Bukovina Germans are one of the groups that settled Ellis County, specifically in the area of the city of Ellis.
Below is a description of the Bukovina Germans. For more information, order any of the books about them from our Museum Store, or check the Bukovina website at http://www.bukovinasociety.org/
The Bukovina Germans of Ellis, Kansas
By: Oren Windholz
WHAT IS A BUKOVINA GERMAN?
Or for that matter, a Volga German, the majority of Ellis County’s ethnic Germans. The answer is, a handy way of determining where all the Germans settled when they left their homeland for Eastern European countries. The Bukovina Germans, who settled in the Ellis area, originally came from Southwest Germany and Bohemia. They migrated to Bukovina, a crownland of the Austrian Empire. Within the category of Bukovina German, there are also two sub groups, the Swabian Germans and the Bohemian Germans, based on their origins. The Volga Germans are ethnic Germans who settled in the Volga River region of Russia. Many other similar designations exist.
From 1775 to 1918, Bukovina was the easternmost crownland of the Austrian Empire and was subsequently divided by Romania and Ukraine. Located on the eastern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains, it no longer exists as a geographical entity. However, much historical and cultural identification with the name Bukovina remains there today. It was a multi-ethnic country, its name meaning Land of Beech Trees. Ethnic Germans only reached some 20 % of the population. They lived, however, in mostly exclusive communities, many founded by them.
During World War I, Bukovina became a battlefield between Austrian and Russian troops. My ancestral village of Pojana Mikuli, for example, changed hands several times and was burned down out of spite. Austria ceded the province of Bukovina to Romania in 1919. The interwar period witnessed the Romanization of Bukovina’s institutions, and the political restructuring from crown land to administrative districts controlled from the capitol of Romania (Bucharest). Romanian replaced German as the official language.
In 1940, the Soviet Union annexed the northern part of the former Bukovina. This was reversed in battle during the course of the Second World War but reinstated to them through the Yalta Agreement.
IMMIGRATION TO BUKOVINA
Bukovina was smaller than the size of Kansas. In 1775, its population was only about 60,000. To encourage the development of this sparsely settled land, the Austrian government subsidized the immigration of colonists to Bukovina. To capitalize on its natural resources, they recruited farmers, lumbermen and skilled workers for a glassworks industry, and miners to exploit its mineral reserves. In addition, many people came on their own and unsubsidized by the state, including Poles, Jews, Hungarians, Romanians, Gypsies, and Ukrainians so that in time Bukovina became what has been termed, "Europe in miniature." These ethnic groups lived side-by-side in mutual toleration and cooperation.
By 1910, Bukovina’s population had increased to over 800,000. However long before that time, as the population expanded, farmers with large families could no longer divide their homesteads among their numerous children. Industry in Bukovina had never developed to the extent it had elsewhere in the Austrian Empire. Hence, there was an incentive to emigrate again. The recruitment by American and Canadian railroads and offers of homestead land in the New World encouraged this new emigration. German language flyers were distributed and ads placed in city newspapers. South America recruited the same people. Hardships were not the main influence of the Bukovina German emigration.
IMMIGRATION TO ELLIS
The first wave of Bukovina German settlers to Ellis began in 1886, 10 years after the Volga German arrival in Ellis County. This is the reason for locating at Ellis. The land east was already homesteaded. The settlement of Bukovina Germans spanned some 20 years and consisted of about 35 families each of Lutherans and Catholics. Small in comparison with the Volga Germans. Until the First World War, frequent letters and picture post cards were exchanged between Kansas and Bukovina. News of family events among siblings and former neighbors were penned frequently, as well as business transactions, notice of inheritance, and sales of property. Life was fairly prosperous in communities in both countries. They traveled to and from to visit each other.
My great uncle, Franz Erbert, led the first 3 Catholic families to Ellis. They lived for a time in dugouts on the banks of Big Creek in Ellis due to a lack of housing. Cash in his pocket did not help; the town was just too small. The site of these dugouts is on the south bank of the creek, just across from St. Mary’s Church. Curious townspeople came down to watch them do their laundry. Franz Erbert and other scouts encouraged family and friends to come to Ellis to homestead. Three Erbert brothers went on to farm 3000 acres of wheat north of Ellis by the early 1900s. When Franz made his trip back to Bukovina, his father asked him to check on his fruit trees and bring back a handful of soil from his old yard.
Kansas was flat, treeless and bleak compared to the forested mountains of Bukovina. Very early, they brought tree shoots up from the creeks to plant groves on their farms. The Carpathian Mountains are not at all like our Rockies. In their old villages, they could clear and farm the land nearly to the top from their homes.
Some of the immigrants who came early had second thoughts about starting from scratch, particularly women. There are numerous stories of children remembering Grandma crying a lot. One woman kept after her husband so much about returning he finally reached into his pocket pulled out his wad of bills and slapped them on the kitchen table and told her, take this and go.
THOSE WHO STAYED BEHIND
Nearly all the Bukovina Germans who stayed behind left their homeland in 1940 as a result of an agreement with Germany, allowing the ethnic Germans them to voluntarily resettle in the Reichland. While voluntary, it was certainly not desirable. In 1945, many of those who had been settled in German-occupied lands, again found themselves departing, this time fleeing from the advancing Red Army
Only a very small number of Germans remain in Bukovina today, some from forced repatriation of those trapped in Communist countries and the few who did not choose to be resettled due to marriage to non Germans. A number of us of Bukovina heritage have visited the former homeland. We met some of these remaining Germans and toured our ancestral villages.