Journey to the Homeland: Germany and Ukraine
North Dakota State University Libraries Tours
16 May 1998
Warmest regards from Odessa, Ukraine and the Chorne More Hotel (Black Sea Hotel). Bob Dambach and I arrived safely on 15 May after the long plane ride from Fargo - Minneapolis - Amsterdam - Vienna -Odessa via Northwest/KLM and Austrian Airlines.
We have already found that Odessa is modernizing with new stores and developments. Today I visit The Lighthouse Orphanage in Odessa to speak with Deacon Alexander. Journey to the Homeland Tour members arriving on 27 May in Odessa bring with them many items for the orphanage including handmade quilts donated by North Dakotans in the Tuttle area. We will also have many personal hygiene items such as toothpaste and toothbrushes. Deacon Alexander and the 48 children ranging from 5 to 17 years anxiously await the visit to The Lighthouse on 28 May.
A welcome visitor to the hotel was Pavel Anselm, a young dentist of Odessa. His mother was ethnic German and his father is Russian. Pavel met many of the tour members in May, 1997. If he receives visas, Pavel and his father hope to visit Pavel's brother who has immigrated to Germany. Pavel tells me how dental needs and medical needs are in great need here in Odessa and the nearby former German villages. We hope that we can help Pavel and many others with our tours to Odessa. Pavel will be introduced to tour members upon their arrival at the Chorne More Hotel.
On Sunday morning, 17 May we drive 8 hours to Simperofol, Crimea, Ukraine. There we will meet members of the German Rebirth Society. They will travel with us to the former Crimean German Lutheran and Catholic villages.
Bob will do video filming for the Germans from Russia television documentary and I will be doing still photography. Watch for photos to appear this summer on the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection website of our days in Crimea.
We return from Crimea to Odessa on 21 May. On 22 May, I will fly from Odessa to Vienna and on to Stuttgart, Germany. There I will attend the Bessarabian Bundestreffen on 24 May in Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart. The Bessarabian German gathering is held every two years with 50,000 people expected. I look forward to seeing colleagues from the USA attending the Bundestreffen including Dale Wahl, Bremerton, WA; Ed Schulz, Bakersfield, CA and Curt Schulz, Beulah, ND as well as Merv Rennich, Dunlap, IL, a May tour member who traveled with me back to Odessa from Stuttgart.
On 25 May, I fly to the Vienna Airport where we will meet tour members Marilyn Clark Wilkinson, living near Sacramento, and her mother, Joan Keller Clark, Yorba Linda, CA. We fly together on Odessa and await the arrival of the tour group on 27 May.
As the tour members in America prepare to leave next week for Odessa, Bob and I want to let you all know that we are "safe and sound" and happy to be again in Odessa with friends and colleagues. We were warmly greeted with temperatures in the 60s. Tonight we will experience "night life on the streets of Odessa."
With Ukrainian greetings,
--- Michael M. Miller
--- Bob Dambach, Prairie Public Television, Fargo
[Bob just told me my above text was ok to send.]
22 May 1998
Our days in Crimea and the former German villages
We arrived safely in Odessa without problems with warm greetings from our Ukrainian friends. Odessa continues to change in many ways but still faces many difficult economic challenges. Bob and I continue to be amazed at the amount of progress from May, 1997 to May, 1998.
On 21 May we have returned from Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine to Odessa. Our visit to Simferopol, to the former German villages and to Yalta, proved to be most valuable for Bob Dambach and myself. Bob Dambach of Prairie Public Television joined me to complete filming in the Crimean German villages.
We visited the villages of Friedental, Kronental, Neusatz, Rosental, Staryj Krym and Zurichtal of the former Crimean German villages on 18 May located near Simferopol. Kronental, Friedental, Neusatz and Rosental were mother colonies. We passed by many other German villages. The villages are within easy driving distance of Simferopol from one to two hours and good roads.
In Neusatz (today Krasnogorye), we visited the former German school founded in 1876 where we spoke with teachers and students. It was cloudy with rainfall outside so I asked if the lights could be turned on for additional lighting for photographs. The Ukrainian teacher informed me that the school had no electricity for some months due to lack of funds. We chatted with the students eager to learn about life in North Dakota. We sensed a need for more learning materials in the school. There is a lack of paid teachers so local people who know a subject come to help such as the math instructor who invited us to his junior high class.
