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

St. Petersburg Hotel
St. Petersburg, Russia
May 21, 1997

Warmest regards from the Journey to the Homeland Tours members at the St. Petersburg Hotel, St. Petersburg, Russia. We have been here from Sunday, 18 May and leave on Thursday morning, 22 May for Odessa, Ukraine with a direct non-stop flight.

The tour members look with much anticipation for their arrival in Odessa on Thursday, 22 May.

All is well with each of the tour members and they are all in good health. Say a prayer that all goes well for their historic, unforgettable, and memorable days in Odessa and the former Bessarabian and Black Sea German villages. They begin their visits to their ancestral villages on Friday, 24 May 1997.

We will continue our messages on the listserves of ger-rus, GER-RUS2, BLK-SEA, and the Kutschurgan when we arrive in Odessa. We hope that you enjoy reading our first message from the beautiful and historic city of St. Petersburg. The days in the cultural city have been overwhelming for all of us.

I look forward to having our e-mail readers share each of their messages with you as we arrive in Odessa, Ukraine.

Let me share their memories of the days in St. Petersburg.

--- Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, Fargo (formerly of Strasburg, ND)

We are enjoying this country and are looking forward to going to the village in the Ukraine where our father was born. It has been a great privilege to attend the fantastic performance of the Nutcracker Ballet. After getting my portrait drawn by a Russian artist down by the River Veva, I feel equal with Catherine the Great. We shall cherish this memory always.

--- Cora Wolff Tschaekofske, Dickinson, ND (formerly of Mercer County, ND)
--- Viola Wolff Bertsch, Dickinson, ND (formerly of Mercer County, ND)

P.S.- Both very well and enjoying every minute of it.

We are enjoying this trip, the Pushkin Museum Castle was the most fascinating place we have ever seen. The food is outstanding and the breakfast is always more than we need. The people in St. Petersburg are so helpful. We ask questions in English, and they will find someone who can understand us with a smile and kindness.

--- Paul & Doris Schumacher, Seattle, WA (Paul is formerly of Wenatachee, WA)

The interesting things were the palaces. Money spent on these fine buildings could have been used to make life for the common man better. There are musicians everywhere. We have not heard a poor one yet. Even the street musicians, who play for handouts, are excellent. The fine arts are very strong in the St. Petersburg area.

--- Chuck Weisser, Shawano, WI (formerly of Ashley, ND)

The Mandan, ND trio, Leone Helbling McGarry, Ray Pfau, and Elaine Helbling Hundley, are having a stupendous time in St. Petersburg. It is an incredible city.

The art in this city of St. Petersburg is fantastic. Of course we'll have to come back another time to see it all, but what we saw of the three million pieces at the Hermitage could have been enough to make the trip worthwhile. The art is not only paintings and statuary; the display rooms themselves are works of art with walls adorned with wood carvings, ceilings covered with painted scenes, and floors tiled with multiple hardwoods in intricate designs. The first German Russian, Catherine the Great, obviously loved art, and I'm happy to be enjoying it these 250 years later.

--- Mary Lou Leintz Bueling, Wahpeton, ND (formerly of Mandan, ND)

We were fortunate to make a return trip to St. Petersburg to see the many improvements made since 1988. We are looking forward with much anticipation to see Odessa and the Ukrainian Villages where our ancestors once lived and migrated to America in 1882.

--- Howard & Dorothy Bader Breitling, Wishek, ND

Robby and Lois are enjoying the tour. St. Petersburg is an interesting city. We look forward to Odessa. That is a special part of the tour for us.

--- Lois Myers, Havre, MT (formerly of rural Parshall, ND)
--- Robert Myers, Fargo, ND (formerly of rural Parshall, ND)

Myrin and Audrey Bentz had the privilege of spending an afternoon at the new Lutheran seminary on the outskirts of St. Petersburg; and they saw there how the half million that was donated by Lutherans in U.S. is being used to purchase and refurbish an old building for use as a theological seminary. The Bentz's also met the first class of this new seminary that has just begun operation. It was amazing, the Bentz's said, to see this old building, originally used in the l9th century for a community that once served German Lutherans living in this northern city. During the Stalin era the church was confiscated and converted to a driving school.

Myrin and Audrey Bentz, Portland, OR (Myrin is formerly of Mercer County, ND)

The Mosbrucker cousins are also enjoying St. Petersburg and are looking forward to the journey to the homeland tomorrow, Thursday. Our boat ride was quite cold, but so beautiful on the rivers and canals of St. Petersburg.

After three days in St. Petersburg, I am struck buy the strange mix of opulent beauty and stark deterioration. The colorful, glittering domes and spires rising over the Neva River are as picturesque as anyone could ask. The collections of artworks by the masters are fantastic--Chagall, Rembrandt, Van Dyke. But the state of many of the buildings is cause for serious concern. I only hope the pace of restoration can pick up very soon before these architectural works of art are lost forever.

