The German Colonies of the Kutschurgan Region: Selz, Kandel, Baden, Strassburg, Mannheim and Elsass, District of Odessa.
(On the occasion of the 100 year anniversary of its founding)
The German Colonies of the Kutschurgan region (Elsass, Mannheim, Kandel, Selz, Baden and Strassburg) celebrated the one hundred year jubilee of their founding. Therefore, the “German Volks Kalander” intends to acquaint its circle of readers just how far these German colonies have developed during the past century and how they have fulfilled the tasks and expectations of the Russian government.
The four villages of Selz, Kandel, Baden, and Strassburg are located on the Kutschurgan Liman which has its beginning in the District of Ananjew near the Russian village of Koschiri. However, the waters usually only reach Selz and Kandel and a few Russian villages that lay to the south. The village of Baden has little water and Strassburg has even less and the Liman is dry beyond the railroad line from Razdelnaya-Bendery with the exception of some swampy land in a few meadows. Only during the springtime after large snowfalls and during ongoing rains during the summer does the Kutschurgan (or the Nischter, as the Germans refer to the Dnjestr) swell from its banks and floods the vegetable gardens, vineyards, and fruit trees and does major damage. This causes great despair for the people who have already leased the gardens. During the past few years it happened that the Kutschurgan Liman not only flooded in the springtime but also during the summer. During the summer it usually happens around June 24, near the feast day of St. John. Sometimes it floods several times during a summer, frustrating the German women who replace muddy plants only to have them destroyed a second time. However, the villages are not damaged due to the flooding.
The two villages of Mannheim and Elsass are located 23 versts and 18 versts north of the first four colonies in the Baraboi Valley and are 7 versts from one another. (A verst is an obsolete Russian unit of measurement. One verst equals 1.06 kilometer, 0.6629 miles or 3500 feet.)
Regarding the origin of the colonists in these six villages, most of them came from Alsace with the exception of Mannheim and Baden where most of the colonists were from the Grand Duchy of Baden, but Alsace was also well represented in those villages. Of the 60 families that settled in Baden, 18 were from Alsace and of the 50 families that settled in Mannheim, 16 were from Alsace. At first the immigrant Germans had fairly regular contact with their former country and the relatives who remained behind. Contact regarding inheritance, etc. was normal and someone would travel back to their home area to receive the property, money, etc. Individual colonists did not develop a good taste for their new home and returned to where they came. The remainder found they liked it in Russia and soon contact with their old home became more and more seldom and finally came to an end, which is quite astonishing. It is quite certain that because of the complete lack of contact, many colonists no longer know where their parents or ancestors came from and that much of the inheritance they had coming was never delivered.
For reasons that are difficult to understand today, the official records and files from the first immigration have been lost. However during the last year, the 100th anniversary of the founding of these colonies, it was fortunate that two revision lists from the years 1811 and 1815 were discovered in the archives. These lists indicate the year they were recorded, the place and the country of descent and other data pertaining to the individual families. This is excellent information which can help people refresh the interrupted relationships and to find ones kinship in the former fatherland. This is not without reason in the case of a legal relationship and as for some there are still uncles, aunts, and other close relatives there.
