Journey to the Homeland: Germany and Ukraine
North Dakota State University Libraries Tours

7 June 1996
From Michael M. Miller
at Odessa Polytechnical State University Computer Center

Warmest regards from Odessa, Ukraine.

I arrived safely in Odessa on Wednesday, 5 June on the Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna to Odessa. I was somewhat concerned at the Odessa Airport because of the Ukrainian Customs but all was OK. I have spoken to the Customs regarding the Ukraine School Supply Project. At the airport, I was greeted by Odessa friends and the Mosers from Tiraspol. The Mosers' son, Boris, returns to Tiraspol on 15 June from San Francisco and the USA after one year of high school studies. He was in Los Angeles on 1 June to speak to the Germans from Russia Chapter.

Yesterday I visited the outdoor fruit and vegetable market near the Chornoye More Hotel. There I saw many sellers of the new cherries and garden vegetables. I remember the delicious red cherries from my visit in June, 1994, but they are even better this time. They are like the cherries that come from the state of Washington to the Dakota markets in June.

Irena Klisz of Northwestern Travel Bureau has arrived in Odessa and I have met with various people to prepare for the arrival of Tour Group I on 9 June.

The temperatures reach the lower 80s so it is warm but comfortable in Odessa. I already see many tourists including other Americans at the hotel.

The final semester exams at the universities are taking place.

There is much anticipation within the German community in Odessa for the arrival of the American Germans from Russia.

On Wednesday evening, I visited the Bavarian House. There was a music program for the 3rd Anniversary of the Bavarian House. The Ambassador of Germany from Kiev attended the event as well as many other Germans living in Odessa. Tour Group I will be at the Bavarian House for a reception and program the evening of Monday, 10 June.

On 9 June (Saturday) I plan to drive to some of the former Bessarabian villages including Tarutino where there are ethnic Germans. They want to present some items for the archives at the North Dakota State University Libraries. We will return late Saturday.

I am also happy to report that our oral history interviewer, Igor, has completed 10-15 interviews with Germans since my visit in December. We will be reviewing future plans with interviews when Dr. Dona Reeves-Marquardt arrives with Tour Group I after 9 June.

Our project of a global oral history interview program of ethnic Germans has truly begun in Odessa. Igor tells me the people are not always willing to express their feelings but when he mentions this is for the archives of the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at North Dakota State University Libraries. They sense an interest when they hear that Americans and a university are interested to learn of the difficult life of Germans in Ukraine and in Russia.

Finally, Odessa is very green with many markets selling flowers. The gardens already produce radishes and many other vegetables that we will see in North Dakota gardens later in June. People visit the Black Sea beaches with sunny temperatures.

I will share with you my experiences when I return from the Bessarabian villages on Saturday evening.

Warmest of greetings to friends and colleagues.

Michael M. Miller from Odessa, Ukraine

11 June 1996 - 10:50 pm
Our Day in Odessa and Ukraine

After a 20 minute walk from the Chornoye More Hotel in the dark of the Odessa night with few outdoor lights, four of us have arrived at the Odessa Polytechnical State University Computer Center to share their experiences. Those sharing brief messages include Connie (Schaffer) Knight, St. Paul, MN; Dr. Lewis Marquardt, Buda, TX; and myself, Michael M. Miller.

Mike Miller has asked me to add a few words on the spur of the moment and I wish only to emphasize the emotions felt on behalf of the members upon seeing the old country for the first time. The country reminds us of the Dakotas in many ways; the weather is hot, and tomorrow members plan to visit their villages for the first time. Members are excited and much has been seen to date. Odessa is a formerly lovely city characterized by a shortage of cash but not of spirit. The German Bavarian House presented a fine program of music and pictures tonight of collected images they have gathered regarding the former colonies as well as the city of Odessa. It would be exciting to view many of these images in a final printed form. Must sign off for our walk back to the hotel!

Lew Marquardt

Tomorrow we go to the villages. You can feel the excitement of the tour members as they prepare to walk the land where their ancestors lived. I hope to locate the house in Kandel where my great-grandparents (Andreas Schafer and Magdalena Zahn) lived. I believe the highlight of the day will be presenting school supplies to the children in the villages of Kandel and Selz. A greater bond is built when we can contribute to the people who now live in our ancestors land. And right before I closed up my school supplies box, my six year old put in some of his toys to share with the children--another way to share our ancestry and common bonds.

