Letters from Ukraine and Moldova

By Kenneth A. Vogele to his father, Cleo L. Vogele

First Letter:
Odessa, Ukraine, 21 May 2002

Dear Dad,

First impressions: Flying in from Vienna we could see large verdant fields, more angulated than in South Dakota, but similar. More bare ground than at home, possibly a quarter of it all. Don’t yet know if this was fallow or recently planted. Hope to find out as we will be with a prosperous farmer, Pavel Pratchuk, later. (Comment: It turns out that these fields were not fallow but rather were row crops like corn or sunflowers that were not far enough along for me to appreciate that the fields had been planted.)

Weather is very similar to ours at this time of year – cool nights, mild days at about 70 degrees F. We were told that it becomes very hot and everything dries up in July. Rainfall here averages a meager 14-18 inches.

Came in from the airport through the old part of Odessa where our hotel Chernoye More (Black Sea) is. Our plane was a Boeing 737, which was operated by Ukraine Air for Austrian airlines. It banked sharply at low altitude, and then waffled back and forth before a fairly rough landing on the roughest international runway we have ever landed on. Cracks in the cement were filled with tar like in bad roads in our country. The grass alongside the runway was overgrown with weeds such that the jets tied down 2-3 blocks from the terminal looked like they were out in the country. The terminal was Spartan outside and in, really communistic in appearance! (Ukraine gained its independence from the Soviet Union only 10 years ago, remember.)

I don’t recall a stick of furniture in the entrance area. The floor and walls were covered in stone tile but the wooden writing counters on the wall and passport booths of wood were cheesy. No trouble there or with the customs lady moments later – just a few simple questions like how much money were we bringing in and did we have any food with us? The terminal was quite a bit smaller than Rapid City’s, stodgy, bare and with no bustle. This despite the fact that Odessa’s population is over a million.

Old Odessa was built in the 1800s. The city is rather new, being founded only in 1794. It is run down, but charming, the architecture simple but stately. And clean! Everywhere we see people sweeping the streets with handled brooms or little whisk brooms with bristles of thin twigs. We ate at an outdoor restaurant yesterday and while we were there, a lady whisked away some paper from the curb and our waitress picked up scraps of paper among the tables. (Comment: This restaurant was the Zara Pizara which just started up two months ago. Cathy ordered Amaretto chicken here, and it was one of the best meals she has ever eaten anywhere.)

The currency here is the grivna (greev’-na), equivalent to the ruble but with a new name after the break up of the Soviet Union. Grivna is apparently the name of an old silver alloy coin used widely in this region during the middle ages. 5.2 grivna to a dollar, 100 kopecks to the grivna. The language spoken here in Odessa is Russian because Odessa was a Russian town from the outset. We learned yesterday that it is difficult to know where you are here because most signs and names of restaurants and stores are written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Today I had what must have been our concierge write the Cyrillic equivalent under our English alphabet. Hopefully this will help us out. Fortunately, many people know some English and they seem friendly so we got by fairly well yesterday.

Second Letter:
Odessa, Ukraine, 26 May 2002

Dear Dad,

I have just finished a whirlwind tour to at least 12 former German colonies. Dad, you would feel very much at home here – gently rolling hills, crops very similar to those in South Dakota. Nice stands of wheat, some rye. Even though it is dry, corn will be “knee high by the 4th of July.” Also sunflowers and soybeans. No alfalfa here unless the flower here is mauve rather than blue. (Comment: The mauve flowered plant was indeed alfalfa. Garnet Permans tells me that alfalfa originated in the Ukrainian region.) Some differences also. The hills are more gently rounded and less peaked than around Lowry where you grew up. And no rocks! I think the difference is that the Lowry hills are glacial moraines and I doubt these are.

More trees here than back home in South Dakota (despite the German colonists’ complaints that trees didn’t grow well.) Trees are not tall, but in some places, they actually form forests as they cover the tops of hills. Believe it or not, fields are in general larger than at home, the result of collectivization. The process of decollectivization is slow. Since 1991 when the Soviet Union fell apart, only about 30% of land has been privatized. I have yet to learn the mechanism by which this is done. Not a single windmill! There must be gas or electrical pumps, but we didn’t see any. Rather, a well with 20-foot long lever arm was in use. The Germans called these Viehburnner (cattle well).

I wonder if the reason your dad Christian stayed in Oregon only 7 months is because the environments was so different. Steppe and prairie are kin, Oregon not.

Gluekstal is now in Moldova. We spent 6 ½ hours getting through the border from Ukraine and back. Maybe this is because the part of Moldova between the Ukrainian border and the Dniester River has declared itself independent and calls itself the Trans-Dniester Republic. The Trans-Dniester area is a major Russian military area and the people are primarily Russian, not Moldovan, and they speak Russian, not Romanian – like tongue of Moldovans.

