Die Welt-Post, Thursday, 6 July 1922
Norka, 3 February 1922
Esteemed and Beloved Friends of the Volga Relief Society:
In my mind every week the question always arises: "What must your friends in Portland at the Volga Relief Society be thinking of you? You promised them that you would write every 2 to 3 weeks and detail the facts and experiences of the American Children's Kitchens, and now the weeks go by one after the other and the promise you have not kept becomes ever more pressing.
I readily admit my guilt but I nevertheless wish to state some mitigating circumstances, which hopefully, will induce a lighter verdict from stern judges. You will believe me when I say that I, as pastor of a parish with 3 communities of approximately 15,000 inhabitants, have been busy, particularly since there have been a colossal number of deaths. Additionally there is my participation in the activities of the American Kitchen Committee. I must mention a further outside circumstance which deters many letter writers. Postal fees are always rising, as you may have heard, a letter abroad will soon cost 30,000 rubels: an interesting fact for the future writer of a cultural history. My Finance Minister puts a dubious expression on his face each time I get ready to write letters (What purpose, this bourgeois luxury).
Yet another internal circumstance is most substantial, moving agonizingly in the mind; thoughts are unfettered and free; yet their coming into the world as words and acts is painful. Reluctantly these pleasant thoughts, these carefree children of free fantasy only leave in a straitjacket of well-conceived words. This obligation is all the more onerous since it concerns words which are to cross the borders of many lands. The truest and dearest thoughts are always the most stubborn, most difficult to decide how to clothe in a straitjacket of words. Thus the ink dries in the pen and the thoughts sink into the realm of Nirvana in the land of blessed oblivion. If each letter requires such enforcement, then you will not think badly of me if the letters are rare. I am from a completely different sort than the dictatorial creators of the Versailles Peace Treaty. (Again a fantasy picture dances before my eyes. A highwayman holds a club over the head of his victim and growls from his whiskey-raw throat: "Your money and watch or your life.") The gentlemen of Versailles will forgive me for this heavy handed comparison. The free man who will not be coerced will be ashamed to use coercion on others.
But now on to other things:
I promised the friends in my last (second) report to write in the next letter about the various restraints and obstacles that the activities of the Kitchens come up against. That I will do now.
One emergency was created by the terrible transport conditions. The first products had to be picked up some 30 versts away in Schilling. This was made difficult because of the weakness of our horses who had not seen any grain fodder for years; and the dreadful roads. With the outbreak of winter things are even more difficult. Now the products have to be hauled from Kosakenstadt Pokrovsk, across from Saratov some 75 versts distant. Here one always hears the complaint: "We have nothing in our bread sacks and nothing in our fodder sacks."
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Page 7, "The Newest Reports from the Volga"
(continued from page 6)
One should not think that the people no longer want to leave. Their horses can no longer carry them. Many whose horses would no longer get up had to cut the horse's throat and return home on foot. The roads are not particularly well marked but the presence of numerous horse cadavers gives one the assurance that one is on the road. The condition of the transportation system in Russia makes it questionable as to what extent, greater or lesser, it can be used by the magnanimous and ever increasing relief efforts of the U.S.A. The transportation emergency also causes us here a lot of difficulty.
However most of the difficulties that arise for the Committee come from certain elements of the population. The ongoing efforts of the Socialist Government to abolish private ownership of property against the landowners has not ended, on the contrary, it has increased to the point of madness. One encounters a frightening, almost unrestrained greed, often even among those who were in former times noble minded persons. Like the robber who hides his booty from other robbers, so here do the people from one another. The political contrasts are sharp in this country but the contrast is most sharp between those near mad with hunger and those who today still have enough to eat. In each hungry person the full one sees a mortal enemy because he knows that he will beg or steal his meager supplies from him, and the hungry one sees in the full one a heartless monster. The death of ones fellow man does not fill the heart with painful compassion but rather with animalistic joy that another hungry mouth has been closed. It is as if one is standing at the gates of Hell.
