10 June 2018

The Founding of the Kutschurgan Colonies


German colonists began arriving in the Kutschurgan valley in the Black Sea area on 10 June of 1808 to the Kutschurgan valley in the Black Sea area. 

On the occasion of the Kutschurgan colonies 100th anniversary, an Russian newspaper in the City of Odessa called the Odessaer Zeitung published a series of articles about each of six Mother colonies: Baden, Elsaß, Kandel, Mannheim, Selz and Straßburg. Written by Konrad Keller, they were reprinted in the German-language American newspaper Der Staats Anzeiger with a forward by by the author.

On the occasion of the 210th anniversary of the founding of the Kutschurgan colonies, they are reprinted again here. The original translated text is courtesy of the Germans from Russia Historical Society and can be found here. It has been edited here for clarity, consistency and style.



* * *

To the Series of Individual Articles on the Six Original Kutschurgan Colonies


Following the celebration of the 100-year anniversary of these colonies, about which we have reported previously, the reader may find it not uninteresting to read about the establishment and settlement history of the six colonies of Selz, Kandel, Baden, Straßburg, Mannheim and Elsaß. Since the topic is rather extensive, we find it necessary to present the article as a series, and we hope thereby to present enjoyment to the readers. So now let us give the word to the author.

Reprinted from the Odessaer Zeitung, September 3, 1908, in Der Staats-Anzeiger.

Konrad Keller’s Introduction

On June 10th, the Kutschurgan colonies celebrated the 100th anniversary of their settlement in South Russia. It is my opinion that these celebrating colonies deserve to become better known to the readers of this newspaper. In that vein, I am going to provide the following brief, historical sketch of these colonies.

Just as the history and geography of South Russia was already known in ancient times, the same goes for the area along the Dnyester and its tributary, the Kutschurgan. Herodot, the father of history, wrote that the Naurians, a Scythian tribe, lived in that region, but which, a generation prior to the campaign by the Persian king Darius, had already left their land “for their own land had been beset by a large number of snakes, and more had arrived from the desert regions to the North, so that, finally, in great fear, they left their homeland and now live among the Budines.” In the area there was a large city called Ophiusa, that is, the one rich with snakes. The Romans, too, were familiar with the region, as demonstrated by a recent discovery of stone tablet in the Russian village of Korotnoye containing writings in Greek and Latin alphabets. The Kutschurgan plays a role even in the life of the brave Swedish King Karl the 12th [Charles XII]. His biographer writes: "In 1709, as Karl the 12th was beaten decisively near Poltova by Peter the Great, he and the left-overs of his troupes fled through South Russia toward Bender, under the protection of the Turkish Sultan, it so happened that in the Kutschurgan night befell him, and he and his loyal generals were forced to stay there overnight. At the time, the area was inhabited by the Nogaians, whose seraski (leader) lived near the upper Tiligul near today’s city of Ananayev."

And now a few words about the Kutschurgan River, the lifeblood of the German colonies there. The Kutschurgan River begins near the Russian village of Koshiri at the border of the Ananayev County. It flows southward for roughly 100 verst [ca. 65 miles]. The Kutschurgan passes through open plains in a rather deep valley and passes many smaller valleys on both sides, most of them growing small trees and shrubs. The Kutschurgan Valley possesses a layer of good and very fertile black soil. Below the village of Michailovka, the valley broadens and forms several marshy and muddy ponds. In the spring, following winter with much snow, the entire valley is filled with snow melt and often causes flooding. The Kutschurgan ends at the so-called liman of the same name. That liman has a width of 11.5 verst [nearly 8 miles]. It is connected with another tributary, the Turuntchuk, via two river arms. It should be added that the Kutschurgan Liman has not been researched sufficiently. The question, for example, “what fills the liman if, for example, there are two years without rain or snow?” has not been answered by scientists.

And now to the matter at hand [the separate history of the six colonies].

Reprinted from the Odessaer Zeitung, September 17, 1908, in Der Staats-Anzeiger.


The Colony of Baden

Kolonie Baden. Map by Alexander Ivanovich Mende (Mendt), 1853, courtesy of http://boxpis.ru/svg/

The Colony of Baden was established in 1808, but the process of building the houses was not completed until 1809. The Colony was located on the Kutschurgan Liman [estuary] with a portion of the village being located on a side valley, which itself ended up at that very liman. The Colony of Baden is located 60 verst from Odessa [1 verst = 0.67 mile; 60 verst = ca. 40 miles], the main city [district center] of the region. The soil is primarily sandy, containing nitric acid. However, with favorable climate conditions, most grains grow well. There are no stone quarries in the area.

In 1848, the community lands totaled 3,561 dessiatines [1 dessiatine = ca. 2.7 acres; 3,561 dessiatines = just over 9,600 acres], which was divided in the following usage: 
  • 1,356 dessiatines was used for cultivation
  • 1,020 dessiatines was meadow land, 
  • 1,075 dessiatines was used for grazing
  • 110 dessiatines was used for gardens and plantations 
 In 1842, a forest was planted, but by 1848 there were only 120 trees.

The name of “Baden” was given to this settlement because many of the settlers came from the Grand Duchy of Baden.

