Natela Grigolia-Vakhvakhishvili, 77 years old, Bolnisi
‘’In 1943, when I was born, the Germans had already been deported from Bolnisi, but there were still some German women who were married to men of different nationalities – Armenians, Greeks, Azerbaijanis, or others – all of them were married in Bolnisi.
Schwabs from Bolnisi
The Germans, also known as Schwabs, were settled from Germany in the early 19th century in Bolnisi, from then so-called Ekaterinenfeld. The place where I currently live was then a German colony and the largest German settlement. There are several stories of their settlement. According to one of them, the Schwabs were settled during Tsarist Russia, and Alexander the First helped them a lot – they were helped financially, they didn’t have to go to the army, they didn’t pay taxes, and therefore, they soon got back on their feet.
The generation that lived with them admired the diligence of the Germans. This small town, which then consisted of three small villages and settlements, was transformed into the most beautiful place within 10 years. The Schwabs, in addition to their hard work, also knew how to have fun – the elders spent the weekend in the church, in the so-called ‘’Kirche’’ (church), where they had brought a huge organ and played it. My mother and her siblings had graduated from a German school, they spoke fluent Schwabish and attended their church as well. The youth gathered in the Cultural and Recreation Park, where the Orchestra played. As for holidays, they celebrated Christmas and Easter. In general, Germans sang great and in every German family, there was a German instrument.
Bolnisi was the Garden of Eden – cobbled streets, alleys of Acacia, Tilia, and walnut. Houses were built with Gothic style and balconies were filled with flowers. After the Germans left, the Georgians that moved to their houses changed almost everything. Water was generally an issue then, but Bolnisi was so stripped by water canals that it felt like Venice, and in every yard, there was clear water pouring. Georgians filled some of these canals, installed toilets, and even polluted some of them.
The Schwabs especially loved Christmas and the Easter holidays. For Christmas, they decorated the Christmas tree with colorful pieces, and under it, they put gifts, wrapped in red cone-shaped boxes, put out cakes and sweets. They cut out small windows in pumpkins, lighted a candle inside and they walked in the streets on Christmas eve, singing and announcing the arrival of Christmas to the people. In the morning, women wearing aprons, and having baskets full of sweets in their hands, would greet any passersby on the street and wish them a Merry Christmas. The celebration lasted all week long. Traditional dishes and cakes were made. Pigs were slaughtered and they made various sausages, ham, ‘’Khaladets’’. They prepared geese with special stuffing. From grape juice, they made thick syrup and baked delicious cookies: ‘’Lebkuchen’’, and other German Christmas cookies.
After the Soviet annexation, in honor of Rosa Luxemburg, Bolnisi was renamed, and it was called Luxemburg until 1941, and, after the Germans were deported, the old name – Bolnisi – was restored.
How Luxemburg was emptied in 48 hours
During the war, in 1941, the communists deported the Germans then living in Luxemburg (Bolnisi) to Central Asia and Kazakhstan to the empty steppes, within 48 hours. It all happened so suddenly and so fast that they couldn’t take anything with them. My mom used to tell me, how trucks came to take the Germans, and how the hell started. My mother remembered this day as a horror – hungry cattle were mooing, dogs were barking and running here and there. Soon the robbery of Germans’ houses started as well. It was October, the grape harvest had already been collected and the Germans had their two- or three-floor cellars filled with the autumn harvest, for the winter. But they couldn’t take anything with them, even though it was already winter and the communists housed them in huts, where they endured many hardships – hunger, cold, and death as well. After Stalin’s death, Khrushchev allowed the Germans to return to their homeland from Kazakhstan. Part of the Germans returned to Bolnisi since it had already become their homeland. But later they were asked to become official citizens of the Soviet Union and they had to return to Germany. Even though they had been through a lot of trouble, they started a new life in Germany and continued their hard work. I have never met any other such strong people. The Schwabs were special people, from whom we could only learn the best.
My mother was in love with the Schwabs and was friends with all of the Germans because she considered them hardworking, honest, and loyal people. Her mother had died at an early age, and her father, an aristocrat, as ‘’an enemy of the people’’, had been arrested many times, and finally, he was executed. My orphaned mother and her brothers were left on their grandmother’s behalf, to whom the Germans helped raise the orphans. When they finally had to return to Germany, one of the Germans families, named Walkers, left to my mother their large two-floor house – we love you so much, Angel, that this house has to be yours – they said, and left her the house as promised. I still live in this house.
When my father went to the war front, my mother was pregnant with me. As soon as my father arrived there, they transferred him to Stalingrad. He was killed in the battle within two or three months. My mother raised me alone, so, she had to always work – she taught the German language in technical schools, in Georgian, and in evening schools. I could barely see my mother, so I had babysitters. When I was three years old, my mother brought home a 15-year-old girl Olga as a babysitter who raised me for the next two years, but then she got married when she turned 17 and my next nanny was Evdokine. What other choice did my mother have – she had to work and earn money to be able to feed me. I’ve rarely seen a smile on my mother’s face…
Meeting in Stuttgart
In 1991, my mother’s classmate, Ernst Almendinger, invited us to the meeting of Bolnisian Schwabs in Stuttgart, which he organized every two years with his own initiative. Back then it wasn’t easy to get permission to go to Germany, but usually, if I want something, I definitely achieve it. I went back and forth to a lot of places and finally, I and my mother arrived in Germany. My mother’s classmate Ernst and her wife, Greta Keller, who lived on our street in Bolnisi, met us at the train station. It was a very emotional meeting with old friends. Meetings of Bolnisian Schwabs and their descendants were held every two years, on the 27th of August, in Stuttgart. Lots of tables were set, up to two thousand guests were invited, and a huge tribune was installed. When we entered the place, my mother was surrounded by her childhood friends and it was such an amazing scene, I can’t describe it in words. My mother was so happy… they remembered their friends, their relatives who passed away, and Georgia as their homeland. I sat there watching them and cried.
We stayed in Germany for a month and when we returned to Georgia in 1991, the war had started here. They wrote to us a lot of letters and regretted that they didn’t let us stay there.
By the way, in 1989 Ernst Alemndinger published a huge book in Germany – ‘’Ekaterinenfeld – Village settlement in the Caucasus’’. The book describes the process of migration of the Schwabs to the Caucasus – how they left Württemberg on the 10th of May, in 1817, and crossed the Danube through the cities – Bucharest, Ismail, Odesa, Mariupol, Rostov, and through the Caucasus Mountains, arrived in Tbilisi. In the introduction of the book, a historical overview of the Caucasus is written, and it finally tells the story of the founding and reconstruction of Ekaterinenfeld. The collected photos and statistical data prove the prosperity of the economy and culture of the German colony’’.
Author: Ida Bakhturidze
Photographer: Salome Tsopurashvili
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili