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History Of Obermunjor

OBERMONJOU (also known as  Ober-monjour, Ober Monjou, Obermonj, Kivivka, Krivovsk; today: KRWIVOVSKOYE, Marxosvki Rayon, Saratov Region)

This article was commissioned by Kevin Rupp from Olga Litzenburger. 


Note: Johannes Herzog of Königswinter, Germany translated this article from the original Russian-language version into German. Alex Herzog of Boulder, Colorado subsequently translated it into American English. Johannes and Alex are second cousins and Black Sea Germans.

Geographic Location and Administrative-Territorial Affiliation in the 19th and 20th Centuries

The German colony of Obermonjou was founded on the “left side” of the Volga (which in the usage of Volga Germans was the “meadow side,” the “right side” being the “mountain side”), on the banks of a small lake close to the Volga River. It lay 328 kilometers [ca. 203  miles] from the city of Samara, 162 kilometers [about 100 miles] from the county seat Novousensk, 70 kilometers [about 43 miles] from Saratov, 60 kilometers [37 miles] from the suburb Pokrovsk and nine kilometers [ca. 5.6 miles] from the Katharinenstaft administrative office of the rural Nikolayevsk district (Volski), government of Samara. Subsequent to the establishment of the Work Group of the Workers Commune of Volga Germans [forerunner of the Soviet Republic of Volga Germans. – Tr,] Obermonjou was the administrative center for the village soviet [council] Obernonjou and for the  entire Marxstadt Canton. In 1926 the village soviet Obermonjou was relegated merely to the Obermonjou village.


Brief Settlement History

The German colony of Obermonjou was founded on June 7, 1767[i] by the [Crown’s recruiter] Baron Kano de Boregard. The eighty-three founding families of the colony had come from various German cities and states (Saxony, Mainz, Mecklenburg, Trier, Würzburg, Bamberg, and other areas). Also listed among the original colonists are immigrants from France [likely, Alsace] and Luxemburg. Practically all initial setters were Catholics, with only seven persons professing to be Protestants. First to be appointed mayor was Joseph Grenzer, a twenty-six-year-old soldier from Würzburg who had immigrated to Russia with his twenty-two-year-old wife.

            The name of the colony came from the German word “Ober [upper] and the family name of the second director of the colony, the Crown-authorized Boregard,, Colonel Otto Friedrich von Monjou, combined as OBERMONJOU, in contrast with the “Lower Monjou,” the Lutheran colony of Niedermonjou (today: Bobrovka, Marxovski Rayon, Saratov Region).

The ukase [the Crown’s decree] of February 26, 1786, which regulated the naming of colonies, officially gave the colony the name OBERMONJOU.

The name Krivovka was given to the village in 1915 as a hostile anti-German propaganda campaign developed in the country, a consequence of the 1914 outbreak of World War, in which Germany was the principal enemy of Russia. A series of discriminatory laws was enacted against the German population of Russia. In 1914 all German-language publishers and associations were closed, and the public and everyday use of the German language was forbidden. The August 18, 1916 ukase forbade German-language instruction in all educational institutions of the Russian Empire. At the same time, when many German locales were renamed, Obermonjou was given the name Krivovka. However, subsequent of the establishment of the Working Committee of Volga Germans in 1918, German villages were allowed to use their original names. 

The first ninety-five settlers included not only farmers, but also trades people such as five tailors, four hunters, four masons, three shoemakers, two carpenters, two blacksmiths, two paper manufacturer, two gardeners, two hosiers, two bread bakers, a soldier, a cooper, a maker of napkins, a plasterer, a merchant, a miller, a wood turner, a maker of perukes, a locksmith, a wool spinner, a weaver, a teacher, and a doctor[ii] . Still, most of the settlers had been farming people in their original homelands.  

The colonists grew wheat, rye, millet, and vegetables. In time, a millwork evolved in the village. By the 1790s, the Guardianship Office granted the colonist Kunz permission to put up a stream-fed mill near the village of Voskressenskoye, and in 1800 he sold it to the Russian farmer Nechayev. Between 1810 and 1820 the colonist Befort[iii]  also operated a mill. Business transactions with farmers were infrequent, but not uncommon. For example, in 1820 the Guardianship Office ordered a “mandatory payment to be made by the farmer Chebyshov to the colonist Heinrich Berhart of Obermonjou.”