There is currently a truce between Moldova and the Trans-Dniester Republic. Moldova allows autonomy but claims the territory. The Trans-Dniester claims independence but doesn’t push the issue. Nobody recognizes the Trans-Dniester Republic except possibly Russia. Glueckstal is in the 20-kilometer wide Trans-Dniester area as are Neudorf and Bergdorf. These villages are all lined up along one valley with about 6 kilometers between each of them.

The land around Glueckstal is a little less rolling than at Neudorf and Bergdorf, but the raising of cattle seems to be the primary livelihood in all these villages. Maybe more grain production around Glueckstal. Seemingly, more fruit orchards near Neudorf and Bergdorf. During the days before Glasnot and the break up of the USSR, one of these villages, I believe Glueckstal, had something like 55 cows on the collective and three more were privately owned.

Now there are something like 20 on the collective and 300 personally owned. This seems like a victory for capitalism, but it may be a victory for necessity. When communists were in control, most everyone had a job and got a regular paycheck. Now people have to fend for themselves because payments for wages and pensions are irregular at best. I sense that many of the common people would rather have the old system back. Certainly, there is ambivalence.

Glueckstal was built on gentle hills. Large, well-kept gardens are everywhere. Yard (Hof) lots are large, I would guess a little larger than 100 x 200 feet. The population of Glueckstal today is about 1,270. At its peak in the late 1800s, about the time your dad Christian, left population peaked at about 3,000.

Many of the remaining homes in Glueckstal are what we call “old German houses” and would have been built even before Christian was born in 1872. He would surely recognize them today, though no roofs that I saw were thatched as were probably most in his time. Today most roofs are covered with large sheets of corrugated material consisting in part of asbestos. The corrugations are about twice as far apart as on our usual corrugated steel. Many homes are missing form the middle of town, the result apparently of bombing during WWII.

German houses have walls about one and a half feet thick, which is why they still, stand. They tend to be oriented to the long axis of the lot, but not always. There are usually two windows facing the street. The corners along the roofline and sometimes along the base of the house are often white today. Sometimes the plaster is raised in these areas and sometimes not. Between the white areas is often painted blue, which varies, possibly because of fading or maybe by design, from fairly light to quite dark navy blue. Entrance is through the middle of one wall on the side. There may or may not be a porch.

There can be a design on the upper part of the front facing the street (*). Old German style roofs were simple, single peaked affairs about now at least are in the four-sided Ukrainian style. Almost all yards are fenced and these fences are often decorated. The common design is a picket fence with diamonds on it. The pickets are about 2 inches wide and usually white with the diamonds in blue. However, at least as many fences are modern metal fences with various designs and brightly painted. White trim on the houses often has a design on it, sometimes indented into the plaster if the white areas along the edges are raised. Occasionally one sees tops of downspouts near the roof that are bulbous with charming punched out metalwork.

Here is the rough sketch of a house I was able to go through in Neudorf. This house was brought by some people from Tajikistan in the last year or so for $200 American currency equivalent. This house was probably 45 x 18 feet or so. If there are additional rooms in the old style German houses, there are no halls so the rooms are not very private. Running water in a home is unusual. Water comes from a well and is hauled in as when you were a kid. (Comment: These are open “wishing wells” and water is cranked up by bucket.) No showers. No indoor plumbing. Outhouse, yes. No raised seat in outhouses, usually. Rather, simply a hole in the floor. The outhouse Cathy and I used in Novosmarka was leaning slightly and its door wouldn’t close completely. It had a bucket in the hold in the floor that someone had to empty. It didn’t matter that the door didn’t close because the hole was in the center of the floor and when we squatted, our knees pushed the door open. In our honor, the outhouse was freshly wallpapered inside! (Comment: Novosamarak is the home of Pavel Pratchuk and his parents. The house that we were staying in was actually owned by Pavel’s father. The old German name for this town is Sofiental.)

I hope you are as fascinated by this stuff as I am! More later.

Third Letter:
Odessa, Ukraine, 29 May 2002

Dear Dad,

I have not been able to locate any Vogele or Schumacher homes yet for certain with the exception of one site in Glueckstal now superceded by a communist era apartment complex.

In Glueckstal, I saw the Evangelical Lutheran Church building, since Bolshevik times a community center (“Palace of Culture”). All steeples were removed by the communists. The old church in Bergdorf is also a community center and so was the one in Neudorf, but the latter has been converted back into a church, now Russian or Ukrainian Orthodox. It has a new steeple, but not as impressive as the earlier German one. Unfortunately, no one could be found to open it for us. All three of these churches were similar.

All had massive round pillars supporting the porch over the side entrance. Walls were very thick as you might imagine. Windows were fairly large, admitting good light. The churches at Glueckstal and Bergdorf (and I assume Neudorf) had fairly large balconies. Kids apparently sat through services in balconies, adults down below, females on one side and males on the other. All churches had rounded apses (alter end) but these were converted to stages with flat back walls by the communists. In part, these buildings were used for movie houses (and some still are).