The opening of the American Kitchens has aroused this greed. It effects everyone, rich and poor. All try to get a place at this little table and everyone also tries to get the "largest bites." We need 6 cooks and we have 60 and could have even more. We can only take in 500 children out of more than 2800. In addition, every possible person, cripples, the blind, the elderly, those living alone, were moved to complain along with those who had none of their children selected (for feeding at the Kitchens). This discontent became a strong protest when letters arrived from American friends stating that they had paid out so and so many dollars. Another was dissatisfied that so few of his children were accepted, a third complained none of his were accepted at all, a fourth over the fact that adults are also not fed by us. If the number of children is doubled, that is, to 1,000, one would believe it would eliminate most of the discontent. But the exact opposite is true and were we to begin feeding 2,000 children in the coming days, there would still be those who would remain dissatisfied. There are only a very few houses that are not at odds with the committee! It is humanly impossible to satisfy all the complainants. Members of the Committee, most all well-known members of the community, face a great deal of enmity. I myself as chairman of the Committee, have encountered more hostility in 8 hours than in 8 years of my Pastoral duties. Many people would be pleased to suffer the most serious scorching sermon rather than be deprived of a portion of food. Some community members, who early on rose to defend the church and its Pastor are now sullen and open to expressing their anger in words which, in former times, they would have felt to be an outrage. The feelings engendered by this groundless hostility saddens the hearts of some Committee members and I, for my part, must always encourage them in order to keep them on the Committee. The poisonous source of the enmity is usually envy. They envy those Committee members for the bit of White Bread and food allotment, without considering that these men are "in harness" from 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning until 1 or 2 o'clock in the afternoon and very often are still busy working inside the entire evening deep into the night. And this lost time means much. While other people are able to earn a lot by speculative trading, the Committee members are bound to their duty post each day. And the most difficult thing for them is not that this activity is time consuming or physical, but nerve wracking, because daily it brings them spiritual conflict. Waves of gloom roll by the portals of the Kitchens and the houses of the Committee members. So very many are seeking help in this horrible emergency and it is not possible to help them. There, an entire family of adults is sick with typhoid fever and exhausted by hunger. From a medical viewpoint these people can only be saved by giving them nutritious food. However, if the Children's Kitchen helps in these cases, it will draw hundreds of others here who are undoubtedly in the same or worse condition. Very often in cases of unavoidable emergency the Committee member gives from his own little bit. They do not see the relentlessly judgmental crowds and they can only help a few of the worst with their little bit. And even so they are not able to dry the tears of the worst stricken, they are not able to remedy this screaming emergency. But the sun will come again, it will be as if a strong gust of wind blows the dark cloud of affliction away from the masses. For months we have watched the bleached faces of the children, with their deep sunken sad eyes mutely begging for something to eat. We no longer see this today. We heard the sobbing of mothers as they carried their children from door to door asking for bread. Today we still see enormous misery among the adults. We hear the spine chilling howls of the hungry, but there is now the prospect that assistance is imminent. This knowledge gives our weak forces strength that we might help in this great rescue attempt, and strength to defy all challenges. This knowledge also encourages those friends to sacrifice further for their loved ones.
Pastor F. Wackier
P.S. I hope with my next report, to not keep the Volga Relief Society waiting so long.
Afterword: 2 pictures. One from the darkest night, the other, one of light.
a) I had to put down from my hands, an issue of the Russian newspaper "News of the Saratov Council of Deputies," for in it was reported the chilling fact that the starving people in Samara Governement were eating corpses, especially the corpses of children. In the 20th century such horror is a throw back to ancient history. There is no expression for this terrible fact.
b) In the last 1 1/2 weeks more families in Norka have received food packets through the A.R.A. which caused joy to reign in those homes. Many hope for similar shipments. May every friend in America remember the affliction of their relatives and also send private assistance. For every 10 Dollars that you pay there, your friend here receives about 3 pud of food. In this emergency quite some powerful support.
Page 7, "Relatives Being Sought"
Jacob Günther, his wife, born a Zeiler, his mother Anlis, née Bernhardt, all in Germany, are seeking their friends in America. Those being sought are: Conrad and Heinrich Günther, Johannes and George Bernhardt, Heinrich and Jacob Kammerzell, Johannes and Conrad Zeiler, their addresses had been Greeley, Colorado. If anyone there possibly wants to write Jacob, they can get his address from me.