There were 60 Catholic families who originally settled in Baden. Of these, 40 families were from the Grand Duchy of Baden, 18 families from Elsaß and one family from Austria. The document does not say where the remaining families came from. In all, there were 237 souls of both genders.

With the exception of two families, the 60 families came to Russia as part of three traveling parties, which were separately led by Michael Hoffart, Josef Tschau and Friedrich Lehle.

The land provided to the colonists was assigned by Rosenkampf and the Liebenthaler Supervisor (word used was “Oberschulzen,” a kind of grand mayor), Franz Brittner, and was purchased by the Crown from landowner Sadow or Sador. On the land there, were six small semlyankas (earthen huts), all of which were in a poor state of repair. The financial support to the settlers from the Crown amounted to 13,899 rubles, 67 kopeks silver. The total capital brought by the settlers to Russia from Germany was estimated to be 5,549 rubles.

Baden also had misfortune during the early years. In 1812, there was a plague, but only one person died. Between1824 and 1830, crops were devastated by grasshoppers every year. In 1833 and 1834, the crop failure was so complete that the colonists had to receive assistance from the Crown. Yet, the assistance of our dear God did not remain missing. From the years 1850 to 1870, there were many plentiful harvests, which helped put the settlers on their feet again and gradually brought them solid prosperity.

At the present time, there are 242 households with 1,814 souls of both genders. There is a parish church, a pastorate, its own Volost Office and two schools with four teachers and 213 students. 

Former church at Baden, largely destroyed by fire in 2000. Photo by Michael M. Miller.
GRHC 2001 Journey to the Homeland Tour.  Source: NDSU Repository.

Currently, Baden owns 3,724 3/4 dessiatines of community land. Twenty individuals own a variety of portions of 1,338 dessiatines of purchased land. The community lands are divided as follows: 
  • 115 dessiatines consist of the yards on which houses are built
  • 6 dessiatines are used for livestock business 
  • 35 dessiatines consist of vegetable gardens 
  • 15 dessiatines  are used for fruit tree gardens 
  • 9 dessiatines consist of grape vineyards
  • 3 dessiatines are meadows
  • 3 dessiatines are under water
  • 2 dessiatines are acreage covered with nitric acid
  • 6 dessiatines are used for clay pits
  • 2 dessiatines are used for a garbage pit
  • 54 1/4 dessiatines are roads 
  • 2,600 1/2 dessiatines are under cultivation
  • 861 dessiatines are used as grazing land
  • 340 dessiatines is orphan land and is rented out for 7 rubles per dessiatines
 Grazing land is rented from an owner in Tiraspol for three rubles per head of livestock. For 70 rubles annually, fishing in the Kutschurgan liman is guaranteed [auctioned to highest bidder for a period of years with proceeds going to the community]. In Baden, one can find 21 workshops doing a variety of work. There is a co-op, 10 second-hand stores, and a pub, for which the community has to pay 770 rubles rent.

The community pays the following taxes: 364 rubles, 20 kopeks to the Crown; Auskaufsumme [??] 2,583 rubles, 20 kopeks; basic interest charges amount to 1,818 rubles, 9 kopeks, and the community owes 3,831 rubles, 24 kopeks.

Reprinted from the Odessaer Zeitung, September 24, 1808 in Der Staats-Anzeiger.


The Colony of Elsaß

Kolonie Elsaß. Map by Alexander Ivanovich Mende (Mendt), 1853, courtesy of http://boxpis.ru/svg/

The colony of Elsaß was established in 1808, and in 1809 the settlers began building their houses and the entire settlement. [This is the wording in the document.]

The colony is located in a valley through the steppes, that of the Baraboi River, which has its origin nine verst [ca. six miles] in a northerly direction from the settlement. The river runs through the village and thus divides it in half. The colony is located 50 verst [ca. 33 miles] from the district center, the city of Odessa. The soil consists mostly of black dirt, with a content of nitric acid and, with favorable weather, is quite fertile. There are many stone queries located 1/2 verst [ca. .3 mile] from the colony, and the stones are of good quality. In 1848, the community land consisted of 3561 dessiatines (now there is more land), and it was divided in the following manner: 
  • 1,725 dessiatines was cropland 
  • 800 dessiatines were meadows 
  • 894 dessiatines was used for grazing land 
  • 110 dessiatines were field gardens and home gardens
  • 110 trees 
The name “Elsaß” was given to the colony because most of the residents came from the province of Elsaß. The colony of Elsaß was established by 60 families numbering 138 males and 135 females. Of these families, 36 families, 83 males and 88 females, came from Elsaß. From the Duchy of Baden (District of Rastatt and Bruchsal) came 21 families with 49 males and 42 females. From Prussia/Poland came two families with five males and four females. From Austria there was one family of two individuals. It is not known who led these settlers to Elsaß. The land for the colony was made available through Colonial Inspector von Rosenkampf and the through Mayor Brittner and was owned previously by the landowner Tscherbanka, purchased from him by the Crown. The area where the colony now stands contained two houses in a bad state of repair, covered by reeds. Until August, 1911, the colonists received a daily allowance of 3 kopeks silver from the Crown. Additionally, each family received 101 rubles, 42 6/7 kopeks toward purchase of equipment and supplies for their operation. Funds brought by the Colonists totaled 10,020 rubles silver. The events and misfortunes in Elsaß were similar to those in neighboring colonies. 