Christian would easily recognize the church today and also possibly the old school next door. It is an L-shaped building, still used today but not as a school. It is two stories. Across the street from the church is the old parsonage, now a bar. After the dedication of the monument to the Germans from Russia in the new school ground, we ate in a long room in the old parsonage, probably 75 feet in length, which I would guess was a reception hall in its earlier life.

Next to the church is a soccer field and next to that the new school for all eleven grades in Glueckstal. Both the soccer field and the school sit on the former German cemetery. Only one gravestone remains, and it is on display at the school, which was built in 1987. It is for a lady born 1799, died 1860. All other stones were broken up and used in construction of bridges and buildings. At Neudorf we saw some intact gravestone bases in the wall of a long communal barn from a communist collective.

At Glueckstal at 6:30 a.m., I watched as people drove their milk cows down the streets to the community milking lot. It was an old house lot measuring about 100 x 200 feet. I watched for about 30 minutes, but saw no one actually milking yet. I suspect they were waiting for the milk collection vehicle before starting to milk.

I had only suspected that such a collection vehicle existed until we came upon a couple of herds of cows just outside of Hoffnungstal. There were possibly 75 cows in each, and both herds about a quarter of a mile from a wooded area where in the shade was a “German wagon” with horses grazing nearby. This type of wagon has a trapezoidal box and may be four wheeled or two wheeled. Wheels are nearly all rubber though today I saw two of these wagons with iron wheels. One was at the home of Steinbach (yes! Steinbach) in Freiburg near Hoffnungstal. There I saw an iron-rimmed wheel submerged in a small tank of water, apparently to make the wood swell and keep everything tight.

(Comment: This was at Adik and Katherine Steinbach’s house.) Dad, do you remember anything like that? The milk wagon held two plastic barrels, one large, the other smaller. Women would walk the ¼ mile carrying their buckets of milk, would pour them into a measuring bucket, and then the milk wagon man would pour the milk through cheesecloth in to a barrel and would record the amount.

My map from 1941-44 of Glueckstal shows the homes of at least four Vogeles and a number of Schumachers and at least one Shafer and one Shilling. I may have found the home of an A. Vogele, but I’m not sure. I found one Schumacher site for sure as noted at the beginning of this letter.

After the iron curtain came down in 1991, KGB files were opened and someone or some group of people created the “martyrology” list. This list includes the person’s name, son of... or daughter of.... (only fathers name listed) and the decision of the court such as “executed”, “set free”, “imprisoned for 10 years”. AT the Odessa State Archives, I had the archivist, Lilia Belousova, look up Vogele, but only Vogels were listed. There were a large number or Schumachers, probably ten. In both cases, I’m not sure if these are related to us. For the Vogel list, I will have to complete the descendent Vogele family tree in order to see if any are related to us. Schumachers, similarly.

Fourth Letter:
Odessa, Ukraine, 30 May 2002

Dear Dad:

First, I want to talk about the showers here at Hotel Chernoye More (Black Sea). Poor patent. The base is a square about 28 inches on a side. The door is a quadrafold Rube Goldberg deal which when closed it actually slightly larger than the base so it always leaks. Fortunately, they supply us with special clothe mats to soak up the water that leaks out. Each bathroom has a drain in the floor to prevent a flood.

The day before yesterday was a great day. My guide Natasha and I drove with our driver Sasha (Alexander) back to Hoffnungstal, en route passing through Neu-Glueckstal. I had studied the map of Hoffnungstal from about 1930 and had noted only one house that appeared to be related to us- that of Adam Steinbach whom I had not recollected. Remember, Dad, that when you and I were in Bismarck in March of 2001, the librarian Rachel showed up the book Hoffnungstal und Seine Swaben which included a genealogy of our Steinbach family including, I believe, your grandmother Katherine Steinbach. (Comment: I have reviewed this genealogy and tentatively believe that Katherine Steinbach and Adam Steinbach were first cousins.)

This was actually my second visit to Hoffnungstal. Cathy and I had been here earlier with a larger group rather briefly. First, we went to city hall, which is an old German building and found someone who could open the old church for us. This church was in a different style architecturally from the other Lutheran churches I had seen, more angular, square pillars. The folks of early Hoffnungstal were not quite Lutherans; rather, they were pietists or millenialists, people who believed the world was going to end about 1837.

One of the reasons for their coming to Russia was to be closer to Mt. Ararat or the Holy Land when this occurred. The steeple had been removed and all references to religion were covered over inside by a somewhat gaudy plaster design on pillars, wall, ceiling. There were rows of chairs on the main floor (theater style) and a screen in front. A sign at the entrance announced movies one a weekly and disco dancing, but we were told there hadn’t been any disco there for a couple of years because the sounds system had been stolen.

