The Lower Volga Villages


Working together, JoAnn Kuhr, Research Director at AHSGR, and Tim Montania,nephew of Jacob Haffner, made the following letter available to our readers. JoAnnsubmitted eight questions to be answered. She translated the 16 Feb 1994 reply on tape lastJune. This is her corrected copy received on 26 Oct 1994. Notes enclosed in (regular brackets)are Haffner's, those in [square brackets] are the translator's. Jacob Haffner was 20 years old in1941 when he was exiled from Shcherbakovka.

"Dear Timothy,
I will answer the eight questions in which the Society is interested. I cannot answer allthe questions completely and thoroughly. I apologize to you and the Society that it comes outlike it does. If one of my parents were still alive or one of my brothers or sisters, I could tell youmore. We were 12 children of our parents, and as of today, only two of us remain. I am theyoungest of the family, and was born in 1921. My sister, Maria, is already very old. She wasborn in 1914, and our memory is not quite what it was earlier. Therefore, I cannot recalleverything in such detail. I haven't answered these questions for a long time, because my niece,Ella, from the city of Kolomma wrote me once that she would answer some of these questionsthrough her mother. Now, however, I will write down what I still know. Is that alright? So I willanswer the first question.

1. Do I know all of the houses in the village and the names of the people who livedthere?In our village, German Shcherbakovka, after the Revolution of 1917, it was called Muehlberg, Iof course cannot remember all of the names. There were 500 or more houses, and over 3,000inhabitants were there, and I can recall a few of the families.

Heinrich Stricker, His nickname "Webe Stricker"[The German word weben means to weave,so we assume he was a weaver.]
Karl Stricker, nickname "Kotleten" Stricker
Heinrich Stricker, brother of Karl.
David Stricker, "Taube Stricker" Hand worker. [ Nickname indicates he worked with doves.]
Heinrich Stricker, "Musikante Stricker" [A musician] and a carpenter.
Konrad Haffner ) Three brothers, Konrad Haffner is my father.
Friedrich Haffner ) (1876, 1874, 1872)
George Haffner )
David Haffner ) Nickname "Volga Haffners"
George Haffner)
Friedrich Haffner --1910 -- "Black Haffner"
George Becker "Rich Becker" -- My grandfather from my mother's side.
George Becker ) Sons of my grandfather
Friedrich Becker ) These four are my uncles on my mother's side.
Jacob Becker )
David Becker )
Gottfried Becker ) -smith and grandfather of Timothy Montania
Eva Margarita Becker ) These are husband and wife and the grandparents of Tim Montania. Emigrated to America in 1913.
Eva Lizabeth Becker) , my mother.
Maria Becker )
Amalia Becker ) siblings
Becker )
Gottfried Riffel
Amalia Riffel
Alexander Reissig (There are many families of this name.)
Friedrich Weinbender (Many families of this name.)
Bauer Many families. Gottfried Bauer, Timothy's brother-in-law.
Wasenmuller, Many families.
Meisner, Many families.
David Ehrlich, blacksmith
Alexander Ehrlich, business man
Friedrich Ehrlich, business man dealing with sewing machines-- Singers --which he got fromthe city of Samara.
Many other Ehrlichs
Laubhan, Many
Handschuh, Many
Jacob Lang, a poor farmer
Gottfried Faust, a teacher in the 1930s
Ida Baeumler, a teacher
Fleming, a female teacher
Friedrich Becker, a teacher
Heffele, teacher
Schott, teacher
George Faust
Ferdinand Faust
Katharina From, midwife
These are most of the family names in our village. There are also many other family names.

2. Where did we get our water?In our village, Shcherbakovka / Muehlberg, there were no wells, because our village lay high upon the mountainside. I can tell you a story. For years our farmers wanted to have well water inthe village, but everyting was in vain. Our inhabitants wanted to dig a well in the fields..A fewstrong men got together to do everything that was necessary to dig a deep well. They had ropes,one very long one, a large bucket lined with metal, buckets, a crank to turn the rope on the thickround wooden shaft. They began to dig. That was far away from our villaage, 20 to 22kilometers, on the collective land in the years 1934 to 1935. They had dug 38 meters deep andsuddenly the rope broke. The bucket filled with dirt and stones fell down. Below stood two menwho, of course, were killed. Work was stopped immediately. With great difficulty, on thesecond day after the accident, these two men were brought home. Three days later all of thepeople of the village took part in their funeral. One man, I know well, his name was DavidReissig. And the second man, I have forgotten his name. From this time on, all the work on thewell was stopped, and there was never again an attempt to dig a well. But many years earlier,according to my grand parents, and also my parents, there were often attempts to dig wells andto find water, but it was always in vain. But mankind cannot live without water. Everyone knowsthat.

