QUEST FOR ANCESTORS

A Digital History and Photo Archive for the Beresan District, Odessa, Russia

 

Speier

Speier village

                                                                                              ( picture of  Speier taken by Peter & Faye Schantz, June 1991)        

The Catholic village of Speier was first situated on the left bank of the Beresan, about 5 miles from it's source and 3 miles north of the Catholic village of Landau.  The first families arrived in July of 1809, with the rest arriving in the Spring of 1810.  By 1839, according to Conrad Keller in his book "The German Colonies of South Russia 1804-1904,  the colony had expanded to both sides of the Beresan River.

The village was given it's name by Johannes Schanz of Lingenfeld, Pfalz in memory of Speyer, the ancient Palatinate capital on the left bank of the Rhine.

The journey from the border city of Radzivilov to the new village of Speier took the settlers eighteen weeks to complete.  They arrived in the fall, too late to build their homes before winter...so the head of every family dug a square hole in his lot and covered it with a roof made of reeds and some wood.  This was their home, in which they lived during their first winter.  It was cold and damp in these quarters, and many settlers became ill and died during the winter.  In the Spring, when the other two groups of settlers arrived, the Crown houses were built.

 

Families listed in the 1812 Census of Speier

 

Overgrown with reeds and creepers and grass as tall as a man, the first sight the settlers had of their new "home" was indeed very bleak and dreary...especially to these colonists that had just left their homes in the beautiful Rhine region....and now were to live on these steppes where only wild animals such as wolves and foxes had made their homes.  The German colonists were full of determination and faith that the Almighty God would help them.  They began building their village, which grew and expanded through the years until March 15, 1944, when the village of Speier was dissolved by the Russian Government.  The last 25 years of it's existence was marked by much suffering and misery as the Russians raided the villages, murdered the men, stole their belongings and tried to force the German families to leave Russia.  Taxes were imposed, and raised to ridiculous heights so that the Germans couldn't possibly pay them.  Property was seized for payment.  Famine and hunger were rampant, as the government first took all of their crops (but the Germans replanted with their seeds) and then returned to take the seeds as well.  Many families died the slow death of starvation.  By this time, many of our ancestors had already left their village to come to America, or had entered into Germany.  Many were gathered up and sent off to Siberia to work in  the labor camps, never to be heard from again.   A very few that have survived these camps, have in recent years been allowed to leave and emigrate into Germany.

 

The village of Speier was dissolved by the Russian Government on March 15, 1944.  Those living there at that time were gathered up and relocated in the Posen District of Poland.  The new name for the now Russian village would be  "PESTSCHANYJ  BROD" from then on.

 

About 1929, Stalin began his persecution against the Churches.   Many of the priests were arrested and killed, churches were locked, and the people were forbidden to hold any type of services. 

 

St. Martin's Catholic Church in Speier  (built about 1863) was used by the Catholic community until 1934, when it was closed and locked.   The belfry and steeple were knocked down by the Russians.  Later, the church was used as a club house and meeting hall for a while, and then as a pesticide storage building. 

The Former St. Martins Catholic Church, 1991

(Above picture of St. Martin's was taken by Peter and Faye Schantz during their trip to Speier in June of 1991. 
The church had just been acquired by the Russian Orthodox Church, and renovations were just beginning.)

Speier village3.JPG (9225 bytes) When the Orthodox Church began having services here, babies and small children couldn't come into the building without becoming ill because of the residue or fumes of the pesticides that had been stored there.  Shortly before 1996, the bell tower had been rebuilt, but now stands off to the side of the church instead of on top as part of the steeple.

(Above photo of the former St. Martin's was taken in 1996 by Rose Hoff)  

Speier village4.JPG (11498 bytes) This is the outside and the inside of the church as of Sept. 1998.   No pews or chairs...as the members of the Orthodox Church kneel on small rugs throughout their service. Inside of Church

(Above photos of the former St. Martin's Church courtesy of Gloria Roberts)

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Speier village8.JPG (13279 bytes)

In Conrad Keller's book, "The German Colonies in South Russia 1804-1904", Vol. II, he writes "The main buildings are the rectory, the church, the very fine new school, the council office and several very attractive private homes"....."The yards are all surrounded by stone walls.  Along the length of the street there is an alley of acacia trees, giving the colony a picturesque appearance."

( Above picture of street in Speier courtesy of Rose Hoff 1996; pictures of the school in Speier courtesty of Dick Doll, 1998)

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A typical house found in the village of Speier; and the main road  into and through the village are depicted by these photos.

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Courtesy of Peter and Faye Schantz in June of 1991.

 

If you are researching any of the Beresan villages of South Russia and would like to join the BDO
listserve (Beresan District of Odessa) which is a private listserve, please contact me for a special  
invitation and more information.  On this listserve you'll meet many others that are researching      
some of the same family names as YOURS!!

 

 

 

                                                


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Last Update:05/02/10
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