Connie Knight

It is getting late in the evening so we will close and talk our walk back to the hotel. We want to extend warmest regards to all our friends in America and throughout the world from Odessa, Ukraine.

Tomorrow Bob Dambach of Prairie Public Television and I travel with the group to the Beresan villages. Joining us with be Bishop Joseph Werth of Siberia to visit for the first time his ancestral villages of Karlsruhe and Landau [Beresan Enclave].

As Connie mentioned, there is truly much excitement of leaving on Tuesday morning for the former ethnic German villages. We will send our next message on e-mail on Wednesday, 13 June.....we will share with you how we presented the school supplies to the Ukrainian children.

With best wishes from Odessa,

Michael M. Miller

12 June 1996
Beresan Valley Colonies

To walk in the village of Karlsruhe where my father lived and see the church where he was baptized was a dream fulfilled.

Betty Baron Thatcher, Tigard, Oregon
(Betty is a native of Mandan, ND)

To have our pictures taken by the school that mother attended, and spoke of with fond memories was a memorable experience of us.

Zita Dauenhauer Gieser ,Dickinson, ND
Rosemarie Dauenhauer Hoff, Denver, CO
(Zita and Rosemarie are natives of Richardton, ND)

To walk the ground and see the landscape and old churches and schools where my father and mother where born and where all four of my grandparents married and started their families is the highlight of my trip. Actually seeing the villages of Landau and Katherinental where my grandfathers lived until age 16 and leaving the land they loved made my personal history more alive.

We brought many bags of school supplies from the children of North Dakota to the children of these villages. This goodwill gesture lets the people here know we still do care about the homeland of our ancestors.

Judith Doll, Fargo, ND
(Judith is formerly from New Salem ND and an elementary school teacher in Fargo)

Kutschurgan Village Visits

As tables and benches overflowing with wide-eyed children lined the hot, sultry schoolroom, eleven descendants of Kutchurganers entered with boxes and bags of school supplies. The children listened attentively to the translator who carefully explained who we were and why we had come to their village. They smiled and clutched the small gifts as we distributed the paper, pencils, markers and other small treasures, trying them out right away.

"From America?" One tiny boy asked in perfect English. They needed so much more than we brought or ever could bring. New pictures and maps for the walls, blackboards and chalk, enough tables and benches for all of them to sit comfortably. The list would go on a long way before we came to computers. But they were eager to learn and asked us many questions, about ourselves, our families, how children in America lived and studied...and why we had not brought any children along! They wanted to play and speak with American children too. They had picked cherries for us, and strawberries, and they had baked us a cake. Some mothers stood around the wall, crowding through the door with the teachers. One mother asked me, "Would you take a picture of me and my child and send it to me?" She wrote her address. Mothers know magic moments. It will be special for the family when they receive the color photo from America.

Lewis and Dona-Reeves Marquardt, Buda, Texas
(Lew is a native of Linton, ND and Dona is a native of Colorado - they both recently retired as professors at Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, TX, the Marquardts will also join Tour Group II back in Odessa from 24 June to 1 July as well as Stuttgart for 17 June to 24 June 1996)

11:07 pm

I have arrived at the Odessa State Polytechnical State University with our Tourist Facilitator, Dr. Sergey Yelizarov, to prepare our second e-mail messages to be sent back to America and throughout the world.

First, I want to say that all Tour Group I members are holding up and in good health. Our medical doctor is at the hotel each evening until late to check on each room and to anticipate any problems for the next day.

The temperatures have become quite warm with temperatures in the 80s but humid since we are near the Black Sea. We are purchasing each day many bottles of large non-gas water....the amount of water taken to the villages with the buses is important.

The tour group members wish to express their warmest regards to all their families and friends in the USA. Their expressions and their stories when they return from village visits are most interesting and deeply emotional.

Hiller Goehring of Lodi, CA, mentioned to me this evening upon returning from the village of Glueckstal that he can now begin a new chapter with all that he saw and experienced during his overnight stay. He told me that he was in his 9th roll of film.

Tour members are carefully recording their photos each days for archival and other uses later. We will speak more about this in Germany.

Bishop Joseph Werth joined the people today traveling to the Kutschurgan villages including Selz, Strassburg, Kandel, Elsass, Baden, and Mannheim. When they returned, Antonina Welk Ivanova was with them. Antonina was interviewed this evening.