The land where our village stood, as well as all of the fields around it, was much higherthan the Volga. That is, it was much higher than the water table level; and therefore thesubterranean water was very deep. And one could not dig that deep with a shovel. On the end,on one side of the village between the high mountains, began a very large and very deep valley. Deep in this valley, about 200 to 400 meters, there were many wells, and among them were fourvery large artesian wells where cold pure water came out. All of these springs together formedthe beginning of a little river. The little river on its way to the Volga became broader andbroader.

From the beginning of these springs to the Volga shore, it was about five kilometers. From our village up above, a path had been made to the springs, from which water had to bebrought into the village in buckets and barrels. A barrel was fastened to a wagon, and twohorses or two oxen were hitched up, and driven down into the deep valley in order to bring waterup from it. Or people took a shoulder yoke with two buckets and went after water.

The people built a little house above the four large springs. It was of cement. Thecrystal clear water flowed into a large water trough. Seven more troughs, all made of wood,followed. When the first trough was full, it ran into the next trough, and it went from one to theother. From the last trough, the water flowed free and unrestricted, the beginning of a little river. By the time the little river ran its five kilometers to the mighty Volga, many other little wells andrivers added to it.

Where the little river flowed into the large Volga, was a Russian village which was calledRussian Shcherbakovka. Our village which was five kilometers higher was called GermanShcherbakovka. After 1918, it was called Muehlberg.

At the source of these little springs, the cattle were led to drink--horses, cows, oxen, andcalves. The women carried all of the laundry down to the springs on shoulder yokes, and therethey washed everything. They went back up the mountain to their homes with the wet laundry. Itwas very hard and inconvenient. In later years--1937-1938--they built a water conduit. That is,they ran pipes from the springs up to the village center. A little pump stood in the well housewhich drove the water through the pipes up into the village to a very large wooden container. Here the inhabitants got their water. The state paid for the water mains. That was a very usefulthing which made it much easier for the farmers. All the people were very happy.

3. Were there any mills in our village?In the village itself there were no mills, but around us were thirty-six water mills. They were alldeep where the spring water was going down into the Volga. Everything was made so that all thespring. water made a little river. And it flowed from one mill water wheel to the next, so it went the fivekilometers down to the Volga. At these water mills, a great deal of grain was made into flour. The flour was excellent, of the highest quality. At a few mills, sunflower oil was even made, andit was a very good sunflower oil. People came to our village from far and wide to grind theirgrain. From these mills, one sent flour and other products to the cities--Saratov, Pokrovsk (latercalled Engels), Tsaritsin (Sarepta) then Stalingrad [now Volgograd]. Business was very widespread. The mill owners were very rich people. I can remember four mill owners' names. Theywere Laubhan, Weber, Boehme, Ehrlich.

4. Were there many hand workers in the village?Yes, there were blacksmiths, cobblers, carpenters, people who made felt for the felt boots, tailorsand so forth. There were also teachers, musicians, painters, midwives, and one "Feldscher"[medical corpsman]. There was no doctor and no hospital. There were three doctors and ahospital in the village Holstein which was seven kilometers away from us. One had to walkthere. Those who were unable to walk had to be taken in a wagon. It was all very difficult. There was more than one blacksmithin our village. For example, close to us there were twoblacksmiths, Gottfried Eirich, and David Ehrlich. Both had their own smithies. Our family wasrelated to these families.

The grandfather of Timothy Montania, Gottfried Becker, was a very good and fineblacksmith. His wife, Eva Margareta, was a true sister of my mother, Eva Lizabet. Gottfried andhis wife and two children, Lydia and Karl, immigrated to America in 1913. At that time, I had notyet come into the world, as I was born in 1921. Our family and the Gottfried Becker family areblood relatives. Through your Society, we could find our siblings and cousins again after sixtyyears. That was for us all a very, very great joy. My family and I, all of our blood relatives,thank you very much for your goodness. We wish you and your descendants also many greatsuccesses for your humanitarian help. See that you remain healthy in the future, and may Godhelp you to see that people find one another. Right? If you write a book about our past Volgahome, or about our village Muehlberg--German Shcherbakovka--please send me a book. Whatever it costs, I will pay for it. Write to me.

Filzstiefel makers: Gottfried Haffner. Carpenters: David Ehrlich, David Haffner, andmany others. Among our farmers, there were many and various hand workers. All of theHaffners, Beckers, Bauers, Weinbenders, and many others could all work in their own shops. That is except for blacksmith work, our father taught us all the work. [how to do everything]. Wedid not have to go to other people and ask them what was to be done. All the work that had tobe done, we did ourselves: working in the fields, plowing with the plow, sowing, reaping. Wegrew barley, sunflowers, Welsh corn, watermelons, pumpkins, melons, potatoes. We ourselvesharvested all of the grain. We made new wagons, watermelon presses, sledges. We did not goto the neighbors and ask them. It was not only our family, but all the farmers who weren't lazy. They were industrious people. They could take care of themselves.