We asked the older students about their future plans. There was some hesitation when they finally expressed that many would like to go to a technical school or the university in Simferopol but their family does not have the financial means since they now need to pay for part of their college education. Many will stay in the village and work the land.
Our next stop was in Rosental (today Apomathoe), a former German Catholic village with many descendants living in the Dakotas. We were amazed at the condition of the church exterior for photographs and the nearby pastor house both built by Germans. The church is today Russian Orthodox. Nearby was the school with about 300 students and still one of the most well-known schools in the region. Many graduates enter colleges.
We meet in the library with teachers and students. The teachers informed us that they had not been paid for 18 months. They depend on the families of school children bringing food and gifts. Many have additional jobs and sell garden vegetables. Bob and I felt a "bondship" between the students and their teachers realizing the difficult situation. The Rosental School has an English teacher who shared many experiences. They learn about the former life of the village, which was German, but are interested to secure additional resource materials including villagers who once lived in Rosental.
The students would be interested in developing pen pals with American children whose ancestors immigrated from Rosental. Their problem may be lack of money to pay for the stamps to reply to letters. Bob and I did feel that the Rosental School had many more opportunities and were much better equipped than the Neusatz School. In Rosental one can find many German houses.
Our next stop was Kronental (today Vinogradnoe) where we were amazed to locate so many German houses. Both the Catholic and Lutheran churches are still standing. The Lutheran Church was reopened in 1990 as a Russian Orthodox Church. The Catholic Church is used as a community center. Both churches are very good for photographing.
At the Kronental cemetery we located a number of gravestones of Germans including a Fischer and a Schneider. Further identification of gravestones with photographs will appear later at the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection website. Bob and I were impressed to locate a number of German names in the cemetery with the help of local residents who helped us once they knew we were Americans.
On 19 May, we traveled a longer distance to the village of Starjk Krym of meet Irma (Ille) Tarusova born in 1919 the nearby village of Zurichtal (today Zolotoe Pole). Irma spoke a very good Swabish German dialect so we were able to have a nice visit. She emphasized that her first language was German and not Russian. Irma was a German schoolteacher throughout her career and still provides German language study for Ukrainians wishing to immigrate to Germany. She mentioned that when she turns 80, she really wants to retire.
Like so many of the elderly Crimeans, since November she has received only 60% of her monthly pension which totals about $25 a month to live. She depends on selling her garden vegetables for additional income. To date she received one Red Cross package from Germany. Her relatives in Germany sent her packages but they never arrived. Irma could immigrate to Germany but she wants to stay in Crimea where she grew up as a child and returned from Kazakhstan to Crimea in 1955.
Irma finished school in 1938. In August 1941, with her family she was deported to the Caucausus. In October 1941, the family went to Kazakhstan. From 1945 to 1949, Irma served in the "Trud Army" as a wagon driver. Many people did not survive the "Trud Army" yet she was determined to someday be a German teacher again in Ukraine where she returned in 1955. Irma buried three husbands and had no children.
The Lutheran Church in Zurichtal still stands and is being repaired as a Russian Orthodox Church. Irma knows many details of the villages, location of houses, traditions, holidays and the cemetery. We hope that Irma will begin to write her life story since she speaks in much detail.
On 20 May, we drive two hours from Simferopol to Yalta passing by a beautiful mountainous landscape. Yalta is a very impressive city to visit.
In Yalta, we photographed the Evangelical German Lutheran Church and the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church where we met a young French seminarian of the Dominican Order finishing his priesthood studies and learning Russian. Both churches depend on financial donations from other countries due to the lack of needed local support.
In the afternoon, we walked on the Yalta Prommande along the Black Sea. Then we journeyed a short way to Livadia, the former Palace of Alexander III, where the Yalta Conference was held in February, 1945 with Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. These sights were spectacular and important to see when visiting Yalta.
Traveling on 21 May from Simferopol to Odessa, we were surprised to pass by the former Catholic German village of Alexandrowka. There we photographed the impressive church still standing but in disrepair in this northern Crimean village settled by both Germans and Czechs. The cemetery close to the church includes German tombstones but most were overgrown with shrubbery. It was also interesting to pass by a new resettlement complex with new houses of Estonians.
Our visit to the Crimea proved to be beneficial in many ways. Even though the trip was close to 2,000 kilometers round-trip, we discovered that it is not that difficult for travel from Odessa. There are a number of Germans in Simferopol who know the former German villages for location as well as local Germans. In the villages, there still exist many structures, which will be of interest to persons of Crimean German heritage. Yalta is very important to visit as part of a Crimean tour.
Finally, on 22 May I fly from Odessa to Vienna and on to Stuttgart, Germany. I will attend the Bessarabian Bundestreffen on Sunday, 24 May. I look forward to my first attendance at this important event in Ludwigsburg and meeting our Bessarabian Germans. Then on 25 May I return to Odessa where I plan to visit the Odessa State Archives and prepare for the arrival of the "Journey to the Homeland" tour members on 27 May. Bob Dambach and I are doing well and healthy. We enjoyed Crimean German foods and especially the breads.
Special regards to all from Odessa, Ukraine.
--- Michael M. Miller
1 June 1998
Internet Cafe, Odessa, Ukraine
Tour members Carol Just Halverson, Homer Rudolf and I have joined Dr. Sergey Yelizarov here at the Internet Cafe to share the following messages with you. Let me tell you all that the tour members are in good health and have experienced many varied, unforgettable and emotional memories visiting the former Bessarabian and Black Sea German villages. Now I want to share with you their stories:
--- Michael M. Miller
Merv Rennich, Dunlap, II
Visiting Hoffnungstal, Bessarabia
The mere presence of being there and standing in the same place where my grandparents and great grandmother had also stood and from which I had heard referred to so many times was awesome. I now know from just the lay of the land why my grandmother talked so approvingly and lovingly of Hoffnungstal.
Duane Retzloff, Mountain View, CA
On this beautiful morning, accompanied by Michael, our host from the previous night, we traveled to the Bessarabian village of Hoffnungstal where my great grandfather, Karl Retzlaff, was born. We had been warned not to expect anything, and that all the buildings had been leveled, but we wanted to see the valley that we had heard was so beautiful and fertile. We were pleased and excited to find the copper marker on the pedestal that commemorated the founding of the village by the German-Russians, the nearby cemetery now overgrown by lilac bushes, and the remnants of the cobblestone path leading down the hill to the church site. This was already more than we expected. Imagine our great surprise when our host, Michael, led us to the beautiful, entirely intact village school which was now being used to house a power substation.
Rosemary Ripplinger Schwan, Devils Lake, ND
Visiting the Kutschurgan villages of Selz, Strassburg, Kandel, Mannheim and Elsass
I can hardly believe that there are very few German people left in the villages. The Ukrainian people are just wonderful and very helpful. They try to remember if there still are German people in the village and they will want you to meet them and talk to them. A small 86 year old woman in the village of Selz said a prayer in German. This experience had everyone spell bound and emotionally touched bringing tears as she prayed for Mary to be beside her, help and guide her.
Wally Duchscher, Havre, MT
Visiting Elsass, Kutschurgan Enclave
Elsass was an experience of a lifetime. We visited the school and were met by its principal, the teachers and its pupils. They were excited to see us and visit with us. Many of the children could speak fairly good English. After touring the school, the children put on a program for us in English consisting of poems, short stories, dances and music. The teachers then shared a fantastic lunch with us, which they had prepared themselves. After lunch the teachers sang Ukrainian songs for us. The school is private and is in need of financial help. The students and teachers are very up beat and positive!
Using an old map of the village of Strassburg, I started walking through the old German part of the village looking for my great-grandmother Schall's residence. While visiting with one of the Ukrainian women, she told me of an old German lady that still lived there. We went to her home and she showed me my great-grandmother's house which was two houses down form her home. She also went into her home and brought out a photo of my great-grandmother, which she said her mother gave her. She said the photo was taken sometime in the 1800s. She said there were more old German ladies still living in Strassburg. Her mother's maiden name was Richter and she also gave me a photo of her mother's brother and sister.
Naomi Reimer, Sumner, WA and Francie Jacobson, Clarkston,
Visiting Elsass and Mannheim, Kutschurgan Enclave
In the village of Elsass, we toured the school of 300 students. Their hospitality was more than we expected. We visited several classrooms while final exams were in progress. One class was an English class. The students gave us a musical program of singing and dancing. After the program, we were treated to a sit-down lunch with the teachers. The food was excellent and beautifully served. Many toasts were made with vodka and champagne to our health and future friendships with these most generous people. We all felt this was an emotional experience, one to be remembered. As we left the school, we were given bouquets of peonies.