Next, we went to look for Adam Steinbach’s house. We found the location, but the old house was gone and in its place was a fairly new building that had initially been a shoe repair shop, then a hotel, and now a small convenience store. This was the best-stocked shore I saw in any village. It had bread, meat, canned goods, candy, alcoholic beverages, pop (including “Coco Cola light” which is rare in the villages). (Comment: Still, this store consists of a single room probably no more than 20 X 16 feet.)

We were directed to an older man who supposedly knew everything about the village, and he happened to be chatting with someone out on the main drag. I had Natasha ask him if he knew an Adam Steinbach. No, but there were some “Steibahs” who lived 2-1/2 kilometers further on in another village, Freiburg. We drove in the direction given and after questioning a couple of people on the street, we were in front of a fairly typical old German house. This turned out to be the home of Adik and Katya (Katherine) Steinbach. Katya and her daughter-in-law and grandson were in, Adik not.

Katya invited us into her porch and welcomed us with some “sour milk” which we drank from cups. (Comment: This was probably simply clabbered milk. It was not a whole lot different than natural yogurt.) She implied that Adik was the grandson of Adam Steinbach but the story was confusing and I wasn’t certain about much of anything. Adik was said to be 68, but it would be better to talk to his old brother Gresha (Gregory) who at 73 years of age had been born in 1929.

About this time, Adik arrived. Yes, he was the grandson of Adam Steinbach, etc. He had been drinking too much so we got in out car with Katya and drove another kilometer or so to the Hof (yard or lot) of Gresha and Maria Steinbach. Their son Nicholas was also home, visiting from Odessa where he works. Last year these families of Steinbachs had been visited by Steinbachs from Germany and in December of 2001 and January of 2002, Nicholas had visited those relatives for two months in Germany. I got the address from him.

This is Gresha’s story (which I might ad was not corroborated by his sister Anna in Odessa). Adam Steinbach and his wife had a number of children including Matila who was Gresha’s mother. Matilda married a Jewish fellow named Semen (Simon?) Goldenzwei. The family maintained the Steinbach name, rather than using Goldenzwei. (I saw Anna’s birth certificate and her surname is indeed Steinbach.) I believe Gresha said his family was living in a Jewish collective at the beginning of WWII. Gresha’s father disappeared either just before or just after the start of the war. AT least 18 of 60 families in the commune were killed by the Nazis.

After the Nazis came, there were only five Russian families in the commune plus the Steinbach family. The Russian families were kind and didn’t reveal the Steinbach’s past. Gresha was 12 at the onset of Nazi occupation. He said, “When we were with Germans, we spoke German; when we were with Russians, we spoke Russian.” Towards the end of the war, Gresha was sent to a larger city. (I believe Dnieper-Petrovosk) to work in a factory. He didn’t like the work so he “escaped” back to Frieburg where he apparently got false papers listing his last name and his father’s name. Since his dad was dead and the family used the Steinbach name, this couldn’t be easily traced. No one in this family seems to have been sent off to a work camp after WWII.

Gresha ultimately married Maria, and he worked for a commune as a cow herder for a little over 25 years and Maria also worked there but I can’t remember now what she did. Getting information was difficult as I had to ask a question in English and Natasha would translate back into English. I tried at the very beginning to just record the English on my Dictaphone, but I got so confused that I just let the cassette roll so I have (hopefully) the whole conversation.

Well, at Gresha and Marie’s place, I took a large number of photos both inside and out. This is a rough sketch of their Hof or lot. Our Rapid City chapter of Germans from Russia Heritage Society hoses the national convention September 2003 and if my photos come out well, I may do a large mock up of the yard and house for the convention.

Fifth Letter: In the Sky Between Odessa, Vienna and Stuttgart
3 June 2002

Dear Dad,

Bedclothes in the Ukraine are odd. On the mattress is a cloth-covered pad around which the bottom sheet is wrapped. The top sheet is really a duvet into which a blanket of heavy wool is tucked. This duvet and blanket just covers the top of the bed, doesn’t lop over the mattress. Despite this, we were usually toasty warm even though we had only single beds.

Gresha and Marie’s communal farm was decollectivized about a year and a half ago. The decision to do this was made administratively at a level about the collective. The division of the land was apparently by lottery. Gresha and Marie each got 4-1/2 hectare. (Comment: A hectare is a square 100 meters on each side and is equivalent to 2.471 acres.) Therefore, they have about 22 acres between them. Not much, but it shows why the collectives weren’t efficient. Too much manpower and too few acres. For Gresha and Marie there is another problem. Their land is out in the communal land (now private) somewhere and not contiguous with their yard.

