In the early 1800’s the Miller’s left the war-ravaged Rhine River area of Germany because they were farmers not soldiers. They were being persecuted and punished for their Roman Catholic religion. They came to Russia (Ukraine) an isolated, hostile place where there was nothing but endless plains and nomadic groups wandering around the complete wilderness.

The Journey to Russia

The journey from Germany to Russia included taking a ship from Lavingen down the Danube River to Vienna.  They then crossed lands through Austria, Mohren (Moravia) and Galica to Radzivilov (Russia).  It took at least three months to make this journey. They spent the winter in Liebenthaler.  The village of Mannheim was started in 1808.

The Steppes of the Ukraine

The Ukraine is mainly a broad, flat plain slightly smaller than Texas. It was occupied mainly by nomadic tribes until the Germans arrived to develop the land. The climate and lands are similar to the northern plains of North America.

Mannheim – founded 1808

Nativity of St. Joseph church in Mannheim
Nativity of St. Joseph church in Mannheim

Christoph Muller (my great, great, great, great grandfather) was one of the original founders the catholic village of Mannheim, Kutschurgan, Black Sea region near Odessa.

In a few years, unimaginable today, with no modern tools or help from anyone they built towns, churches and schools for their children.  After building their homes the first two buildings they built were a church and a school. Although it is widely believed the peasants were illiterate, my ancestors had schools in Germany as well. Both girls and boys were educated. The farmers lived in the village and went out to farm the lands. By 1809 the village was set up and organized. They kept to themselves, kept their languages and didn’t mingle with others.

They broke and tilled the harsh lands and created prosperous farms.  For over three generations they improved their living standards using their own ingenuity and back breaking work.  They were left alone because there was no doubt they knew what to do and how to succeed.  With stoic determination they did what they had to do.  No prodding or pushing was required.  Failure wasn’t an option.

But the tides of time were moving towards further disaster. Unrest and fighting was about to become a way of life once again.  In a trending communist (socialist) Russia the Germans had too much.  In this governing it wasn’t fair for people to have too much.  It didn’t matter who built it. It didn’t even matter they exploited no one but themselves.  It was important they weren’t ‘real Russians’ and had far too much.  True communism doesn’t tolerate religion well either.  But my ancestors didn’t believe they should forgo their beliefs or that it was ‘for the good of all’.  Many young men from the German villages fought on behalf of the Russians against enemies.  They fought against Germany and the Germans.  But that didn’t make them less German in the eyes of the people determined to get power.

Great Grandma Agnetta Schiele
Great Grandma Agnetta Schiele

The Miller’s now looked towards North America, for individual freedom.  Most of my Great Grandfather Alphonse’s children came to North America.  His wife Agnetta did as well.  I can’t yet find the records of what happened to my great grandfather.  I pray he died a peaceful normal death.  I pray he didn’t have to suffer the abuse and humiliation others did.

The ones that escaped were the fortunate ones.  When Stalin came into power the ‘Iron Curtain’ fell.  After 1914 no one was allowed to leave.  It is estimated that three-four million Russian Germans were killed or shipped to Siberia.

When they disembarked off the ships in North America, they were this time put onto trains and shipped out to North Dakota.  They were given no other option.  Now, I question the actual ‘freedom’ they really had.  In the west, they were once again greeted by bald, undeveloped prairies.  Once again they were expected to build from nothing with no modern conveniences or tools.  Meeting the challenge they built prosperous communities with churches and schools. They created farms in the intimidating lands so well we can now proudly say, the prairies of North America are the ‘bread-basket of the world.’

Now, when I hear rumblings of anger and demands even in North America, when I hear the protests against those who have too much and must share, I get a queasy feeling inside.  Are we about to repeat the problems they faced first in Germany, then in Russia, for the third time?

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