A Trip to the Volga German villages
(May 2-5, 2009)
We travelled in the early part of May 2009 and our primary goal was to visit all former German settlements of this county - the ones still surviving as well as the sites of the ones that are no longer exist - along with the German cemeteries. To our greatest dismay, we have discovered that the old pre-1941 German cemeteries did not survive at all. Though time is clearly one of the reasons for this situation, there are also the people relocated here, after the local Germans had been sent away in 1941, who are to blame for the destruction of the old cemeteries. There were many more recent graves dating anywhere from the 1960s through the 2000s that we saw on the trip. In order to preserve the images of the German grave sites for the future generations, we took photographs of all German grave sites in Dittel, Kratzke, Merkel, Rothammel, Neu-Dönhof, Kolb, Huckertal (together with Mirniy), Frank and Walter, still in existence as of May 2009. During our expedition we took over 1,000 photographs, including about 300 photos of the graves dating from the 1960s until the 2000s. Thanks to very good timing we were able to discover things that we would probably have missed if the grass was higher and thicker. For instance, some thrashing and mill stones were discovered.
Note: As for January 1st, 1941 Frank Kanton totalled at 1,100 square kms, with sixteen settlements containing a total population of 29,500 people, of those 98.6% were ethnic Germans. After the deportation of the local Germans in 1941, the territory was added to the Stalingrad Region. The City of Stalingrad was renamed into Volgograd in 1961 and thus the region is now called the Volgograd region. Today, the territory of the former Frank canton is a part of the Zhirnovsk County of the Volgograd Region. Out of the original sixteen settlements of the Frank Kanton, only ten are remaining with a total population of 12,400 residents. Four of these settlements are on a verge of dissapearing. Only four settlements, including Medveditza (being often referred to by its German name of Frank), Linevo (formerly Hussenbach), Novinka (formerly Neu-Donhof) and Aleshniki (formerly Dittel), have a paved road connecting them to the county town of Zhirnovsk.
A short description follows regarding the condition of the German settlements,
1. Propp Khutor - non-existent, though the location of the buildings which once stood and the old orchard are visible and easy to locate. There was no cemetery in this settlement. Its founder and owner, Jakov Fillipovitch Propp, aka Jakob des Philipps Propp, was buried at the cemetery in Hussenbach.
2. Hussenbach, now Linevo - existing settlement; a considerable portion of the old German buildings has been preserved. The site where the German church once stood is now occupied by an open-air dance hall. The old German cemeteries no longer exist. One of them, situated right next to the church, was turned into a school sportsground in 1973. During the WWII the deceased from the local hospital were buried in the cemetery. Back then the hospital occupied an old German building, which is being referred to as the "Red School" by the local Russians. Later on in the 1970s some of the soldiers' graves were moved to the village's central square some 300 meters away; this new spot is now marked by a monument. The second cemetery was situated next to the local collective farm's garage and mechanic's shop; there was a new residential community constructed there after the WWII. This is probably the cemetery where Jakob Propp was buried at. The newest cemetery was founded around 1945-1948. This cemetery is a mixed one, with both Russian and German graves that date from the 1970s through the 2000s.
3. Kauz, now Vershinka - non-existing settlement, though the location of the buildings which once stood are visible. The old cemetery has not been preserved; it consists of numerous mounds of earth which are the only remains of the graves there. We found one iron cross on an old, presumably German, grave; the only Russian Orthodox grave in the cemetery is dating back to 1959.
4. Dittel, now Aleshniki - existing settlement. There are quite a few old German buildings remaining. The old cemetery has not been preserved. There has been a new residential area constructed on this sacred ground. The new cemetery has 21 German graves dating from the 1960s through the 2000s. We found an iron cross on an old grave.
5. Kratzke, now Podtchinniy - existing settlement. Some of the old German family houses and buildings have been preserved. The wooden church is in terrible condition; it was used as a village community center during the Soviet time period. The "Fortschritt" (German word for "progress"), a textile cloth weaving factory, is now just a pile of rubble. There is a building compound built about 1908 at the far end of the settlement. As of now, some of these buildings have been abandoned and destroyed while others are used for a library and a primary school. There are only eight German graves dating from the 1960s through the 2000s at the local cemetery.