--- Bruce Mehlhaff, Rapid City, SD (formerly of Eureka, SD)

With great anticipation we've awaited the arrival in St. Petersburg, the city built by the determination of one man. Not only did the fortress offer protection in the far north, it provided grandeur and beauty for the eye, magnificent dwellings and entertaining cultural diversion. Walking through the palaces where the "Greats" once lived roused the emotions. They were a startling contrast to the 20th century concept of communist Russia. Today, one notices, while walking in the streets, that smiles do not come easy to the faces of the people. One feels sad for them, however, they do have their roots, their history, and the "determination".

The long trip was worth the resulting explosion of emotions. My sore back recovered quickly when I came to the realization I was in a country that I never ever thought I'd set foot in. I feel so very fortunate to have experienced this city. The people are friendly and they smile when they realize you're an American. The differences in culture, food, hotels and transportation, seemed to mean less and less as time went on. This country is again re-building itself. The old is being refurbished and the new is setting a new path of culture. It is especially gratifying to see the people grasping the faith. The faith in God that was underground for so long is now public and is growing. All those prayers in grade school that the nuns had us say for the conversion of "Mother Russia" must have had an effect. I'm happy to have been able to see the re-birth of a country and its faith.

--- Cindy Mitzel Longtin and Stuart Longtin, Fargo, ND (Cindy is formerly of Hope, ND)

Sunday, 25 May 1997
Chorne More Hotel (Black Sea Hotel), Odessa, Ukraine

Our first messages from Odessa, Ukraine, tell the experiences of tour group members who have made visits to the ancestral villages of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. We visited the villages on Friday and Saturday, 23 and 24 May.

Before traveling to the villages, tour members had quite an experience on their first day in Odessa on 22 May. While on their city bus tour, they met members of a delegation from Germany. The Germans were visiting the Odessa Region to review resettlement programs and economic development.

There is discussion for a greater number of ethnic Germans especially from Kazakhstan to resettle in new locations near Odessa.

Leading the delegation was Dr. Waffenschmidt, Minister of the Interior, Bundesministrium, Bonn, Germany. Also part of the delegation was Anton Wangler, Executive Director, and Alois Reiss, President, Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, Stuttgart. Wangler and Reiss are of Kutschurgan Enclave ancestry. When we are in Stuttgart at the Landsmannschaft on 29 May, Bob Dambach, Producer at Prairie Public Television, and Ron Vossler, University of North Dakota, will interview Anton Wangler for the proposed Journey to the Homeland television documentary. Ron is joining the tour as a writer and interviewer for the documentary.

Personally, it was quite an experience to stop by the school on Friday in the village of Kutschurgan formerly Strassburg where my Baumgartner grandparents once lived before immigrating to Strasburg, North Dakota, in the 1880s. It was the last day of the school year and graduation for the seniors. We just arrived as the graduation ceremonies had been completed.

With our school supplies, we first met the principal of the school who introduced us to the English teacher. There is both an English teacher and a German teacher in the Kutschurgan village school (Strassburg). With an audience of many well dressed students, parents, and teachers, we presented an American flag to the Kutschurgan village school from the American tour members and from the community of Germans from Russia in North Dakota and North America.

We explained about why we have come to visit these villages, why we are pleased to visit this school, and why we are interested for these teachers and students to learn more about the time when this village and many surrounding villages were German communities. We hope that we can provide some books in the English and German languages in the school library about the former Kutschurgan villages including Strassburg. We hope to send these books or bring them with us for the tour in May, 1998.

I never dreamt that I would be speaking in front of the school and the village where my grandparents once lived. All of us never expected be signing our names for each of the graduating class members on their farewell banners.

I was especially pleased to see that both the English and German languages are being offered for the students. They had a wonderful opportunity to practice both their English with the tour members. One person mentioned to me that you speak some kind of American English. I told the older student that yes I speak American English but with a bit of a German accent like many of my ancestors who live in south central North Dakota.

From Strassburg, we traveled on to the former German village of Selz and Kandel. Other tour members who visited these villages will tell their memories of visiting their villages.

Now I want to share with you the stories from tour members who visited the Beresan, Glueckstal, Kutschurgan and Bessarabian German villages.

To all those reading these messages who have family members and friends in Odessa as part of the tour, let me tell you that we had wonderful days in St. Petersburg, a safe journey on the flight to Odessa, and tour members are in good health. Special greetings are extended to the June, 1996 tour members from their friends in Odessa and from the ethnic German people.

On Sunday morning, tour members attend Baptist, Catholic and Lutheran church services. Sunday afternoon includes a visit to Peterstal and the German resettlement community. These are ethnic German who have immigrated to Peterstal from Siberia and Kazakhstan. We will also visit the Liebental Enclave villages of Alexanderhilf, Neuburg, Friedenstal and Grossliebental.