At first the situation that the immigrants found themselves in was not an enviable one. Apart from the difficulties and hardships of the long trip, during a time when there was no railroad, there was no shortage of pressure felt by the immigrants in a new country with an unfamiliar language and foreign customs. No sooner than they built their wretched huts with some help from the government, plague broke out in 1812, causing colonists to be frightened and many to be victims of the plague. Even the scattered villages were affected. The colonists were not spared later when there came more illness, grasshoppers, livestock disease, and the like. But our forefathers did not lose their courage. With German diligence there eventually were good harvests and the poverty and helplessness left them. The low dwellings that were built in haste upon their arrival were replaced with roomy houses with new barns, workshops, and the like. The individual yards were enclosed with a stone fence. In front of the house they planted acacia trees which give the villages a picturesque appearance and the trees provide a welcome shade during hot summer days. Unfortunately the individual villages adopted the habit of planting trees in front of the houses and also building shacks, wine cellars, and the like right up to the property line bordering the street. This is especially true in the center of Selz where during market day, the village looks quite bleak which does not enhance its beauty. Behind the houses, especially in Kandel, Selz and somewhat in Baden and Strassburg, there are large fruit orchards which give the villages a beautiful green look from afar. In these fruit and vegetable gardens, all possible varieties of produce are grown such as cherries, apricots, pears, apples, peaches, plums, grapes, and so forth. Grape varieties have also been planted in the fields during the past few years and some good wine is being produced. Individual owners are said to have from 10-40 Dessjatin of vineyards. On the whole, the fruit growing business as well as the viticulture was a sideline, not the primary means of support. At one time the orchards were of considerable importance with good production and high prices for the products sold. This served as an incentive to expand the operation. Then there were also many years when late frost, insects, and various diseases frustrated the fruit growers. Due to this frustration and due to low prices, many individuals in Selz, Kandel, and somewhat in Baden and Strassburg turned to viticulture. Nonetheless, orchards continue to be cultivated. Kandel has been having good production but Selz has the most beautiful orchards. A significant amount of fruit, especially from Kandel is exported to Kiev. All of the colonies are producing wine to one extent or another. There is production of wine grapes and table grapes. Without a doubt there would have been more land planted into vineyards had the Phylloxera aphid not appeared. This pest caused many producers to lose their enthusiasm for growing grapes. However what is lost in local production is compensated for by the purchase Bessarabian grapes from Russians and blending them with local grapes. In fact many wine makers here do not own their own vineyards.
During the springtime, the wine merchants from Selz and other villages, as well as individuals who wish to make wine for their own use, buy grapes from Bessarabia and bring them to local wine presses. This is less expensive than purchasing the wine because the individual knows that the wine is pure and not mixed. However, sometimes people find something better to “mix” the wine with. In Bessarabia (but not only in Bessarabia), “mixing” is supposed to be a great thing so one can almost say what the French say: “Wine is made from all possible things, sometimes even grapes.”
The German women of the villages are also diligently cultivating vegetables. They grow radishes, tomatoes, a variety of beets, beans, cucumbers, celery, and a variety of lettuce. There is a dual benefit in growing one’s own produce. The first is that the products do not have to be purchased and the second is that the product is always fresh and can be obtained from the garden.
As I have said, these six villages produce wine, fruit, and vegetables as a sideline as their main industry is something different. It is interesting to note how the villages can be described based on the data we have at our disposal. Let’s begin with:
1. Mannheim: As mentioned above, this colony lies in the Baraboi Valley, about 6-8 Werst from both rail stations Jeremejewka, Karpowo and 12 Werst from the station Wygoda (Southwest Railroad). The proximity of these rail stations make travel to and from Odessa quite comfortable for all who live within a 40 Werst radius of the main city. However, the main traffic is through Jeremejewka. The grain is brought to Jeremejewka where it is shipped by rail to Odessa. There are also passengers who regularly travel from there to Odessa. Simple correspondence, newspapers and the like are picked up twice per week from Odessa but registered letters and money goes through the post office in Selz. Rev. P. R. Keller describes the Kutschurgan Colonies and according to information made available to us, Mannheim was granted 3,705 Dessj. of community land. There are 103 Dessj. used for yards, 25 Dessj. for vegetable gardens, 27 Dessj. for vineyards, 8 Dessj. for forest, 4 Dessj. are under water and 27 Dessj. are used for roads. A considerable number of Mannheimers have purchased their own land varying from 20, 50 and 100 Dessj. but there is one individual who has 500 Dessj. Originally there were 60 families consisting of about 200 souls. Now Mannheim claims 2 ½ thousand souls, not counting those Mannheimers who have settled elsewhere.