Each year the Saratov Guardianship Office produced documentation for trade volumes and carefully followed the economic situation in the colonies. For example, during 1814 it registered an epidemic affecting cattle. That same year it collected a record “on the welfare of the colonies, in which one could read about “records of goods sold by the colonists to out-of-town merchants, namely, cattle, tobacco, grains, including wheat, to be transported to cities such as Kasan, Kostroma, Moscow, Nizhni Vovgorod, Rybinsk,” and the report included data on “the resulting sums of money received, as well as the expenditures for survival in the colonies.[iv] An audit of 1934 recorded land for the colonists in the amount of 15 desyatines [ca. 35 acres] per person. According to the10th audit of 1857, 921male colonists owned 5,941 desyatines [ca. 14,000 acres] (some 6.5 desyatines per person) of land.  Lack of sufficient arable land, forest land and hay-growing land often resulted in court cases contested between German colonists.  For example, between 1911 and 1920 there was a dispute between residents of Obermonjou and the neighboring colony of Orlovskaya over lands that were designated as Kommissarskaya, Monjou and Wilhelmina.[v]  During the time span of 1836-1841 the Guardianship Office referred to the Senate a judicial dispute between residents of Obermonjou and the state’s salt transporters and the Cloister of the Transfiguration of Christ of Saratov. It concerned the catch of fish in the above-named land areas.[vi] Between 1851 and 1853 the Office dealt with the matter of “mis-measured tracts of land on the Koltovski Island, which belonged to colonists...”[vii]

In addition to wheat, tobacco also became an important trade commodity. Traditions of tobacco growing and use in their old homeland, favorable policies toward the tobacco trade, which was very weak in Russia and, as of 1762, was not taxed, as well as strong demand for it, supported the spread of tobacco culture among the foreign colonists. The Office observed carefully the contracts for purchasing tobacco leaves and guaranteed the colonists of Obermonjou 2,216 pud (over 30,000 pounds) of tobacco.[viii] In the second half of the 19th Century, production of tobacco, which was very profitable, was stopped due to heavy competition and to certain aspects of the state’s tax policies.

Among the crafts of the colonists of Obermonjou, a special one was weaving with straw. Straw-woven products were indispensable to everyday fife of the colonists and found a broad variety of uses in the households. With time, this craft became a revenue-producing one, and by the end of the 19th Century dozens of colonists, primarily women, took part in their farmyards in the production of straw hats, small and large baskets, figures of straw and various everyday articles. Demand was rather strong, and profiteers bought the products in great quantity and resold them in the larger cities.

The population in the colonies grew steadily. While Obermonjou counted 91 families in 1816 and 138 families in 1834, by 1857 there were 197 families. According to reports of the state central statistical office, in 1859 there were one brick manufacturer and ten windmills in the village. At the same time, the office reported, Obermnonjou counted 165 farm homes in 1859. In 1869 authorities from the Brunnel and Hertel colonies turned to the Guardianship Office with the request to be allowed to “cut the number of farm home sites in half, because the families of some home owners were increasing rapidly.”[ix]  According to information issued by the statistical office of the Samara Gouvernement, in 1910 the colony had 392 farm steads and two operating oil mills.

Not all names of the various village leaders have been preserved. But it is known that during the years 1870 – 1890, people such as Johann Befort, Jakob Walter, Josef Exner, Peter Brull and Konrad Boos held the office of mayor.

During Soviet times, Obermonjou opened a public reading room and a room intended to get rid of illiteracy. Under the headline “Stalin’s Constitution Demands Creative Cultural Work,” the newspaper “Nachrichten [News],” in its issue of March 15, 1937 reported as follows: “The situation regarding reading rooms in the Marxstadt Canton looks very bad. There is a great lack of leadership on the part of the Canton organizations and the village soviets [councils]. The reading room in Obermonjou possesses a good library, newspapers and magazines, which, however, no one makes use of. The work of the circles is lacking entirely, and the librarian, Comrade Kremer, opens the reading room only rarely.”[x]

During the 1920s the village had two cooperative stores, an agricultural credit cooperative, two machine cooperatives, and two artels.

The ongoing collectivization and de-kulakization bore tragic consequences and were accompanied by a severe famine. In response to the de-kulakization campaign, during which entire families were arrested and deported to Siberia or to the Far North, mass demonstrations by German famers defending the de-kulakized farmers, took place. The residents of Obermonjou stood in open defiance against the militia and the military responsible for carrying out the de-kulakization. The mood of the population was reflected in a top secret report on the events during the de0kulakization campaign, as follows: “In the village of Obermonjou, a mob of people, more than three hundred women and also some men, hindered the operation involving the hauling away of the kulaks.  The leader of the operation, who tried to disburse the mob in a peaceful way, was beaten up and was forced to hide. Just outside the village, another, a quickly growing mass of people gathered, with cries such as the following coming from the crowd: ‘We should beat them up! Or ‘Refuse the hauling away of our people from our village!’ and ‘We won’t let anyone get through here1’ Only by February 17, when a unit of soldiers sixty men strong arrived, was the mass action ended. In punishment six persons participating in the action were sentenced to prison terms of varying duration.”[xi]  The Commission for De-kulakization was able to go through with the transport of kulaks from Obermonjou only after the military had arrived in the village.[xii]

During September of 1941 all Germans were deported from the village, and as of 1942 the village has carried the name Krivovskoye.