LaVern and Lillian Miller, Williston, ND
Visiting Elass and Mannheim, Kutschurgan Enclave
This being our first tour ever to Ukraine where my mother was born, has been a heart warming and learning experience. The school we visited in Elsass, the program they presented in the English language and their own songs and dances were very touching. We then were served a fine dinner with the teachers dining and visiting with us. After dinner we were presented folksongs by some of the ladies. A wonderful day!
Greetings to our family and friends in the USA, we were privileged to have a German family, the Rieslings, invite us into their home. We got to see the inside of the house, the pride he took in his huge garden and root cellar. At the end we all sat down to a wonderful lunch. A very fine and enlightening day for the both of us.
Marilyn Clark Wilkinson, Granite Bay, CA
Visiting the village of Sulz, Beresan Enclave
I would like to share a part of my day with you. It appears that many people have tried to visit Sulz while here on their Journey to the Homeland Tour in the past, however, according to our interpreter, once they came upon the horse and wagon trail they decided not to forge forward. Well, our driver was fearless but that is a story unto itself. We found the beautiful valley nine kilometers outside of Landau where Sulz once thrived. According to the Old Russian sheepherder, who helped pull us out of the ravine we fell capture to, the Army had completely dismantled Sulz and they used the materials in the surrounding villages. The Army then built a military training facility where Sulz had thrived. Bombs have since demolished the facility. What was once Sulz, the village of my ancestors, is now a beautiful serene valley with lush vegetation and a marker stands among the flower bushes. The Sulz Bridge is strong and sturdy. I have taken photos of Sulz and its bridge so if anyone would like a copy, please send me your address by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walter C. Aman, Portland, OR
Visiting Landau, Speier, Kathariental and Waterloo, Beresan Enclave
For me going to the village of Landau where my forefathers lived from 1809 to 1889 was a very emotional experience. The people now living in these villages seem to be aware of the German beginnings of these villages and were very cooperative in providing information for locating old buildings. At Landau, I found the one remaining German speaking woman, Rose Raimer, who had been sent to Azerberjan for 10 years and has lived and worked again in Landau for the past 40 years. At age 73, she has worked at the Catholic boarding school as a food preparation worker. She reported financial hardship. Much of the transportation in the villages seems to be with horse and motorcycle with sidecar and many people were walking along the roads. In general the people appear optimistic.
Dick and Ruth Freier Doll, Tucson, AZ
Visiting Landau, Speier, Kathariental, Beresan Enclave
We visited the German Catholic village of Landau where we went to the village clinic to present gifts to the nurses and took several pictures (some with a Polaroid camera so we could give some pictures to the nurse). We also visited the secondary school to present gifts to schoolteachers from Elaine Helbling Hundley. We then went to the village of Speier where my grandmother, Fransizka Assel Doll, was born and attended school which is still in use. We presented gifts to the school principal and teacher, Jonik Sveltana Nikolaevna. We visited the Catholic Church, which has been restored to a Russian Orthodox Church and looks great. Then we visited Kathariental village where my grandparents and father lived until 1911 when they immigrated to the USA (Mandan, ND). There we found the Dollhouse, which is still being used by a Ukrainian family. The school is only a shell now. The Catholic Church is gone and also no cemetery markers exist. A memorable experience!
Gerald Fiechtner, Fargo, ND and Henderson, NV
and sons, Matthew Fiechtner, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO
and Jon Feichtner, Tekamah, NE
Visiting Hoffnungstal and Neu Beresina, Kherson District, Black Sea, Odessa
We found hardly any trace of anyone with German roots in the villages. The combinations of wars, the Soviet system, and time have apparently erased most of the German contributions to these area villages. Even the cemeteries were in complete disarray. One could not help but be deeply moved by the style of the life of these Ukrainian people surviving in the villages that we visited. We hope to learn more when we get to the Bundestreffen in Stuttgart. We also plan to visit the ancestral villages in Germany.