This evening some of the tour group members attended the Russian ballet performance from Moscow at the Odessa Opera House.

It is getting late in the evening so please excuse any typing will be a long walk back to the hotel.

More again another e-mail message, tour members will tell their stories.

Good bye from Odessa, Ukraine....we look forward with much anticipation to the arrival on Tuesday of Tour Group II in Stuttgart. Our Tour Group I members will be glad when they have arrived in Stuttgart on 17 June.

Michael M. Miller

13 June 1996
A Day in the Former German Villages near Odessa, Ukraine

I joined the large bus traveling to the villages of Selz and Mannheim. We brought Antonina Welk Ivanova home after an overnight stay at the hotel for an oral history interview.

On Friday we will visit the Odessa State Archives and the Odessa Scientific Library. Both libraries contain valuable historical German documents including the time of the German villages near Odessa.

On Friday evening, we will host our first Journey to the Homeland Seminar for the city of Odessa and especially for the students and faculty of Odessa State University and the other universities in Odessa. Tour group members will participate sharing their experiences as to why they came to Odessa and their interest to walk the streets and visit the churches of their ancestors. We expect many university students to attend. There has been much discussion and anticipation as we prepare to host the Friday evening seminar at the hotel.

Another day has passed of our historic Journey to the Homeland Tour.

Now I will share with you, text from some of our tour group members.

Michael M. Miller

Our Visit to the German Villages in the Former Bessarabia......

The Bessarabian group was blessed to be able to return to the home villages of our ancestors. We started our tour at the village of Sarata which is the only church in Bessarabia that has been completely restored to its pre 1940 condition with funds from the Bessarabian Germans in Germany. The church was beautiful to say the least. From there we went north to Borodino. Upon arrival we met a school teacher who went and brought the principal of the school to use. She have us a tour of the school built in 1840 which is still in use today. She spoke in glowing terms about the former villagers who come from Germany. They are in the process of building a new school with funds donated from Germany. The village also has a small museum which has a section on the Bessarabian Germans. We gave the school suplies to the principal and two of the teachers. From Borodino, we moved on to Klostitz. The church has been destroyed but the World War I memorial is still standing. It was beautiful and marked with a cross. From Klostitz we went to Beresina. The church is still standing but has been gutted and has no roof. Even in this condition, it was still beautiful to behold. We traveled on to Alt-Postal.

We were all struck how much Bessarabia looks like North Dakota. The wheat fields and sunflowers made us feel very much at home. We were also surprised to see such a great variety of animals. We saw sheep, horses, cows, goats, geese, ducks, and donkeys. The list could go on. We feel that in a short time, Ukraine has become like a second homeland. As one Bessarabian said, "If Germany was our Fatherland, then Russia is our Motherland".

Ron Metz
LaHabra, California
(a native of Garrison, North Dakota)

Our Day in the Kutschurgan Villages......

Twelve descendants of Kutschurgan settlers and about a dozen other members of the Journey to the Homeland tour group visited the Kutschurgan Liman area. They returned to Selz specificially to see the grave site of Bishop Zerr, a renowned and respected clergyman of the German-Russian colonists. With the assistance of Antonina Welk Ivanova, who remembered the small chapel behind the school near the now ruined and empty church, the members held a brief prayer service lead by Bishop Joseph Werth of Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia.

Bishop Werth blessed the area and offered a prayer for those buried there as well as all others who have been persecuted unjustly.

The members travelled further and picknicked in the shade of the former Mannheim church.

Our afternoon included visiting the villages of Franzeld, Grossliebental and Klein Liebental. In Grossliebental we were able to see the interior of the church. The former Grossliebental Lutheran church is now used as a Russian Orothodox Church. The priest was most hospitable and shared with us rare documents left in the church.

Ted Weisenburger of Phoenix visited Grossliebental where his father was born. We tried to locate the house but it was likely destroyed during WW II.

Zita Dauenhauer Gieser of Dickinson and her sister, Rosemarie Dauenhauer Hoff of Denver, visited for the first time the village of some of their ancestors in Franzfeld. Again we tried to locate the cemetery but nothing remains.