Schools and Instruction

 Along with the first colonists came the first teacher, thirty-four-year-old Johann Schaller from Reol, along with his 38-year-old wife. Like the rest, the teacher received from the Guardianship Office a horse for agricultural work, but by request from the colonists, he taught their children as early as the first months after arrival. Under his direction, and in his house, the children were taught church songs and reading. His home was dubbed “the school.” The church played an active role in school instruction, and the teacher coordinated his office with his work as Küster [sexton]. The community dedicated significant funds for the school, and the clergy was also interested in providing church resources for the education of the children and collected donations for the construction of new schools. The first church-sponsored school in Obermonjou was built early in the 19th Century. It was made of wood, “covered with boards, seven sashes long and five sashes wide[xiii], consisted of one large class room, a teacher’s office, a kitchen and an ante-room, and it had twenty windows and two stoves.[xiv] Between the end of the 1820s and 1840s, that is, for about twenty years, Michael Braun from Solothurn filled the office of teacher. By 1840, the school taught 131 boys and 128 girl.s

            In 1906, the village opened a four-year public semstvo school [semstvo meaning local Soviet administration] and employed four teachers, Judging from a contemporary witness, “unless with the greatest effort was it possible to open the school. The writer and a young priest tried, with tears in their eyes, to convince the members of the community members to erect a semstvo school.”[xv] The community donated the school acreage to the local [semstvo] administration, which not only took over responsibility for the instruction, but also paid the teachers. The school required three years for graduation and had two classes per grade. The distribution of curriculum materials was exemplary. Required subjects were God’s Word (religion), reading, writing, arithmetic, and singing. Just as in the church school, instruction was conducted by the same teacher, who gathered several class grades in one school room. The teachers arranged for their own teaching plans, chose additional subjects to teach, and had the right to fit the teaching material to grade needs.

            During its first years, the semstvo school was directed by G. Nürenberger, a former teacher at the church school who simultaneously filled the duties of the Küster. However, he and teacher Spister soon lost their positions. To protest the dismissals, the community turned to the school inspector and to the bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Tiraspol also became involved. As the Volkszeitung reported, the intrigue and fighting between the teachers and a certain priest went so far as to bring “the school to a very bad state, although fortunately, instruction was not interrupted.”[xvi]  


            During a community meeting on June 23, 1914, the construction of a second semstvo school was decided. Three fourths of the costs were taken over by the semstvo, the other fourth to be borne by the community. By community decision also called for the community to furnish a requisite piece of land and the building materials.

            During the summer of 1914, the Volkszeitung wrote as follows: “God willing, our future school will have active, diligent teachers who not only spend their time here to draw a salary, but are prepared to bring success to the school, so that the efforts by the community will not be in vain. Our school will then demonstrate the same successes as the ministerial school in neighboring Orlovskoye, which is well known for the diligence and eagerness of its pupils.[xvii]” 

            However, all of these wishes would never come to fruition. World War I and the subsequent Revolution of 1917 destroyed the plans of the community, and during the early Soviet times the parochial school and the semstvo school were replaced with a general public elementary school.   


Denominational Faith of the Community and its Main Aspects

The colonists were overwhelmingly Catholic, with only a small minority confessing the Lutheran faith (the latter congregation being part of the Evangelical-Lutheran parish of Katharinenstadt).


The Parish

From its founding and onward, Obermonjou was a branch of the Katharinenstadt Parish, and the highest authorities promised to provide it with its own priest, whose duties were to serve all the branch congregations in rotation, and to celebrate church services on weekdays, Sundays and feast days. By 1870 the overall parish counted 2,167 faithful,[xviii] and as of 1874 the church authorities allowed the Obermonjou congregation to have its own parish.[xix] By 1887 that Obermonjou parish counted 2,100 faithful, by 1909 it was 2,200, and in 1919 there were 3,052 members. As of 1874, the Obermonjou parish and five others were placed under the Deaconate of Katharinenstadt.


Church Construction Dates and Architectural Characteristics

During its first 130 years, from the founding of the colony to the end of the 19th Century, the community built some small church structures. The first consisted of a small provisional space akin to a normal home of the time. In 1824, the second church was built “at the community’s expense.” It was dedicated by the priest Pupshevich of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Sacred Mother of God. According to an 1840 inventory record for the church put together by Superior Vinzenz Snarski, the church in Obermonjou was relatively large in comparison with other Catholic churches.  “…built of wood on a stone foundation. With a roof made of boards, 14 sashes [?] long and 6 sashes wide, topped by an iron cross. The ceiling inside was 8 sashes high, the tower above the entrance was 115 sashes high[xx] and was topped by an iron cross. The church had thirty windows, two altars, … ten paintings of saints.”[xxi]

            The various bishops, deacons and priests at different times attempted to convince the congregation members to build one or another church. The priest Valentin Greiner (1861 – 1043) wrote at a later time: “The Catholic community of Obermonjou realized the necessity of a new church structure, not only because the old one, now seventy years old, was too small, but also because the structure represented a real danger for the congregation and recently had been closed by the police because of danger of collapse.[xxii]  In 1875, a brick factory was built in the community, a parcel of land was reserved for a church, and a bank fund was set up. Initially, the brick factory stayed less than profitable, while the land parcel showed a gain in value of 9,000 rubles. The colonists deposited this amount in a Katharinenstadt bank to draw interest. The following years were fruitless and arid years and prevented the community from increasing their capital, while the process of collecting of donations was a slow, drawn-out matter.