Beverly Reinert Runkle, Billings, MT
Visiting Worms and Rohrbach, Beresan Enclave
Have not yet visited my villages of Worms and Rohrbach, however, I rode along to the Kutschurgan Villages yesterday. The few Germans left in those villages were very hospitable, and so very glad to see us! Their stories were of almost unbelievable hardship but they persevered in returning to their ancestral villages. Makes one wonder if we could do the same.
Walter and Irene Neuharth, Long Beach, CA
Visiting Glückstal, Kassel, Neudorf
It was pure joy to find 3 ancestral homes in Kassel and to walk where they did and to see the beautiful land and the crops of wheat, sunflowers, and large gardens. I felt the comradeship of the German ancestry. The churches were very precious to us. In Neudorf, where the church was taken over by Orthodox Church, we were thankful that it was being used as a church and that the building was being restored.
Janice Huber Stangl and Tom Stangl, Sterling, VA
visiting Glückstal, Neudorf, Bergdorf and Kassel
The moment one leaves Odessa City, one can see the same flora (and weeds) and fauna as the Dakotas. The surprise for us was the vastness of the orchards, and sunflowers and wheat fields (still on collective farms.) Many people are out hoeing in the fields. They have their sack of bread and water before they return to their homes in the hottest part of the day.
Odessa region is an area of great contrasts. The lush growth in the countryside and the many large, half-completed buildings (because of lack of money since the end of the Soviet Union.) The people are very friendly and seem to be very glad to meet us - strangers in their land - especially the few German families left in the villages.
The visit to Glückstal was a very emotional experience, which will be long remembered, even by those non-German residents we met. Contacts have been made which we hope will continue in the future. The Mayor of Glückstal has promised to do all she can to see that the church is restored and reopened for the entire community.
Duane Bittner, North Highlands, CA
Greetings families and friends, we had a very interesting and emotional two days visiting our ancestor villages, especially seeing the destruction and desecration of the churches and cemeteries. Our thoughts and prayers to all at home.
Cora Tschaekofske, Dickinson, ND
visiting Bergdorf, Glückstahl, Kassel
I am writing this right after returning from a trip through the villages and I am overwhelmed with the contrasts. The rich, productive soil, the well kept, large gardens, the miles of lush grain and corn growing in such large fields and then the stark realization of poverty, of farmers, mostly women hoeing by hand. I rejoiced when I saw two large tractors with cultivators working in a cornfield. How wonderful that some people would be spared from the job of hoeing by hand. Although there is poverty, the people here are completely self-sufficient. They raise almost all the food they eat. They have chickens for eggs and meat. Cows for milking and cheese and butter and vegetables of every kind. God has been good to them.
Gerry Sommer, Mesa, AZ
Visiting Glückstahl, Neudorf, Hoffnungstal and Neu Glückstahl
A teenage boy saw a member of our group giving out gifts to young children. He wanted to share something also with us, so he ran home then came running back with a pamphlet and a new - unused Bible, and pointed to the sky and said God... and then to the book. It was very touching and emotional at the same time. But, on the ride back I realized how little the Word of God meant to him for him to give it away so easily, but happily. The following day we attended church services in Odessa, which had 3 adult baptisms and 10 confirmations.
Katharina Halverson, Student at Frei and Humboldt Universities
in Berlin, Germany
Visiting Glückstal, Neudorf, Bergdorf, Kassel
Isn't it funny that I could travel halfway around the world and still feel like I'm sitting in a North Dakota meadow after a spring rainfall, taste my grandma's pickles, (from someone else's cellar) and hear the same deutsche that's spoken in Wishek, Berlin, and Edgeley, North Dakota?
Carol Just Halverson, St. Louis Park, MN
Visiting Glückstal, Neudorf, Bergdorf, and Kassel
To the memory of Salomea, Katharine, Magdalena and Elizabeth: I have walked the streets you once walked in Kassel and Neudorf, visited the churches that witnessed your baptisms, confirmations and weddings. With my daughter, Katharina, I have planted Hollyhock seeds from my birthplace in North Dakota in the churchyards and cemeteries where your loved ones lay buried, now in unmarked graves. With my companions, I sang "Gott ist die Liebe" at the Kassel cemetery and said a prayer of gratitude for the courage it took for you to leave your loved ones and journey to Dakota Territory so I could have a brighter future. To my friends on the listserv: I wish all of you could be here with me. Experiencing this pilgrimage with the other members of the tour has enhanced my own experience tenfold. This is truly a Journey to my Homeland.
