where the military offices were located.
We noticed that there was a second story attached to the North part of the building and were told that this second story was added after the building was moved. I don't know if the red-tiled roof was original, but it appeared to be in very good condition.
In comparing pictures of the school as shown in the village book, "Familien und Sippenbuch, Hoffungstal, Bessarabien", by Albert Eisenbeiss, the buildings are very similar, even in the shape and location of the windows. However, it does appear that the roof is slightly different, indicating that it may have been replaced since the earlier days of the school when the picture in the book was taken.
When we walked back to the van, we saw that several Army personnel, with rifles slung over their shoulders were talking to our driver, Igor. Whatever Igor told them seemed to satisfy them and they allowed us to leave without further questions. The visit to the school really was the frosting on the cake for our Hoffnungstal visit.
Journey to the Homeland Tour, Summer of 1998 - Visit to Karlstal, Liebental Enclave
Our Karlstal visit would not have been possible had it not been for our tour guide, Dr. Sergey Yelizarov, a professor at the University at Odessa. I had been told prior to our tour that Dr. Yelizarov might be able to help us in locating the former German colony which was located on the estate of Count Vichey, later known as the Schellenburger Estate in the vicinity of the former village of Karlstal, now know as Syroka Balka.
Dr. Yelizarov agreed to be our guide and to help us locate the site where the Germans used to live on the Estate of Count Vichey. At this time, we did not know where in the vicinity of Karlstal the estate had actually been located.
We drove to Karlstal the first week in June. As we approached Karlstal from Freudental, 8 kilometers to the South, we were amazed to come upon a large reservoir to the west of road and what seemed to be a city of modern high rises just on the West shore of the reservoir -- a stark contrast to the humble buildings we had just left in Freudental. We were told that this was intended to be a nuclear power plant (thus the reservoir which was to be used for cooling). However a geological survey indicated an earthquake fault directly underneath the facility so they converted it to a coal power plant. They had built high rise apartments to house the many people needed to run the nuclear power plant and the facility had since been converted into a small city by the name of Tellodar.
The land surrounding Karlstal appeared to be very fertile and the crops were abundant. They were primarily grain crops -- wheat, barley, oats, but also some vegetable crops and flower crops, including poppies. Many fruit trees were located in Karlstal itself and the nearby town of Freudental. Karlstal is part of the Freudental parish, with the church for both towns being in Freudental.
We drove into the town of Karlstal itself and talked to some of the older people to find out if they knew anything about the Vichey/Schellenburger Estate. No one we talked to knew of these names. We then drove to the nearby village of Dovrochanovo just a few kilometers to the west of Karlstal, hoping that this might have been the location of the estate. There we found a lady who remembered the Schellenburger name and who told us that Karlstal was the village where the Germans lived who worked on the Schellenburger estate. She said that the Germans lived on the South side of village, while the Russians lived on the North side. She said the Schellenburgers had moved back to Germany during the second world war, but members of the family still came to visit Karlstal from time to time. She suggested we go to Tellodar where we would find an old lady of German descent who once lived in Karlstal and might be able to tell us exactly where the Schellenburger estate once was.
We drove to Tellodar and Sergey, after a short search, came back to the car with the German lady. She no longer spoke German (she was only half German), but related through Sergey that a family by the name of Alexander now lived where the estate used to be.
We went back to Karlstal and obtained directions to the Alexander home. It was located on the main road going north-south through the village. I have the address, written in Ukraine, and although I cannot decipher the street name, it appears the number of the house is R-4.
Once there, we met the housewife who lived there by the name of Olga Alexander. At first she was hesitant to talk to us but, with Sergey's gentle persistence, she welcomed us into her home and showed us pictures of her family. She said that the German people that once lived there came back from time to time and that apparently their estate once stood where her present home and garden is now. She told us that often when they tilled the garden they found rubble that indicated a fairly large sized building once stood there. She added that the people from Germany said that they often had the same trouble of water leaking into the basement that her home now had.
Olga was extremely hospitable and took us out to her back garden to show us where they had found the rubble and gave us several pieces to take back. Before we left, she gathered an armful of vegetables from her garden and gave them to us to take back with us. What a wonderful way to top off our visit to this special little village where our Retzlaff forefathers once lived! The Ukrainian people are so very friendly and hospitable if you just get to know them.
Journey to the Homeland Tour, Visit to Kulm, Bessarabia, May 1998
Kulm, now called Pidhirne, was the first of our ancestral villages that my aunt, Vicky Retzlaff Kearns, and I were to visit with the "Journey to the Homeland" tour group in the summer of 1998. This is where Vicky's father, my grandfather, Otto Retzlaff left with his parents in 1892 when he was only 8 years old to come to settle on the vast prairies of the Dakotas near the town named after it's namesake, Kulm, North Dakota. Over the years I had heard about Kulm in Bessarabia from relatives, read about it in books, searched for it's location on old maps, and wrote about it in family memoirs. Now, at long last, we were going to be the first family members to set foot in this intriguing village since our forefathers left to pursue a better life in the United States over 100 years ago. It was hard to believe that we were actually here in person, ready to witness with our own eyes the village our grandparents had described decades earlier.
