Memories of Norka
As told by Conrad Brill to his son, George Brill
These are the memoirs of Conrad Konretja Brill, born in Norka, Volga Region, on October 8, 1895. After having served with the Russian Army during World War I, Conrad left Norka on Christmas Eve 1921 with his first wife and seven-year-old son, Adam. His wife died of influenza on the journey, but Conrad and his son were able to reach the refugee camp at Frankfurt an der Oder. There he met Anna Becker, who was from Erlenbach and wanted to come to the United States to join her brother and sister. Conrad and Anna were married in Frankfurt an der Oder in 1922 and arrived in New York later that year. This installment story tells of Conrad's childhood in Norka, some of his experiences in the Imperial Russian Army, his flight from Russia and journey to the United States, where he resided in Oregon. These memoirs were told to his son, George Brill, who spent many hours listening to the experiences and memories of his father. George recorded Conrad's memory on paper as a tribute to his father. He also drew a plat of Norka, which shows where relatives and friends of Conrad lived. The stories told by Conrad in the original manuscript are not intended to be taken as derogatory gossip, but are meant to be helpful to others interested in family history and genealogy.
Conrad's memories provide a unique and rich understanding of life in Norka. You may even find that that he mentions one of your ancestors or relatives.
1914 Photograph of Conrad Brill in Norka courtesy of George Brill.
The country of Russia is geographically isolated on three sides by seas, deserts and mountains, so only the people living on the western border came into contact with civilized cultures in the earlier times. Most of these people getting education, were educated in Poland, Germany, France and England. The people living in the interior of Russia were nomadic tribes of Kirghiz, Kalmucks, Mongolians and Cossacks whose lifestyles were as the American Indians in the United States of America, before the white man came. When Catherine the Great (Catherine II) gave our German ancestors the chance for land to start Volga German villages, these nomadic tribes were reduced to serfdom to the wealthier Russians, so you can better understand how they came to hate our people.
The size of Russia is breath taking. It encompasses one-sixth of the earth’s land surface. It is three times the size of the United States and larger than all of North America. It stretches nearly halfway around the globe. There are ten time zones in Russia, so must set your watch ten times if you travel between the Gulf of Finland and the Bering Straits. Russia was under the rule of a Czar, but living in a free enterprise system, so the rich people were able to have summer homes on the steppes and winter homes in the large cities. The poor lived like the slaves of the southern United States and the land in the interior of Russia lay as a wasteland occupied only sparsely by these wild tribes who made raids on outlying villages, to steal horses and cattle, even kidnapping herders.
In 1763, Catherine the Great offered free land to people from other parts of the world, as was the land in the United States open for migration from other countries of Europe. Our ancestors who were German and having just gone through the Seven Years' War were lured there in hopes of starting over on the fertile land along the Volga River. Twenty-seven thousand (27,000) people made the move and 957 of them founded Norka, Russia on August 15, 1767, where my grandfather, Heinrich Brill was born, then my father George, in 1848 and finally me, on October 8, of 1895. I don't know which of the two original immigrants is our ancestor.
The village of Norka lay west of the city of Schilling, which was on the Volga River. Schilling was a port city, where the farmers of Norka hauled their grain, which was sold to buyers from different parts of Russia, Germany, and other European countries. You could buy 100 watermelons for a ruble from barges in Schilling when I was growing up. A ruble is like a dollar. You could buy lumber in Schilling, as the logs were floated from logging areas to Schilling in log rafts, then sawed into lumber and wood products. Russian fishermen there caught fish the Germans bought, or traded them grain, eggs or other products. The Russians would rather trade, than do business for cash. Schilling was similar to Portland, Oregon, both having rivers through center of city, and probably the reason my relatives chose to live here after trying several other states in the United States.
The poor people in the cities of Russia started their rebelling as early as I can remember, being born in the 1890's, but because of the size of the country there wasn't really any way to organize solidly. The secret police of the Czar’s era were probably as plentiful if not more so, than what we know of the Russian KGB and our FBI or CIA today. It wasn't until Lenin was embittered and outraged by the execution of his brother, Alexander, that he decided to spend the rest of his life fighting for the betterment of the working class and avenging his brothers’ death. He hadn't lived in poverty himself as a young person, but would spend almost the rest of his life hiding in Russian towns, foreign countries or exiled to Siberia in his battle against the Czarist regime.
The rage against the Czar and the rich soon engulfed more innocent people, who had no political power or desire to change anything. In 1905, while the Russian army was fighting Japan, people in the cities started a revolt, known as Bloody Sunday. They invaded stores owned by Jews, throwing the merchandise out of the windows and their family members or other people carted the loot home, similar to the Watts riots in California. Our German ancestors had been promised freedom of religion, military service and the right to maintain their own schools in the German language. This was all soon eroded and they were drafted into the army as were the Russians, but they hadn't fraternized with the Russian population, so had the language barrier. There had been 104 German villages founded in the years 1764 to 1767 and the population grew fast because each male child was allotted acreage at its birth, so from 1767 to 1909 they had to start new villages to accommodate the over population. In all there were 394 Volga settlements. Most Germans lived as Germans, refusing to become Russianized.
I was drafted into the Czar’s army in 1915 to fight the Germans in World War I. I was stationed in Constantinople, which was later changed to Istanbul, Turkey. While in Turkey, I saw Lenin make speeches from fire escapes on the sides of buildings to crowds of disgruntled Turks and including Russian soldiers who were trying to fight Germans with inferior weapons or weapons furnished by the United States and England because the Czar had thrown in with the Allies to stop the Kaiser in his quest for taking over Europe in WWI. The Russian army soldiers had families at home who were starved and abused, so had no desire to fight for their own government, not to mention fighting for strange allies. The Turks were under Russian rule at the time and wanted their own, so Lenin who had been living in exile in Germany wasn't bothered much making his speeches and soon the Russians returned home and helped their fellow countrymen called Bolsheviks, take over the Czar’s government.
They chose Alexander Krensky as President. They were still trying the free world system and Krensky was the one and only President ever elected in Russia, but couldn't please both the conservatives and the Bolsheviks and because of the wars damage and the economic breakdown, things got worse instead of better and the revolution then really went into high gear. When the Russian army returned home to overthrow the Czar, I went home to my village of Norka, to the family farm, hoping my army days were past. Lenin and Trotsky formed the Red Army to bring down Krensky, whose backers were the White armies. Each side would come to the German villages and requisition, or take supplies, horses and even men to help them in their cause, until finally the villagers who lived in the area that had the reputation of being the bread basket of the world, were abused and going hungry too.
As you traveled west from Schilling, you crossed the Karamisch (also Karamysh) River. The land east of this river belonged to the villagers of Beideck. The land from the river to Norka was called Oxa Grava and was our Norka grasslands, which was used for raising our hay crops for the winter feed of our livestock, and pasture. Going on westward toward Norka, were orchards, and gardens in the area called Norka Grava. It was an area lying on the right, or north side of the road between Karamisch River and Norka. In Norka Grava lived about twenty or thirty families, some of whom worked for a man named Pauli, who was owner of the brick factory built along the roadway. The people who lived in Norka Grava had to cross through the water to get into their yards from the road, or go around.
The flow of water wasn't deep along here, but was around knee high along the roadway. There was an access road by way of the gumno (threshing fields) without crossing the waterway. It started in Oxa Grava and ran around the north of the village. People would say, "Ich gehn uber die fahrt" meaning I'll take the shortcut, rather than go around. Pauli (also Pauly) bricks were made of materials on the site, and were mixed by two large paddles connected to a merry-go-round affair built into a round tank about 16 feet in diameter, pulled by a horse. The brick mix was poured into brick forms, and sun dried, until hard enough to handle without breaking, then placed into racks in open silo type bunkers about sixteen feet wide, and eight feet deep. They stretched in length about a city block. There were several bunkers of this size and they burned up a lot of waste in the bake process. When they were in the bunkers and ready to bake, the men piled any burnable materials into the pit, and set it afire. When the brick were baked properly, they were so hard, it took a hacksaw type saw to cut one in half. When baked they were stacked in neat rows along the roadway for sale. The rows of bricks stretched for blocks. On the south side of the road were pasture lands, where the herdsmen of the village brought the livestock to graze each day during good weather. The dividing line of cows, pigs, and other stock going out to pasture, was at the village courthouse, with the cows and animals belonging to villagers east of the courthouse, being driven to the pasture land east of the village. The livestock of the people west of the courthouse were driven to pasture land west of town, above Oberdorf (upper village). In winter, animals stayed in the yard or corral and were led to the creek, or strategically placed water troughs, once or twice a day.
The Karamisch River ran north and south between Beideck and Norka, but up north it veered or turned westward, so it bordered what was considered two sides of the Norka ground, the eastern edge and also the northern edge. Across the river on northern shore, was a Russian village named Rybuschka that we traveled through when going toward Saratov. On the southern edge of Norka land we bordered with Huck and Frank land. To the west we bordered with Russian villages on the Medwediza River. Along the Karamisch River, across from Rybuschka, the land lying along the river was owned by four parties. Bromundt, a Cossack with a large governmental land grant, beside him was land owned by Jost Henry Miller family, a parcel owned by Sinner family, also a parcel bought by the villagers of Norka from a man we Germans called Seifert, but known as Blauchen. This we used for our potato ground. These four parcels of land far exceeded the amount of land farmed by all of the Russian villagers of the village of Rybuschka, and was one of the most agonizing to the Russian villages near and far.
Norka was one of the original, or Mother Colonies, founded in Russia during the years 1764 through 1767. It was founded an August 15, 1767 with approximately 957 people. It lay on the Bergseite or hilly side of the Volga. It was a Protestant colony. By 1852, Norka had grown so large that many left to start the daughter colony, Neu (new) Norka. By the year 1914, our census in Alt (old) Norka was more than 14,000 people, but I for one feel that this figure could be somewhat deceiving. My reason for this is that many of our folk had left for the United States, Argentina, and Canada. Our families remaining in Russia kept some, if not all of these people listed as members of the family, because under the dusch system (a communal land allocation system also known as Mir), the land, hay, etc., was allotted to male family members, and over the years there were allotments sold to other family members, and even to strangers, when someone wanted to depart the area. I suppose the fact we were being pressured by the Russians for some of our land, was a good reason to keep our population census higher too.
Many of our neighbors, as well as my father in law, Dicker Helzer, sold their dusch (land allotment) when departing the area, but in the case of my father-in-law, who died in Minsk, his family returned to Norka, and the Bolsheviks made the buyer get off the property and return it to them. They insisted that only people actually living in the household were entitled to land, another reason was because the buyer had paid in Czar’s moneys, which the new regime didn't recognize. My aunt and her husband, Dach Grabbler Schreiber, had sold their dusch and personal property to an Adams family in 1912, but when the Bolsheviks took over they nullified all such transactions that didn't include on-site owners. This meant that Adams were farming the Schreiber land shares, but had no people on the premises to cover the amount of dusch that they were farming, so the land was confiscated from the Adams.
The village was defined as Unterdorf (lower village), Mitteldorf (middle village), and Oberdorf (upper village), each portion having its own school, except for when we had to build the Russian school, which was used by all and located in Mitteldorf, across the road from the church, which was in the ninth row and the old and new cemeteries lay in the fields south of the church and schools in Mitteldorf. I attended Russian school for one year, after eight years of German, then was old enough to quit. There were nine rows of houses and buildings in Norka, and a short tenth row on the west end, or Oberdorf end. We had water running on both the north side of the village, and on the south side. This was spring water, which came out of the hills above Norka on the west, and the flow on the south was deeper and called Ella Bahn, or Borne, and the water on the north was Grosse Bahn Quella (the large spring). The bodies of water came together at a point east of the village, where a dam was built, along with the bridge over it, and it is called Norka River on many maps. In the summer you could ford this knee high water some places. Most of the villagers were farmers, but as villages go, almost every village had a supply of blacksmiths, wagon makers, shoemakers, carpenters, and various other laboring people who weren't interested in farming for themselves, or may have used the farming for a part of their livelihood, along with a trade. There were actually people, who sold their dusch to people for cash, or had it farmed for shares and they did work for others.
Faiglers’ leather tannery was a big employer, and at different times of the year they hired as many men as the biggest flour mill owner hired. They bought hides, which were soaked in a solution to loosen the animal hair, and at just the right period of soaking time, they were removed from the 16 or 20 foot diameter vats of solution, and scraped clean, then placed into another rinse bath, then this was followed by a soak in a dye solution, for the color of leather that was preferred. During the revolution years, and when an animal sickness hit our village, so many animals died, that the Faiglers couldn't handle all of the business, so many of us had to go ask for directions, which Mr. Faigler supplied, and we learned to cure some of our own hides. Mr. Faigler was considered a generous employer who gave schnapps breaks and a good noon meal to his employees.
Reicher (rich) Schleining owned a general merchandise store, had a mill, fruit and vegetable yards, and farmed land with about twenty teams of horses and oxen. He hired many people to run his enterprise, and also raised one of my uncles when my grandparents died of cholera in the 1860’s and my father and his three brothers were orphaned.
Heinrich Liehl (also Lehl), who was my brother-in-law, and nicknamed Rote Schintler, meaning he was redheaded, and a coat or belz (fur) maker, was known through most villages as one of the best leather coat makers in the colonies. He would be called to the best homes, where he stayed until he finished making the great coats for all family members, receiving free room and board, plus good wages for his work. He and my sister had eleven sons, and when she was pregnant with a twelfth child, the Czar sent a representative to our village and told them if it was a boy, they were to receive a gold medal for having twelve sons. It was a girl, and she died a horrible death at about age two, from drinking a lye solution left after the making of home made soap. This was the liquid under the soap and used for scrubbing. It was actually a better cleaner than the soap.
There were four roads that ran through the village from east to west, and a short fifth road, which ran from the southwest corner to about the center of the village. These ran between nine rows of houses and a short tenth row. There was a wide road around the north side, which branched from the regular road from Schilling, at Oxa Grava and people from Oberdorf or Mitteldorf could by pass going through Unterdorf on this road, which sped up their trip home from Schilling, and also kept the dust down for Unterdorf residents. This was principally built for the purpose of hauling the grain right from the threshing area, gumno to Schilling, without having to take all of the wagons into the residential areas.
There were four springs which were actually all on the northern side of the village, spread from the east near Mitteldorf, the first was called Brills Bahn or Borne. The spring itself was almost a verst (about 3,500 feet) out from the creek named Grosse Bahn, but the water was brought through a flue to a bricked storage reservoirs built at the edge of the creek, so the overflow from the reservoirs ran into this Grosse Bahn creek. The people had built wooden flues from a type of hollow tree that was readily available in the early days. They also used these hollow type trees for funneling water from the reservoirs into their tank wagons. The second spring which was fed to storage reservoirs several blocks further west of Brills Bahn, was Grosse Bahn, and probably had the most water flow, which probably was the reason the creek itself was called Grosse Bahn. The third spring which was flued to the creek edge in Oberdorf might have been called Lippardts Bahn, but most people in Unterdorf referred to it as Fatza Bahn, and anyone I ever asked about this springs name, laughed shyly, then gave me this name, but none knew why. Above Oberdorf was a fourth spring, which was also flued from where the springs came out of the ground, to a couple of storage reservoirs, with the overflow going into the creek. As stated before, the actual springs were further out in the land, with the water diverted to the reservoirs at the edge of the creek, otherwise what was the gumno area would have been all muddy roadways to the springs themselves, which would have ran down to the creek over the ground.
In the Oberdorf was a ravine which was called Gassa Grava (goat canyon) and was about two or so city blocks wide and impassable by wagon. It ran north and south through the nine rows of homes, and the short tenth row started at Gassa Grava and ran from there west to the end of the village. The through traffic went on a road around the ravine on the south side between the ninth and this short tenth row. On the north side the folk traveled around the ravine on a gumno (threshing area) road.
The third church was built in about 1880, and the lumber for it was sawed and hauled from Schilling. The upright timbers were hauled to Norka, setting on three large wagons, one behind the other, similar to what a log truck and tagging trailer look like today. The debarked timbers (like telephone poles) were rolled onto a specially built crib where a man standing on the timber could stand and saw, while a man beneath handled the other end of the long two man saw. They halved the poles lengthwise, then stood them in holes forming the church walls, similar to how pole barns are built. They placed the flat side out and the rounded side was facing into the interior of the church. They built a Lammastahn (rammed earth blocks) foundation between the poles, as the foundation for the wooden floored church. It was large and beautiful. A man from the village of Anton made the hollow boxed metal cross, and hauled it to Norka, where he painted it and the villagers turned out to raise it into place. The steeple was built with a slot to drop the heavy cross into at the peak. The man hooked a block at the peak, and passed a rope through it, with one end of the rope tied to the cross, and the other through a block anchored in the schoolyard next door. The people standing below pulled on the rope until the cross was up to the block on the steeple, where the man guided it up and into the slot that had been made for the cross to slide down into, then it was fastened securely, and all of the villagers participating in the festivities had a celebration giving thanks to the Lord for the accomplishments. This was the fact related to me by my parents and Aunt Lena (Derr) Weidenkellar, who were there at the time.
The Glocke Stuhl (bell tower) was on a lot next to, and behind the church, and was about thirty-foot high with three large bells. The bells hung in the top of the structure and there was a platform built about halfway up in the structure, where the choir could set to sing at festive occasions. The large bell, which weighed over three hundred pounds, was said to be audible for a distance of five versts. It was rung continuously when there was a snow blizzard or heavy fog and people were known to be out of the village after it turned dark. The pealing of the bell led many folk home safely when they were lost in a snow blizzard. There were bell ringings for summoning folk, for spontaneous meetings, for fire alarms, for church services and funerals. Volga Germans were great on bell ringing. In case of fire anywhere in the village, it was required that anyone seeing a fire start running toward the bell tower yelling "fire, fire" at the top of their lungs, this causing someone several blocks closer to the bells to yell it, then they take up the run. By this method the alarm was relayed to someone who could ring the bell although had no idea where the fire was, but the alarm was in before the original person moved more than a block or two. There were people in various parts of the village who kept wagons or carts handy for fire fighting, with pales, axes or other equipment such as ladders. If they got to a fire and controlled it with their efforts saving a lot of damage, they were rewarded greatly by the Gemeinde (elders of the town council).
Two of the older Norka schools were replaced with new ones in about 1915. One in Oberdorf, and one in Unterdorf. The new and larger Russian school had been built next to the church in 1905 when we were ordered to learn the Russian language along with the German we had been wholly learning previously. The old Unterdorf school in my school days had been known as the Kaiser school. It was because it was located next to the property of a family named Kaiser. Old timers who came to America still referred to it as the Kaiser school. In 1909, when I went to the Russian school in Mitteldorf, my teacher’s name was Hill. He was referred to as Gigl Schnitter. I attended for about a year, then just stayed home and helped do the farming and hauling merchandise to help support the family. The most affluent of the village would send their children to Saratov to boarding school, where they learned both German and Russian. They were then capable of getting good employment, in cities, or higher positions in the Russian military.
We had a hospital built in 1914. It housed a Jewish doctor and a Russian dentist. Previously, our needs were handled by local people with medical sense or we had to travel to Balzer or some other village with a doctor. The new hospital was on ground east of the old cemetery, and out the south edge of the village on the road that led to the Huckere Bridge, which we had to cross to travel to the village of Huck. This ground was referred to as Reides Bahn Felte where the villagers held an annual sale, similar to the flea markets of today. It was referred to as Jahr Merk (years mark). Nearly everyone brought things to sell, and people came from other villages to buy things we were selling. People like Mr. Faigler, the leather tanner, set up booths loaded with tons of leather goods, and the Russian buyers from other villages usually bought out all of the red dyed leather quickly. Katza (cat skinner) Sinner brought caps made of hides of lambs, cats, or wild fur bearing animals. Besides buying cat hides and such, he skinned birds and feathered creatures, which was used for ladies finery. Katza Sinner was the noted village taxidermist. The sales lasted a week and you always bought more than you sold, unless you were the exception. The Jahr Merk was held in the month of October.
The highest point of the village was just north of the northeast corner of Krieger’s private bridge. From the top of rise you could see roofs of most houses in Unterdorf. The ground sloped downward toward the south, and the low brushy area on the southern edge was called Weins Grava and was actually outside of the village rows of houses, but included in all village census and activities. The roadways and houses of Weins Grava were scattered in gullies or ravines east to west, rather than rows of houses as in the village rows. The village stone or rock quarry was just across the Huckere Bridge and down a steep incline to the right side of the roadway.
Every Thursday the villagers of Norka held an open market, or street market. There were booths set up in the first row from the courthouse east to Faigler’s leather works. People brought food and wares. Tinkers or traveling salesmen brought merchandise too. Biggest selling items were usually roots for tea, (sweet wood) rice, and Hirsche (pearl barley). Hirsche brei (also Hirsebrei - a millet gruel) was most people’s breakfast. We villagers raised some gardens, but generally we specialized in grain, which we sold, then bought things such as tomatoes, watermelons, tobacco, fish, rice, and many of the everyday things people nowadays have the idea we raised ourselves. People on meadow side of Volga had better earth, so raised more items themselves. Even sunflower seeds, we bought mostly from Russian peddlers. In about 1905, the Russian people were so disillusioned with their government that bands of Bundofschieks (rebels) raided stores owned by Jews in the Russian villages, where they threw the contents out into the streets where others carried the things away. Many Jews were beaten to death or maimed. In another such episode at that time, a Norka family named Hefeneader who owned a mill in a Russian village, were killed and their mill burned by a band of Bundofschieks. A family friend, Adam Schwartz, employed by the Hefeneaders hid in a bedding drawer, which slid under a high bed when the shooting started, so wasn't found. He later related the events to our village elders, who sent wagons of Hessler family, Schnell family, and our family, to go move what was salvageable from the Hefeneader property that was destroyed. The Hessler's, who were neighbors of ours, were related to the Hefeneaders and Garte (Garden) Krieger’s wife was their daughter.
In the first row of Unterdorf near Garte Krieger’s private bridge and driveway lived several families who were herdsmen of Unterdorf cattle, sheep and swine. An old man named Schleuning (also Schleining) who had worked for old Mr. Peter Sinner at the mill when young, was a sheepherder. A man named Dinges was a cattle herdsman. An old man named Brill was a shepherd. These three families lived at the outer edge of Unterdorf in the first row between Hoota Grava and Garte Krieger’s bridge. A lot of younger men herded the swine and a great story always concerned the young man who always did a good job of keeping the swine out in pasture unless he had a date on Friday or Saturday night, at which time he was notorious for getting the swine back home hours early. One man got distraught over this and one day cornered the young man at the gate when he brought the pigs in early and inquired why the pigs were being brought in at this early hour? The fast thinking young man said, "the pastor’s pigs are full, so it's time we brought them all in." Herders were paid in cash or products by the animal owners.
The affairs of the village were handled by the Gemeinde which consisted of one senior member from each household. This was the large Gemeinde, which usually entered into big, long, bitter, all night sessions on the pro’s and con’s of most village affairs. If they were stalemated, there was a small Gemeinde of businessmen, Vorsteher (mayor), Schreiber (secretary), schoolmaster, and preacher, who then decided the issue. Before Reverend Wilhelm Staerkel was retired though, he had unprecedented power given him by the Winska Na Schelnic (the highest Russian official in Saratov). This man came to Norka in the first automobile I ever saw, in about 1903‑05, for a meeting with the pastor, and we little boys chased it from the Russe Bruek (Russian Bridge) to the Grashaus (courthouse). Reverend Staerkel wore this gold medallion attached to crossed leather straps, which fit over his shoulders and crossed under the medallion in the center of his chest.
Our schoolmaster, Karl Leonhardt, who replaced Lehl was also the church organist and choir director. He was the finest organist I ever heard play, and we had such a huge set of pipes for our church organ, that the largest was about the same diameter as a skinny man. He was fired by Reverend Staerkel years later. He was supposed to have gotten a young teenaged girl pregnant. He was then replaced by another Leonhardt (Sasha) who was also from Grimm where Karl had come from. They were probably distantly related too. The younger Leonhardt came to the United States in about 1970 or so to visit relatives and friends in the Midwest, Oregon and Washington. My wife and I went to visit with him. Upon his return to Russia he was very helpful to our nephew in Siberia, with paperwork and advice, in the nephew’s visit to us for three months in 1972.
There were lime pits out on the land around Norka, which people brought in to use for making a stucco finish to their houses. We had a rock quarry‑gravel pit across the Huckere Bridge going south out of Norka toward Huck. The ingredients at the site of the Pauli (also Pauly) brickyards on the eastern edge was ideal for brick making, so it was built there on the site. Many people raised sugar beets, which they then boiled into heavy sweet syrup which we used for sweetening like you do granulated sugar today. In the earlier days of Norka, there had been large trees and underbrush around the village, but by the time I was born it was pretty well cleared of large trees. However, we did have brushy ravines to the south of the village, and several that ran north along the roads to Rybuschka and villages to the northwest.
The preachers we had that I know of from family discussions start with Reverend Bonwetsch, who watched Wilhelm Staerkel as a youth playing the game of that day called Gausa. A game where you tossed barnockels (chestnuts) taken off the legs of dead horses, and played somewhat like marbles in later years. He took Staerkel and had him schooled to be a preacher, and Staerkel later married Beate Bonwetsch. When Reverend Staerkel became senile they put in Reverend Weigum and semi‑retired Staerkel. When Weigum left we got a young Reverend Wacker My grandfather used to tell me how good Staerkel was at playing Gausa, and how Reverend Bonwetsch always remarked that "Willie" would make a good preacher for Norka. Reverend Staerkel had come to the United States in the 1860's, as well as Jerusalem. He was instrumental in villagers leaving Russia to come to America, as well as organizing the Brethren of the Versammlung. While I was in the army, he became lost in a snowstorm between Huck and Norka, when he wandered off toward Huck, rather than go to the church in Norka to assist Reverend Weigum with communion. He hadn't shown up at the church and when they sent for him, his daughter said he had left hours ago. They found him and he survived, but died of natural causes before I got home from Turkey.
I was the youngest of the seven children of George Brill and Elizabeth (Derr) Brill. As with my brothers and sisters, we were all born in grandpa Derr’s house. My eldest sister in the late 1870's, followed by three brothers and two sisters, then me in 1895. The grandparents Derr had six girls and no sons, so under the dusch system, where each male child born was given a parcel of land, the Grandparents Derr were in a desperate situation, as they had eight family members and only one parcel of land. My Brill grandparents both died of cholera in the 1860's, leaving four sons orphaned, so the four sons were raised by other families. My dad, George Brill was raised by the Philip Hertes (Harts), his mothers parents, in the village of Huck. When he grew older he left Huck and returned to Norka. He hired out to the Derrs and eventually married the eldest daughter. Generally when a couple married, the woman would move into the husbands household and share work with sister in‑laws, while the mother in law oversaw the daily tasks. Since dad was without parents and a household he lived with the Grandparents Derr. This situation worked well for the grandparents Derr because they were able to obtain more land after my parents had four sons and three daughters born into the their house.
The ladies of the house changed chores each week, unless they preferred certain tasks and agreed to do that chore regularly. When fieldwork was at a priority, all hands fell to that task before any other consideration. Grandma and one female could run things at the house in the village, while everyone else camped out on the ground at the planting or harvesting site, until the task was complete, except to come into the village Saturday night, so as to make church on Sunday. Almost everyone had to make church on Sunday, if only to impress the neighbors. A lot of people, who were shorthanded on help, could hire girls for 20 kopecs per day for threshing grain and such. Several neighbors would haul wagon loads of Russian girls to their fields to help with threshing. These girls would sing and work all day.
My three Brill uncles lived in Norka and had families there. My dads nickname was der Hucker Brill, because his Herte grandparents had raised him in Huck. His brother, Uncle Conrad, was raised by a Schleuning (Schleining) family, who had vast land holdings of fruit orchards and vegetable gardens and also owned the Schleuning’s Mill and Lofka (mercantile store). They were referred to as the Reicher (rich) Schleinings, so Uncle Conrad’s nickname was der Reicher Schleining’s Brill. Uncle Philip Brill was raised by a woodsman’s family and was always called Bilschiek (logger) Brill. The other Uncle Heinrich died while I was only five or six, so wasn't around for me to learn who raised him, or what his nickname was. I do remember going with my mother as a toddler, to visit her and their only son, who was also named Conrad as I was. He was about ten years older than I and mother and I went to see them and wish them a safe journey when they left Norka to go to America with her new husband named Gerlach, in about 1905.
My Derr aunts all married in Norka and later came to America, except for my mother and dad and a younger sister named Dimbet, who married a Schleining, who was younger brother of Jacob Schleining, who married my sister Elizabeth and came to Portland Oregon in 1906. One of my Derr aunts had a child out of wedlock, about the same age as my older brother. When she married a widower with three daughters, the widower refused to accept her child, so the grandparents Derr raised him and had him of naming children, which went on in those times. I had a brother Conrad, born November 15, 1889 and he was named after our Uncle Conrad. I was born in 1895 and named Conrad after our cousin and uncle, Conrad Derr. In those times, it usually worked out that older parents having children would die before getting the younger ones raised, so you chose a Godfather who would step in and raise the child, and you honored him by naming the child after him, so we had Conrad, then I was Conrad, but to be called Konretja, to keep us separated name wise.
My childhood was relatively happy until after grandmother Derr died. I usually spent most of my days with grandpa Derr and he as head of the household did only the lighter tasks and lots of visiting around the village, which irritated my older sisters, as I hauled water, harrowed seed into the fresh worked sail, to get it baptized as Conrad Derr and when I was baptized, he was my godfather. This is a good place to explain the custom covered before the birds landed and ate it, and went with grandpa on many occasions, while they were out doing heavy fieldwork. Grandpa, like most older people, got lonely and talkative on most of these occasions and would tell me all about the village, it's older inhabitants and what life was like when he was, growing up. We hauled water from centrally located reservoirs in water wagons, which we could use in winter with sled runners instead of wheels.
Twice a day during farming season, we would ride a horse and lead the rest, to a creek, or to the watering troughs around the village to let them drink. In the winter we usually only did this once. We kept most horses inside a corral in the winter, unshod, except a team with ice shoes, which we used to pull the water sled. In the summer we also took the sweated horses to a river and swam them, to clean and wash the salty dried sweat off their bodies. When I harrowed seed into the ground, I was usually on the back of a horse pulling a harrow and tied behind was another horse pulling a harrow and sometimes a third horse, because the seed would surely be eaten by birds if you didn't get it covered almost as quickly as the women hand broadcast it onto the ground. Grandma Derr died about 1902 and then life would take a dramatic change for all of us. We were hauling manure to the fields the day a neighbor girl rode out on horseback to inform us that grandmother had died.
When grandma died, the well-meaning friends from church and prayer meeting talked grandpa into marrying a younger widow with a sixteen-year-old daughter, from the village of Huck. Things quickly turned bad, as my mother was then eldest female and rightfully should have now been head of the house; instead she had a stepmother younger than she was, with a daughter who quickly married Conrad. Gosshorn Derr, the grandson whom Grandpa Derr was raising as a son. My parents decided that it would be best if we now had a home of our own, rather than live in this pressured atmosphere, especially after the males in our family being the main reason Grandpa Derr had accumulated his worldly goods, not to mention over 25 years work, and with him raising the son of a daughter as his own son, that child would eventually inherit everything according to laws then. My father bought a dance hall from Dicker (fatty) Helzer, who had used it for the week long day and night harvest celebrations each fall, and as it was at harvest time, we had one more harvest festival in it, then dismantled it and rebuilt it into a house for our family, on a spot with a shack where a widowed shoemaker lived. My eldest sister had married Heinrich Rote Schintler (redheaded coat maker) Lehl and wasn't home with us anymore. There were divisions of implements, wagons and horses and such, but it was hard on everyone concerned, especially me. Now I didn't see much of grandpa, my friend, and when he did come over and complain to my mother that his younger wife wasn't all he had hoped for, my mother was very short with him and quick to tell him that there was no fool like an old fool where younger women were concerned, so I didn't have many more great adventures with my friend and companion, Grandpa Derr. To make it worse, the few young male friends who lived around Grandpa Derr were also to be missed. Gruen Hannes (John Green) was a boyhood friend, but his parents moved away to another village too, so I had to make new friends at a new location in Unterdorf. I got the measles while the house was being built and we lived in the shack on the property. It was the sickest I can remember being in all of my years in Russia. I soon made friends at the new neighborhood, and went to Unterdorf’s "Kaiser" school. So named because it was next door to a family named Kaiser and I remember the man being referred to as Deffe (deaf) Kaiser. My closest friends were two Krieger brothers, Henry and Alex and Adam Hahn, with whom I kept up our friendship from Grandpa Derr’s neighborhood. Adam was the son of Heinrich (Henry) Hahn, who had about five other children, some of whom were already married, with children. The people called Adam, Saltzman Hahn. It was said that old Mr. Hahn was too old for sex and Saltzman was a peddler or tinker who came to Norka peddling housewares regularly, who used to park in the Hahn’s yard during his stay in Norka and he was the biological father of Adam. Nobody ever denied it, and when I met some of Adam’s nephews later in United States they never even knew they had an Uncle Adam, so I am sure it was true and the married members of the family ignored Adams being born into the family. The tragic part is that most of the grown-ups called him this to his face, as did older children to humiliate him.
Some of the exciting things happening about this time, was when we boys saw our first automobile. It came into the village over the Spady bridge, so called because a family named Spady lived there when it was built over the Grosse Bahn at that spot, but Spady had since moved, but it was the road you left Norka on if traveling toward Saratov. We boys chased it all the way to the Grashaus (courthouse) where the Winska na Schelnick (territorial governor) sent word to get Reverend Staerkel, which was done and that was the first time I ever saw anyone else in charge over Reverend Staerkel in my young life.
One day we even had a German pilot fly an airplane over the village at a low altitude, and for years the people talked about the fiery man who flew over the village. He was so low you could see his teeth as he waved, while the exhaust belched smoke and noise all over the place. We had a lot of friends, relatives and even family leaving for the USA, Canada and elsewhere while I was a boy. Usually they left for Germany or Belgium from there. Reverend Staerkel had been to America and was instrumental in encouraging many of our villagers to make the move to the Midwestern States for continuing farming in USA. People leaving at this time, would sell their dusch to a relative or friend, for almost what a ships fare was, then that buyer had that land share, as if he had another male child. I believe that this was really illegal to Russia's laws, but our authorities kept the departing villagers name an the village census to insure that we wouldn't lose any of our land to the neighboring Russian villagers, who were clamoring for land, because they had overpopulation of people, but a shortage of land, since they arrived after our villages were laid out in the early days, after arriving from Germany. My sister Elizabeth helped take the census in 1902 and I don't think it was taken again until 1914, so I know that we kept farming our male shares after two brothers had left for United States. and an aunt and uncle sold theirs to an Adams family in 1912/13. After the revolution these sales were null and void and only people, male and female, living on the premises, were allowed shares of land, which really hurt the buyer, who had made purchases of four or five dusch, just before the revolution.
Many Russian peddlers came through Norka selling produce, fish, tobacco, woven cloth, watermelons and almost anything imaginable. On occasion the peddlers would have several of their children in the wagon with them. Maybe to put you in a buying mood because you saw he had children to raise. We would stay out of eye sight of the Russian parent and also our own, but when we got the eye of the youngster, we would scratch under our armpits imitating monkey or ape, then they would rub their finger under their nose, or pinch their nose with finger and thumb. We relayed to them that they had cooties or bedbugs, while they got back at us meaning we stink. For entertainment we played soccer, flew kites, swam, or went down to Schmier Bossum (grease smeared busom) Burback's fruit orchards copping fruit when it was ripe. We used to walk through the orchards to get to the swimming hole, so we knew where the different fruits were and when it was at it's best. One day we saw workers picking, so we gave the orchard a wide berth and stayed on the road. The foreman waved us over and asked us if we didn't want some good ripe pears. We were amazed and said yes, and he even helped boost us up a tree nearby. We should have been suspicious, as he was carrying a beekeepers hood. When we got up the tree he threw dirt clods at several beehives under the next tree, getting them infuriated and we boys had some real welts by the time we got out of the area.
In the winter we played hockey on frozen ponds and had sing a longs in houses. The cows and horses stayed in the corral all winter, so we had to walk them to drink at horse troughs sat at different locations throughout the village. I would tie several together and ride one. When they were being worked we watered them several times a day, but in winter once or twice, usually in the morning and again at suppertime. We played tricks on people too, usually on old folk who had nobody around to give us a swift kick for bothering the old-timers. We had an old lady who spun thread, and she sat with her back to the window on the street-side, so the setting sun would give light an her work. We took a long fine metal drill bit and worked a hole around her window casing and she kept a halved wooden barrel full of a mixture she would dip her fingers into at intervals to make twisting the material easier. We put a long metal rod through the hole and tipped her container over when she was engrossed in her spinning. Of course we got out of sight and stayed away from her house for several days after.
There were people who trapped wild canaries out in the threshing fields in early spring when there was still snow on the ground. They made packed snow trough, which they seeded with handfuls of grain and maybe some raw side pork. They layered horsetail hairs back and forth over this bird bait then left, so they weren't seen. When the wild canaries landed in the horsetail hair and started eating, their feet became entangled. Sometimes they could get several before they could untangle themselves, but it seemed they always had a house full, which they raised for hatching and selling as household pets in the neighboring village sales.
We had an old neighbor named Vetter (uncle) Ludwig Reisbick. He and his wife had several children who had left Norka and had gone to the USA. They were real nice friendly people, and old Vetter Ludwig loved wild canaries and their singing. One day he was coming in from the pasture lands just so thrilled by the bird singing he had heard on his walk. He elaborated it and the songs of the birds to my mother and all he met. Our neighbor Vorsteher der Rupe Kleiber was working in his yard, and when old Vetter Ludwig left after the bird discussion, he called us four boys over and gave us several kopecs for candy and told us to keep out of sight, but if we saw Vetter Ludwig outdoors, we should hide and imitate the wild canaries. We did this strenuously for several days, keeping the old gent running from one side of his yard to the other trying to see the birds. I think Vetter Ludwig was Klieber’s father in law. One night we went into the barn and caught several sparrows, which we took over to the Reisbick’s. They were baking squash and had a table full cooling when we got there. They invited us in when we knocked and we turned the sparrows loose without their knowing we had brought them in. They asked us to help them get the birds out and while we chased the birds, Adam held the door open and also proceeded to snatch a half of squash and set it outside. Mrs. Reisbick had seen him and said "Vater, Vater," (father, father) he just stole a squash. The old gent said, "let it be mother, the boys are probably hungry too." This made us ashamed for a few days, until we caught more sparrows and dropped them between the double panes of window glass in a window that had a broken corner and the birds drove the old couple wild trying to get the birds out without taking a window out. Old Vetter Ludwig had the nickname of Flopjer (flapper) Reisbick. They had a dog which had rabies or foaming at the mouth, and they were trying to pen it up before it bit someone, but the dog wouldn't get into the pen, so they wound up chasing it all through the neighborhood trying to get it home and penned. Neighbors coming out to help laughed at old Vetter Ludwig running down the street with a big leather belz (sheepskin coat) on, with hands in the pockets and waving the coattails like a bird flapping it's wings. Mr. Klieber said, "look at that old flobjer, and so that nickname was used for Vetter Ludwig as long as I knew him.
Reverend Wilhelm Staerkel was probably the most powerful authority in Norka and our neighboring villages. He was born in 1839 and died in 1915. He wore a huge round medallion, mounted on crossed belts on his chest, for official meetings. This was bestowed on him by the territorial governor in Saratov. My Granddad Derr told me that when Wilhelm Staerkel was a boy, they always played Gausa. It was similar to marbles in this country, but the barnacles, or chestnuts (toes), off a dead horses legs were used, and they were thrown rather than shot like marbles. Reverend Bonewetch used to travel the circuit preaching and he was always watching the Gausa tournaments, which Wilhelm Staerkel usually won. He always made the statement that, "that Willie Staerkel would make a good pastor for Norka." He later took him from Norka and got him involved in his pastoral life.
We had a schoolmaster named Lehl, who had gotten into some problem, which led to his dismissal. The population was against the dismissal and asked for a town council meeting, at which they decided to reinstate Lehl. When Rev. Staerkel heard of this, he instituted another town council meeting, at which he wore his medallion, and when he stood, he took hold of his crossed belts with both hands, shoving the medallion forward with his two thumbs and said, "I said this man is discharged, and so he is, and if anyone wants to disagree with my order, I will send him and the schoolmaster both, to Siberia." The schoolmaster was fired and nobody stood up to argue the point.
Rev. Staerkel and his wife, I believe she was born Beatrice Bonwetsch, never had any children. One cold night their housekeeper heard a faint noise on the porch, so opened the door and found a snuggly wrapped little baby girl in a basket. The Staerkel’s raised that girl, who was about my age and they named her Hulda. She was alive and caring for her aged father when I left Norka to go into the Russian Army to Turkey in 1914. They say that Reverend Staerkel became senile, so in a way of speaking, they defrocked him, bringing in a younger Pastor Weigum, whom Rev. Staerkel would assist at times, by sermons in Huck or nearby. Reverend Staerkel was to assist Reverend Weigum for confirmation but didn't show up, so the Reverend Weigum sent someone to his house looking for him, and Hulda informed them he had left hours earlier, so they sent out a search party and discovered him wandering in the area between Norka and Huck. He was very ill from this experience, but survived. He did die before I came home from the war, but he had confirmed me, married me and my first wife Anna, and had given me my last communion before I left for the army.
School was always secondary to the work of farming. We attended if we weren't needed for farm work. I missed more school after Grandpa Derr died, and also got into heavier work. Rupe Klieber’s son needed a wagon and teamster to haul a load of eggs to Saratov, which he could sell out in a few hours on a street corner. I was only nine years old, but I suppose because Klieber’s son was married and living at home, my folks spared me to drive the team, knowing he was adult enough not to leave me get fouled up, and besides if they just loaned him a team and wagon our family wouldn't get compensated. We layered the wagon bottom with four or five inches of straw, spread a canvas over this, then covered the whole canvas with eggs packed so tightly they couldn't bounce or roll together. Over this we placed another four or five inches of straw then canvas again. This we did until the egg load was to the top of the wagon sides. We then covered the eggs and put on a canvas we tied tightly to the wagon sides and drove it to Saratov, about 60 kilometers away. When we uncovered them and sold them, we lost less than a dozen by breakage. The next fall, a lady from Saratov came to Norka and bought a wagon load of potatoes and hired our wagon and me to haul them to Saratov for her. Dad got five rubles for the haul, while I had hours of misery during my drive home through the Kasacka Wald (Cossack Woods) an area where many passers by were robbed and murdered for their belongings, between Rybuschka and Saratov.
In 1902, when Jacob Schleining was courting my sister Elizabeth, she had a suitor named Weisel (Whitey) Schlidt. He was always trying to be her favorite boyfriend, but she preferred going with Jacob Schleining. Whitey and several of his friends would lie in wait for Jacob after he left our house and rough him up. He was from Oberdorf, and boys from there weren't looked on in favor by the boys from Unterdorf. It was the same the other way too, because my brother Johannes, was always picked on by his girlfriends uncle up in Oberdorf, when he was courting Katherine Sinner, daughter of the taxidermist, Katza Sinner. They too later married, but her uncle never treated Johannes as an in-law. It got so that Grandpa Derr used to walk Jacob Schleining halfway home. He was a big man, and the bullies never acted up when he walked with Jacob.
My oldest brother, George and his wife Louisa Schnel left Norka for Portland, Oregon in 1907. Some of our relatives already over, wrote back and said, "over here they pay you a dollar a day to lay on your back greasing railroad cars, and you can live in town without farming. They gave me their spotted dog and left, so I had my own pet. In 1906, my sister Elizabeth and her husband Jacob Schleining with their daughter Katherine had left Norka for Portland also. They left during the snowiest and coldest storm I can ever remember us having in Norka. They had wanted to leave in about 1903, but Jacob’s father went to the Reverend and the Gemeinde and claimed he was needed at home to help his parents farm the land, so permission was refused. Soon after, Jacob was drafted and sent to the Russo‑Japanese war. When he got back from the army, he went to the town council meeting and stated that he had been refused permission before because of helping his parents, then he was sent to the army where he was no help to the parents, so now he was getting permission, or going to the Russian authorities in Saratov. He got the permission and passport and they left.
We hauled our grain to Schilling, a port city on the Volga, where we sold it to buyers at the docks where barges lay waiting. During poor yield years there wasn't much problem selling, but when the grain was plentiful, the buyers would get together and make a pact to reduce the prices we got. Six or eight would lie around acting indifferent to whether or not they wanted to buy, which panicked the farmer who hauled it such a long way and didn't want to take it back home. After fleecing you on the price, they put it aboard the barges, which hauled it to Germany, or other parts of Russia or other countries. We could buy a load of watermelons from barges in Schilling for one kopec each. Usually we would fill the wagon with watermelon or lumber for the trip back. Our family hauled many loads of freight back for Julla Spady who owned a mercantile store and had all his wares hauled, rather than own horses and wagons.
We had four large storage bunkers in Norka, which were community owned, where the next seed crop was placed and enough surplus to carry over shortfall people. You could borrow from the surplus if you ran out in your own grain bins at home, then repay at the next crop. Many single men who owned a dusch didn't do any farming. They sold it and worked for wages. An orphan male was easy to place with a relative, or friends, for his land dusch. Girls were not as lucky and usually were placed where they were over worked for their keep. In earlier times there was an orphanage in Unterdorf, called Tantas Haus (aunt's house) but it was discontinued and the council rented the property out. We would submerge watermelon into the grain in our family bins, to keep over into late year. We made watermelon syrup and sugar beet syrup, which was canned and used as sweetener, like sugar in the winter.
On the Bergseite (hilly side) of the Volga, we didn't raise everything ourselves. Instead we raised grain, which we sold, and some garden, but most of our vegetables and needs were bought in other villages, or from peddlers coming to the village sale each Thursday. There were Russian fish peddlers who came through selling smoked, salted, or fresh fish. The Russian peddler would rather trade goods than sell for cash. You could get three fair sized fish for an egg. The peddler would yell that he had smoked fish to sell, and we youngsters would make raids on the family chicken houses before the mothers knew the peddler was in town. When he was gone, we would gather at a favorite meeting place and eat smoked fish.
We had a man named Karamysh Miller, because he had a mill and pond on the river, where he had hundreds of ducks and geese on his pond. Occasionally he would see a duck taken under water, never to reappear. One day he came into Norka about noon with his buggy, containing the biggest fish I had ever seen, a Hake. It's tail hung over the tailgate. He hauled it up to the Grashaus (courthouse) door to display, because nobody had believed he had fish in his pond that could swallow a duck in one gulp. He had patiently watched, then shot it with a shotgun as it grabbed a duck. This man lived in Norka, near the courthouse, but made his living with his mill on the river, grinding flour for Russian villagers nearby. The fee for grinding flour was generally a big scoop for each pud (about 36 pounds) ground. The mill workers wore still leather coats to keep the dust out of their clothes, and a tricky scooper could scoop almost another scoop into his leather sleeve with each scoop, causing many unhappy customers and leading to many farmers dislike to a certain scooper. This was another practice the Russian government stopped after the Revolution. The farmer paid cash for grinding, and the miller bought grain from the farmer for cash.
A family named Hefeneader (also Hefeneider) lived in the first raw in Norka, at Unterdorf and Mitteldorf line. For years as a boy I heard gossip about how they got their wealth, so I always consider that part of it as a ghost story, but their death, later on, while I was a boy, and described to our villagers by a family friend, Adam, Soie ohmer schiezer Schwartz, was a truly tragic ending. The Hefeneader's neighbors, the Aschenbrenner's, used to tell that back in the 1860‑70's, a Russian peasant came to the Hefeneader's door on a cold rainy night, seeking food and shelter. They fed him and gave him a place to sleep in the cellar. At that time they had a poor mans home like most of the neighboring villagers. What I can remember of the home in 1905 era, is a beautiful brick place, with brick or cement block outbuildings, a building with hewn, notched logs, (log cabin style) all with metal roofs, which was a sign of wealth. The place also had a solid wood fence around it, covered with metal. The story was that in those earlier days, the Hefeneader's were rewarded by this peasant, who stayed on with them, with money he made for them in appreciation far the food and lodging. As the story went, he had just been released from confinement for counterfeiting and supposedly had treasury plates or counterfeit plates in his possession. He was supposed to have made money for them, but was ready to leave, but they decided to keep him as a secret prisoner, forcing him to make more money. They built the nice brick home, then the outbuildings and fence. Later they built a flour mill in a Russian village near Saratov. Mrs. Aschenbrenner could tell for hours of the trips from cellar to house the Russian must have made dragging chains, which they could hear rattling as he was hauled back and forth in the night. She said he must have died and was eventually thrown into an old well and the log shed built over it when he died.
In period about 1905 to 1909, when the Russians peasants in the cities were raiding and looting the Jewish stores, sometimes burning them, a group of Russian bandits rode into the mill property shooting all of the employees and the old Hefeneader couple too. Adam Schwartz was there working for them and was in his bedroom getting dressed when he heard the hoof beats of the riders coming into the yard, then screaming and shooting started, so he crawled into the bedding drawer under the bed, pulling a quilt down over himself, so he wasn't discovered. He walked back to Norka to inform our village councilors of the raid, and they sent three wagons to go to the mill and bring back any salvageable property they could. My brothers John and Conrad took a wagon, as did a neighbor Hessler, who was a relative of Hefeneaders. Garte Krieger was married to the Hefeneader's daughter. The home of the Hefeneader's was taken over by the Russian government and used as the State owned liquor store after the death of the old couple. It was situated next door to the Aschenbrenner’s home.
We had the Sinner’s Mill, which was the busiest of the Norka Mills. It was electrified and powered by two large turbines. Mr. Sinner had proposed to the village Gemeinde that he would electrify the main cross street through the village, from the church to the courthouse, if they would put up the poles and wires. Several of the more influential members were against it, stating that Mr. Sinner was trying to make easy money through his electricity and many people who lived away from that area decided it wouldn't help their neighborhood, so why go through the work and expense of making a better situation for the neighborhood of such a few people. I don't know when the Sinner’s mill was started, but on the top of the highest part, (about four or five stories) was the year "1899" painted on in big black numbers. I assume that is when that high part was built, as Norka was 132 years old by then. Sinner’s family also had a newer and more up to date mill at Goschgoverna, on the Medwediza river, which had conveyor system, by which you brought your grain in bags and the milled flour came back in bags, via the conveyor. In Norka, we still used the old wagon box system. Two boxes fit into a wagon bed and when you took the grain to the mill, you had to manhandle the boxes with mill hands and yourself, pushing them onto the dock. The grain was milled and put into the same boxes, which had to be reloaded by manhandling. They milled 24 hours a day during the busy season, and someone had to stay with your grain boxes to help with loading and unloading and to see that none of your grain was stolen.
On the 11th of November 1909, when I and my brother Conrad were going home in the early hours of a morning, after spending the night at the Sinner’s mill getting our two grain boxes of grain ground into flour, we heard the storm‑fire bell ringing, and saw the flames of a large fire in the area where our Uncle Philip Brill lived, so we headed in that direction to help fight the fire. There were rules set down by the town council in the event of fire, so we and many others went there. The fire was at an old couple’s house, Mr. and Mrs. Johannes Bogler, who made brushes, combs and items of this type, using pig bristles, horsehair and such. The people assembled fast and got the fire out, which led to the discovery that the old couple had been killed and robbed and the fire was set to burn up the evidence and signs of the crime. The old man was discovered dead in the horse shed attached to the house, where he had been harnessing the horse to drive his wares to a nearby village, while the lady’s body was in the kitchen where she had been preparing breakfast and lunch for him to eat and take along. Their money and valuables were gone, along with a silver plated, pearl handled pistol the old man owned and carried. The old couple had used a hired man to help them with chores, whom we knew or called Ivan (John) Kiltau .
A week or so earlier, a family named Gerlach was disturbed in the night by the furious barking and actions of their big dogs, so they got up and lit a lantern and went outside, taking their dogs out too. The dogs ran over to a nearby store owned by a villager named Schleicher, with the Gerlach’s following. There they discovered two men hurrying out of a ditch dug down beside the foundation and under the store building. They had intended tunneling into the store from outside to rob the store. Mr. Gerlach had told Schleicher and several other people, that he thought he recognized Ivan Kiltau, the Bogler’s hired helper, as he crawled out from under the store. Ivan had a brother who was married and had a real shady past, whom they had figured was the other guy. When the couple was discovered dead, the people proceeded right from the fire to the residence of the brothers, where they found the pistol and a bloody hay saw. They took them both to the jailhouse, next to the courthouse. The jailer had left the day before with a prisoner going to Saratov, so they put the two brothers in separate rooms of the lockup, but had no keys to lock them in, so left a big strapping young man setting on a bench in the main room, in front of the door of the more notorious brother. He was to stay until daylight, when the courthouse opened and someone with keys might arrive, or a sotnick (constable) who could transport the brothers to Saratov for arrest and trial. It was about 6:00 a.m. so most people went back home, or to the scene, to make sure the fire embers were all out so no additional burning would occur, but Conrad and I went back to the fire and got our horses and wagon to take our flour home. The watchman had laid over on his bench and evidently fell asleep, because when he awoke he discovered that the door he had his bench in front of was standing open and the elder brother was gone. A group was formed and a search started. When they went to the house of the elder brother, his wife was there and she said he had come home and went into the loft above the kitchen, extracting items from a hiding place under the eave, which he stuck into his pockets, then left, without speaking a word to her. For several days there were supposed sightings of this man in different areas of the land around Norka, which the people later decided were false and made by friends of his, to keep everyone thinking he was still in the area so that authorities in Saratov wouldn't be alerted and start checking trains departing from there. The younger brother was taken to Saratov, where his sentence was to be deportation to Siberia, with only a two-week visit to relatives in Norka each year. I never saw the younger one after that, but thirty years later I did see the older one, who had done the crime, in Mount Clements, Michigan, where my wife and I went to a wedding of a family friend, coming from my wives village of Erlenbach. The Kiltau was senile and it was said he did silly things like pull a setting hen off her nest of eggs and he would sit on the eggs for hours, because the eggs weren't hatching fast enough. His nephew was married to our neighbor’s daughter and I never told anyone there about his deed in Norka and if they knew, they never mentioned it. He was reluctant to discuss Norka or being from there when I was introduced to him in Mount Clements.
My father used to tell us how things had changed in Norka from when he was young and living there, until when he returned, after being raised by his grandparents in Huck. Norka had many trees and swampy areas. Snakes and porcupines were things to be on the lookout for in his youth. He told how the porcupines would extend their quills and sat and waited for you to make a mistake. He told of how they would take a club and rub it gently on top of the head and neck area, making it relax, like a back rub does a person, then they clubbed it to death. When they cooked it in an old iron pot, they recovered the grease, which they used as harness oil and boot oil. The porcupines had their homes built amongst the trees in the swampy area and the youngsters would tear the mud and brush dwellings apart, then proceed with their relaxing the porcupines and clubbing them to death.
In earlier days the village of Norka and the village of Beideck, both had mills built along the Karamisch River, which separated the Beideck and Norka lands. Both mills were on the riverbank, the Beideck mill on the east shore on a little knoll and the Norka mill on the west shore on ‑flat ground. One really rough winter where there was heavy snow and during the spring rains, the area flooded and the ground around the Norka mill was undermined and the mill toppled over. The Gemeinde decided that with the private owned mills now in use in Norka, it would be foolish to go to the expense of rebuilding the old community owned mill on the river bank. Besides it was several kilometers out of the village and the local mills in town were close and sufficient. There was a man called Poste (mailman) Krieger, who carried the mail from Norka to Saratov, which brought on his nickname of Poste Krieger. He made an offer for the toppled mill, to the village councilors and they accepted, so he went to the river and disassembled the old mill and moved it back to Norka and set it up on the Ella Bahn waterway going around Norka on the south side and between the Sinner’s mill and Reicher Schleining’s mill. He too did flour and feed grinding for the area.
The most picturesque mill I ever saw, was the Giebelhaus mill out on the north of Norka in the grain lands. It ran by wind power, so they didn't grind near the amount of grain that Sinner’s mill did. The Weidenkellar family in earlier days had a windmill northeast of Norka, but it was too close to high ground around it, so it didn't get sufficient wind and it's use discontinued. Old-timers used to joke about Weidenkellar building a mill behind a hill, so they wouldn't have to work so hard.
Reicher Schleining had a mill too, but he didn't do as much grinding for the general public, because he owned the largest mercantile and feed store for miles around, so ground mostly grain which he sold as feed, or feed product for villagers, and not too much in flour quality. He had taken in my uncle to raise, when my grandparents died of cholera and he had one son of his own. He was one of the richest men in Norka, extended credit, but went to extremes to collect too, if someone didn't pay their bill. An old gent bought some hay forks from Schleining’s mercantile and didn't pay for them for some reason. In about ten years the purchaser died and Mr. Schleining went to the town council and filed a lien for the hayforks. He got the money, but some folk suggested he was a spitzboo (a sharp or unscrupulous person) for filing such a small, old claim, on the estate of a deceased. Mr. Schleining retorted that the deceased was the spitzboo for not paying his bill. Mr. Schleining owned large tracts of gardens and orchards, besides the mill, mercantile, and land, which he bought during the years buying and selling land holdings was allowed. He farmed with twelve teams of horse and oxen, using mostly hired help. He, Mr. Sinner, and Faigler the leather tanner, were probably the biggest employers of Norka. Years later, when the revolution was on and Russian troops rode into Norka to buy, or confiscate supplies, he was in an awkward position, because he owned so much and there was no way he could hide his wealth, so was subject to giving up the most. In 1918‑1919 when all of us were hiding goods, horses and anything of value, the Russian cavalry rode to the dock around Schleining’s mercantile and asked "who owns this"? He said, "I own everything you see and it's at your disposal". They loaded up wagon loads, giving him a requisition, but I don't know if he ever got any pay for it.
In about 1910, during the threshing season, when we had most of the grain stacked in mounds to thresh, a rich farmer named Albrecht, who had a hired man from the village of Messer, took it upon himself to whip the hired man for running his horses, because he was hurrying in from the fields because most of us were already there and starting to eat. Everyone sitting around eating had to see this degrading act to the hired man by an employer. The man said nothing, but ate in silence, but when the old-timers were lighting their pipes for a smoke while the food was digesting, the man slipped quietly out of sight and away. We were in the gumno (threshing area) right out of the center of the village proper. Soon we saw smoke billowing from the stacked piles of grain out in the field. It spread so fast and so hot that we couldn't fill the water wagons at the near water tanks, but had to go to the next tanks and around throuqh the fields to get it from the back to control its spread. The creek would hold it from getting into the village, but the piled grain in six threshing areas was completely burned before it was controlled. The men decided that the hired man from Messer had slipped out to the edge where the furthest piles were and set them on fire with his pipe lighting punk and flint, then headed away toward Saratov in a gullied area. They sent riders on the roads watching for him and intended to bring him back and throw him into the fire for his crime. Reverend Staerkel came out and supposedly walked around the fire praying, which caused it to cease, but in reality the hot fire was the piles of stacked grain, but around it was stubble fields where the grain had been cut and hauled away from. This is where the Reverend Staerkel walked and where the villagers hauled wagons of water into which we wet blankets and such, which we dragged over the creeping fire in the stubble. I later heard that the hired man had taken refuge in the village of Mohr (Moor).
In 1912, my brother George and his wife Louisa Schnell Brill, sent home two fares from Portland, Oregon, for me and my sister Lena to come join them and our sister Elizabeth Schleining and her husband Jacob. I had just discovered girls, so used the excuse that I didn't want to leave our parents, so didn't want to go. My brother Conrad, eight years older than I, had been going with a Urbach girl in Norka, whose family sent her and her brother over here earlier, with relatives going to Portland, so my brother Conrad decided he would come in my place. They left Norka and got to Oregon and he then married his old girlfriend and my sister Lena met and married John Leichner in Ritzville, Washington, later moving to Portland too. A real problem in Russia concerned the fact that our German people wouldn't integrate with the Russian population. Instead they intermarried with cousins, so consequently you could hardly find a Russian living amongst us in most villages. We had good land, until we and the Russians, who started villages around us, got over populated. Then when peasants in town got upset with their government, the villagers around us got upset with us and our land holdings. Many a Russian peasant was whipped for gathering firewood on a Germans property, even for branches that the wind blew down. Most Russian peasants had a little goat, which they milked for their children’s milk, and some were beaten because they let their goat over into the Germans field to fill it's belly. Rich Germans hired Cossacks as patrolmen if their land bordered Russian land. These Cossacks were hard on the Russian peasants, as they had been on the earliest German immigrants when they arrived from Germany and the Cossacks traveled in bands, making raids an the cattle and horses of our earliest settlers.
We had a man named Sehder, who was the hired man of a Schnell family living near us in the area where Unterdorf and Mitteldorf came together. (Mrs. Yoske Schlitt of Portland, was daughter of these Schnell's). An old Russian cattle buyer came to Norka and bought up a herd of cows, calves and steers, which he was going to drive to Saratov. He needed to hire a hand to help him, and Schnell’s could spare Sehder, so he accompanied the Russian buyer out of Norka with his herd. When they reached Kosack Wald and bedded the herd down, Sehder cut the old Russians throat and went through his pockets, but found less than five rubles. He did take the herd on to market and sold them. The old man had always feared being robbed, so instead of carrying his money in his pockets, he had it wrapped around his legs, in his leggings, where it was found on the body. When the body was found and the man identified, it was easy to trace his movements and his hiring Sehder. With Sehder’s selling of the stock he had incriminated himself totally. He was tried and sentenced to be deported to Siberia to work in the mines in the summer and cut ice in the winter and only be allowed to visit Norka three days each year. This sentence and any others made by the Czarist government were later thrown out and all prisoners pardoned when the revolution would end the Czarist regime.
Many women died young in childbirth, so it always seemed that the old widower would marry another younger wife for his second, and sometimes third wife too. You seen lots of older husbands abuse their wives, as well as their children. In some cases, a newly married young girl who just married a man in late thirties or even forties would go home and complain to her parents that she was being abused. In some cases, the parents would tell her to stay home and not go back, but if her husband went to the council and complained because she left him and his motherless children, the council generally made her go back to the abuser, stating that a marriage was made and must be honored. In rare cases, a man might be publicly whipped for abusing a wife or child, but not often enough. In Norka, we had an orphanage called Tantas Haus (Auntie’s house) where orphans had been cared for by elderly ladies who were paid by the council. It was closed and rented out for residence while I was young and children would be placed in homes much like foster home situation over here today. There were two old men that I knew, one a bachelor, the other who had been doing well in his own home until his wife died, then he had nobody to cook or see to his needs, but they could do light chores. The council decreed that every house in the village would have to take them in for a period of 24, or maybe 48 hours, then pass them on to the next house. The two weren't living this way at the same time, but it occurred the same way with each of them. Some folk treated these old-timers, well, but others referred to them as an old bag of bedbugs and couldn't wait to pass them on to the neighbors. Thusly they lived out their days.
In a case where an old couple was still together, but couldn't’t function properly, the council would make arrangements for a newly wed couple, who might be interested in moving in with the old folk and seeing to their needs until they died, then the couple would inherit the place and belongings. Boys were easy to place into foster homes, because of the dusch system, by which each male child was given a share of land. Generally, you could plan on the orphan being raised for that share he was entitled to and the work the foster family could get out of him. Girls were a different story. They were hired to work for 25 kopecs a day during hard working schedule, and marriages of these young girls to older men would make very interesting reading in many cases. People who got their girls married off to a lad of their choice were rare. Generally you heard of the older men, who replaced their first, and sometimes second wives, with girls younger than some of their own children.
The Gemeinde elected our village council about every 4 or 6 years, so there were always many ex‑officials around to be suspicious and help keep the new ones in line. In about 1902, our neighbor der Rupe Klieber was a Vorsteher and while in office, the bookkeeper who I think was named Schier or Scheibel, supposedly made off with funds of 16,000 to 30,000 rubles it was said. I've heard both figures. Kleiber had just built a new barn on his property before the bookkeeper left. On many occasions we had people from Oberdorf drive by, looking the place over, and one man told dad he was just driving by to see the barn his taxes helped to build, meaning that he was under the impression that Kleiber may have had part of the funds too. A Weidenkellar, who was also a former Vorsteher, used to amaze me in my youth. He would saddle a riding horse and ride to the courthouse each morning, dismount, place the reins over the saddle horn, head the horse toward home, slap him on the rump and the horse would run home into the yard, where the wife or children would unsaddle it and put it in the corral. His son would leave Norka with us in 1921 and accompany us to Germany, where we separated, but would reunite, in Portland, Oregon in the WWII era. The Weidenkellar's from this family that I remember, were Johannes the ex‑Vorsteher, who with a brother Yoske, remained in Norka. Conrad and Heinrich came to Oregon. Conrad worked for the railroad at Wendling, Oregon at the same time I did in the 1926‑28 era. Heinrich was married to my aunt Lena Derr Weidenkellar. Their sister married Konrad Repp and was mother of Adam Repp the grocer in Portland. I believe that one brother went from Russia to Lincoln, Nebraska and was nicknamed Frutting Weidenkellar. I always felt a little kindness toward Vorsteher Klieber, because he was friendly, had a great sense of humor, and did take in an orphaned family of Scheideman children to raise when the parents died.
We had any and all kinds of situations, tragic, humorous and comical. Our neighbor Hopka Robbler Lofing (Lofink) had a son named Conrad. He and his buddies would go buy a pint or half pint of booze from our neighbor Bootlegger Krieger. Mr. Krieger had bootlegged for years and when he died his wife and daughter carried on the business. By this time, you could go buy a wagon load of liquor from the State owned liquor store next to Aschenbrenner’s. Many people from Norka and villages far miles would come buy wagon loads, which they hauled to their villages and resold, especially at Kerb (harvest festival) time. The State owned store closed at 5:00 p.m. and then is when the Krieger’s and others did their selling. Many well-known customers would and could drink it on the premises. Mrs. Krieger was so near sighted she couldn't read paper money, so had to call her daughter to tell her what the bill was. She could generally distinguish the coins by getting them right up to her eyes, but because she felt embarrassed about it, she would say, "I'll lay it on my eye and if it's good it will stay there and if it falls off, it's counterfeit." Conrad and his friends bought a bottle, which they opened gingerly, without destroying the State seal. They refilled it with water, then a few days later they returned to the to buy another bottle. She got it for them, and they got her to get another one, which she did. While her back was turned they switched the first bottle from Conrads’ hand to the guy behind him, who put it under his coat, at the same time bringing out the bottle of water, and holding it in sight. They then ordered a third bottle and while she got it for them, they started counting out their money, which was enough for two bottles, but not three. They asked her if their credit was good, or did she prefer to only give them the two bottles they had money far. She said two battles were enough for them anyway, so just take two. They passed her back the bottle of water, which she placed on the shelf and they left. A day later, a regular customer brought back the watered bottle mad as hops, and she finally figured out the boy’s shenanigans. She couldn't do too much about it though, because there was a law against bootlegging, but Germans wouldn't turn one in to Russian authorities unless it was for something really serious and against them personally.
Different families would use their houses for harvest celebration ceremonies (Kerb) which lasted from three days and nights to a week. In our neighborhood it was usually held at Dicker (fat) Helzer’s home. He would take the windows out of the house and put them into the barn for safe keeping, lay in a supply of liquor and hire a band. The participants would pay so much for a set of music which paid the musicians, who collected from dancers after each set. Helzer sold the drinks and kept order with a scale stock about the size of a baseball bat, which he actually used if things got out of hand. Different villages went to different extremes. I have heard of non-alcoholic Kerb celebrations, but in Unterdorf they were rough and rowdy, as well as long remembered. The celebration usually started after church on Sunday, with street singing and marches to the place of celebration.
Endrich Krieger had two sons and a daughter Mollie by his first wife. His second wife was a widow named Weinz (Weines) who had lived in the Gaza Grava (goat canyon). The lady had a son who came to the USA. Kriegers’ nickname was derived because he imitated the quacking of ducks as a youngster so Endrich meaning "Drake", stuck with him to the end. The two sons and their families left Norka with us in 1921, but returned from Minsk for lack of funds to continue to Germany and the USA. Upon their return to Norka, the new regime ordered that the purchaser of their holdings, return it all at no cost to the Krieger’s, because selling dusch was illegal under the new regime, as was Czar’s money. People were only allowed land for family members living in the villages.
Sou Jac Krieger was the man who did the whipping when someone was sentenced to a public whipping. The name was given him by disgruntled Russians he had whipped. He had a horse shot out from under him in a skirmish with Russians from Rybuschka, during a dispute of former ground used for potato crop of Norka folk but awarded to Rybuschka villagers about the time of WWI and Revolution.
Peter Schlidt married the sister of Sou Jac Krieger, and they came to Portland and lived on 14th between Fremont and Beech, next door to Conrad Weidenkellar. His mother was called Bervelja and she had a daughter Christina who was married to a Jacob Burbach, who was killed in a sugar beet accident in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. She then married John Krieger of Portland. I worked with him at M & M Door factory. Their brother Conrad remained in Russia and was the man who hauled the boys to kill the Commissar at Dofka.
The Hefeneader's who were killed and their mill burned, had a daughter who married Garte Krieger so called because he lived in the garden and orchard area lying at the northeast corner of the village of Norka. He had a private bridge leading from the first road through Norka into his yard across the Grosse Bahn in the garden area. His was the first house east of the village. Garte Krieger was expelled, or kicked out of the Versammalung (Brotherhood) because he was notorious for escorting widowed sister’s home from prayer meetings and getting fresh with them. His daughter married Jacob Aschenbrenner and lived on 7th Avenue in Portland, Oregon. Other Aschenbrenner boys were Heinrich, Conrad, and Fritz (Frederick). Mitteldorf started right at their property line in the first row of houses. There are other Aschenbrenner families deeper in Unterdorf; I will cover in a later chapter.
Mai Wilhelm Spady had four sons Peter, John, Henrich, and Heinrich. Mai Wilhelm had his arm torn off when he stuck a pole into the free spinning wheel of a threshing machine to stop it when the belt flew off. The force of the wheel grabbing and jerking the pole tore the arm out at the socket. He bled to death in the night. One of Mai Wilhelms’ daughters married Adam Repp, and they had a family, and owned Repp Brothers Groceries and Meats in Portland Oregon. Adam Repps’ brother George went to Russia with the Hoover Commission concerning the starving Volga Germans, in 1922. The Repp’s were neighbors to Hoover in Newberg, Oregon when he lived with his uncle, Doctor Minthorne. It's not known how the name Mai Wilhelm was derived. There had been Mai family living at the same residence and it's possible he may have been a relative or orphan whom they may have raised. One of his daughters married a Glanz and lived in Portland I believe.
Gobja Roedermel (also Rothermel) and his two sons had a business of making wagon wheels and hubs, besides making wagons or buggies. They had a huge lathe in the barn, which was turned by a system of belts on wheels but propelled by a horse walking in circles outside of the barn. It was so well trained that it walked in circles by the hour without too much attention. They made spokes and hubs on the lathe, which they sold to other wagon makers, or used for wheel making themselves.
According to Mrs. Katharine Rudolph, nee Weber, her granddad and his three sons made wood, raised horses, and farmed. When the Bolsheviks came to Norka and shot the boys for murdering the Commissar, they were victimized by having 11 horses confiscated in that village punishment confiscation. Her father was publicly whipped for trying to hide a beautiful saddle horse from the Bolsheviks. Village sympathizers to the Russians also came and carried their supply of firewood away. She said that Faigler the leather Gerver was her granddad, and that Reicher Schleinings’ wife was her aunt. She said that the midwife who delivered Faiglers youngest son predicted he wouldn’t die a natural death, so they watched the boy like a hawk. He lived to age 28 and had two children, then he drowned while swimming a bunch of horses, which they did in the river to cleanse them of sweat and dirt. Mrs. Rudolph moved with her parents to Alberta, Canada from Norka, in 1925, where they lived amongst Volga Germans who also came over and are known to us. The Schnells; Philip, Peter and Johannes, as well as Busch family of my wife’s village of Erlenbach.
When the Bolsheviks took over the government, they decided that the old custom of the mill owner scooping a scoop of flour for each Boute (also pud or pood, which is 36 pounds) of milled flour should be stopped and the miller should buy grain for cash and the customer pay for the grinding in cash. Many flour millers had gouged both Russian and fellow Germans with the scooping up a good scoop in the scoop, and as much flour in the large sleeve of a stiff leather coat they wore while at work. A good scooper could get more in the sleeve than he got in the scoop. A man named Hohnstein, and known as Lamme Armige (lame armed) Hohnstein was appointed to handle the transactions at the old Sinner’s Mill, which was now owned by a Miller. Later he was accused of still allowing the mill to charge excessive charges, so was dismissed from his job and publicly whipped. It was a sad situation for him, because having the use of only one good arm, he couldn't find a job as suitable again. Old Mr. Sinners son Philip had a mill at Goshgoverna which was modern, using conveyor system and bags for grain and flour. Previously and in Norka we used mostly big wagon boxes, two to fit in a wagon. Another Sinner son, named Alexander was shot by Bolsheviks for heading a town militia, and digging foxholes along the perimeter to fight Russian peasants from Rybuschka. He had seen military service in the Czars’ Army, and the town fathers appointed and he agreed, to head and train the militia to fight the Russians who were bent on getting some of our Norka land. Mr. Sinner had two daughters that I remember.
We used to be allotted our hay crop by the dusch system. Sixteen (16) dusch equaled a gesetka meaning that 16 men shares made up this gasetka (parcel). You sometimes had a scoundrel in your parcel. This one year in particular we had five (5) Brill dusch, five (5) Schreiber’s, five (5) for Weise Schlitt, and one (1) for Vetter Glahn. We cut our hay and stacked it, putting our official numbered tags on our stacks. Weise Schlitt was notorious for taking the stacks of the best hay and changing tags to another stack after he loaded the best an his wagons. Old Vetter Glahn called him on it several times, then nicknamed Schlitt der Cappa Staelle because while at a Russian Gerverie (leather processor) he got caught stealing a leather cap made of a lamb skin. Vetter Glahn had a daughter Amelia, who was married to a man from Frank. They lived in the USA in Portland, and in about 1912 they came to Norka to visit her parents on a vacation. This man built boxcars on Swan Island in Portland for the Oregon Washington Railroad and Navigation Company (Brill probably meant the Albina yard or Mock's Bottom area, not Swan Island). They talked Vetter Glahn and his wife into making the move to the USA, and brought them over with them on that vacation.
Dach Grabbler (roof climber) Schreiber married my aunt, one of the six Derr sisters. He was so named for sleep walking. He was found crawling on the roof fully asleep. They sold their five dusch land allotments to the Adam’s family in 1912 to help raise money for their passage to the USA. After the revolution, the Russian Government confiscated all dusch and re-issued them to only people who lived on the premises, which was a blow to all people who had bought dusch many years earlier and gotten advantage of those dusch, which formerly belonged to people who were now living out of Russia, in the States, or Argentina and such places. The buyers were out their money, but the sellers had gotten from Russia to new lands by their selling."
