Rohrbach - 1848 Village History
Copyright 1996, GRHS

Notes: Please see the Introduction to the Village History Project for additional information.

ROHRBACH

A History and Description of the German Colony in the Ukraine, South Russia 1848

With complete confidence in the privileges promised by His Majesty, Alexander I of Russia, the German emigrants left their fatherland forever and came here with all they possessed, hoping to find permanent happiness for themselves and their descendants. The settlers of the colony of Rohrbach came to this uninhabited steppeland to come under the jurisdiction and patronage of His Excellency the Governor, Duke of Richelieu. In the fall of 1809, 25 families arrived, and in 1810, 68 families arrived. On their arrival they received their status as colonists, founded the colony and proceeded to build houses for themselves.

The colony is located on the almost level steppe on the east side of the Zerigul Valley, 20 versts1 (13 miles) southwest of the Teligul, 10 miles north of the Tschitschekle and 26 miles west of the Bug River. It is about 86 miles from Cherson, the capital city of the government, and 66 miles from Odessa, the administrative center of the district. To Landau, the administrative center of the area, it is 13 miles.

Opposite the main village, on the southwest eminence of the valley, lies Halbdorf (or Bergdorf) with its beautiful houses built ten years ago (1838X, now numbering some 36 houses. From Halbdorf, the entire colony of Rohrbach can be viewed.

All along the rear of the village of Rohrbach, above the threshing place, are located the vineyards, enclosed by stone walls. The village lies in a north-south direction, bending slightly to the southwest at its center, following the valley. The so-called valley of the Zerigul, which has no riverbed, has its source a little over a mile above the colony on the outskirts of Worms, which is located about four miles from here. The mouth of the Zerigul is at Ribowa on the Tilgul estuary, 17 miles from here. The wells of Rohrbach provide plenty of water with here and there excellent drinking waters. Despite the many dry years, the community has always been spared from a real shortage of water.

Viewed from the heights, the colony with its beautiful vegetable gardens and orchards of apple, pear, prune, plum, cherry, and apricot trees together with beautiful poplar, aspen, willow and acacia (locust} trees, in all some 4-5,000 trees, presents a wonderful sight. The accumulated earth in the valley from the dam always assures the industrious gardner a rich growth of vegetables. Less attractive, however, are the manure piles above the valley, in many places 15 to 18 feet high.

Our generally level steppe is well located, the surface throughout having from one to two feet of fertile soil mixed with some sand. Here and there, however, in the southern part, there are patches of saltpeter, which are productive only when rain is plentiful. When the weather is favorable, not only does the grass grow abundantly, but also all plants quickly grow to an unusual height. Since, however, it often doesn't rain for eight to ten weeks, the soil then becomes as dust and ashes from the heat and the dry winds, and the farmer can harvest barely enough for seed.

The subsoil is generally a chalky, red clay, hard to work, and the reason given that in our area the productive characteristics of the soil are short-lived. For this reason, the soil must invariably be refertilized. Woodlands are out of the question; even the vineyards are not of much consequence. The most of these have only 600 to 1,000 vines with the total for the entire village amounting to about 34,000.

Out of partiality to the village of Rohrbach from which they had emigrated, the two colonists Peter Schmidt and Peter Nuss, who arrived at this place among the first, gave the colony the name Rohrbach.2

The establishment of the colony was first begun by five families arriving out of a total of 100 families. Of these, 33 came from the Grand Duchy of Baden, four from the Kingdom of Wuerttemberg, seven from Prussian Poland, and 56 from Alsace - in all, 248 males and 227 females. In 1813, 22 more families arrived from Prussian Poland and four from Wuerttemberg. In 1817-19, 16 families arrived from the Grand Duchy of Baden and six families from other colonies, in all, 48 families with 119 males and 89 females. In 1838, there were 148 families there, numbering 367 males and 316 females.

Departures: In 1818, ten families went to Grusinia; in 1823, 11 families moved to Odessa and to other colonies, and two families returned to Germany; in 1826, 1l families moved to the former colony of Friedrichsthal and then to the colony Johannesthal, about nine miles from here; in 1843, ten families moved to Bessarabia and seven families resettled in the colony Neu-Danzig, 66 miles from here, near Nikolajew on the Ingul; four families returned to Germany. In 1825, the colonist Georg Ehlis was exiled to Siberia and the colonist Karl Neudorf, a drunkard and vagabond, was sent out of the country.

