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Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Bessarabian Germans and Their Villages

(click here for the Romanian version)

They say Paris is unique. I would be more nuanced. There is also a Paris in Southern Bessarabia, some others too. Just a couple of days ago I learned about another Paris, some place in the Olt County (so in the South of Romania). It's a tiny village that can be reached only if you pass  somehow a small creek, as there is no bridge nearby. Most of the time it's easy, as the creek is really very small, while on periods of heavy rain you have a problem.

As for the Paris from Southern Bessarabia, that's a longer story. First time I heard of it in my childhood. My father had lived for some years in a city not far from that place, and he told me once that he and his friends, all very young then, used to announce each other jokingly about plans to go for a stroll to Paris, un de ces quatre matins.

Years have passed, but I had never the chance to see the Bessarabian Paris.

About two weeks ago a friend posted on Facebook the image of a village: some households lined along a large country road. Well, the village was Paris, Southern Bessarabia, and the image was from 1940.

Paris, Besarabia, 1940
image published on Facebook by Alexandru Ursu-Bukowina
(source: bettcherfamily.blogspot.com)
no copyright infringement intended

It was the first image of that Paris coming to my eyes, and I got very excited to find more about the place. The next step was to find a map of the region. Not that easy! Meanwhile Paris had changed its name to Veselyi Kut (Веселый Кут). Stuff happens, you know. Finally I succeeded, here is the map:


map of the region
(http://www.picturesofcities.info/map-city/Vesely-Kut/2748017/)
no copyright infringement intended



map of the region - close up
(http://www.picturesofcities.info/map-city/Vesely-Kut/2748017/)
no copyright infringement intended


I went on looking for other images. What I found first was an old Lutheran church!


Lutheran Church from Paris - as it was in the old times
(https://docs.google.com/document/edit?id=1yEH4L07P2nuLhrQysCNpVJYTAPfxYuXoLcFxL43mX5c)
no copyright infringement intended

To find a Lutheran church in a Bessarabian village, even a village with such a name as Paris, that was kind of amazing. Other surprises followed. Beside Paris, the  region was full of villages named Leipzig, Wittenberg, Klöstitz, or Katzbach, among other sounding as German as it could be.


Lutheran Church from Paris - as it is now
photo: Reiseluscht
(http://www.panoramio.com/photo/41281637)
no copyright infringement intended

Well, it's an interesting chapter of history there, beginning by 1814 and ending in 1940: the presence of German colonists in Bessarabia.

It all started after the wars with Napoleon were over. German colonists were attracted to move to Bessarabia, occupied by Russia a couple of years earlier, in 1812.

The Bessarabian Paris was founded in 1816. Initially the colonists named it Alecksuesswerth, but soon it was changed to Paris, by decision of the Interior Ministry. It was not to celebrate the capital of France, as we could have guessed.  The reason was different: to commemorate the Battle of Leipzig, that had led to the entrance of the Russian Army in Paris.


Other today's image of the Lutheran Church from Paris
photo: Herb Poppke
(https://docs.google.com/document/edit?id=1yEH4L07P2nuLhrQysCNpVJYTAPfxYuXoLcFxL43mX5c)
no copyright infringement intended

Where had these Parisians come from? Like many other Bessarabian Germans they were known as Warsaw Colonists. This does not mean they were Polish, rather Germans who had migrated by 1800 in a region near Warsaw. So their move to Bessarabia was a second migration in less than twenty years.

And if we go further back in time, there is a hypothesis about the French initial origin of those Parisians from Bessarabia. According to this hypothesis their ancestors had been Huguenots that left France to escape religious persecutions. I must say that's a weak hypothesis, supported by one single observation: the existence in the Bessarabian Paris of many surnames sounding very French (of course Germanized): Allmer, Fano, Fercho, Jans, Kison, Kroisandt, Reppnack, Salo. I found this observation in a book (Suckut, Arthur: Paris in Bessarabien. Herausgegeben zum 170. Jahrestag der Gründung des Dorfes Paris, im Eigenverlag, 1986), quoted in http://www.armin-zimmermann.eu/Bessarabien/Herkunft/Bessarabien_englisch.html#Paris.


Threshing machine with locomotive in Paris, Bessarabia, circa 1915
(http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/order/general/newbook.html)
no copyright infringement intended

The colonists remained in Bessarabia for about hundred and thirty years, keeping their German identity (even their dialects, different from one village to another), while the province was going on with its history. The South of Bessarabia came to Romania for about twenty five years in the second half of the 19th century, then being occupied again by Russia. In 1918 the whole Bessarabia joined Romania.

German colonists would leave Bessarabia in October 1940, after the Soviet occupation. Colonist departure was following a German-Soviet agreement that was based on the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. Ukrainian population came to live in the emptied villages. Today the villages there carry Ukrainian names:  Halle became Alisivka, Strassburg became Alkalyia, and so on.



October 1940 - German colonists leave Bessarabia
image published on Facebook by Alexandru Ursu-Bukowina
no copyright infringement intended


I found on the web three documentaries, made by today's descendants  of those Bessarabian Germans. They visited their ancestors' villages, today inhabited by Ukrainians. I enjoyed mostly the third movie (Der Weg ist das Ziel - zu Fuß in Bessarabie): it renders in a moving way a pilgrimage made by foot, from village to village. Near them a cart full with their baggage, drawn by a horse with an extraordinary name (for those knowing Romanian): Bunik!

Those colonists from long time ago succeeded to keep their German identity so far away from their country. Their descendants, who live in Germany, succeed to keep the identity of the grandparents and great-grandparents from Bessarabia.

Heimat ist kein Ort
Heimat ist ein Gefühl

Wer nicht weiß, woher er kommt, der weiß auch nicht, wohin er geht!


1. Back to the Roots

Back To The Roots, March 2009
Anika Teubner
Impressionen in Fotoform
(video by melocotonchen)


2. Eine Bessarabische Reise



Eine Bessarabische Reise, September 2009
Anika Teubner and Werner Schabert
Part 1/4
(video by melocotonchen/)


Eine Bessarabische Reise, September 2009
Anika Teubner and Werner Schabert
Part 2/4
(video by melocotonchen/)


Eine Bessarabische Reise, September 2009
Anika Teubner and Werner Schabert  
Part 3/4
(video by melocotonchen/)


Eine Bessarabische Reise, September 2009
Anika Teubner and Werner Schabert  
Part 4/4
(video by melocotonchen/)


3. Der Weg ist das Ziel - zu Fuß in Bessarabie



Der Weg ist das Ziel - zu Fuß in Bessarabie, 2011
Anika Teubner
die Dokumentation einer 5-tägigen Wanderung 
durch verschiedene, ehemals deutsche Ortschaften Bessarabiens.
Stationen: Tarutino, Alt-Posttal, Katzbach, Alt-Elft, Paris, Krasna.
Strecke: ca. 80 Km
(video by melocotonchen)



(German and Nordic Cinema)

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3 Comments:

  • Thank you so much for this. My great grandfather Simon Dallman and his ancestors were from Paris Bessarabia and lived there in the mid to late 1800s. Simon moved with his family to North Dakota USA when he was about 10 years old according to one report. Linda Ann Rosendahl, 1 June 2014

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:18 PM  

  • Thank you so much for this wonderful posting on Bessarabia. I found so much of interest in my search for family history. My family came from the villages of Friedenstal and Sarta. Thanks to your wonderful maps I know where they were located and the contemporary name for Friedenstal. We are having a family reunion this summer and I plan to share your information with an appropriate acknowledgement and appreciation for all your work. Watching the clips was an emotional experience for me as I pictured my ancestors making a life for themselves in this land.

    By Anonymous Suzanne Bray, at 4:11 PM  

  • Thank you very much for your nice comments

    By Blogger Pierre Radulescu, at 3:15 AM  

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