Lew and Dona Reeves-Marquardt
Buda, Texas

Saturday, 15 June 1996
A day in Odessa and the former German villages

Messages from tour group members:

I was thrilled to walk in the streets of Grossliebental where my grandparents walked and to see the church where they worshipped even though it has now been converted into a Russian Orthodox Church, and the old records have been taken to Germany by former residents who have gone to Germany from exile in Siberia. The school my grandfather attended is still being used as a school, but his house was destroyed in World War II and another house has been built on the lot. At the present time there are no Germans in their old village. In a nearby village we found a family named Fetzer who have relatives in the United States, but do not recall where. It was interesting to visit with them. In another nearby village we found a German family named Loewenstein. There are very few German families here now and the records have either been taken to the archives in Odessa or to Germany.

Ted Weisenburger
Phoenix, Arizona
(born in Tuttle and finished high school in New Rockford, ND)

In Selz (today Limanskoe) [Kutschurgan Enclave], we were welcomed in the Ukrainian custom with a loaf of bread and salt. The round loaf of bread was a delight to behold with its designs of grape clusters...a symbol of our forefathers who planted vineyards in the Kutschurgan region. The German women in the village toiled many hours in their meager kitchens to present us with a meal not to be matched in any fancy restaurant.

We were treated with the German traditional foods of nudelsuppe, knoepfle, rindfleisch and Kartoffeln; as well as a Ukrainian traditional dessert - verenicke. And of course, no German meal is complete without a wine - red wine and champagne from Kandel. As we enjoyed our food and wine and sang familiar songs. I was reminded of the family gatherings we once had years ago, and how our ancestors must have had similar happy times and how the family is now so dispersed that such times are few and far in between. Perhaps this reunion with our native villages will help us rekindle that sense of family and community when we return to our own families and "villages" in the United States.

Connie (Schaffer) Knight
Eagan, MN
(roots to Napoleon, ND)

It is Saturday evening at the Odessa State Polytechnical University Computer Center. The weather changed from temperatures in the middle and upper 80s to the 60s today (Saturday, 15 June). Some of the tour group members went to visit the Liebental villages while others visited the Beresan Catholic villages.

One of the interesting stories told at dinner this evening was by Brother Placid Gross of Assumption Abbey at Richardton, ND. Placid was finally able to get up close to the Russian red cow. He saw the women coming from the village to milk their cows right in the pasture. It was a sight he shall never forget. Brother Placid is manager of the farm at Assumption Abbey with 300 beef cattle.

On Sunday, tour group members will attend church services. The Bavarian House bus will pick up tour members to attend the Lutheran German services at a location that is rented. Presently, there is no Lutheran Church in Odessa.

Tour group members of the Catholic faith will attend Assumption Church where they will attend Mass with Bishop Joseph Werth.

On Sunday afternoon, the bus heads to Alexanderhilf to visit the German-Ukrainian Cultural Center. After our visit to Alexanderhilf, we travel to Peterstal where we will have a special program. In Peterstal, there is a resettlement location for Germans who have returned from other parts of the former Soviet Union. The container housing for some of the ethnic Germans will be interesting for the tour group members to see.

The Bavarian House Choir of Odessa travels with the tour group members on the bus to Peterstal for the program and a performance. Our Journey to the Homeland Choir directed by Dr. Lewis Marquardt will sing at the program. They have practiced at the hotel.

This will be an important visit for the tour group where they meet their German-Russian brothers and sisters who have come from Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Russia.

The Americans will present to the Bavarian House in Peterstal and to the German resettlement a United States flag in commemoration of the visit of Sunday, 16 June 1996.

Well I must close since it is now past 10 pm in Odessa and we are thankful to Dr. Sergey Yelizarov, Tourist Facilitator, and Sergey Kravchenko, a Russian ethnic student, who is manning the computer room to allow us to complete e-mail.

Finally, our tour members provide us with wonderful stories of their visits to the villages. Hundreds of photos are being taken as well as much filming by Bob Dambach, Producer at Prairie Public Television of North Dakota.

We will write more on e-mail after our visit to Peterstal on Sunday evening or on Monday morning before we leave on the afternoon flight via Austrian Airlines for Vienna and Stuttgart, Germany.

With best regards from Odessa,

Michael M. Miller
North Dakota State University, Fargo
(a native of Strasburg, ND)

Monday, 17 June 1996
Preparing to Leave Odessa, Ukraine for Vienna and Stuttgart.....

Tour group members are now visiting important sites in Odessa before they prepare to leave Odessa today at 5:30 pm on the Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna, Austria. The tour members look forward to landing in Germany and being in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Stuttgart. The Beer Garden at the Holiday Inn Garden Court where we will stay in Stuttgart should be a popular place on Monday evening. I might add that the Ukrainian beer has been most refreshing to the tour members and well appreciated.

On Sunday evening, tour group members told about their experiences visiting the land of their forefathers and meeting the wonderful Ukrainian people.

I was deeply impressed and moved by the stories they expressed. Our tour to Odessa and the villages has been well received by all. They have developed loving friendships with students, translators, and tour guides.

On Sunday, members of the tour of the Lutheran and Protestant faith traveled with the Bavarian House bus to the local church services. Rev. Theodore Rath of Rock Lake, ND, visited with the Lutheran pastor temporarily staying in Odessa. For all it was a rewarding experience to hear German songs and be with ethnic Germans.

Sunday morning services at the Assumption Abbey Catholic Church included a special Mass with Bishop Joseph Werth. He prepared an important message he delivered in Russian and in German telling about Bishop Kessler, Bishop Zerr and the Catholic Church in Odessa and the nearby villages. We hope to translate his text to English for publication.

The tour group members sang two songs--one in English and one in German. Along with the tour group members, we shall never forget the warmth of the parish members and the excellent choir.

On Sunday afternoon, 16 June, tour group members traveled to Peterstal where they saw the German container settlement built with Ukrainian funds. There we met primarily Volga and Crimean Germans who have all returned from Kazakhstan.

In Peterstal, the Bavarian House Choir performed outstanding music. Later the choir performed with Americans singing in German and in English.

We presented American flags to the mayor of Peterstal and to the Bavarian House Choir. There were many children in attendance so we presented a large box of school supplies. Judith Doll, a 4th grade teacher at Washington Elementary in Fargo, talked to a local grade school teacher about beginning a classroom to classroom pen-pal project.

When we return with Tour Group II on 24 June, we plan to bring much needed school supplies to the Germans in the Peterstal settlement containers or very small living quarters. However good housing is being built for them at this time.

In Peterstal we also visited a new bakery opened by an ethnic German. There we were served refreshments and German beer. We plan to bring Tour Group II members back to the bakery for lunch with fresh bread and kuchen on Sunday, 30 June along with delicious homemade sausage.

Finally, all on the tour are in good health.

Michael M. Miller
NDSU Libraries, Fargo

Let me share with you some of their stories:

This Kutschurgan member has just returned from a visit to the Beresan colonies. The differences between the two are striking. Beresan is remote, Kutschurgan is nearby; Beresan had more cattle (on first impressions), the Kutschurgan had more vineyards. But no matter where we visited, both the Ukrainian people and the German people were warm, friendly, and willing to tell us their stories.

The Journey to the Homeland trip is a tremendous success!

Lewis Marquardt
Buda, Texas

We were fortunate to make a return trip to the Beresan Valley. In Karlsruhe, we met a woman who lived in one of the German houses near the St. Peter and Paul Church. She was extremely hospitable and invited us in to see her home. The openness of the residents continues to amaze us and make me happy to know our ancestral homes are being cared for with so much pride.

Betty Baron Thatcher
Tigard, Oregon
(a native of Mandan, North Dakota)

We also discovered an old German cemetery in Kathariental. Although much of the once large cemetery was demolished and covered with plant overgrowth, we found some metal crosses, monument bases, and a few crosses and monuments with text. Excited we were but also a feeling of awed reverence pervaded among the group. None of us found an ancestral burial site, yet to be standing among the spirit of courage, strength and faith has made a lasting impression on me.

Judith Doll
Fargo, North Dakota
(a native of New Salem, North Dakota)

25 June 1996

On the final flight into Odessa I thought of the exhausting trip our group was making to visit the homeland of our ancestors. How could I begin to compare it with what our ancestors did to emigrate from Germany to Russia to the USA? The fortitude they had is astonishing! Hopefully I will be able to capture some of the spirit they had.

Penny Raile
Glueckstal Colonies

To have arrived in Odessa, the city where my mother told me that my grandfather sold his wheat, is a dream come true. It is only the end of the first day and we have already walked the streets of the old part of the city going in and out of building after building that must have been very familiar to many of our ancestors. To top it off we have seen a first-rate opera in Ukrainian at the famous Odessa Opera House about which it is said that unless one has done so one has not really been to Odessa.