If these 53 families, numbering 132 males and 94 females, are deducted from the 148 families registered in 1838, it shows that 95 families with 458 souls can be regarded as the first settlers. If one takes the data of 1847 to be 1,178 souls (620 males and 558 females), comprising 217 families, it shows that the colony increased by 720 souls in a period of 38 years. Among the handicapped are one blind and three mentally retarded female persons.

Accidents: One man was crushed to death in the clay pit, one was killed by an accidental blow and one from a fall off a wagon under the horses, One child was crushed when run over by a wagon, a 15 year old boy drowned in the dam and a child was burned to death.

The Russian border town of Radzivilov was the collecting point of most of the immigrants. From there they were conducted by their leader, Michael Kuhn, to the then insignificant town of Odessa. On their arrival there, most of the colonists found winter quarters in the colony of Grossliebenthal near Odessa until the following spring, so that they were spared the hardships of the earlier settlers.

In the spring of 1810, under the leadership of Commissioner von Rosenkampf, 69 families, with their first mayor, Michael Kuhn, arrived here where they were to settle. There was nothing here but healthful air, a carpet of dry grass of many years standing, all kinds of weeds with flowers and a new blanket of grass. This then was the place of glory, in which at present only 19 of the original settlers are still living.

By means of a crown loan, a house of stone was built for each family, and the necessary livestock, farm machinery, seed grain and subsistence allowance was provided. The loan amounted to 100,490 paper rubles or 28, 711 silver rubles in 1820 and was repayable by 93 families. From the Russian border to their destination, most of the colonists were given a free money allowance for their maintenance. On the days when the maintenance money was distributed, both Commissioner von Rosenkampf and Mayor Kuhn calculated a ruble as only 60 kopecks /instead of 100 correctly), and the colonists had to be content to receive anything at all. In this way, these gentlemen enriched themselves and yet they became poorer and poorer until they finally were utterly ruined.

The settlers for the most part had come here from their native country as poor people without means. Many of them had debts, and some possessed, apart from their wagons, only enough travel money to reach the border. The value of the cash assets brought in by the colonists was about 40 50,000 paper rubles. Those with money did not know how to economize so that the major part of their money was soon sacrificed to spirituous consumption.3 In the productive years, however, the poor but hardworking colonists soon made a good living, whereas the wealthy carousers became impoverished. Proverbs of Solomon 10:4: "A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich." 23:21: "for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags."

There is nothing to report in the way of a general resettlement, floods, epidemic sicknesses or destructive earthquakes. Except for the frequent recurrence of German measles and similar children's diseases, the community has had little to suffer. But mention must be made of the destructive insects, grasshoppers, the tiny grey May bug and the dung beetle, which generally have caused the most damage to the vineyards and the grain. Despite the many poor crops, the agricultural condition of the colony is now in a better state.

In the first 18 years, the majority of the settlers were not able to farm to any advantage.  Firstly, they did not recognize the advantages of beginning better farming methods in the right places, secondly, they lacked a fear of God and were unable. therefore, to appraise their advantages.

For most of then disobedience to the authorities was the consequence of their unchristian way of life. Despite the numerous trials of adverse fate, their immorality could not be checked. Only a few heeded the punishing hand of God for their own welfare. The man who distinguished himself in the whirl of prodigality and in the strength of intoxicating drink could proudly count on the certain applause of his cronies, who sat idly in the cool shade of the local whisky taverns, utterly unconcerned about the welfare of their families. The mayors and their councilmen, the schoolteachers and village clerks were just as adept as the others in the uncouth art of tipping their glasses. The young people grew up just as dissolute. Most of them scarcely learned to read. Schooling was the least of their worries, whereas now it is their first and foremost concern. Now the younger generation realizes what irreparable harm has been done.

The more sensible people received no support no cooperation from the mayor's office in their efforts to establish a better civic order. Consequently, the road to betterment was virtually barricaded. The office holder was not elected for the sake of the office, but rather for the sake of the man-to the detriment of the community in many respects. Since, however, the majority felt comfortable in their false selfishness, injustice was given a free rein. This unfortunate situation has been somewhat corrected in the last few years. The election of the mayor is now conducted with greater caution. The young people do not grow up in so vulgar a fashion. The schoolmasters now are no longer hired according to the old policy, "as cheap as possible." Now, ability and Christian character are considered.

