Die Welt-Post, Thursday, 5 July 1923
Page 3, "A Volga Schoolmaster's Letter"
What should I write? As I look at this poor paper and even poorer ink and think back over the previous 8 years, I lose all desire to write to anyone, much less to a newspaper. Further, back then you could be assured that all letters would safely arrive at their destination and you could receive an answer within a short period of time, you could read your reports in the newspapers, and now? Many letters frequently go missing and we receive no newspapers at all from over there. One loses courage and would rather twiddle ones thumbs and mope. Eventually you consider the enormous sums the exchange of letters has already cost with the addressees not even receiving them, when you get to the end of this line of thought you conclude: despite all lamentations it will not get any better.
I have three letters laying here unfinished that I know you are waiting for but there are still 2 things missing before I can mail them; a confirming message as to whether or not the clothing from Fresno is already in Saratov, and secondly, the necessary Postage Stamps. Our Post Office very often has no stamps which is why I must take the occasion to go off to Saratov where I will also find and provide you with news about the clothing shipment. I wrote to Sinner two months ago that I would like him to inform me of the possibility of the shipment's arrival. Up to now I have still not received a single line from him. It is certain that nothing has arrived because Mr. Sinner would not have kept me waiting if he had something to tell me. From letters from over there I have learned that the A.R.A. wants to end their work here and that means that the other societies will also do the same because the A.R.A was well connected with our government, the other Societies are only more or less connected with it.
And the German Red Cross with its two branch societies would seem to working by themselves and it also seems that those in America have not sent much through them. At least that is my conclusion from the letters I have received, though I am not certain that my conclusion is correct. In America you are aware of so much more, you have news every day from everywhere while I sit without any newspapers unless I accidentallyt get to see one somewhere. If only Mr. Volz lived closer by, he always has newspapers and knows what is happening in this world. He sits now in Balzer or Saratov waiting until the Volga is navigable again. Yes, this time the Volga has not been navigable for a longer period because the cold weather is hanging on and the ice is holding up longer than usual, though it is not strong enough to travel on. The last time he (Volz) was here I not only warned him to be careful about the Volga but also about the slush covered ditches on the Bergseite. However, when you look over at the Bergseite everything is still covered in snow and they must certainly still be using sleighs while we here are rumbling around in our wagons. It certainly is not much fun to travel in a wagon even if only to a nearby village, I will take care next time to ensure that it is a pleasant trip. When Mr. Volz comes again I will, before anything else, ask him to provide me with better paper and ink because, first; it is not easy to write and secondly; it is even harder reading for those who have the dubious honor of receiving one of my letters. Before Christmas I could buy paper and ink at a fair price. I was happy to get it and the ink seemed to be good but my joy only lasted for about a month when I discovered that everything was watered down.
It is also possible that I am just a spoiled old man because that was the first new ink I had bought in some time. In previous years I always had ink left over. But enough of this, I will change the topic.
Once again, what am I to write about? What new is going on with you, you ask, new, brand new? Something new I don't know, but some new facts about old things --- that I can probably do, for example, the infamous fever of previous years which strikes in the winter months when you have enough trouble just keeping from freezing, with everyone crouching behind the oven to keep warm, now when everyone must soon start thinking about working in the fields, the fever visits its old victims from previous years and also others who have come in contact with them. It packs such force that the strongest of men become bedridden. That is what is happening here and is also happening in all the villages and causing stress to those who are attacked by it. Malarial fever of earlier times is only child's play in comparison. Some spend half to entire days freezing away, while others have only small chills, but all suffer terribly with burning temperatures. Not just for an hour but many times an entire day, an entire night or even longer, suffering Typhoid Fever-like delirium and very powerful headaches and madness. A medic told me that this fever is not as bad as Typhoid Fever and up to now few people have died from it. The Bergseite is suffering far less from this sickness. It must be some kind of Malaria. Quinine seems to help but it requires large amounts. American pills are helping more than our Quinine. In the absence of Quinine many other things were tried, some were helped with this, others with that. I is said that Quinine with Brandy and Schnapps works faster but Russia is now very short of them. What we had too much of in former times, we now lack completely. In the villages there is no more Schnapps, the stuff that does exist here and there our rats would not have eaten in former times.