The dream of visiting the ancestral villages has come true for the tour members. Tour members are coming back from their homeland villages with wonderful stories finding new friendships, fascinating experiences and unforgettable moments in their lives. Visiting the former German villages of their ancestors changes one's life to appreciate so much more living in America. One must always ask, "What is my parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents had decided not to immigrate to Canada and the United States? Would I too have perhaps grown up in Siberia or Kazakhstan and now maybe immigrating back to southern Ukraine or to Germany?"

Our final messages from Odessa will be prepared and sent to our e-mail subscribers on Wednesday, 28 May, the day we fly to Frankfurt, Germany, via Lufthansa German Airlines.

Until then our warmest of May regards from all the tour members in Odessa, Ukraine.

--- Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, Fargo, ND (formerly of Strasburg, ND)

Impressions of this memorable trip...

Coming in to the Odessa Airport was a nostalgic experience -- the world that we were flying over looked like a huge, well lad out, green garden.

Stepping off the airplane into this comfortable climate and into the beautiful world that our father and his family left many years ago brought tears to our eyes. What an emotional experience it was to realize why our father often longed to return to this beautiful land which had been his home.

Then as we went on to see the villages and viewed the expansive fields and the lush crops we were more than overwhelmed as in our minds eyes we had visualized small fields that could be farmed without the use of the modern machinery that our parents used in their farms in North Dakota.

To be able to visit first the village of Glueckstal where our maternal grandparents had lived and to see the Lutheran Church that we believe they were married in was another unforgettable experience. We met a little old lady who could converse with us in the German language and immediately struck up a truly friendly encounter.

Our very special tour guide, Dr. Sergey Yelizarov, placed us in the home of a German speaking family, Theodore and Maria Mor. What an experience in sincere hospitality. We ate the fruits of their labors -- the home canned liver sausage, the apricot jam, the crisp dill pickles, and we washed it all down with home made grape wine that is better than the best champagne we have very tasted.

The trip to the Glueckstal villages and the return trip was a delightful time with picnics at the roadside. We had an excellent driver who when a tire went flat, not only changed the tire but at the same time put in new brake linings.

With a tour guide who took care of all our needs we are left with memories that will be with us as long as we live. How could we ever forget the people who told us of being uprooted from their homes, not only once but several times -- of leaving all their worldly goods, of enduring extreme cold temperatures as they labored like oxen for many years in Siberia. Yet when we gathered in the evening as a group they sang with us the hymns of their faith and they sang from memory every word even though they had not been in a church for many years. They praised the Old God who never forgot them.

--- Viola Wolff Bertsch, Bowman, ND
--- Cora Wolff Tschaekofske, Dickinson, ND (both formerly on a farm near Golden Valley, Mercer County, ND)

The village of Landau on 23 May 1997...

The people of this village surrounded us. The very well behaved free spirited children eagerly accepted our gifts of t-shirts, gum, and balloons.

While viewing the outside of the hospital built by the Germans in the 1800's we were invited in the hospital for coffee by two nurses. This was a exceptional opportunity with two of our group being nurses. It was the most heart wrenching experience to see the lack anything and everything to care for the sick. No medicines, dressings, or equipment, nothing! Just two caring nurses and two iron cots for patient bed. There is little they to help anyone. The ten of us shared coffee out of two cups and two shot glasses which is all they had. We also shared one candy bar. The warmth and eagerness with which we were received will never be forgotten.

This day in Landau was shared by Cordavee Heupel (Sturgis, SD), Joan Andrews Pope (Bowman, ND), Leone Helbling McGarry (Yakima WA), Ray Pfau (Racine, WI), and Elaine Helbling Hundley. Leone, Ray and Elaine grew up in Mandan, ND.

--- Elaine Helbling Hundley, Rochester, IL (formerly of Mandan, ND)

Friday, May 23, was a very emotional day for me. For many years, it was beyond my wildest dreams to visit the homes of my ancestors. When it did become possible, I still never thought that day would arrive, but it did!

Our small group toured six villages in one day, Sarata, Friedenthal, Tarutino, Alt Posstal, Beresina, and Kulm. We saw churches, cemeteries, schools, homes, and streets of our ancestors.

The stops at Tarutino and Kulm were particularly emotional for me. At Tarutino, we met a German speaking woman who remembered one of my relatives who I know who had left in 1940. In Kulm, I got inside the school that my grandfather and great-grandfather had attended as well as seeing the church my ancestors had attended. I also visited the cemetery where my great-great-great grandmother and my great grandparents were buried. Though the exact grave sites are known only to God, I was awed to just be there. This day truly was one of the highlights of my life.

--- Mayo Flegel, LeSeur, MN (formerly of Kulm, ND)

Saturday, 24 May 1997

Odessa!! How can it be that we are in the city that we heard Mother talk about. What a beautiful city and a tug at the heart strings as we think of our fore-fathers here. Some of the streets we have walked on were here over 150 years ago. The steps to the sea have been here to. People here are so friendly and the atmosphere is so calm and peaceful a feeling of contentment. What an enjoyable privilege to be here. We had a day in some of country villages yesterday. We have lots to share when we return. Shelly and Kathy visited us in St. Petersburg it was very special to have them.