Then, there is no one in their family to work the land. Then, there is no one in their family to work the land. Then, no machinery. My interpreter, Natasha, told me that the higher officials in at least some communes expropriated the best machinery from themselves and now rent it back to those without. This apparently was done at auction and the machinery sold for little. My understanding was that Gresha said that he had enough to get by from his yard a lot with animals and garden and that he didn’t need to fuss with the land. It seemed to me that he didn’t understand sharecropping, but all of this might be erroneous.

During our flight from Odessa on Tyrolian Air/Austrian Air, we were served a meal with metal silverware, the cockpit door was open and a group of kids from Switzerland were allowed to wander in and out. Guess they haven’t heard of 9-11!

Odessa is a city of contrasts. Our hotel was on the edge of the stately old section of the city, about a 1-1/4 mile walk down Richeleuskaya Street to the opera house, built in the late 1800s and said to be second only to the one in Vienna. On June 1, we went to the ballet recital by young people from a ballet school. Outside, classical statuary graced the main entrance, and inside everything was guided. Seats were wide and comfortable. Admission=5 grivna=just under $1. I saw many of the major buildings in old Odessa.

I tried to key in on the oldest ones that Michael Vogele on down to Christian Vogele and Christof Schumacher would possibly have seen. I don’t know if Michael ever had to go to Odessa for anything. Gregoriopol and Glueckstal are about 100 kilometer (60 miles) from Odessa so I doubt he personally hauled grain there to sell. The Dniester River is only 10 kilometers from Glueckstal so maybe grain was transported by boat. Mere speculation.

As I understand it, Christof Schumacher as head of household and Christian Vogele, as single traveler, would have had to go to Odessa to apply for permission to leave Russia. Today, I spent just over an hour in the oldest residential section of Odessa taking photos of what my guide Natasha thought were the oldest buildings. Our main guide Elvira lives in a house in this district that is over 200 years old and she will send me some photos of it, she says.

Surrounding the old city are newer sections including apartment complexes built during the Stalinist era (bigger, better constructed, nicer architecturally and in demand today) and the Khrushchev (1960s) and Brezhnev (into the 1980s) eras. I will describe a Krushev era apartment momentarily. On the outside these latter two apartment complexes are drab, monotonous, uninspired architecturally, and seem not well kept up.

No on in Ukraine we met had heard of Mt. Rushmore. Many people in Ukraine and Odessa are extremely poor. Gresha and Marie each get pensions of about 130 grivnas a month ($25 US). Teachers make $25-30 per month; college professors make $100 per month. Some profs apparently sell crafts in the markets because they can make more on the side there than from their teaching positions. People begging are fairly common and one sees people digging through dumpsters. Many older people look rather shabbily dressed. Contrast this with the young women of Odessa-paradise! I have never seen so many great bodies in all my life and dressed (or undressed) to the 9's! These women ooze fashion from their hair down to the tips of their 3-inch heels.

They can walk across cobblestones better than I can walk down a flat sidewalk. American men come to Ukraine to get wives. Apparently, this is arranged through agencies. A German guy on our airplane said there were about 50 guys at this hotel looking for wives/women. The agency brought in about 300 women and the men had their pick. I had heard of such a thing from my guide earlier. Cathy says he was a braggart and a storyteller. These guys must arrange visas for their women, but the guy Cathy met was despondent because the lady he was to marry only wanted his Visa card!

For about the first 30 minutes of our flight from Vienna to Stuttgart, we flew along the Danube River, which I could see meandering through the Austrian countryside. Scattered here and there were towns and villages, the houses mostly red roofed (tiled). Separating these were small green fields and some golden ones, patchwork style, and tree lined roads or fences and small deep green forests. Many Germans traveled the Danube by boat from Ulm, Germany, to at least Vienna where they began to overland trek to Russia. Others made the whole trip to the Black Sea by water. Michael Vogele might have boated from Ulm to Vienna and probably went overland most of the way to Russia.

On May 31, 2002, Cathy, I, and our guide/interpreter Natasha paid a visit to Anna Steinbach’s apartment, a Kruschev era complex built in 1967. She has lived there since it was completed. Her sister Zina had been invited to meet us also. Anna was born about 1931 and Zina was born in 1944. Anna was round and somewhat ruddy faced with white hair. Zina, in contrast, was thin. Anna, being the elder, had most knowledge of the family and of WWII times, but she couldn’t remember back further that Adam Steinbach and his wife.

Her story about the family during WWII was so different from Gresha’s that it is hard to believe the stories are from siblings. Anna said that her father went into the army in 1943 and was killed fighting, or maybe probably was. There was no mention of her father being Jewish or of a Jewish collective. She did see Nazi soldiers at times and the Czeck soldiers were the kindest. I will have to decipher my cassettes to be able to reconstruct in detail what Anna said. We got to Anna’s about 3 p.m. and left about 7 p.m. We ate a little dessert while there. Anna provide wine, strawberries, sour cream and a kind of green eggplant that was breaded (YUM!). We brought a Black Forest cake from the bakery.