            By 1890 the bank deposits had doubled to about 18,000 rubles. Week by week, the parishioners still collected donations in their own village and even in neighboring colonies--all for a church building. Under the leadership of Peter Greiner, who urged speedy construction of a new stone church, work in the brick factory was resumed in 1890. Between 1892 and 1896, some 1.4 million bricks were produced at a value of 15,000 rubles.

            The campaign for collecting donations for a church building dragged on for two decades, and it impacted the lives of priests and simple parishioners, all of whom donated differing sums for the building of a stone church. Somewhat later, the author of an article in the newspaper “Klemens” reached a climax with the rhetorical question: “Do we not have communities like Obermonjou…which in the past few years have constructed churches at a cost of 40,000 – 60,000 rubles? Doubtless, such high sums can be donated only when the people have a deep faith and are convinced that they need religion and the church for the salvation of their souls.”[xxiii]  

            In 1890 Father V. Greiner, who was assuming the role of organizer for the church construction, turned to the government architect Chilinski, who presented the community with several expensive projects to choose from. Tadeusch Severinivich Cjilinski was the main government architect between 1883 and 1905, and between 1881 and 1893 he also was the architect for his diocese and worked on projects with various functional significance.  He was also involved in projects including a diocese-owned steam-driven candle manufacture, the hospital of the Red Cross community Olgino (Samara, Tolstoi Street, 135/11), the consistory’s building (Samara, Galaktionovskaya Street 2013), a wooden prayer house for the Catholic community (Samara, Saratovskaya/Frunse Street),and others.

            In choosing a specific architectural project, the residents of Obermonjou favored the “Kontor Style” that was typical for German colonists, and they ended up constructing a genuine gem made of red bricks in the neo-Gothic style.  This church in Obermonjou turned out to be a nearly exact replica of the church in Louis (today: rayon center Stepnoye, Saratov region). The architecture of the church was also similar to the no longer existent church in Marienburg and other Catholic churches built in the German colonies in the second half of the 19tyj Century. The new church would become not only a necessity for the Catholic church services, but it also ended up to be a real jewel for the village—a true shrine. Preserved in the State museum of the Volga Germans is a photo of the project also executed by T.S. Chilinski, namely, the Roman Catholic church in Louis (Otrogovka), for which the deputy minister for the Interior in Saint Petersburg had given permission for construction on August 25, 1894. The drawings of the façade and the plans for the dimensions and those for Obermonjou to be practically identical. Rising costs during the inception of the project had led the Obermonjou residents to rely on the already existing drawings [for Louis] 

            In all probability, the drawings that would be used for the churches in Louis and in Obermonjou had been prepared in 1887 for the Catholic parish of Marienberg. Later, in 1890, by request of the parish community of Louis, a very similar project, with minimal deviations in the planning for the main façade and the apse, was approved by the governor of Samara and, in August 1894, by the Ministry for the Interior in St. Petersburg. The parish in Obermonjou adhered to the very same project.

            After selecting a church architectural project, the community would then need to designate a construction site of at least 120 square meters [ca. 141 square yards], present a new village plat, and then present a cost estimate to the government administration. The government administration then had the police administration check the validity of the proposed data, accepted confirmation that the Roman Catholic Consistory had no objections to the construction of a church, and issued its approval. To the great joy and astonishment of the parish members, the community was issued a building permit by the official authority in Saint Petersburg in only four months, whereas the Louis parish originally had to wait six years for the same authorization.

            Immediately after receiving official authorization, the community elected a financial council consisting of the following members: Johann Boos, Johann Nürenberger, Josef Graf and Peter Engel. In order to assure adherence to the cost estimates, the governmental bank commission took over the delivery of the building materials and appointed the construction managers. Given responsibility for the overall construction was Ivan Ivanovich Lossov of Wolsk; Ivan Dmtrievich Gelousov for all wood requirements and for constructing all windows and doors; the brothers Nikolai and Stepan Uholnikov of Welsk for the roof; and Michail Gregoriyevich Perevostchikov and his father-in-law Rodion Vassilevich for piecework.[xxiv]

The first construction phase lasted from July 18 to October 15, 1895. In those three months, 700,000 bricks were laid. On August 15, a festive ceremony observed the laying of the consecrated cornerstone into the foundation, an occasion attended by clergy and numerous guests from neighboring colonies.

