Overview and reflection of Journey to the Homeland Tour May, 2010

By Arve Moser, Sartell, Minnesota

My long awaited dream to visit the homeland of my ancestors was finally here and then in such a short time, over.

Carol and I had a simply wonderful time in visiting the ancestral villages and also with the other members of the tour group. We had a great time in Odessa with everyone enjoying Ukraine and Russian food, some shopping and understanding how this city is progressing after the fall of the wall and the Communist form of government.

We were able to visit all four ancestral villages, and as we did, I attempted to understand the differences of each one. The terrain to and from the villages reminded me of North Dakota’s red river valley with huge fields of grain and some slightly rolling hills, very lush, green and beautiful.  Some common treads in all of the villages were: cemeteries were not kept up and individual markers were not identifiable; and all original churches were destroyed with only a few having limited refurbishment. It is also difficult to imagine looking at the large fields and not seeing any family farms, due to the way the former USSR operated.    

Our first visit was Wittenberg, approximately 120 miles southwest of Odessa. We were able to view the cemetery, some old German home structures and a number of other buildings that have stood the test of time, 150+ years. The once magnificent Evangelical Lutheran church was completely destroyed and has not been rebuilt.  There were no known German sire names remaining in Wittenberg.
Next stop was in Friedenstal, approximately 90 miles southwest of Odessa. We visited a museum built and maintained by a German whose parents lived in Friedenstal in the 1800’s and then migrated back to Germany. Before visiting the museum and viewing a monument at the cemetery to honor Germans from Russia buried in Friedenstal, we were invited into a local resident home for lunch. It was an experience that will never be forgotten. We simply stopped to ask for directions, and the next thing we knew, we were sitting down for some borscht, cheese dumplings, fresh vegetables, and oh yes, wine and cognac. The original church, destroyed years before was not rebuilt. There were no known German sire names remaining in Friedenstal.

On day 2 we traveled to Rohrbach approximately 90 miles north, northeast of Odessa. In addition to Rohrbach we also visited Worms on this day. Here, we viewed the cemetery and other German built homes and structures including a partially rebuilt church in use today. It was butchering day at a residence we stopped at, so we observed a beef being butchered. We visited an old school building with a dedicated historical room, in which, the historian provided information of Germans she tracked after a 1912 census, Germans who did not migrate out of the area. A list of 496 individuals contained numerous Moser and Hofmann entries. It is difficult to imagine that of the 496 individuals, not a single one resided in Rohrbach, they were either sent to Siberia after WWII or somehow managed to escape. As far as I know, there were no known German sire names remaining in Rohrbach.

Our last stop was Freudental on day 3, approximately 30 miles west, northwest of Odessa. A highlight here was visiting the Freudental School in process and visiting with the superintendent, she was also the town historian. After much discussion about village history we enjoyed lunch with her at the school. Following lunch we toured a well maintained German built home (165 years old) once occupied by a Moser and now occupied by an elderly Russian couple. In addition, the house next door was once occupied by a family named Neumuller. Ironically, my great, great grandfather married a Neumuller. As far as I could ascertain, there were no known German sire names remaining in Freudental.

To walk through the streets, to tour structures and homes built 150+ years ago still in use today, to try to understand the changes that occurred at the turn of the century, changes after Stalin came to power and further changes after WWII and to realize that we basically only visit locations and not distant relatives is haunting. And yet, the negative of those thoughts and images are offset by our experience with friendly and sincere people now living there and their understanding of why it is important for us (me) to visit there and to truly appreciate the decision of our ancestors to come to America and further, in my case, to North Dakota. 

A bit of my heart is in each of those villages for the individuals who did not come to America and instead did not have means to be able to leave or preferred not to leave.

Carol and I also enjoyed the trip to Alsace and traveling through the general areas were our ancestor’s came from before migrating to Ukraine. The additional 5 days we spent in Munich and Vienna were also tremendously wonderful.

This was such a memorable trip, thank you Michael Miller for guidance. Your passion in keeping the German from Russia Heritage growing shows in all that you do.

Again, this was an absolutely wonderful experience and if you have the opportunity, you need to take the tour--------- Carol and I will definitely make this trip again.

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