The inhabitants of Mannheim are almost exclusively engaged in agriculture. With regard to the craftsmen, there are two wheelwrights, one fork maker, four carpenters, four blacksmiths and seven shoemakers. The beautiful church was built around 1847 and in 1895 it was remodeled at an expense of 24,000 Rubles. Now they have a magnificent house of God. The church has five altars. During the past few years under the direction of the current pastor, Father H. H. Dekans Dobrowolski, a magnificent organ was installed by the Bayer Hoforgelfabrk G. F. Steinmeyer. The 14 Stations of The Cross and other statues of saints were obtained from H. F. Stuflesser in St. Ulrich, Groden (Tirol).
For the formation of the youth, Mannheim provides two classes with six teachers. Only a few from Mannheim have gone on to receive further education: Three attended the Central School, one attended Realschule and one attended Gymnasium. The latter two now have teaching positions; one in Gymnasium and the other is dedicated to a seminary. In Mannheim one can find a pharmacy, an independent practitioner and a midwife. The meeting place for the bailiff is located in Mannheim. Every two weeks Mannheim hosts a Market Day but it is not well attended and it does not offer much advantage to the village. For the items needed for house and field, there are four manufacturing businesses and four bakeries. To quench the thirst, there are four wine bars and one government brandy bar. The manufacturers and the bakery provide competition for the Co-op which was founded in 1902. There are 200 members of the Co-op with annual revenue of over 70,000 Rubles. It would be good if the people recognized the value of the Co-op and forget their own selfishness.
2) Elsass lies about 45 Werst from the district city of Odessa and not far from several railroad stations. Elsass lays 6 Werst from Karpowo and 12 Werst from the Wygoda Station. However, most of the traffic is to Jeremejewka where much of the agricultural products are shipped from and necessary items received from elsewhere. As the name suggests, the majority of the founding members were from Alsace. Of the 60 original families, 36 were from Alsace-Lorraine and 21 families came from the Duchy of Baden. Today Elsass claims 2,000 souls, not accounting for the many who have moved elsewhere. Together Elsass owns 3,660 Dessj. of land with 400 yards which take up 66 Dessj. There are 65 Dessj. of vineyards. Elsass produces some very good wine. The Colony also owns a very large stone quarry which provides the residents a good income in addition to their agricultural activities. Every year there are about 600,000 stones cut which are then sold to neighboring villages for about 25-30 Ruble per thousand. Many have found their death in the quarry which lies deep within the earth. Outside of Elsass, residents have purchased about 15,000 Dessj of land. Just last year 16 individuals from Elsass purchased 2,000 Dessj. from the manor estate of Mr. Jakunin for 216 Ruble per Dessj. Elsass belongs to the Mannheim Volost but in 1896, Elsass built its own independent parish. Already in 1892, a nice church was built and fitted with beautiful Stations of The Cross made by H. Ferd. Stuflesser. (Translator note: This business continues to exist, making beautiful statues housed all over the world. It is located in Italy. See Google.) The church was built at a cost of about 70,000 Ruble. The church pews and kneelers are available to all, even the young. At the same time, a parish house was built and just during the past year, a house was built for the Sexton-Organist. Elsass has a new, spacious school with six classrooms. It was build at a cost of 6,000 Ruble and has about 300 students.
Elsass does not have a co-op but authorization was received to develop one but there was not enough interest to make it a reality. Elsass has four stores which offer food and household items from foreign lands, a liquor bar and a beer hall. Workshops include 5 wagon makers, 5 blacksmiths, 4 shoe makers and 3 tailors.
