Maria Leimann visited Gotfried Erhardt on February 5, 2004. Mr. Ehrhardt shared his memories of Holstein from 1917 to 1941.
Memories of Gotfried Erhardt.
Gotfried Erhardt was born October 4, 1923 in Holstein. From late 1941 to September 13, 1949, Gotfried lived in labor camps in Udeneno, Siberia. Gotfried's father, Karl Erhardt, was born in Holstein in 1905 and died January 4, 1988, in Holstein. Gotfried's mother, Katharina Elisabeth Erhardt, nee Martin, was born 1905 in Holstein and died May 9, 2004. Gotfried's uncle, Heinrich Erhardt, born 1900 and died 1987 in Holstein, was chairman in Holstein until 1941.
In 1941 the village of Holstein had 325 families. The houses were mainly constructed of wood and loam. Starting about 1900, the loam houses were no longer built and frame houses replaced them. Most families had a bake house built of loam. During the hot summers, this tiny house was cool on the inside. In summer, the housework was done in these houses. Before one moved into the bake house in spring, it was painted white with lime both inside and outside.
The village was always very neat. Every Saturday, someone swept the street in front of the house. Fruit and vegetable gardens were grown by every family. A spring-fed brook flowed near the gardens. Later on, an irrigation canal was built. In the spring, the village was surrounded with flowering trees. Holstein owned five wind and water mills. There also was a schoolhouse.
Before the 1917 revolution, many Volga Germans emigrated to the USA and Canada. Only a few managed to leave Russia later. The civil war (1918-1922) didn't spare Holstein either. The red and white armies alternately occupied the village. Many houses were damaged during the fights and the owners had to repair them. Also, it was quite common at those times to see dead bodies lying in the streets.
One day in winter, Holstein was occupied by the Cossaks. They didn't have enough horses to keep riding so they wanted horses from the villagers. Three men, David Schwin, David May, and Friedrich (name unknown) didn't want to give away their horses. The Cossaks took these men to Galka near the Volga. They had to run beside the Cossaks who were on horses. When they arrived in Galka, they had to make a hole in the ice. As ordered by the Cossaks, each of them had to push the other one into the hole in the ice. So they had to die.
The years 1921 and 1933 were years of starvation at the Volga. In 1921, the harvest was very poor, but 1933 was a harvest-rich year. Nevertheless, the people were hungry because the government collectivization took the winter supplies of the farmers away. The people had to use the straw on the house roofs to feed their cattle. The starvation period was severe. The wealthy farmers were declared rich, and that meant they were the enemies of the system. The consequence was they lost all property and were banished to the working camps in Siberia or Kazakhstan.
After 1917, a school, club, a hospital, and a jam factory were built. The children had 7 years of compulsory school attendance. All subjects were taught in the German language. Of course, Russian and Russian literature were a part of the education.
In 1933 all mills in the area were replaced by a new mill in Dobrinka. Holsteiners had to go to Dobrinka to grind their grain. That same year, the members of the Comsomol (youth organization) destroyed the bells of the church. All women and men had to work for the country. The women worked on the plantations (vegetables and tobacco), in the orchards, and in the jam factory. The men were employed in agriculture. Every family had to pay high taxes without any question. It didn't matter whether the people were able to. A certain number of working days were required of everyone, (60 Trudodni) per month. If one could not prove this, they were punished. People had to sell their food in Dobrinka to pay the taxes and the punishment.
From 1929 to 1937, many people became "enemies of the peoples" and put into prisons. The poor people were turned on by the administration at the Soviet time. Out of hunger and need, the poor people made some wrong things to support their families. In 1929, the chairman, Mr. Borger, and the employees of the administration were arrested because they distributed village stocks to their families. In 1933, the chairman, Mr. Will, and the administration employees were arrested.
In 1933, Gotfried Erhardt visited a market in Dobrinka for the first time. After this, he went there every year to sell food, including butter and cheese. In 1941 in Saratov, he applied to a school to learn to become a car mechanic. The response he got was, "You don't need to study anymore." The people in Saratov knew the Germans would be deported soon. That summer he was again at the market in Dobrinka. A Jewish women who purchased food from Gotfried said to him, "You can sell your food cheap. You won't need the money anymore. All of you must be out of your villages soon." Gotfried told this in his village but nobody took it seriously.
The year 1941 was a fruitful year. In Holstein the storage buildings weren't sufficient to hold the harvest, so the surplus grain was taken to Dobrinka. The people were pleased about the year. It finally looked as though things were getting better. But the order (ukase) was read to the Holsteiners in the club on September 1, 1941. All Germans had to leave their village and were being sent to Siberia. Everyone was told they would be back in Holstein after three months. Holstein had to be vacated September 10, 1941. The schoolbooks were taken away from the children. The people were moved out into the street, and, starting from the church, they were taken away by horses to Schwab. The villagers took just the necessary things, having faith that they would come back soon. But the exile lasted for 15 years.
Gotfried Erhardt lived with his parents at the other end of the village. For nine days he helped take his friends to Schwab. On September 10, 1941, they also had to leave for Schwab. The department store and the church were empty and it was forbidden to enter these buildings. Soldiers were at the doors guarding them. On this day foreign people (Jewish families) were rehoused from west Russia to Holstein. The Erhardts had to watch as the foreign people moved into the houses.
All 325 families from Holstein were brought to Schwab at the Volga. For one week they had to spend the nights under the sky before they were allowed to enter the ships. The ships were so overfilled with people that many became afraid the ships would sink. The trip ended in Kamyschin at the Volga. Then the people went by train (cattle freight cars) to Tjumen, Siberia, a 35-day journey.
October 7, 1941, a new regulation was enforced. All men 17 to 50 years old reported to a labor camp in Trudarmeen. They were then dispersed to other labor camps, including in Iwdel, Krasnoturinsk, and Balstroj. Of the 15,000 men sent from Trudarmeen to the Iwdel camp, only 3000 survived on February 1942. Starting in 1942, women from 17 to 50 years of age with no children under three years of age, were also sent to the work camps.