Margaret Freeman
Glueckstal Colonies

My Grandfather Fetzer often spoke about the Black Sea and Odessa, near where he was born (the German village of Neuberg) with such longing in his old age--and for me now to visit this place, where I always felt he'd left his childhood, and to see some of what he must have seen when he visited this city with his own father, I can understand more clearly why he felt such longing. It seems important to me, an act of piety and remembering, to connect that old man in his small clapboard house in the tiny plains town of Wishek, North Dakota, with this bustling, cosmopolitan city.

Ronald Vossler

For the Hausauer family, out of Jamestown, North Dakota, the first leg of the NDSU sponsored "Journey to the Homeland" Tour was a productive one: the Hausauers met, on a bus trip to their ancestral village of Cleebourg France, one of their relatives, Louisa Hausauer, with whom they easily communicated in the same German dialect that the Hausauer family spoke in Jamestown, North Dakota.

Later, in Stuttgart, the Hausauer's attended the "Bundestreffen", a gathering of well over 50,000 ethnic Germans who have returned to Germany from their war time diaspora in Siberia and Kazakhstan, and other parts of the Soviet Empire. There, the Hausauers, who felt it would be nice if even one of their relatives showed, were, as they put it, "grinning a lot" after meeting a group of forty relatives, "Ansiedlers", returning to Germany from their wartime exiles.

The Hausauers, as part of Tour Group 2, consisting of at least forty five members, continued on to Odessa, Ukraine. They are currently touring the city and are preparing to visit the Glueckstal Colonies, where Albert Hausauer's father, who later emigrated to America, was born to ethnic Germans who settled the Ukrainian frontier in the early part of the nineteenth century.

In the morning of June 27, the tour group members are traveling by van and bus to various ancestral villages in the Bessarabia, Beresan, Glueckstal, and Liebental enclaves--a journey that many tour members have been yearning to make for years: returning to walk the streets of the villages where their ancestors lived, to ponder that unique history of one of America's most overlooked ethnic groups.

Hausauer Family

27 June 1996

It is Thursday and we are just completing our tour of the Glueckstal enclave--except for Kassel. Having stayed overnight in Glueckstal itself we are making our way back to Odessa by way of visits to Neudorf and Bergdorf. Our tour bus is filled with thirty-two persons including twenty-six Glueckstallers with roots to the Dakotas. I was privileged to join this interesting group of people including Ukrainians and Moldovans, who acted as guides and interpreters.

Yesterday we traveled from Odessa to the former village of Sofiental now called Novosamarka. In Novosamarka the bus stopped at the school where we were greeted by Ukrainian children and presented with the traditional Ukrainian greeting bread called karavai. This was followed by a program of music first by talented children and then by a near-professional women's choir. The mayor of Sofiental welcomed the American delegation in a traditional ceremony, which was attended by large audience of local people. The school supplies were then presented to the Sofiental school. The visit ended with a delicious lunch consisting of traditional Ukrainian foods, many of which, such as the cabbage rolls, have been familiar to us from childhood.

One of the Ukrainians who joined us, Pavel Pratchuk, is a student of history at Odessa University. During the trip he commented to us through an interpreter, as follows: "I am writing an article for a local Ukrainian newspaper called--Sophiental's Past and Future--which will tell the history of the former German-Russian village. It will be a story about the descendants of the German Russians who lived in this village and also in nearby villages once.

"Traveling with the American tour for two days in the German-Russian villages I have learned a little more about Americans. I have found out that they are very well organized as a group, but at the same time are strong as individuals. It surprised me that Americans seem to be interested in everything they see. I also noticed that they are "crazy" in their own way, but overall they are very friendly people.

"As part of the job we made new contacts, and have learned more about how to get tour groups out to the German-Russian villages. We have made considerable progress for developing future tours."

Friday morning, 28 June 1996

Tour group members are visiting the Odessa State Archives to review the genealogical resources. For many it is a "dream come true" to see the original documents of their German ancestors. Others go shopping and this afternoon we visit the historic Odessa Scientific Library where there are German newspapers and many other German books. In tour group one, I presented an American flag to the group.

Later this afternoon we prepare for the Journey to the Homeland Seminar where many university students from Odessa will attend.