3. Kandel. This colony is the most southerly of the four that lie on the east side of the Dnestr-Liman and about eleven Werst from the Kutschurgan Liman, a wonderful location. There is a wooden bridge south of the village which crosses the Liman. Kandel has land which totals 6,216 Dessj. On both sides of the village, on the higher ground, everyone has their vineyard which totals 66 Dessj. Cherry orchards total 44 Dessj. During the past few years, Kandel has had the largest fruit production of the six colonies. The producers use specially built wagons with two flat tables, one over the other onto which special baskets filled with fruit are packed and taken to Kutschurgan where they are then shipped to Kiev. Fruit basket farming is very large in Kandel but the primary occupation is agriculture. However, there are 150,000 baskets weaved every year in Kandel, occupying 115 families. In the same way, there are individual trades being conducted including 55 blacksmiths, 52 wagon makers, 2 painters, 3 carpenters, 6 shoemakers, and 2 tailors. For many years, Kandel has had a Co-op which does good business. Kandel has 3 bakeries, 1 factory, and 1 beer hall. The community also has a slaughter house erected by the municipality and individual users pay the municipality for using it. There are 3 oil mills in Kandel and the original windmill also still stands. There were 98 families who settled in Kandel and now there are 2,600 souls residing there, not counting those who have settled elsewhere. The first settlers came from a variety of provinces in Germany and France and some from Austria. There were 20 families from Selz, which at that time belonged to France. There were 6 families from Kandel in Rhein-Pfalz, etc. Kandel built a proud church during the 90’s (see photo on the right) and has been an independent parish for about 12 years. A beautiful marble altar, many sacred statues made by H. Ad. Vogl, Hall near Innsbruck. The Stations of The Cross and Holy Tomb are from H. F. Stuflesser and other statues from St. Ulrich Groden adorn the inside of the church. Likewise, a new organ has been installed as well. Next to the church is the church school (see the photo at the bottom, middle of the page.) that employs six teachers. The post office for Kandel is in Selz which lays only 200-300 faden away. (A faden is 4.077 meters. 200 fadens would measure 924 yards or about one-half mile.) However since both villages are quite long, the far end of Kandel to the middle of Selz is from 3-4 versts. (One verst equals 1166 yards.)
4. Selz. Of the 100 families totaling 301 souls who founded this village, 95 came from lower Alsace. This village is named for the Alsace village of Selz. Selz had 6,370 Dessj. of community land assigned to it and, not including those who have moved away, there are 2,966 souls here presently. During the early years, Selz formed the center of the six villages with the market place, which continues to be true today. For a long time, Selz was the seat of the Catholic Church for the six villages until Mannheim together with Elsass and then Strassburg established independent churches. In the 90’s Baden and Kandel established their own independent parishes. These six villages together make up the Selz Volost. Here too, Mannheim and Elsass broke away and formed their own Volost. Later Strassburg and Baden followed suit. Only Kandel continues to be part of the Selz Volost. Of the six villages, Selz has remained the center of attention. Located here is the orphanage owned in common, the sheep farm, and financial concerns. In Selz, the six villages built a common poor house with 50 beds at a cost of about 20,000 Rubles. Donations are used for maintenance and for the infirmary. Selz also has the common meeting halls for the six villages. The market place for the region is in Selz. Every two weeks there is a large market where the local villagers try to sell goods for house, field, workshop, etc. The market presents a colorful picture and is located through part of the village while horses, cattle, hogs, etc. are located in the cross streets in the outer edge of the village. The main market takes place close to the church and on one side there are manufactured goods, baked goods, and hand crafted items from the cities of Bendery, Kischinew, Tiraspol, etc. On the other side, one can find sattlers, fur merchants, shoe and leather dealers, etc. Just above is the meat market where bread, sausage and other products are sold. There is a poultry market, fruit and vegetable market where the Russians from the surrounding villages from both sides of the Dnjestr Liman come to buy at a good price. There is a special area where the garlic market is located. Further back on the basar road, toward the church, grain is purchased. Behind that, toward Kandel, various craftsmen sell wagons, rakes, forks, etc.
Like in other colonies, Selz has many who operate their own farms but also grow their own potatoes, corn and grapes. They are also associated with the 8 woodworking supply businesses who supply materials for the 140 wagon builders and fork makers in Selz (there are also 52 wagon makers in Kandel). The ash wood arrives by rail from Poland. The price of the wood has nearly tripled in the past 20-25 years and the quality is not as good as it was in earlier years. A wood handler from Selz told me about the price and quality of the wood during “early” times. He said “years ago we would go to the forest owners and we chose the trees that we would have shipped back to us. The owner felled the trees himself in order to save money, placed the wood onto the railroad cars and shipped it to the Kutschurgan station where we picked it up. It was only 7 werst away. Today it is different. When we come to the forest, the owner shows us the trees that are for sale. We have to cut the trees, move them to the railroad station, etc.” The wagon makers and the fork makers are experiencing difficult times and are not receiving a good price for their products. Only during good harvest years can they ask for a good price. The reason why the normal prices are so low is because there are too many wagons produced. The rich blacksmiths or wagon makers provide the poor wagon makers the necessary capitol or raw materials for their work. However, there is not enough demand for all of the products that are produced and sometimes there are a hundred wagons for sale. In Selz there are also 25 blacksmiths of which many are skilled in making wagon parts, there are 14 carpenters, 6 painters, 1 thresher, one iron foundry, one bakery, 4 tailors and 5 shoe makers. For several years, Selz has had a co-op named “Unity” but at this time, there is fear that the “unity” is diminishing and the co-op will disintegrate. This is most likely due to poor management as last year there was a loss of 160,000 Ruble realized by the co-op. Those opposed to the co-op are hoping for its demise and believe that the end is near. It is hoped that Selz will not act in this way and keep the co-op in operation. Selz has 2 iron merchants, 6 wine shops, 7 wine cellars, 2 beer halls, 1 liquor bar and one butcher shop. There is a physician, a veterinarian, and a midwife with her own clinic. There is a pharmacy. One can find a steam logging machine, 2 steam mills, a post office and a water supply line to the rail station in Razdelnaya which is a distance of 18 wersts. There is a telegraph line to Razdelnaya as well.
This colony had been content with the church built in 1821 and in the 90’s a splendid House of God was built and consecrated in 1901 (see picture “Selz” below right). As far as the interior of the church is concerned, it is one of the most beautiful of God’s houses in the Diocese. The church has three aisles which are 25 faden long and 12 faden wide. The inner ornamentation is not yet finished but it promises to be splendid. Now there is a single beautiful high altar which is a true work of art. There is also a magnificent pulpit and a side altar, all the work of H. Ferd. Stuflesser in Ortisei-Groden (Tyrol). On August 1, three new bells have arrived from abroad. Practical kneelers and pews have been set up as designed by H. Stuflesser. A beautiful chandelier taken from the old church has been installed in the new one. Around the church there are trees planted by our former priest J. Nold. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the village last year, the two towers were erected in the niche along with a statue. In the picture on the right, the old school can be seen, which contains four spacious classrooms, but no longer satisfies the needs of the community. To commemorate the 100th anniversary, the municipality decided to build a new school, for which 12,000 rubles were allocated. In the Jubilee the school was replaced by the former warehouse. It consists of an imposing, two storied building with four large classrooms on each floor. One side of the building is quite open and can be used by school children as a play ground during cold weather. At the same time, with the permission of the school authority of Gymnasialehrer G. Schmit in Selz, a private program was opened for which the church donated the use of the old school free of charge for three years. Additionally, there are 40 men who guaranteed the necessary funds for the maintenance for the Progymnasium. On August 22, interviews took place during which time 80 students were chosen. May this institution flourish under God’s blessing. It is worth mentioning that Selz has a Sexton/organist who has been active in that position for 35 years. His name is H. R. Riessling who also teaches religion in the Volksschule.
5. Baden lies about one Werst from Selz and is about 5 Werst from the Kutschurgan railroad station. The first settlers in Baden consisted of 60 families of which 2/3 were from the Duchy of Baden. The village is named for the former homeland of the settlers. Of the settlers, 18 families came from Alsace. At the present time, Baden has 1,700 residents. Agriculture is the primary occupation in Baden but there are also gardens and vineyards as well as several workshops. Baden owns 2,724 Dessjatin of community land. Sixty Dessj. is used for vineyards, and about 164 Dessj. are used for apples, pears, cherries, and apricots. The open areas are used for gardens, corn, and potatoes. Craftsmen are represented by 30 blacksmiths, 14 wagon builders, 4 carpenters, 1 wagon painter, 14 shoe makers, 3 tailors, 4 saddle makers, 6 beekeepers, and 1 steam mill. In these varied crafts, 125 workers are occupied. Baden also has a co-op which does considerable business. Two years ago, members of the co-op paid for a new building which has become an ornament of the village. The co-op association turns over about 70-80 Rbl. Various individuals from Baden own land outside the village. Like other colonies, Baden has had significant emigration to America while others have purchased land in the Kherson District while others have moved to near Asiatic Russia.
Already in 1862, long before Baden was an independent parish, they build a church. Because the roof was too heavy and threatened to push the walls apart, it cost a lot of money to repair until the fundamental problem was addressed which cost the community from 10-20 thousand Rubles. Through the efforts of Fr. P. B. Leibham, the church in Baden has worthy ornamentation with beautiful Stations of The Cross and a moving statue of the Mother of God holding her son’s body on her lap (Pieta). There is also a beautiful, spacious school in Baden built several years ago. When Baden received its own independent parish, the community built a rectory next to the church. To commemorate the 100 year jubilee, the community built living quarters for the Sexton right next to the school and printed into the brick the following words: “In Remembrance of 100 Years 1808-1908”. H. W. Schlosser has worked in the Baden school for 25 years and Baden is lucky to have him because there are not many teachers to be found in our German villages who wish to remain in one place this long.
6. Strassburg is located on the southwest railroad and the railroad station Kutschurgan lies next to the Colony. The original settlers consisted of 61 families of which 46 came from Alsace and 14 from the Duchy of Wurttemberg. Now Strassburg consists of 2,200 souls, not including those who have left the colony. With the surrounding Chutors and small German settlement in the Kutschurgan Valley, all of whom belong to the Strassburg Parish, there are about 4,400 souls. Strassburg has about 300 yards. Community land consists of 3,669 Dessj. and various Strassburgers have purchased from 3,000 Dessj. of land outside of the community. Strassburg owns nice fruit and vineyards not far from the railroad dam. The vineyards here produce good wine. However, the primary occupation here is agriculture. Craftsmen include 15 blacksmiths, 6 wagon makers, 1 cement brick works, and 2 steam mills. Strassburg has a co-op with various departments. Otherwise, there are businesses which consist of 4 bakeries, 1 iron works, 3 wine businesses, 1 liquor business, and one bar. Strassburg is a point of entry for the military between Odessa and Tiraspol (Bendery). A considerable number of Strassburgers are occupied with the wood which arrives at Kutschurgan by rail. This wood is used by craftsmen in the four villages which lay on the Liman as well many other goods which come to the four co-ops such as coal, iron and other consumer goods. Others wait at the Kutschurgan station for the arrival of passengers, etc.
The present beautiful church was built in 1863. A few years ago, the church was completely remodeled. Strassburg has a roomy, nice parish house. There used to be a Zentralschule in the building that now is the Volkschule. It is unfortunate that it was converted into a two class Ministerial School. Earlier the school building was too small so the Strassburg community remodeled a grain warehouse and turned the old school into the Volost office building. In remembrance of the 100 year jubilee, Strassburg has expanded its existing school space through a new building, thus expressing its aspiration for education.
Thus we end with the brief description of the six German Catholic villages. This description, of course does not claim to be complete. To do so would have required more study but even this brief insight into the life and activity shows that these colonies were well grounded in commemorating the 100 anniversary of their foundation as a joyous event, and that they have proven to the Russian Government that they have exceeded the original expectations, which was done in spite of the hardships and challenges that they had been presented with. It must not be forgotten that it took a number of years for them to get onto their feet economically. They were left to themselves and had no leadership not only in economic terms but also in religious terms. Our German people were left to their own devices. Today, it has its own pastors and for those who have not advanced in the field of education certainly have themselves to blame. The German Catholic people have preserved their faith, in spite of the resistance and the numerous deficiencies, they have experienced as a whole. They now have their own teachers, writers, etc.
In the economic sphere, in trade and dealings, in the exercise of their trades and the manner in which they take care of the poor and orphans, all should learn from the Germans. Look at the order and cleanliness of their villages and dwellings. Learn from the Germans and imitate them. The Russian villages certainly would look differently if the German way of life were to be imitated.