View of Elsaß from a pasture. Photo by Michael M. Miller.
GRHC Journey to the Homeland Tour 2010. Source: NDSU Repository

At the present time the colony has properties and 1,952 residents. There is a parish church, a pastor, and two schools with three teachers and 254 students.

The colony of Elsaß owns 3,667 dessiatines of community land, which is divided as follows: 
  • 66 1/2 dessiatines is used for property yards  
  • 390(?) dessiatines is used for livestock operations 
  • 36 dessiatines are used for vegetable gardens 
  • 2 1/2 dessiatines are orchards 
  • 15 dessiatines are vineyards 
  • 15 dessiatines are forest
  • 5 dessiatines are under water
  • 10 dessiatines comprise a rock quarry
  • 13 1/4 dessiatines are used for roads
  • 13 1/10 dessiatines are used for railroads
  • 2,361 dessiatines are used for cropland
  • 220 dessiatines are used for haying 
  • 530 dessiatines is used for livestock grazing 
  • 220 dessiatines is set aside as orphan land, which is rented out for a fee of 10 rubles per dessiatine 
Also, a significant amount of land is rented by the colonists from neighboring estates and landowners, for between 71/2 to 9 rubles per dessiatine.

For hay land, the rental price ranges from 10-16 rubles per dessiatine. The rock quarries are very productive. Up to 50,000 cut rocks are sold annually.

Taxes paid by the community to the Crown totals 358 rubles, 62 kopecks.

Reprinted from the Odessaer Zeitung, September 10, 1908 in Der Staats-Anzeiger.


The Colony of Kandel

Kolonie Kandel. Map by Alexander Ivanovich Mende (Mendt), 1853, courtesy of http://boxpis.ru/svg/

The colony of Kandel was first settled in 1808. It is situated in the Kutschurgan Valley, on the left shore of the Dnjester Liman, located 62 verst [just over 40 miles] from the main district city of Odessa. Kandel is part of the Volost of Selz, which is located only one verst [less than half a mile] from Kandel. The soil near this village is sandy, but a short distance to the east the soil is black and, under good management and favorable weather conditions, it is very fertile. The village was laid out under the supervision of Duke Richelieu, who gave it the name Kandel. 

In 1848, the community land totaled 5,965 dessiatines [just over 16,100 acres], and this land was divided as follows: 
  • 1,745 dessiatines under cultivation
  • 1,345 dessiatines were meadows
  • 2,532 dessiatines used for livestock grazing
  • 215 dessiatines used plantations
  • 126 dessiatines were used for vegetable gardens and orchards

There were 98 Catholic families who founded Kandel. They came from provinces in France and Germany. From France, there were 77 families totaling 306 souls. Of these, there were 20 families with 83 souls from the province of Elsaß (district of Selz); from Kandel, located in the Rheinpfalz, there were six families with 29 souls; from Hagenau, there were 10 families with 38 souls; from Germersheim, there were four families totaling 14 souls; from Bergzapern, there were five families totaling 18 souls; from Billenken (??), there were two families with seven souls; from Buschweiler, there were five families with 11 souls; from Lauderburg, there were 19 families with 72 souls; from Lohr, there was one family with three souls; from Lamaso, there were two families with eight souls; from Pfalz (District of Landstuhl), there were two families with eight souls; from the city of Mannheim, there was one family with four souls. All individuals named thus far came from provinces located within France. In addition to these, there were three families with 11 souls from Austria. From the Würzburg Province [Germany], there were two families with six souls. From Bohemia (Prag), there was one family with five souls. From Bavaria, there was one family with six souls. From Prussia (Berlin), there was one family with five souls, and from the Grand Duchy of Baden (District of Rastadt) there were 16 families with 61 souls. 

Kandel German cemetery – just stones left. Photo by Suzanne Haman Wanner.
GRHC 2008 Journey to the Homeland Tour.  Source: NDSU Repository.
The immigrants came to the village in 1808 in various groups. The first party, consisting of eight families, came under the direction of Michael Scherr. The second party consisting of 13 families was led by Jakob Steinhäuser. The leader of the third party, totaling nine families, was Georg Kraft. The fourth party with 10 families was led by Sebastian Zacher. The fifth party, totaling 56 families, was led by Michael Wolf. The leader of the sixth party, totaling eight families, was Michael Kuhn. Thus, 98 families totaling 389 individuals of both genders settled Kandel originally. The area where Kandel is now situated had not been inhabited prior to the formation of the Kandel settlement. 

Assistance and loan money provided to the colony by the Crown totaled 16,015 rubles, 33 kopeks. Funds brought by the colonists from their homeland totaled 10,558 rubles silver. The first church in Kandel was built in 1828. The present church was built in 1892.

At the present time, Kandel has 269 properties with 2,522 residents. There is a parish church, one pastor, and there are two schools with four teachers and 374 children.

