Bukovinan Germans also represented in area
By BRUCE BAIR
Posted with permission of the Hays Daily News, Hays, KS
April 25, 2002
ELLIS – Paul Polansky-Schneller may have been bemused recently when an Ellis choir greeted him by singing “Amigos de Christos, We’re Friends of the Lord.”
Though he lives in Spain, he is an American who left the country as a student and has stayed on in Spain.
“I got into journalism, then into property, and struck it lucky,” he said.
His lucky streak turned out to be a lucky streak for thousands of Europeans and Americans curious about the history of their families. Schneller, with leisure time and curiosity about his own last name, began to do genealogical research.
His grandfather, of German lineage, emigrated to Yuma, Colorado, from Bukovina, a mountainous region of what is now Russia and Romania. At one time, it was wholly a part of Romania; before 1918; apart of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The saga of the Bukovina-Germans somewhat parallels that of the Volga Germans.
Bukovina-Germans were not farmers but mountain folk, mostly from Bavaria, who emigrated from that region at the invitation of the Austro-Hungarian government, and went to work as early as 1775, cutting down trees to be used as fuel in the glass factories.
By the 1880’s many of the trees were gone, farm land in the mountainous region was scarce, and many of the Bukovina-Germans began leaving for America and Canada, said Schneller.
At their height, the Bukovina-Germans numbered about 90,000 people, scattered in closely-knit villages across a province. a fifth the size of Kansas, holding a total population of perhaps a million people.
After 1918, when Bukovina became a part of Romania, and the official language changed, many more left; but the final blow did not come until World War II. Most of the refugees, said Schneller, ended up in West Germany, in many cases arriving with church and family records among their belongings.
After the war, he said, the Bukovina-Germans formed societies and organized an annual congress.
The original refugees are getting older and attendance at the congress is slipping, but “we still have a table for every town in Bukovina,” said Schneller.
“At these tables are people with the same last surnames you have, and they are definitely related to you,” he said.
Schneller brought with him the names and addresses of thousands of European Bukovina-Germans. Most of the European families possessed their genealogies back to the 16th century.
So for Americans attempting to research their Bukovina-German heritage, most of the work has already been done.
“They are as eager to learn about you as you are to learn about them,” he said.
Those wishing to fill in their history can find documents in archives in Vienna, Leipzig, East Germany, and in Salt Lake City, Utah, he said. The original records of military service and emigration contracts are in Vienna. Church records are in Leipzig and microfilms of many of the records are in Salt Lake City.
Schneller’s reason for visiting is Ellis was to conduct research among those Bukovina-Germans who had emigrated to the Ellis area. His project is no less than listing all Lutheran and Catholic German immigrants to Bukovina and tracing their descendants throughout the modern world.
If it seems a big bite to chew, Schneller appeared equal to the task. At the St. Mary school gym he was equipped with a computer and genealogical lists of thousands of names.
When Schneller ended his general talk and asked for questions, hands shot up.
Schnellers in the audience revealed their relationship to him. Others, Schnellers and non-Schnellers both, asked about specific villages. Were they still there? Yes, said Schneller, most of them completely intact, containing the original log houses and churches built by the German immigrants.
But visiting the area, at least the Romanian portion, may be a problem. He described present day Romania as the Ethiopia of Europe. During his last visit, he said, he was followed 24 hours a day by plainclothes security men.
The present leader of the country, President Nicolae Ceausescu, is the world’s last admirer of Stalin, and runs the country like Stalin, he said. The Romanians, he said, want to bulldoze 13,000 villages and remove all traces of German culture from the country.
If one is adventurous enough to attempt a visit to Romania, he said, go in a group. Bukovina can be accessed because it is the site of several 14th and 15th century monasteries, which are on the United Nations list of world sites.
Tours can be arranged to the monasteries, and people can leave the tours and visit the villages. But don’t expect a good meal, he said. There is not a single restaurant in Bukovina which has a menu.
“You eat what they have,” he said.
Schneller found the original home built by his great-grandfather in 1808. The churches all still exist too, many in a tumble-down, condition, some still in service as Romanian Orthodox churches, which, in the villages, “are packed to the rafters on Sunday.”
In this way, he said, people reaffirm their belief in God and also protest their government in the only way they can.
When Schneller finished his talk, his job had only began. He setup the computer containing many of his genealogies, and a long line formed before his table. Many of those who stood carried with them thick sheaves of documents.
Irmgard Hein Ellingson, Ossian, Iowa, whose husband served as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, Ellis, from 1980-1983, arranged Schneller’s visit.