As we headed north from Tarutino, some 12 kilometers south of Kulm, the ground gradually rose from the broad Kogelnik valley into the hills above and I was reminded how similar this was to Kulm in North Dakota. The land was so very similar - the flat plains below, rolling hills above, interspersed with pasture land and grain crops of oats, wheat and barley. We started out from Tarutino on reasonably good paved roads, but as we ascended into the hills, the road gradually got worse until it was a very rough, uneven dirt road, not at all suited for our van, but more for the horse and carts that we began to see more and more often. It was as if the window of time was ever so slowly being rolled back. Along the West Side of the road the land leveled out and through the trees we could see the beautiful green fields of wheat, oats and barley. If the weather held, we were told they would have a very good crop this year.
As we drove along the brow of the hill and enjoyed the panorama which stretched below us along the Kogulnik river - a green cornucopia of fertile fields separated by rows of trees - all under a canopy of fluffy white clouds in an azure blue sky. All the literature I had read about Kulm did not prepare us for this magnificent vista - it was breathtaking! What a hill this was, and what a view it commanded of the valley below! As we rounded a bend in the road we could make out in the distance what had to be the town of Leipzig faintly etched along the valley floor like a shimmering silver vessel in the afternoon sun!
We came to a fork in the deeply rutted dirt road and our driver, Igor, not knowing for sure which way to go, stopped and waited for a small rickety wagon pulled by a small old horse to come close by. He, our interpreter, Lara, and my Aunt Vicky went to talk to him. In the back of the wagon, nestled among some fresh-cut hay, was a young girl - perhaps the old man's granddaughter. He told us that the left fork bypassed Kulm and went into Leipzig while the right fork would take into Kulm. Apparently we were already at the edge of the village, but because the village was located over the edge of the hill, it could not be seen from our current vantage point. No sign marked the entrance to Kulm and the village appeared below us as if by magic once we started down the right fork.
As we slowly picked our way amongst the ruts towards the village center, the grand scale the German settlers had used to lay out the village impressed us. A huge open area separated the two main streets that ran north and south through the village. The open area in between was now barren. When my grandfather lived here, this open area was planted in fruit trees and was used for open market and special celebrations. There were almost no trees on this open grassy area now - only a few staked horses and cattle grazed here and there. The only structure that broke that openness was the church in the distance a mammoth stone structure that must have been extremely beautiful and stately in its time, but was now scoured with the ravages of time, neglect and misuse. It was obvious it was no longer used as a church. We had heard of many of the churches being converted to granaries and it appeared that this church, which my grandfather probably had attended with his parents and had been baptized in, had probably suffered a similar fate. As we came down into the village, located just below the top of the hill, the vistas of the Kogelnik Valley to the east opened even more grandly before us until it appeared as a beautiful quilt work of greens and golds. We couldn't help but be amazed at the contrasts in the village - the well kept homes behind orderly fences, rough dirt roads with mud puddles frequented by hordes of ducks, geese and chickens.
I was taking a picture of an especially pretty little home, trimmed in blue, when an old lady who had been sitting on a bench in front of the home came up to Lara, our interpreter, and asked if we would like to come into her yard and look at her home. She opened the gate for us and bid us enter, meanwhile calling out to someone inside. A pretty middle aged lady emerged with a young girl at her side. Her husband, a darkly tanned man soon joined us from the backyard. We found out that they were the Melikova Evdoki family. The lady of the house and her mother were Moldavian and the husband was from Kazakhstan to the east of the Ukraine. What an intriguing mixture of races! We were to find out that this area, as well as this whole part of the Ukraine, is the melting pot of Europe, Asia and the Near East. It is said that over 100 nationalities live in nearby Odessa alone! Many families in these villages are of mixed marriages. They are a handsome people. The lady of the house was very happy to meet us and greeted us warmly as if we were her best friends. She introduced us to her family and invited us to come inside her home. She was very proud of her home and said Germans had once lived there. She pointed out the handicraft of the hand-fitted wooden floors and the door frames and said they were the original German construction. She showed us the ladder that led to an attic and said that that too had been built by the Germans that had once lived there. She led us from room to room, explaining in detail what had been done to each room. I was especially impressed wit the fine quality rugs that were hung from the walls. She then took us to the kitchen where she and her husband poured each of us a cup of heavy cream, sprinkled with sugar. They told us with pride that this cream had come from their own cow. This was a very special treat.
She then took us into her workroom where she explained that she made her living by making special quilts for newlyweds of the village. The couple would bring her the material of their choice and the wool and she would do the rest. She said it took her about a day to do one quilt and that she charged five Grievna - about three dollars. She showed us a large layer of wool wrapped up in a roll that she was about to use and she spread out the beautiful covers for several quilts she was working on at the time. She also showed us her sewing machine, reminiscent of the first electric Singer sewing machines I had seen on the farm as a boy.
