Friday, October 25, 2013

The case of the missing family

When I was a child the mystery of our missing family often came up in family gatherings.  My grandparents, both born and raised in Central Bohemia (today part of the Czech Republic), took advantage of free land offered in the Volyn valley of what today is the W. Ukraine. (then it was part of the Austro Hungarian empire).

2 photos - which is which? One is NE Kansas the other is in the western Ukraine - same landscape - same climate 

So many Czech farmers were immigrating to the US that there was a strong needs to induce them to remain in the empire – so the mostly empty eastern lands were offered as free land.  Several of my grandmother’s brothers and sisters also moved to the new farmland, where a sizable Czech enclave had formed.  Still, the life there was difficult and the lure of America was so great that my Grandparents sold their land and bought steamship passage to the New World.

Village in Ukraine - You have to look twice to see that it isn't Delia!

They settled in Delia Kansas, in a community with other Bohemians, Slovaks, and Moravians that spoke the same Czech language and had similar cultural ways.  Here too life was difficult but they persevered and developed a good life.  (This is where my sister and I grew up too.)

The new world!

Modern farming practices were more efficient than traditional methods

Many letters traveled across the sea from the Boratin Ukraine village and Delia...and the letters serve as a great record of key events in the lives of the European family... that family also appeared to become relatively prosperous, they travelled widely, and some engaged in other businesses besides farming.  The family survived the First World War and the fall of the Austro Hungarian Empire with little change in their life style.

Two rammed - earth houses - one in the W. Ukraine and one in Delia..

Houses were built in the same style that was know in Europe - Thick rammed earth walls were effective in cold winters,

Their village had been part of Poland under the Austro-Hungarians but now with them gone, it was included in the Ukraine.  More Russians moved into their area, bringing different social dynamics and different tensions.  The Zlatnik/Sadek*  families were active in the Reformed Church – a minority Protestant denomination, which made them even more of a minority in a region divided by Roman Catholics and Russian Orthodox communities.
*Sadek: My grandmothers family name.

The founder of the Czech reformed tradition, Jan Hus predated Martin Luther to his opposition to the excesses of the church in his day

The last letter that we have from my Grandmother’s sister carries the message – “Hitler’s army is moving toward our village and we are not sure when we can write again.” Then since the early days of the Second World War nothing – no word from any of the European family – either my grandmother’s or grandfather's families (both extensive).

Village refugees attempting to escape the fighting in Western Ukraine - WW II

When there is a Zlatnik family gathering there are conjectures and questions raised – but nothing.

Now thanks to the miracle of the computer and English, and used 'Google Translate' to translate it into Czech (Google translations are far from perfect – and sometimes hard to make out).  This I sent to a number of European Zlatniks and Sadeks  that I found on Facebook... Indirectly we have made contact with a woman living in the same region of Bohemia that my family is from – she knows the history of all the same people we know, and actually has photos of some of the same people.   She is the granddaughter of my grandmother’s sister...which would make us some kind of cousins... (If you know genealogy please tell me the name for our relationship).  It is so exciting to have made this contact!  She is the first verified family contact since the early 1940’s!  Plus she tells me that there is another relative living in Chicago... I am attempting to contact him...

Still there are mysteries to resolve:

1... What happened to the Boratin (Ukraine) Czech community?  Did they fall victim to Hitler’s invasion?... Did they survive the forced starvations under Stalin? ...Were they able to immigrate out of the Ukraine either into Russia or into the Czech regions?    I even found that when the Russians recaptured the area from the Germans that  approximately 7,000 of the regions inhabitants were deported in cattle trucks to Kazakhstan and 1,550 were arrested by the NKVD.  So many questions – so little information...

2.  And what about the Zlatnik side of the family – there are no records.  They were hard working wheat farmers and they left very little paper trail.  I have my grandparent’s marriage license, their birth certificates, passports, and a copy of a document showing that they entered the US through Ellis Island.   I have even searched for them on the genealogical website but nothing there. 

So you may be asking.”So what!?”   ...  “Why are you even concerned about something that is so difficult to know?”...  Good questions...
I can only say it is a question that haunts us elder Zlatniks –It’s like a puzzle that will not leave us alone...  It is part of my growing up...part of me.

It is my hope that one fine day I will be able to visit my Czech family in Bohemia and sit down with them to Coffee (or maybe "Pivo") and Kolache.  We will tell each other funny stories and laugh together!