Anna had many photos and I took photos of some of them with my camera including one of Adam Steinbach and his wife and four or five of their 12 kids. I think Matilda, mother of Anna, is included. If not, I have another picture of her. Anna’s son Victor had died at age 31, I believe. He was captain of a large fishing trawler out of the Kamchatka peninsula in the East. He was killed in an auto accident. A large number of people attended his funeral. Zina’s son, I believe Alexander, is an actor in an Odessa drama and musical theater and is about 28. Ukrainian women are not having many children these days, and many are going childless. Both Anna and Zina are widows. Anna worked most of her life in a furniture factory. For that reason, she has nice furniture that is finely lacquered. There are double doors into her house. The outer is provided and is shabby.

The inside one and the door into her bedroom are very nice lacquered doors. Anna lives on the fourth of six floors. No elevator. Steps are of plain concrete with paint slop spots. They seem to be slanted slightly downward. Natasha thought this was from wear, but I think constructed that was (inexact). The tiles on the landings were not quite put in flat so have a crude appearance. Balconies seem to be somewhat ramshackle, but Anna’s was solid. That is where I took her pictures.

She had parquet wood flooring in the living room and bedroom but not tightly approximated so there are little gaps between boards. On the wall behind the couch was a Persian style carpet, fairly new. This wasn’t an actual Persian rug. Putting a Persian rug or a copy (I didn’t ever see a real Persian while in Ukraine) on the wall behind the couch is common practice in the Ukraine. This is a rough rendering of Anna’s apartment. I would guess that it is no more than 600 square feet in size.

Sixth Letter:
Stuttgart, Germany, 5 June 2002

Dear Dad,

Awakening in the Ukrainian villages would remind you of home with cooing doves and crowing of roosters, but then there is another sound, that of the coo coo bird. There is a Russia/Ukrainian folk belief that the number of times the coo coo coos is the number of years you have yet to live. Fortunately, coo coos coo coo many times in succession!

Huffnunstal means “Hope Valley” and 8 kilometer (5 mile or so) to the south and east is NeuGlueckstal, birthplace of your mother Fredericka Schumacher. Neu-Glueckstal is a fairly small village and the only public building that I could find there that may have been extent in Fredericka’s time was the school. - Only the back party may have existed then. The director or principal thought this part was built in 1900 (about) and Fredericka left for America in 1884. The rooms in the old section had slightly irregular (wavy) junctions of walls with the ceilings and there were noticeably rounded on the ends almost as if the rooms had been created by the rising of the squarish loaf of bread. The rooms built 50 years ago had much separated by 3-1/2 foot partitions on the boy’s side and I surmise similar for girls.

Probably there blocks back from the school was the old German cemetery, which was there in Fredericka’s time. It is not completely overgrown by lilacs. A few gravestones and some headstone bases were lying out on the grass near the lilacs. I could not read a name on any of these. In fact, only on one did it appear that there had ever been a name, but I couldn’t see all the sides of all markers. I walked into the tangle of lilacs for 20-30 feet and found a couple of pillars about 5-1/2 feet tall. These were constructed of stones mortared together and plastered over. They appeared to mark the perimeter of a plot or possible even the cemetery itself. They were still standing. I didn’t see many stones through the brambles, but it is possible that the overgrowth has prevented complete desecration of this cemetery.

Most German cemeteries in the Ukraine have been destroyed. In Neudorf, we saw about four headstones in the wall of a communal barn. Apparently, most stone from Glueckstal were broken up and used in the construction of bridges and other structures. The old German cemetery at Kassel is under a patch of bushes just outside the fence of the current Ukrainian cemetery there. We saw the Kassel cemetery first hand. There were a surprising number of crosses there despite years of official atheism. There are no old iron crosses of the type used by the German pioneers in Dakota (like your brother Johann’s) but there were many made out of pipe with end decorations made of three rings of 1-1/2 inch pipe welded on a cross created from pipe.

The map of Neu-Glueckstal from 1930 doesn’t list any Schumachers or other relatives of Fredericka of Christian, but it does show home sites of three Perman families. I spent considerable time trying to find these. There is definately nothing left of two of them and probably nothing at the third either though it was very hard to correlate the remains of Neu-Glueckstal with the old map so I wouldn’t completely give up on the latter.

In the Ukraine, I ha an experience which very much contrasts the mentality there with that in the USA. We were visiting the train station at Kotovsk because it was probably one of the places where some Germans got on the train to begin their journeys to America. The old name for this place was Birsula. I had taken photos of the front and side of the station and had gone through onto the platform adjacent to the tracks where the (stinky) toilet was. On returning, I stepped out over the first set of rails to take a picture of the backside of the station when a police officer called me.