The father then took us out into the yard where a shed led off from one corner of the house. In one of the small pens were three pigs. He said he had had twenty pigs, but had just sold seventeen of them. All about the yard were chickens and geese. He then led us to another small shed in which there was a beautiful Holstein calf. I could tell that he was very proud of this calf, as well he should have been. It was a fine specimen. After that they showed us their artesian well in the back of the house. It was a round stone structure about four feet across and four feet high. He said the German families before them had built this well. The method of fetching water was the same as when our forefathers lived there - they lower a bucket on a rope.
They then showed us their garden. It was quite large - more than an acre in size and stretching from the back of the home to a wall and an open field in the back - exactly as our grandparents had describe it to us. In the garden were vegetables of all sorts and numbers - all neatly tilled and in large quantities. We were later to learn that these large gardens were essential to the livelihood of the villagers. What vegetables were not used during the summer were canned for the winter. These families were completely self sufficient - just like in the old days. Whatever they needed they grew or raised themselves.
The family then showed us their cellar. The entrance was just outside the home and the cellar was directly beneath the house - just like the cellar on our farm in North Dakota. The cellar was well stocked with a wide assortment of canned goods, a pickle barrel, a wine barrel in which they fermented their own wine, potatoes and onions.
As we said goodbye to our new friends and were about to leave, the grandmother came out of the house with a huge round loaf of bread, which she presented to my Aunt. We found out later that this was their custom and was their way of saying goodbye to friends who were about to embark on a long journey home. These people were so friendly. They obviously had very little, but gave gladly of what little they had.
After the visit with the Evdoki family, we drove the short distance north to the church which commanded a majestic view of the Kogelnik river valley below. The main part of the church is about 45 feet wide and about 100 feet long. Even without it's steeple, the church rises approximately 50 feet in height. Scaling from pictures of the church when it still had its steeple, the church would have been over 100 feet high before the steeple was removed! At the time it was completed in 1868, it was the tallest church in all of Bessarabia and it was said that in clear weather one could see for 50 kilometers from the church tower! We would have loved to have gone inside, but the doors were locked, so we had to be content with a few pictures We then decided to search out the cemetery to see if any headstones remained. My grandfather's brother, Friederich probably died in Kulm before they came to this country, so he would be buried there. We stopped an old man to ask directions. He was old before his time, grizzled, with a weather beaten face. He wore a heavy, tattered suit coat and pants - out of step with the warm weather we were experiencing at the time. On his head he wore a visor cap - the kind of cap I remember some of the older Germans wearing when they came to town on Saturday nights back in Kulm, Edgeley, and Ellendale, North Dakota. The deep lines that etched his face and his hulking frame seemed to reflect the story of this village - a strong heritage buffeted by years of hardship and grief - now resigned to his fate of whatever life dealt him, yet somehow, still proud.
Through our interpreter, Lara, we asked directions to the cemetery. He beckoned us to follow him as he led us from the church past the old German schoolhouse on the East Side of the open area. The schoolhouse was still standing, but it was in a state of complete disrepair - its fading, peeling walls gaunt against the late afternoon sun. The complex was comprised of two long, substantial structures - the schoolhouse and, to the north, the former teacher's living quarters. The schoolhouse was about 50 feet in length and 15 feet in width, while the teacher's quarters was about 30 feet in length and 15 feet in width. The buildings were constructed of heavy quarried stone, similar to that used for the church and the roofs were covered with tile. Both buildings had many large windows on both sides, so it must have afforded a light and pleasant environment for the German student. Despite their now worn look, like the old man, one could tell these buildings had a much prouder past. Those thick stone walls, so painstakingly and proudly constructed, were still a testament to the hard working German villagers of the old Kulm and the high value they placed in the education of their children. My grandfather, Otto Retzlaff, was eleven years old when he left this village in 1892, so it is very likely he attended this very school.
As we were led down the hill we were impressed with the gardens and fruit trees that we could now clearly see at the back of the houses on the street. Every vegetable crop and fruit tree grew in great abundance here - a testament to the richness of the soil and the loving care of the owners. We saw grapes, lettuce, carrots, watermelon, potatoes, squash, onions, turnips, beets, lettuce, grapes, plum trees, apple trees, pear trees, cherry trees, strawberries, other berry bushes, and much, much more. It seemed that anything would grow here, once planted. I remember my grandmother, who grew up in the neighboring town of Leipzig just across the Kogelnik river from Kulm and who spent her last years in California, telling me that "All the fruits we have here in California, they had there". We could now readily see for ourselves that such was, indeed, the case.
The old man led us past a well-tended cemetery. Each plot had an iron cross and many were surrounded by iron fences. "Not here", the old man said, "The German cemetery is further down". (In reviewing the town plot at the time the Germans lived here, it appears that the new cemetery was built on top of the western part of the old German cemetery) At the end of the new cemetery we came upon a bramble of overgrown vines, lilac bushes and trees. "This is the German cemetery", said the man. At first, no headstones were visible, but eventually we did find a few, although the inscriptions were too faded to make out. However the stone work was similar to some of the old gravestones with German inscriptions that we had seen near Kulm, North Dakota. We spent a little time here, just soaking up the quite beauty of the place, the unique sounds of the birds, and the view of the other side of the Kogelnik Valley over the tops of the trees at the far end of the cemetery. Then, reluctantly, we decided it was time to leave Kulm. It was getting late and we still had to visit the village of Leipzig where my grandmother was born.
