Merck Family - Random Notes

Joseph John Merck, with his wife, Katherine Cecilia Eberle, brought his family from the Ukraine to the United States in 1912. This site will contain some random notes and comments about the family background, their experiences, the places they lived, and other subjects related to that topic. No particular organization of comments or articles should be expected.

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Location: Jacksonville, Arkansas, United States

Friday, September 22, 2006

2007 GRHS Convention

The next Germans from Russia Heritage Society Convention will be July 19-22, 2007, at the Ramkota Hotel, Bismarck, ND.

Plans are being formulated for a joint convention in 2008 with the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska.


Friday, September 08, 2006

Ukraine Travel Tips

This photo shows Marilyn Bruya signing up to obtain travel information from Robert Schneider during the recent convention of the Germans from Russia Heritage Society at Portland, Oregon. There are at least two groups that make trips to the area where the German colonies in the Ukraine were located. Robert R. Schneider of Spearfish, SD, leads a group each Spring and another in the Fall of the year. His website lists travel tips and other information that might be useful to anyone planning to make such a trip. His website is at Michael Miller, Bibliographer of the North Dakota State University Library's German from Russia Heritage Collection, organizes and leads a group to the Ukraine each year during May/June. Letters written by some of those who made trips with him may be of interest. They can be found at the NDSU website at


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Kutschurgan Map

This map shows the relative locations of the Catholic villages in the Kutschurgan area in which the Mercks and Eberles lived. The city of Odessa is spelled Odesa on this map. Kamjanka, marked by the red star, is the name for the Mannheim village. Scerbanka is the name for Elsass. Kucurhan is the name for Strassburg.

The link will take you to a map showing the villages in the Kutschurgan district in the early 1800s.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Transnistria - Moldova and Ukraine Border

I don't know anything about Transnistia except from this story. The Kutschurgan villages of Ukraine are on the East side of the river depicted in this news story; the river is the border between Ukraine and Moldova (at least before Transnistia became independent). Strassburg, one of the Catholic villages of the Kutschurgan area, is right on the river (East side). The Mercks lived in the village of Elsass, Eberles in Mannheim, both a few miles SE of Strassburg.

The story is on Euronews at

"Beefing up border controls around troubled Transnistria
Tiny Transnistria is one of Europe's hot spots, even if, according to international law, it does not exist. This self-proclaimed republic broke away from Moldova in 1991. On the EU's doorstep, it is alleged to be a crossroads for all sorts of traffickers. Now a European border assistance mission is working to try to improve the situation."

It can be viewed in Windows Media Player or Real Player.

Searching on Google reveals numerous articles written about the atrocities related to the elimination of Jewish persons in Transnistria by Rumanian and Nazi occupying forces during World War II. It is likely that the borders of the territory of Transnistria were different at that time.


Deportation of the German-Russians

GWA commemorates the 65th Anniversary of the genocidal deportations of the Russian-Germans

By Dr. J. Otto Pohl

German World Alliance/Deutsche Weltallianz, News/Nachrichten, August 28, 2006

The 28th August of this year marks the official day of commemoration for the 65th anniversary of the deportation of the Russian-Germans. On 28 August 1941, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet issued Ukaz no. 21-160, On Resettling the Germans, Living in the Region of the Volga. This resolution ordered the resettlement of all the German population, living in the region of the Volga, to other regions. It specified these regions as Kazakhstan and Novosibirsk Oblast, Omsk Oblast and Altai Krai in Siberia. Ukaz no. 21-160 came in the wake of earlier decisions by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Council of Peoples Commissariats to deport the Volga German.

It is due to the fact that the decree by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was widely publicized soon after passing that gives it such symbolic weight. Due to this public symbolism, the 28th of August has become a day of remembering for the repression of all Russian-Germans in the USSR during World War II and after.

The forced removal of Russian-Germans from their traditional homes by the NKVD had already begun on 15 August 1941 with the evacuation of the Crimean Germans to the Kuban and North Caucasus. In less than two weeks these communities, some of which dated back to 1804, permanently ceased to exist. Over 50,000 people had been uprooted with a complete disregard for their human rights. Later in October, the Soviet government again displaced the Crimean Germans. This time it sent them to Kazakhstan and Siberia.

The Stalin regime then ordered and carried out the deportation of the Volga Germans. The Russian-German communities in the Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, Saratov Oblast and Stalingrad Oblast had a total population of nearly 450,000 prior to their annihilation in 1941. Some of the original German settlements on the Volga had existed without interruption since 1764.

During the first three weeks of September 1941, the NKVD assisted by the Red Army and regular police forcibly herded these men, women and children into train wagons meant for the transport of freight or livestock. Each rail car averaged more than forty deportees. Many wagons had only a pail to serve as a latrine. The deportees did not receive sufficient food or water during transit. They thus had to rely upon the food they had hurriedly packed while being rounded up for deportation. Much of the food they brought with them from the Volga, however, spoiled in the stifling heat of the enclosed boxcars. These overcrowded and unhygienic conditions led to numerous outbreaks of contagious diseases. This horrifying journey into exile averaged around two weeks. Some trains, however, took much longer. Echelon 816 took an agonizing 25 days to reach its final destination in Krasnoiarsk Krai. The deportation resembled a modern Middle Passage.