I stepped onto the platform and the only word I could understand was “passport” which I produced. I said “Amerikansky” and “tourist”. A second officer came up and then a couple Ukrainian citizens. I think I might have been hauled off to the police station if at that moment Helma Eberle from our tour grouped hadn’t returned from the toilet. She is a German who was born in Mariental, one of the German colonies. She was six at the time the Nazis were pushed back in 1944, and she went by wagon train back to Germany only to be sent back to Russia with her family somewhere in the Ural Mountains.

She was too young to work in the mines and had just reached the working age of 18 when the Supreme Soviet under Kruschev pardoned all Germans. She married her husband Oskar not long after and they moved to Tajikistan where she worked as a crane operator while Oskar was a diver for the local commissar. Anyway, Helma speaks Russian and German, but not much English. She hurried up and began speaking in Russian and after about 5 minutes, the officer let me go. Helma and Oskar emigrated to Germany in 1972. She was able to find her childhood home in Mariental while on this tour.

We flew from Odessa to Vienna in Fokker 70s made in Germany. A member of our group was reminded of this story: An American WWII Ace was describing an air battle on the Johnny Carson Show. On Fokker was coming from this direction and another Fokker from that, but he finally got on the tail of one of those Fokkers and shot it down. Johnny asked the Germans were only flying Fokkers. The Ace said, “No. Those Fokkers were only flying Messerschmidts!”

Seventh Letter:
In the Air Oven Atlantic Ocean, 7 June 2002

Dear Dad,

This letter will likely be a Hodge podge of thoughts. Forgive me if I repeat myself.

Houses in the villages in the Ukraine and Moldova were frequently fancifully decorated. They had a board nailed upright at the front end of the peak of the roof. About half the time, this was cut out in a unique way. I doubt that any two of these were alike. There were many simpler ones, as well. My guide Natasha thought that these were a Ukrainian tradition but our main guide Elvira felt this was a German innovation. The boards facing the roof were sometimes scalloped not notched or serrated or some combination.

Often there were designs in the triangle underneath the roof on the front of the house facing the street. Common was some variant of a rising sun. Jan and Tom Stangle who were with us on the first portion of our trip had postulated that these might have a religious significance. I didn’t agree because the motif is seen very often on fences and is ever seen very commonly in one form or another in the metal grates over windows to prevent break-ins. However, I saw a couple on tombstones at Neu-Glueckstal and on the stone at the school in Glueckstal, which supports the Stangle’s conclusion.

Almost every yard in the villages were fronted by a fence. Fences and gates are now a days often of metal. Sometimes these were of sheet iron punched out with repetitive designs and sometimes wrought. Metal gate doors often had designs created by welding bent rods on to the sheet metal or the upright bars. These might be geometric; especially diamonds, the sunrise design, flower, and I saw at least one with deer and one with dolphins. All of these metal fences were painted in bright colors, usually with blue or green background color. More common are picket fences as I noted earlier.

Less common are fences of plastered stone. Some of these are probably old German fences, but I couldn’t be certain. Katya Steinbach said that a fence I though was old was actually recently made. She said sometime like, “Some people like that style of fence.” Here is a drawing of the type of fence Katya was referring to. The pillars are about 1-1/2 feet square. They might have wood or iron fence material between. They were usually white with some other color for trim. Sometimes these fences between the pillars were stone covered with plaster. These seemed more likely to be old to me.

Plowing, planting and harvesting are done mechanically as is most of cutting of hay. However, large groups of people were in the fields even on Sunday hoeing row crops. Fairly large fields were raked by hand using rakes 3-4 feet wide, sometimes with wooden tines. Handles on most tools and the tongues of wagons were clearly hand made from branches of trees. We saw many people cutting with hand scythes. I saw numerous people forking hay into wagons by hand, or into sidecar motorcycles. I didn’t see a single hay bale in the Ukraine. Men could be seen carrying 1-3 large bags of hay.

I saw few newer pieces of farm machinery. Tractors were relatively small compared to the large models used in our country today. Combines I saw were small and somewhat faded and rusty on the outside. More than half of all cows were still the old German red cow, bred in the colonies in about the mid 1800s. It is apparently both good as a milk cow and beef cow. The cattle industry is extremely important for villages, especially milking. A good milk cow costs $380-400 US dollars. Most people own 1-5 cows, usually 1-2.

I saw a fair number of goats, but few sheep. I think hogs are raised, but I saw very few. Animals were obviously allowed in town and are must be taken when walking to avoid cow pies. Chicks are everywhere and geese with 10-15 goslings were common. The ganders could be nasty when their space was invaded, as expected. Not many ducks or turkeys. Sometimes foul are herded with a little whip. I think I saw a lady herding her geese with a stick about four feet long. Some pigeons are raised including by Gresha and Marie Steinbach, and at least on other household I saw. I have photos of a pigeon sitting on a guy’s outstretched arm.

Wild animals were few other than for birds. I saw one toad and one fox. In Novosamarka, the croaking of frogs in the evening was boisterous and wonderful, coming from the pond in the common pasture. Frogs were accompanied by the lesser choir of crickets. There is some bee keeping as in the days of the earlier colonist, but the only hives we saw were in Pavel Pratchuk’s father’s yard in Novosamarka. These hives were like a rectangular box laying flat to the ground rather than upright as in the U.S. I saw no deer.

There were a surprising number of churches both old and new. The Odessa State Archives is in an old Jewish synagogue. Lilia, the archivist, said that the Ukrainian President has said that all former churches would have to be turned back to their religious groups in the next few years or so the archives will have to be moved. Apparently, the new home will be better as the current building is not heated. Obviously, old Lutheran churches in the villages can’t be turned back to the Lutherans because there are no Lutheran there anymore.

The Russian/Ukrainian Orthodox churches that are being built are in general, smaller than the former churches of old. We saw two old Lutheran churches that are now being sued by Russian/Ukrainian Orthodox congregations, one in Neudorf between Bergdof and Gluckstal and one I believe at Rohrbach in the Beresan group of colonies. We happened upon that church during its service. There was hay all over the old wood floor except where several runner type rugs lay. The singing was great to listen to there. They don’t seem to discourage taking photos in the Orthodox churches, even during services. Except for a few benches towards the back of the Orthodox churches for the frail, there are no seats and the people stand during the service.

The onion domes tend to be odd in number. The Orthodox cross has three cross bars. The short upper one said “Golgotha” where Jesus was nailed to the cross. Below that, the long bar represents the part of the cross where Christ’s hands were nailed. His feet were nailed to the angled bar at the bottom. It was tied to the upright, not fixed, so it was angled.

We left Odessa for Stuttgart on 3 June. Stuttgart is almost like another world when compared to the Ukraine. It was bombed very heavily in WWII but has been rebuilt. Some old buildings have been reconstructed. The facades appear old, but the construction techniques on the insides of these building are modern. Thus, there is a mix of old and new architecture. We stayed in the Hotel Royal in the center of town. It had all the amenities which was quite a change. Hotel Royal had been built after the war. In Stuttgart, I went to the Heimat Museum der Bessarabiendeutchen (Home Museum of the Bessarabian Germans).

Bessarabia is the piece of land between Dniester and Pruth rivers. It was heavily colonized by Germans. Early in the war, Hitler and Stalin divided up the part of the world so these people were taken back to Germany where they suffered like all Germans later in the war, but they didn’t have to return to Russia afterwards so were not in the USSR work camps. Since Glueckstal is only 10 kilometers East of Bessarabia, there are almost certainly Vogeles who were in the Bessarabian colonies, probably mostly women who were married to men from Bessarabia.

The genealogy list on the computer at the museum had many Vogeles listed, but since I didn’t have a copy of my family tree with me, I couldn’t be sure they were in my family. Bessarabia is an old name, which apparently derives from a group of people who lived there long ago, the Bessen, and their king Bessarab. Many things at this museum interested me, but especially two things. One was a couple of “Hutchele” (for little horses) which are foot bones of a horse that were painted and used by kids as toys. These fascinated me because our good Lakota friend Emma Amiotte (Born 1911) also played with these as a kid and in later life, made little beaded leather Indian dolls to ride them.

Cathy even sold some of these in her trading post. Her logo for her first business (Travios, Inc) was an artist’s rendering of one of Emma’s bone horses with rider and travois. The second thing that really interested me was the “Placht” or baby carrying blanket. These were tightly hand woven, very colorful wool blankets. Apparently, the baby was carried in front and not on the back. These blankets are similar to a couple we bought in Guatemala where women carried kids front and back. An old lady modeled a Placht and I took photos.

Cathy and I went to the Linden Museum in hopes of seeing their great American Indian collection, but a change in display is in process so the material was unavailable except for a small room of stuff. On a city tour of Stuttgart, we actually spent half the time 15 kilometers away at the Ludwigsburg Palace. This is a Versailles type palace and was the home of the Wuerttemberg Duke or King (after Napoleon crowned him King) from the early 1700s until the late 1800s.

Our tour was fantastic because our guide was learned and humorous and the number of rooms we saw was much greater than at Versailles previously. It was apparently in part the expense of maintaining trappings like this place that resulted in high taxes that drove my Swabians (Wuettembergers) to emigrate to South Russia. In Michael Vogele’s case, it probably wasn’t religious persecution that caused him to leave, because he was Lutheran as were most other Swabians.

We arrived safe and sound last night! It is hard to beat our own bed (even with jet lag), and our own shower can’t be topped!

Love, Ken

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