As we left the village, we noticed a large rusting building on our right, now seemingly abandoned. It was a former collective farm, the last vestige of a failed socialist state. This was to be a familiar sight on the remainder of our trip. The collective farms now lay abandoned about the countryside, accompanied by rusting machinery piled ignominiously in heaps. After Peristroika and Ukrainian independence, the workers left the collectives and went back to their villages. The farms are now operated more like cooperatives, with villagers working together to sow the grain and gather the harvest. However, they cannot afford to repair or replace broken machinery, so, more and more, the crops are tended by hand using horses and oxen, much as they were in the old days.
As we drove down the hill toward the valley bottom towards Leipzig, now plainly visible straight ahead and below us, the road wound its way among small forests of trees and small fields of grain and grapes interspersed on the hillside. Towards the bottom of the long hill, we looked back towards Kulm. The town was barely visible among the forests of trees that were etched in dark patterns across the hill. It was much as my Grandmother had described her view of Kulm from the village of Leipzig. As we made our way across the nearly flat valley floor, we could just make out the narrow channel of the Kogelnik river, which knifed through the wide valley floor with Leipzig on the eastern bank of the flood plain. It was hard to imagine that this small channel of water, barely 20 feet across at this point, had once caused so much devastation and death in Leipzig in a great flood in the early 1900's.
Fargo, ND and Henderson, NV
The Journey to the Homeland tour that both my sons and I took this May and June, will be something that will never be forgotten. Just walking the roads, streets, and paths where my ancestors trod was a rare and moving privilege.
It seemed after we returned home, of course, that the trip went by much too quickly, and that we could have spent much more time looking at our ancestral villages. But because of the wars in the Ukraine and the political situation there, the Russians destroyed most of the vestiges of any Germans living in those areas, having sent many to Siberia, killed many, and obliterating even the cemeteries. Some of those fortunate enough to escape are now scattered somewhere that it would be very difficult to locate them.
The extreme difference between our standard of living in America and that of Ukraine and surrounding areas is almost impossible to describe. Even in the metropolitan area of Odessa, our eyes were opened wide by the standard of living. Two examples of these differences come to my mind. First, the airport where we flew into had large potholes in the runways, many older model passenger jets were lined up in the grass fields next to the runways, apparently being used for spare parts, and the condition of the main and only terminal building was almost appalling. Second, the hotel that we stayed at was one the better ones in Odessa, but the simple luxury of hot water was not always available. I heard that the city of Odessa furnishes the hot water through a central system to most of the city, but that by and large there would be no hot water available for four to six months.
Then imagine the conditions in the small villages, where the roads were sometimes a mass of mud, many people walked wherever they went, and some used horses and wagons for transportation. It certainly makes me happy that my forefathers decided to come to the United States.
I was also fortunate enough to be able to see my ancestral village on my grandfather's side in Germany, but there again I was unable to visit anyone who might be related. Even the cemeteries there were of more recent vintage.
After this trip, I get the feeling that the more I learn about my forefathers, the more interested I get, and the more I want to learn. I also now would like to try to trace my mother's Norwegian line, and visit Scandinavia in the future.
I would encourage anyone, who has an interest in their roots, to consider signing up for a future 'Journey to the Homeland.'
By Dick Doll, Tucson, Arizona
We (Ruth & I) went on an interesting and exciting trip this past summer. We would like to share and express our feelings and findings about our trip (tour). There may be others who would have interest in a tour of this nature (not necessarily the same locations) but with similar interests in their ancestral history at other locations where their ancestors came from.
Both Ruth and I are originally from North Dakota, although we lived 26 years in the Denver County area prior to moving to Saddlebrooke in 1993. Both our great-great-grandparents (on our father's side) originally immigrated from Germany to southern Russia (now Ukraine) in the Odessa area where numerous German (Catholic and Lutheran) villages were settled by the German people during the Catherine The Great period (1800's). Farming land was given to the Germans if they would settle in the areas around Odessa and so they immigrated from various points in Germany to the Odessa area and farmed the land. Their farming is somewhat different than United States style of farming since there are not individual farms as we are use to seeing in the midwest but instead they settled in villages (various sizes) and than go to their farm land each day and return to village at night. Of course not all were farmers as there were carpenters, blacksmith's, etc.
We were primarily interested in three villages which I had obtained information on during my ancestral research (on internet etc.) which is where our grandparents and fathers immigrated from to the United States in the early 1900s and settled in the North Dakota area.
We toured with a group (approximately 35 people) that was scheduled by the North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, with Michael M. Miller, Germans from Russia Bibliographer, as tour director. He has taken a a group since June, 1996, on a similar Journey to the Homeland Tour since traveling has been allowed in the country, now Ukraine.
Our purpose of the trip was to be able to see the land where our ancestors lived and experience the feeling of walking on the same land after approximately 100 years gone by. We wanted to see the homes, churches (now being restored after Communism) and schools where our grandparents lived.
