As I Remember It

from 1912 - 1992



...the personal memoirs of


Land of Opportunity

I have decided to write my memoirs and have a lot to tell of the eighty years I've walked the face of this beautiful planet. Although this new country, known as the United States, was in existence for about 150 years by the time I was born, there were large expanses in the interior that were still virgin lands which were available for homesteaders. These were the conditions my maternal grandparents found when they arrived in this country from Russia in 1898. They homesteaded 160 acres of land about 14 miles northwest of Forbes, North Dakota.

Description of Area and Conditions Encountered

There was more land available for purchase (adjacent to theirs) which they purchased for just a few cents per acre. In a short while, they owned more than a section. (A section consists of 640 acres). This was hilly, ranching-type area - prairie land. The principle source of their income was cattle, sheep, poultry and some grain farming. Buffalo bones, which were quite numerous, were gathered in their spare time to supplement their income.

Having settled in North Dakota just nine years after it had become a state, my maternal grandparents had five children; my mother, Louise, was their third child. These children all homesteaded 160 acres, and I was born in my mother's claim shack on November 30th, 1912.

My Dad

My father, Gottfried Klotzbücher, was born in Beresina, Bessarabia, South Russia on April 12, 1883. His father, my grandfather, was Jacob Klotzbücher, and his wife was Louise (Schramm) Klotzbücher. Two of her siblings were in the U.S.: Adam Schramm, with an Americanized spelling of Schrum, and a sister with a married surname of Wagner. Adam Schrum lived 15 miles northwest of Forbes, No. Dakota. The sister, who lived in Aberdeen, So. Dakota, became a widow and subsequently married a man by the name of Quashnik. Mrs. Quashnik lived to be 99 years old - in fact, within one week of 100.

To continue with my dad... I don't think I will ever be able to fully explain him. He was Bob Hope, Ralph Cramden and Archie Bunker all wrapped up in one. He had two sisters and three brothers. One brother, Adam, died young, shortly after his marriage, and there were rumors that his wife poisoned him - but there were also rumors that he drank some bad spirits. Lydia, the oldest sister, married a fellow named Bonhard (spelling uncertain). She died in Germany around 1950. Gottfried Klotzbücher, my dad, was the only one of his family who came to the U.S.

Having grown up in Beresina, he received what education was available, mostly religious training. The Bible was about the only text book available, and they learned to read from it. They also had slate tablets; writing paper was very scarce. Math was taught, such as addition, subtraction and division. After all was said and done, they probably had the equivalent of a 3rd grade education. At this point, I would like to review how all this came about that ethnic Germans were living in Russia. I am indebted to a distant cousin of mine, Jim Gessele, who is doing significant genealogical research in connection with the Klotzbücher family.

Ancestral German's migration to Russia

We can begin at about 1760 when a Russian tsar married a German princess, Catherine II, later to be known as Catherine the Great. Germany back in the 1700s was not the republic we know today. It wasn't unified, but rather a conglomerate of small dukedoms and principalities who were continually feuding. They all had standing armies - armies which had to be supported. As a result, the people were taxed way beyond their means, and most were looking for a better life. Russia, on the other hand, was quite well united, and through various wars, especially a recent war with the turks and other campaigns, had acquired much fine agricultural land like Bessarabia. The Crimea and the Ukraine districts were greatly in need of farmers and all manner of crafts people to occupy those areas.

So Catherine the Great made an appeal to various countries, especially the Germanic areas, for farmers and crafts people to come to Russia. Any interested people who would consider her offer would be given freedom of religion, be allowed to set up their own educational system, establish their own colonies, and pay no tax to the Russian government for ten years. All men were to be exempt from military service. Farmers would receive free seed the first year, plus some animals and a small monthly allowance for a short period of time. This offer was eagerly accepted by many German families, and this is what prompted my great grandfather, Ulrich Klotzbücher, to move to Russia with his family who, till that time, lived in Gündelbach, Wurttemburg, Germany. The migration to Beresina, So. Russia occurred between 1815 - 1830. Their descendants would remain in that region throughout the following century, until they were taken back to Germany by Hitler during World War II.

Some of the emigrants to Russia went there by way of a land route through Poland, while others took a river route via the Danube River, which entered the Black Sea near present day Odessa. Based on some of the articles I've read, they encountered many of the same hardships the American pioneers experienced in the early days: disease, hunger, cruel winters, fuel shortages, and lack of shelter. Also, various types of outlaws plagued them. In spite of things, they laid out their villages, built churches and schools, and all seemed to have a certain amount of land. In about 50 years time, the German settlers became prosperous.

I have never been able to find out what type of occupation my great grandfather was in, but my grandfather was a blacksmith. Uncle Adam was also a blacksmith, and my father a shoemaker.

Special privileges revoked after 100 years in Russia - Political Uncertainty

By the time my father was a young man, different rulers came into power, and following Catherine's death, many of the earlier privileges were no longer honored. For instance, the schools were integrated, and the Russian government insisted that Russian instructors be hired to teach Russian, and thereafter, all scholars were required to learn the language. So, there was a half-day of instruction in Russian, and a half-day in German. Similarly, the exemption from military service was revoked during the Russo-Japanese war in 1904 -1905. My father served in the Russian army and was stationed in Manchuria. More on that later.