According to the most current survey, the community land totals 6,216 ½ dessiatines [nearly 16,800 acres] and is divided up as follows: 
  • 205 1/2 dessiatines are used for lots and buildings
  • 20 1/4 dessiatines  are used for livestock operations
  • 33 dessiatines are used for vegetable gardens
  • 37 dessiatines are used for vineyards
  • 2 dessiatines are covered with reeds
  • 69 1/4 dessiatines are under water
  • 4 1/4 dessiatines are used as a stone quarry
  • 1 1/4 dessiatines as a clay pit
  • 1/2 dessiatine is used as a garbage area
  • 34 dessiatines are used up by roads
  • 4,400 dessiatines are under cultivation
  • 1,308 dessiatines are used for livestock grazing

There are 77 craftsmen doing a variety of work. Stores selling textiles and other goods total 17.
Fees paid by the community: payment to the Crown, 607 rubles, 84 kopeks; Auskaufsumme [??] ?? rubles, 88 kopeks; land tax, 2,838 rubles, 78 kopeks; community debt 2,793 rubles.

Reprinted from the Odessaer Zeitung, October 1, 1908, in Der Staats-Anzeiger.


The Colony of Mannheim

Kolonie Mannheim. Map by Alexander Ivanovich Mende (Mendt), 1853, courtesy of http://boxpis.ru/svg/

The colony of Mannheim was established in April 1809 on the steppes near the Baraboi River, located 40 verst [ca. 27 miles] northwest of the main city of Odessa.

In 1808, people from a variety of localities in Germany gathered for the purpose of immigrating to Russia. From the Duchy of Baden came 26 families. From Elsass, there were 16 families. From Pfalz, there were eight families. Together, this group totaled 50 families, with 105 males and 90 females; they had been divided into three groups for their trip to Russia.

The first group was led by Michael Schneider and Peter Bonhoffner. The second group was led by Ignatz Schatz and Simon Aman. The third group was led by Michael Hentsch and Joseph Vetter. The majority of the emigrants shipped out of Lauingen, traveling on the Danube River as far as Vienna. From Vienna the groups traveled on land through Austria, Mähren[Moravia] and Galica to the Russian boarder town of Radzivilov, where they remained for one month. While at Radzivilov, they were joined by 10 families from Prussian Poland, who had lived there for five years. From Radzivilov, these three groups traveled further to Odessa, and while two groups arrived in September, the third came there in December. By decree of the colonist authorities, the settlers spent the winter in the Liebenthaler [Liebental] colonies, not far from Odessa.

On April 6, 1809, the 60 families of colonists gathered once again, and under the direction of the Liebenthaler Mayor Franz Brittner traveled to the area where they would establish the colony of Mannheim. The land on which the Colony was established was purchased by the Crown from a Captain Petro. The colonists found six stone houses, two of which continued to be occupied by the colonists in 1848. The other four houses were in a very poor state of repair and were eventually torn down.

The Crown provided advance money for food and loans to the colonists, as had also been provided earlier to the Liebenthaler colonists. Funds brought by the colonists from their homeland totaled approximately 2,150 rubles silver.

Lilacs bloom along a wall by a garden gate in Mannheim.  Photo by Michael M. Miller.
GRHC 2007 Journey to the Homeland Tour. Source: NDSU Repository.
The colonists named their new settlement “M. Hilf” (translates to M. Help [possibly “Maria Hilf,” a common old custom of calling on Mary’s help - AH]), which is how it is worded in the document. However, in 1810, by decree of the authorities, the village was renamed Mannheim. The land given to the colony of Mannheim is mostly level, with only a few ponds made by the Baraboi. The soil is made up mostly of good, black dirt containing good levels of nitrogen. The water in most wells has a harsh and bitter aftertaste. In 1826, attempts began to establish vineyards found little success. In 1842, the authorities ordered the planting of a forest, but the document states that “the soil does not appear to be suitable for growing trees.” 

Over time, later arrivals came to Mannheim from Germany. In 1848, there were 140 families, with a total of 836 souls of both genders. The colony was also affected by tribulations and fateful events of various kinds. Nonetheless, our dear God always helped the colonists and they soon enjoyed growing prosperity. At the present time, Mannheim claims 208 properties and 1,777 souls of both genders. There is a parish church with a pastor. There are two schools with five teachers and 258 schoolchildren. 

 Mannheim owns 3,705 dessiatines [ca. 10,000 acres] of community land which is divided as follows:
  • 103 dessiatines are used for yards on which people live 
  • 15 dessiatines are used for vineyards
  • 8 dessiatines are forest
  • 2 dessiatines are under water
  • 27 dessiatines are used as a rock quarry
  • 1 dessiatine is used to mine clay
  • 13 dessiatines are used for garbage dumping 
  • 30 dessiatines are taken up by roads
  • 2,251 1/5 dessiatines are under cultivation
  • 169 dessiatines are used for haying
  • 1,061 dessiatines serve as livestock grazing land
Orphan land consists of 300 dessiatines, and the best of this land costs 9 rubles to rent while, lesser land rents for 5 rubles per dessiatine. Other rental land in the area of Kurz and Viehler rents for 10 rubles per dessiatine, and near Schedewer, only half that price, and the owners of the land furnish the required seeds.