We first met the group, taking the tour, in the Twin Cities and then flew to Amsterdam and than on to Vienna where we switched to Austrian Airlines and proceeded to Odessa, Ukraine. The airport there has a lot to be desired. Their runways were all cracked with numerous weeds. The terminal was an old building with no accessories. We were greeted by our tour guides and translators to get us through customs and boarded a bus to our hotel, where we would be staying for seven days. The Chorne More Hotel was supposedly a four star hotel in Ukraine standards but would not meet our one star standards. We did have our own bathrooms and small beds with running water. Hot water was only available about fours per day mostly in the evening or early morning. All our meals were provided by the hotel in our own dinning area and our box lunches, for our daily tours were also provided by the hotel. We did have to drink bottled water in our rooms and in the restaurant. Also, was provided on our trips to the villages. (We did pick-up some homemade wine in a village which went great with our plain box lunches).
Our first visit to villages was to villages in the Beresan Enclave which included two villages of interest to me. The village named "Katharinental", is where my grandparents lived and my father was born. It was a Catholic village of about 650 homes. Having a map of the village which reflected the surnames of the individual families I knew where to look for the DOLL home. We visited the home, where a Ukraine family now live-in and talked to them thru an interpreter. The home was the original rock and sod type where the living quarters were in the front and the attached barn in the rear, where the chickens, ducks, geese and cow roamed. They said the only new thing on the house was a tin roof and they now have lights (like our old REA). They still have to use well water and outside john's. They actually still live like they did about 100 years ago. Their form of transportation was strictly by horse and wagon. They all have large gardens and farm the land around the village like a co-op operation.
We did not find the Catholic Church as it had been destroyed in the war and the old school, which we did find, was just a gutted building. Their are newer schools in the area as well as churches, that have been restored. The old cemetery was also destroyed during the war and all the headstones had been removed from the land and used for building materials during the war. You could find an old headstone in a bridge foundation and possible some printings applied such as dates.
The next village I was interested in visiting was where my grandmother was born and raised which was in the same Beresan Enclave called Speyer. Most all the villages had German type names but are all renamed twice since (Russian and now Ukraine). We visited the school that my grandmother must of attended since it is over 100 years old. I didn't have a map of that village so we didn't see the actual house (ASSEL) where my grandmother lived. We did find the Catholic Church, which had been restored and looked great. All the churches were previously used as storage buildings during the communism regime. We did go to the old cemetery that was pretty well destroyed during the WW II.
Our next interesting trip was to Ruth's grandparents village (Lutheran) in the Liebental Enclave. The name was "Freudental", which we did not have a map of either. We toured the village and found the old school and churches. The old cemetery was just an open field next to the new cemetery, with no more headstones available. We looked at a lot of the old German homes (you can spot them by their length) and were able to find a small bakery where we bought some bread and pretzels. Had that to eat with our box lunch and the homemade wine we purchased at a local home.
Each day we went to various villages that other people from our tour group were interested in (had ancestral connections) and they all were pretty much the same. As stated before they all had previous German names but now have Ukraine names. Most of the elder people living there now still remember the German names but most of the Germans are now gone. A lot of them , like our grandparents, immigrated to the States (or back to Germany) during the Russian revolution in the early 1900's and many of them who lived thru the revolution were shipped off to Siberia during WW II to work in the mines, etc. After WW II, when they returned to their villages they found their homes occupied (if not destroyed) by Russians, so they once again immigrated back to Germany when they could.
On our initial visits to the villages we took numerous gifts of school supplies and medical supplies to their clinic, which were generally operated by nurses. There was very poor facilities and equipment available. They were very appreciative for anything we could give them. Our first feelings were of depression but after a few days of visits we could see how the communities lived and worked together and were family oriented we begin to wonder if they weren't better off than a lot of us, where we are more materialistic minded only!!!
The city of Odessa, which we toured and attended the Opera House for a show, has a population of about one million people. They are getting more modernized and you see a lot of new businesses starting, such as Reebok stores, Radio Shack's etc. They also have a great rail system for their workers to get to the heart of the city from out-lying areas to a central rail station and from there they board electric street cars (which are FREE) to their final destination. We visited historical sites in the port city such as the Opera House etc. as well as their beach areas.
After a week in the Odessa area we flew to Stuttgart, Germany, (where Ruth and I lived in 1986-87, while working for DFSC-US GOV) and attended a meeting of Germans that had immigrated back to Germany, which is called "Bundestreffen" in Stuttgart. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl gave a speech and vowed to have all the remaining Germans in Russia allowed to return to Germany in due time. It was an opportunity for many Germans to meet their lost ancestors etc. Their were about 60,000 people attended the Bundestreffen.
We toured the city of Stuttgart and took the S-Bahn to the town of "Echterdingen" where we lived , outside of Stuttgart, while working in Germany. Had a great visit with our former landlords who we have kept in touch with since living there. We have always enjoyed Germany (especially it's brats-sauerkraut and BEER).
All in all our trip was very exciting, even without all the conveniences we are normally used to, and we will always remember the people we met our great tour guides and translators as well as leaders of the group((Mr. Miller)). It was a great experience to be able to make the trip called: "Journey To The Homeland." We are fortunate to live in the good old USA!!!!!!