My father, Gottfried, had an older brother, Adam, as mentioned earlier. Then, after dad, came Jacob, Jr. - the third son. He served in the Russian army during World War I, and was stationed in Turkey where he died of a combination of starvation and exposure to the cold. The fourth son was Johannes (John), who also served in World War I in the cavalry for mother Russia. He and his family were fortunate enough to escape back to Germany during World War II.

Immediately following World War I, the Russians were ordered to cede Bessarabia over to Romania through an armistice settlement likely imposed by the League of Nations - an organization that sprang up to settle disputes between nations. Then, along came World War II and Germany's invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.

At first, the Germans and Russia were allied, and since there were several million German descendants in Russia, Hitler made a deal with the Russian dictator, Joseph Stalin, to let some of these Germans return back to Germany. However, before any movement took place, Hitler and Stalin got into a squabble over the division of Poland as well as other matters. Hitler then attacked Russia, grabbing a lot of territory, including Romania and the state of Bessarabia. At that time, my uncle, John, his family, a couple of my father's sisters, and his mother were living under Romanian rule since the end of World War I. They were then ordered out by Hitler, right after harvest in 1941. Everything had to be left, except what they could haul on a wagon, as they headed for Germany. Excess livestock were turned loose in the fields.

Other German descendants were not as fortunate. The Black Sea Germans, the Volga Germans, and several other German groups, like the Mennonites, were never to reach Germany. The Russians were able to ship them out to Siberia during the winter in old box cars, trucks, etc. They became separated; many children and other family members were stuck in different vehicles, and wound up in places miles apart. Under these conditions, many froze, starved, were shot or hung, or suffered other indignities. To this day, their descendants are scattered all over Siberia.

By this time, my grandfather was dead, but grandmother was still living. My grandfather's family got back as far a Poland, where Hitler kicked some of the Polish people out of their homes and moved the Russian Germans in. They lived there four years till the Russians were able to push the German army out of Poland, so this put my father's folks back on the road to Germany once again - all but my grandmother, who had died at age 87 while living in Poland.

family of grandfather Jacob Klotzbücher, Berezina, Bessarabia, ca. 1910 Dad's younger sister, Mellita, and her family also made it back to Germany. She was married to a fellow by the name of Kurz. He died October of '89 at Mellensee, East Germany. Both her and Dad's oldest sister Lydia Bonhard wound up in the Russian occupied zone of Germany, while my Uncle John and family settled in West Germany. Unbeknown to them, they now live in a town ten miles from Gündelbach, where my great grandfather Ulrich Klotzbücher left from in the 1830s for Russia. I pointed this out to them on a visit to Germany in 1983.

In 1904 Russia and Japan got into a war, and my father being of draft age, was drafted and sent to China. This is where all the land battles occurred between the Russians and Japanese. The Japanese had launched a surprise attack on the Russian fleet stationed at Port Arthur - curiously similar to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Russian fleet was crippled badly, and they could not adequately supply their troops since the only way to get supplies to the front was by means of a single railroad through Siberia. When President Theodore Roosevelt intervened, he was able to help negotiate a peace treaty. After my father finally got cleared from the Russian military, he made arrangements to come to the United States in 1910.

I have a history book in my library on the Russo-Japanese war which is very interesting. My dad served in the band with an infantry unit. He told everybody that showed any interest how he won the war. Putting all humor aside, I'm sure he experienced a lot of hardship, such as cold, hunger, lice, and sickness, since they did not have the medicine and medical capabilities now available. Dragging through Siberia in cattle cars and spending winter in northern China with little fuel or shelter as well as being poorly equipped must have been a mind-shattering experience.

Emigration to USA

To continue, in 1910 Jacob Schlauch and his wife, Christina (Schramm), Dad's cousin, were migrating to the U.S.A. So Dad asked to go along. Jake lent him $150 for the passage over to this country, and I don't know if Jake ever got repaid, because Dad was always long on wind and short on cash. In spite of that, he was he sort of fellow everyone liked having around because he was such a comedian. Jake told me, following Dad's death, that the Russian officers used him to entertain the troops to keep up the morale, somewhat like the bygone days of Bob Hope. Lastly, it should be pointed out that Jake and my father served in the Russian army together; Jake had been in the artillery.


Gottfried and Louise Klotzbeacher After Dad arrived in the U.S.A., he came to his uncle Adam Schramm's place and hired out from there to various farmers around the area. Uncle Adam's oldest son, Gottfried Schramm, married Adeline Gulke. Christlieb Gulke was a brother to my grandfather, August Gulke. Those days they used matchmakers (Kuppelsmänner) to get young people married. My dad engaged in this activity quite often. He wasn't short on conversation, so he managed to encourage many couples to make the trip to the altar. It probably never occurred to him that some couples weren't meant for each other. If he got a dog married to a cat, that was a big accomplishment. Anyway, that's the way my mother and he met.

Mrs. Gottfried Schramm had a cousin, Louise Gulke, so the matchmakers went to work. Dad and mother were married in February of 1912. She was living on her own place, they were both 29 years of age, she had some cattle, horses, hogs, chickens, geese and also some machinery. All dad had was the clothes on his back and a good line of B.S. - plus a big thirst.

Back to Introduction | Next: Part II - Homesteading