Last Updated: 12 March 2002
Remmick.Home.Site. Data On GR Villages Page 16 continued- Hertinheim / Bess
"The Loeffelbein and Deitrich families were two of the families to settle near the town of Hirtenhiem, Bessarabia " [Southeran Russia]
A Journey of Women
By Melody Harris
|Authors Note: At the age of thirty-three I married a man who
was of Jewish descent. Our many discussions of religion and spirituality
awakened a renewed interest in Judaism for me. Under Jewish law, one is
considered a Jew based on maternal lineage. I also understood that many
German/Russian Jews assimilated into other religions in order to escape religious
persecution and death before immigrating to the United States.
I knew very little about my grandmother Olga Geneva Deitrich. I'd met her only a few times while growing up and she died when I was seventeen, and I knew even less about her family. But I did know she was of German descent and had migrated with her family to America from Russia during the early 1900's. With this in mind I began to research my maternal heritage.
Even though I did not uncover a Jewish link in my past, I came to understand more about my lifelong attraction to stories of those who had triumphed over great and severe tragedy and my inexplicable wanderlust. I also discovered a story rich in history, steeped in personal hardship and the tremendous power of hope.
|The Loeffelbein and Deitrich families were two of the families to
settle near the town of Hirtenhiem, Bessarabia near the Black Sea in the
south of Russia. The families were closely related, with many members of
each family being godparents to the otherÕs children. Intermarrying
of the two families is evident in the family history.
Sometime around 1887, Christine Loeffelbein unmarried and with a small child, came to live with Heinrich Deitrich, a single man with children of his own from a previous marriage. It was the custom in those days for unmarried women to live with unmarried or widowed fathers in order to care for their children.
(Photo of Heinrich, Christine and her daughter Gottliebina)
There also another reason Christine was compelled to take up residence with Heinrich. According to the original grant from the crown, the newly settled land could not be divided equally among the owners' heirs, and was required to be passed intact to the oldest son. After her parent's death, Christine was without means to support herself.
Eventually, Christine and Heinrich would have five children of their own, but they remained unmarried until after they had immigrated to America where Christian friends suggested it would be proper for them to marry.
Olga Deitrich, Christine and Heinrich's fourth child, recalls in her journal, "Part of the religion (Lutheran) was to train the children to work and labor honestly with their hands at the age of four or five. They were taken to the hay field, four or five miles away to help their parents in the harvest and haying.... Only a hoe was used."
The child that did not finish his chores in the morning by the time the oxen were hitched to the wagon would have to walk to the field whether it was one mile or five.
Children went to school until the age of fourteen in one-room village schools of up to sixty students, their teacher always a male. After their education was complete they went to work with their parents as both women and men were expected to work in the fields. Everything was raised or grown by the industrious farmers and Olga recalls that in their home, ".... nothing was bought except for sugar and salt."
Olga writes in her journal, "After much discussion with relatives and friends about that 'fair country' America that was free," Christine, forty- three years of age and Heinrich, fifty seven, decided to embark upon a journey to the new land with their family.
On July 4, 1903, Christine and Heinrich arrived in New York City aboard the S. S. Kaiser Wilhelm. With them were their children, Barbara, fourteen years old, August, twelve, Karolina (later spelled Caroline), six, Olga, five, and Henry, one year of age.
Of the seven of Heinrich's children from a previous marriage, three had died under the age of two. The rest decided to remain in Bessarabia.
During the trip, Barbara had contracted "sore eyes" and upon examination, a doctor diagnosed Barbara with drachoma. Because of her condition, immigration officials told Heinrich and Christina that Barbara would not be allowed into America and would have to return to Germany for six months of treatment.
Officials from the American Council told Heinrich that upon BarbaraÕs return to the U. S., allowing a young girl, especially a foreigner, to travel alone in their country would be out of the question. But, later one of the officials took him aside and suggested Barbara dress in American costume. This she did after her treatment and was successfully able to rejoin her family near Turtle Lake, ND.
After paying for Barbara's return passage to Germany, Heinrich purchased train tickets for the rest of the family to Harvey, North Dakota where Olga's Uncle Gottleib had previously immigrated and claimed homestead. Heinrich was then left with four hundred and twenty-five dollars. Plenty, he figured at the time, to start a new homestead near their daughter and her husband in McLean County, North Dakota.
In August of 1903, after arriving in Harvey, ND, Heinrich decided to purchase supplies for their new homestead. But when Heinrich went to retrieve his money, he made a disheartening discovery; all that remained of his precious homestead money was twenty-five dollars. The rest, it was concluded, must have been stolen on the train trip from New York.
"It was a hard blow in a strange land," remembers Olga. "... plans had already been made to secure a homestead. But how to get started with only twenty-five dollars?"
But, family helped family and one of Olga's uncles offered a team of horses to be paid for when it would become possible. Another gave a cow. Somehow they managed a wagon and with their twenty-five dollars they bought a cook stove, four one hundred-pound sacks of flour, salt and a few other supplies.
So, in August of 1903, Heinrich and his family set off in their wagon for the seventy-mile journey to their daughterÕs homestead near Turtle Lake, North Dakota. On the third day of their trip, toward the evening, Christine was frightened by a howling, wailing noise that reminded her of her granddaughter crying. She would find out later the source of the "crying": coyote.
When they finally arriving at their destination, the joy and relief at the end such a long and difficult journey combined with the long absence of Christine from her daughter Gottliebina was cause for a tearful reunion.
Arriving too late in the year to build a home, Heinrich and his family moved into the two-room sod home of Gottliebina and her husband, David Lemke. The Lemke's had a horse for plowing and would plow up sections of flax they had planted previously to use the flax straw for fuel during the winter. Care was used to make sure the fuel would last for the entire winter.
Mrs. Lemke was with child when the Heinrich and his family arrived and she delivered a baby boy named Edward in January of 1904. During Mrs. Lemke's recovery, the Deitrich children were confined to the kitchen, which contained two beds, a table, a cook stove and one bench.
To ensure the fuel would last the winter, the cook stove was only used for two meals a day. With temperatures at forty below zero, the kitchen quickly grew cold without a fire and the children would call to their mother, "We're cold out here."
"Run up and down the room until you are warm." Came the reply.
Olga writes in her journal of this experience, "We did this (running around the kitchen) and it helped a lot, but our hands and feet were cold and very much so. 'Mother we are cold,' we said (again). Her answer came. "Go to bed and you will get warm.' So we did that until we tired of bed. Then we ran the floor again until we were tired of that and then back to bed... I don't remember of ever wearing a coat."
By March of 1904, Heinrich was ready to build a home of his own so he secured some lumber and built a one room shack on his homestead eight miles south of the Lemke's. The tiny, twelve by eighteen-foot dwelling was ready for the Deitrich family by April. It contained two beds, one for Christine and Heinrich and the baby and one for the three older children.
Many times they had potato soup and milk for breakfast, and at times, raw rutabagas for lunch. In the evenings the children took their white enamel tin cups given to them on the S. S. Kaiser Wilhelm out to where their mother was milking the cow and she would fill their cups with warm milk. Many times it would be all they had for their supper.
By the time Heinrich and Christine arrived in North Dakota, all the good available land for homesteads (one hundred sixty acre parcels) remaining from the 1862 Homestead Act had been claimed. The Deitrich homestead in McLean County, North Dakota was loaded with rock from a prehistoric glacial ice sheet.
Clearing the land for farming involved all family members, except for Henry, who was a baby. The larger rocks were moved on a "stoneboat", a type of sled made out of logs and pulled behind the horses. The small stones were hauled away on the wagon and dumped in piles where they were later used to build a barn. Eight-year old Olga helped by hitching and unhitching the horses to the stoneboat.
The Deitrichs later built a sod home typical of the structures built at that time. Sod was cut in strips two feet wide, one foot long, and three inches thick, hauled from nearly a mile away. It was stacked in such a way that the outer walls of the home were over two feet thick. The roof was made by laying boards over two by four inch rafters and then covering the boards with tar paper and a layer of sod.
A batch of mud was then made into a "plaster" to be applied to the inside and outside walls and the roof. This was done by first hauling water from a nearby pond and then emptying it into a low spot near the building site. Dirt and straw were added, then the horses tramped the mixture, and Olga and her siblings would finish by tramping the mixture until it was smooth.
Two, twenty-four by thirty-six inch windows were set into the two-foot thick walls in each room. Olga remembers that during the cold winter months the frost would form on the windows so thick it would be flush with the interior wall. "Many times I can remember my mother scraping off the window with a spoon to let in more light."
The family had to carry water from an open well nearly a half mile away and the children were grateful when Heinrich later drove a well with a pump only fifty feet from the house.
The difficulty in farming was said to have contributed to the death of Heinrich Deitrich on January 30, 1918. But, Marian (Wall) Sharpe recalls her mother, Olga telling of Heinrich having been kicked in the head by a farm mule and lingering until his death several weeks later.
Meanwhile, in November 1918, while caring for her parents during a flu epidemic, Marie (Sulzle) Wall, neighbor to the Deitrichs, succumbed to the flu herself and died after just a few days. Her husband August, who loved Marie deeply, was left with out a caretaker for their three-year old daughter Helen and one-year old son Joshua.
One day August showed up at the home of Heinrich and Christine, his neighbors, and asked them for Olga's hand in marriage. Although Olga barely knew August, the arrangements were made and they were married in February of 1919.
Olga and August would go on to have four more children, the youngest of which was my mother, Marian Alice born in December of 1929. They would move several times during their marriage, leaving behind the hard Dakota prairie.
(Photo of August Wall and family)
August was a good provider and father, Olga said, although he disapproved of Olga's affection for her four boys. Olga remembered that as a young girl and learning to knit, her mother would rap her knuckles sharply with a large pair of knitting needles each time she missed a stitch. Christine was a hard and difficult woman, due perhaps to the toilsome life she had endured, and Olga had vowed not to be the same way with her own children.
August Wall, a logger, would take a job in Armstrong, British Columbia, Canada where a cousin lived. He moved his family into a floating log home, as the terrain was too steep and rocky to build a home. From British Columbia they moved to Startup, Washington after August contracted tuberculosis.
He spent the last thirteen months of his life in the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital in Salem. He never fully recovered and eventually died on January 25, 1934 when my mother Marian was four years old. Her last memory of her father was of him being carried out of the house on a stretcher.
After August's death, Olga was left to care for their six children during the Great Depression. All the children had jobs besides their chores and schooling to help pay for the mortgage and the household expenses. My mother Marian recalls of having to make weekly trips to Portland, nearly thirty miles away, to get tested for tuberculosis herself at a time when the family did not own a car.
The strain of the responsibility of her family plus a limited diet over the years caused Olga to take to bed with anemia and exhaustion. With Helen now married to Roland E. Miller, and the rest of the children away at school, Marian became responsible for canning the beans, making bread and generally taking care of he household at ten years of age.
In 1942, Olga married Frank Syphers. Olga was hired to take care of his wife who had been paralyzed for over nineteen years. Even though Frank was twenty-five years her senior, and had fifteen children, (the eldest of which was older than Olga), Frank was the love of her life, treating her with kindness, respect and affection. And, his delightful sense of humor brought out a playful side of Olga as demonstrated in this photo.
(Photo of Olga and Frank dressed in each other clothes.)
Although she had only a third-grade education, Olga could read and write well in both English and German. In the early 1950's she went to work at the VA hospital in Walla Walla, WA. She would later are for the sick and elderly in her home.
After Frank Syphers died in September of 1954, Olga continued to work in the VA hospital. There she met and took care of Joe Sauer, a patient. Olga considered him to be good husband material and he was financially stable so they married in 1957.
It seems, however, that Joe never fully recovered from his illness and grew suspicious and mistrustful, accusing Olga of terrible things in public.
Olga, an extremely private person and devout Christian was deeply hurt. They separated soon after and in spite of counsel from their pastor Joe divorced Olga, leaving her completely without compensation.
However, resourceful and used to frugal living, Olga was able to live the rest of her life in a simple home in College Place, WA. She survived on the small compensation she received from working at the VA hospital and her Social Security income until her death in August of 1974.
During one of the few times my grandmother traveled cross-country to visit, I remember her standing by the wood cookstove in my parents home pinching off small bits of dough into a boiling pot of broth making something she called rheivel soup. I loved watching her make all sorts of traditional dishes like borscht, kuchen, blachinda and bread strudel, which she would cook with vegetables and broth.
I watched her practiced hands roll out dough for kase knoephla (a ravioli-like pasta that was filled with a cottage cheese mixture then boiled in salted water and then fried in butter until golden). Grandma Wall would tell me how they made a type of cottage cheese in the olden days. First, they took a large bowl of milk to which a small bit of "starter" had been added, then covered it was covered with a cloth and slid under the bed for several days to "ripen". I remember her laugh as she recalled how it made a terrible smell. "Not like today when you can go down to the store and buy it in a nice carton, girlie," she told me. It was impossible for me to grasp then the challenging course her life had taken.
I regret not having the opportunity to get to know my grandmother more made difficult by the fact we lived thousands of miles away in Wisconsin. Bu even now, as I attempt to mine tiny bits of her life from the remnants I have gathered, I admire even more the strength and devotion to her family and religion.
|Note: When I first started looking into my family history, I had nothing
more than a few pictures and the stories my mother had told me. 'Ask your
Auntie Helen,' she told me, 'she remembers everything.' And so I did.
Auntie Helen referred me to Barbara Kohler, a distant cousin, who referred
me to Bob Loeffelbein, who referred me to Herbert Loeffelbein, yet another
Herb had the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And, on a trip a few years ago to California I met Herb and his lovely wife Margaret. They regaled me with wonderful tales of my ancestors and provided me with over sixty pages of information.
If you are interested in researching your family history and have little to nothing to start with, don't despair. Ask around at family gatherings. Someone will know someone who knows someone and before long, you will have a gold mine of your own.
I gratefully acknowledge the following resources:
Herb and Margaret Loeffelbein of Shingle Springs, CA for their extensive research of the Stadel/Loeffelbein/Deitrich family histories.
Olga Deitrich Wall for journal entries made about her early life in Russia and North Dakota.
Marian Wall Sharpe and Helen Wall Miller for their oral histories.
Michael M. Miller, Bibliographer of the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at the North Dakota State University Libraries in Fargo, ND.
And the German/Russian Internet Newsgroup moderated by Michael M. Miller.