The family of a boyhood friend of mine, John Green, (Greuna Hannes) whose family lived next to us when we lived in grandpa Derrs' home, moved out of Norka in the middle of the night because the father was being harassed by one of our richer farmers of Norka, who had extended credit to old Mr. Green, and he was unable to repay the debt. The rich farmer was to be paid after the fall harvest, but Mr. Green didn't have the funds to fulfill his debt, so the other man let it slide until the next spring, then warned old Mr. Green that he would pay this fall or he would be beaten to death. Mr. Green moved his family out of Norka. I believe they had three children or four at that time, by his first wife. They settled to another village in a different area, where old Mr. Green had additional children by a second wife, and they left Russia for the USA after we did. They made their way to Germany where Mr. Green died. The family of the second wife was always under the impression that Mr. Green was scared and worried because he thought the Bolsheviks were after him, but Hannes told me on many occasions that his father never slept well all the years they lived in Russia because he was worried that the rich farmer from Norka would look him up and carry out his threat. Old Mr. Green died in Germany while awaiting fare and/or funds, but his wife and children came to the US, to Montana where they worked sugar beets, then Oregon. Three sons were named John, Louie, and Jacob.
The nearest place to get good firewood was near the Russian Village called Kaberna. The Russians there made charcoal to sell. We had a man who was nicknamed Hoorooliga and he was very active in the Brotherhood of the Versammalung. He hired several youngsters of the village to accompany him on a wood cutting trip, on which they had to pass several small Russian villages. The nearby wood had been cut and used up years previously. They had oxen in harness because they could pull heavier loads of wood than could horses, although it would be a slower trip. They reached the wooded area where we were allowed to make firewood and cut the needed wood and loaded it upon the wagon, which took several days. It would take more than a day for the oxen to pull the load home, so it turned out that they had to camp out just after they passed through a Russian village, on the homeward side, with nothing but the Russians grain fields between them and the Norka peoples land. In the night it seems that the fence around the Russians grain field came down and the oxen went in and gorged themselves on the near ripe green grain. They awoke at sun up and hitched the oxen and headed for home very quickly. Several of the oxen became so bloated from eating the green grain, that they fell in the tracks and had to be stuck with ice picks to relieve the gas pressure of the stomach. One ox was so bad it couldn't be gotten up and low and behold the Russians caught up to the woodcutters at this time and escorted them back to the village to be tried and fined for the damage done to the grain field. The Russian court didn't understand German any better than Hoorooliga understood Russian, but he knew they wanted him to swear on the bible when they held it out for him to swear on. He placed his left hand an the Bible and raised his right hand and according to the young men who were there, he said, "Gefresse hunns es, shoise mustaza, unt woider kunnza nicht gehn." ("Eat it they did, shit they had to, and further they couldn't go".) For years the people laughed and discussed the taking of the oath in Russian, Hoorooliga style.
There were many instances where groups of our Germans would use this type of prank to get something from the Russian villages free or cheap, because the item was not in great supply near Norka anymore. A good example was sweet wood roots, which most Germans used for making tea. Whenever we went to Saratov we could plan on being out overnight on the home bound journey. The Russians didn't use the sweet wood roots to my knowledge, so we would camp near a field where it was as plentiful as weeds and as soon as it got dark we would pull up the little plants we could, or take shovels and dig furiously until we had all of the spare room in the wagon filled with the roots. Another big item, which was readily available and taken, was reeds and willows for making baskets and brooms. Our Gemeinde had set a price and required a permit to cut reeds and willows on Norka land, so it cost a little. My father in law, Dicker Helzer, used to make brooms, so drove to a Russian village which had hired a German from Norka to move there and be the Constable, just so they could cut down on the thievery that was taking place, by Germans. This Constable was a Derr and cousin to my mother. He was called Schelte (constable) Derr. Dicker Helzer was selling the brooms at the weekly sale held in the first row near the courthouse in Norka, when the local constable came and confiscated about a hundred brooms he had made up and was selling. They said the Gemeinde had no record of his having paid a cutting fee to cut reeds in Norka. Dicker drove to the Russian village and returned with an affidavit signed by the Russian Mayor and also the German Constable Derr, stating that he had been granted permission to cut the reeds in the Russian village. The Gemeinde had to return his brooms and they soon had other villagers who would flock to the Russian villages to buy reeds and willows for basket making.
We had a widow lady named Kreis who had several children and no husband, so things were real bad for this family. Her eldest son drove a wagon into a Russian village and placed a sign beside it, which stated that the family home had burned and they were destitute. Before long the Russians started bringing him items of furniture and clothing, which he took home and if it was better than what they had he kept it, then took what was left to another village where he sold it at that village weekly sale, which most every village had at least once a week. People brought their wares or produce, eggs or whatever to sell, then take home things they bought from other folk.
There were three rich men who owned more land than did the combined inhabitants of most of the nearby Russian villagers. One of the men was named Bromundt and he had a land grant for land given him by the Czar. Bromundt was a high ranking Cossack and he had Cossack militia who rode herd on the poor peasants who worked his land. He used both camel and horses to work his land and it was common to see his horses and camels harnessed together working together, but when our horses caught a whiff of them camels while we were working near the Cossacks land, they would go crazy and run until the wagon or implement was torn to shreds, as well as the harness. I had to fight the team and many times walking home to retrieve them when they went wild. Bordering Bromundts' land was land owned by Jost Henry Miller, a Norka man and on the other side of Miller’s land was land owned by the Sinner family. A fourth piece of land lying east of Bromundts' was purchased by the village Gemeinde of Norka to use for raising potatoes. This land would cause many problems and bad blood between the Norka population and the Russian villagers with the outbreak of the revolution.
Reicher Schleuning had a mill, a general merchandise store, fruit and vegetable orchards and farmed with twenty teams of horse and oxen. He hired many people to run his enterprise, as he only had one son of his own. He took in my uncle and raised him when my grandparents died of cholera in the 1860's, leaving my father and his three brothers orphans. When the revolution took place, Mr. Schleuning had about the most to lose of any of the people of Norka and was the most vulnerable, because there was no way he could hide what he owned. To me his declaration on the front porch of his store upon the arrival of the first Bolshevik cavalry entry into Norka when he said, "I own everything you see here, and it's at your disposal," ranks as the most remarkable and unforgettable, as ever any made by any great general or king, during a surrender. This mans life work and wealth, probably his fathers life work too, was here to be seen and confiscated and there was no way he could hide it, or keep from having it taken, but he seemed calm and collected. They confiscated what they wanted and gave him a receipt, but it's doubtful he ever got any reimbursement.
Religion played a big part of most of our lives. I suppose you might say children were fear trained, by the threats of what God could, or would do in case of a major disobedience. I believe that I started seeing religion without that big fear, when I had been over to Schmir Bossum Burbach’s place of business several times. This man was a blacksmith, hard working, who always dropped his tools and started wiping his greasy hands on his leather apron, across his rotund stomach, as he came out of the shop to greet a friend or customer. One day, while there in my early teens, a huge rumble of thunder and a bolt of lightning crashed through the stillness of the day. A heat storm probably. Mr. Burbach looked up and said, "Scold all you want, but you won't wet me, because I'm going inside before you can make me wet." At that time, I started noticing how grown-ups didn't always have the fear concerning religion that they tried to instill in the children.
Mr. Burbach and his first wife had gone to a baby Christening, of a neighbor’s baby. The baby was the child of a family named Sauer. Mr. Burbach raved about the beauty of the child and at the Christening, stated that when that child grew up, he would surely marry her. This continued through the girl’s childhood, and as things turned out, his wife died, and he did marry that young girl, with the permission of her parents, who were very good lifelong friends. Many people considered Mr. Burbach in the same vain as they did a fortune teller or tea leaf reader, because of his foresight. Mr. Burbach was a well to do man, and most any family would have consented to having him marry their daughter. In those days most marriages were arranged anyway.
There were always many stories floating around, concerning the doings of the younger generation. Naturally, these were spread by the elder generation, at places like Krieger's bootleg place, or wherever a little friendly card game with alcoholic refreshments was in progress. The Reverend Staerkel had a handy man named Saur, who took care of the Pastor's chores, horses, and drove the Pastor’s buggy. The Gemeinde furnished the pastor this handyman, a housekeeper, three matched black horses and the equipment. Sauer was an old bachelor, who loved his work and his get together’s at Krieger's where he could relate interesting exploits of his travels with the Pastor. He delighted in telling of the evening he and the Pastor were coming back to Norka from Saratov and the Pastor had fallen asleep, so he was negotiating the buggy through a well rutted road full of chuck holes, so as not to awaken the Pastor. The holes in the road were full of water, so he had no idea of their depth. Finally, the wheel on one side dropped into such a deep hole it brought the horses to a standstill. He kept slapping the horses with the reins and tried to get enough pull out of them to get the wheel out, at the same time not awaken the pastor. In the process, the Pastor awoke and suggested that they just let the horses rest a moment while he prayed a little and that way it could be accomplished without them getting out into the mud and lifting that side of the buggy up so the horses could pull the buggy free. The rest and prayer didn't help, so Sauer stood up in the buggy and lashed at the horses head and neck with the reins, at the same time swearing a blue streak at them and they finally lurched ahead enough to get the wheel out. As they resumed their trip, the pastor acknowledged that maybe a little swearing at the right time might be helpful too. Audiences always liked listening to the tales at these get together’s, especially if it concerned the higher society of the village.
There were three herdsmen living in the first row at the East End of Unterdorf. They did this work after they were too old for the regular work and the Gemeinde set the pay scale by the number of animals they herded and each animal owner was responsible for payment to the herdsman, be it money, grain, or whatever they agreed on when the herdsman took on that families animals. Many times the herdsman had more grain on hand than did many of the villagers who farmed. There was this old herder named Schleuning, who had worked for the Sinner family when he was younger and able to do mill work. He used to tell about old Mr. Sinner’s daughter Mollie, who was in love with one of the young men working at the mill, but the old gent thought that his daughter should have a better man, so kept her living in the upper part of the house, so she couldn't slip out to meet this lover, as she was known to do. Mollie’s room was up in the attic, or third floor, right under the gable. The lover and old Schleuning rigged up a boatswains sling, which Mollie took upstairs, then at times she wanted to get out after the folks went to sleep, she opened the window and hooked the rope sling to the overhang of the roof and dropped the rope to her lover, who would let her down gently, then put her back up the same way.
After many months of this courtship, old Mr. Sinner relented and let the couple marry. He even bought up the old beer tavern and had it dismantled and the material used to build a house for Mollie and her husband, I believe his name was Steiving. They later sold this house and used the funds to come to America and when we arrived in Portland in 1922 she used to call on us at our home, inquiring about things in Norka and to invite us to come to dances they were holding out Union Avenue (now Martin Luther King) toward Jantzen Beach, where she and her husband played instruments. I seem to recall that she had children who were musically inclined too.
Each street through Norka had a Klepper (night watchman) who walked the length of the street and back slowly, all night, watching out for fires, thefts, or anything a night watchman would do. He would also deliver messages to any or all houses on his street when the Gemeinde posted notices. He usually stopped for a chat if you were in the yard or nearby and also seen all of the teenagers slipping into the countryside on his journey, so he was also a source of juicy gossip as he made his rounds. Rather than ringing a bell, he carried a wooden Klepper. It was like a ping pong paddle with a knocker attached, so it didn't awaken a person like a bell would, and yet it announced him, so he wouldn't be shot as a prowler. One spring during a flood, the mail carrier from Beideck didn't bring the mail because the water was over the plank decking of the bridge on the Karamisch River between Beideck and Norka. We had a family called, Rote Keibel (redheaded hill) Weber’s. The whole family had red hair and they had two or three pretty redheaded daughters who had left Norka and moved to Schilling to work. They used to send money home to the folks every month, via the mail from Schilling to Beideck to Norka. Because the mailman from Beideck, who brought the Norka mail from Beideck, wouldn't attempt to cross the bridge because of the flood, until it receded, this Weber, impatiently, decided he would drive his light wagon to Beideck and get the Norka mail. His horses got unto the plank bridge with the wagon, but because of the swiftness of the water, he couldn't see the edge of the planking and soon run the wheels off the side and he and his horse both drowned. The people thought him loony for trying to go after the mail when the regular mailman wouldn't attempt the trip. The gossip was that his daughters had a house of prostitution in Schilling, and the old gents at Kreiger's used to smile and refer to Keibel Weber as Poste (mail) Weber as they discussed the case for years after, implying that he couldn't wait for his monthly funds from his daughters. Between the Sauer who drove the pastor, the herdsmen who spent most of their hours out in the fields, so they had many spicy stories concerning the youth of the village, then the Klepper, who made the rounds all night and would report each bit of gossip he heard, from one house to another, it was very easy to keep up on all of the latest doings throughout the village. These traits kept up with our people to the USA, as we later had an insurance man in Oregon, who had an auto accident on Union Avenue and Fremont St. and just got a ding in his fender. He told me that by the time he visited six homes and got to 15th Avenue, the gossip was that he was badly injured, his car totaled and a drunk driver was hauled off to jail.
There was a family referred to as Julla Spady. They owned a mercantile store, but hired all their hauling done, rather than keep and provide for horses themselves. The old gent kept a buggy and one horse. The story told about this family was that the grandfather had been doctoring, and made good money at it. While he was building his bake house and ovens, he also stacked his horde of silver coin into the raised brick threshold in front of the oven, then covered it over with brick, used as a platform to stand an while putting bread or dough in or cut of the oven. Some said that when the old doctor died and Julla and his wife were remodeling the bake house, they discovered all the money and used it to start the mercantile I only am sure that they owned the mercantile and hired me and my brothers on many occasions to haul supplies for them from Schilling or Saratov and we never hauled grain or anything out of Norka, without checking with Mr. Spady to see if he didn’t have something for us to bring back, rather than come back empty. The Spady’s had a son, Sashja, who came to Oregon about the same time as my brother George and his wife, and he worked as a hod carrier for the Portland Electric Power and Light that owned the streetcar system. He got bad blisters from the brickwork, or wheelbarrow, so wrote home complaining about the heavy work, so his parents sent him the fare to return to Norka. They had a son Heinrich, who was in Lincoln, Nebraska. I believe Ivan and Alex stayed in Russia. Being as we hauled for them, Sashja would proposition me to haul him to good fishing spots, where he put in his time fishing or goofing around. The folks could run the store without too much help from him. They had a metal barred cage that the Mrs. sat in knitting, while she watched the store. Customers came and picked up what they wanted, then went to the cage and paid her. The son had a knack for obtaining money out of the cash drawer with a long rod tipped with sticky pitch while he stood behind her, unbeknown to her outside of the cage. He would pay me in cash, or would ask if I needed gloves, a cap, or anything else from the store, which he gave me for hauling him.
One cold blowy winter night when the bell was ringing to assemble people, we formed a search party to go look for Julla Spady who had left early in the morning for a nearby village and hadn't yet returned. The bell was kept ringing so as to direct him or anyone else out in the storm, to the village. Mr. Spady was found in a gully along side of the road, deep and full of snow so that the horse couldn't get out or turn around. He would have frozen to death without help, but most people were of the opinion that if he had let the horse lead him home as he usually did when intoxicated, things would have been well, but it seemed he dozed off and when the horse started bucking the snowdrifts, he awoke and tried to manhandle the buggy horse with reins and whip, which led to his getting into the gully. During the revolution, the youngest son Alexander, Adam Schwartz and I, along with a Krieger, who hauled felz (felt) for felztiefel (felt boots), would try unsuccessfully at getting out of Russia via Kiev, with Polish soldiers returning to Poland, from Russia where they were during WWI. We intended getting through Poland to Germany, then send for the women and children. The authorities in Kiev wouldn't even consent to let the Poles out, so after almost three weeks of hanging on with them, posing as Poles, while two or three of their more educated went to the Russian authorities each day for permission to cross the border, we decided that maybe they were not having any luck getting out and it might get sticky for us if it was discovered we were Volga Germans, rather than Poles, so we departed and went back to Norka and advised anyone trying to leave, to go by way of Minsk, rather than Kiev.
My brothers and I hauled lumber for coffins, from Schilling’s sawmills to Norka. It was kept in a shed behind the pastor’s horse barn. When a person short of funds died, the family could go get wood for a casket. Old Mr. Mohr (Moor) whose son Pete later lived in Portland, made coffins for people not handy enough to make their own. The going price for coffins was two rubles and if a family didn't have funds, the Gemeinde would pick up the cost. When the lumber pile got small, the next person going to Schilling with a wagon was asked to bring back lumber. Many times Mr. Mohr could be reimbursed with a bottle of liquor for his work. We hauled things used for weaving, to and from Balzer where the weaving and spinning factories were. In Schilling, there were restaurants and we used to put our horses and wagon up at a livery stable there, while awaiting a barge or boat bringing supplies to the dock for Julla Spady.
My brother George and his wife and my sister Elizabeth and her husband Jacob Schleining and many other relatives would write and tell us all to sell out and move to the US, where you could get a dollar a day for laying on your back greasing railway cars. Why farm and fight the elements in Russia, when you could live in a big city and work for daily or hourly pay rate? Besides, our sister and brother, we had my mothers four sisters and families, plus many other relatives who had made the move. In 1912, my brother George sent home two fares to Portland, one for my sister Lena and one for me. I was seventeen and had discovered girls, so didn't want to go, so pretended that it was because I didn't want to leave my parents. My brother Conrad, ten years older than I, had been going with a girl in Norka, but her parents had sent her with other family members to Portland a few years previously, so he opted to go in my place. Conrad and Lena left Norka and came to Portland, where Conrad finally married his old girlfriend, Mary Urbach, and Lena met and married John Leichner and lived in Ritzville, Washington. They later moved to Portland too. We kept doing our farm work in Russia, while keeping in touch with the relatives in America, but daily our neighbors and friends were leaving because of the threat of war and the fact that everyone my age would be caught up in the draft. My aunt and uncle Schreiber and my Schreiber cousins left Norka by selling their dusch (land share) to an Adams family, as did many other people. Years later, after the revolution this land or the dusch would be declared null and void and the land taken away from the people who bought dusch that they didn’t have family members for.
In the spring of 1914, my mother, brother Johannes and myself, were coming out of the road going through the village potato ground, north of the village, with my old dog trotting beside the wagon. My brother George and his wife Louisa had given me the dog when departing Norka to go to the US. The old dog always accompanied the wagon and horses on trips to the fields and walked in the shadow of the horses just out of range of the hind legs and the front wheel of the wagon. There was a wagon with three people on the main road ahead of us coming from Schilling to Norka but at least a quarter of a mile ahead of us. The old dog took off at a run toward that wagon. Usually he was a watchdog never moving far from us or our possessions. He caught up to the wagon and jumped up like he wanted to get aboard, which surprised all of us, because we were still to far away to recognize even the villager who was owner of the wagon. I told mother that the dog acted just as if Brother George was on the wagon. She said, "No, it can’t be, because George is thousands of miles away in Oregon." The wagon stopped to wait for us when the dog got to it, and when we got there, it was George and Louisa, hitching a ride to Norka from Schilling and they were coming home to get the rest of us to move to the USA.
We had dad talked into the move and were packing and selling off things, but my sister Katherine and her Lehl family wouldn't leave Russia and my brother Johannes was going to wait and see if dad was satisfied in Oregon before he came, that way he would still be on dads place in case we decided to return to Russia. His wife’s family was staying in Russia so she wasn't eager to leave either
A man named George Schwartz stopped by to see dad and when he was told that we were leaving, he told dad that America wasn't the place for a guy 65 years old, starting over. In Russia, the father was head of the family, his boys farmed and he bossed. In America, it was a woman’s world. The man got a job, she handed him a lunch bucket and he went to work, while she set on the front porch swinging on the porch swing, comparing notes with her neighbor ladies. When the husband got home, she might have supper ready and again, she may not, but either way there wasn't much he could do about it. If he hit her, like he could in the old country, she would take him to court, get a divorce and take away all of his possessions. Dad decided that wasn't for him, so the trip was off. Mr. Schwartz had left Norka years earlier and been in Oregon, with his wife and children born in Norka. He had made good money and had more children born in Oregon, then decided to return to Norka and go into business with the money he made in Oregon. Some of his older children who were born in Russia, married and stayed in Oregon, but the younger ones, and those born in Oregon were too young to be without parents, so had to go to Russia with the folks and ended up stranded there with the outbreak of WWII, like my brother George and wife Louisa were, for making the trip back to get us to move. Adam Schwartz, whom I mention several times, was born in Portland but now raised and destined to live out his years in Norka.
The villagers built a hospital and dental office in Norka in 1914. It was built on the south side of the village at Reides Hahn Felte, a large open field area, where we had the village sales each fall and people came from thirty or more kilometers away to buy or sell wares at the sale, which could last for a week or two. The first doctor was a Jewish doctor and our first dentist was a Russian. That year I also married my first wife, Anna Marie Helzer, daughter of Conrad Dicker Helzer. He was a neighbor and the harvest festival (Kerb) was usually held at his house in Unterdorf. I also had to make myself available for the draft about this time and went to Balzer for a physical. Amongst the many fellow villagers taking the physical with me, was Fritz Aschenbrenner. He was a retarded fellow about my age and for years had been notoriously abusing, embarrassing, or just scaring the daylights out of the young women of the village who were doing the wash in the Grosse Bahn waterway on the edge of the village. They would be at their busiest with the washing of clothes, when suddenly they would hear a snorting and prancing, such as a stallion made toward a seasoning mare. They would look up and see Fritz Aschenbrenner standing in the willows fifty or so feet away, bare naked stomping one foot down into the water’s edge, snorting like a stallion. If there wasn't an older lady amongst them, the girls would all yell and run for home, leaving the laundry behind. When an older woman was along, she generally would yell at Fritz, telling him to get his clothes back on and get home, before she went and told his parents. It generally did the trick. While I was in line, about five men from the inspecting doctor, I heard this stallion snorting and the stomping of the foot on the floor of the building we were getting our physicals in. I turned around and there was Fritz naked as can be, just a snorting and pawing the floor with his foot. He was given a mental deferment and never had to worry about army life.
When my son Adam was born in 1914, I named him after one of my three best friends, dating from childhood, to our being drafted together. He was Adam Saltzman Hahn. I know some of you will be shocked that I give you the information or scandal concerning my best friend, but if you do genealogical charts or studies I want you to be able to see how so many families are apt to lose members or come up to a blank on finding kin, just because some embarrassing fact of birth was hidden by someone, although at the time it happened every neighbor knew of it.
So many times an old Volga German would marry a young fifteen or sixteen year old girl. Usually as a second wife, after his first died and he got one as young as his own children. It sometimes worked out that because of the dusch system a man stayed a bachelor until in thirties or forties, then married a young girl. Old Mr. Heinrich Hahn and his wife had four of five children that I know of and several married, with children, when Adam was born. Mr. Hahn hadn't had sex in years, but a tinker or seller of housewares, used to take up residence, parking his wagon load of wares at the Hahn’s while he was in Norka selling wares at the Thursday sales near the courthouse. When Adam was born, he was called Adam Saltzman Hahn from day one and all through school everyone referred to him as such to his face and before everyone. When I met his relatives who had come to the US as children years earlier, they hadn't even been told that they had this uncle. Adam was stationed in Turkey with me, but got a furlough ahead of me on a lottery system used for furloughs and while home he claimed he was ill, so he went to Balzer to the army doctor for an extension of his furlough. They gave him some pills and let him have an extension of a couple of weeks. When I got home he had died and been buried. Our friend, Adam Schwartz told me that Adam Hahn hated the army and didn't want to go back to Turkey, so he claimed illness and Adam hauled him to Balzer for the physical, where he got the pills. A day or two later he fell out of a tree at home and suffered internal injuries, which it was said, were the cause of his death, but Adam Schwartz blamed it onto the pills the army doctor had given him, saying that the Russian army doctor was giving him pills to do him in because he didn't want to be in the Russian Army.
Here are a few nicknames, showing how nicknames were used for families:
Conrad Reiche Schleinings Brill
George Hucker Brill
Philip Bilschiek Brill
Witfrau (widow) Brill
Rote (redheaded) Brill
Souf (tippler) Brill
Schaafhirt (Sheepherder) Brill
Schmir Bosum (greasy stomach) Burbach
Donner Hannes (Thunder John) Burbach
Stonehous (stonepants) Doring
Schmir (grease) Derring
Conrad Gosshorn Derr
My mothers cousin, Ami Derr, was club footed and called Shep‑Ami Derr
Another cousin Katherine (Kutcha) was called dimpelja
Another was Schecht (constable) Hannes Derr, who was hired as constable in a Russian village, by the Russian authorities there.
Faigler who was our leather tanner and manufacturer, was called Gerver (tanner) Faigler, to distinguish him from several other Faigler families in the village.
An old man who made hairbrushes and such from bristles of pigs and horsehair, was referred to as Soie‑Berste (pig bristle) Fink.
We had Weise (whitie) and Schwartze (blackie) Gieblehaus.
There was also a Giebelhause‑Schnooper he kept inhaling or drawing back drips from his nose by quick inhaling.
Wintmeil (windmill) Giebelhouse owned and operated the picturesque mill north of the village.
There was a tailor, Schniter Hahn.
A poor family called Arme Hahn.