Our love and greetings from the Homeland,

--- Lois Myers, Havre, MT and Rob Myers, Parshall, ND (student at NDSU)

Yesterday, Friday, 23 May, a small group of Americans of Russian German ancestry, drove to Bessarabia from Odessa, passing on a beautiful journey between the Liman River, an inlet, and the Black Sea, through Akkerman (site of an ancient Roman fortress); through Arzis, a former German Russian colony known for its horse market; and then onto Sarata, where we stopped at a Baptist church, founded by the great evangelist Lindl in the 1820's, and now reconstructed with German funds; and then onto the various Bessarabian villages where tour members' ancestors' once lived, where churches and cemeteries were visited or searched for: Friedenstal, where we visited a school (which hadn't had water for two weeks and happily accepted our school supplies); Tarutino (where we spoke with a German woman who knew some of the tour members' family names, such as Wutzke, Zarbrock and Vossler. She pointed down the street at the places those families once lived; Alt Postal, where this writer found the home his great grandfather was born; and then onto Kulm, of the same name as the town in North Dakota, and now a poor village with a wonderful view of the steppe, rising into the distance.

And throughout our journey we saw high stands of wheat still green, and sugar beets and sunflowers and corn, growing in the fertile Chernozem soil, and people haying by hand, loading it with forks onto horse pulled wagons, or people out in the fields, hoeing tomatoes, or walking along the roadside carrying scythes and other hand implement.

Accompanying our van was Prairie Public Television videographer Dave Geck, from Glen Ullin, ND, who filmed many of these scenes, gathering video for the Germans from Russia documentary project.

--- Ronald Vossler, East Grand Forks, MN (formerly of Wishek, ND)

Greetings to family and friends in Wahpeton, ND, and the USA from Mary Bueling in Odessa, Ukraine...

What a roller coaster of emotions were experienced Friday as we visited the Kutschurgan villages! This is the day I had been waiting for such a long time, but in no way was I prepared for the feelings that swept over me in Selz as I walked the streets Grandpa and Grandma Fergel walked, and viewed the once beautiful "Church of the Assumption" in which they were married.

The church is still magnificent, even in its state of ruin. We imagined the beauty as Antonina Welk Ivanova explained where the altar had stood, but when she burst into "Ave Maria" we no longer had to imagine how it sounded filled with beautiful music.

The steps which Paul Noel helped build and on which he later collapsed and died, are gone. Only a mound of earth remains in their place.

A grassy hillside with some rectangular sink holes are the only proof of what was once the German cemetery -- not a tombstone remains. A short distance away of the Dneister River flows.

In Strassburg (today Kutschurgan), a graduation party was going on at the school. We felt like royalty when the young people asked us to sign the red graduation banners they wore across their chests. The school supplies and maps were warmly received, but when Michael Miller presented them with a United States flag there was spontaneous applause and cheers. The children were wonderful. We did not want to leave. But we also did not want to stay. Words cannot say how fortunate we feel that our ancestors left these lands when they did; this beautiful homeland with its warm, friendly people and all its hardships and suffering.

--- Mary Lynn Leintz Bueling, Wahpeton, ND (formerly of Mandan, ND)

Visiting the Glueckstal villages was an exciting event. It would have been more exciting, however, if we knew what houses our forefathers lived in.

We saw the old churches which have been made into cultural centers. One church at Neudorf now will be used by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The remains of the cemetery were hard to find. At Bergdorf, we did find a few headstones, one with the name that looked like it could have been Baumann 1868 to 1912 on it.

The most interesting thing, however, was meeting German people. here weren't many, but each had a story to tell how they were forced into slave-labor camps in Siberia. Leaving them was a very touching experience. They would cry. One lady offered to give us her tea kettle. People will always be more important than buildings.

--- Charles Weisser, Shawano, WI (formerly of Ashley, ND)

We visited Friedenstal and Beresina, Bessarabia, on Friday, May 23, was a long drive but it was a good feeling to be where our grandparents once lived. We were to visit a school in Friedentstal and gave them school supplies and pens to the pupils. On May 24, we were fortunate to visit in the home of Philip Schmalz, his wife and daughter who spoke German. The Schmalz's have relatives in Canada.

In Johannestal [Beresan Enclave] we had an enjoyable visit with Olga Fromm at her home. Olga is a close friend of Jacob and Caroline Diede. Jacob Bertsch's grandparents of Howard Breitling lived in Johannestal before coming to America.

We want to extend special congratulations to our daughter, Sonia and Delore for their wedding anniversary.

--- Howard and Dorothy Bader Breitling, Wishek, ND

Visiting the villages and meeting distant relatives these last two day has been very moving. Going to the villages and visiting was just like home. Everyone sat and talked. It did not become very long to become fast friends. Our relatives and new found friends asked us to return, not once, but several times. We feel so happy to have found cousins that will now be part of the family. We will come back.