Then there is the old yearning and waiting for the clothing shipment which had diminished in the autumn and has now been reawakened. For some months now, we were of the opinion that everything had been lost. Then Volz brought us the news that the entire shipment had been in Riga and is now, so he heard, on its way to Saratov. Thus there is new hope, new longing. The news was also confirmed through another source so there has to be something to it. If you saw how pitifully many people are dressed then you would well understand that everyone longs for these clothes for themselves. It is safe to say that not every wish can be fulfilled because the clothing emergency is so great that much more clothing will be needed.
The food situation is far better this year. There were no deaths from hunger the entire winter and begging has stopped. Children are playing happily in the streets again and the adults are attending to their work as they did in former times. The few remaining horses are looking good, cattle are on the increase, sheep even more-so and pigs have again taken to wandering all the streets determined to honor every garden with their unwanted visits. Thus, little by little, life is returning to the villages. It requires only a good harvest and then we will be able to again live in the old manner.
Nobody could have suspected that we would recover so fast after the harvest. It was not a particularly good one because there were many landholders who sowed almost nothing and many harvested barely enough to eat and fewer were those who had a really good harvest with their small sowing compared to former times. Everyone thought we would have to endure another difficult winter, but behold, the Lord heard our prayers, stood by us and helped us up to now. The winter was truly long and difficult, especially for those who were poorly clothed and even more particularly for those who had little to burn for fuel. Praise God, the winter is behind us and the beginning of spring is here.
How did the poor manage to survive, you ask? I will try to explain: Last year our government decided that every village should set aside some community land to support the poor and the yield from that land (grain) kept in storage. After the harvest Poor Commissions were established to look after the poor and provide them support when needed. Throughout the winter the commission saw to it that only those families truly in need were given support. In this way starvation was successfully avoided. Later the A.R.A. again opened children's kitchens, making the situation of the poor even better, and so in this way the emergency was almost completely alleviated. In addition the villages received 6 packets of food products from the A.R.A. through Mr. Volz in January, and the same from the N.L.C. for January through March and somewhat more each month. These products were also distributed to the poorest. Likewise a small portion of clothing was sent to each village by the self-same N.L.C. and so the most needy were helped from all sides. And even if there was not enough to go around there was enough so that they were able to survive, many it was said, even better than the medium sized farmers who received no support. The former had no worries about levies, taxes and the like, while the latter had many. Thus it often occurred when distributions took place that many said: The poor are no poorer than we are and yet they get everything and we get nothing. Such opinions were common everywhere but nothing should be made of them. We acted according to our instructions and no attention should be paid to such slander. Life is far easier this year because now everyone has potatoes, beans, cabbage and beets, all of which were not available in previous winters. In addition, each village has a lot of oil seed which by itself cannot support the families but which can be sold or traded.
That things are better this year you can see by the fact that there is less envy and jealousy. Last year every person who had anything to do with the Kitchens was envied, for every person who worked as a cook in the kitchens there were 20 persons who would have gladly taken their place. All those who had anything to do with the kitchens, all who had a hand in administering the food were called rascals, even though they did so honestly and now --- everything is calm, nobody has a bad word to say, as if they all suddenly had achieved sainthood.
Someone wrote me from America that he did not understand why the people were not made better by the emergency. I replied that first one had to get through such a difficult period in order to understand that this is the way it must be and cannot be differently anywhere in the world because the worse the time, then so the angrier the people. An emergency teaches us not only to pray but also to steal and speak ill of others and who knows what else. I have wondered many times at how thievery increased from day to day and at the atrocities I saw that were caused by hunger, at the same time I also wondered at those who, despite the hunger gnawing at their guts, patiently endured. Had someone called out to us: Whoever among is without sin, let him cast the first stone," I could not have thrown it, and truly, neither could any thoughtful person.
Looking forward, to the prospects the year 1923 may offer, at least so far as we shortsighted humans are able to judge, with reference to sowing one must say that there is considerably more seed on hand and that the horses are strong and holding up well, while last year they were only worn out nags. The government has already procured and given out wheat, barley and oats, also many land holders are able to sow their own seed.