Sotnick (Constable) Peter Heinrich
Poulish Wilhelm Heinrich
Garte (garden) Hinkel
Conrad Dicker (fat) Helzer was my father in law. He farmed and made brooms, basket and willow items for sale too. The villagers in Unterdorf held Kerb (harvest celebration) in his house in October when crops were all in.
Another Conrad Helzer was called Frutting Helzer.
Schuster (shoemaker) Helzer
There was also a Souf (tippler) Helzer.
Hanskort Wilhelm Helzer
Hanskort HanJorig Helzer
Hinkels Oetler (Hinkel the Hawk)
Lohm‑arige (lame armed) Hohnstein
A bucktoothed man named Kreis, was called Zohne Buc, and even some Russians referred to him as Zube (teeth) so he was frequently called Zube‑gesich (tooth faced) Kreis.
A deaf man named Kaiser who lived next to the Unterdorf school was called Deffe Kaiser, and the school was referred to as the Kaiser school because it was next door.
We had Bakke (baker) Krieger’s.
Klieber der Rupe
Katharina Weins Krieger
There were many Krieger families, Garte (garden) Krieger, because he lived in the first place out of the village which was in the garden area.
Poste Krieger who hauled the mail. This man later bought a collapsed mill that the Gemeinde owned on the banks of the Karamisch River, moved it to Norka, and went into the milling business.
Stecher (sticker) Krieger stabbed a Russian soldier in the stomach while in the army, so was referred to as the sticker.
Endrich (drake) Krieger made duck calls or sounds as a youth, and he was my parents age, but was known by all as Endrich Krieger.
Soujac Krieger was the village disciplinarian who laid the leather to a person sentenced to a lashing.
Lamp‑oel (lamp oil) Lehl
Heinrich Rote Schintler (redheaded coat maker) Lehl
Schulemeister (schoolmaster) Lehl
Hopka Robbler (tracer chain rattler) Lofink
Shep‑nosiger (crooked nosed) Adam Mikkels (Michels)
Karamisch Miller had a mill on the Karamisch River by a Russian village, but lived in Norka, so was called Karamisch Miller.
Jost Henry Millers were a wealthy family with large land holdings north of Norka and bordering the Cossack Bromundt’s land, but I don't know why they were called Jost Henry, but even a son was called Jost Henry's Johannes der gross (Jost Henrys, John the tall).
There was also Blatte (baldy) Miller.
We had a man called Soie Biezer (pig biter) Reisbick, but I never knew why.
Flopjer (flapper) Reisbick was called that because they had a rabid dog which was running around the street foaming at the mouth and they and neighbors were trying to corral it, and the old gentleman had on a full length coat with his hands in the pockets he kept flapping the coat to alter the dogs flight, and Klieber started the old mans nickname which held until he died.
Kerb (harvest festival) Sauer. Harvest Festival was held at his home in Mitteldorf.
Luft Guker (sky gazer) Schwartz
Noss nosiger (wet nosed) Sehder
Reicher (rich) Schleining
Yoske (Jake) Schleining
Russe (Russian) Schlidt
Katza (cat skinner) Sinner
Dach Grabbler (roof climber) Schreiber
We had a canyon or draw through the Oberdorf area referred to as the Dalla (Dalles) so several families living along there had the nickname, such as the Dalla Schwindt’s.
A man named Weber had a blue birthmark on his cheek, and was called Blau‑Bechiger (blue‑cheeked) Weber. He was Mrs. Rudolph grandfather I believe.
We had a Kiebel (hill) Weber.
A Rote (red) Kiebel (hill) Weber.
Lehrer (teacher) Weber.
Pretzelmenja (pretzel man) Weber
Kurtze (short) Weber. I think was Mrs. Rudolphs dad.
Die Grimmer Yeager’s (Yeager from the village of Grimm)
When we get into the subject of folklore, it must be remembered that in the days our ancestors lived in the Volga area villages, they were totally on their own. Neighbors helped each other in any way possible, as long as it didn't infringe too much on their own family activities or comfort. Most of the immigrants were hard working people who came to depend on each other for exchange of help with their farm work, advice if ones neighbor had illness or death of one it's family members. It was a rare village that had a doctor with any medical schooling. Most learned from just everyday participation of helping others in the village overcome some medical problem with treatments or application of medical things someone else said had helped so and so with a similar condition.
One of the first treatments that midwifery used, which sounds nasty today, concerned getting babies through the colic. This they did by scraping bird droppings from the board fence and mixing it with some milk and feeding it to the babies. It was said to make the baby sleep peacefully and awake cured. This never bothered me in the old country, but after we got to Portland and I discussed this with my family Doctor, Otto Uhle, one time while visiting at his home and asked him if he had any insight an why they would give their babies this treatment (He also was a German). He thought that it was probably a handed down cure and probably did work. The common flower in a Volga Germans yard in Russia and I recall most of our neighbors who had a yard full of flowers in the United States during the depression era, was poppies. We had neighbors who used the milky substance from the poppies for medicinal purposes. Today we know that its a big part in the making of heroin and many other medicines for doing good, as well as for illegal purposes. The doctor thought that maybe the birds had eaten and digested the poppy seeds, thus weakening it enough so that substance in the birds droppings could affect the child’s system enough to make it sleep in a drugged state, as it would today from prescription drugs. I suppose this is similar to Indian cures.
The art of "bleeding" a patient with high temperature was developed and practiced until after WWI and then we started to find fault and discontinue it, but recently I heard some doctors are using it again. The people who did it in the villages weren't doctors as we know them today, but ordinary citizens. Barbers did a lot of this work even in the United States in predominantly Volga German neighborhoods. They called it schreffing and it was designed to make small incisions on a fingertip, which was allowed to bleed and supposedly would bring the fever down. My Uncle Weber did schreffing in Norka, and some of his equipment is still in the family heirlooms.
Placing a foot you had just badly chopped with a sharp ax into fresh cow manure, sounds like a quick way to get infection and die, but was the principal method of dealing with a large bad cut in the earlier days. Usually they wrapped a clean cloth, maybe a babies diaper, or holzsduch (scarf), around the cut, wrapped tightly, then placed the foot into a container large enough to cover the area with the warm cow dung, if available. Maybe it was supposed to act as a poultice and draw infection away as it healed, but I don't think a doctor would go along with that theory today. I myself have seen cuts which left four inch scars, wrapped tightly and taped well and never seen by a licensed doctor, as late as 1937 in our own neighborhood in this country. If a parent didn't have the money to pay a doctor, they found someone who would supply aid or counseling in the neighborhood for almost any sickness. With proper medical attention in the old country and even to our earlier people over here, most of the deaths to youngsters before 1940 wouldn't have occurred. No wonder so many of our folk died at a young age.
A common remedy for burns, pinkeye and other eye maladies, was to flush the eye out with your own urine. I have seen this done many times by different people. I believe that the first time a child burned himself on the hot stave on a winters night, his parent told him to get the potty and go wee wee on the burn and it would quit hurting and feel better and usually it did.
Warts, boils, carbuncles and such were treated in many like methods, but I remember best that you cut a potato in half and held it to the wart giving it a quarter turn as you said, "in the name of the father, the son and the holy ghost." You then buried the potato. This you did for seven nights if you remembered it that long and didn't have to start over. If the parents had the garden planned, you could grow nice potato plants from each night’s buried potato providing you placed them in a straight row.
Witchcraft and evil spirits played a big part in people’s lives in all parts of the world and were feared by our ancestors too. I recall many people discussing different folk who were supposed to be able to hex people, livestock, or even crops. I am sure that today any of those fears could be explained away without abuse or insult to some poor old soul who was just different. I've heard of a woman named Hahn of Norka, who was supposed to be a Hex (witch) and livestock and chickens couldn't live in her, or her neighbors yard, but would just die off. Nobody seemed to wonder why she would hex her own livestock and keep replacing it with other. Probably the best explanation I could come up with today is, that this parcel of land was low and on the bank of the creek through the village and downstream from Faiglers leather tannery. When he emptied his vats of solution into the creek, people couldn't scoop water from the creek to water their plants in the yards, or the plants would die. Probably much of that solution flooded into the Hahn backyard and as it settled or dried, the chickens picking in it died from the settlings. Maybe the cattle in the yard had to drink of this polluted water, or the chemicals could have affected the grass there too.
I can't understand why some wise old Volga German didn't come up with manufacturing baby food. The mothers used to chew up small amounts of vegetable, meat and bread, until chewed fine, then she would feed the baby out of her mouth with a spoon, like a bird feeds it's young. I have seen many mothers do this and if the mother had things to do and didn't have time, one of the elder children would substitute for her. You could almost pick out people who have done this, or been fed this way in their past, because they never sit and eat their food separately. Instead they usually take some of each into their mouth and eat the items together. Separately, the items wouldn't be as tasty as mixing them all for good taste.
Breast-feeding is starting to come back. When I was a child I never knew anyone who wasn't breast-fed. We had poor women in our neighborhood that had babies almost yearly. Some women would go into another room when they nursed their babies, others placed a baby blanket, or holzduch, over the baby and breast. There were some women who never covered up and it was never frowned on, but the one incident I will never forget, is of a neighbor lady, who was breast feeding her one infant while rocking in her rocking chair, every mom had one for rocking baby, this ladies older child stood on the side rungs of the rocking chair, beside it's mother begging for a breast, and she laid the other breast across her arm or shoulder and that child nursed as she rocked and nursed the infant. I saw a wife rocking a child to sleep in a baby crib with her foot, while she rocked two others to sleep on her lap, while singing them religious songs. Many times a neighbor would breast feed a new baby for a mom with milk shortage.
People had all kinds of gimmicks, which they believed would keep the Hex (witch) from putting the hex (curse) on them. Why they always singled out a poor old widow or old man as a witch is beyond any reasonable logic. I have heard people making statements when their young babies or grandchildren were suffering from baby ailments, such as "that old Hex was here visiting again this morning, now the baby won't sleep all night, but screams in pain and suffering." Some would place evil spirit fighting equipment under the babies’ pillow to ward off the evil spirits. I remember this one lady telling her daughter in law to put scissors, crochet hooks, knitting needles and several other items under the baby’s pillow. I now believe that the babies diet was the biggest factor to its unrest. When you recall how we all walked around chewing on a wedge of summer sausage, salami, or other spicy food item, it's easy to find reasons for a baby’s discomfort. Mothers usually gave a child a piece of wurst (sausage). Nobody thought about making sausage without spices just for the little one to eat. The fathers usually put an old horseshoe next to the door and each night when they retired they pushed it in front of the door to ward off evil spirits. We once lived in a house where the property owner had three houses on two lots and two Volga German families in each house. A non-German family moved into one of the sides when it became vacant and the moving family had left an old horseshoe lying by the door when they moved. There were six sheds built together behind the houses, one for each family. The sheds were all as one building, with partitions and separate doors. The man picked up the horseshoe and took it out to the shed and was nailing it, toe downward over the shed door, when I walked out to get acquainted. I asked him why he was nailing the shoe over the door and he explained that by placing it there with the opening up, good luck from above could collect there and filter into the owner’s life. I went right in and got my horseshoe from behind the door and nailed it over our woodshed door, figuring, instead of keeping the evil spirits out of the house, with all the good luck coming into the shoe we wouldn't need to worry about the evil spirits, besides it was just a dumb belief someone started drous (in the old country).
A widowed lady named Louisa Kreis had a Mongoloid (Down syndrome) son with crippled legs which dragged along the ground as he scooted himself along with both arms, tossing his legs ahead. He could go almost as fast as a running child in this fashion. The boy was probably as old as I was and his ability to scoot around so fast is why I remember him most. His older brother was remembered most for going to Russian villages with an empty wagon, placing a sign against the wagon on a busy street, which stated the family home had burned and they had nothing. Russians would donate items which he would sort and use, then sell the rest at other town sales. The boy’s mother was a long talker and hard to get away from. My mother used to get upset with dad because he was always dragged into a long conversation with her just by greeting her, then too polite to cut it off without listening to all she had to say.
We had numerous Aschenbrenner families in our end of Norka and I will touch on a few just in case it might help someone with their genealogy in the future. Johannes (John) Aschenbrenner was father to Conrad Aschenbrenner, born March 14, 1907, who married Christina Burbach, born October 24,1903. Christina was the daughter of Heinrich Burbach and his wife Elizabeth Staerkel.
There was a Heinrich Aschenbrenner, who had a mentally retarded son named Fritz (nickname for Frederick). Fritz used to hide in the reeds near the women of Unterdorf while they were at the creek washing clothes. When they were all busy washing, he would take his clothes off and come out to the edge of the water and make snorting and whinnying sounds, like a stallion, while thumping a foot up and down in the waters edge, like a stallion stamping a hoof when discouraging other young studs to stay their distance. He and I reported for military physicals at the same time and he did this while standing in line nude, waiting to be examined and was declared mentally unfit for service.
There was another family of Aschenbrenner’s, whose house on the first row, was the first house in Mitteldorf. Their son Jacob married the daughter of Garte Krieger and they came to Portland, Oregon.
The Dalla (Dalles) Schwindt that cut his stomach with the razor to keep out of the Russian army married my cousin Conrad Weber's half sister Leah and got to Canada (Saskatchewan) but was deported when sponsor withdrew his bond after Schwindt's pro-Bolshevik ramblings. Her family wanted her to remain in Canada until they could get her into the United States, but she stated that he was her husband and her place was with him, so she returned to Russia with him. Their nickname of Dalla was because they lived at the edge of the canyon, Gausa Grava that ran through the Oberdorf of Norka.
In the United States, another known as Schwindte Boija, was a section gang boss for railroad at Wendling, Oregon (near Eugene). He tried to fire Konrad Weidenkellar for going to visit his wife in the hop fields on weekends and not getting back until Tuesday. He had sent him home as fired, but the District Superintendent reprimanded Schwindt and took Weidenkellar back. Konrad had been severely injured in a sharp curve, when a handcar left the tracks and threw him into a rocky wall. He never filed a claim for damages against the railroad and they kept him on the job in appreciation.
Meier Vetter Hannes (Uncle Johannes Meier) carried the mail route to Russian villages. His brother Hanjorg (Johann George) was a millworker at Sinner’s Mill. He died of lung complications at a young age from inhaling flour dust while grinding the flour. Nicholas Krieger was also a flour grinder at Sinner’s Mill.
Sabotnik is a shoemaker in Russian. We bought a homesite from an old shoemaker named Feurstein, and built our house on that ground, in the first row of Norka.
The Weidenkellar family was a large family with their children all living in one yard. They lived in half a dozen sheds or buildings all on one piece of land. They had a windmill for grinding flour, but it was behind a hill so didn't get the proper wind flow to make grinding very prosperous, so they discontinued it in a few years. Some folk joked about the mill. The Weidenkellar's had a son called Frutting who came to Nebraska. Heinrich and Conrad came to Oregon. Johannes and Yoske both remained in Russia. Adam Repp's mother was a Weidenkellar sister to Heinrich the husband of Aunt Lena Derr Weidenkellar. Another brother, Johannes, was Vorsteher of Norka once and father to Conrad Weidenkellar who came from Norka in 1921 with me and my son Adam as far as Germany. He went to Nebraska from Germany, and Adam and I to Portland. In about 1940, he too moved to Portland and went into the garbage business. He married Katharina Kilthau, but they had no children. She had left Norka with us in 1921 and walked to Krakow with the Jacob Doering’s. I believe the reason that the Weidenkellar’s had so many people living on such a small plot of land, was because they had been granted land in another Volga village, which they gave up in the move to Norka, so started over with land as for one family.
Heinrich and Peter Miller, sons of Jost Henry from the erste (first) row in Norka's Oberdorf, sold all they had and came to the United States and I believe they settled in Portland eventually.
An old woman named Schlitt (also Schlidt) used to butcher animals in Norka. She used snuff in her gums, and she migrated to Canada. Later her son Yoske came to Portland and lived on Grand Avenue. His wife was a Schnel from Norka, I believe.
Conrad (Reicher Schleining's) Brill had a son Heinrich who came to the Midwest of United States and he would be my first cousin. My son George discovered a Heinrich Brill in Scottsbluff, Nebraska in 1965, but never got together with him to discuss the possibilities of our being related.
After my return to Norka from the army, we were eating supper one night when the Klepper (night watchman) stopped in to tell my brother Johannes that he was to report to the Grashaus (courthouse) and join a group of fellow villager’s loading hay and straw onto wagons for a Bolshevik cavalry unit that was there to confiscate hay and straw going to Saratov. Johannes told the Klepper he was ill and wouldn't come, so the Klepper left, but soon a Russian soldier came to the door with a rifle to get him. Johannes got nervous and grabbed a hold of the rifle so the soldier couldn't point it at him, so my brother George got up and grabbed the soldier around the neck from behind, at which time he let go of the rifle and Johannes leaned it against the wall. At this time, I asked them both what were they thinking of, as they couldn't harm this man or the whole squad would be here in minutes looking for him. When they let go of him, he grabbed his rifle and ran out of the door. Soon six soldiers came and arrested both George and Johannes. They took them to the lock-up, or jail, which was behind the Grashaus and Heinrich Reisbick was the jailer. He was gone at the time and had his keys with him, so they locked them into the kitchen or bakehouse that had no windows and only the large bake oven in the room. These ovens were made so you built the fire in a lower section from outdoors through a door to the firebox. On angle iron runners laid a iron sheet about 1/2 inch thick and about two feet wide and four or five feet long over the firebox. Some had an iron kettle installed also. From inside the room was a door opening into the baking chamber, where the people sprinkled flour on the iron, then placed their bread dough on the floured iron plates to bake. Luckily, it was warm weather yet and nobody had built a fire in the oven, as it wasn't baking day, so my brothers either lifted out the kettle, or opened the bake oven door, pried the iron sheet up on one side and tilted it against the side wall on edge, then they crawled out through the ashes of the firebox and escaped.
Johannes had a large trunk in his house which had a youth bed built on top so one of his children could sleep on in. We crawled into this trunk and his wife placed a child in this bed each time someone approached the area. George had a small dugout under his low floor where former owners had hid valuables, so he loosened the boards, got under the floor of his house and his wife placed a throw rug over the loose boards then sat a table over the rug. Although I hadn't been arrested with them, two neighbors, der Rupe Klieber and Mr. Aschebrenner, thought I should go into hiding too, so I couldn't be questioned about their whereabouts, or they couldn't arrest me to set in their place. I sneaked up to Oberdorf and hid in Vess (Aunt) Dimbet Schleining's house. In three days of loading hay, straw and making other confiscation’s, the Bolsheviks left, and we returned to our normal routine, but always with a sharp eye out for approaching strangers.
Villagers had many occasions where they were victimized by both the Czar’s troops and the rebel armies, coming into the village and confiscating supplies, animals, feed, or anything else they deemed necessary an each particular event. The people got to the point where they tried numerous ways to hide things, especially their best horses. On one such event we were relieved of two good horses, but they left us two tired, weary horses, who in a few weeks of good feed and pasture, were as good as those we had taken from us.
My Godfather, Conrad Gosshorn Derr, had set about a dozen poles in a circle about 15 feet in diameter and about ten feet high, upon which he nailed a solid top or roof. He piled straw over the whole contraption, so it was a well-mounded straw stack to the human eye. It was so deceptive that even his neighbors didn't know it for anything but a straw stack. He had big heavy workhorses and the next time we were alerted that troops were coming, he led his four best horses to this stack and cleared away an opening and put them inside, then recovered the opening. The troops made their rounds and confiscated what they wanted and were about to leave, when several of them walking by the stack rather close, heard the horses inside snort or sneeze from the dust in the closed in area, so they confiscated those four horses too, without leaving even a crippled horse for exchange.
A near neighbor, Ludwig Bott, who was in the Czar’s army in WWI was taken prisoner by the Germans and held in detention in prisoner barracks, in Frankfurt on der Oder, built to house prisoners of war at that time. Several years later when we left Russia to come to America we used these same barracks for displaced people who were waiting to leave for different parts of the world from Germany, mostly refugees from Russia and Poland. Ludwig was made a trustee because he was a Volga German, and allowed to go out and work on the farmlands of a Luftwaffe leader. He spent all of the war doing this and the air leader he was working for died when he was shot down and Ludwig Bott later married the widow of the man, and to my knowledge stayed in Germany rather than return to Russia.
My father in law, Conrad der Dicker Helzer made brooms of reeds or willows, which grew in swampy areas. The Gemeinde in Norka had rules about products of nature belonging to the community, so you had to buy permits to make use of these things, including the reeds or willows. Mr. Helzer could get his reeds and willows cheaper at a Russian Village, which he did without telling anyone about it, or there would have been more people doing the same. The local Sotnicks came to Helzer's and confiscated several hundred brooms he had made, claiming the reeds hadn't been taken with a legal permit, so the village was going to confiscate and sell them and put the money into the community purse. One of the Derr cousins of my mothers was the Schelte (community watchman) of the Russian village where Dicker Helzer got the reeds, so he wrote an affidavit stating that Mr. Helzer had bought the reeds from the Russian village, so the Norka Gemeinde had to return the confiscated brooms.
Most of us were raised believing we had an inalienable right to our land, decreed by Catharine the Great and when the years passed and we became overly populated, as did the other villages, including the Russian villages, the government started changing policy and we naturally became upset. Needless to say, the poorer Russian farmers and peasants had been upset too, especially since we had bigger and better villages, since we had been the earliest settlers.
It comes down to the fact that things couldn't continue as set down in Catherine's day, so we blamed the Russian government and the Russian people blamed us, along with the Jewish merchants gouging the city populations and in about 1905 the Russian townsfolk did to Jewish shop owners in several cities what the blacks did in the Watts area of Los Angeles a few years back. They swarmed in and carried off furniture and items that the store owners had for sale and many stores were burned and many shop owners beaten and even killed. During this uprising, I believe is when the Hefeneader mill was burned down and the old couple and several employees killed by the bandits on horseback, when Adam Schwartz hid in the bedding drawer until the bandits left, then walked to Norka to report it to the Gemeinde.
This was known as the "Bloody Sunday" uprising, or the 1905 revolution. The Russian army was busy fighting the Japanese, in the Russo‑Japanese war, so the troops were gone and the Bolsheviks decided this was the time to get some reforms. General strikes, fires and blood across the countryside, until Nicholas II granted concessions with a manifesto for civil liberties. Nicholas II was known as a timid easy man, who could be led around by the nose, which was probably true, but when he got the troops home from Turkey, he forgot the manifesto. Nicholas II ruled from 1894 until 1917, when he was taken, held prisoner and later killed with his family by a Bolshevik factor. He had married the Princess Alice of Hessen‑Darmstadt and she converted to the Russian Orthodox Church. They married a month after Alexander III died.
She was always seeking and craving different religions. She attended seances, put on by quacks and wandering fanatics, of which Rasputin was one of the last and most sinister. She and Nicholas had four daughters and he was being encouraged to divorce her and get a new wife who could provide him with an heir. In 1904, they finally got a son, but it was soon discovered that he had hemophilia. He was doctored by the best doctors in Europe, who were at a loss over the boys constant bleeding over the least bump or scrape. She prayed for a savior and Rasputin walked into town about the time the bay was at one of his bad stages and ladies from the Court advised her to seek audience with this hippie type creature, who wandered the countryside living off the poor who attended his services and fed him and gave offerings. He came and sat with the boy and entertained him with stories of his travels, keeping the boy entertained, smiling and in good spirits. When she paid him for his aid, he convinced her that not only the son’s life depended on him, but the whole Royal Family needed him. She kept him around for ten years. His influence over the family even got into the affairs of State.
During WWI, army generals were promoted, or demoted at the whims of Rasputin. Finally in 1916, after nobody in government being able to cut the ties between the Czar’s family and Rasputin, a group of peasants, including the Czar’s nephew, fed him poison, then shot him, then drowned him, to make sure he was dead. They wanted to save the nation from the revolution it was headed for, but evidently things had gotten to far out of hand by this time and the revolution came anyway.
We didn't even have a good education in German, and practically no Russian, so nothing about these political situations mattered to us. We heard stories of Rasputin, and because we were ignorant in many ways, believed in evil spirits, hexing, Braucherin and such, we could see why they poisoned, shot, then drowned Rasputin, but had he wandered through Norka giving sermons in German, we may have helped support him too. Now as my son studies a lot of Russian history and, I can place things in retrospect with what he reads, it is easier to understand things we never dreamed of while growing up in Russia.
We took things a day at a time and I am sure my grandparents never dreamed land would become scare and a cause of so much turmoil for Germans living along the Volga. Bandits had been their biggest worry, then weather and acts of God.
We used to pasture dry cows, young stock, and horses not needed in the village, attended by herders. In years past, Pugachev and other outlaws had killed, or kidnapped many herdsmen, while stealing the stock. One whole village had been wiped out in a raid. Herders were paid by the head for animals they herded at a fee set by the village council (Gemeinde). They could be paid in cash, or by products agreed upon. Generally grain was the product and at times a herder had more grain than did a family with a lot of girls and no male children.