During the following year, the walls were erected, the floor was installed, the pews and the altar space were finished, and the work on the roof was completed.  On November 24, 1896 the practically finished structure was dedicated by Deacon Rissling. However, the onset of winter frost caused work on the interior to be suspended. By spring of 1897 the interior work was resumed, and in the summer a fence was drawn around the church. On July 2, 1897 the consecrated cross was festively affixed to the tower. On June 5, the architect Chilinski, who by now was on his fourth visit to the site, signed the agreement of final acceptance of the work, signifying that he was satisfied with the overall result. It had taken about two years to construct the church, and it cost the community members a total of 33,000 rubles, which they were able to pay without having to take up credit.

The festive dedication of this House of God took place on September 28, 1897, and the actual dedication and the Mass were carried out and celebrated by the former pastor and (by then,) Bishop Anton Johannes of Padua Zerr and by the current pastor, Valentin Greiner. In attendance were many clergy and guests from neighboring colonies, as well as numerous parish members. The church was dedicated to the Conception of Saint Anna.[xxv]

The church structure impressed contemporary witnesses by its unusual size of forty meters in length [ca. 130 feet] and twenty-one meters in width [ca. 65 feet, and the tower’s height of forty meters. “The exterior of the church provided  a wonderful sight,” wrote the priest Valentin Greiner at a later time, “thirty-two square pillars, massive columns seventy centimeters thick [27.5 inches] stood all around the walls and served as elegant decoration. Every other window and very other door was framed by arced, top-tapering pillars. … At the top of each pillar there was an indentation in the form of a cross. The most impressive part of the church was the tower with its many elegant decorations. A particularly beautiful part was four smaller towers on the four sides that symbolize the four evangelists, between which the gilded cross, topping the tower, reached into the sky.”[xxvi]

In contrast with the traditional “Kontor Style” often forced on the colonists, characteristic features of the church architecture included a pillar-free construction [Translator’s note: this appears in direct contradiction with the above description by the pastor! – Tr., a main tower and four side towers, a double-door main entrance, a massive cross above the main entrance, a central decorative element for the main façade, framing of the side porticos and the tower/steeple with crosses, etc.. The new church’s beauty could easily compete with the best examples in European buildings. Fortunately, architects and the clergy never classified their churches into main and peripheral, or central and side churches, just as the residents of Obermonjou did not consider their place as an unimportant village or parish. In their selection of the church design and in their preference for an original architectural solution, all were simply trying to make their hometown a more beautiful place.   

Following the completion of construction, the parishioners of Obermonjou, just like other communities, ordered statues from the well-known wood carver Ferdinand Stuflesser: Joseph and the Jesus Child at 150 rubles, and Maria Immaculata (Latin: spotless) at 125 rubles. Christian aesthetics was given a special elegance and freedom in the wood statues created in the Stuflesser workshop. The  most dignified image was presented by the Virgin Mary and the Christ child in her arms, The Mother of God conquered a dragon at her feet and hovered above the world, looking securely and unmoved onto the defeated evil. The statues of the European master were unveiled in the church in September, 1906, the sixth anniversary of the church dedication.


Population Numbers

 In 1767 Obermonjou numbered 299 foreign colonists, by 1773 the number was 325, 370 in 1788, 429 in 1798, 620 in 1816, 1,068 in 1834, 1,609 in 1850, 1,513 in 1859, and 1,936 in 1889. Between 1877 and 1878, some 544 residents emigrated to America. According to data from the general census of the Russian Empire, in 1897 there were 2,251 residents in Obermonjou, of which 2,235 were ethnic Germans. By 1905, the number of residents was 2,801, and in 1910 there were 2,752 residents.[xxvii]

            Alter 1917 the population kept dwindling steadily under the influence of Bolshevist policies, and as a consequence of the famines in the early 1920s and 1930s, the de-kulakization era, ongoing repressions, and emigration of residents. An all-Russia census of 1920 had 2,978 persons living in Obermonjou, exclusively ethnic Germans. During the famine of the 1920s, 141 children were born, but 386 persons died.[xxviii]   According to statistics from the Statistical Administration of the Autonomous Region of Volga Germans, around January 1, 1922 only 1,685 persons remained living in Obermonjou.  During the all-Russia census of 1926, the community numbered 433 households, all but 431 of them German ones, with a population of 2,433 persons (1,190 men and 1,253 women), 2,432 were German (1,184 men and 1,248 women).[xxix] However, by 1931 Obermonjou again numbered 3,077 persons, all of them ethnic Germans.


From the History of the Church Community and the Parish

Between 1803 and 1830, the nine Jesuit missionaries working in the Volga region were led by Father J. Richard. Contemporary witnesses reported that the Jesuits introduced lengthy Masses and strengthened supervision over religious instruction. With the help of these missionaries, churches built, the parishes received ecclesiastical equipment from the order, and the situation regarding child rearing improved. The Jesuits helped in healing the sick and planting of trees. However, as a result of mysterious accusations lodged against the Jesuits by the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian monarch issued a decree that forced the Jesuit order to leave Russia in 1820.[xxx].