Homer Rudolf, Richmond, VA
Visiting Glückstal, Neudorf, Bergdorf, & Kassel - Glückstal Colony
The absolute highlight of the trip will have to be the two-day trip to the Glückstal villages, with the overnight stay in Glückstal. Only about 6 German-speaking families remain there (none are originally from Glückstal). The dogs are kept in the fenced yards so the families of ducks, geese and turkeys can roam freely through the village. The milk cows are herded back to the village at the end of the day, and they all know where their home is -- just like it was when I grew up in Wishek. The church is now a dance hall, part of the parsonage is a bar. Life for most is very simple and labor intensive. My hosts, an elderly couple (75 & 80 yrs old) have no apparent income (probably get a small pension) and live a self-sufficient life style, much like our forefathers. They have a large garden, a grape arbor, 3 hens with broods and about 20 more chickens. There is a Russian oven in the summer kitchen and a German oven in the house. She uses a homemade spinning wheel, with a bicycle wheel for a wheel. He was once a good cabinet-maker, and they have a couple of nice pieces of furniture in their house that he built. Their story is similar to that of other German-Russians who stayed in Russia. In 1943 they were sent from their native village to Poland for 2 years, then to Germany for less than a year. Twelve years followed in Siberia, where they lived in snow caves for the first winter. He worked with the timber industry, including riding logs down the river to steer them to their destination. Next they spent some time in Kazakistan, and finally they were returned to the Ukraine, in Glückstal. It literally takes one back a century in time, except for a few amenities like electricity.
So now we end our messages from Odessa, Ukraine with many memorable experiences for each of the tour members. Today tour members traveled back to the Kutschurgan, Beresan and Liebental Enclave villages. On 2 June, they will visit the Odessa State Archives and the Bavarian House. Our last message from Odessa will be on Wednesday, 3 June before we leave from Odessa for Vienna on Austrian Airlines. Some tour members will stay overnight at the Novotel Hotel near Vienna Airport while others will travel on to Stuttgart, Germany. All tour members will be together at the Kongress hotel in Stuttgart from 4-8 June. The large German-Russian gathering is Saturday, 6 June where 50,000 are expected to attend in Stuttgart. We will host the Amerika Haus to assist families locating their long lost North American relatives. The Bundestreffen should be another lifetime experience for tour members.
In closing, I want to extend warmest regards to all of you from the land where many ancestors once lived with Dakota and North American roots. This is a struggling country and life is difficult for the Ukrainian people. Yet they have hope for a better future. We shall see what develops. I am doing well and in good health, as are all the tour members.
With warmest regards from Odessa,
Michael M. Miller, Tour Director
Journey to the Homeland Tours
North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, ND
3 June 1998
Dick & Ruth Doll, Tucson, AZ
Visiting Katharinental, Speyer, Fruendental
We have completed all our German village visits and each had it's own unique interests. Some villages had German houses to visit and some had old German schools, no longer in use, while others had churches that had been restored and other churches destroyed. We went to cemeteries that could be located, but in most cases all headstones were missing. The German Army during World War II used many for construction material, such as bridge construction. All in all the trips to the German villages were very interesting and shall never be forgotten. Being where your grandparents lived and walking the same grounds gave a wonderful feeling. We hope to share our memories with relatives and friends in good old USA.
Vicky Retzloff Kearns, Napa, CA
Visiting Leipzig and Kulm, Bessarabia
It has been a life long dream to visit my ancestral villages of Leipzig and Kulm in Bessarabia. I am so grateful to have my nephew, Duane Retzloff, accompany me on this trip. Duane has previously published an excellent genealogy book on the Peters family on his mother's side. He has put in relentless efforts in researching the family history of the Brandenburger and Retzloff families.
I am so grateful to Michael Miller for organizing these tours. He has wonderful assistants Cindy and Stuart Longtin, who have also committed the past year for making the tour a success.
I extend my gratitude also to the wonderful people in Odessa. Our tour expert Elvira Zahorova, Dr. Sergey Yelizarov, and Laura, our interpreter, who were tireless and never left a question unanswered.