Dick and Ruth Freier Doll
The Journey to The Homeland Tour was a very exciting and pleasurable trip. It was all what we had hoped for. We were able to see and to walk on the very land our fathers and grandparents were born and lived until the early 1900's. The visit to the German Villages (Katharinental-Speyer-Freudental) and the stay in Odessa, Ukraine will always be remembered. How our ancestors endured then, and how the people in the villages live now has not changed all that much.
It was depressing to see at first BUT upon further study and thought, we wonder if their family values are much better than ours and a lot less crime (we are more materialistic minded and they are more family oriented).
We enjoyed meeting all the tour members and having their company throughout the tour. We wish to thank Michael Miller (NDSU); Stuart and Cindy Longtin and all the interpreters, and guides for their management of the tour. It was a memorable trip we will never forget. THANKS to all!!!!
Lola Fritz Parsons
The German cemetery is in better shape than I had hoped for after seeing other cemeteries in the days before at other villages. All of the headstones left were overturned and most are broken, however a Bamesberger and a Metzger headstone are legible. Also there is one that could have been read, had we had the proper equipment. Many grave sites are evident due to the sunken earth and the entire area is covered with grasses and some remnants of lilacs perhaps planted by our ancestors. The cemetery is located just behind the newer cemetery that is in use now. It is unfenced with cattle staked out to graze at the edge and is a very peaceful place.
The former church is another matter. It is now a theater and has been altered to the point that no trace of it's former use is left. The churches I saw in the .Kutchergan were in ruins, some with only walls standing, but it was very apparent that they were churches, although in ruins, and still had a spiritual feeling about them. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the Lutheran church in Hoffnungstal.
The original pastorate is being used as an Ukrainian Orthodox church until a larger one can be built. It is good to see that some form of religion is being practiced once again in the village.
The quiet in the village is rarely broken by the sound of a car. The streets are quite wide and, except the main road, dirt and deeply rutted by the horse and wagons after the rains. The area between the street and the fences surrounding the homes is 40 to 50 feet wide with grasses and trees growing. Here many of the people stake their cattle and goats to graze and chickens run free.
All homes have large gardens, many have fruit trees and most have a root cellar to store their potatoes, cabbages and other vegetables for the winter. Also, wine is stored there.
Many of the old German homes left standing and in use still have the summer kitchen, but it appears that most of the other outbuildings are no longer usable, if they even exist.
Scythes are still used to cut grasses for the cattle. It is brought to the house yards to be spread out to dry by any means possible. Some use a small motorcycle with a side car, others lashed poles together and drag the 'hay' home. The principle method for moving larger loads appeared to be horse and wagon, and the other means of transportation seems to be walking.
Traveling to my Grandmother, Christiane Fritz Hereth's birthplace, was a wonderful experience. To know that she played in those same streets as a child, that her grandparents lived close enough for her to have walked to their homes as I did to hers as a child gave me a wonderful, warm feeling. It was an unforgettable time for me.
Mary Jaeger Marando
Crown Point, Indiana
The purpose for going was fulfilled. There were emotional highs and also many lows and I still experience them as I recall events of the trip or view the photos. But I did it! I walked the streets, especially Elsass, Strassburg and Mannheim. I entered the churches or what is left of them and prayed not only for my ancestors but for those who desecrated these German churches and cemeteries. I wandered thru the cemeteries, thinking of my ancestors, especially my great grandmother Eva Hoffart-Jaeger who died in November of l898, while her children and their families were on the ship to America.
As I rode in the bus or van, looking out at the country side and fields, I thought of those early days of mine when my Dad made me visit North Dakota to visit relatives. The land is so much the same, vast and beautiful. Unfortunately, I did not grow up in North Dakota nor did I know my great grandparents or grandparents. But, I knew my Dad, and somehow he instilled in me the importance of our ancestry, the need to know it and feel it so that we may keep close our family and faith to grow to whatever heights we choose. So a big thank you goes to my Dad, Joseph P. Jaeger for starting me on this quest, also to my deceased husband, Joe, for being so supportive over the years and our trips to North Dakota to search. Also thanks to my daughters Cathy Quinn and Marian Paskash for encouraging me to take the Homeland Tour trip and my grandson, Michael Patrick, for doing without my hugs for the weeks I've been away. And, I must be most thankful for NDSU and you, Michael for making this dream possible. And, you should thank Stuart and Cindy for keeping us happy. They were so very helpful to me and just a neat couple to be around.
I certainly encourage every descendant of German/Russian ancestry to do this trip. Unfortunately, I'm not very good in written word or verbally expressing my inner most feelings, and this trip sure gave one some inner thoughts to ponder.
Good wishes to you and NDSU!
Duane Retzloff, Mountain View, California
Thank you for sponsoring the 1998 Journey to the Homeland Tour. It was an incredible experience - the trip of a lifetime for my Aunt Vicky Kearns and I. On the way home on the plane, we relived many of our experiences and both of us just couldn't get over how fortunate we were to have decided to make the trip. You have really made a difference in our lives - thank you again.