            Alexander Boos, who was born in 1842 in Obermonjou, eventually became a Catholic priest and in 1878 he was appointed the rector of the seminary for priest in St. Petersburg.

            During the second half of the 19th Century, on each December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which was declared a dogma in 1854 by Pope Pius IX, a festive Mass was celebrated. In the tradition of the Catholic Church, this was one of the most important feasts of Mary. Each July 26, Saint Anna was memorialized in the Obermonjou church.

            Following the power grab by the Soviets, the enactment of anti-church laws, active anti-religious propaganda, and the repressive policies of the government gradually caused all expressions of religious life to cease and ecclesiastical welfare organizations to be shut down, the clergy exposed to massive extreme repression, and many clerics dragged before the courts and sentenced to various punishments. Dozens were accused of anti-Soviet activities and shot to death. Some of the clergy emigrated. At the time, Leo Michaelsohn Weinmayer, the former organist of the Saratov Cathedral and priest in Neu-Mariental and Pfeifer, attempted to hide in Obermonjou, but in 1929, by decree of the NKVD, the priest’s name was placed on the “List of cult servants and persons who had similar offices,” which included the following accusations: earlier membership of certain status, number of years in the “Cult,” property status and number of faithful served.”  Leo Weinmayer was judged as follows: “In the church council of Obermonjou since August 1, 1928; in the church for twenty years; stemming from a farm family; served 1.355 persons; denied voting rights.”[xxxi] In 1929 he was arrested in Obermonjou, accused of being part of a clandestine group of Catholic clergy of the Volga region, tried in a court, and sentenced to banishment.

In 1931 the Central Enforcement Committee of the ASSR of Volga Germans received from the Regional Commission on Discernment of Religious Question a secret information, by which the church was not yet to be closed, the church community numbering 2,331 faithful, of whom 139 were designated in the category of those deprived of political rights.[xxxii] 

According to an announcement by the German Embassy in Moscow, there were only four priests left in the Tiraspol Diocese. It further reported that there had been “no contact and no certainty of whether he might still be alive,” referring to Peter Bach, a priest who had been active some years back and who earlier on also had served in Obermonjou .[xxxiii]  Peter Bach had been classified with the same group that Leo Weinmeyer had been in, that is, a group of German Catholic clergy in the Volga region who were dragged into court and sentenced.

In September, 1934 the Commission for Cultic Matters within the Central Enforcement Committee of the ASSR of Volga Germans received a directive by which the church in Obermonjou was no longer to be available to the faithful.[xxxiv] On December 5, 1934, the Marxstadt Enforcement Committee decided that the church in Obernonjou would be closed because it was in arrears in tax payments. The Commission for Cults presented to the Enforcement Committee a list of signatures of those faithful who were in agreement with the liquidation of the church.  By February of 1935, the Presidium of the Central Enforcement Committee of the ASSR of Volga Germans as well as the Supreme Soviet of the ASSR decreed the closing of the church in Obermonjou.[xxxv]


Clergy of the Katharinenstadt Parish who Serve in Obermonjou


            1803 – 1812                Johann Baptist Richard

            1812 – 1820                Johannes Guillemaint

            1856 – 1876                Raimund von Andreshevskoyvich

            1876 – 1878                Anton Johannes Zerr  


Partial List of Clergy of the Parish of Obermonjou[xxxvi]


            Ca. 1887                      Alexander Torshinski 

            1889 – 1898                Valentin Greiner

            1898 – 1901                Peter Bach

            1901 – 1905                Johannes Beilmann

            1905 – 1907                Michael Hatzenböller

            1928 – 1929                Leo Weinmayer


The Village Today

Today it is called Krivovskoye, in the Marxovski Rayon, Saratov region. No trace remains of the former greatness of the Catholic settlement and its neo-Gothic church. On the territory of the former Obermonjou there are a mere four wooden homes (a fifth went up in flames in 2013), and the ongoing population numbers ten. Still, that is not the extent of the village. Part of it is a private estate with its own acreage, a man-made lake, a herd of horses, some houses, and a small Orthodox chapel. According to the estate owner, the chapel was dedicated in 2010 in memory of Anna Chapman.[xxxvii] For its construction, and in memory of the German settlers, stones were gathered from the entire region that had formerly been part of the foundation of the Catholic church and of colonist homes. In that way, with the stones of the Catholic church that once honored the conception of Saint Anna, an Orthodox chapel was built to honor an entirely different Anna.

            Territorially, the village of Krivovskoye is part of the rural settlement Podlesnoye in the Marxovski Rayon. In addition, on the territory of the former Obermonjou there are now the rehab camp "Rovesnik" ("Contemporary") for children and the rehab camp "Niva" ("Field Meadow") for adults. The area is now considered one of the most picturesque on the entire Volga shore. The territory of the former village is surrounded by a massive forest, which tends to produce its own micro-climate. It is a wondrous landscape, with clean air, sandy beaches, rich mid-Volga vegetation and, most importantly, far enough distant from noisy civilization, which has made this area famous far beyond the region.


