A Trip to Bukovina – June 20-29, 1998

by Gertrud Siewi, née Rankel (Tiefenbach, Germany)
and Rosina Giesberger, née Rankel (Rohr, Germany)

Published by the authors in the Bukovina Society of the Americas Newsletter,
Vol. 16, No.2, June, 2006

Well prepared, we set off to Bukovina, the homeland of our parents. My father, Adolf Rankel, was born on July 8, 1907 in Lukawitz near Solca and my mother, Maria (née Moroschan) in Luisental (now Fundul Moldovii) on April 24, 1909.

Rosina’s father was Josef Rankel, my father’s brother. His first wife (also coincidentally named Maria Rankel) died and he married Mathilde (née Kohlruss from Fürstenthal (now Voivodeasa). She was born on August 18, 1919 and today lives in Rottenburg-on-the-Laaber (River). I have already
visited Romania three times; nonetheless, I was filled with anticipation as to what would await us there.

On June 20, 1998 the time had finally arrived when we boarded the train in Landshut at 10:22 p.m. and set off for Budapest via Munich and from there continued to Cluj (Klausenburg). It seemed quaint to travel from a highly technological world to a region where time seems to have stood still. The train was everything but comfortable; neither windows nor doors shut properly, and they rattled incessantly. On the Hungarian-Romanian border everything was carefully searched and even the seats were raised. A defect in our coach forced us to “to relocate.” At the Oradea station we experienced our first delight when my cousin Neluco with his wife Tina and son Ovideu briefly greeted us and explained that we would see each other again in Câmpulung.
After about five minutes we “steamed” ahead.

On June 21 at 4:38 p.m. my cousin Mariana and her husband Mihai in a caruza (jalopy) known as the Dacia greeted us with red carnations. Eighteen hours had passed in the interim and as noted, we traveled by auto over mountains and valleys to Câmpulung. We ate dinner at the Hotel Dracula, known through film and television. It was here in this castle situated on high with a marvelous view of the Borgie Mountains that Dracula perpetrated his evil deeds. After many years of renovation a lovely hotel with restaurant now stands there. The meal was flawless and for four people we paid the equivalent of 35 German marks. At 11:00 p.m. we concluded our Câmpulung stop, the point of departure for our planned ventures.

After a good night’s sleep we toured the first Moldavian monastery in Moldovita (Church of the Annunciation), which lies about thirty-eight kilometers north of Câmpulung.

As Andre Grabar noted in 1962, “Viewed from the exterior, every church looks like an enchanted ornament which in surroundings of green and white must be admired: the green meadows make the church stand out while the white of the monastery buildings form a right-angle which frame the church. At the same time these painted façades with their figures and scenes simulate a richly-illustrated book, whose pages have all been opened.”

We rested in Sadova, enjoyed the flowing of the stream and observing everyday life in the village. Women washed their clothes in the stream, geese chattered, goats, sheep and cows calmly grazed along the wayside. Passing Dacias did not disrupt their tranquility.

Marginea and Fürstenthal (now Voivodeasa) were on Tuesday’s program as was the Moldavian monastery of Sucevi+a. In Marginea we visited the ceramics workshop. Here the well-known black ceramics are produced. Then we wanted to see Fürstenthal, Mathilde’s (Dilli’s) hometown village. It was difficult to find out what the village is called today. First we traveled on a rather bumpy road in the direction of Horodnic. After about 3 kilometers the ride was no longer comfortable, and we feared the Dacia would break down. We again reversed our course and asked directions of the inhabitants who were “enjoying” the day on benches in front of their homes. Finally someone could recall the way to Voivodeasa. Here we simply drove into a street lined with many houses but with no sign to identify the village. It was raining hard. A man walking down the street confirmed in German that we are in former Fürstenthal. He immediately directed us to a woman who spoke better German and who could give us directions. It was Anna Lazaren (née Gaschler); she and Alfred Stadler accompanied us to the cemetery. She showed us that only one German grave remained (with the name of Zettel). The cemeteries in
Romania are not especially well kept. Perhaps, as is generally true, the money is lacking.

We visited the church in Fürstenthal and also discovered the property on which the Kohlruss family had built a house. Everything was as Dilli had described it. The second house on the left next to the church was their home, the stream was to the right, and here in back of the house where the terrain slopes uphill she had gathered all sorts of berries when she was a child (she had eleven siblings). It had been a German village with about 500 inhabitants. Currently four German families live in Voivodeasa.

Delighted at having discovered what no one would have believed possible, we resumed out trip to the monastery of Sucevita (Church of the Resurrection). The façade of the very colorful building is veiled by the shadowy green background [of the meadow] against which the other colors appear like sparkling and brilliant gems. On the return trip we noticed that something was not right with the jalopy. Calm and collected Mihai raised the hood and determined that the fuel line had ruptured. He clipped a piece of wire from a pasture fence, repaired the fuel line, and after forty five minutes we continued on our way. One can imagine the despair we felt in this hilly terrain; I only hoped that the brakes would not fail. But Mihai was a master at his craft, and we arrived home safely.

On Wednesday, June 24, we set off for Cacica, Solca, Clit, Rãdãuti, Suceava and Guru Humorului with a new fuel line. Cacica is a pilgrimage site, which on August 15, Ascension Day, still celebrates the Marian holiday. Here our forebears came annually. Moreover, we were able to find an individual who showed us the church. When we inquired about a postcard, she gave us pictures with prayers printed on them. Aunt Dilli was obviously moved when she saw the picture of this church, linked with so many memories of her youth.

We traveled on to Solca. My mother had apparently worked in the Ostbank [East Bank] from April 24, 1921 – September 20, 1928 and from September 20, 1929 – September 1, 1930 with the Faust family. The bank buildings are still standing. In 1939 my father was a recruit in Solca. This experience, according to the stories of my parents, somehow intrigued me. When we strolled through Solca, I had the feeling of having been here once before. We toured the very simply furnished church as well as ruins, presumably a former monastery, at the far end of the village. Pressed for time, we had not been able to arrange for a guide; this would certainly have been very interesting.

We continued on to Lichtenberg (now Dealu Ederii), which has been incorporated into Clit. When I wanted to visit Clit six years ago, my uncle Karl had dissuaded me. He considered it too dangerous, since primarily “Gypsies” live in this village. My grandmother, Rosa Moroschan, was born in Clit on July 13, 1883 and Dolfi on August 8, 1933.

We had been under the impression that Lichtenberg had also suffered from Ceausescu’s “reform zeal.” Elsa, Rosina’s sister, was born in Lichtenberg on June 1, 1930. Her recollections were very vital for our search. As we were traveling from Solca to Clit with great anticipation, I said when still at a distance, ”Rosina, that is Lichtenberg, the street goes uphill, then downhill, and up there is the church of Lichtenberg.” You could not mistake it. The streets, as in all Romania, are lined right and left with houses. My mother told me that the German houses were constructed of brick and the Romanians built theirs of wood. Lichtenberg was a German village. The old church, the landmark of the hometown of my parents, is still standing. The cemetery at the end of the village, accessible by an unfrequented path, is reminiscent of the past. We turned the gravestones upside down in the hope of finding a single Rankel grave. We found names of my grandmother’s family, such as Winklbauer and Scheinost. Presumably the graves in earlier times had wooden crosses, which have rotted with the years. A phenomenal discovery for us was the grave of Emil Vlaschin, the husband of Roserl Vlaschin (Rosina’s uncle). He died in Clit in 1974. After a peaceful rest under cherry trees with a view to the new small village, the second hometown of my parents, we traveled further on to Rãdãuti. Rãdãuti was a market town for the Germans of Romanians. There we visited the markets, drank coffee and resumed our return trip via Suceava to Cãmpulung. Here Aunt Veronika, Uncle Karl’s wife, and Tina of Oradea invited us to dine. They served us a marvelous meal. The day ended with a folklore evening in the Hotel Zimbru.

For June 25 (Thursday) Fundul Moldovii, the birthplace of my mother, was on the program. It lies about 8 kilometers from Cãmpulung in the midst of the mountains: a lovely landscape, and the place name in translation means “at the end of Moldavia.” In fact the area of human settlement ends here. The wooden church, where my mother was baptized, recalls the past. The church is in desperate need of repair. As we later learned, a donor has been found for the maintenance of the church. My father and grandfather’s property of 2549 square meters is still recorded in the land register. Its return to the family is, according to my cousin Mariana, out of the question, since it is being farmed, albeit illegally. As I was standing on the hill of what was formerly Luisental, I envisioned my mother playing as a child. From her stories I recognized the village very precisely. The Germans lived on the left side of the street and the Romanians on the right; it was truly the case that the brick houses were on the left and the wooden ones on the right.

A private hometown museum has been constructed in the village. Fundul Moldovii has a mine, which presumably is still being worked today. The visit to the hometown museum yielded great insight into the life of our parents and antecedents.

In the evening we were festively hosted by my cousin Edi and his wife Maricica. Their hospitality was superb, and we got a view of the life and times of the people in Romania. They are truly indicative of life here.

On Friday we went to Dorohoi, in earlier times a predominantly Jewish city. It was here that Mihai wanted to show us a traditional marketplace and to make some inexpensive purchases. Unfortunately much had already been sold out. On the return trip he showed us his hometown of Lunca. It is on the border of Moldavia and the poorest region of Romania. The fields are mostly still tended manually. Teams of horses, pedestrians, and animals of all sorts are on the streets; the people are busy around the clock tending to their fields and their needs. Children sell mushrooms and berries on the street. The people are in good spirits, friendly, willing to be helpful and provide information. We had no problems despite the horror stories, which the media in Germany broadcast about Romania.

On June 28, 1998 we began our return trip by overnighting in Oradea at the home of Nelco and Tina. Tina and Nelco took us through the older section of the city. It was an eventful evening with a nice stop at a street café. We stayed in their 30 square meter house overnight. The meal was excellent despite the minimal available space. For our present conditions in Germany the situation in unimaginable. We were simply overwhelmed.

We wish to thank Mariana and Mihai for their extraordinarily engaging escort service through Bukovina, where until 1940 our parents spent their youth. All in all, it was an enriching and informative trip, and as Andre Grabar noted: “if the love of travel continues and the means of transportation improves, ever more admirers of artistic sites will find a meeting place in the vicinity of the old Moldavian churches and admire their façades.”