I still have a piece of a tile from the roof of the German home in Freudental. This is the one I showed you at the hotel. The roof was very unusual as it had three different colors of these tiles intermixed. Do you still want this for the collection at NDSU? If so I will send it to you along with a picture of the house and a brief description.
I would be interested in reading the e-mail that the other members sent while we were there about their experiences on the trip. Is there a way for me to access this information? Thanks.
Mary Frances Filer Jacobson
Mohave Valley, Arizona and Clarkston, Washington
Concerning my trip to Odessa and Stuttgart, first and foremost, I want to emphasize, that I am so grateful to live in the United States of America.
On May 26, 1998 my sister, Naomi Filer Reimer, and I left the Seattle/Tacoma airport for Minneapolis, Minnesota to join other members of the tour group going to Ukraine and later to Germany. With a total of 35 members on this tour, we flew from Minneapolis to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Vienna, then from Vienna to Odessa, Ukraine. We left Seattle at 8:50 AM on May 26th and arrived in Odessa May 27, 1998 at 4:30 PM. We lost a total of 10 hours on the clock. We were all tired.
We boarded our bus to transport to our hotel We arrived at the hotel about 7:00 pm. Our welcome dinner for the tour was at 8:00 PM. Most of us were so jet-lagged that we did not remember any of the orientation announcements for that evening.
Our hotel reservations did provide each room with a private bathroom. For this, I was grateful. Previous to touring, we did not know if we should have to use a bathroom down the hallway. The entire water system to Odessa city is shut off each midnight until 5:30 or 6:00 AM. Hot water is not always available. In the morning, when there was hot water, one hurried for a shower. If not, you would wash the essential minimum and hope for hot water in the evening. The plumbing (when the water was turned on) constantly leaked. Not very environmentally frugal, much water went down the drain unnecessarily from those many leaks.
During the first full day, we toured the City of Odessa on a chartered bus. The streets of Odessa had much car traffic, belching smoke and pollution. There are evidences of Odessa, at one time, being a beautiful city: 1) The boulevard streets are tree-lined on both sides; 2) the buildings have grapevines growing up the walls; 3) the building architectural styles were ornate with a beautiful past. Now they are deteriorating, crumbling, and some are dirty.
Most people live in apartments, usually two rooms with a bathroom. If you had a three-room apartment, you were very privileged. The buildings were 3-4 stories high. There were many dogs and cats on the city streets. Either they were strays or they were street life because their "masters" lived in the facing apartment building where the animals wandered.
The city is very cosmopolitan with the international influences of Italian, French, Armenian, Jewish, and Korean, in addition to the Ukrainian and Russians. Much of the architecture, we were told, was historically influenced by the French. We did not drink the tap water in Odessa, we purchased bottled water to safely drink. I did not even brush my teeth with the piped water. Some people did.
We were fed three meals each day in our hotel. We could not complain about the amount of food provided. There was large quantities of food; however an unaccustomed menu. We had tomatoes (fresh), cucumbers, and cheese usually three times a day---breakfast lunch and dinner. Meats were salami and assorted cold cuts. Generous amounts of bread, mostly dry, occasionally with butter available. Generous portions of yogurt. When we were served hot cereal for breakfast, no fresh milk was provided. The bottled beverages during every meal was usually mineral, carbonated water. Hot tea was served with every meal.
The second evening (during the first full day after arrival) of our tour, we went to the Odessa Opera house for an evening performance. We did not see an opera, but a mixed production of classic ballet, choir chorales, and selected orchestra music. The building is rated second only in beauty to the Opera House in Paris. Not having seen the Opera House in Paris, I cannot attest to this reputation, since this building is in disrepair, as are all buildings in Odessa. Odessa Opera House architecture is in a process of restoration. The interior focus is a very large crystal chandelier weighing 2 tons. The decor inside was very ornate with filigree.
Since the college in 1990 of the Soviet Union, Russian power-brokers are frustrated to no longer rule the best seaport on the Black Sea. Because of this dilemma, Russia claims that Ukraine owes Russia much money from the past, when Ukraine was part of Soviet Union.
The military and anyone else employed by the Ukrainian Government have not received their pay (wages) for about 6 months. It appears that the finances exist, but the top echelon keeps the money to themselves to earn further interest. The masses are paid at the whim of the authority figures.
We visited an orphanage in Odessa to which we took various donated articles---blankets made by senior citizens in North Dakota, pencils, paper, clothing, soap, toys, and various and sundry other items. This "potlatch" was a moving experience. One feels so fortunate to benefit from the overflow of material things that we have for daily living.
I toured the actual village of Elsass, where lived Rosa and Anton Meier our ancestors, now called Cherbanka. I had no address of Rosa and Anton's residence when they lived in Elsass previous to 1900. Unable to seek out their actual home for a photograph, I did view the church structure that had been their church. Both the church and cemetery were in shambles! There was no roof on the church, stained glass windows gone, walls crumbling, floor overgrown with grass and weeds. The cemetery was completely overgrown with lilac bushes. This makes one speculate that a lilac bush had been planted at each grave site when the bodies were buried. Can't verify this. However, no tombstones remain, being destroyed and/or stolen. There has been no reverence for grave sites observed, so any genealogy researching was impossible that one would hope to do. In the cemetery, we offered a short prayer and a few moments of silence in remembrance of our ancestors who had been buried there.