I took by basic training at Oestrigan (Astrakhan), then was shipped to Baku on the Caspian Sea. Then we crossed over into Turkey. By then it was apparent to the army that our lack of understanding the Russian language, our being of German extraction and not taking up with Russians or their customs, we weren't fighting troops. While I was in the Czar’s army, stationed in Turkey, I was in a labor battalion, laying narrow gauge railroad from Constantinople to Mount Ararat, or maintaining railways and building railroad bridges. In peace time our Germans in the Russian army had enough obstacles, so that when the war was going full blast and we were being drafted in large groups, it worked out easier for the government to put us to work rather than make us foot soldiers and put us where we could foul things up good because of the lack of communication between the Russian officers and us German farmers without a knowledge of Russian language. Lenin used to arrive in Constantinople and climb up the fire escape of buildings, to about the third or fourth floor, making speeches, urging the Russian soldiers to go home and overthrow the yoke of the Czarist regime and help free your oppressed family and friends. Lenin had been living in Germany and England for years, because the Czars secret police were after him, although he did frequently sneak in and out of Russia. I believe that the German government was actually behind his appearances in Turkey, because the Turks wanted freedom from Russian domination and we Volga Germans, as Russian troops were probably not trusted by the Russians in charge, and maybe they thought we would change sides. If the Russians left Turkey it would please the Turks as well as the German armies in the area and it was said that Lenin with the aid of the German government would get Turkey freed of the Russians. Eventually the Russian troops decided to go home and fight their government, so our commanders gave us furlough papers and told us to go home and we would get further orders when they needed us. They went home to fight the Czars troops and we Germans returned to the Volga area and farmed, hoping that we would never be called again. I wrapped and buried my army weapons in the bake house under a couple feet of dirt and pretended I was nothing but a farmer, as did most of our neighbor men coming home. The weapons could still be there. My brothers had put in their army time during peacetime, so until the revolution got into our area, we were safe on the land around the village.
There were White Army troops, Red Army troops, and Volga German farmers which both sides started harassing and making requisitions from. The common hope was for the Czar’s troops to prevail, because most Volga Germans felt their future lay in the past proclamations of the government, even though most would admit the whole structure had eroded since the 1850's and was getting worse each day. Our villagers who had the most to lose, were doing all in their power to hide what they had, so as not to be victims of heavy confiscation by the many bands of soldiers dropping in to demand supplies. My brother-in-law the belzmaker (coat maker), built a wooden bunker into a hillside, made of planking and canvas lined, into which he poured several tons of wheat, which he covered with boards, then built a strawstack over it, A farmer named Albrecht, who was richer than the average well to do farmer, built a similar bunker on stilts in a stone quarry out of the village, which was hidden surprisingly well, and nobody would have ever found it, except that three Probst brothers were out rabbit hunting after a night of newly dropped snow. They followed these rabbit tracks into the ravine and right under the plank bin that farmer Albrecht's grain was hidden in. Albrecht had covered his bin over with rock and dirt along the side of the ravine and rather than do a lot of tearing up, the Probst boys went home and got a wagon and some drill and bit sets, then bored large holes through the bottom of the bin, letting the grain run out of the drilled holes, until they had several hundred pounds, then they drove pegs into the holes to stop the flow of grain, until they would decided to come back for more. They couldn't take the grain home without explaining to their parents that it was stolen, but bootleggers were always in the market for grain, no questions asked, so they sold it and would have never been discovered but farmer Albrecht, upon hearing of my brother-in-law’s arrest for hoarding, decided to travel out to see if anyone had discovered his bin yet. It must have been only a day later, because he found the wheel tracks of the Probst boys wagon and followed them right to their door, where he lectured them and the parents, but was informed that the law against hoarding was of worse consequence than that of petty thievery, so it ended as a stalemate.
I don't know how long my brother-in-law had used his hidden grain bin, but one day a Russian cavalry troop was riding toward Norka and saw steam rising out of the strawstack and stopped to investigate. The rain or snowmelt had gotten down through the straw and boards and the fermented grain was combusting, creating the steam cloud. The troops rode into the yard just as the womenfolk were making dough to bake bread. They threw all of the dough down into the yard, dumped all the flour and grain in the house unto the ground, even the bread from the oven, then walked their horses back and forth through it, until it was a mixture of mud. Then they took my brother-in-law into confinement for hoarding. They also confiscated his farm machinery and took it along too. The law in Russia allowed for someone to sit in another’s cell in the event a family member felt inclined to. As long as someone did the time. By the same token, if a guard let a prisoner escape, he would be sentenced to sit out the remainder of the escapee’s sentence. My nephew went to set out his dad’s sentence after a few days of conferring with authorities. The jailer in charge told him he should be ashamed of himself, wanting to sit in jail in place of a wealthy hoarder, who hid food while thousands were starving in the cities and villages of the whole country.
I suppose it was only natural for all of us Volga Germans to dislike the troops that were coming and taking our crops and animals as they saw fit. We didn't want any part of their war, were only interested in farming and staying well. Many of our people at first burned grain like wood, or mistholz, or buried it, just to keep the Russians from getting it. Soon we too would be hungry. When the villagers wrote about the confiscations to their families in the United States, they naturally formed the idea that we were going through the ordeal completely innocent. I think the breakdown was created many years earlier, but we always thought that being Volga German farmers, we could stay immune from most of the internal Russian problems, but with as many of our people who burned grain or destroyed it to keep the Russians from getting it, we had other poor Germans who had also been victims of the greed perpetuated by fellow Volga Germans, who were as handy at fleecing their fellow man as they were at taking advantage of a strange Russian peasant. There were hundreds of people right in Norka, whom the hoarders and crop destroyers could have given grain, asking that maybe next year they might repay it, or do some work for it. Instead it was wasted and soon all, or most, would suffer hunger for themselves and their families.
Our potato ground lay along the Karamisch River, where it ran on the northern edge of Norka land and across from the Russian village of Rebinske (Rybuschka) just across the river. It had been a plot of land privately owned and sold to the village of Norka by its owner, whom I remember as named Seifert, or Blauchen, many years earlier, but was a sore point with the Russian villagers just across the river, because they never had enough land for crops for their population, while we drove out there miles to farm this land.
They had been after the authorities in Saratov for years trying to get some of the land on our side of the riverbank near their village. Finally our Gemeinde was told by the authorities in Saratov that we were to relinquish all right to this land and the people of Rybuschka were going to have it in 1918. The Norka villagers kept saying they wouldn't hold still for such treatment, and would just go over in the spring and work it as they always had, since it's purchase. On the day we were to do the planting, and I, on horseback, accompanied my in laws, the Helzer's, to the area. We got there about sun up and had the Brill plot planted and were going to the Helzer family plot too. Other villagers kept arriving, until the place was swarming with Norka folk, busy planting potatoes. I had just loaded up our equipment when we heard shooting and hollering from nearer the river, and soon discovered that the citizens of Rybuschka were coming across the river on rafts and boats, shooting as they came. People loaded their women and children onto wagons and started them homeward toward Norka, while some that had brought firearms decided to shoot back. We decided rather than try to go back to Norka by the shortest way we would go back through the village of Dufka, round about and longer, but without being crowded by villager’s all fleeing in the same direction. The Aschenbrenner family went high tailing it on the road from Saratov to Norka and as they came into a narrow deep ravine, a group of Russians from Rybuschka and three of our Norka townsmen were awaiting them and attacked their wagon with axes, but luckily nobody was injured, just a lot of damage to the wagon and equipment. The three villagers from Norka were pro-Bolshevik and had ridden over to Rybuschka to tell the villagers there that the Norka people were going to plant potatoes. The Norka men were, one of the Rote Kiebel Weber's menfolk, a Zubegesicht (tooth faced) Kreis, and a man named Garte Hinkel's Johannes. In the melee, a Norka man and woman were shot. Sou Jac Krieger, the constable who did the public whipping in Norka, had his horse shot out from under him. The Weidenkellar family lost a wagon wheel while traveling at full speed and the wagon was hacked to bits. The Norka folk who brought guns and were going to make a stand soon headed for home and that was the end of the potato land.
People were all very upset with circumstances and each other in many cases. There were many that had ill feelings toward each other and swung on opposite sides of the turmoil. There was a family living in Norka Grava and next door to Garte Hinkel. This family had been to the United States and returned to Norka and were raising chickens, which they didn't have fenced in, so the chickens wandered into Garte Hinkel's yard to eat in the yard and garden too, I suppose. They laid eggs over there too, so one day the man went over to chase his chickens home and the young son of Garte Hinkel came out and told him to get out of the yard, or he would shoot him. The man ignored him and kept shooing the chickens homeward, and the kid went into the house, got a shotgun and shot him. He was still a juvenile, so the authorities didn't do anything to him, but the family next door was fatherless. Many people are of the opinion that we were all hard working people, doing our best for everyone and all in the same frame of mind concerning our daily lives in Norka, but that is far from the truth. Many villagers were pro‑Bolshevik and felt they were victims of the greed of our fellow Germans. I think that when our German people first started leaving Russia for the United States, Canada, Argentina and elsewhere, their family staying behind was glad to buy there dusch and help them on their way, hoping it would work out great for those leaving and make it less populated for those staying behind. Most left knowing they could come back to the homestead if they didn't like America.
The dreams of the future always burned brighter than reality. Later, with the advent of WWI and then the revolution and the confiscation of food and merchandise, many would feel resentment and make statements to the effect that so and so is over in the promised land and we are setting here starving after buying his dusch, or loaning him money to get him to his new land.
My personal feelings have always been that we were a people of circumstances beyond our control. Our forefathers got us to Russia for the free land and promises. We raised grain and fed millions, but soon Russian peasants who saw what our people could do, also wanted to try it. We sold grain to buyers in Schilling, who took barge loads to Germany and other parts of Europe. Soon we over populated, as did the Russian people, so the available land ran out. We seemed like foreigners on their soil to them, because we refused to be Russians, in most cases not having any fraternization with them at all. It was easier for government to side with their people, against people they thought might be getting rich at the expense of the Russian peasant. I think the Czarist regime was probably responsible for the starvation of many of the residents in cities and towns across Russia and the fact our people had come on a Manifesto 150 years earlier, which was changed and weakened over the years, still put us in a bad light as far as the revolutionary government would look at the situation.
One time when a cavalry troop of Russians passed through Norka, they made exchanges of their horses, which were tired, weary and underfed, far fresh horses of the villagers. We lucked out, probably because we never owned good-blooded stock. They took two of our well kept but not exceptional horses, right from our corral, putting two skinny, tired horses into the corral in exchange. In a few months out on pasture, those two horses were equal, if not better than what they had taken. My godfather, Conrad Gosshorn Derr, had built a roofed affair similar to a carport of today. It was like a small corral with ten fact high poles, upon which he laid a deck of planking. It was then covered with threshed straw and looked to the world like a straw stack in the barnyard. When Russian troops rode into Norka, everyone knew it by the time they got to the bridge into the village. My godfather would then lead his four best-blooded horses into the haystack structure and hide them until the Russians left. It worked great several times, but on the fatal day, a couple of Russians were exchanging two tired horses for two of his in the barnyard, when one of the Russians heard the horses under the haystack sneezing from the straw dust that irritated their nostrils from breathing the dusty air in the closely packed strawstack affair. He investigated, then took all of the horses, leaving no exchange of tired horses, as penalty for hiding them.
Another neighbor, Nuznossiger (walnut nosed) Helzer, had taken four of his best horses down into a cavernous area called Hoota Grava where it was brushy, but well hidden. He tied them to brush, intending to come back for them after the Russians left. It could have worked out real well, except that when the Russians exchanged two others for two that were in their barnyard and left, the Russian left by way of the Spady Bridge headed for Saratov, passing close by to where the hidden horses were. One of the hidden horses was the colt from an old mare the Russians were taking away and the colt smelled its mother and whinnied and the mare answered, so the Russians moved into the thicket and confiscated the horses tied there too. A Weber was publicly whipped for hiding a fine saddle horse, which was discovered hidden too. In all, the Weber's had eleven horses confiscated and being as they were neighbors to the pro‑Bolshevik Kiebal Weber's, it was told by the granddaughter of Blau Beckiger (blue cheeked) Weber, that the Keibel Weber's carried off cords of firewood that they had stacked and were selling.
The villagers from the Russian villages had always complained and wanted some of our farmland and had threatened to take some of it. The Gemeinde decided to form a home guard or militia in the event they tried to do so. Old Mr. Sinner’s son Alexander had served in the Russian cavalry, so was experienced and the Gemeinde got him to train and lead the village militia. An informer named Kaiser, and nicknamed der Krimmel Kaiser informed the Russian authorities. Kaiser was a Bolshevik sympathizer, as were many other of our poor Germans, and through this organizing of a militia, Alexander Sinner was arrested by the Bolshevik army and I understand that he was taken to Saratov, tried and sentenced to be shot, for raising an army to combat government troops. As far as I know, he was shot, or everyone always believed he was.
We could hear the cannon fire going on at the village of Grimm when we were informed that our village would be getting its orders from a Russian Commissar who was living in the nearby village of Dufka. At this period of time our Vorsteher was named Fink and another official was named Spoe. The Miller who had bought Sinner's mill and several other of the influential men who were members of the little Gemeinde thought that the cannon fire was a sign that maybe things might be starting to turn our way again, so they called a meeting of our men, seeking delegates to go call on the Commissar in Dufka. Their intentions couldn't have been for the best interest of a peaceful discussion, because nobody of age 30 or older went along. My brother-in-law Rote Schintler Lehl came to the house and suggested I dig up my guns and go along. My mother told him to go if he was that interested, but that I was staying home and helping her with farm work rather than get caught up in politics for the rich merchant’s benefit. Our nearest neighbor, Conrad Schlidt (Schlitt) was in the area with his wagon. Vorsteher Fink appointed him to drive the delegates to Dufka. Fink had called several other villages, asking their Vorsteher to send delegates too, but none would. About ten or twelve young men volunteered, or were coerced into going, and most of them were from poor families who never owned enough worldly goods that they could have taken from them to make it worth the life of one of their sons. They loaded aboard Conrad Schlidt's wagon and rode to Dufka, getting there in the evening, just as the Commissar was setting down to supper with his wife and two children.
They rode into the yard, knocked and asked him to come out into the yard for some conversation. Things turned hostile and the son of the Miller grabbed a pitchfork leaning against the side of the Russian's house and stuck it into the man’s stomach several times. Then they all got back into the wagon and returned to Norka. The man died a slow agonizing death. This Russian's name was similar to khrushchev who was later a Russian leader. It took the Bolsheviks about ten days to two weeks of questioning different people in different villages before they concluded the wagon and team belonged to a man from Norka. In the meantime, upon the return to Norka, the lad who did the sticking and his father both left Norka that night and I never ever saw either of them again, but Katherine Weber Rudolph said they had returned to Norka and she saw them before she left Norka in 1925. Vorsteher's Fink and Spoe both left town the next day and were gone until long after the retaliation against the whole village of Norka. When they did come back, both were publicly whipped, as the urge for bloody revenge had subsided by this time.
One forenoon, the bells started ringing to assemble the villagers in an emergency. When we got there, we saw a squad of Russian cavalrymen. They informed us that the village was completely surrounded. When we glanced at the bridges we could see Russian troops at each bridge and artillerymen had artillery pieces on the knolls in the gumno. We were given one hour to have every male over the age of eighteen assembled, or they would start lobbing cannon fire into the village. A dog couldn't have slipped out of town unnoticed. The young Russian officer in charge, brought a Volga German man named Schneider, from the village of Dinkel along as interpreter, as he was fluent in the Russian language. When the hour was up, Mr. Schneider told us that they had come to arrest the men who had stabbed the Commissar to death and the guilty were to step forward. Three times the Russian officer called out that the guilty step forward, each time a little louder. Conrad Schlidt stepped forward, and Schneider the interpreter said for him to stand about ten paces away from the rest of the assembled men. At this time an old man named Heinrich Glantz (Glanz) stepped forward and told the interpreter Schneider that, "If you take Conrad Schlidt, you had better take me also, as he was ordered to go by the Vorsteher, only because he was the only one around with a wagon at the time." When the interpreter told this to the young officer, he told Conrad Schlidt to step back into the ranks with the rest of us. Then one after another, some of the young men stepped forward, until the interpreter Schneider said softly, "das langt schon, die suchen nur sechs nebst dem fuhrman." (That's enough, they are only looking for six besides the driver). By this time seven young men had stepped forward other than Conrad Schlidt and old Mr. Glanz. They were Johannes Hannesy Sinner, my sister-in-laws young brother, a Hahn boy the only son of Schneider (tailor) Hahn; Adam Mikkels or Michels, known as Schepnasiger (crooked nosed) Adam . He lived in the gully called Weins Grava on the southern side of Norka. Another Hahn boy who also lived in Weins Grava and was known as the Arme (poor) Hahn; a boy named Adam Gruen (Green), who was a neighbor of my uncle; a Johannes Kreiger; and also a boy named Burbach. The last two had brothers living in America, specifically in the Portland, Oregon area, which I will tell of a little later.
They were told to get into a wagon. The mounted troops led the way out to the stone quarry, just across the Huckere Bridge and down a steep, narrow road bending toward the Ella Bahn (creek). A mounted Russian riding near the rear dropped back next to the wagon and told the two Hahn boys they should try to escape if they possibly could, because they were going to be shot. He had been in the army with one of the Hahn boys during WWI against Germany, so knew him well and sorrowed for him. When the entourage got to the narrow, rutted, downhill road into the rock quarry, the troops all rode ahead so they wouldn't have to ride behind the wagon and inhale all of the dust. The son of Arme Hahn let himself over the tailgate of the wagon, dropping into the dusty roadway, then scrambling up the road and over into the Weins Grava area to his house, where his wife accompanied him to the threshing area, where the grain stacks were piled about 15 to 20 feet high, taking a ladder along. He got up as high into the stack as the ladder would allow and she took the ladder and returned home. Schneider Hahn's son wouldn't escape with him, determined to face the music with the others. The townspeople had been told not to come near the quarry for the bodies before the next day, or they would be shot too. Evidently Adam Mikkels (Michaels) wasn't killed instantly, because during the night, he crawled home to his front yard and tried crawling over the fence. He was found there dead in the morning and the fence covered with his blood, from his unsuccessful try at climbing over it. The troops spent three days camped nearby, while they searched for Hahn and waited for Spoe and Fink to return to Norka.
They rode through the threshing areas, jabbing their swords into the piles of stacked grain and I suppose if they had been more brutal, they could have fired each stack, but that was the village supply of grain for the year and they would be back for a share. When the troops left, they took 300 of the best horses of the village, plus the wagons they wanted and loaded them with grain we had on hand. They took three wagon loads of guns and ammunition from the villagers. They returned in a few weeks to humiliate the Vorsteher Fink and Spoe with a public whipping. The Hahn boy stayed hidden for over a month and to my knowledge never was sought thereafter.
When the Red Army came into our area they decreed that all young men of draft age must report to Saratov, get physicals and be trained to help wipe out the resistance to the Bolshevik takeover. There were White Army and Cossack groups of the Czar’s army still fighting in various parts of the country. Many of us walked to Schilling to take a boat to Saratov, and it was a real windy day, causing sandstorm like atmosphere during our walk. By the time I got to Saratov and reported for the physical, I had rubbed my eyes so much that the eyeballs were scratched and my eyeballs blood red, so they gave me a paper to go to the hospital to get treatments, then return for re‑examination when the hospital released me.
I got on the boat and returned home, as did several others who had the same eye problem. One day a village Sotnick arrived at the door and asked me to go with him to the courthouse. There a Red Army officer and a squad of soldiers waited and they rounded up 14 of us from Norka, who had just returned to Norka rather than report for the army training. They escorted us to Balzer, picked up more, then to Katharinenstadt where we had physicals, were inducted and I was assigned as a mechanical aid to a truck driver hauling troops to various places that the Red Army was fighting resistance. We all got orders that we would be going on a journey in the morning, to fight White Army troops. That night eighteen of us slipped out of camp and headed for home.
When I got home I stayed close to the house in the daytime, but at night I would travel to Oberdorf after sundown and stay with my Aunt Dimbet Schleining for the night, then return home the next day. The army had a way of sneaking in after dark and catching the young men asleep, so I never slept at home. One night when there was a big doings at the Grashaus and almost everyone of the village was there, a troop came in accompanied by a Volga German officer who had been in the Czar’s army, then was one of the many who decided to join the Bolsheviks and overthrow the Czar. They rounded up those of us who had run off and hauled us to Saratov, for trial. A Red Army officer there decided we were all to be shot for desertion within the next week. As capital offenses had to be re‑examined by a higher group of army officers, we lucked out. During our confinement, people were being shot daily, but when the higher tribunal met to review our cases, an old career colonel got up and told the tribunal that he was more familiar with these cases concerning the young Volga Germans and army life, because he had tried to train so many of them as they were drafted from about 1900 and they were all dumb farmers, who didn't speak the Russian language, had never been away from the farm enough to know anything or need to know of Russian laws up to now. He recommended we be re-trained and serve in a labor force rather than be trained to be foot soldiers. They shipped us to Katharinenstadt (now Marx) for assignment handling supplies far troops fighting a Walooking, who headed the White Army and was trying to take Katharinenstadt. I remained in Katharinenstadt until all hostilities were over in 1920, then returned home to Norka.
Things were getting real bad around the Volga German villages. My brother George who had been safe and snug in Portland, Oregon had returned to Norka, trying to talk my parents into going to Oregon, but failed. In the process he wound up with his wife Louisa dying in 1918 and then he married a neighbor girl Margaret Doring (Doering). Besides my wife Anna Marie, I had a son Adam, born in 1914, a daughter Amelia in 1916 and Mollie in 1918. Both girls died and I buried them in the same grave, although they died several months apart. Reverend Weigum was very upset and unhappy, because I took the cover off the child’s casket that died first, so I could see the changes, when I buried the second girl.
The food situation became desperate. The government troops had come often to requisition supplies, then with the revolution, most villages were plundered by troops from all sides, as they saw fit to stop and take what they wanted. They generally gave paper receipts, which nobody was reimbursed for to my knowledge. People hoarded, if they had it. Many buried, burned, or wasted grain, just to keep military troops from getting it. People started complaining about having bought their relative’s dusch and now those relatives were living in luxury abroad while those left behind were starving abused and scared of what might come next.
I had been in the Czars' army, the Bolshevik army and the “Green” army. That was what they called us that wanted no army and used to return home, hiding out in the crop fields and getting crops planted, harvested, or making wood and doing other chores, while staying away from the homes as they used to come into the villages in the night, looking for Germans who had wandered away from the army camps. There were people in our village, as well as the rest of the villages, who chose to side with the Bolsheviks, because they had been unfairly victimized by some of our own German folk. They would turn you in. Those with money didn't mind making a fast ruble from a fellow German and fleeced a countryman as quickly as they would a Russian peasant. Many of our German people held grudges against fellow villagers who had done them wrong in Russia. Some to the extent that they told everyone about it after coming to America. Our own nephew, who visited us from Siberia in 1972, refused to carry a gift of cash home to a needy fellow villager, from his brother over here, because the brother in Russia had sold the family a cow, shortly after the death of my brother-in-law, which was to freshen in a week or two, so the widow and orphans could have fresh milk. The cow never had a calf, so the widow and orphans were swindled, but it took thirty‑five years or more for one of the orphans to get even.
In October 1921, a group of us were tending the fire and boiling beets to make sugar syrup. Many of the villagers asked my brother George about the United States and how much problem it would be to get there if we left in a few days. I tried to tell them that we had better wait until spring, but everyone was ready and willing to leave at the drop of a hat. In 1906, when George and his first wife Louisa Schnel left and went by train to Germany, there was no war, poverty, or other complications. On there return in 1913 it was an easy trip, so there really wasn't any way of knowing what we were going to have to endure in making this trip. In all, twenty-nine people decided to leave in different directions and at different times, so pro‑Bolshevik neighbors wouldn't know and turn us in. Everyone needed papers to travel which you had to get from the village authorities, unless you had your Russian Army discharge papers, which would suffice. They of course didn't know we planned on leaving the country and still allowed us to travel from our village to other villages at this time. In our departing group were two young Krieger men, sons of Endrich (drake) Krieger. The father had always made duck noises as he was growing up and the villagers referred to him as Entrich Krieger. One young Krieger had a wife and two sons. The Krieger brother had a wife and one child. My father-in-law, Dicker Helzer and wife, had three children going besides my wife and I and our son Adam. My brother George, traveled with his wife Margaret Doering and their two daughters, Elizabeth and Amelia and Margaret’s brother Jacob Doering and his wife Katharina and a newborn infant. There was a family of five and a family friend, Conrad Weidenkellar, single, but he was taking his girlfriend Katherine Kildau (Kilthau) too. Her folks wouldn't approve of her going, as her sister had gotten killed when she was pulled out of a train going from Norka to Germany with the George Schleining family in 1905 or 1906.
Katherine sneaked her best clothes over to my brothers a few pieces at a time and the night we were leaving, Conrad Weidenkellar tapped at her window, she snuck out and left with us and her folks wouldn't know where she was, until many of the party returned to Norka, months later.
In 1905‑06 when the George Schleining family left Norka for Lincoln, Nebraska they took the Kildau girl along, as she had received passage from a suitor already over here, whom I believe was a man named Lofing (Lofink) and she was to help Mrs Schleining care for three children and they would be her chaperone. In a month or so, word got back to Norka that the girl had fell from the train en route to Germany and died. In 1985, I was told by Henry and Conrad Schleining, two of the children she was helping to tend, that she had either just given the children a drink from the water dipper hanging in the water bucket, when a Russian soldier asked for the dipper, which wasn't empty, or the soldier handed her the dipper with water in it, so she decided to open the door and throw out the remaining water before handing the dipper back, so that the drinker wouldn't get leftover water. When the door opened, it dragged her out with the suction and she fell under the wheels and was killed. This explains the families unwillingness to let the younger daughter Katherine go on a similar trip.