--- Stuart and Cindy Mitzel Longtin, Fargo, ND (Cindy is formerly of Hope, ND)

Village school at Speyer...

Five of us visited the school at Speyer [Beresan Enclave] on the last days of school for the season. It was just in time to be invited for a "Last Bell" celebration, a tradition on the last day of school. The school director and all the teachers invited us as their guests of honor since we were from America. The principal toasted us as visitors. In fact he toasted us quite a few times with cognac and vodka.

We were given bouquet of flowers which we discovered later were meant as gifts for the teachers. They asked many questions of us, such as "How much money do teachers earn in America?" They have virtually no materials with which to teach except for their very caring attitudes. We considered that to be more valuable than anything for the students. We will always remembers this touching day.

--- Raymond Pfau, Racine, WI (formerly of Mandan, ND)

Hoeing of huge fields was mostly done by women by hand! How practical it was that fields and roads were separated not by fences, but by fruit and nut trees -- for miles on end. Cows and sheep did not need fences because they were tended by cowherders and shepherds. We could learn from the villagers -- not a lawnmower in sight. Rather, after milking the sheep or cows in the morning, they were tethered wherever the grass and weeds needed trimming.

Staying with a Moldovan family, there was no common language, but we communicated best when I pulled out my accordion and we took turns playing music and singing. Later when we got together with the other tour members, the elderly Russian-Germans who had told of unbelievable stories of hardship in Siberian "Ausgeschlept" for many years, they sang the German hymns without text -- sometimes four verses! A favorite phrase was "Der Alte Gott lebt noch!"

All the Lutheran churches we saw were now community centers, one even had a statue of Lenin in front.

The food was good and very ethnic. Homemade wine was served with every meal, even for breakfast. One could quickly determine which people were "Ausgeschlept" to Siberia -- they had few teeth left.

--- Rev. Myrin and Audrey Bentz, Portland, OR (formerly of Hazen, ND)

We are home. And it looks like home. From the first views of the steppes from the air, the terrain looked anything but foreign. The orderly fields below us could well have been in the Dakotas.

The first trip to the villages reinforcing that impression. There were significant differences, of course -- the cows and goats that walked in the ditches; the rows of sentinel trees that lines the highway; the fields were very much like the ones in America. Even the weeds were familiar -- the fox tale grass and the cammonile. Just like home!

We had our moment of celebrity when we delivered our school supplies at Strassburg (today Kutschurgan). It was graduation day and the middle school graduates wore broad red sashes which already bore inscriptions from their classmates. Once they knew why we were there, they flocked around us to have us autograph them as well. Even the young pupils, who were years away from wearing a sash, got into the act by handing us corners of paper they had torn from their not books.

Counter balancing the elation was the sight of the poverty in the area and the crumbling cathedrals, graphic symbols of a way of life that is gone.

--- Bruce Mehlhaff, Rapid City, SD (formerly of Eureka, SD)

Wednesday, 28 May 1997
Chorne More Hotel (Black Sea Hotel)
Odessa, Ukraine

Today we fly on Lufthansa German Airlines, after unforgettable memories in Odessa and in the former Black Sea and Bessarabian German villages.

We have walked the streets of our ancestors, prayed in the ruined churches where our grandparents once worshipped, visited homes of Ukrainians who live in houses built by our forefathers, met distant relatives who speak the same German dialect.

Personally, the tour group has been a wonderful group who have bonded in a "family spirit" to come and see the land where their forefathers left so many years ago.

Today these Americans return to the land where their ancestors once lived before immigrating to South Russia (Ukraine). They will visit southern Germany and Alsace, France.

Let me share with you the memories of some of the tour members. They shared their thoughts for videographer Dave Geck for Prairie Public Television's future documentary on the Journey to the Homeland. Below are some of the words they expressed.

--- Michael M. Miller

We have been very busy going to the villages everyday. We met some very interesting and warm people. Now we are waiting to win the lottery, so that we can come back someday.

--- Joan Andrews Pope, Bowman, ND and Cordavee Blees Heupel, Sturgis, SD

A dream we dreamed -- Journey to the Homeland -- How do we act? What do we say? A silence -- we are standing, looking, thinking, and try to absorb everything in a short while -- the trees, the greenery, the lush fields, and the poor "Deutsche Leute". I like Odessa better than St. Petersburg. People are more friendly and they smile here in Odessa.

--- Viola Wolff Bertsch, Bowman, ND (former of Mercer County, ND)

So many memorable experiences and you want us to give top priority to the one most outstanding one. For me it would have to be the arrival in Bergdorf -- the home of my father who left when he immigrated to America. Father had described Bergdorf so well that I thought for a moment that I'd seen it before. The church is still there and is now used as a cultural center. The old school is gone but my sister and I walked around satisfied in the belief that dad had walked there.

