Our Visit to Bergdorf, Glückstal and Neudorf, May 27-28, 2006

By Donald and Marjolaine Schmitt, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Odessa, Ukraine, 8:30 am, May 27, 2006

Donna Larson, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, Marjolaine Schmitt, and me, Donald Schmitt, accompanied by Serge, our interpreter and our driver Vladamir, in a Toyota minivan, started on the road to the villages of our ancestors.

The road along the way was black-topped and in some places in need of repair. Vladamir, told us, he has traveled this road numerous times, as his mother-in law lived in Moldova and was in ill health. He was very adept at avoiding the potholes.
After about one and one-half hours we arrived at the Ukraine/Moldova border at Strassburg, close to the checkpoint, we stopped at a roadside market, displaying some hardware, kitchen utensils, foodstuffs and a variety of other items.

At the checkpoint, we were stopped by security guards. Our interpreter had to present our passport and visas. There were cars ahead of us so we had to wait. We had taken some school items and toys to present to the schools we were to visit and the guards asked us to open our suitcase and display it on a table. Approximately, three hours later we had passed through the security checkpoints. While sitting in the car we saw citizens of Moldova walking or biking across to go to the market and on the way back were carrying sacks of groceries and soda.

Along the way, we were able to see the valley in which the Dniester River was winding back and forth. The countryside reminded us of the agricultural lands in the Midwest. We stopped along the way for a picnic lunch, which had been provided for us by Elvira, our tour hostess, while in Odessa.

We saw plowed fields, with corn and sunflowers beginning to grow. What amazed us was the lack of mechanized equipment. Instead of cultivators, we saw men and women, (mostly women) out in the fields hoeing the weeds. We saw men in the ditches with hand scythes, cutting the grass for hay and loading it on four rubber-tired wheeled wagons to haul it to their homes. It was starting to rain, and the people donned rain gear and were then seen riding their bicycles to their respective villages and their home

Early in the afternoon, we arrived at the home of Martha Kammerer, where we were to spend the night.

It is a typical German village home. Long and narrow, sided by a chicken yard, and a large garden to the back. There was, like in most of these homes, a fence, topped by metal, and most of them were painted a sky-blue color. Lots of the homes had trees and shrubs growing real close to houses.

Serge made arrangements for us to have a late meal, around 8:00 P.M. We then headed for Bergdorf , which was the village that was the home of my grandparent Schmitt. Serge located the home of the Museum Director, Nathalie Vladimirovna. She informed us that they were wall papering their home, and would be ready in a short time. She then accompanied us to the school, where the School director also joined us. We toured the museum, for which they presently are trying to acquire items for display. They did have linens, old German bible and an adobe brick, which they had salvaged from a home that had been occupied by a family by the name of Ahl, which happened to be some ancestors or relatives of Donna Larson.

From the school, we were able to go the church building where my Grandparent Johann Schmidt and Fredericka Laemmle, reportedly were married. The original wood around the main entrance was still there, and despite a small leak in the roof, the building was in remarkable shape.

Due to the rain, we were unable to visit the cemetery, which was a disappointment, but then Nathalie, said she would take some of her students, do some clean up, and send me some pictures. The road out of Bergdorf, was hardly passable, after the rain

After our tour of the museum, and school, where they showed us the Honor wall, pictures of their best students, and artwork, the Director of the school, Christopher, and Nathalie, inquired whether we, Serge, Donna, Marj and I would have time for refreshments. We were treated to coffee, chocolates, and even a taste of Cognac. We had a wonderful time visiting about their school, number of children enrolled and other general current topics. They did mention the population of Bergdorf is declining as in the past year 22 people had died and they only had 3 births.

We then went to Neudorf, which was Donna’s interest and saw the school there. Marj and Donna had taken along miscellaneous school supplies and play items and presented them to the School at Bergdorf and Neudorf.

We returned to Glueckstal, and had our evening meal with Martha and her family, which included her Son, Robert, his wife Helene and their children.