We left Norka about 3:00 a.m. after Conrad Weidenkellar got his girlfriend out of bed and arrived at our house. My brother George had sold all of his belongings and home. I sold my personal property and the home had belonged to our parents and would still be in the possession of my brother Johannes, who was hauling us to Saratov by wagon, but remaining in Norka. Johannes had three children. His wife's family, Katza Sinner lived in Norka, so she didn't want to move. The fourteen of us left one way in Johannes's wagon and the others left from another direction, but we would meet in Minsk after taking a train from Saratov I had the army discharge of my brother Johannes. George had his own papers. Conrad Weidenkellar had false papers made for him by an uncle and his parents had no idea he was going along either, but his uncle would tell them in a day or so. Conrad and I were still considered army draftable, so the authorities wouldn't have given us papers to change residence.
The old regime money wasn't considered good. The new money was made in sheets and cut up like coupons for discounts of today. When we got to Saratov it took a million rubles of paper money per person, for fare to Minsk. We had planned on getting a guide to take us across the Polish border right away, but a Jewish guide asked a million rubles each to take us, and everyone but my brother George was short of funds by now. We had no idea of the inflation of our money when we left home. Another Jewish labor contractor hired us to work at repairing a railroad depot and rail yard, damaged by the war and about sixty kilometers away, so we decided to do the work and earn the money to continue after the job was completed. The railroad furnished two boxcars and lumber to build bunks and living quarters, which they moved to the job site. We completed the job, but my father-in-law died while we were working there, so the widow and her three children decided to return to Norka, along with all of the others in the party, leaving only my brother George and his wife and two children, I and my wife Anna Marie and our son Adam, Conrad Weidenkellar, his girlfriend Katherine Kilthau and Jacob Doering and wife and child, who intended to go on to Germany from Minsk.
My brother George sent Conrad Weidenkellar into town to find a guide. He came back and demanded a million rubles of paper, or he would take twenty rubles of silver, or the equivalent. Katherine Kilthau, Jacob Doering and wife and Conrad Weidenkellar didn't have enough money, but Conrad needed only a small loan from my brother George so he could pay, so he told his girlfriend Katherine, that she had better go back to Norka with the Krieger and Helzer’s. The Jew brought a big sled and eight of us piled in and headed out, thinking that the rest would return to Norka. Jacob Doering made a little sled of materials we had in the boxcar living quarters, wrapped the baby in a belz (sheepskin), tied it to the sled which he pulled and he, his wife and Katherine Kilthau followed our sled runner tracks to Krakow, Poland on foot, but we wouldn't know this until they caught up to us in Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany in about April of 1922.
We left Russia on Christmas Eve 1921, in the worst snowstorm I ever saw. It had been a bright clear cold night, but soon the snow came down so thick, that you couldn't see the rumps of the horses pulling the sleigh. We traveled about sixty versts (one verst is about 3,500 feet) or so, through the fence on the border. The guide stopped and walked to a shack, where I assume he paid someone to let the fence drop, so we could pass through. When we got to Krakow my wife, my brother, his wife and the younger child, were all sick with influenza, or such. My wife had small black pox all over her body. We were all in a weakened, starved condition from the existence in the boxcar with improper diet, while working at the railroad yards trying to earn money to pay the guide. Sitting still in the sled in the cold, was evidently harder on our party, than it was on the Backer family from Erlenbach, who were led astray by a Jewish guide and wound up walking two nights, as well as for our own Jacob Doering and wife and Katherine Kilthau, who walked in our sled tracks unbeknownst to us at the time.
We met the Becker party in the boiler room of the courthouse in Krakow. It was a party of fourteen or fifteen people counting the children. They had rented a boxcar in Erlenbach on November 27, 1921 and all piled into it to travel as freight instead of paying the millions of rubles to ride in a Pullman car. They found they were being side tracked by rail crews, then it took money to get hooked to another freight to continue on. They hired a Jew to guide them a day before we did, but he hauled them by sled to a point about a quarter of a mile from the border and said he had someone waiting across the border fence to haul them on the Poland side, and they had to walk, so no sled tracks would show for border guards to see. With the children and women being slow, he told them he couldn't wait for them, but he would lead the way to the border fence and make arrangements on the Poland side, all they had to do was follow his tracks to the sleigh on the other side of the border. In the Becker party were Johann Georg Becker Jr., Anna's cousins son, although he was older than Anna. His wife Maria Uhrich and three children; Conrad Decker and his wife Maria Backer, who was Anna's niece; Heinrich Maier (Meyer) and wife Anna (nee Uhrich), another niece of Anna's; Conrad Uhrich, age 13, a nephew and brother to Anna Uhrich Maier; David Backer with a wife and son. He was a second cousin to Anna Backer.
They followed his tracks, but when he got to the fence, he had veered off at an angle, returning to his sleigh in a round about way. They walked all night, and about daybreak Anna said "let’s go over to that house and ask directions, we have been walking in circles all night." The group leader, her cousin Johann Georg Beckers’ son George, asked her, "how do you know we've been walking in circles all night?'' She told him she had seen the clothes hanging frozen, on a clothesline, at least twice before. George, who could speak Russian fluently, went over to the snow tunnel, which led down to the farmer’s front door and hollered down a greeting in Russian. The snow was so deep it covered the eaves of the low shack type house and they had walked on top of the frozen snow and the farmer had a tunnel into the drift over his house. The Russian farmer opened the door and came out. They engaged the farmer in conversation, relating their experience to him. The farmer urged them all to come in and he got his family out of their warm beds and the whole fourteen or fifteen of the Becker party got into the warm unmade beds and slept until dusk that night. When he woke them, his wife had made a large kettle of soup and they fed them all, where upon the Becker party gave the farmer’s wife a large goose feather pillow and several other things for the generosity. The farmer then said, "I will now lead you to the border and you can manage the walk to Krakow. At the border fence, the menfolk lit their pipes for a last smoke with the generous farmer. He told them to travel straight ahead, not veering a bit, and by daylight, they should be close enough to Krakow to hear the roosters crow and village dogs barking. Maria Becker, Annas' niece then took a fancy pillow from her pack and gave this to the farmer for a farewell-parting gift. They exchanged good‑byes and well wishes and got on their way.
As the night progressed, Anna Becker got further behind, as her bundles of treasures were bogging her down. Finally she couldn't even hear the voices of those ahead, so she just collapsed in the snow, too tired to proceed. She leaned against her backpack and just wanted to go to sleep. Up ahead her niece missed her and told the others to stop and go back to find Anna. Her husband said, "We are all too tired. We cannot scatter to look for one person or we all freeze to death.'' George Becker Jr. finally said they could all use a rest if someone wanted to backtrack looking for her, but they wouldn't all go, or wait too long. Maria broke down and cried and told them, " You can all go on if you like, but I am going back and find her, or wait here for her." Her husband finally consented and they went back and found her sound asleep against her pack. He tore her bundle apart and threw most of her belongings away and said, "I have lightened your pack and now you must keep up, or we'll have to leave you behind for the survival of the rest of us." They helped her to her feet and led her back to the group and they proceeded on their journey. At the dawning of day, they heard roosters crowing, and then dogs barking and they used the sounds to guide them into Krakow. Soon the buildings of town appeared against the skyline and they were met at the edge of town by a town constable, who led them to the courthouse basement where the Brill party had arrived a little earlier, by sled. They all laid around the furnace and slept most of that day.
With both the Becker party of fifteen and the Brill party of eight, the basement got crowded. Anna Becker sat her wet shoes down next to the furnace to dry while she slept. They dried hard and the toes pointed straight up. She bent them down to put them on and one broke in two and she had only a half a shoe on one foot, until she got to Germany. She would wear a man’s heavy wool sock over the toes and shoe for two weeks.
Anna Marie Brill, my wife, was very ill now and everyone was afraid to be near her because of the black spots on her face and body. My son Adam was bloated from malnutrition, and my brother George, his wife and children were very ill as well. The local authorities and the Red Cross got both parties on a train to Warsaw. Anna Becker bathed the face of my wife and tried to make her comfortable, as she looked like she would die any minute. Because of the death of her husband and being nearly frozen to death in the snow, she didn't particularly care if she caught anything from this poor dying woman. She had prayed for death several times in the past month, and really felt it was inevitable.
When the train arrived in Warsaw, the Red Cross met us at the station. The Brill party was all taken to the hospital to be examined. The Becker party was taken to a train being assembled to take refugees onto Germany, and we thought we had seen the last of them at this time. After our examinations, Conrad Weidenkellar, my son Adam and myself were taken to a train to go on to Germany, as we weren't as ill as the rest of our party. We were told that they would be cared for and when well, they would join us in Frankfurt at the displaced persons (DP) camp.
Conrad Weidenkellar was more worldly and outgoing than I was. He and I kidded around with a female Red Cross helper, who carried soup and bread to passengers on the trip. He actually talked her into giving us a small kettle of soup, which we kept hid and ate, even had some left upon our arrival in Frankfurt an der Oder. We arrived in the rain, and all the refugees were marched to a compound nearby, where all the people, including men, women and children, were made to undress. Everyone had their hair clipped to the scalp and was deloused. We were given a hospital type gown to wear and all of our clothes were sent to be deloused in large ovens nearby. The whole yard full of us were marched to barracks, which had been used to house prisoners of war, by the Germans during WWI and now served as refugee barracks for displaced persons to live in and work out of, until they received fares from relatives in other countries, or chose to become German citizens after the proper passage of time.
The barracks were buildings nearly a block long, having three heating stoves in each one, one at each end and one in the center. There were doors to the outside on both sides of the buildings, near the stoves. I suppose the location was chose for firing the stoves and for fire safety. There was a row of bunks down each side, the length of the building, with the aisle down the center, containing tables, from stove to stove the length of the building. Everyone was issued a cup, plate, knife, fork and spoon. By the time we were deloused, there had been name tags placed on the bunk we were to use during our stay in the barracks.
The next day Hilda Becker, about eight years old, discovered my son Adam. They were in a different barracks, and had been on the same train as we had rode, but in different cars. It was January 9, 1922 and we were safe, in Germany, but unsure and missed our sick members, who had been hospitalized in Warsaw. We had hopes they would arrive in a matter of weeks. In the meantime, we had the opportunity to go out to work for different people coming to hire refugees for menial jobs. We assumed that the rest of our friend’s who we left behind in Minsk, had returned to Norka. When we got enough earnings to buy German made clothes, we boxed up our sheepskin type Russian clothing and mailed it home to our families in Russia. The Red Cross provided the mailing expenses, because of the worsening situation in the Russian countryside. Later when we received a letter thanking us for the clothes, from my brother Johannes, he wrote that my sister Katherine (Brill) Lehl had died shortly after we left.
Conrad Weidenkellar got work in a shrub and tree nursery. I worked for a sanitation company that pumped septic tanks and hauled it to farmlands. Adam went to school and helped an old man deliver bread from a bakery to stores on Saturday and usually got some free day old bread, which we appreciated. Most of the Becker party had jobs at a potato warehouse. We saw them occasionally, because Hilda and Adam were of the same age and played together. The German language newspaper listed names of refugees living in the barracks, in their editions in the United States, and I, my wife and Adam, were listed, although my wife was hospitalized in Poland. A man named Riegert in Portland, who took the paper, saw our name and mentioned to my brother Conrad, that he must have a relative in the barracks, waiting for fares to the United States because a family of Conrad Brills' from Norka was living at the barracks, wanting to hear from relatives in America.
My brother Conrad got together with my sisters and relatives in Portland and soon tickets for the three of us arrived. Conrad Weidenkellar wrote to his uncle in Portland, who answered, stating he couldn't help him, but he sent the address of another uncle in Nebraska, who sent him a ticket. The Becker’s wrote to their relatives in Oklahoma, but because there were fifteen people, related to the same folk, it was an impossible situation and they were investigating other possibilities. Anna had written to her brother Jacob and he advised her that she find work and stay put in Germany until he could get her financing. The rest were contemplating going to Argentina. A Catholic Priest visited the barracks regularly, signing up refugees to go to Argentina. The church paid the fares and the immigrants could work it off at church owned haciendas. He wrote her that Argentina was as far from him and sister Marik as Russia, so be patient and stay put. The fare at this time was about $475.00 for two adults and a child. This included rail fare from New York to Portland, Oregon. In April, my sister-in-law Margaret, her daughter Elizabeth, her brother Jacob Doering and his wife, and Katherine Kildau (Kiltow), arrived from Poland. My wife, my brother George, and his young daughter had died from their illness.
They told us of the exploits of Jacob Doering, making the sleigh and the three of them following the sleigh tracks to Poland. Their baby had been wrapped in a belz (sheep skin) and normally would have kept warm enough, but as the baby wet its under garments during the night, the moisture froze and the baby froze to death. It was impossible to dig a hole, so they tunneled into a snow bank, where they placed the baby, hoping some Christian family would find it and give it a burial in the spring. Margaret never believed that her young daughter died in Poland. She felt that after George died, a doctor might have given the infant to a childless family, letting her believe it died. She didn't think the child was that ill and spent money the rest of her life, with fortune-tellers and such, looking for clues to what could have happened to her baby.
We had all planned on coming to Portland when we left Norka. Now Margaret chose to go to Colorado with her brother and his wife. Conrad Weidenkellar got fare from Nebraska, so was going there. I wrote my sister Elizabeth in Portland concerning the death of my wife and asking about the spare fare I now had. She advised me to find a good woman at the refugee barracks, who would be willing to make a home for my son and I. This all happened at the same time that the Becker’s signed up to go to Argentina, while Anna Becker decided to stay put. I propositioned her to marry me, as we were slightly acquainted and both in dire straights. She accepted, and on May 14th we married.
Anna Backer (Becker) was born May 5, 1899 in Erlenbach (Russian name Remennaja). She was the youngest child of Philip Jacob Becker and Katharina Elizabeth Busch. My records show that her mother was fifty-one years old when Anna was born, which corresponds with her relative’s beliefs here and her mother had two daughters pregnant at the same time she was pregnant with Anna. I received another date of birth for the mother from a relative in Russia, which showed her almost five years younger, so I am uncertain, but Anna always said her mother was over fifty when she was born. Many women had children to age fifty and over in Russia and because of the law giving male children land, it seemed that everyone tried to have children as long as possible. Many of us had nieces and nephews as old as ‑ and even older - than we were.
Anna Becker’s father had died when she was ten years old, and her oldest brother Heinrich took over the leadership of the family. He had married Charlotte Schmidt and they had four or five children, as well as Anna and her mother living together. At a time in 1902, they had six to seven Busch relatives living with them too. There were about eight Becker brothers in her dad’s family as well as seven or eight Busch uncles and aunts, so she was always surrounded by nearly a dozen cousins-nieces-nephews, who lived more like brother-sister to her. Her niece Maria Becker was older than she and was the person who returned to get her when she fell asleep in the snow before they got to Krakow. Maria was daughter of Heinrich Becker and Charlotte Schmidt. When Anna's mother died, she was nineteen, her brother thought that she should get married. They had a sister Marik, who had married Heinrich Weber, had a son, then come to America in 1900, after having two more children in the United States, they returned to Erlenbach, had two children there, then returned to United States. She also had a brother Jacob Philip, who changed his name to Baker when he came over in 1913. Her eldest sister Katherine Elizabeth (Dimbet) married a Gottfried Uhrich, stayed in Russia, but had two children in the party going to Germany with this party in 1921. Her brother Jacob had done his compulsory military training, receiving his discharge in March of 1913. His commanding officer, a Russian, told him "Jacob, if I were you, I would take my family and leave for the United States where your older sister lives, because things are going bad here and I fear a revolution. Jacob had married Eva Ginter (also Ginder) in Erlenbach; they had a son Alexander and left Russia in 1914.
Anna married a family friend whom she had known all her life. He was considerably older than she was but this generally happened, as marriages were generally arranged by family, or matchmakers. He was in the army, so they never had a chance to settle into married life, before he was detailed to escort two prisoners to a military prison. It was several days journey, and he had an army wagon, horses and a rifle. He and the prisoners were amiable and friendly. At night he slept on the ground under the wagon in order to hear in case the prisoners moved to escape. He must have gotten asleep too soundly, as they descended the wagon and got his rifle before he could rouse himself. They left and when he followed them on foot, they threatened to shoot him if he took another step in their direction. He returned to the wagon and proceeded to the military prison, where he was sentenced to sit out the sentence imposed on the two escapees. It was custom in those days to do this, or you could get someone else to sit for you when you were jailed, so you could get out for special occasions.
By this time the revolution was in full gear, so food was scarce, but Anna traded some goose feather quilts for dried fish. She would share the dried fish with a neighbor man, who would then go sit in prison in her husbands place while he came out to bathe, get a decent meal, visit friends and relatives. This continued until she had nothing left to barter and nobody to go sit in the cell. She couldn't even get transportation to the military prison. Soon she got word that her husband had starved to death, and they mailed her his death certificate.
Just at this time her cousins son was forming a group of relatives planning to go to Germany, and from there to the United States, or anywhere they could go away from the starvation taking place in Russia. She decided there was no use in staying behind, as her brother and sister still in Russia had large families and were destitute too. Her brother and sister in the United States were having some problems, but were in much better shape than the families remaining in Russia. She decided she would join them. The group rigged up a boxcar they had rented, for the trip to Minsk. When the train got partway to Minsk, it was sidetracked and they were told that the engine had to pick up some priority freight cars. It took several days and cash under the table, several times, before they finally reached Minsk two days before Christmas, 1921, after starting from Erlenbach on November 27th. In Minsk, Johan Georg Becker Jr. found the Jewish guide, who was going to arrange their sled rides to Krakow, Poland. They all paid him a million rubles in paper money, except Anna, who gave him twenty rubles in silver, which he accepted. Then they got started on the trip, which turned out to be a two nights walking episode, instead of the sleigh ride to Krakow they had paid for, and in the process it threw us together by a quirk of fate, which led to our marriage and ten children.
After the marriage, we went to file papers to leave Germany for the United States. Upon taking our physicals, it was discovered that Anna had some problems with her eyes, as did many of the refugees' just arriving from Russia. I think it had to do with the bright whiteness of the countryside during the walk from Russia to Krakow, and possibly the starvation most of the people suffered through. In Anna's case, they had packs full of dried salted fish, they left Erlenbach with, and probably from then, until they reached Krakow, the fish and bread was all they ate. Here we sat, married, but Anna was referred to an eye clinic, which thought they could remedy her situation in a month or two of treatments. We had ship passage for September, and we went to the eye clinic daily until departing time, then it was decided that Anna had to stay behind for treatments, so my son Adam and I left her behind, in care of the eye doctor, but living in the barracks among the people she knew, or had become acquainted with. Her relatives going to Argentina had all left when Adam and I left Frankfurt an der Oder for the United States.
List of refugees at Frankfurt (Oder) in on September 8, 1922 prepared by the Central States Volga Relief Society. Konrad Brill is listed with three other persons in his party (line #44) . Konrad was with his son Adam Brill and his second wife, Anna (née Becker). The third person in the party is unknown. Many Volga Germans fled Russia during the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution which brough civil war and famine to the countryside. Courtesy Heimkehrlager Frankfurt/Oder website (July 2013).
Adam and I boarded either the ship S.S. Samland, or the S.S. Mongolia, I am uncertain at this time. (Webmasters note: Konrad and Adam Brill sailed from Hamburg aboard the S.S. Mongolia on September 16, 1922 and arrived in New York on September 27, 1922). For the second time in less than a year, I was leaving a wife behind because of her health. We were pretty sure my first wife wouldn’t make it when we left her in Warsaw, now I had remarried so my son would have a good stepmother, but because of eye problems she was being left behind and in my mind, I wasn't too sure she would ever be allowed to leave. The camp was full of people turned down, and some, even returned from America, after being rejected for entry at Ellis Island. A family acquaintance of Annas' was there, rejected, and we wouldn't see her again until she visited Portland, Oregon in the 1950's-60's to see relatives. There we met with her, and she told us that she remained in Germany, got a good job, then later she started a ladies dress shop in Weisbaden, Germany. Her name was Anna Jauck, and while living in Michigan, we met and became acquainted with some of her family that had come over earlier.
The steamship Mongolia. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Ship manifest for the S.S. Mongolia showing Conrad Brill and his son Adam on lines 16 and 17.
Anna felt like the world had come to an end. She had gone through the terrible crisis before leaving Erlenbach. Now, when she finally thought she would be able to get to America and her brother, sister and the many relatives there, she was being left behind. The relatives that were with her at the displaced persons camp left with the Catholic Priest for Argentina. Now there would just be Anna Jauck, whom she considered almost family, and of course the widow Margaret Brill, sister in law of her husband Conrad, but even the dialect that she spoke, from Norka, made having a good conversation difficult. Margaret also had her brother, sister in‑law and daughter Elizabeth, so with everyone being for himself or herself, working long hours, waiting for family assistance from America, the atmosphere wasn't such that they fraternized, only in passing. The most astounding thing that she could visualize of the situation, was that the Brill party rode on the sled, on the same night that the Becker party was forced to walk all night, then repeat the walk the next night, and the Brill party suffered four deaths due to the storm if you count the Doering baby freezing to death, while in the Becker party Annas’ eye problem was the only ill affect. Maybe there was still hope.
Now she was alone. Having always lived in a home full of family made her loneliness worse. Her mother had died in 1918, but the house was still full, with her brother, his wife and six children. (Four of these people would die in Erlenbach, in the famine of 1922‑25.) When she got married, it should have been a joyous time too, but with the fighting, her husband being imprisoned, then starving, everything was heaped on her to the point of making life unbearable. Therefore, when she had the chance to join with the clan members on the journey to a land they heard of in highest praises, she jumped at the chance, thinking that by joining her brother and sister in Oklahoma she could start a new life. Maybe the bad things that had happened to her, were God's way of making her new life in the future that much more enjoyable. That was all shattered when she got the news from her family in America, that the funds weren't readily available from either of the family members in the United States. So, when the widower with the son, proposed marriage and a way to America, she accepted. After all, the rest of the party was leaving for Argentina and going to America with the widower and his son wasn't much different than having a marriage match made in a village back in Russia.
After the Becker party left for Argentina and Conrad and Adam left for America, she found it very difficult getting to the clinic for eye treatments, but with the help of Anna Jauck, or someone else living in the barracks, she managed until in October, when the eye doctor thought her condition was such that she would be allowed to get into the United States, so advised her to go to a clinic in Hamburg for treatments and file for a passport again. As she packed to go, her mind wandered to the last time she had seen her niece Maria, to whom she owed so much for saving her from freezing to death in Poland, not to mention that she was the instigator of her leaving Erlenbach in the first place. Lately she had feelings of remorse concerning her decision to leave Erlenbach. Maria was her brother Heinrich's eldest child and Armes' age, so they were raised more like sisters than aunt and niece. When the Becker party got all their paperwork and examinations over and were packing, Maria came over for a last visit and goodbye with her aunt. She felt that being as Anna was turned down for entry to America, there was nothing left for her, but to return to Erlenbach, with the next group of people going back for lack of funds, or because of physical problems, even though she was married and had a ticket to the United States. The two visited for several hours, discussing the friends and family left behind in Erlenbach, the trials of the trip for the ones there in Frankfurt and even the ones over in America, who weren't able to help the group to get to the United States. When they finally ran out of time, Anna decided to walk to the street with Maria, where they held each other and cried. That was the last time they would ever see each other. Forty years later Anna would send many international money orders to Maria in Argentina, after Maria was widowed and alone.
Adam and I had an uneventful trip from Germany to Ellis Island. The lower decks were full of men women and children. The smells that permeated the area were terrible, but because we were headed for a new home and our relatives, we made the best of things. I had one bad scare during the ocean ride over. Adam spent most of the nice days out on deck and away from the stench of the passenger quarters. When the ship started pitching because the sea was getting choppy, I went out to get him back inside, and found him lying an his stomach at the rail of the ship watching the waves pitch up and down before him. The wind had blown his cap overboard, and he was watching for it, but I'm not sure if he was just mesmerized by the waves, or contemplating going after the cap if it came into sight. We had just bought the whole new suit and clothes from the skin out, for the trip to America and losing the cap so soon, was a big thing to him. We arrived in New York about 2:00 p.m. and the next day our papers were processed, and we were boarding a train for Portland, Oregon.
When we got to Chicago, a man got on the train with several boxes of apples. He walked up and down the aisle of the cars and sold apples to passengers buying foodstuff from vendors, rather than eating in the diner. Adam kept begging me to buy some, as we had never seen apples this big and seeing them, caused pangs of hunger. He had been bloated from malnutrition when we arrived in Germany, from Russia. He kept asking, and I kept telling him, like only a Volga German parent could, that they were too expensive. We had only a little Erlaubnis Gelt left. This is a sum in cash that one had to have before being allowed to board the train. This way the authorities knew nobody could get on completely broke or destitute and be forced to beg, or starve. The man heard our bickering. When he finished his trip through the train, he came back and sat to talk with us, while he waited for the next stop, where he got off and took another train back to the Chicago depot. He knew we were Germans of a sort, and he asked where we had come from and where we were going. When we told him we were going to Portland, he told us that these apples came from Hood River, Oregon and they had the best apples in the world there. He also gave us four apples, which we appreciated. We thanked him then and again, long after he was gone and we were consuming the last of the apples. It took five days by train to reach Portland.