Archival Sources

State Historical Archive of Volga Germans (Engels, Saratov Region), stock #162. Collection of documents of the Roman Catholic village churches of the rural county of Kamyshinski, Saratov Gouvernement; of the rural counties Nikolayevsk and Novousenski, Samara Gouvernement; covering the years 1789 - 1934, folders 6 - 9, 11. Contents: Birth, baptism, marriage and mortality records for the village residents of Krivovsk (Obermonjou) for the years 1821 - 1826, 1827 - 1835, 1849 - 1855, 1849 - 1856, 1855 - 1866.

State Archive of the Saratov Region (in Saratov), stock # 637. Collection of church registers of the Saratov Gouvernement (1780 - 1917), index 22, folders 27-34. Personal data for the Roman Catholic church of Obermonjou (Krivovsk, Lugovoye)[xxxviii] for the years 1875 - 1885, 1875 - 1911, 1885 - 1894, 1892 - 1907, 1897 – 1905, 1905 – 1912, 1907 – 1918, 1912 – 1918. 


An Interesting Archival Document

Among the lost documents of the Saratov Welfare Committee for Foreign Settlers, there appears to have been one entitled “Document Concerning the Cohabitation of the Colonist Leiker of the Obermonjou Colony and the Bachelorette Rosina Reising,[xxxix] dated during 1819. While the document is lost, the title contained in the index demonstrates that the Church strictly condemned various transgressions and violations in the area of marriage and the family. As early as during the first [Christian – Tr.] millennium, there appeared teachings on the holy nature of marriage, which toward the end of the 19th Century were confirmed by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical “Arcanum divinae” and by Pope Pius IX in the encyclical “Casti connubi.” Within this system of transgressions, those against the moral basis of the family constituted a special category. Still, pre-marital relationships were not adjudged as strictly by the Church as adultery.

            People were freed of punishment for pre-marital relations by the so-called marriage dispensation, with prescribed for the guilty that they must get married. Matters of dispensation were discussed in the Vatican by the Department for Spiritual Questions for Foreign Faithful. A man and a woman who had been “gripped by passion of love” had to turn to their bishop via their pastor. The bishop then “At the feet of His Holiness, begged most humbly for dispensation from Rome”--and this including the birth of a child out of wedlock– o that “the parents of a child conceived through lust of the flesh and born out of wedlock could enter into the state of marriage.”[xl]


Obermonjou in the Press[xli] 

On May 10, 1914, the village mayor[xlii] sent the police to Obermonjou to inform the residents that it was necessary to build a dam to back up the water. The residents dragged various building materials together, and the flow of water was dammed up. Although the water level kept rising more and more, it would not flood, thanks to the constructed firming of the banks…. However, the mayor put forth a plan by which the water in a ditch behind the dam was also to be dammed, so that the ducks could swim there.…Work was begun in the evening, the dam was broken through, and the water flowed the entire night through. The next day the people begged the mayor to stop the water flow, but he, a difficult character, answered one and all: “That is my affair.” The water rose and rose, and the hole in the dam grew ever larger. Sandbags were of no help. Church bells were rung, and the people returned from the fields to save their belongings. [I find this story to be confusing and a bit contradictory regarding construction and destruction. – Tr.]

            The mayor, along with people who were on his side, approached the second dam [? – Tr.] and ordered that it be broken through as well. However, men armed with pitchforks, stood in their way and threatened to stick him with them should he even touch the lower dam. Suddenly, as if descended from heaven, the mayor’s overseer appeared and, under threat of three months’ incarceration, forbade him to destroy the dam.

            All the while, the water level kept rising and swept away twenty houses. A woman had just been baking bread when the water reached her oven. The owners of clay-brick homes lost all of their shelter. … At this time the village is like a genuine Venice. The only thing missing are the gondolas, although in their place were canoes. Now there is plenty of water in the village, not only for the ducks, but also for people can also swim in it without even leaving their farmyards.

May God grant that people here might think first before they act!


[i]  In the literature there appears an alternative founding date of March 5, 1767. See Beratz, G. Die deutschen Kolonien an der unteren Wolga in ihrer Entstehung und ersten Entwicklung [The German Colonies on the Lower Volga in their Establishment and Development]. Saratov, 1915. Also: Die Kirchen und das religiöse Leben der Russlanddeutschen. Katholischer Teil [The Churches and the Religious Life of the German Russians, Catholic Part.] Ed. By Josef Schnurr. Stuttgart, 1980.


[ii]  Taken from Einwanderer in das Wolgagebiet  1964-1767, [Immigrants to the Volga Region, 1964-1767], publisher Alfred Eisfeld, originated in Igor Pleve, vol. 3, Kolonien Lamb-Preuss. Göttingen, 2005.


[iii] From the Index of the Saratov Guardianship Office for Foreign Settlers ,ed. I. Pleve, Moscow, 2002, vol. 2, p. 209


[iv] Russian Historical State Archive (henceforth referred to as RGIA), paragraph 383, Index 29, Document 1065, pp. 24-27.


[v] RGIA, B. 383, V. 29, A 1058.


[vi] RGIA, B. 383, V. 29, A. 1124.


[vii] RGIA, B. 383, V.28, A. 16535


[viii]  Cf. Pleve, I.R. The German Colonies on the Volga during the 2nd Half of the 18th Century. M, 1998, p. 189 (in the Russian language).


[ix] RGIA, B. 393, V. 29, A. 20973.


[x] Nachrichten, March 15, 1937, p. 2.


[xi] Cf. German, A.A. History of the Republic of Volga Germans in Events, Facts, Documents. P. 199.


[xii]  German, A.A. The German Autonomy on the Volga. 191801941, part 2. The Autonomous Republic, 1924-1941. Saratov, 1994, pp. 107-110.


[xiii] 14.9 meters by 10.6 meters [ca. 50 feet by 35 feet].


[xiv] GASO B. 1166, V. 1, A. 128, Bl. 54 Geb.-Bibl.


[xv] Deutsche Volkszeitung, number 32, April 22, 1912, p. 2


[xvi]  Ibid.


[xvii]  Volkszeitun,g July l3, 1914, number 55, p. 2.y


[xviii]  RGIA B. 821, V. 126, A. 14, Bl. 252.


[xix] RGIA B. 821, V. 6, A. 68.


[xx] 29.9 meters long, 12.8 meters wide [ca. 100 x 42 feet], ceiling height ca. 55 feet, tower height ca. 100 feet.


[xxi] GASO B. 1166, VC. 1, A. 128, Bl. 54.


[xxii] Klemens, number 26, March 25, 1898, p. 400.


[xxiii] Klemens, February 7, 1901, p. 3.


[xxiv] Klemens, April 8, 1898, p. 429.


[xxv]  Saint Anna was the mother of the Virgin Mary and the daughter of the priest Mattan of Bethlehem. Anna’s husband was Saint Joachim. Saint Anna had been infertile for a long time, but after twenty years of marriage, an angel announced to her the conception of a daughter, the future Virgin Mary.


[xxvi] Klemens, May 6, 1898, p. 490.


[xxvii]  Deutsche Ortschaften im Russischen Reich: Geographie und Bevölkeruing. Handbuch .Zusammengestellt von W.F. Diesendorf [German Locales in the Russian Empire. Geography and Population, Homeland Book put together by W.F. Diesendorf]., M., 2002, p. 1156


[xxviii]  These data were taken from the 1921 issue of Die Deutschen Russlands. Ortschaften und Siedlungsplätze. Enzyklopäsches Wörterbuch. Zusammengestellt von W.F. Diesendorf. [The Germans of Russia. Locales and Settlement Places. Encyclopedic Dictionary, put together by W.F. Diesendorf]. M., 2006.


[xxix] Preliminary data for 1926 for the ASSR of Volga Germans, Pokrovsk, 1927. 


[xxx] Book of Russia’s Laws, vol. 37, number 28298, pp. 113-116.


[xxxi]  GIANP, B. 849, V. 3, A. 159, BI. 49.


[xxxii]  GIANP, B. 849, V. 3, A. 834, BI. 81.


[xxxiii]  PAAdA, R 62247.


[xxxiv]  GIANP, B. 849, V. 1, A. 890, BI. 36.


[xxxv]  GIANP, B. 849, V. 1, A. 1138.


[xxxvi]  This list is taken from the following: Die Kirchen und das religiöse Leben der Russlandeutschen, Katholkischer Teil. Bearbeitung J. Schnurr [The Churches and the Religious Life of German Russians, Catholic Part, by J. Scherr.] Stuttgart, 1980; Gedenkbuch. Martyrologium der Katholischen Kirche der UdSSR [Memorial Volume: Martyrology of the Catholic Church in the USSR], M., Silberfaden, 2000; Dzvonskovski, Roman, SAC {A Russian-language reference].


[xxxvii] Chapman, Anna, “outed” agent of the Russian secret service. In America she was active with a cover name of an entrepreneur of Russian origin.


[xxxviii] Thus in the index.


[xxxix] GASO. B. 180. V. 2. A. 9111.


[xl] RGIA. B. 821. V. 128. A. 1801, Bl. 3-7.


[xli]  Article in the Volkszeitung issue of June 26, 1914, number 50, p. 2.

[xlii] We are here dealing with mayor Unrein, who in a subsequent issue of the Volkszeitung of July 10, 1914, number 54, p. 2) issued a personal reply to justify his actions by the fact that a plenary session of the village community had decided on the building and the destruction of the dam, a decision reached in agreement with the police. In the same reply, the mayor stated that mention of the residents threatening him with pitchforks and three months’ incarceration were a pure invention of the author of the [original] article by the colonist D. Rösch.

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