On Saturday some of the tour group members will travel to other villages.

Michael M. Miller
Fargo, North Dakota

2 July 1996
Subject: Feelings

They visited Friedenstal, Bessarabia, now known as Mirnopolje, Ukraine, today, the former village of their ancestors. This tour was sponsored by North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, North Dakota. Accompanying the group was Dave Geck, videographer for Prairie Public Television.

During their visit in Friedenstal, they located the homes of their ancestors. They were spontaneously invited into the former Maier home, where Marge's great, great grandmother lived. It was also the birth home of her great grandfather, Johann Maier, who left for America in 1888, with two children. A 4 year old daughter, her grandmother , Maria, and a two year old brother. They enjoyed homemade wine, roast goose, batter dipped fried zucchini, and pork fat. A warm toast to our ancestors and to our hosts, of love and friendship, brought all of our raised glasses together.

The group discovered the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Friedenstal was completely destroyed including the cemetery of the people that settled this village in 1834. It was also discovered that the gravestones of this early cemetery were removed and utilized as building material for supporting walls on a road project near the village. Inscriptions on some grave stones are visible, which was a sad experience of the tour members to find these ledgers of early Friedenstal residents to be used for this purpose.

Donated school supplies, from older adult education students in Livermore, Pleasanton, San Ramon, Danville And Hayward, were presented to the school director, by Jergentz-Stout, Stadel and Iszler. These supplies were greatly appreciated since a great need exists in the country for school and medical supplies.

Marge Jergentz-Stout of Livermore, CA, Edwin Iszler from Streeter, North Dakota, and Emil Jakob Stadel formerly of Dawson, North Dakota,

There have been so many wonderful experiences on this trip, it is difficult to select a particular highlight. However, yesterday I had a very emotionally moving experience in Speyer when I was able to attend a religious service in the same church that four generations of my family (surname Geiger)had worshipped in. It was here that they were baptized, confirmed, married and died. The church is no longer Catholic and is now a Russian Orthodox church. I was delighted that the church was again being used as a house of worship and not a community hall or storage place... The priest not only graciously invited me in to photograph the church and services he gave me a special blessing and presented me with an icon. Prior to going to Speyer we stopped in the village of Landau--the village of my father's mother, grandparents and great-grandparents.(surname Schafer) We stopped for a picnic lunch in the hills above Landau with a view of Speyer in the distance--it was very heart warming to look down upon two of the towns from which so many of my loved ones originated.

My grandmother on my mother's side (Voegele) was from Glueckstal. I was able to spend an evening and stay overnight there, My grandmother had told me so many stories and they really came to life there. I was overwhelmed by the memories she had related to me as they came to life before my eyes. And now I am looking forward to returning home and sharing my adventures with my many dear relatives who could not be on this trip in person but who were here in spirit.

Barbara Horn, Alta Loma, California

We have had much that is spectacular this last week. So many things were unique that it is difficult to sort out the activities and the feelings.

Our tour to the Glueckstal villages was treated to one charming pastoral scene after another. Chickens ducks, and geese roamed freely, with the ducks and geese seemed particularly pleased that there had been a rain and the puddles were numerous. Horse drawn carts were hauling small amounts of feed for the animals, and a foal was learning to walk with its mother (instead of in front of her) as the mother was working and pulling a cart. All of this was especially vivid for me in Glueckstal itself where we stopped first, but much in evidence in all villages of the Glueckstal group.

People in the villages were generous and invited us into their homes, offering to prepare food for us, which they often did. In Bergdorf, we visited the ancestral church which had been much remodeled, and currently in use as a social hall. I particularly enjoyed finding the old balustrades in the upper balcony, about the only things that had not been changed. My grandparents had been married there, and several of their babies had been buried from there. I felt their presence very strongly.

One of the high points for me was seeing the church in Kassel. It was a magnificent structure, now in ruins. The Millers saw this church in 1978 when it was being used as a dance hall, and could not believe what has happened to it in sixteen years. There was still a remnant of a ceiling in the back of the church, and there were birds painted on it. (Were they storks? Near Kassel there were many storks on a lake, a delightful sight.) Thinking to save one of the painted birds, we picked up a piece of the plaster from the floor with a picture of a bird on it, but we found that the painting was only whitewash that rubbed off, and the entire piece would have disintegrated before it reached our hotel, so there was no need to take a remembrance.