Glueckstal, the home of my maternal grandparents, was an experience never to be forgotten. To see the church that our grandparents were married in was so incredible. And then to have the opportunity to stay overnight with a family who could speak German. To have had the opportunity to attend the ballet in St. Petersburg and the opera in Odessa was a real bonus. We have seen and heard. Now we will never forget these days.

--- Cora Wolf Tschaekofske, Dickinson, ND (formerly of Mercer County, ND)

This amazing journey into the past has been about connections. I now understand my parents and relatives so much better. Finding the Karlsruhe village, the neighborhoods, the church where my mother, Connie Braun, lived and the Speyer cemetery area.

The connections I feel with my fellow travelers is so special. We are sharing our stories, our dialect, our faith, and even hot fresh bread and sweet corn given us by a very poor family in the Beresan village of Landau.

--- Elaine Helbling Hundley, Rochester, IL (formerly of Mandan, ND)

Wednesday, 28 May--a beautiful bright sunny morning will help us say farewell to Odessa, the lovely city where we have spent several memorable never to be forgotten days remembering our grandparents, our mother and others who left their homeland.

--- Lois Myers, Havre, MT (formerly of rural Parshall, Mountrail County, ND)

We are all focusing on our heritage--exploring and confirming our ancestral roots. But when we visited the orphanage, it suddenly became clear that this is quite a luxury. There were 50 young boys who have been severed from their roots. They are children who were picked up off the street usually begging, often treated as slaves. The story of the Russian-German 3 year-old who was orphaned in the Ural Mts. and somehow made it to Odessa on his own (because he had heard his grandfather speak of Odessa) was unreal.

--- Audrey Bentz, Portland, OR

One hundred years ago my paternal grandparents left Russia and helped settle a new community in South Dakota. I grew up in that community and came to know it intimately. Eighty years before that my great grandparents left Germany and helped establish a new community in Russia--Kassel, in the Glueckstal Enclave. Until Monday I didn't know that community. I still don't know it well, but have a better idea of how it must have been. I have seen the houses which run down long, tree-lined streets in ordered rows. I have seen the fruit trees and vineyards my grandparents loved, but couldn't duplicate in the frigid Dakotas. I have walked where my ancestors walked and prayed where they prayed. I have images now that will help me understand who I am because I have seen this part of my of my past.

--- Bruce Melhaff, Rapid City, SD (formerly of Eureka, SD)

This is an undescribable journey. The thrill of walking on the homeland with my two sisters can't be put into words. Meeting my relative Antonina Welk Ivanova and being able to speak with her in German was indeed heartwarming. Having Al and Lois Voeller with us, who also originated from Pierce County in North Dakota, made it a real family for us. All the tour members are going to remain special in our hearts. Being in the villages was the highlight of the whole journey. God Bless.

--- Loretta Mitzel Huschka, LaMoure, ND (formerly of Hope, ND)
--- Mary Lou Mitzel Roller, rural Hope, ND

It was a thrill to walk the streets to walk the streets of Odessa, a very interesting city. The Ukrainian people and the German people were warm, friendly and willing to visit with us. It was a touching experience to be able to attend the central Baptist church in Odessa on Sunday morning. There we sang the same songs we sing back home. We saw all the seats filled and people standing by the door. We were able to attend the Odessa Opera and Ballet House and see "Rigaletto". The Opera House is one of the three great opera houses in the world. If our grandparents were alive today we would have many questions to ask them.

--- Dorothy Bader Breitling and Howard Breitling, Wishek, ND

We were met by the extremely gracious Brattan family at my ancestral village of Krasna. Even though Dimitri has not worked at the collective farm for the past four months, they had prepared a feast for us. The table was set beautifully with flowers and our favorite dishes, including halupsi and wonderful pastries they called "platschinda". Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Brattan are of German descent, but it was obvious they had gone out of their way to make it a memorable homecoming for us. What a thrill to see the old German school was still standing. I imagined Grandma Brafada Volk Leintz and Grandpa Felix Leintz in that school yard; and I wished my dad, Adam Leintz, could be imagining it with me. Visiting the little chapel in the cemetery was a highlight. Reading the roster of names on the walls of the chapel was like reading a St. Gertrude's directory. It bonded the past to the present. I send my best wishes to my family and friends.

--- Mary Lou Leintz Bueling, Wahpeton, ND (formerly of Mandan, ND)

Highlights of my "Journey to the Homeland" include several long road trips, one to Kassel, in the Glueckstal Enclave, where my Boschee ancestors once lived, and to Bessarabia, where so many of my Vossler relatives once lived, and where some of their old homes still remain, in both Alt Postal, and in nearby Wittenberg. In Alt Postal, one old "nemetski" as he calls Germans, and both of which he still uses. In Liebental Enclave this past Sunday, I spent time in the "dorf" of Neuberg with Oleg and Vladimir Fetzer, 3rd cousins of my Grandfather Fetzer, who I grew up near in Wishek, North Dakota.

