22 February 2021

Gnadental, Bessarabia

Plat map of Gnadental, Bessarabia circa 1920 published in 1930.

The following translated excerpts came from and article entitled “Die Gemeinde Gnadental” by Friedrich Rüb, which appeared in the 1930 edition of Deutscher Volkskalender für Bessarabien. 

“The founding of the community of Gnadental coincides with the end of immigration of German colonists in Russia, namely in the period when official advertisements for emigrants in Germany to move to Russia had stopped ten years earlier. The settlers were, therefore, uninvited, free emigrants to whom the Russian government did not give any support, neither for the journey, nor for the first establishment. Gnadental is the 21st German community in Bessarabia.”

Map showing the land plot that would become Gnadental, Bessarabia. Date is unknown, but it was likely before 1830 given the other colonies noted on the map.

“The settlement took place in the years 1830-1833 on land which had been made available to Provost Lindl in 1822. From a petition from the Sarata school board 29 April 1829, the Welfare committee approved the establishment of the colony as per letter dated 14 May1829 [document] No. 716.... At the time of settlement, the land was leased...to some Moldovans, who used it as pasture for their sheep...”

During the first years, Gnadental was officially named “Sarata No. 2”. 

“In the second year of the settlement (1831), cholera prevailed in Gnadental as in the whole area, which demanded many victims. The merciful averting of this evil gave reason to name this colony ‘Gnadental’ [Mercy Valley]. This name was presented to the municipality through the Sarata Territorial Office for the Welfare Committee for confirmation, which was done, and granted dated August 1832 [document] No. 1043.”

An 1872 Austrian military map showing Gnadental with its former name. 

“In the spring of 1830 the settlement was started with 10 families, to which, in the same year another 12 families were added. These 22 families were joined by another 12 families in 1831, so that towards the end of that year, the colony had 34 families with a total of 168 souls. Two families ceded their farms soon after their arrival. In 1832, another 37 families settled, and in 1833, the last 11 families arrived. The settlement of the colony was completed in 1833 with 80 families and a total of 455 souls. The settlers of Gnadental did travel as an organized group. They came from 40 villages in Württemberg, mostly did not know each other before settlement, and came to Gnadental over the course of four years.”

Church exterior (left) and interior (right). Built in 1880.

The first church services were held in a private house. In 1833, the first prayer house was built on the square where the church stands today. The original church was replaced in 1880 by master builder Klaus Lorenz, a German citizen from Odessa, for 25,000 rubles. 

Top: The old school house built in 1847. Bottom: The new school house built in 1862.

“At the same time as the colony was founded, school life also began. Since there was no school house, school was held in a farmhouse. The settlers created the school they were used to from Germany and which corresponded to their religious attitude. It was a distinctly religious school. In 1833, the third year of the settlement, a special school class was built under one roof with the prayer house, in which school was held until 1846. The first 17 years, the teachers were local landlords. A turn for the better came in 1846, when an expertly trained teacher in the person of Johann Jakob Koch was employed, and the first school building was erected.... Until 1861 all pupils from the age of 8-15 were were accommodated in one classroom....the more talented pupils were not sufficiently engaged....but attendance was compulsory until confirmation.”

Street view in Gnadental. Western half of main street, circa 1930.

Today Gnadental is called Dolynivka, Odes'ka, Ukraine.