What made being in this church special for me was that there was enough left of the building to see what a magnificent structure this church had been. What an effort and sacrifice it must have been for our ancestors to build such a building, just like others in each of the four main villages. However, time and no maintenance had done its job. For me it was closure, as I knew how very well our families had lived there when the village was beautiful. Their quality of life must have been very good. However, this period of our family activities is certainly now a piece of history, just like the church building. It would be wonderful if more of our friends and families with roots in these villages would have the opportunity to drive through and visit this country which is so much like our Dakota prairies. The week has been very full, but a very good experience.

Margaret Freeman, Redondo Beach , California

On Wednesday, June 26, we traveled to the Beresan villages. The landscape of gently rolling wheat and sunflower fields reminded us of ND. Our first stop was Karlsruhe where we viewed the German and abandoned Catholic Church. In Landau, we photographed German houses, horse drawn carts, the church which now houses machinery, and the abandoned German school. While Bob Dambach filmed the noon milking near Katheriental village dam, Tom Martin took advantage of an offer to learn the fine art of milking. The people are very friendly. Aggie Madison and Rose Wood showed a map of where their ancestors' house was located. The house was found, and the gracious widow who now lives there invited us in. Rose and Aggie, along with their daughters Joyce and Bettsy, are grateful to have had this opportunity to stand in the home of their ancestors. In Guldendorf, we searched the cemetery where a few German headstones still stood for the grave sites of Sandi Henry-Choppin' great-grandparents and Tom Martin's grandparents. Although we could not find the graves, Tom and Sandi were able to say hello and good-bye to their ancestors. Journey to the Homeland has been a fabulous experience. We all highly recommend this rewarding tour.

Bettsy Williams, Missoula, Montana

Penny Raile and I went to Hoffnungstal, Odessa on Friday. We were fortunate to meet Anna Bamesberger who was born in Hoffnungstal. Anna took us on a tour of Hoffnungstal including the cemetery. The cemetery is now a pasture but there were a few tombstones that were readable.

Copies of the inscriptions we could read are as follows:

Johann Henrich Bamesberger born 14 April 1873
died 14 Juni 1907

Gottlieb Metzger born 16 --- 1869
died 25 Dec 1903

Christoph Fischer born 5 Nov 1831
died 16 Dec 1901

Eva Krause geb. Keller
born 12 Aug 1831
died 12 Jul 1877

Christian Friedrich Metzger
born 17 May 1827
died 28 Jan 1894

Jakob Keller
born 19 Nov 1835
died 5 Oct 1891

Harold Ehrmann, Pacific Palisades

I shall never forget Sunday evening when each tour group member reminisced about their unforgettable experiences visiting their ancestral villages, about their friendships with the Ukrainian people, and how they presented the gifts of school supplies to the Ukrainian children and teachers.

Personally it was a rewarding experience to hear how pleased they were with the tour and how they will share their memories with their family and friends back home in America. We recorded on cassette tape and on video with the help of the staff from Prairie Public Television.

Bob Dambach, producer and director at Prairie Public Television of North Dakota, explained that more than sixty hours of filming had been done as of the 30 of June for both tours. Much of the footage was some of the finest PPTV had every filmed for a documentary. To realize the potential of the future documentary we are going to need the support of the German Russian community in North America, the listserve subscribers and the tour group members. More will be explained on the listserve and in a future WWW home page.

It was privilege and an honor to lead both tour groups to visit the homeland of their ancestors. I found tour group members to be well educated and well prepared for the tour. I learned much for future tours as we prepare for the 1997 tours in May and in late August or September. More information to follow. Persons interested in joining the 1997 tours should contact or e-mail to Michael M. Miller, Journey to the Homeland Tours, NDSU Libraries, PO Box 5599, Fargo, North Dakota 58105-5599. (e-mail:

Finally, I want to thank the many subscribers who sent us their best wishes and hopes for a safe and memorable journey. My thanks to the newspaper writers who read these messages and prepared articles. My thanks to the NDSU Libraries for the opportunity to a part of the Journey to the Homeland. Thank you Prairie Public Television for joining us and recording for the University archives and for the future documentary the visual memories all of us will remember for a lifetime.

Best wishes to all from Odessa.

Michael Miller, Tour Director North Dakota State University Libraries Journey to the Homeland Tours

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