Whoever does not sow will have only himself to blame, although there are many who have no horses, they can still get something from their land by allowing those who do have horses to work it. Just do not sit twiddling you thumbs waiting for roasted pigeon. It must be thus if God is to give His blessings. Many the Lord protect us from a harvest failure.
Many of our farmers could recover faster if, first of all, they had more horses, and secondly, if they could purchase them more easily. Horses are so exceedingly expensive that only the wealthiest landowners can buy one, which they promptly did in the autumn, now however, there are none to be had. Mid-size farmers were not able to give much thought to buying and others definitely not. I have heard that money was collected in America for the purchase of horses, the Societies of the German Red Cross have set this as their goal but we here know very little about how this effort is proceeding, though I am certain that the Societies are striving to attain their goals. Agricultural equipment must be purchased because what remains is in such bad condition it is hardly capable of being repaired. In order to do this we must have more ties with foreign countries, but in this effort we are threatened by the specter of the war which has not been put to rest in Western Europe.
As long as France does not give up its plans of revenge and remains dissatisfied, we will be hindered. If Germany were to have peace and quiet we could easily get everything we need from there, and America could also supply us if this mischief maker had not created an obstacle which brings shame upon them and others. The time will yet come when the world will understand that without peace man will achieve nothing.
We have also not yet received the clothing shipment from Fresno that was sent in June of last year, while Mr. Volz's shipment from Lincoln was already distributed on the Bergseite in the autumn. Since then other shipments have been sent from both places and Volz is again waiting for them. Whether it goes smoothly, only time will tell. I think that the German Red Cross is involved with the second shipment because someone wrote me that they were sending through that organization. The fact that we have still received nothing is proof to us that some obstacles exist that you would be more aware of than us. One cannot accuse any of the Societies because they are not responsible if things do not proceed smoothly. I am impatiently waiting for Mr. Volz, who perhaps can give me some information. Another friend of mine, Mr. Stieglitz, has not been here for some time, he could give me an explanation about the German Societies. Perhaps I will be able to say more about it at the end of my letter because today my son drove to Saratovwhere he will personally inquire about the facts of the situation.
From your newspaper, which coincidentally I received from an acquaintance, I saw that in Germany now, things are worse than they are here and I said to myself: Would it not be better if America were to bestow its aid to those troubled and down trodden people now, where it would comfort many more than it would here? They are likewise your god brothers and sisters as are we, stumbling in an even greater emergency and in distress, and it would be wonderful if you could help them. Here you have had an open hand and have truly healed wounds. America, though it many not have much money, has lots of grain and Germany is hungry! There you will have many more victims to help than here by us; you have rescued us from starvation. You can also straighten out things there, of that I have o doubt. Arise! Help for as long as help is needed! May the Lord our God make your hearts willing to help before it is too late!
20th of April -- On the 16th of April a gentleman from the A.R.A. along with the Poor Commission, distributed 45 pairs of shoes in the Kitchen. In the evening he was here with me and I asked him whether it was true that his organization was ending its mission here. He knew nothing about it and said that he still had foodstuff up to the 1st of June. Consequently the Kitchens will remain open past May. Understandably the Americans are adjusting and have already adjusted their collections, as someone wrote to me.
My son has returned from Saratov where he checked to see if the clothing shipment from Fresno had arrived but there was no trace of it. Thus it again means more patient waiting for us as well as for you.
Recently I became acquainted with the "Wolgadeutschen Monatshefte" and wish that I could get this magazine and read it regularly and also that our brethren in America become better acquainted with it. If it were as easy here as it is for you there, I would gladly subscribe to it, but it is too much trouble to order foreign newspapers. My good friends have ordered several newspapers for me but not a single issue has come into my hands, the same would be true with monthly magazines. For Americans however, nothing more is necessary but to make an order and then every month you have the pleasure of getting the best news from here. Our letters cannot replace this magazine because their editorial staff in Berlin knows more than we do about what has happened and what they are doing in every country. For example, up until now I knew very little about what the German Red Cross with its 2 Societies had done because we have received no news of it. Now we just learned that the Red Cross was assigned to specific Rayons last year in the Steppe Villages and this year at the Karaman where the poverty level was and is much higher than it is here with us. In addition they still have a large effort in the south in the Caucasus, in the Crimea and in Ukraine. They are so spread out that they have no lack of work or problems.
