In Search of German Footprints in Bukovina’s Cemeteries – 2008

By Michael Augustin (Leonberg/Stuttgart, Germany)
Published by the author in the Bukovina Society of the Americas Newsletter,
Vol. 19, No.1 March, 2009

Continuation of articles in the December 2008 issue of the Newsletter in which Michael Augustin and Peter Grunikiewicz describe various aspects of their September 27 – October 9, 2008 trip to Bukovina. Place names are given in their current Romanian spelling.

Aside from our work in the Suceava archive, already discussed in the previous issue of the Newsletter, our visit to cemeteries in southern Bukovina had been one of the objectives of our 2008 trip. The first short visit to the monastery of Voronet (one of the world-famous Moldavian monasteries with exquisitely beautiful frescoes on their outer walls in the proximity of our boarding house in Gura Humorului) confirmed that cemeteries and their tombstones are not only characteristic of an historic era and its religious communities but also manifest regional traits. Precisely here, where we did not pursue genealogical objectives, the cemeteries in Bukovina revealed distinct characteristics: very closely placed grave sites, no identifiable layout, relatively tall monuments, and apparently no obliteration of the graves after a predetermined period as, for example,is the practice in Germany. Contrary to the example in the Bohemian Forest (in the Czech Republic), we saw no evidence of a systematic destruction of German monuments and cemeteries. In isolated instances, however, we did come upon minimal acts of desecration. Our guide explained that unless the family repairs such damages, the grave site would be considered abandoned property and might be acquired by another.

The first burial ground we visited was the German cemetery of the former mining community of Iacobeni. After several inquiries we found an entry to the southwest accessible only on foot and across privately-owned property far above an iron ore railroad loading station. It is obviously not currently in use and today serves partially as pasturage. A number of the very old monuments have disappeared, fallen over, or are badly over-grown with weeds. Only a few of the graves with Romanian inscriptions have more recent dates and are being tended. A perilous situation arose as I approached a six-foot monument tilted on a slope. No sooner did I touch it than it toppled over (fortunately not in my direction), fell to the ground, and broke into three pieces. Had I been in the path of its trajectory, I would have had to jump away quickly or not now be able to write these lines. The names, which we found, were overwhelmingly German although none of them were familiar to us.

The situation in Gura Humorului was entirely different. Here,too, the graveyard lies along the upper limits of the town. Nonetheless, it is level, much larger, and still in use, primarily the section at the right rear of the entrance. The graves with German names are mainly in the left quadrant behind a small chapel. Here we found the last resting places of members of the families of Altmann, Brandl, Braun, Klostermann, Kübeck,Schaffhauser and Wel(l)isch, to name but a few. They are laid out with insufficient space between them, and except for the main road there are no paths. Considering their age, the sites are in good condition, i.e., neither dilapidated nor vandalized.

In the former Swabian community of Ilisesti we visited the very beautiful and perfectly maintained Lutheran church dating from 1901, which, however, has served as an Orthodox house of worship for a number of years. Although an Orthodox church built in the style of the Moldavian monasteries stands in the vicinity, it was badly in need of repair. Rather than undertaking its restoration the Orthodox community simply appropriated the former Lutheran church for its own purposes. Now a materially Protestant exterior offers an interesting contrast to the spiritual Orthodox style of the interior. From a friendly and eager Romanian worker at a construction site directly bordering the church we learned by gestures that no further traces of the German cemetery exist.

Two days later, on Sunday, we ventured on to the cemeteries of Marginea, Radauti, Voevodeasa (Fürstenthal), and Volovat. The weather was so bad that despite our umbrella we were so thoroughly drenched after fifteen minutes that we limited our stay in the outdoors to a minimum. The Radauti cemetery appeared to be about as large as the one in Gura Humorului. In any event it is still in use and divided by a railroad track. Here we found a number of gravestones with the German names of Kisslinger, Mirwald, Oberhoffner, Pscheidt, Schnell and others.

Since my ancestor, Johann Augustin, was among the first settlers in Voevodeasa and many of his descendants from this village and neighboring areas are interred here, its burial site was of great interest to me. Encircled by hedges and bushes, it can only be reached by crossing an overgrown path and is on generally level land. Today under a lone fir tree a small number of Gaschler family graves can still be identified. On the periphery of the cemetery we saw a few newer graves but because of the bad weather, we did not examine them further. These graves are tended by the family of the 74-year-old Josefa Zaremba (née Gaschler). It was her son who at great personal expense had the old Voevodeasa church restored to pristine condition, for which we paid him a visit and expressed our admiration and our thanks.

Marginea lies about 9 kilometers west of Radauti en route to the Suceavita monastery. Extending to Voevodeasa, it was the nearest settlement area for people who in the course of time could not find adequate living space in Voevodeasa. The expansive and level cemetery serves as a resting place for the more than 10,000 inhabitants of Marginea. To our surprise we found no graves with German names during our short roundabout.

The cemetery of Volovat together with the old church in the style of the Moldavian monasteries presents an impressive ensemble. Noteworthy are the Orthodox grave sites with three richly ornamented stone crosses on a stone pedestal. Our short cemetery trip ended with a search for Peter’s great-grandfather, Karl Paul Grunikiewicz. Any additional exploration on that day lay beyond our energy level. We plan, however, someday to resume our search, time and weather permitting.