6. Merkel, now Makarovka - almost non-existing and on the verge of being abandoned. There are no more than ten houses remaining in the village today, including four old German houses, one red brick and three wooden ones, for about five families of local residents. Only two German graves dating from the 1980s exist in the cemetery; no old ones have been preserved.
7. Seewald, now Verchovye - non-existent; the exact location and the layout of the village are hardly visible. We found a Kazakh cemetery nearby. The German cemetery has not been preserved.
8. Rothammel, now Pamyatnoe - non-existent, though numerous remains of the foundations of the houses and buildings which once stood there are still visible. The village has seized to exist about 30 years ago. We found several old iron and wooden crosses at the cemetery site; the remains of the graves are still well visible. We also found two German graves dating from 1975 and 1981.
9. Neu-Dönhof, now Novinka - existing settlement. There are several old German buildings there. The old German graves at the local cemetery site could not be found, however, we spotted two German graves dating from the 1970 or the 1980s. The only old grave we were able to identify as German had a wooden cross, which, however, was lacking an inscription.
10. Neu-Messer, now Pogranitchnoe - existing settlement. There are a few old German buildings left there; and at the far end of the village there is an old, almost destroyed building, which bares some architectural style elements typical for the pre-1917 constructions. The building was probably built in 1929, however, we could not determine the purpose it was used for. A huge mill stone was found some hundred meters away from the building. No old German graves at the local cemetery have been preserved.
11. Kolb, now Peskovka - existing settlement. A considerable part of the old village has been destroyed; we spotted rodents that live in the cellars of the houses which once stood there. There are quite a few old German buildings still standing in the village. As for the cemetery, we found about 60 German graves dating from the 1970s through the 2000s. However, no old pre-1941 German graves have been preserved. The oldest Russian Orthodox grave is marked 1949.
12. Freidorf, also known as the Thalmann collective farm - non-existing, though the remains of the foundations of the old buildings and the local school are still visible. We found one iron cross and a wooden one, which was half-burnt, on an old German grave. The mounds of earth marking the layout of the old graves at the cemetery site are barely visible.
13. Huckertal and neighbouring Communist, now Mirniy - Huckertal settlement does not exist anymore, though the remains of the houses that once stood there and the layout of the streets are still visible. There is a settlement called Mirniy, which has about 10 houses, just half a kilometer away from Huckertal. There are no German buildings there. At the cemetery we found three German graves; two of them are dating from the 1960s and one is as recent as of 2009.
14. Neu-Balzer, now Perevozniki - non-existent, though the remains of the houses which once stood there are well visible. There are several Orthodox graves at the cemetery; the oldest one is of 1947. No German graves have been found.
15. Frank, now Medveditza - existing settlement of a considerably large size. There are quite many old German buildings still remaining there; many of them have been remodelled and their outside walls covered up by brick or other materials. There are lots of German graves dating from the 1970s through the 2000s at the local cemetery. We took photographs of about 200 German graves there. We also found two very old German graves that had stone grave markers.
16. Walter, now Gretchichino - existing settlement. The village is quite small and there are only two old German houses remaining there, both in a very poor condition. The red brick German church still standing in the village was built in 1903; it is in a rather good conditon and is currently being used as a granary. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the inside of the church because it was closed at the time of your visit. A little way behind the church there is an old German red brick building which probably used to be a granary or a warehouse before the WWII. The old village cemetery is situated right next to this building. We counted more than 1,500 mounds of earth remaining from the old German graves. We also found a few very old stone grave markers; some had inscriptions which, unfortunately, were barely visible and thus difficult to read. At the newest part of the cemetery we found two German graves dating from 1973 and 1983, and about 30 Russian Orthodox graves.
English translation by Tatjana Schell
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