In Mannheim one will find two windmills, one oil mill, one co-op, nine second-hand stores, four wine cellars and one pub. Every two weeks a market is held, but it is not well attended. 

 Community obligations include the following: payment to the Crown totals 362 rubles, 29 kopeks; land tax totals, 1,721 rubles, 8 kopeks; and the community owes 5,313 rubles, 25 kopeks.

Reprinted from the Odessaer Zeitung, September 3, 1908, in Der Staats-Anzeiger.

The Colony of Selz

Kolonie Selz. Map by Alexander Ivanovich Mende (Mendt), 1853, courtesy of http://boxpis.ru/svg/

The colony of Selz was established in 1808, and the building of the homes was completed in 1809.
The colony is located in the Kutschurgan Valley where the Kutschurgan River flows into the Djnester Liman [estuary].
The water in the estuary is sweet and is drinkable for people and livestock alike. Selz is located 60 verst [ca. 40 miles] from the district center city of Odessa.

The soil near the village is quite sandy, but as one moves away from the village, the soil turns black and contains nitrate. With favorable weather, the soil is very fertile. Stone quarries exist, but the stones are of low quality.

In 1848, the community owned 5,835 dessiatines [nearly 16,000 acres] and 2,126 faden [note: a unit of length (!)–ca..1.8 meters; it is not clear why it is cited here, or what exactly is 2,126 faden in length - AH] (at the present time, more land is available). The community land was divided up as follows:

  • 1,867 dessiatines for crops 
  • 2,108 dessiatines meadowland
  • 2,108 dessiatines for livestock grazing
  • 170 dessiatines were used for field gardens and home gardens 
  • 2,125 faden [see note above]
In 1842, trees were planted, but by 1848, there were only 631 trees. In 1848, people began planting fruit and shade trees totaling to about 3,444 trees.

The original colonists consisted of 100 families, 205 males and 196 females. The colonists came from various German provinces. From the province of Lower Elsaß, there were 95 families with 196 males and 186 females. From Prussia, there were two families with two males and two females. From Austria, there was one family with one man and one woman. The homeland of the two remaining families is unknown. The settlers arrived in two parties in 1808 under the leadership of Jakob Steinhäuser and Michael Scherr. 

The root cellar at the home of Louisa Riesling, Selz, 22 May 2018.  Photos by Michael M. Miller and Jeremy Kopp. GRHC Journey to the Homeland Tour 2018. Source: Flikr

The land for the settlers was obtained by Duke de Richelieu from three Russian families. There were three earthen structures located on the land which served as a camp for the Russian families. These Russians soon abandoned the huts, leaving the area with no one knowing where they went. The Russian government assisted the families by paying 171 rubles silver per two persons, totaling 20,936 rubles. The money brought to Russia by the German settlers totaled about 3,250 rubles. 

The Kutschurgan District office was located in Selz until 1871 and covered the colonies of Selz, Kandel, Baden, Straßburg, Mannheim and Elsaß. At the present time, Selz houses the Volost Office for only Selz and Kandel. The other colonies have established a separate Volost Office for themselves. Selz also has the oldest parish church in the Kutschurgan District, the parish having been founded in 1811 [perhaps 1841?]. Prior to that time, individuals were served from Josephsthal. The first house of prayer was erected in 1811. In 1821 the first church was built, but by 1830 the building was in need of repair and was remodeled on numerous occasions over the years. In 1901 the current, spacious, beautiful parish church was completed.

The Selz lands, according to the most recent measurements, total 6,270 1/2 dessiatines [nearly 17,000 acres]. The land is divided as follows: 
  • 65 dessiatines are used for yards around homes
  • 42 1/2 dessiatines are used for vegetable gardens 
  • 11 dessiatines are orchards
  • 61 1/2 dessiatines are vineyards 
  • 3 dessiatines are reedy tracts 
  • 141 dessiatines are under water due to the liman, 
  • 3 dessiatines are the clay pits
  • 5 dessiatines are used for the garbage pit
  • 61 3/4 dessiatines are taken up by roads
  • 4,695 3/4 dessiatines are used for crops
  • 1,174 1/2 dessiatines are used for pastures

In addition, Selz has 120 dessiatines belonging to the parish that is leased to local residents at 8 rubles per dessiatine.

Selz has 298 property lots and 2,637 individuals of both genders. Selz has a beautiful church, a pastor, and one school with four teachers and 246 students.

Every two weeks, Selz hosts a market, and every year a fair is hosted, from both of which the community receives 1,400 rubles. Selz has one doctor, a medical assistant, one pharmacy, a poor house with 40 beds and a post office.

Selz is actually a colony of craftsmen, so it would be useful to build a trade school there. Selz has 100 workshops and industrial enterprises. These include three steam mills, one lemonade factory, one bakery, 28 blacksmith shops, one plumbing establishment, six carpenter shops, four painting firms, two woodworking shops, two barrel makers, 49 cartwrights, one milliner and two tailors. Additionally, there is one co-op and 32 stores and warehouses.

The proceeds for wagons, plows, harrows, fords and other items manufactured by the craftsmen of Selz totals in excess of 10,000 rubles per year. 

