History of Huck
Huck, also referred to as Splavnukha or Splaunucha, is located at 51 degrees 5 minutes north, 45 degrees 22 minutes east on the Bergeseite (hilly side) or west side of the Volga River, 75 versts (approximately 50 miles) southwest of Saratov on the Yelkhovka Creek, near the Splavnukha River from which it takes its Russian name. (For a map illustrating the location of the village relative to Saratov, Balzer and Norka, click here.) The village name Huck is explained by Fred C. Koch, in his "The Volga Germans" (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977). Koch explains: "Stranded in their horizon-bound sea of desolation and loneliness, the colonies also suffered the psychological slight of remaining nameless in the beginning. The government authorities somehow didn't get around to giving the new settlements identities until an order to that effect was issued on February 28, 1768 -- and it was not carried out until later that year, more than four years after the first colony was established. However, from the very first, the colonists employed their own simple method for identifying a community, labeling it with the name of its mayor. In conversation as well as in the earliest church records, the association of person with place would be made in this manner: 'Johannes L--- from the colony of Mayor Kolb,' or 'the colony of Mayor Frank,' or 'the colony of Mayor Bangert.' It was not long before this kind of phrase was shortened to 'Johannes L--- from Kolb,' or 'from "Frank,' or from 'Bangert.'" Koch goes on to say that there were some exceptions, but Huck appears to fall into the category described above. In his presentation at the 1999 Casper Annual Convention, "Emigration from Ysenburg to the Volga in 1766," Manfred Steinberger, in describing persons emigrating to Russia and the reasons for them leaving says: "Significant also is the case of Jakob Huck and his brother Johannes Huck. Both were shoemakers and leathertraders, citizens of Wächtersbach. Johannes Huck was the founder respectively the first Vorsteher of the colony Huck on the Volga in 1767-68. The colony was named for him." In the notes to his presentation, Dr.Steinberger states: "Information about Johannes Huck Vorsteher of the colony Huck in 1767/68 we owe Dr. Alfred Eisfeld, Göttingen, and Professor Igor Pleve, Saratov." Dr. Steinberger's presentation is published in its entirety in the Fall 1999 issue of the AHSGR Journal (Volume 22, No.3). Huck was established as a German colony of the Kamyshin uyezd in the Norka volost, 35 kilometers (about 21 miles) from the Volga River. The village was founded by German Evangelical Reform persons from various parts of Germany in response to the invitation of Empress Catherine II. The settlement date of the village is uncertain. Karl Stumpp indicates it was founded in 1767 by 380 persons. Brent Mai (AHSGR Journal, Winter 1998) lists 1 July 1767 as the founding date. According to information of the Norka volost directorate, it was founded in 1764. Other records list a founding date between 1764 and 1766
Despite hardships, the population increased initially but then began a decline after 1917 under the policies of Lenin and Stalin. In 1775, there were 419 persons; in 1788, 570 persons; in 1798, 643 persons; in 1816, 1,309 persons; in 1850, 3,491 persons; in 1857, 4,241 persons; in 1886, 5,191 persons; in 1891, 7,384 persons; in 1894, 7309 persons; in 1912, 9680 persons; in 1926, 4921 persons. Notes from the 1798 census include the following: "All are engaged in farming. There are several tradesmen. There is a lack of farmland and the hay meadows are totally insufficient. Homes are wood and most are in mediocre condition. Some yards are fenced, a few with wattle." Excerpts from a letter dated 22 November 1990 by Adam Kindsvater "The village reached its peak in 1912 with 9680 inhabitants and 632 farmyards, whereas in 1767 it was founded by 380 people. Many left for America by 1912. After this wave of emigraton began the wave of destruction - the First World War, the Revolution, the famine of 1921-22, and finally the expropriation of land and founding of the Kolkhos (collective farms) in 1928. The worst times of all were 1928-1933: the exile of well to do farmers in 1930; the flight from the famine and death of 1932-33.. By the time of the deportation in 1941, one fourth of the village had been destroyed. The fifth street was missing entirely, and on the lower end of the village 2/3 of the cross streets were also missing."
Wind driven flour mills and other trades were established in the village. From text of the provincial zemstvo, 1891, vol. XI, "The most developed trades were: cabinet makers-119, weavers 72 persons (a cloth called sarpinka was made). Additionally there were 35 smiths, 9 tanners, 34 wheelwrights, 1 paint maker, 31 millers, 1 oil press operator, 47 carpenters, 12 tailors, 55 shoemakers. The remainder were farm laborers, day laborers, shepherds, etc. Of the merchant and industrial establishments, in 1887 there were 2 shops selling manufactured goods, 1 variety store, 3 wine shops, 1 paint establishment, 1 sarpinka factory, 19 wind powered flour mills, 3 oil mills, 6 wheelwright's shops, 18 smithies, 1 tailor shop, 30 cabinet makers shops, and 6 tanneries."
Several villagers were driven out of Huck in the late 1920s after being identified as "kulaks" (literally "tight fisted ones", typically the more wealthy), "We were driven out of Huck on October 1, 1929. We were sent to a barren land.", and "In early March 1930, 70 families from Huck were gathered together in a great troop to begin their departure to unknown places, at which time they were driven out of Huck as kulaks."
Conditions were harsh, but the Soviet decree of 30 August 1941 marked the end of the village as it had been known. The decree resulted in a forced evacuation of all the German villages along the Volga region due to the Soviet fear that the German population would provide aid to the invading WWII German army. Letters written by Huck villagers that were sent to family members and verbal records give slightly different dates for the evacuation including "On September 18, 1941, all in the village Huck were moved. They were loaded in cattle train cars and set off for Siberia.", and "In 1941 we were deported to Siberia, Krasnoyarsk krai, Bongradsk raion. We were underway from 19 September until 6 October." and "On 1 and 2 September 1941, the people were transported by oxcart. The village was surrounded by soldiers and NKVD men with weapons. We were said to be traitors, spies, and diversionaries." while other letters refer to subsequent moves to Kazakshstan, to the Ural Mountain region and to Middle Asia, about 600 kilometers from Tashkent.
The village is now basically inhabited by Russians. A visitor to several former German villages in July 1993 found only one German family living in Huck, and that family was packing to move to Germany. The village houses and buildings were in disrepair. The report included "As you know, Stalin had the granite and marble cemetery monuments of the German villages removed to Moscow to build the Metro (subway). The Russians are burying their dead on top of our unmarked graves. Huck was the worst of all we saw. The yard of the cemetery is rolling waves...where our ancestors rest. When Russian spades hit the bones of our people they simply keep right on digging and fling the bones to the four winds. The cemetery at Huck is littered with our bones. This was very hard to accept, especially because I have family buried there." Another visitor to the village in June of 1993 and May of 1994 reported "Huck has about 3,000 people living there now. One phone in the whole town....Everyone has electricity but no indoor plumbing. It is very primitive. Many outsiders have moved in and only two ethnic German families living there now." (The video tape that visitor made presents a bleak picture, with wooden houses in poor condition and dirt streets.)
By clicking on the small photo image at the left, you will open a larger photo of Huck taken in the early 1940s. The photo is annotated with 23-8-42 (23 August 1942?). This is a reproduction of a captured WWII German photo now in the US national Archives (record group 373, GX 1420SD 56). The Yelkhovka Creek can be seen in the top left of the photo and the Splaunucha/Splavnukha River can be seen running from left to right in the lower portion of the photo.