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The Life-story of Maria Müller, nee Gross

Maria Müller is the second daughter of Sebastian Gross and Katharina Schwab.

Katharina Schwab was the fourth child of Johannes Schwab and Elisabeth Weiss.

Elisabeth Weiss was the older sister of my Grandfather Konrad Weiss.

Therefore Maria and I are second-cousins. Today Maria, her children, and her grandchildren live in Germany .

Following is Maria’s life story.

The Long Journey of a Repatriated Family

The following report will attempt to present the two hundred year history of a family with new citizenship whose ancestors emigrated around 1810 from the area around Karlsruhe to Russia . 

Essential for the entire immigration to Russia was the Manifest of Czarina Katherine II of 22 July 1763, in which she permitted all foreigners “to come to our empire”. On 19 March 1764, new regulations about the right to own land followed, which specified the land area to be settled and the amount of land to be allocated to every farmer. The most important provisions of these regulations were: 

1. Free practice of religion. 

2. Freedom of taxation on the land for 30 years. 

3. Interest free loans for all purchases

4. Freedom from military service “for all time”

5. Local self-government and school administration

6. Free land allotment of 30 to 80 dessjatines for the head of every family (1 dessjatine equals approximately 1 hectare).

What then were the reasons for this wave of out-migration? At the beginning of the nineteenth century, hardship and misery prevailed in many areas of Germany . The proceeds of the harvest were no longer sufficient for the constantly growing population. There was also the high debt-load of many peasant holdings, as well as the fragmentation of the agricultural land area caused by estate settlements. The “Great Army” of Napoleon occupied the country and there was the danger of the younger men to be ruthlessly forced into military service.

So it was also in the small community of Busenbach on the northern edge of the Black Forest. Here lived the Schwab family, whose story follows below. Joseph Schwab, in his 30’s, and his wife Elisabeth 32, as well as his brother Ignatius 23 (the gr-gr-gr-grandfather of Mrs. Müller) with his wife Barbara and his children Elisabeth 3 ¾, and son Joseph 1 ½ years, could see no future in the small village of Busenbach. The enticing call of the Russian promoter sounded full of promise. They gave reports of huge acreages of virgin land in the Volga and Black Sea districts. Additionally there were the above mentioned benefits. The Schwabs could not resist. They decided to join one of the numerous Emigration-groups that wished to settle in the area around Odessa. Agents arranged the formalities. They organized the trip generally following the Danube downstream. In Ismail ( Bessarabia) they left the boat and reached the settlement district by country road. 

The emigrants were often en-route up to one year. Contagious diseases, hunger and adverse weather conditions were such that often only half reached the desired destination. 

In 1808 a row of settlements were founded in the Kutschurgan area of Odessa Region with such names as Baden, Elsaß, Kandel, Selz, Straßburg and also Mannheim. The places had a completely German population and the people who lived there were all of the Catholic faith. Both Schwab families settled in the last mentioned village. Here, after years of development, they found their livelihood. Generation followed generation. The children went to the German school, and spoke German, even if it was the old Schwabish dialect. When the village was abandoned in 1944, approximately 300 families lived here. From the village plan one can see that all carried German family names. There were names that are also common here, like Fröhlich, Engelhard or Müller. 

Frau Müller reports about the long road from the year 1941 up to her arrival in Germany . 

I was born on 04 Sep 1934 in the small village of Mannheim in Odessa district. My parents were Sebastian Gross and Katharina Gross, nee Schwab. My older sister Hilda as well as the younger siblings Pius, Rosa and Ida were, like me, born in Manheimm, while my younger brother was born in Pustoschuskiy (Siberia). My father was employed as a book-keeper on a large Kolkhoz. Mother was a housewife and the whole family lived together with Grandfather, Grandmother and us children. In 1944 when the German troops arrived in our village, Father was used as a translator. I went to the local school with my sister. When the German army abandoned the village and began its retreat on 24 March 1944, all of the inhabitants had to leave the village within two hours. Cows, pigs, and chickens were driven out into the fields. Our family together with my uncle and his family, totaling 23 persons, joined the Trek. Provisions, covers, Grandpa and Grandma as well as the small children were carried on a wagon. Those who could walk had to walk. We journeyed by day, and camped by night on open fields. We were constantly attacked by airplanes. Bombs and cannon-fire claimed many casualties. Provisions ran out. But day after day the Trek trundled farther. In Bessarabia we were loaded onto railway freight cars and transported to Wiesenstadt, Kries Kosten in Poland . My sister and I again went to school. We received tokens (ration coupons, Ed.) for food and also for clothes for school. Mama, Grandma, Grandpa and the children were at home. Father was drafted into the Wehrmacht. At night we had no light, only a carbide-lantern. I always had to pray the Rosary. We were in Wiesenstadt six months; here we were also naturalized again as German citizens. As the Russian army drew nearer in September 1944, we again had to flee. Again with horse and cart and 23 people. On one side of the road was the trek, on the other side Panzers and cars with soldiers. We walked between them. We over-nighted in empty abandoned houses. Finally we arrived in Germany . In Luckenwalde, near Berlin we were given temporary accommodations. Here my sister and I went to our first Holy Communion. After two weeks a new change of quarters took place. In the small village of Dobriko we were taken to a farm. We helped with the farmwork, received ration coupons for groceries and clothing and went to the local school. The air raid warning sirens were almost non-stop. When Mother was not able to get us into the Bunker, she laid us under the window-sill. We were almost constantly dressed. On 05 May 1945 the Russians came and locked us in a house with a bunker. The building was surrounded by panzers and soldiers. Everyone was scared and we cried because we thought they would kill us. But a man came who told us that they would do nothing to us; the war had been decided; the Russians were in Berlin. After three days we were allowed to leave the house. What had happened there is difficult to describe. The dead lay on the streets; women were gang-raped and everything was completely destroyed. It was a horrible sight. The Russians took our Grandfather into the forest and he was supposed to be shot there. We prayed. Then one of the soldiers let him free. On 09 May 1945 peace was declared, but there was still more fighting.