After the deportation of the Volga Germans, the Soviet government rapidly proceeded to ethnically cleanse all of the USSR west of the Urals remaining under its control of ethnic Germans. The NKVD forcibly rounded up and loaded onto trains bound for Kazakhstan and Siberia another 400,000 plus Russian-Germans from Ukraine, the Caucasus, and European Russia. In total over 850,000 Russian-Germans started this journey into punitive internal exile before the end of 1941. Less than 800,000 of them arrived in captivity alive. Over 200,000 more perished from malnutrition, disease, exposure, over work and abuse in Kazakhstan, the Urals and Siberia during the next several years.

The German World Alliance calls upon members worldwide to commemorate, on August 28th, the deportation of the Russian-Germans and to educate their friends and neighbors regarding the fate of this large, peaceful and loyal ethnic group at the hands of the Soviets.

Who Are the Germans From Russia?

The Germans from Russia are an identifiable ethnic group of people whose movements as a group are traceable within historical context. These movements began in the Rhineland territories of present day Germany and France--the provinces referred to as Alsace, Rhineland-Pfalz, Baden and Wuerttemberg. The political and religious turmoil surrounding the Seven Years' War in Europe, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era resulted also in severely depressed economic conditions for the German villages along the Rhine River during the last half of the 1700's and the early 1800's. This coincided with an era of an expansionist Russia acquiring territories from the Mongols along the Volga River, and from the Turks in the Black Sea region. Beginning with Catherine the Great in 1763, and continuing with her grandson, Alexander I in 1804, Russia instituted a colonization program to develop and populate these new territories by attracting German farmers to these areas with a program of economic, religious and political incentives. More than a hundred thousand Germans made the 1700 mile trip to various districts in South Russia, founding more than 300 villages along the Volga River, along the Black Sea Coast, and in Crimea. My direct ancestors were among those referred to as "Black Sea Germans". The Mercks lived in Elsass, the Eberles lived in Mannheim, along the Kutschurgan Liman.

My ancestral families lived in South Russia for just over a hundred years, before emigrating. My grandfather, Joseph John Merck, had been required to serve in the czar’s army for four years. After marrying Katherine Eberle and establishing a family, he did not want his sons to have to serve in the military. He emigrated first to Brazil but left there for Argentina after only a few months when they determined the homesteading region undesirable. In 1912 Grandfather brought his family to Karlsruhe, North Dakota, where his brother-in-law Felix Eberle had previously settled.

But their friends and relatives who stayed behind in Russia were destined to endure even greater turmoil and even more re-locations. Those who survived the strife of the Russian Revolution, and the resulting Civil War, the famine of the 1930's, and the purges of 1937 and 1938 were forcibly up-rooted en masse from their villages during World War II. The Volga and Crimean Germans were exiled to Siberia by Stalin at the beginning of the war. The Black Sea Germans were ordered by Hitler in 1944 to abandon their homes and make the three and one-half month trek north and west to holding camps in Poland. As the Wehrmacht collapsed in 1945, millions of displaced Europeans fled before the advancing Red Army, trying to make their way into Western Germany. At the war's end, Stalin reclaimed all former Russian citizens according to the terms of the Yalta Agreement. Russia repatriated 350,000 ethnic Germans who had been living between the Dnieper and Dniester Rivers in present day Ukraine, and exiled them to prison labor camps in Siberia. They were shipped like cattle in rail cars out of Germany beginning in May 1945.

The Germans spent ten years (1946-1956), along with hundreds of thousands of other Russian citizens, in forced labor camps, in isolation from the rest of the world. Krushchev's Amnesty finally allowed for limited mobility within Russia, but prevented them from returning to their original pre-war villages. After enduring the winters of Siberia, many of these Russian-Germans chose the warmer climate of Kazahkstan, encouraged also by the USSR's efforts to establish agriculture on the semi-arid Asian plains.

The years since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 have seen a flood of applications as German people from the former USSR applied to immigrate into the Democratic Republic of Germany. A few have even returned to their original pre-war villages in Ukraine.

Some Family History

Joseph John Merck, my grandfather, wrote in a letter to der Staats Anzeiger (a German language newspaper published in Bismarck, North Dakota) in 1913:

My parents died in South Russia when I was six years old, and so I had to hire myself out to strangers and work hard. When I was 21, the lot fell on me and I served the Russian czar for five years. Then I came back home and got married in 1887, and now I have reared six sons and two daughters. Four years ago I emigrated from Russia to Brazil in South America, and settled in the Province of Santa Catharina. There I saw dense virgin forests and mountains such as I had never seen in my life. The soil is red clay and the climate is unhealthy. In addition to that, there are all sorts of wild animals, snakes etc. in the forest. I stayed there only two months and then went on to Argentina. Here there are plains that have been settled by Germans and Spaniards, who raise grain, like they do in North Dakota. I stayed here for three years, and then immigrated to North Dakota, where I have now lived for one year. But I'm not sorry to have traveled so far and wide, for one learns a lot about the world and about people while traveling.