Martha was and is the sweetest lady. I was able to use my conversational German to converse with her, which I had not used for approximately 20-30 years. We understood the majority of our conversation. She has had a very difficult life, having spent many years in Siberia. She said to me that when Stalin died, they were freed, but did not know where to go or how to get there. She has a very comfortable home and made us feel more than welcome. She has a very large garden, and in the fall cans about 300 quarts of assorted fruits and vegetables. She had two brood hens setting and already had a small group of little geese. Her Grandson showed me his rabbits in a kennel. She has a daughter in Germany with a large family, and has not seen her in about 5 years and then another daughter, close to Venice, if I understood her correctly, who manages a business that publishes 5 or 6 magazines.

I mentioned some names that my second cousin Ervin Schumacher, had mentioned in his book, “Forward in Faith” but they had all moved back to Germany. So as far as I was able to ascertain, Martha is the only individual that dates back to the original Germans.

Sitting around her table, made one feel like part of her family. As we sat down, we were toasted with wine and vodka. Our evening meal, which consisted of borscht, chicken and potatoes, and some of her canned vegetables. It lasted about four or five hours as we sat around, visited with her and her family, Serge interpreting for us. The main language spoken is Russian so Serge was busy interpreting German, Russian and English. There was lots of laughter and good-natured ribbing. It was after one o’clock in the morning before we decided to retire for the night I am not sure where everyone slept, but Marj and I had a comfortable bed and Donna was in another room, which she said was comfortable.

There was no indoor plumbing so we had to use the facilities outside, which brought back memories of my early years on the farm in northern South Dakota.

She mentioned that twice a week a truck comes to the village, from which they are able to buy grocery items and such. They also have a market in the village. It was Sunday so were not able to see the inside.

The church building, was still standing proud, in the daytime sun, and I could picture my ancestors and their neighbors, the men wearing their hats and the women their typical scarves, worshiping there and then after the service standing outside and visiting, as was the custom at my home church. The cemetery was destroyed during the war, with no visible signs. One grave marker was saved and we saw it behind the school. They thought about putting it in the museum, but there was some thought about mixing church and state. Some words, in German were still visible.

Sunday morning, after we had breakfast, with Martha, we attended a Russian Orthodox Church service in Neudorf. The service had started when we arrived. It is the custom for the women to have their heads covered so Marj and Donna had to borrow headscarves from Martha and her daughter-in-law. We entered, there were no pews, and everyone stood quietly and reverently as a Priest was chanting. We also had a moment of silence. Upon leaving, noticed other people, walking down the street, and entering. Serge mentioned that the service lasts about three hours and people can come at any time.

We returned to Glueckstal and walked around the village. It was a beautiful Sunday morning. The main street was wide but not a car in sight and several side streets. Did see a motorcycle with sidecar, with a young couple as riders. As we walked the streets, some children followed us and we presented them with one-dollar bills. They disappeared for a short time and upon their return presented my wife and Donna a bouquet of wild flowers they had picked. A very considerate action on their part, and the ladies were very appreciative. People were out, in their yards moving about, one or two on tractors and on horse drawn, rubber-tired wagon. Serge visited with several, informing them about our visit.

Glueckstal has an army base there. We saw just a few men in uniforms on the street. Robert, Martha’s son, is a member of the unit, and as we left on Sunday afternoon, saw him in his uniform, walking to the base.

Moldova, after the conflict in the early 1990’s, is struggling for independence. It is part of Russia, but close to Romania.

My relations on my mother’s side (Schumacher) were residents here and on the plot plan of the Village, we located some homes, which were identified as belonging to them.

At 1 o’clock, we were scheduled to present a book, which was a gift from the GRHS, to the Glueckstal museum. The school director, Irene Semionovna, had prepared about 15 school students to present a program of readings, folk music and dancing, which was very impressive. We were very delighted and enjoyed their efforts.

Over coffee, chocolates and treats, we had a conversation and discussion with Irene, and the Mayor John Vereshtchak. The mayor, about 33 years old, had questions about our democracy and our court systems. It was interesting to relate some of our customs and way of life to them.

About three o’clock we had a light lunch at Martha’s, before our trip back to Odessa.

A comment we made, on our trip back, was that our accommodations were primitive but the hospitality was four-star.

A very informative, interesting and satisfying trip. Serge and Vladamir were especially accommodating and made the trip very successful.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller