Memories of Blumengart, Chortitza, Russia: 1918-43
By Johann Redekop
The village of Blumengart was settled in 1824. In 1918 there were 16 farms; one large farm was 65 desiatines, but some only were 32.5 desiatines. Blumengart was correctly named for it was a friendly, peaceful village and the residents had many flowers in their gardens. The Russian name of the village was Kapustjanka because the land was bought from a man named Kapustin - so people said.
Around 1919, a farmer (Gerhard Penner) sent his son (Peter Penner) and a Russian to work on the fields - about three kilometres away from the village. They were supposed to come home in the evening, but did not arrive. The owner road a horse to the field to look for them, but nobody was there. The next day many were involved in a search. And what was the result? They found both men shot to death in the bush, and the horses and machinery were gone.
Shortly after that, there was another event like this. When the watchman (Schellenberg) took his turn, he saw some men across the street who stopped him and said that he should tell them which villagers had firearms. He pointed to the David Penner house and said that they had a hunting rifle. The bandits ordered the watchman to go with them and wake up the people in the house. Peter Dyck, who owned a rifle, heard the wakeup call. He took his rifle with him to the stable that was connected to his house. At the same time, the brother (Wilhelm Penner), heard that them calling "Get up and open the door," and was mortally wounded. At the same time as well, his younger brother (Jacob) was shot and died later from the wounds. The father, David Penner was shot and wounded, but died later of typhus.
From his hiding spot, Peter Dyck placed a shot in the air to warn a neighbour (Jacob Zacharias) who also had a shotgun and in turn also placed a shot in the air. After that the bandits fled.
I heard this story as a child when Peter Dyck told my father about these events. Peter Dyck came to my father (Isaak Redekop) who was supposed to make the caskets.
Another Event:A gang (Band) was in the village plundering when another gang arrived. It came to a disagreement and a shootout between the gangs. One of the bandits was shot and died. During the time of World War I we had a typhus epidemic in the village and many died. Here is the list:
- Jakob Dück's son
- Jakob Schellenberg
- Peter Peters
- Isaak Redekopp
- Abram Janzen
- Jakob Janzen
- Johann Klassen
- Mrs. Zacharias
- David Janzen
- Johann Janzen
- Sara Penner
In 1921, there was a famine -- although I cannot remember if anyone died from it. The American aid (Amerikahofe) provided one meal a day that saved many lives. In 1920s many of the farmers recuperated economically due to the National Economic Policy (Novaya Ekonomitschenskaya Politika)1. Those who got wealthy found it was held against them as a result of the Collectivization Act of 1929. In 1930, the rich ones were resettled and had to leave everything behind. They were sent to the Ural mountains where there was no shelter from the open skies. The Communists told them: "This is your new home". They had to cut a certain quota of trees and whoever didn't meet the quota did not receive his bread ration. As a result, many starved to death. Among them were my brother Cornelius, mother and stepfather as well as the following:
- Johann Zacharias with five children
- David Peters, single
- Heinrich Pankratz with five children
- Gerhard Penner with two children
- Gerhard Klassen, minister, with family
After September 1929 all property became communal property except our houses and the gardens immediately around them. Horses had to be given up and put into communal stables. The work went from morning until late at night. In school, one had to learn the Russian language. There was a baptism in 1931, but after that everything religious was forbidden.
Gerhardt Klassen, our minister, was also sent to the Ural Mountains in 1930 with his family to join the other ones who were sent there. Then there was the Stalin Terror in 1937-38. In our village, Blumengart, 21 persons were arrested and were not seen again. Those who were taken in 1937-38 were:
- Heinrich Penner, single
- Abram Penner, family man
- David Penner, family man
- Jakob Schellenberg, family man
- Isaak Martens, single
- Franz Zacharias, family man
- Gerhard Klassen, family man
- Peter Paetkau, family man
- Hermann Reimer, single
- Heinrich Janzen, family man
- Johann Funk, family man
- David Klassen, family man
- Nikolai Klippenstein, family man
- Gerhard Rempel, single
- Jakob Klassen, family man
- Franz Janzen, family man
- Jakob Zacharias, family man
- Johann Zacharias, family man
- Anton Peters, family man
- Heinrich Siemens, family man
In August 1941 the German government occupied the area and the ethnic Germans breathed a sigh of relief. Religion was practised freely again. The Collective farm remained until 1942 when it was dissolved. The draft animals [horses] and other farm inventory was divided into groups by a Commission of our people. Group leaders were elected and every resident could pick which group leader they wanted to follow. The land was divided into six fields -- one for each group to work. That happened in fall 1943. The winter germination had never been so good during the Collective times. It was God's blessing.
In October the whole village had to leave everything because of the retreat of the German army. Our people went to the Leipzig camp where we received German citizenship in 1944. In June, we were brought to the Warthegau [Polish area] where we were supposed to settle. But, the men were drafted into the army in January. The remaining women and children had to flee at night with their children in hand, as quickly as possible, because the Russians were coming closer and closer. In this way, my wife had the opportunity to take our four children, and seven others who were also fleeing, into a wagon. But none had anything to protect them from the icy cold.
On April 30, 1945, I became a Russian prisoner of war.
1 In 1921, the NEP was initiated by Lenin, and continued after his death by Stalin until 1927. This policy was begun to counter the catastrophic post civil war famine. Lenin's policy had the following points:
- The farmer could keep a certain percentage of his grain: the more he produced the more he could keep.
- The farmer was permitted to sell his additional crop on the free market.
- The farmers were free to buy and sell their crops within the country -- a task that previously was controlled and handled by a state marketing board.
- Private persons (mostly foreigners) were permitted to bring industry into the country.
The implementation of the policies led to improvement in the economy.
German transcript provided by Herman Schirmacher, Germany, March 1998
Translation by Dora Epp and Anna G. Rempel