1999 Memories of Tour Members
Our trip to Seltz and Sessenheim, Alsace, France
By Anton Bosch, Nurenberg, Germany who born at Kandel, Kutschurgan Enclave, near Odessa, Ukraine. He continues to complete extensive research and oral interviews of Germans from Russia.
Mr. Bosch is the author of Entstehung, Entwicklung under Aufloesung der deutschen Kolonien am Schwarzen Meer am Beispiel van kandel von 1808 bis 1944 (Origin, Development, and Disintegration of the German Colonies near the Black Sea, with the Example of Kandel from 1804 to 1944), published by the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, Stuttgart, Germany, 1990, in German language.
28 May 1999
Our trip to Alsace - a day of past and present. On this trip across the Rhine River, which separates Germany from France, every participant prepared emotionally. They quietly asked if something common would still be found in the old homeland on which our ancestors turned their backs more than two-hundred years ago.
Twenty persons of "our Leit'" went from Stuttgart, where we stayed at the Royal Hotel, across the Rhine River to France. As there are no longer border controls, only the gray barracks remind us of the former existence of a border control station. Some had noticed this only when we approached our first destination, Seltz. No one would have noticed this unlikely fact, if the yellow signs with black French writing hadn't been so very different.
After the arrival to the city center, the whole group, as it is proper for faithful Catholics, visited the modern/old fashioned church. They encountered several men and women who were cleaning their church thoroughly with vacuums and dustcloths on this Friday.
Quickly we started talking and learned first hand the entire history of the town of Seltz.
It began like everything else, in the minds of older people, with WW II marks this Catholic church and the hearts of the people.
In 1940, German bombs turned the front of the church to heaps of rubble; only the statue of St. Adelheid miraculously remained untouched and rose above the rubble towards heaven. The people replaced the destroyed front with a modern structure of concrete; erected to the left of the church a gray bell tower on three support beams. At the 1000 year anniversary of Seltz, which today numbers 2,500 people, they placed, to the right, the statue of St. Adelheid which points with her right index finger across the square to the mayor's office. One traveler mentioned that it reminded him of his deceased mother in North Dakota when she reminded him with a similar gesture to always be good and hard working.
In the church our conversations with the women of Seltz proceeded smoothly. In a perfect Alsatian dialect we learned how pious and traditionally minded the people of this small town are which lent its name to a Seltz in Kutschurgan/Ukraine and a Sels in North Dakota. Everything went without further ado; they believed everything about us until we quite seriously tried to tell them our ancestry. Two-hundred years ago our ancestors migrated first from Seltz to South Russia and one-hundred years later from South Russia to the USA. They looked at us like we were people from another planet. Not even our name tags with Elsassian sounding names and the star-spangled banner could take away the doubts of what they had just heard. We learned that as before 50% - 60% of the local residents of Seltz attend Mass on Sunday. We compared these statistics with those in Bismarck where the church services are also diligently attended.
Overall, we found more things in common than we had expected. The amazing outward resemblance, which identifies the German Russians from the Ukraine and our American relatives to these local Alsatians, is unmistakable. To name only a few: the calm, slow way to walk, a quiet conduct, the ability to listen to others when they talk, an interest in the fate of the other person, and slow in judging but acting quickly and decisively were the same with both the guests and the locals. Only now did we become conscious of how deep and lasting the emigrated descendants of these Alsatians were and have been to this day marked by Christian customs.
We have learned to love Seltz and took several group photos for the family album on the stairs beside the strict Adelheid.
Here, the past caught up with us and in our hearts we took a piece of the old homeland into the big world which has become our new home.
On the western banks of the Rhine River, we purposefully drove past Strabbourg on to Sessenheim. The small, nice town was even more clean and beautiful than Seltz and surprised us with many traces of modern times.
We found the main street lined with brown pavement that marked the pedestrian zebra crossing of white cobblestones from the church to the mayor's office every 100 meters. Immediately we discovered a large color picture of Wolfgang Goethe at the church square.
"Why Goethe in France?", asked a traveler. Some had already read that in the Age of the Enlightenment the famous German writer stayed here while passing through but no one could recall the details.
In the mayor's office a friendly and helpful young Alsatian answered our curious question about Goethe. Indeed he had spent one year here (1771/72) because he was attached to the minister's daughter.
By the way, a picture in the hallway of city hall is a reminder of his story. It is a romantic scene in which the poet is on a bench by the wall holding a tender conversation with this young lady of Sessenheim, while her father, the minister, listens to the hushed words of the lovers.
The fact is taken so seriously and is confirmed by a portrait of the young Goethe next to the entryway of the office.
We were more surprised by the religious/prosaic things separately located at the cemetery. Catholics rest to the right and Protestants to the left of the graveyard; Protestants make up the largest part.
To our surprise, on the headstones of the Catholics we found many family names that also occurred in our group. These were names like Becker, Schenk, Grenz and others. To some that do genealogy, a trip to the Alsace would be worthwhile in order to trace the past.
When we were sitting in the bus ready to take off, we noticed a silver-white rooster was put on the massive gold-plated cross on the spires of both churches. This reminded of the local Reformation when Protestantism.
Tired but full of impressions by what we had seen and heard, we returned to Stuttgart in order to take back home the events of the day. The numerous photos of this trip pictorially attest and remind us of what is written here.
Dr. Norman K. Zeller, Portland, Oregon
Today brings to a close a glorious experience to our ancestral tour. The visits to our villages has been enlightening and has given to me deeper sense of appreciation of my ancestral history. I am grateful for their perseverance while they lived here and their wisdom for having immigrated to the United States.
Farewell to our many Ukrainian friends and to the fair city of Odessa, both of whom are undergoing difficult times. Onward to Germany for further study of our heritage.