In 1812, the community received a minister, the Pastor Hubner, but his endeavors were terminated after barely two years, by his death.

The former Commissioner Krueger, who supervised the affairs of this region from 1820 to 1828, was successful in improving the conditions of the colony. The disobedient were sharply punished, and his unwavering severity stirred the settlers to greater activity. One thing yet remained to be hoped for-a minister.

A new era was ushered in with the year 1824. God had mercy on us in every respect and in His discerning design sent us Johannes Bonekemper,4 a serious-minded preacher of the Gospel, whose labors here were blessed. On November 10, 1847, he applied for his release, which was granted by the authorities on April 6, 1848. The blessings of his 24-years' work with us will long be remembered.

In 1826, the community received the energetic schoolmaster Wilhelm Eberhard, who reorganized the school system. He registered his position in 1843. The happy co operation, the censure of sin and an appropriate discipline, soon brought blowing to our people. The fear of God has returned. Indefatigable diligence and thrift as well as the co operation of the higher authorities have worked together for some years, bringing happiness to most of our people. Several of them have purchased a total of 1,640 dessiatines (4,428 acres) of land from near-by landowners. Others have rented a total of 8-9,00ue dessiatines (34 to 38 sections).

How different is the situation of the farmer today compared with that of the pioneer period, when two or three farmers had to work together to operate a single plow. When I introduced my so-called "iron plow" three years ago, they called it the "bean planter." Today almost every farmer owns one of those practical plows, and the more prosperous have even two of them. Quite often a single man can be seen operating such a four-horse plow, turning the nicest furrows without stopping, whereas formerly the cumbersome wooden plow required six to eight animals and three men. The bigger farmers here work 40 to 60 dessiatines (108 to 162 acres). Despite the many inevitable setbacks, crop failures, 1089 of livestock, etc., many young settlers have grown quite prosperous. The raising of cattle and particularly sheep on a large scale has contributed the most to the wealth of the colonists. As evidence of this is the fact that in 1847 the colony made 24,000 rubles from the Using of sheep.

At present, the colony has 150 houses, a fine grain storehouse as well as a newly-built combined school and prayer house with an area of 360 square feet. Most of the houses are newly built, of which 25 to 30 of them are distinguished by their simple yet sound style and by the interior room furnishings in German taste. Opposite the empty churchyard stands the beautiful 12-foot high parsonage, built 18 years ago. The interior furnishings and the two vaulted cellars offer a fairly comfortable home for a preacher.

In this brief historical sketch, it is impossible to recount all the events that have taken place. Perhaps even the little reported here about certain
things will be too much for some people. Who would not prefer to see only the good? However, the darker side of our history has only been touched upon. In this imperfect world of ours, we must live in hope of the good becoming even better and endure in all truth and diligence until we finally end our careers in the name of God, reaping the fruits of our labor.

During the 38-year span of our history, through various hardships and slow progress, the colonial administration, with severity and kindness, has been an ever great in fluency And we regard it as a praiseworthy act of divine mercy, wisdom, and love that we have been given a paternal and just support by His Highness (the Czar), but particularly by His Excellency, Councilor of State von Hahn. In this paternal solicitude, the General of the Infantry von Inzow, "Father of the Colonists," has allied himself, working faithfully in behalf of the colonists.

Schoolmaster: Fritschle (author)
Mayor: Schlegel
Councilman: Zimbelmann
Councilman: Gemar
Village Clerk: Theich

Footnotes:
1. 1 verst = 0.6629 miles

2. As Peter Nuss immigrated from Rohrbach/ssergzabern Palatinate, the Rohrbach referred co in Germany, obviously, was in the Palatinate. According to Dr. Karl Stumpp's book, The Immigration from Germany to Russia, 1761 to 1862, Peter Schmidt immigrated from Lobenfeld/Heidelberg, Baden. - TCW's note.

3. The consumption of alcoholic beverages.

4. See Johannes Bonekemper and His Family by Carl Bonekemper in HR, No. 24, Sept 79.

Coordinated with GRHS Village Research Clearing House
Coordinated with AHSGR/GRHS Translation Committee Chairman
Original translation: Theodore C Wenzlaff
Publication: GRHS Heritage Review 18-2 (1988)
Scanned: Dale Lee Wahl
Permission granted for posting on Odessa: 1996

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