While in Elsass (Cherbanka) we toured a day school. The teaching staff and students were aware that we were coming that day, so we were given a grand welcome. The children gave us a program of singing, poem reading, dancing. They were very excited to practice their English with us. Each of us were given big bouquets of blooming peonies. The school was so hospitable to 15 of us that had traveled to Elsass. Others in the tour group of 35 persons had gone to other villages not in the Kutschurgan group.
The children were all very well-dressed, thus we assumed they were in their best clothes in our honor. There were no rebellious evidences of sloppy haircuts, or untidy clothes from the youth. All were well-mannered. This lack of licentious behaviors was a refreshing and poignant experience for showing of purity and innocence.
We were fed a lunch prepared by the school teachers. The table was "groaning" celebrating food because of the quantity. We all knew that they hardly have much for themselves, but yet they shared enormous amounts with us. There was cucumbers, tomatoes, breads, cold cuts, cheeses, cakes, champagne and wine and vodka. This meal was presented during noon time.
In my normal eating, I reserve one alcoholic drink per month because I am subject to migraine headaches. Imagine my consternation facing all of this alcohol at midday. One cannot refuse their symbols of hospitality, because it is considered rude. There was toast after toast. I managed to sip at the alcohol and not appear too rude. We were told that custom dictated that after the toast, one was to drain the whole shot glass with one's head tilted back and then hold the glass upside down to show you drank it all. The last drop or two was supposed to drip out on the table. Of course, many of us tourists dozed during our bus ride back to the Odessa hotel!
They were so generous, despite having little for themselves. We ate international food of Ukraine called varenikes. This was potatoes or cheese enfolded in pasta and boiled. Some of our tour members mentioned this food is in fact a German-originated food with a German name.
We also toured other villages of the Kutschurgan group--Mannheim, Kandel, Strassburg, and Selz. We went to these villages two consecutive days by tour bus. These villages are 30 miles distant from the city of Odessa. These villages have no grocery stores to purchase food, but use occasional market place. Most houses had various gardens, a goat or two tethered in the yard, maybe a cow. Root cellars were in evidence. Chickens were running free-range. The yards were usually well kept. The need for beauty was shown in garden display of flowers, peonies, roses, and daisies. The villagers were very friendly. When we arrived up in our tour bus, we were like a magnet drawing many people out of their homes to see us. Many were eager to talk with us. There are very few Germans left in these villages, mostly Ukrainians and Russians.
The German Catholic churches and German cemeteries in these villages have been destroyed or used for other purposes. The church structures have been used for sports arenas, warehouses, or taverns. So sad! These churches seemed over-sized, compared to the size of the village in which they were built.
The mode of transportation in these villages ran the spectrum of horse-drawn carts, motorcycles, bicycles, and very few cars.
In one village we visited a bakery (yes, there are a few merchants, but not many). The bakers gladly gave our tour group 6-7 loaves of just freshly-baked bread, still warm, so delicious. Such generosity and hospitality.
We went to a Farmer's Market in Strassburg. We were told this market had been conducting business every day for 200 years. Some of us purchased selected items.
On Sunday we went to mass in a Catholic church, located 8 blocks away from our Odessa hotel. Several of us walked there. (Others in the tour group were bused to Odessa's Lutheran Church.) The Catholic Church was large but in disrepair. They are in the process of restoring with replastering and repainting. We had worship among scaffolding, cement mixers, bricks on the floor, and much dust. The worshippers seem very devout, since they lived so many years unable to attend the religious services of their choice. The worship languages were Russian or Ukrainian with much singing, chanting, and incense.
One day in Odessa, we went to the Open Market, where they sell produce, meat, milk, cheese, butter, dried beans, rice, etc. There is no refrigeration, and the flies are prolific. I do not desire to eat meat or drink any milk sold from that market, which covered about 10 square blocks.
Another day we went to an art and craft "fair", which is in continual operation. I purchased some Matruska dolls. These are nesting dolls that start with a very tiny doll that fits inside of another doll and so on until there are about 10 dolls per set. At this art and craft fair, the vendors were very eager to have us pay in American dollars. They want the American dollars to be as new and crisp as possible, because this money stays in continual circulation locally without being exchanged into Ukrainian money. The American dollar is very popular.
The weather was overcast the first two days we arrived in Odessa; later it warmed up to be very humid and muggy. The hotel rooms, having no air conditioning, did cool down sufficiently at night so sleeping was possible.
We boarded our airplane for Germany on June 3. This itinerary involved flights on two separate legs. Germany is more comfortable, being a very modern national life style.
I enjoyed this heritage tour very much, which reminded me how thankful I am to enjoy the daily living benefits, as a citizen of the United States of America. We must all thank our family ancestors for their courage to leave their homes to begin a new life, when coming to the USA. We are so fortunate of prosperous benefits here.