Tuesday, January 26, 2010
My paternal Grandfather was a German man who immigrated from Russia at about the age of 10 in 1910. When he arrived, he spoke German and Russian, but no English. As a child, I was fascinated by this experience, and begged him to tell me stories of the “old country.” He would not. From other family members, I learned only that the family had moved from Germany to Russia at the beginning of the 19th century to start a farming operation.
Then recently, I came across some papers of my Father’s and discovered that the family had immigrated from an area that used to be knows as Bessarabia. Bessarabia is an area that sits on the north-west side of the Black Sea. After doing some research, I was able to piece the story together.
Russia and Turkey fought a war from 1806 to 1812. At the end of the war, the peace treaty know as the Treaty of Bucharest, gave this area to Russia. But, at the time, the area was populated by Russian peasants, who knew little about farming. In order to build up the agricultural capability of the area, Czar Alexander I made lucrative offers to German farmers, enticing them to immigrate in order to start farms. The first German farmers arrived in 1814.
But this area has always been politically troubled. During the 19th century it became a part of Moldavia, and, after the War of Romanian Independence, it became Romanian.
Then in 1903, came the Kishinev Pogrom, which slaughtered Jews in the area. A second pogrom followed in 1905. Although Jews were the primary targets, feelings of nationalism were raising in Romania and my Christian ancestors were Auslanders, outsiders, in their own homes. 1905 was also the year of the first Russian Revolution.
At the same time, tensions were raising in nearby Turkey, and these tensions would eventually escalate into the Turkish massacre of Armenian Christians in 1915. No wonder my Grandfather didn’t want to tell me stories of the old country!
So, in about 1910, part of my family moved to the United States and part moved to what would eventually become East Berlin. How lucky I am to be from the side that immigrated to the United States! They arrived at Ellis Island, and purchased the longest train ticket that they could afford. That ticket took them as far as Dodge, North Dakota. What a shock it must have been, to trade the rich soil and warm climate of the area around the Black Sea for the winters of North Dakota, and soil so poor it was only good for grazing!
This woven piece titled Ausländer, reminds me of what all immigrants must feel at some point, the feeling of being an outsider in a place that should feel like home. It was inspired, in part, by the headpiece worn by my paternal Grandmother on her wedding day, a day in which she left her home to create another home for herself and her family. My family had to immigrate several times in order to find home, but throughout, they were farmers, and that fact is referenced by the vegetable fibers braided into the piece. I use white wool to reference weddings and new beginnings, feathers to represent the search for peace, and gold wire to represent the hope that the new land will provide prosperity. Aren’t these the dreams of all immigrants?
Posted by S E at 9:45 PM