Community taxes paid annually are as follows: 613 rubles 14 kopeks to the Crown; Auskaufsumme [??] 3,862 rubles, 20 kopeks; land tax (or land rent), 3,021 rubles, 17 kopeks; community debts, 4,327 rubles, 10 kopeks. 

Reprinted from the Odessaer Zeitung, September 17, 1908, in Der Staats-Anzeiger.


The Colony of Straßburg

Kolonie Straßburg. Map by Alexander Ivanovich Mende (Mendt), 1853, courtesy of http://boxpis.ru/svg/

The majority of the immigrants to settle in Straßburg arrived in June, 1808. They first came to the city of Odessa, and by decree by the authorities, were quartered in the Liebenthal [Liebental] colonies. In the fall of the same year, many of the families were allowed to the site where Straßburg is located today in order to begin building their living quarters. However, winter began in October that year, causing the poor people to experience significant suffering from frost and snow. Additionally, there was a great water shortage because a well had not yet been dug. The water for humans and livestock had to be hauled from two versts [ca. 1.4 miles] away, causing a great inconvenience. 

The Kutschurgan outdoor market near Strassburg. Photo by Michael M. Miller.
GRHC Journey to the Homeland Tour 2006.   Source: NDSU Repository.
The colony of Straßburg is situated in the Kutschurgan Valley, not far from the Dnjester Liman. The community land for the colony is about 15 verst [ca. 10 miles] long and 2 versts [1.4 miles] wide. The soil is mostly sandy and is not suitable for all types of grain, but with favorable weather conditions the area is nonetheless productive, especially for root crops. A stone quarry is located six verst [ca. 4 miles] from the colony. In 1842, a forest and plantation were established, but not adequately cared for, and was thus not successful. The report from 1848 reads, “There is no forest in Straßburg.”  According to the document, the name Straßburg was given to the new colony because two streets run through the village, but in my opinion, this is not a probable explanation. A more likely reason for the naming is in memory of the city of Straßburg in Elsaß, the major city in the province where so many of the emigrants came from. The original settlement consisted of 60 families totaling 146 males and 115 females. One family arrived as late as 1819, so 61 households were finally established. The first 46 families came from the District of Weißenburg, Elsaß . There were 14 families from the Duchy of Würtemberg, near Bruchsal. The last family to arrive came from the city of Weißenburg.

The colonists were given a monetary advance for building their homes and purchasing the first seeds. In addition to a wagons, plows and harrows, each family received 355 rubles. Money brought by the emigrants from Germany totaled 6,461 rubles silver.

The colony was afflicted by a variety of problems, including livestock disease, grasshoppers and famine. The colonists had to endure illnesses of every type. However, our dear God also sent plentiful harvests and soon there was strong prosperity. The first house of prayer in Straßburg was built in 1818. The present parish church was built in 1863. At the present time, Straßburg has 293 households with 2,178 inhabitants and forms its own Volost. Straßburg has a parish church, one pastor, plus two schools with seven teachers and 250 students.

The colony of Straßburg owns 3,669 dessiatines [about 9,900 acres] of community land and 3,004 dessiatines of purchased land. The community land is divided up as follows: 
  • 75 dessiatines are used for property yards
  • 20 dessiatines are used for livestock operations
  • 35 dessiatines are used for vegetable gardens 
  • 50 dessiatines are used for orchards
  • 35 dessiatines are used for a vineyard 
  • 3 dessiatines are used for a meadow
  • 2 dessiatines are used for a stone quarry
  • 5 dessiatines serve for a clay pit, 
  • 2 dessiatines are used for a garbage dump
  • 67 dessiatines are used by roads 
  • 2,442 dessiatines are under cultivation
  • 120 dessiatines are used for haying 
  • 799 dessiatines are used for pasture
The land for orphan children from ten families totals 104 dessiatines and is rented out at 5 rubles per dessiatine. The proceeds go into an orphan fund. Over 1,000 dessiatines are rented at 6 rubles per dessiatine from Russians who do not live here. Straßburg has two steam mills, 15 blacksmith shops, six wagon makers, one barrel maker and four shoe makers. Additionally, there are 10 second-hand stores, one iron business, three wine cellars and one tavern. 

Straßburg pays the following obligations: to the Crown, 358 rubles 75 kopeks; Auskaufsumme [??] ?? rubles, 75 kopeks; land tax, 1,596 rubles, 76 kopeks; community debts, 7,117 rubles, 50 kopeks.

Reprinted from the Odessaer Zeitung in Der Staats-Anzeiger [no publication date given]



Kutschurgan Mother colonies on Karl Stumpp's "Map of the German settlements in the region (oblast) Odessa (west part of the Gouv. Kherson," (AHSGR map #2).



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01 June 2018

Pentimento


“Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman's dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter "repented," changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again. That is all I mean about the people in this book. The paint has aged and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.” 
Lillian Hellman, Pentimento: A Book of Portraits (1973)

When I was college in the mid-1980s, I read Hellman's book. The haunting opening lines stayed with me ever since, as did the word itself – pentimento. In Italian, literally, repentance. In art, a visible trace of earlier painting beneath a layer or layers of paint on a canvas.