After a month the Russians took us to a large prison camp near Luckenwalde. In a large room each family was assigned to a sizeable surface area marked with chalk. For sleeping we had only a blanket on the floor. The entire camp was completely fenced in with barbed wire. After one week our father joined us in the camp. He had been released from the hospital which was not very far away. He gave us and other kids interim school lessons. After two months (it was now October 1945), we were loaded onto cattle rail-cars and deported to Siberia. In Wologda we were loaded onto a ship which took us to Pustoschuskiy. As we left the ship we were met by Russian guards who berated us: “You German Fascists come with superior thoughts in your head of the way it used to be.” Then we were assigned to Russian families. We were given a barn with straw in which to sleep. We had no change of clothing. When the clothes were being washed, Mother covered us with straw until the clothes were dry. We knew not one word of Russian. Only Father understood Russian. Father had to work during the day, and at night he was interrogated by the police. He had to suffer a lot because he had been in the [German] Wehrmacht. Many men were picked up during the night and no one knew where they were taken.

We were given grocery-coupons always for a month in advance, but the amount was meager. One evening as we came out of the store where we had shopped, teenagers had stretched a rope across the road in order to trip us and to rob us. This happened over and over again. In those months we had nothing to eat. But we did not let ourselves get depressed. From the forest we picked nettles, wild onions, collected leaves and berries, and after the harvest, potatoes which had been left behind. Corn was ground between two stones in order to get some flour. As a result of the great hunger my legs became swollen and broke open. My parents took me to the hospital. I stayed there one month. After I could walk again, I received permission from the Commandant to go begging. I went from house to house in the villages and obtained, for the most part, only a trifle. The family lived on what I was able to bring home, and no one of us starved to death. Many Germans starved and froze to death from the terrible cold.

When I was 14, I had to go to work. For one work-day each person received 1 kg of bread as wages and lodging. Those family members who did not work had to be fed from this as well. At the age of 16 came forest labor under the most severe circumstances -- six long years with winter temperatures of -40°, in the custody of the Special Commandant’s office. In 1956 came the official release from the forced labor, but they did not want to let us go. “Who then will do the work” was their argument. Passes, clearance papers and departure permission were withheld. Father went to the Court in Wologda and received assurance that the necessary documents would be handed over.

We decided to re-settle to Tajikistan . An uncle to us lived in the village Kolchosabad near the border with Afghanistan . Here we found a new place to live. On 03 July 1956 I was employed in a hospital of the Health Ministry in the Disinfection Department. As prevention against malaria, typhus and contagious diseases, everything was sprayed with a highly-concentrated hot disinfectant. After several Russian language courses, I was sent as a supervisor to a colony located directly on the border with Afghanistan . In 1965 I took over the entire department. Forty co-workers, 4 cars, as well as the buildings of the enterprise, and the entire organization required a great deal of work.

In 1960 I married Wilhelm Müller. Our children were born in the years 1961, 1962, and 1965. In 1990 my husband was killed in an accident. In March, 1991 my son and my daughter re-settled to Germany with their children. I did not know if I would ever see them again. In the meantime the war in Tajikistan had begun. We on the border were directly affected. We lived the last two years under the same conditions which now prevail in Afghanistan . 

In 1992 I received approval for re-location to Germany , together with my daughter and her family. We arrived in the reception-camp Dranse, via Moscow and Hanover. Then on September 1, 1992 the entire family was again united, and we now live in the town of *********.

Here I am comfortable in the old/new homeland. I can go to church, enjoy the quiet; no shooting or panzers on the road; lots to eat and to drink, and all the people are good to us. All of my grandchildren are baptized, have gone to Communion, and have been confirmed. Everything is as it should be. Thanks be to God.

2004. l-r. Hilda, Maria, Rosa, Johannes, die Kinder von Sebastian Gross and Katharina Schwab.