When we got to Union Station we were lost. I suppose nobody expected us so soon, or they figured we would be able to get around as easily as they could. They had been here sixteen years though, and we were sow‑dumb, as the people used to say in the old country. We got off the train with our baggage and looked at all the people bustling, or standing around. Several redcaps came by wanting to be of assistance, but we knew about as much English, as a cow did of Spanish, so we went outside of the depot, sat our baggage down and leaned against the side of the building watching the hustle and bustle of Union Station, while we waited for Lord knows what. We watched cabbies pulling in and out of the cab area, and finally after several hours of this standing around, a redcap approached us with a cabby in tow. The redcap had told the cabby that we used the same language that the redcap had heard the cabby use, so knew he could be of help. He asked if we were from Russia and where we were going. I quickly told him we were going to the home of my Aunt and Uncle Heinrich Weidenkellar. He said, "My name is Sinner, also a Volga German, I know them well, so get in." He took us to their home. We spent the night with them. By that time my brother Conrad, sister Elizabeth and her family all knew we were here too and we moved in with my sister Elizabeth and her family, where we awaited the arrival of Anna, hopefully soon.
Anna was finally cleared to immigrate to the United States and boarded a ship in Bremen, which left there on December 3, 1922. It was crowded with people from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Russian Jews. She met only one person with whom she could carry on conversation, a young lady named Anna Giesick. The trip across the water took about ten days. When she arrived at Ellis Island, she again ran into problems concerning her eyes. She was also asked for more money, as fares had increased since the purchase of her ticket. She wrote to Portland about these problems, and I contacted a German speaking attorney. He advised and we wrote that she had the prepaid ticket, her son and husband were in Portland, and there wasn't going to be anymore funds available. This letter allowed her to be released on December 22, 1922.
While Anna was at Ellis Island, she and Anna Giesick were both having the same runaround problems from the Immigration Department. They had told her she must return to Germany. Anna Giesick's case wasn't resolved by the time Anna Brill left Ellis Island, for Portland, so Anna wondered and fretted, to her dying day about the outcome of Anna Giesick's case.
Ship manifest for the S.S. Mongolia showing Anna Brill's arrival in 1922.
Anna boarded the train in New York on December 22. She had no idea of when the train would arrive in Portland. She had overheard several men from Czechoslovakia talking about Portland, Oregon, so she sat near them. Every time they got up and went somewhere, she would follow, as she didn't want to lose sight of them. Several times she nearly walked into the men's room, until she figured out what it was. A couple of times she followed them into the dining car, so she sat nearby and ate something too. When she finally saw them bundling up their belongings on December 27, she figured now was the time and place, so she got her own things together too. When the train stopped at the depot, and the three men got off the train, she got to thinking "What if it's not the same Portland I want? What will I do?" As she trailed down the aisle toward the door, she glanced out the side windows of the passenger car and there, near the head of the line of people waiting for passengers to detrain, stood Conrad. Her anxiety gave way to tears, and she cried for joy‑something she hadn't done for many months. As long as she lived, she would tell that she arrived in Portland, Oregon, at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, December 27, 1922. It turned out to be on the birthday of my aunt Lena Weidenkellar, my mother’s sister.
We stayed at the home of my sister and her husband, for about a month or two. We then rented a little house, which sat on the back of a lot behind a bigger house, which was owned by a former Norka resident named Schleining. The house was on Garfield Avenue and the rent was three dollars a month. Anna had gotten to writing to her family in Oklahoma, and by mail, we discovered that they had left Oklahoma and the dust behind, to find their fortunes in Michigan, where the automobile industry was going great guns. Soon she was corresponding with many relatives, all trying to get information concerning families that they still had in Russia. From the day she landed in Portland, until her death in 1975, she would keep in contact with relatives in Russia, Argentina, and all over the United States. In 1922 though, we were getting letters, praising the auto industry and how plentiful work was in the east, so if things didn't go well for us in Oregon, we were advised to make the move to Michigan.
I wasn't able to speak any English, so had to depend on relatives and friends to steer me to work so I could earn money to support my family until I learned enough English to go find work on my own. I have always been grateful for the help I received during those trying times, but, being a stubborn Volga German, I probably never did come out and openly thank those helpful, as often as I now feel I could have. I still have the same problem today, and I suppose know it better than anyone else. So now at my ninetieth birthday, I know it's kind of late to thank the ones to whom I owed so much, for my life here. Many times I have wondered how the lives of all of us who left Norka in October 1921 would have been different, had we gone directly into Poland and Germany, instead of hiring out to work at the railway depot to earn money to pay the Jewish guide for the ill fated sled ride. My father-in-law was the first to die, while we were working at the railway depot, so his family returned to Norka. The Doering baby freezing to death on the walk to Krakow, my brother, his daughter, and my first wife all were dead due to the delay of the trip into winter. I guess there is no way of ever determining such a thing.
When my son Adam and I arrived in Portland in 1922, we got off the train at Union Station but nobody was there to meet us, so we stood around looking dismayed and dumfounded. It was obvious to anyone looking at us that we were foreigners by our dress. We stood amongst the people in the depot, lost and bewildered, wondering what we would do next. After an hour or two of this standing, we picked up our baggage and went outdoors where we set the baggage down and leaned against the building, hoping someone would show up to find us. A redcap, who had tried several times to communicate with us, finally brought over a cabby. This man asked if we spoke German, because the redcap thought we were speaking the same language that many others used in the area, including the cabby. We told him "Yes, we have just arrived from Russia." He had already guessed as much. He asked whom we were going to see in Portland? When I told him we were to go to my aunt Lena and her husband Henry Weidenkellar, he informed me that he was also a Russian German named Sinner and if we would get into his cab, he would take us to the Weidenkellar's. He was acquainted with them. Needless to say, this relieved our minds and made our day.
Within the matter of a few hours, we were visited by my brother Conrad, sister Elizabeth and many nearby neighbors, all clambering for news of their loved ones left behind in Russia, as well as the exploits of our travels and misfortunes on the trip from Norka to Portland. My sister Lena was in Ritzville, (Washington) but would come visit immediately. While we were in the displaced persons barracks in Germany, we had sent our Russian clothes, which were heavy sheepskin and cold weather clothes, home to Norka to my brother Johannes. When they wrote to acknowledge getting the clothes, they had informed us by mail that my sister Katherine Lehl had died shortly after we left Norka, so we all had our grieving to go over again, here in Portland when we informed them of this fact. They of course were also friends to the rest of our group who returned to Norka from Minsk and felt at a loss because so many never made it to America.
Adam and I spent the night at my aunt and uncles, then we moved in with my sister Elizabeth and her husband Jacob (Yoske) Schleining and their family. Their oldest daughter Kate was born in Norka before they left there on a day that we had one of the worst blizzards I ever saw, in January of 1906. They had six children, when we arrived, so it made quite a house full. In the meantime we were franticly awaiting word from my wife Anna, whom I had married in Germany, but who wasn't allowed to take the trip with us because of her eye condition. Now the condition is easily explained and a lot of people like my wife Anna got over it and were allowed into this country, but many weren't so lucky. There were families broken up at the docks, when some member wasn't cleared to leave Germany. Some infected child would return to Russia with its mother, while the father and several more children went on ahead without them. In many cases the mother and child would never get to come to America. There were instances at Ellis Island where some people would be sent back, while the rest chose to come on. In many cases whole families would return to Europe rather than break up. It was a trying time and sometimes greed on the part of some official would be the cause. My wife Anna wrote us from Ellis Island, stating that we were to send more money before she would be cleared to leave there after she had gone through eye treatments in Germany and finally allowed to get on a ship for America. I went to discuss this with a pastor, who took me to a German speaking lawyer, who wrote that her husband and son were here in Portland, her fare had been paid in advance and there was not going to be any more money sent.
They allowed her to leave, and she arrived in Portland on December 27, 1922 on my aunt Lena Weidenkellar’s birthday. She had left Hamburg Germany on November 22, 1922 and got to Ellis Island about December 3rd. She had been detained at Ellis Island until about December 22nd before she got on the train to Portland.
We three stayed with the Schleining's for about a month, then we rented a small house on Vancouver Avenue, from an old man who was also a Schleining from Norka, and friend of our family. The old couple had two houses on one lot, and we rented from them for about three years. Portland was full of relatives and countrymen, who would visit us regularly to ask about various people still over there. Most of our folk had come over prior to World War I, so they and their children who were born in Norka were real interested in visiting us, but to their offspring who were born in this country after their arrival here, we looked like something from prehistoric times. Many of our own relatives who had been young enough so they went to American schools only, kind of looked down their noses at our dress and the fact we could only speak Norka dialect German and no English. It was especially hard on Adam who was eight years old. His cousins, his age had been born here and probably shunned him, while teachers weren't too eager to have to contend with this foreigner either. Needless to say he didn't fare too well in school, but having been born to our system, he was always eager and willing to work for what he got and I am proud that he raised seven children without ever needing to be on welfare.
After we had been in Portland for awhile, I was approached by a man named Gottlieb Riegert and his brother, concerning the execution of the young men in Norka, who had stabbed the Russian Commissar to death. It seems that the man named Schneider, who was from Dinkel and served as the interpreter for the Russian officer at the time of the executions, was here in Portland, on a trip concerning aid and communications, between our German speaking people in Russia and their relatives in the United States. He had been invited to speak at the church. The Riegert's informed me that a brother of one of the lads executed was forming a gang to shoot, or beat this man Schneider to death, when he came to speak to the Russian Germans at the church. I went with the Riegert brothers and talked to three men who were part of this plot. I told them how Schneider had only interpreted for the Russians, and that he had even told the assembled persons, that the Russians were seeking only five or six persons, and how he got Conrad Schlitt back out of the line of those to be executed, when old Heinrich Glantz told Schneider that the Vorsteher had ordered Conrad Schlitt to drive the young men over to the Russian village, in his wagon, only because he was there with his wagon, when they were ready to go. Old Heinrich Glantz had gotten additional courage after the Russian officer had released Conrad Schlitt from execution, and started begging the officer to release the Hahn boy, son of the tailor, because he was an only child, but the officer curtly rejected him and said that the dead Russian was also the only father of his children and if old Heinrich Glantz opened his mouth again, he too could be executed.
One of the three men, who was a brother to one of the boys shot, was appreciative of the true facts of the case, and gave me a silver dollar, which was the first one I had in America. The rumble that had been started by some of the church members to the pastor, because the man Schneider was to speak to the people in the church, was so great that the pastor decided this man shouldn't be allowed to use the church for his speech. A lot of members figured he was a communist, because the Russian soldiers had brought him along to Norka as interpreter, for the apprehension of the men who killed the Russian Commissar, and we shouldn't allow a communist responsible for the death of those boys to speak in our church. Other members thought the man should speak, so the population could find out what was taking place in Russia since the revolution was over, and to take back tidings to their relatives in Russia from here, because Schneider was returning to Russia after completing a tour of Volga German areas of the United States. The Reigert brothers and pro speech factor of the church got together and rented a hall on Williams Avenue, where the speech and discussions took place.
I can't begin to remember the many helpful and interesting people and the impressions they made on us, upon our arrival to this country. I will compile some of their names and brief history so it won't die off with the years as the people themselves have. They had been here long enough to set up business, beneficial to their countrymen, as well as for themselves. Mr. Weimer was himself a poor immigrant, who repaired and re blackened staves for his fellow countrymen, after coming from Kraft. He made rounds from house to house. He had roomed and boarded with a family, whose daughter he then married. He bought an old tumble down place on Union Avenue where he set up a repair shop and dealt in new and used stoves. Later he would build new from ground up, with financial loans from fellow Germans, which were transacted with a handshake. He went on to become one of the most successful businessmen in our community, selling on the installment plan. His customers were mostly Volga Germans.
Another man from Kraft was Mr. Geist, who most folk remember from his dry goods store. He probably extended more credit to his fellow countryman than the local bank. He had been such a good friend to my family, that for Christmas our family made purchases of clothing which we packed and mailed to Michigan for my eldest sons family, because we wanted Mr. Geist to have the business and to know how much we thought of him for his past generosity. Mr. Geist loaned many countrymen several hundred dollars on a handshake. We utilized the Geist Store even after the old gentleman had died and his son Bob was running the business.
In 1925 I got very sick. I turned yellow, got thin and ran high fever. I was taken to many doctors. Most of them suggested it was cancer and I was a goner. They took me to the hospital where they had most of the staff doctors examine me, and then a Doctor Sommers came to see me. He asked me to lay out my past life, where I had been and what I had done. The next day he came back and told me he was almost certain that I had something wrong with my liver and he would like to do some exploratory surgery the next day. He said that my symptoms coincided with a few rare cases he had read about, which were native to Turkey, where I had spent my years in the Czar’s Army. They operated and discovered I had a worm about the size of a caterpillar or your small finger, on my liver and two bags of puss, which contained eggs of this worm. The puss bags were the size of hen’s eggs. Needless to say I got better fast after they removed these. Dr. Sommers became very well known and his standing in the medical field went up rapidly, in the next few months.
In about 1926/27, I, my brother Conrad and Gottlieb Reigert, were setting on Mr. Riegert's front porch just south of the Geist Store, when a man drove up in a car, leaned out over the door, and asked in German, if there was any office space available in this area, that a man might rent as a doctors office. Gottlieb Reigert told the man that Doctor Bastron had just moved out of an office above the Geist Store, so it may be available. This man was Dr. Otto Uhle, he rented the space, and my daughter Marie was his first patient at this office. Mr. Geist and Doctor Uhle got along splendidly and when Mr. Geist ran ads in The Oregonian and Oregon Journal in those days, he usually mentioned that there was a doctor’s office upstairs over the store.
When Mr. Weimer built his hardware store, they built a large dance hall above it for communal dances. A group, including Mr. Weimer, Mr. Geist, Dr. Uhle and others formed a German American Club and there were many good times at Weimer's dance hall. When WWII started these clubs were frowned on as much as the Japanese peoples right to live on the West Coast. Dr. Uhle was a very outspoken man who got into several arguments at the hospital with one specific Jewish doctor. He was accused of being un-American for his outspoken feelings and the German American Club was named as un-American and closed up. Dr. Uhle was sent east as far as Chicago. The others explained to the authorities that they were German speaking people who actually were from Russia and not German Nationals, so other than closing the club all went well for them. Upon his return to Portland after the war, Dr. Uhle was never allowed to practice at any of the bigger hospitals of Portland, so had his clinic on N.E. 7th and Fremont and placed his patients at Sellwood or Holiday Park Hospitals.
There were several of our fellow Volga Germans, or Russian Germans, as some preferred to be called, in the grocery and/or meat business. Like most grocers of those days, they did most of their business on credit, or on the books. Usually it depended on a person’s job and how often he had paydays, which determined how often he paid his grocery bill. There was very little cash and carry business, which came into being mostly with the so-called supermarkets in the late thirties. Most employers paid their employees twice a month or every two weeks, then it was usually on Friday. When you paid your grocery bill, you usually got a cigar and a sack of penny candy to take home to the children if you had them, but which German family didn't? The grocer had wooden barrels of dill pickles, sauer kraut, pickled pigs feet, drums of kerosene, 100 pound bags of potatoes, sugar, flour, rice and beans. He bought from wholesalers, farmers and even neighbors who had good fruit, berries or vegetables. Farmers brought eggs and live chickens usually on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. My son killed and plucked about 50 chickens in a store basement every Friday night after the store closed, which were sold to our noodle soup makers on Saturday. He and his employer also made about 200 pounds of bratwurst on Friday afternoon before killing the chickens.
They would sack up potatoes, which were sold by the peck, or bushel, rather than the pound. Fruit was sold that way too. There were hundreds of Grade A raw milk dairies around and the price of milk was six cents a quart. Any bulk items, which came in barrels, could be bought by any amount you wanted, scooped into a grocery bag. Some of our countrymen in the grocery/meat business were Repp Brothers, Danewolf's, and Krombein's. During Prohibition you could even buy a little bootlegged whiskey at some stores. Usually it was put in a sack under a peck of potatoes and the supplier wasn't stupid enough to sell to someone he couldn't trust.
A few years later when we moved east, to Michigan, we discovered that grocers there and in most all of the other farming areas that we came into contact with, actually carried a farm family on the books for credit, until the grain, corn, beets and beans were harvested in the fall of the year. I never heard of one charging interest either. When you think back over this and consider that there was a small independent grocery store every seven or eight blacks apart, you can see how the coming of the supermarket (cash & carry) destroyed the Ma and Pa store, eventually this also in turn killed the small dairies which produced our milk and replaced these small Ma and Pa stores with banks every few blocks apart, which have gotten very big charging us interest for the use of bank cards and the credit, that the Ma & Pa store gave interest free. Even the furniture stores sold on the installment plan, as did clothiers, without an interest charge.
Conrad Brill's Declaration of Intention to become a United States citizen. The Brill family was living in Saginaw, Michigan at this time.
There were always too many churches. The reason I say this is because when we had a full church congregation, invariably one faction or the other would get into serious differences. When they did this at the neighborhood beer joint, they got out in the alley and slugged it out, but when it was at church, they would usually have a big split and one side withdraws and builds another church, rather than patch up their differences. As some of our people got richer they even chipped in large amounts to create these new churches. I know of two families who almost single handily paid for most of the cost of a new church, over petty differences, so they could hire their own minister and they pulled half of the congregation away with them.
Reverend Hopp was an influential preacher on the style or reputation of our preachers in Russia. As we built more churches, the pastor’s powers seemed to recede too. Most families having problems in the old country, usually sought out the pastor for advice, help, or counseling generally his word was law. At first it was this way over here too, then not having power or authority to settle a dispute by making himself judge and jury though, the pastor would advise, or even take a countryman to see a proper lawyer. It has been said that he was usually rewarded with money for arranging these things, just as he would be for performing a wedding ceremony. In the Thirties (1930’s) he actually helped two women from our neighborhood get their husbands committed to the asylum for the insane at Salem. The one lady told me she gave him $20.00 for his help, which she didn't think was wrong. In about six months or so she decided that although her husband was violent and mean, (he died of a brain tumor later) having him home working and bringing in his salary, was better than having no husband at all. She went back to see the pastor, who informed her that putting him away was easier and cheaper than getting him out. I am sure that he meant for attorney fees and all, but the neighbor’s suggested that he meant to make extra by this, so he was referred to in many instances as an "ambulance chasing preacher doing leg work for attorneys."
One of the most colorful of our folk in the area was Gottlieb Riegert. He lived in a house on Union Avenue between Failing and Shaver. He had diabetes and later had both legs cut off, but was usually thought of as one of our more notorious citizens. He had card rooms, gambling, moonshine and was always doing well because of his friendly nature and the fact that men and women seeking an evening out having a friendly drink or game of cards could come and enjoy themselves. He would sometimes loan money to widows or divorcees and it was said he could supply male or female relationships. Like the barber is always inquisitive of his customer, Riegert was with his, and because he sold moonshine there, he usually knew more of the personal side of many folks lives, than did the barber or the preacher.
Most of the people burned wood for heat. In late summer the wood started being piled on the strips of city owned land between the streets and sidewalks, where it sat until dried properly, then it was usually thrown into the basements and re-stacked until the basement couldn't hold anymore. Some folk had it brought out cut to the proper length, some bought cheaper slab wood in 8 foot or 16 foot lengths, depending on the storage room they had in the yard. We had an old fellow countryman, who came around with a horse and wagon with saw attached and he used his horse to work a treadle which run the saw to cut the slab wood. The area of Portland that was our Volga German area was always one of the cleanest neatest areas of Portland and visitors always remarked how good and clean it even smelled when the wood was piled along the streets drying. Many people who visited from coal burning areas usually had that picture pop into their minds when they heard the name of Portland, Oregon. The ashes created hauling jobs for our people and these ash haulers eventually turned into garbage haulers. I worked as a garbage hauler upon arrival, until I got a job at Nicolia Mfg. Co.
A lot of our people worked at Doernbecher Furniture, or some of the other furniture or door making operations in the area. Many started garbage businesses. Many people thought it a degrading type of job which only a Russian German with many kids and no money, or an Italian immigrant in the same fix would do, until in later years when others realized it was hardest of work, but was also very healthful being out in the fresh air in the early hours of the morning and paid better than furniture making. At first it was small and slow with many using horse and wagon. There were also fruit and vegetable peddlers as well as junk collectors roaming the streets with horse and wagon. Some even came with hand, push carts. I worked on a garbage route for some Spady brothers from Norka, on a part-time basis when I was searching for a steady job. We hauled away many things which were salvageable, that we could still use ourselves. On one occasion I remember during a rainstorm, a grocer’s basement got water up high enough to wet the bottoms of several 100-pound sacks of sugar, so the grocer had us haul it away with the garbage. We made a nice spot for it and dropped it off at a neighborly bootlegger's house, and it was used without waste, as well as making a little extra profit for the folks I was working for.
Vetter Hannes Spady lived near neighbors to the bootlegger, and the Spadys' had four boys as I remember, Henry‑John‑Louie, and the other slips my mind at this time. The boys watched where the moonshine was hidden, and one night swiped six gallons. They had garbage-carrying cans set upside down in the yard, airing out most every day and night. They sold me a gallon, and Henry Schreiber a gallon, then hid four gallons under the carrying cans in the backyard. The bootlegger came over to Spadys' as soon as he discovered his loss, accusing the boys of the theft. Mr. Spady went through the house and garage looking for the six gallons of booze, but couldn't find it. When they got out to the yard, he just on a whim tilted a carrying can over, and there was a gallon of moonshine, so they recovered four gallons and he apologized to the man for his boys petty larceny.
I finally got a job working for Great Northern Railroad. We had to move to Wendlin, Oregon, where I worked on a section line gang. There were quite a bunch of us Norka natives working together. A man called Schwindt's boije was our crew boss. A fellow employee was Conrad Weidenkellar, who was brother to my aunt’s husband Henry Weidenkellar. Conrad Weidenkellar had been seriously injured, when a handcar or sidecar; which the rail crew traveled on, was derailed going around a sharp curve and he was thrown out against a solid stone wall of rock in the downhill curve and he was badly broken up and unable to work for many months. Conrad didn't sue the company or give them any problems, because the District manager told him that if he didn't make waves, he would have a job for life. Many countrymen had thought and advised him to sue, but he didn't do that.
A lot of families of our countrymen, would pick berries, hops and other crops, to help garner more money for the expense of raising the large German families. Conrad Weidenkellar’s wife was picking hops in St. Paul, Oregon, so he would go to there on weekends to help her and spend the weekend with the folk there. Many of our people did the hop picking every year, until their families were raised. On the weekends that Conrad went to St. Paul, he usually didn't get back to work until Tuesday. This went on the whole time that his wife was in the hop yards, and being as I and Conrad rode to work together and lived practically together, Schwindt would ask me where is that old guy? I would tell him that he went to be with his wife for the weekend and hadn't made it back yet. Finally one Monday when he wasn't back, Schwindt told me when he got back to tell him he wasn't needed anymore. When I got off work and went home, Conrad was there and I relayed the message. He stayed home then, until payday, and when he went in for his check, he stopped in to see the District Manager, who told him to go back to work and he would be paid for the days he lost, then he came out to the job and berated Schwindt and told him that Conrad was not to be messed with as the other employees.
We were really starting to get ahead in this new land of ours. I was working hard, but getting good pay too and saving. If one could have seen into the future a little better, we would have probably stayed in Portland and gotten financially sound, but there was the matter of getting my wife Anna together with her brother and sister and their families, was always uppermost in Anna’s thoughts. They had left the Oklahoma farms and moved to Michigan, where the automobile industry was going great at that time. Of course we missed the people we left behind in Russia, but there being only a brother Johannes still alive there and the fact things were so terrible at the time of our leaving, it never was a temptation to return to Russia, but my promise to Anna to get her to her relatives won out, and we planned our trip, or move, believing that if all didn't go well, we could return to Portland.
A copy of the original manuscript was presented to Steven Schreiber by William Burbach for use on the Norka website. The manuscript is used with permission from the George Brill family. The only editing in the original manuscript above is to correct spelling errors or to add clarity through paranthetical translations and definitions. Many of German words and terminology are spelled phonetically by Brill to approximate the Norka dialect rather changing words to the standard German spelling.
Two chapters of George Brill's manuscript of Conrad Brill's memoirs were significantly edited and published in two separate editions of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia Journal. Memories of Norka was published in Journal, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Summer 1985) and Farewell to Norka was published in Journal, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Winter 1985).
Conrad Brill was born on October 8, 1895 in Norka, Saratov Province, Russia. Conrad was the son of George Brill (born 1848) and Elizabeth Derr (borh 1856).
Conrad Brill died on October 31, 1987 in Newberg, Oregon. Anna Marie Brill died on June 11, 1975 in Portland, Oregon. Conrad and Anna were blessed with six children: George, Marie, Lydia, Katherine, Lea and Shirley.