Lavern and Lillian Miller, Williston, ND
Visiting Worms, Rohrbach, Waterloo, Speyer
Today was a long day at the villages. The former German village of Worms is a Lutheran village. It was at this village the only church we have seen that restoration had started. There was a new steeple made of brick and mortar in appropriate height for the size of the church, and the first phase of their restoration. Also the visit to the school and kindergarten, where we were all welcomed, will make this long day one to file in our memory.
Duane Retzloff, Mountain View, CA
Visiting Karlstal, Josefdorf
Our visit to Karlstal was a real adventure! Although we had requested to see the village, no one had been able to locate it until Sergey, our guide, was able to research its location several days before we left. Even so, we were not sure of the location where our forefathers lived on the Schellenburger Estate owned at that time by Count Vicky. We assumed that nothing would be left of the former German Colony. Imagine our surprise when we found out that the village of Karlstal, now Scheromberchowa, was actually the site of the former German Colony, and that the homes on the Southern part of town included many homes of the original German settlers. Not only that, but we were able to find the site of the former house that belonged to the Schellenburgers! We felt like archeologists who had just discovered an ancient city.
Josephdorf, now called Plagenta, was not actually one of our ancestral villages. It was Irvin Vogel's, but finding this village was one of the most memorable experiences of our trip. The village was shown on a Karl Stumpp map that Irv had, but it was not shown on any modern map. So Laura, our guide and translator, had to estimate its location. We drove to several villages in the area and asked about Josefdorf, but to no avail. Laura said, "Perhaps it doesn't exist anymore."
In the next village, Laura spoke at length with an old man sitting on a bench underneath a tree. He told her that there was a village in the next valley where Germans once lived, but he only knew it by the name of Plagenta not Josefdorf. We decided to give it a try. By this time, though, we were in the far reaches of the back country of the Bessarabian colonies and very close to Moldova for which we had no visa.
As we came over the top of a high hill we came upon a breath-taking scene. There stretched far below us, like a picture postcard, lay a little village snuggled up against a little river. On the outskirts of the village we were directed to an old man in his 80s who was hoeing his field, and who was said to be the most knowledgeable about the village.
Our driver, Igor, and Laura walked through the deep ditch and across the field to talk to the old man. He took them to his home where he brought out an old map of the village. Imagine our delight when we read the name "Josefdorf" on the map. As we spoke with the villagers, we realized that we were probably the first Americans to ever set foot in this village, and that we had rediscovered Josefdorf. What a great feeling!
Jan Stangl, Sterling, VA
My thoughts of visiting Odessa and the villages
A person must have hope, or there is nothing. One must work to eat or one starves. These two main thoughts have been expressed by several of the dear babushkas I have conversed with. All struggle with the decision of whether to leave family here in Odessa to join family already in Germany. The separations break their hearts.
Each and everyday I marvel at the optimism of the young, also the beauty of the people, flowers and earth. However, each day I thank God that my forefathers had the courage to immigrate.
7 June 1998
Kongresshotel Europe, Stuttgart, Germany
I write this message from Stuttgart as Journey to the Homeland Tour members prepare to leave on 8 June from Stuttgart for Amsterdam and Minneapolis.
Today we have the pleasure of a concert by the Homeland Choir of Stuttgart (Heimatklaenge Chor) along with a wonderful reception. The choir sang a special song for the Americans: Battle Hymn of the Republic, in the German language. The choir once again extended their thanks for the warm reception they received in North Dakota in July, 1997 during their concert tour.
On 6 June, we attended the large Germans from Russia gathering, the Bundestreffen. There were 60,000 in attendance and what an experience for all of us. Our "Amerika Haus" was well-attended and well received. Chancellor Helmut Kohl spoke at the Bundestreffen, stressing that we must keep the doors open for immigration from the former Soviet Union to Germany. Today there are still a total of 1.8 million ethnic Germans still living in the former Soviet Union. Close to 2.1 million have received permission to immigrate to Germany in recent years.
Chancellor Kohl stressed the importance of "keeping the doors open" in Germany for the immigration of Germans from Russia, Siberia, Kazakhstan and other locations.
Tour members have had quite an experience in Odessa, in the former German villages, touring Alsace, France, the Bundestreffen, and the special concert by the Homeland Choir.
Tour members are in good health and doing well. They will have many memorable experiences to share with family and friends when they return home this week.
With German regards from Stuttgart, Germany,
--- Michael M. Miller