Margreta Hoffman, née Schnell, living in Saratov, Russia and now 12 years a widow, seeks her cousins Johannes, Conrad and Ludwig Schnell, and besides these also: Georg Walter and Johannes Bastron. Mrs. Hoffman's address can also be obtained from me.
501 Chicago Ave, Hastings, Nebraska
Page 7, "Written Thanks and Report of the State of Emergency"
Blumenfeld, 5 March 1922
To: Mrs. Repp and the Relief Society for the starving on the Volga:
"I think of the old times, the bygone years and talk about your works and say of them--God, your way is holy. Psalms 77:6,13,14."
In the quiet of evening Assaph sat with his "Saitenspiel" (Lyre?) and struggled with heavy thoughts; he turned his gaze backward into the past, he thought of the olden days, the bygone years and this brought forth so many things that comforted his soul, so many examples of God's divine loyalty, so many miracles of God's divine omnipotence, so many gifts of divine love, that he again raised his head confidently and the Psalm, which he had begun with complaints, he finished with praises.
As with the Psalm writer, so it is with us Volga Germans, when we think of the old days and bygone years. The time in which we now live is so very difficult and sad that we have to cry out as did the Psalm writer: "With my voice I cry out unto God Himself, for He will certainly hear me. In my time of affliction I look unto the Lord. My hand reaches out into the night and does not falter because my soul will not be comforted." Psalm 77:1-2.
Our poor people find themselves in great distress, starving and reaching their hands out to God for help in this emergency; because He is God who works miracles; He has no intention of helping, no matter how great the misfortune. He has never not provided for his followers, no, what He does and allows to happen, comes to a good end. We will once again raise our heads, and the Psalm, which we began with complaints, we will finish with praises.
This, my introduction, written in the early hours of the morning, contains the pain and longing of our suffering people looking outward for help in this difficult time of testing, firm in their trust that God will come to their aid. Yes, it is already coming; the love of our American Brethren has already brought joy to our dear children. Soon a gift will also come for us adults.
Eight days ago we received a circular from your worthy husband, Mr. G. Repp, from Balzer, in which he announced to us an order for food to be picked up in Balzer. Yesterday evening our representative returned from Balzer and brought the same, 240 pud. Great joy filled the hearts of the suffering and I, in the name of the local Church Council and the community, am unable to say herein enough heartfelt thanks.
With love and joy we press the hands of the members of the Relief Society, as well as all those who happily donated, and trust that they will not tire of doing good until the hunger is defeated and totally overcome. Help us further, you beloved German brethren, and think of us on the distant shores of the Volga. Thousands can be saved if your assistance does not falter.
Again, my warmest thanks to your husband and to you and all of the happy givers in far off America!
Blumenfeld, once a wealthy community, has become extremely poor. The emergency is so great among many that they have seized upon much that is extraordinary and remarkable for food: dogs, dats, meat of fallen livestock ("Carrion"), the unborn fetuses of slaughtered cattle or the abortions of cows and sheep. Blood of slaughtered animals is prepared and eaten; animal hides are cleaned and made edible as are also the entrails of slaughtered animals. Last summer, Ground Squirrels were eaten. In one German community on the Wiesenseite of the Volga a hungry child was licking the blood from the leg of a wounded horse. Many have died from hunger, many are made sick by it and swell up as a result; spotted fever has also taken away many. There is a great and general shortage of clothing. Now in winter many wear sheepskins; many will no longer wear regular clothing. Cupboards are empty and prices have risen into the millions. Thus, it would be desirable if this emergency could be remedied to some extent.
I will close my report and look confidently to God with a request in the words of a song:
Schleuss zu die Jammerpforein
Und lass an allen Orten
Auf so viel Tränen giessen,
Die Freudenströme fliessen!
Sprich Deinen milden Segen
Zu allen unsern Wegen;
Lass Grossen und auch Kleinen,
Die Gnadensonne scheinen!
Respectfully and thankfully,
G. F. Abig, Sexton of Blumenfeld
This translation provided courtesy of Hugh Lichtenwald.