--- Ronald Vossler, East Grand Forks, MN (formerly of Wishek, ND)

Saturday, 31 May 1997
Munich, Germany

I write my final message of the Journey to the Homeland Tour to you from Munich, Germany.

Our Journey to the Homeland Tour members share their final words with listserve subscribers in a separate e-mail message as they depart on Lufthansa German Airlines from the Frankfurt Airport for the flight to Chicago and on to other USA cities including Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, Tulsa, Bismarck, and Rapid City. You will be receiving their message soon.

Bob Dambach, Producer at Prairie Public TV, and Ron Vossler, University of North Dakota and writer for the Germans from Russia TV documentary, are in Munich until 2 June to interview Peter Hilkes at the East European Institute, and Dr. Shirley Fischer Arends at the U.S. Consulate.

I am also in Munich until Monday, 2 June, when I will travel with Bob Dambach and Ron Vossler back to Stuttgart where we will interview Anton Wangler, Exective Director of the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland.

At the Landsmannschaft, I will speak with Ruth Kloetzel regarding plans for the Choir of the Homeland of Stuttgart Concert Tour to North Dakota from 16-28 July including their performance at the Germans from Russia Heritage Society Convention at the Jamestown Civic Center on 18 July at 8 pm. More information of their tour and concert dates in Jamestown, Streeter, Strasburg, Bismarck, Dickinson, and Richardton will appear at the listserves after I return to the NDSU campus after 12 June.

The tour members had a wonderful stay from 28-31 May at the Holiday Inn in Stuttgart. We stayed at the Holiday Inn for the 1996 June tours including the Bundestreffen. We plan to stay at the Holiday Inn the weekend of 5-7 June 1998 for the Bundestreffen on Saturdaz, 6 June 1998.

On 29 May, they visited the famous Linden-Museum, the offices of the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland with presentations by Ruth Kloetzel and Anton Bosch. Ingo Isert, Curator of the Heimatmuseum der Deutschen aus Bessarabien, presented an overview of the Bessarabian German history at the museum of the Bessarabian Germans.

On Friday, 30 May, 24 tour members visited Alsace, France, and nearby German villages of their ancestors before immigrating to South Russia villages.

The days in St. Petersburg, Odessa, the German villages, and Stuttgart, have provided unforgettable memories. The tour members will now return to the families, friends, and communities to tell their stories and share their photos of their visit to the homeland of their forefathers. They were on a "Journey to the Homeland" and now they return home to America.

We hope that you have enjoyed reading our messages from St. Petersburg, Odessa, Stuttgart, and Munich.

--- Michael M. Miller, NDSU Libraries, Fargo, ND (formerly of Strasburg, ND)

Saturday, 31 May 1997
On the way home...

Yesterday's final tour took us back even further in time in our journey back to the homeland. While most of the group went to Alsace for the day, I went for Bad Wimpten and walked the cobbled streets of an old walled city where Mehlhaff feet had walked centuries ago. It was a beautiful experience. Unlike to Black Sea villages, Ban Wimpten was vital and alive, despite the autoquity of the buildings. The day was too short. The trip was too short. Although I'm tired now and eagerly awaiting the touch down in Rapid City, I want to go back!

--- Bruce Melhaff, Rapid City, SD (formerly of Eureka, SD)

A recurring theme again and again was the familiarity when visiting the museums in Stuttgart. Familiar names, tools, words, and ideas being preserved in these museums content with the same themes in my growing up experience with German-Russians in North Dakota.

It was a happy surprise to know our culture is valued and that those memories will be preserved for future generations.

--- Rev. Myrin and Audrey Bentz, Portland, OR (formerly of Hazen, ND)

Would I do this heritage tour again? YES!! It was a pleasure to visit Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and Alsace, France with my husband and two sisters. No one sided conversation -- we each gave our interpretation of what we saw, felt , tasted and will remember. We were able to go to the original German villages where our great(s) grandfathers once lived and made the choice to go to Russia. We visited the Kutschurgan Colony villages where our families settled and met cousins living there in 1977. Those hugs and smiles are beyond words. "Will I do this Heritage Tour again? Yes!"

--- Cindy Mitzel Longtin, Fargo ND (Cindy is formerly of Hope, ND)

Impressions of the visit to Stuttgart:

The visit to Russia and the Ukraine is over -- what memories we have. The history, the architecture, the art, the destruction and the reconstruction, the Ballet and the Opera -- all these are the things we came to see. Our dreams became realities and we truly stand in awe and like America's present day young people say, "It was awesome." But the most impressive of all are the survivors that we came to see. The German people who were invited by Catherine the Great to settle in the Ukraine region along the Black Sea to farm the rich soil and make it productive still linger, though few in number, and tell their stories of hardships and brutal labor as they were uprooted time and again by the government in their adopted land. Today they are still pilgrims who are wandering -- hoping to get back to the land of their origin. We visited that land near Alsace, France. We saw the houses and churches and cemeteries and we read names on tombstones of what we believe were our ancestors. In Stuttgart, we visited the Landsmanschaft Library and the Linden-Museum. We return home now inspired to promote the preservation of the history of the Germans from Russia with a renewed faith instilled in us by a survivor in the village of Glueckstal, Anton Wart, who said, "Our old God still lives and he doesn't forget us!"

