Book review by James Gessele
Walth, Dr. Richard H. Neu-Glückstal in the Area of Odessa: A Typical Village of the Germans from Russia. Essen, Germany: Klartext-Verlag, 2000.
Neu-Glueckstal in the Area of Odessa is Richard Walth's latest work aimed at the Germans from Russia audience, and, by its sheer topicality, perhaps at an even wider readership. His North American readers are already acquainted with In Search of a Home: The Germans from Russia and Flotsam of World History. The new book is Walth's effort at revising and condensing the first two works into a single volume that he hopes will fill the "sold out" and "out of print" void resulting from earlier successes. Publication of Neu-Glueckstal touches Germans from Russia on a wide front; this edition, like the others, will appear in German, English and Russian.
Any discussion of the new book inevitably begs reference to the earlier editions. The hallmark of Professor Walth's original In Search of a Home was its engaging range of topics pertaining to Germans from Russia, all carefully unfolded before the backdrop of Neu-Glueckstal in a time frame from its founding, through the exodus in 1944, up to the present day. As in the original, he still provides in parts 1 and 2 a brief history lesson of this unique ethnic group and an overview of his native village in the context of German life in Russia. True to the original, part 4 embodies an array of maps, photos (detailed captions), a list of founding ancestral families, a 1944 listing of village inhabitants (including all family members not living there at the time or who founded a new family elsewhere after 1944), and sample documents related to everyday living in and leaving the Russian homeland. All in all, a fine treatment of assorted elements essential to a successful Heimatbuch.
Part 3 is a condensation of Walth's Flotsam of World History and is a particular favorite of mine. The subject matter is so intriguing, using untapped sources and heading into territory no one has ventured to touch. The message in this section is well served in that condensing has not harmed the basic content. It also helps tremendously for the material to have been exposed to very fine translation work.
Subsequent to the Wehrmacht invasion into southern Russia, a special commando unit under Karl Stumpp, by order of the Reich's Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, undertook a comprehensive analysis and report of 99 German colonies. Known to some researchers and scholars but remaining largely untouched over these several post-war years, Walth has seized on Stumpp's village reports as a framework in part 3 to analyze life as lived by his people in Russia between the two world wars.
Indeed these are his people, and indeed he speaks with well-founded authority. He was born in Neu-Glueckstal in 1924 and studied at the Teachers Training College in Selz, Odessa and later was employed as a teacher. Through the eyes of this pedagogue we view how devastating the Stalinist vision of a communist society was upon the Germans from Russia life style and culture and how efforts to adapt were so futile. Deprived of their property, their family life, and even their religion, they entertained great hope with the arrival of the German military. Their notions for a return to the good old days were soon dashed when they learned that the Nazi idea for communal revitalization was founded on propaganda and hatred.
Professor Walth's two earlier works were received well. His latest Neu-Glueckstal in the Area of Odessa definitely deserves your attention, whether dyed-in-the-wool Neu-Glueckstaler, committed researcher, or casual reader.
Whatever the case, he speaks to the very heart of what it means to be a German from Russia and affirms this through his numerous references to folklore. I am grateful to Richard Walth for confirming what I as a child experienced every Christmas on the wind-swept North Dakota plains and what I suspected stemmed from time-honored practice in the old country: Every child received a sack of goodies, with fruit, nuts and candies. And to my delight Herr Walth sneaks by us a fleeting glimpse into the hardy German soul on the vast loneliness of the Steppe and how he survived the vagaries of his Russian hosts. The good professor, in describing the contents of the Christmas sack, makes reference to Pfeffernüße as "Russaferzla," at once an endearing Swabian term for a favorite Christmas ginger cookie, at the same time a wickedly funny and disparaging yet rancorless poke at Russian flatulence. Adolf and Josef would never understand this mind set. That is why they and their kind have passed from the scene and the Germans from Russia heritage remains timeless.