Our grandfather, Georg Becker, with his family, had the largest, strongest, and richestfarm. He was a very good and helpful person. He was the father of my mother, Eva Lisabeth, atthe same time the grandfather of all four of my siblings* in America:. [translator's note* He usesthe term "Geschwister" which means siblings, but I believe he means "Halbgeschwieter" orcousins.] Lydia, Karl, Emma, and Clara. That is, their mother, Eva Margareta, was the daughterof George Becker. Don't forget that grandfather's son was also called Georg. All the Haffnerfamilies were strong middle-class farmers.

5. Were there also stores and shops in the village?Yes, but there was only one store. It was not especially large, and it was in the center of thevillage. In this store were only the most essential wares such as sugar, tea, coffee, matches,needles, yarn, and sometimes textiles. There was not a lot of fabric. There were no shoes, nowinter clothes, etc. At my time, the salesman was Friedrich Stricker. Before, the store belongedto the Ehrlich family. I can no longer tell you what their names were. I just don't know.

6. What medical facilities were there in the village?At our place in our town, there was no hospital, as I wrote about in the fourth question. Sickpeople had to walk or ride to the neighboring village of Holstein. We had no doctor. There wasa feldscher. (medical corpsman). Several women were midwives. I knew only one midwife,Katharina From, who took charge of the births. These women were not qualified and had notstudied it, and that can be proved by one case that happened in our house with the wife, Amalia,of my oldest brother, Konrad.

A midwife, not From, took over when Amilia was in labor with her fourth child, later onecalled this child Sasha or Alexander. Our sister-in-law bore Alexander in February or March1931. She died the third day after the birth. Mother said she had blood poisoning which themidwife apparently had allowed to happen. She was not sanitary. She left four children behind;Edward, Clara, Amalia, and the last child, Sasha. My mother took care of all the childrenand brought them all home to us, where they were all taken care of. But the last child, Sasha,died one and a half to two months after the death of his mother. I want to say this. Themidwives did not always know their work and do it well. They often made large mistakes whichcould not be corrected. They didn't know very much, and they were not always careful. Also,they were not always clean.

7. What schooling was available in the village? In the years before the Revolution in 1917, there were only four grades for classes in our village. Later, under the Soviets, there were seven grades. This was a great advancement for us. It wascalled an incomplete Middle School. This is the school I finished in 1937. In the olden times, thechildren who wanted to continue studying, had to walk to the neighboring village of Stehpan,there were the classes from the fifth to the seventh grades. Whoever wanted to continue tostudy from the eighth to the tenth grades, had to go to the district, Rayon (Kanton) Center. [Thedistrict center was in Kamenka.] That was in the years 1935 until we were deported in 1941.

After the years 1936-1937, there were few teachers who could teach the children,especially in the villages, because several schools had been opened [sic] by the Soviets. Inthose years before the Revolution, under the Tsarist regime, almost all of the people in all of thevillages were illiterate; that is, without any education. Most of the farmers couldn't even writetheir names. And so in 1931-1932, the edict went around that all people had to study; that theyhad to learn to read, to write, and do arithmetic. They liquidated illiteracy. From young to old,everyone had to learn to read and write. That was a great advancement that the Soviet Uniondid. Those who especially wanted to have a Middle School education, had to go to the districtcenter. There was a pedaagogical school in the District Center on the Volga River where theteachers prepared for teaching. There I also studied in 1938. This was at the Rayon Center atSeelmann. In the Rayon (Kanton) Center Hussenbach, people prepared specialists foragronomy, and veterianarians

In the city Marxstadt (Katharinenstadt) they studied business. And in the Capital City ofthe former Autonomous Socialistic Republic of the Volga Germans (Engels) there were a fewGerman colleges, a German state theater, where worked, among many others, for example, theactress, Valeria Schmidt (my future wife); the author Andreas Weinert; the poet Gruenberg; thefamous singer, Ernst Busch who was also a composer. There were famous doctors: TheodorGrassmueck who had two sons who also work as doctors even now. Professor Hoergenroederwas another of the many famous people there.

8. What were the churches in the village?In our village there were two churches: a summer church and a winter church. The winter churchburned down in the summer of 1934. The cause of the fire is still undetermined. The summerchurch was tall and especially beautiful. During the collectivization it was turned into a house ofculture or a club. They took down the tall tower and the roof was made flat, and it than becamea regular building. Our school stood next to it, but it didn't burn because it was made of brick.

Of our village, Muehlberg (Shcherbakovka), one could write a big book; but in a letter one can write only a little. Perhaps someone from your Society would come visit us and gatherall of the history that belongs to our village.

P. S. Timothy's mother is my true cousin, and Timothy is my nephew. As far as I know, he is avery good relative. We wish you all the best health, peace, and unity. Much happiness andblessing to you all. We are looking for an answer. Please forgive that I make so manygrammatical and writing mistakes. I have forgotten everything. If art and the theater and musicetc. interest you, my wife, Valerie Schmidt, can tell you about it. She was a great participant inthese arts."

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