Freedom in Eastern Europe helps trace heritage
By BRUCE BAIR
Hays Daily News
Posted with permission of the Hays Daily News, Hays, KS
May 10, 2002
ELLIS – Probably no one who met here in September 1988 to discuss their common heritage dreamed that. 18 months later political explosions in Eastern Europe would help them find their cousins.
The September meeting concerned Bukovina Germans, Germans who had emigrated from the Bavarian region of Germany in the late 1700s to Bukovina, a province then in the old Austrian Empire but now straddling the Soviet and Romanian borders.
The interest in the Ellis area was intense, because some of the Bukovina Germans again migrated, this time to Ellis, Rooks and Trego counties, mostly just before the turn of the century.
With the help of genealogical researchers Irmgard Ellingson, of Ossian, Iowa, and Paul PolanskySchneller, an American born historian now a resident of Spain, a Bukovina Society of the Americas was formed.
Ellingson’s interest in the heritage was spurred when she live with her husband, once pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, in Ellis.
The first meeting of the society a year ago in Ellis drew about 300 people, said Oren Windholz, of Hays, a society founder.
Since that first meeting, changes in the Soviet Union and especially Romania and further research vastly expanded the genealogical resources of the society.
At the second annual meeting, scheduled Thursday through Sunday, at the Holiday Inn Holidome, 3603 Vine, the material will be available, as will three days of seminars, cultural programs, music and a dinner.
Anyone who wishes to attend may do so. Dinner registrations, will be accepted until the registration tables close Thursday. Registration begins at 5 p.m. Thursday at the motel. The cost is $12. To attend only the polka dance, which begins at 8 p.m. Saturday, tickets are $5.
So much genealogical material will be available that anyone with a Bukovina family heritage can trace his family back to the Bavaria of 500 years ago, Windholz said.
It is possible to trace the lineage back even further, he said.
How that history has been traced sometimes is as circuitous as the Bukovinans’ route to America.
Windholz, for example, is a descendent of the Erbert family, which emigrated to the Ellis area from the small town of Poiana Mikului, now in Romania.
After the revolution that freed Romania from Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauscecu, Windholz wrote the village from which his grandfather emigrated to Ellis.
He addressed the letter to the local priest and received a reply from a resident of the village, Lukas Balak, who wrote in English.
The church records that Windholz asked about had been removed by the Germans at the end of the World War II occupation and the village burned to the ground.
But the records were not lost. They were copied by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were in storage in Mormon archives in Salt Lake City.
Those records and thousands of pages of others will be available to genealogical researchers during the society’s second annual meeting.
Irmgard Ellingson also will be back to share what she has learned from her first trip to the Eastern European countries, a trip allowed by the Eastern bloc revolution.
Slides of the area will be shown during the annual meeting, but perhaps no one can describe conditions there better than Lukas Balak in his letters to Windholz.
“We are glad we have been liberated from the Communist yoke and hope that our lot will improve in time. It is true, nothing can be changed, like in a fairy tale, into newer and better.
“A few years we shall probably endure the hardships, but finally the sunshine will appear here and bring us justice, freedom and dignity.
“Many people from the old ruling class would not give up easily and pave the way toward a more just way of life. During the last 50 years we have been living in a state of terror, fear and violence. It will take time, until people wake up to the legality of real, orderly life,” wrote Balak.
Other events at the meeting Thursday include “Humor in the Old Country,” by Lawrence Weigel, at 7 p.m.; “Bukovina History,” by Sophie Welisch, a professor of history at Dominican College of Blauvelt, Orangeburg, N.Y., at 8 p.m.; and informal music and a mixer beginning at 8:30 p.m.
Genealogical programs will be conducted, Friday morning and afternoon: A social hour begins at 5 p.m. followed by an informal buffet at 6 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., Guido Ast, a West German architect, will speak on “Bukovinans in Germany.” Genealogists from the Fort Hays Genealogical Society will speak at 8 p.m. A panel discussion and question-and-answer session will follow, as will a second night of informal German music and a mixer.
On Saturday, a final wrap-up genealogy session begins at 9 a.m. At 10 a.m., slides of Bukovina will be shown. At 1:30 p.m. the 41st meeting of the German Bukovina Society will be conducted, followed at 2:30 p.m. by the second annual meeting of the Bukovina Society of the Americas. Tours and other recreation will be available beginning at 3:30 p.m. A social hour begins at 5:30 p.m. followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. The evening will end with performances of two German folk dances and a polka dance
The final event Sunday is an ecumenical worship hour beginning at 10 a.m. in the Holidome