--- Cora Wolff Tschaekofske, Dickinson, ND
--- Viola Wolff Bertsch, Dickinson, ND

The impact of changing cultures in just a two hour flight, leaves one disoriented. Passing from the dire poverty and decaying structures of Odessa to sparkling clean and orderly Stuttgart, Germany is like having ice water thrown in one's face. We thank our forefathers repeatedly for emigrating to North Dakota. The amenities such as a clean modern Holiday Inn bathroom thrilled us. We are remembering our homeland villagers and how they must live daily.

Our schedule showed visits to several Stuttgart museums but we weren't prepared for the wonderful experiences of the day. Besides seeing this fairybook city and its profusion of beautiful gardens of flowers, the museum visits and the hospitality of the hosts were excellent. At the Linden-Museum there was a passionate curator of the American Plains Indians exhibition. What a thrill to see replicas of "my" Modern Slant Indian village. I was duly impressed that this museum in Germany had taken such a strong interest in our Native Americans and their cultures. I hope that Fargo Prairie Public TV takes an equally strong interest in producing a documentary on Germans from Russia--present as well as past. What a wonderful education service to Americans and what a great leadership in building understanding for the betterment of all people.

At the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland, we viewed clothing, art, textiles, a 200 year old bible, tools, and musical instruments used by our grandparents and their ancestors. Our hosts, Ruth Kloetzel, Head of Social Services, Anton Wangler, Executive Director, and Bernd Reiss were most gracious. They brought life to the ancestral treasures. A young German Russian musician, newly arrived from Kazakhstan, played accordion while the others sang. It was happy, fun music from one who hoped for a life as fortunate as ours. The music was accompanied by refreshments of very large soft pretzels, wine and juices.

On to the Heimatmuseum der Deutschen aus Bessarabien. Since my family is from the Beresan Enclave, I almost skipped this trip. Much to my delight, it was among the highlights of this trip. Ingo Isert, the Curator, was an exceptional presenter and brought alive the people, their histories, and the political situations which led to the emigration of the German Russian people. I would like to see this man as a guest lecturer in universities and colleges in the U.S. He has amazing stories to tell and tells them with passion.

The earliest Helbling records I have began in the 1700's in Germany in what is now Alsace, France and today I was there! What an overwhelming feeling. The countryside is lovely with hills, immaculate villages, old cemeteries, magnificent churches, and large concrete crucifixes at roadsides by the fields. We all ohhed and ahhed at the vineyards growing up the steep mountainside, and felt at home and the corn and wheat fields. Our ancestors left this to farm land in Russia (now Ukraine) only to get embroiled in the politics of Russia and eventually to leave for America. As we traveled the lovely French highways and byways on this gloriously sunny day, it seemed we had come full circle -- but many of our German Russian people still remain in desperate conditions in the Ukraine and Siberia: Their story must be told. A way to help must be found.

Tonight we all gathered for a final sharing of food, toasts of wine, singing our German Russian songs, and for prayer in thanksgiving that our ancestors did emigrate to America and for our great fortune in being able to have this experience.

I have described this event in my life as one of connecting-with my cousin and traveling partner, Leone McGarry Helbling, with all the fun loving German-Russian fellow travelers, with Russian people in St. Petersburg, Ukrainian people in Odessa, the warm and generous ancestral villagers, and the delightful lady at the outdoor cafe in France.

--- Elaine Helbling Hundley, Rochester, IL (formerly of Mandan, ND)

The Germany Visit

After leaving the Ukraine, we spent two wonderful days in Germany. On Thursday, May 29, 1997, we spent the morning at the Linden-Museum in Stuttgart. The display was on North American Indians and their culture. Surprisingly, the tour turned out to be very, very educational and interesting. We were guided by Dr. Sonja Schiele, Curator of the North American Collections, who has a doctorate from studies on Indian culture at Arizona State University and also at the University of Minnesota. Her interpretation of the Indians to respect the earth and the air were of particular interest. That afternoon we visited the Landsmanschaft and the Bessarabian Heimatmuseum.

Both were extremely informative and enlightening. They both have done a lot of work in preserving our heritage. We found information there that we had not seen anywhere else.

On Friday, May 30, we toured the Alsace region which is now in France. We were treated to a panorama of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. The churches were beautiful beyond comprehension.

The two days in Germany really topped off a wonderful tour. It was all very worthwhile.

--- Mayo Flegel, LeSeur, MN (formerly of Kulm, ND)

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