on the Steppe: A Cultural History of the Kutschurgan, Beresan, and
Liebental Colonies, 1804 - 1972
Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota
Height, Joseph S. Paradise of the Steppe: A Cultural History of the Kutschurgan, Beresan, and Liebental Colonies, 1804-1972. Bismarck, North Dakota: Historical Society of Germans from Russia, 1973.
Joseph Height, who was born in 1909 in Saskatchewan, Canada, focuses
on the Catholic Kutschurgan, Beresan, and Liebental colonies in
this book. (Twenty-three percent of the Germans living in South
Russia were Catholic.) He goes into detail about the turmoil that
made the Czar's invitation most welcome to the farmers and craftsmen
of Germany and France in the 1760s. Harsh, constantly-shifting policies
destabilized the people in and around Alsace, the Palatinate, Baden,
and Wurttemberg. People who fled foreign armies in fear were punished
as traitors a short time later. The Czarina Catherine's representatives
who entered this scene spun a good line. Their promise of free land
and assurance of wonderful freedoms tugged at the people's dreams.
Height follows the settlers on the often disastrous journey to
Russia and through the difficult early years when colonists first
tilled the iron-hard soil and brought the snake and wolf populations
under control. Cossack soldiers patrolled the borders to prevent
the colonists from returning to Germany, and few would risk becoming
victims of their brutal treatment. The Colonists' Welfare Committee,
led by forward-looking men such as the Duc Armand de Richelieu,
who was also the governor of Odessa, kept the reluctant pioneers
afloat and goaded them to plant fruit trees and vineyards. An Odessa
greenhouse created at Richelieu's behest provided stock!
He describes the founding of the seminary at Saratov and of the
Tiraspol Diocese, which was in existence only long enough to have
five bishops. The priests, first Polish then sons of the colonists,
ministered to the people and enriched their lives with ritual and
music and religious organizations. They cared for the sick and indigent.
Even young men who did not stay through ordination proved of great
value. They became teachers, civic leaders, and the village intelligentsia.
They provided the stimulation that kept the colonists from becoming
as backward as their peasant neighbors.
Height has accumulated appealing information: festivals, songs,
sayings, language, letters home, and pictures of lovely churches.
There are town plats of Kutschurgan, Beresan and Liebental villages.
Those whose families originally settled there may find their forebears'
names in little rectangles on town maps. He deals with the out-migration
as large numbers left for the Americas and with the devastation
of the villages and the deportation of the people to the north and
east by the Communists. This book is a good choice if you are curious
about the layout of homes, about the education system, what triggered
all the migrating, and finally what became of the many who stayed