It came to mind again in the last few days as I was distracted and revisiting some defunct villages around Orenburg in the Ural region of Russia. They were founded by affluent German farmers from the Black Sea area, Bessarabia and the Odessa district specifically, between 1890 and 1895. All still had populations in 1926, but most are gone today.

The most difficult to find of the German colonies in Russia, defunct colonies were wiped from history in every way possible. Abandoned, resettled, destroyed, deported, razed...whatever happened to them or why, most often nothing remained.

Except...scars.

Humans have scratched and left scars on Earth since their beginning. They cleared areas, sectioned farmsteads, built towns, built roads, planted crops and trees, engineered irrigation, buried their dead. All of this activity left scars, even after the humans were gone to wherever they went to next. The scars remained, seen mostly clearly from above.

I will leave to another post the remarkable confluence of technologies and data that had to be invented and made public over the past 40 years to make this project possible, but I will briefly mention one component: satellite imagery.

In 1972, the U.S. launched the Landsat program to capture satellite imagery of Earth. The program is still running today with the latest satellite launched in 2013. Millions of images have been taken and archived and are all viewable through the U.S. Geological Survey Earth Explorer website.

A company called Keyhole, Inc. was stitching together satellite imagery from Landsat with funding from the CIA, and in 2001 launched Keyhole Earth.  Google acquired Keyhole in 2004, renaming it Google Earth and launched Google Maps the following year in 2005.  Two years later in 2007, Google My Map launched, creating a platform for anyone to create and share their own maps.

The maps that are a part of the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations project are Google My Maps.

The desktop version of Google Earth has historical imagery available built in, which I used this past week quite a bit to see versions of those scars on Earth where our ancestors once scratched in the Urals.

The images below are of the former colony of Sivushka, also known as Birkle, Donner and Hahn (the last three may be surnames of those who lived there), south of Orenburg. Protestant, part of the Orenburg parish. The measurements dropped a pin on a rather barren space.  Looking much closer and back in time, the old paint started to show through.

Image taken 28 June 2010

"Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman's dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea..."


Image taken 20 July 2004

"That is called pentimento because the painter "repented," changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again...."


Image taken 8 October 2002

"The paint has aged and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.”

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18 May 2018

Map Refresh: Black Sea and Volhynia

This set of map refreshes include a lot of cleanup and standardization updates, but they also include the first set of updates to villages included in the German Captured Document Collection, including a few new villages.  Eighty villages now have sources that link back to those documents with some additions to their founding dates and religions, including more Jewish. Some are full village files, but others are a part of summaries.  The source link will take you to the first image of the section with the information about the village.  However, there may be other pages elsewhere in the films with more information.  It would probably be a good idea to check the working spreadsheet for more. 

The 80 villages include those in Beresan, Chortitza, Early Black Sea, Jewish Ag, Kherson, Kronau,  Yekaterinoslav, Zagradovka and Volhynia.

Easy way to find these?  Go to any of the maps that were updated below and click on the search icon at the top left of the map (the little magnifying glass).  Search for the phrase "German Captured Documents."

Enjoy!

Maps updated:
Black Sea Area Colonies
Volhynia Area Colonies
Germans from Russia Settlement Locations


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17 May 2018

German Captured Documents Collection


There is nothing like working with a primary source.

A primary source is the original of something, be it an object, a photograph, a document, a firsthand account of an event, object, person, or work of art, presented without comment, explanation, or interpretation. Primary sources include historical documents,  legal documents, letters, eyewitness accounts, interviews, maps, fieldwork, results of experiments, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, audio and video recordings and art objects. Modern-day primary sources also include emails, blogs, tweets, YouTube videos, posts to social media that get dated and archived instantaneously.  

Digitally captured, nothing ever really goes away on the internet. Physical primary sources are a different story. Digitization efforts of these sources as a part of their overall preservation plan enables them to be made available for anyone to use from anywhere.  This is important.  Support the efforts of your local libraries, historical societies and archives.

In March of this year, I started looking for Karl Stumpp's village files he compiled in Nazi-occupied Soviet Ukraine from 1942 through early 1943 as a part of the newly created Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories (Reichsministerium für die besetzten Ostgebiete), or RMO, headed by Alfred Rosenburg. I had seen many second and third-hand references to these documents in books, scholarly papers, even on the Odessa Digital Library. There were lists of names, dates and places.  In each case, their contents were delicately described, coupled with commentary about their origins so as not to terribly upset an audience of eager genealogists learning, perhaps for the first time, that their ancestors' names may have appeared in Nazi German documents.

I wanted to see the originals to find out what else was in them.

Maybe it was luck, or maybe my timing and interest coincided at just the right moment, but I found microfilms of the original documents online. In 1983, the Library of Congress' Manuscript Division microfilmed the collection, "German Captured Documents Collection, Reports from Ethnic German Communities in Ukraine 1940-44,and at some point (not sure when) FamilySearch made all but one film available online. The last film may still be in the process of being digitized. According to WorldCat, it is the only online repository of these documents. Remarkably lucky, I am. 