From various letters I have learned that some clothing shipments for our Rayon are being sent through German Societies, possibly we will soon learn more about them. As soon as I can drive to Saratov I will get more definite information about all of the shipments even if I have to stay there for several days. The German Societies have correctly reasoned that the best way to help the Volga Region would be that they help us rebuild and that we have long term needs in order to get back on our feet again. To this end they have organized large collections over there to which you can contribute whatever you can spare. In their lists of collections I saw the following donations listed: grain, horses, cows, oxen, ducks, etc. I thought to myself, how can they possibly do all that if the clothing shipments are running into so many problems? But in another issue I saw the explanation: Everything that cannot be brought here will be sold over there and the money sent here to purchase whatever is necessary. Their first priority for purchase is horses and agricultural equipment and in this they are absolutely correct. The vast majority of our people are dedicated farmers, they want work, which is not too much for them to ask. These people must be given enough machinery to be able to work the land or there will again be failure. Without this equipment they have no other option but to become paupers. Furthermore the societies have correctly concluded that everything need not be given as a gift but rather given to the people as a loan. For some time I have been saying that gifts spoil more people than they help. There is little anyone can accomplish even with a run of good days, they can just as easily be satisfied with the never ending gifts and thereby become totally spoiled and lazy people.
It is very discouraging for our farmers to work for years without success. The seek every way possible to increase their sowing in the spring so that perhaps they will be able to buy a young horse in the autumn but in the end there is not even enough left over to be able to afford clothing for their families. Very often one hears them say: Why am I still farming? Is it not better to stop everything and join with those who do no work at all, because they are better off than me! These words are not spoken in earnest, such things are said over the winter time. The will to work their land is in their blood and come the spring they throw off these negative thoughts and rouse themselves yet again to sow some more. I would just once like to see how much our people would sow if they had the land and everything else necessary for farming. Not everyone has the desire for farming in their blood, but most do and they are disdainful of those who sit in the shade and who do not take part in agriculture as they do. They do not say, "Wir Arbeiten" (we are working), but, "Wir Schaffen" ( we are creating).
For those who do not read the "Wolgadeutschen Monatshefte" I give you the example of a community in America named Waldersen, Manitoba, Canada, which in the January issue offered up for us in total, 32 cows, 1 horse, 1 pig, 10 chickens and the yield of 3 acres of wheat. In the February and March issues still more communities registered their much appreciated offerings. Nothing is said about how these gifts are to be distributed, only the names of the donors and how much they gave. If our dear brothers and sisters in America want to learn the truth of our situation, I know of no better reporter than the "Wolgadeutschen Monatshefte." They cover all possible questions about the general situation here and much more. I did not find a single boring article.
The German Red Cross sent medicine (which I did not know) for all our sick last year, especially a lot of Quinine, because it correctly surmised that Malaria was weakening the people more than all the other diseases.
My son came from Saratov and brought absolutely nothing new, nobody could tell him where the shipments were.
7 May. --- It appears that Mr. Volz will not come here so I am sending this letter to Mr. Sinner who came here earlier with him. If he is aware of any details, perhaps he will oblige by adding some remarks below.
Greetings all around,
Supplemental: --- 9 May. Today several persons received notices from the German Red Cross which would like them to come to Saratov to fetch packages: J.W. Spomer and Anna Maria Steinsauer are receiving food; A. Marg. Otto, clothing; Barbara Spät, 10 and myself, 3 dollars. Thus another indication that this Society is now gradually getting everything into operation. Mr. Stieglitz wrote my son that the horses which were bought by the Relief Organization are to be distributed soon, i.e. handed over to those for whom they were intended.
Pastor Erbes also received a letter from Mr. Allendorf asking him if he could come and fetch clothing packets or crates intended for his Parish. This shipment is from the N.L.C., but still nothing about the one from Fresno.
I hope I have raised the hopes of some of our dear readers as we here have again drawn new hope.
This translation provided courtesy of Hugh Lichtenwald.