As one of those we now refer to as Germans from Russia, he demonstrates the migratory tendency of many of the ethnic German people. For after spending about ten years in McHenry County, North Dakota, he and his family (except for two sons, Felix and ‘Tony’) moved again to Portland, Oregon. Past generations of Mercks had moved from the Black Forest area of Austria and Germany to Alsace (France) and then to South Russia. These very hard working people experienced difficult times and, fortunately for us, they were not afraid to pull up stakes and move on in hopes of finding better conditions elsewhere.

Joe Merck (1858-1939) and his wife, Katherine Cecilia Eberle (1866-1938), raised nine children in South Russia, South America and later in the United States. Among them were sons Felix (1889-1968), Joseph (1890-1944), John (1896-1979), Anthony (1898-1964), Mathias (1901-1987), Jacob (1903-1975), and daughters Lucy (1892-1957) and Magdalena (1905-2002). They all were born in South Russia in the area now known as Ukraine. Mercks had been among the ethnic German people who emigrated to settle that area in the early 1800s at the invitation of Russian leaders who wanted to develop agriculture and improve economic conditions in the region. (1) The Mercks were Roman Catholic who helped establish the village of Elsass in the Catholic Kutschurgan colonies of the Odessa Province, near the Black Sea. The Eberle family were settlers in Mannheim, a nearby village.

Joe Merck's father Joseph (1819-1964) and mother Lucy Hagele (ca 1819-ca 1864) lived their entire lives in South Russia. His grandparents Engelhard (1783-?) and Margaritha Elchinger (1783-?) were born in Alsace, Bas-Rhin, France, and moved to South Russia in the early 1800s. With hundreds of others, they escaped trying conditions which followed the French Revolution and Napoleon capturing the territory where they lived. (2) (3)

It should be noted that the Mercks who moved to Russia were not Germans, but citizens of France, although they did not speak the French language. One such condition which motivated their departure from Alsace was the conscription of local young men into Napoleon's army. Later, the conscription of local men into the Russian army was one of the reasons these ethnic Germans escaped South Russia to North and South America in the early 1900s. Of course there were other conditions influencing their decisions to make the moves. But it is significant to note that in later generations of the Merck and Eberle families many served proudly in the armed forces of the United States; some died performing that service to their country.
- - - - -

(1) Following Austro-Hungary’s lead, Russia under the Czars tried to attract settlers to clear the vast territories of the Steppes- land formerly under Turkish control. Once again, Alsatians responded to the lure of a foreign land. But as in the past, they were part of a grander migration scheme which would once more affect all the Rhine provinces.

Using the same tactics as the Vienna Court several decades earlier, the Czarist government-now at the dawn of the Napoleonic era- delegated agents to the Rhine to recruit colonists for the Ukraine area. Highly praising the new country in a bid to recruit new settlers, the immigrant agents sold more lots than were available. As a result, success was a long time coming. Thus at the dawn of the 19th Century, nearly every village in the North of Alsace lost dozens of families- in search of a better life whether in Podole, Tauride or the Crimea. But rarely were they aware of their final destination.
Emigration to Russia at the Beginning of the 19th Century. Article by Professor Jean Schweitzer, Strasbourg, France

(2) The trouble began when the Prussians and Austrians who, to support the Royalists, had occupied Lower Alsace from the Lauter to Moder before the year's end were driven back over the border by the Revolutionary army. With the retreat of the troops, the terrorized inhabitants hurriedly fled from house and yard in panic and fright to cross the Rhine. That was the “great flight” of 1793 during which at least 40,000 people became homeless.

It was not until years later (1795-1798) that these so called “Emigrierten” [emigrated persons] set foot on home soil again. But they never found their own homes. The government had sold their goods to those who remained and to new arrivals. Since the new regime was “enemy-minded,” it was hard for them to reconcile with the changed conditions. Dispossessed, uprooted and discouraged, the farmers, once owners of goods and property, now had to serve as hired men and field workers to earn their miserable bread.

Employment opportunities were rare and unsure. Money was scarce and wages were highly taxed. For those who returned there was no possibility of owning property since all community property had been divided among those who remained. In addition there were the abuses. The poor people complained about the unjust demands for outstanding taxes, the increased demands for contributions, and especially the severe strictness in supervising the community forest lands. . . . . . . . . . .
The real and deepest reason that convinced the Lower Alsatian to move was his unshakeable desire to own ground.
The Alsace Emigration to Russia. By Dr. Joseph S. Height, Franklin, Indiana

(3) The Revolution years were followed by the conquests of Napoleon who ruled over a great part of Europe from 1805-1814. His campaigns and conquests added much to the turmoil in this region. And it is easy to imagine why many young men avoided enlisting.

These few main reasons added to many others were combined with overpopulation, which periodically causes an important emigration. It must be pointed out that these reasons -political and economical -were closely interrelated. And in many cases we may add secondary reasons, such as domestic, family or law troubles etc.

The Migration from Alsace to the Black Sea Region and the Location of the Genealogical Materials in the Homeland Area. Professor Jean Schweitzer, Strasbourg, France

Katherine and Joseph Merck