Skimming through the films the comfort of my own home (and backyard), to my surprise, I saw maps. And not just a few. I dropped everything and began indexing the films so that I could easily get back to certain sections and began downloading and piecing together the maps. These were early versions of the villages and areas that would become part of Stumpp's legacy as a German Russian genealogist, ethnographer and cartographer.  His maps are among the sources used in the Germans from Russia Settlement Locations project.  Being able to see how they originated before they were re-drawn post-WWII (sans Nazi Party symbolism) and became the copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy of a map you can buy and hope isn't too distorted from all the copying... well, you can see how this would matter a great deal to a project like this.


Map of the colonies in the Kronau-Orloff (Zagradovka) area, June 1942. 

While I'm certainly not the first to peruse or index these documents, my focus is on places and not persons. Person indexes have been dealt with by multiple groups long before me, and they are readily available for free on Odessa Digital Library and within the genealogy databases for members of AHSGR and GRHS, and likely other places, too. 
Map of the location of Friedensfeld and distances
to nearby colonies.  26 August 1942

As for places, there are officially 99 villages that have relatively complete reports, including plat maps and area maps showing distances to other nearby villages.  But there are in the neighborhood of 300 of villages mentioned in the documents.  There are many Streudeutsche (stray or scattered Germans) entries made for Germans who didn't live in a village, or lived in a non-German village. Russian cities were included if they had a German population. One of Stumpp's missions was to record all ethnic Germans living in areas in Soviet Ukraine, so the non-German villages were recorded. His interest was purportedly genealogical.  The stated mission of the RMO was something different – more along the lines of liberating Germans from the Soviets – and reality, it was something entirely different.  Some has been written about how Stumpp's project for the RMO inadvertently documenting the elimination of Jews across Ukraine by the German SS. See the bottom of this post for some reading material on this subject. 

Stumpp had two clerical offices of operation: Dnjepropetrowsk (Dnipro) on the Dnieper River and Shitomir (Zhytomyr) in the southeastern part of Volhynia. Work done in the first several months of 1942 was fairly complete. They even used standard printed forms to complete, and some of it was even typewritten.  Later, the work became more hasty, particularly when they were forced to retreat entirely into Volhynia. The villages there are mostly tabulations and not the standard forms they were using earlier. 

Over the course of the next few months, I'll be posting about the villages and including the maps. Until then, I'm making my working spreadsheet publicly available so that anyone who wants to view their village's information before I get to it will have a much easier time finding it.  There are three tabs along the top of the sheet: About the films, Village index and Maps.  The first two have links to the films and to the villages on the Google maps.  Eventually, the Maps tab will have links to the cleaned up and captioned versions of every map in the films. For now, there's a list of those that are awaiting captioning. 

The areas included in the village files are the following: Kronau, Zagradovka, Chortiza, Early Black Sea, Kherson, Jewish Ag Colonies, Yekaterinoslav, plus two areas in Volhynia: Korosten and Shitomir.  Not every village in these areas is included. Click on the map link for a village to make sure that it is actually your village. Remember, many villages in different areas had the same names.  

To view the films, you will need to have a FamilySearch account, but it's free and pretty innocuous. I don't like to include any sources that require anyone to have to have an account or membership (Facebook, memberships to genealogy societies, premium online services, etc.), but this being a repository of the material which has no cost and has no advertising, an exception was made.

While I am taking time to piece the maps together like puzzles (some have a dozen or more pieces to them), straightening them, fixing the exposure and indicating north if it wasn't included, one thing I am not doing historically sanitizing the map images. Nearly every page is rubber stamped with SS image of an eagle indicating the project name and the command. Some of the area maps include drawings of of iron crosses or swastikas indicating which were villages were German. These are a part of the historical record of the primary source, so none of these are being removed.  

I'm working back and forth between indexing, linking and updating the master data files for the online maps and stitching maps together. The former I can do from anywhere (mostly from my backyard, or in front of the TV binging on Better Call Saul or watching IndyCar races). The latter has me sitting at a desk with huge monitor.  

Again, this is my working document.  Subject to change, it's arranged based on what I need in order to pull pieces of data  from the films for this project and is not intended to provide all of the information or nuances of the materials contained within the films.  This is a fairly large undertaking, but I think it's worth the effort, not only to validate the data that's already presented in this project, but also being able to attach a primary source directly to the villages.  Already, there are numerous updates and additions that will be posted soon on the maps. 



Learn More:



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12 May 2018

Our Story

"Forget not the place where your cradle stood, 
for you will never have another homeland." 
– German proverb

Finding your German village of origin is a goal most of us have. Knowing the the location of where our German ancestors lived opens up research possibilities that could take us back generations to where our cradles stood.

But for many people all over the world descended from Germans from Russia, our story isn’t a direct line from a place in Germany to the place where we stand today. There may be a century or more of family history and movement from place to place within the Russian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, all areas where German people settled and resettled between 1763 and the years leading up to World War II. By some counts, anywhere between 4,000 and 5,000 ethnic German colonies were established in the Russian Empire alone. And the area where these villages were located was vast. It includes modern-day, Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan.

This project's goal is to locate every German village in Russia and pin them on Google My Maps to make it easier to find the places, the stories, and the people whose mass immigration and colonization changed history.

Follow this project by email, Twitter and Facebook.


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