Three Cousins - Great Grandchildren of
Andreas Bartolf & Magdalena Maasz
Susi and Johann
Mary Keller Hughes
Read an extensive version of this trip in
German (PDF format)
We are back from our outstanding
trip of discovery. Arrived in Germany
to the wide smiles of my second cousin who I had met
through the Internet. We knew one another
immediately and there was an instant rapport. They
couldn’t speak English and my husband, Bob, couldn’t
speak German but we all managed to get along despite
that. I was surprised that I could remember the
German words I’d learned as a child–and I was able to
understand everything that was said. Thank
goodness my grandpa insisted that I learn German.
Our second day in Kandel, Germany I
met all the relatives that a short while ago I didn’t
even know existed. They are a pretty remarkable
group–three of the women had been taken to Russia as
slave labor in the coal mines, some had left Romania in
1971 without any assets, only the clothes on their backs
and others had left in the 90s with the help of the
family that had settled in Germany. What a strange
twist of fate–to return to Germany after several
generations to seek a better life–the very reason why
they originally left Germany! They continue to cook in
the Semlak style and
all are incredible pastry cooks. They continue the
practice of eating the main meal at noon with a light
supper at night. Each day at about 4:00 or 4:30 we
were treated to coffee/tea and wonderful pastries.
All kinds of wonderful kuchens and fancy torts.
They also continue to garden in small plots that are
rented on a yearly basis. You’ll find all sorts of
vegetables, fruits, and flowers in their gardens – all
grown from seed from previous year’s plants. They
continue to be the hard-working and clean descendants of
Semlak was the
fulfillment of a lifelong dream . . . and we couldn’t
have done it as well if we had ventured there on our
own. My cousin and his wife drove us on a two-day
trip to the village
I’d so often heard of from grandparents, parents, aunts
outskirts came into view and I saw the sign
on the road, I wept because my dream had
come true. I wept as well because my
grandparents and my Mom weren’t with me.
They had always wanted to see the village
one more time; my father had no desire to do
We entered via a dirt road with
fields on both sides, fields in which people were doing
their farm work. At the end of the road we came
upon the Evangelische (Lutheran) Cemetery and we stopped
so we could wander around looking at the headstones.
I’d been warned that I might not find family stones as
there has been theft of gravestones and some have been
knocked down and destroyed in the process. Imagine
my surprise when I found my great grandparents on my
grandpa’s side! The stone was in good repair.
We also looked at my cousin’s grandfather’s grave–the
brother of my grandmother. I could have stayed
there for hours but our hosts were waiting for us.
The village has paved streets on
those going from east to west–the cross streets are dirt
and some of them had pretty deep ruts. There are
few cars–you see lots of horse-drawn wagons used not
only to transport farm produce but people as well.
Many people have bicycles and it’s not uncommon to see
an elderly woman (such as my cousin who is 82) riding
along on her bicycle with headscarf in place.
It is definitely poor–there is no
middle class. There are a few “wealthy” people who own
more than one house and have farm equipment; the rest,
for the most part, are really scrabbling for their
The houses were in a varied state
of repair or disrepair. Some looked very nice
while others were sorely in need of paint or repair.
They are still in the old style of the house right up to
the sidewalk and a large gate (most often metal) that
defines the property. All houses have an inner
courtyard–those who are so inclined have a garden in
this area as well as their animals.
It’s really interesting
to see the geese, ducks, turkeys and
chickens let out of their yards to eat along
the road–they know which house to return to
at the end of the day!
On both sides of the
road is a grassy area with trees with their
whitewashed trunks. Between the trees
and the houses is either a path or a
At one time the trees
were Acacia trees. The bees would make
honey from the flowers. These trees
were chosen because they grew fast and could
be cut down for wood. Later the
residents replaced the trees with plum trees
Triple row of Plum Trees in front of each Home
The original houses had three
rooms–the front room which served as a bedroom for the
family, an eating room, and a visiting the room.
The middle room had the entrance and had a clay stove in
it with openings to heat the two other rooms. The
back room, or gute stube, was only used for special
events and had a bed, chair and tables, and prized
possessions on display. There would usually be an
overhanging roof along the three rooms with pillars.
A stall would be at the very end for the livestock.
The heat from the animals would heat the back room along
with the heat from the stove in the kitchen. Today
it is rare to see such a home as additions have been
made to accommodate a different style of living.
There are still a good number of homes that continue to
rely on outhouse bathroom facilities.
Semlak, even after
generations of living together, they still refer to the
residents as German, Romanian, or Gypsy. They seem
to live in harmony. In fact, my 82-year-old cousin
cans extra food to sell to the gypsies. Her pantry
looks like a store with the many shelves filled with
hundreds of jars of fruit and vegetables and there’s
many smoked sausages hanging from the ceiling. She
makes her own schnapps and sells that as well. She
was a cook and then a caterer for over 22 years and is
known for her outstanding pastries–she still bakes daily
and will trade her baked goods for other necessities.
This cousin was also a slave laborer in the Russian
coalmines–they were worked there for five years in
unbelievably awful conditions.
The Burning of the Schnapps
Johann, the Burning Proprietor, and Dr. Toma
The people are really quite
remarkable in their attitude considering how poor they
are. The most obvious evidence of their need is in
the poor condition of their teeth. In fact, so
many of them have either lost most of their teeth or
have rotted teeth. Our hostess, a lovely woman in
her forties has half of her bottom teeth missing.
It was such a surprise to discover why she would always
cover her mouth when she laughed.
They tend to layer their clothing.
You will see women with skirts layered over pants.
They still wear the headscarves (Kopf Tuch) and the
backless slippers I remember seeing my grandma wear.
When entering a house they will slip off their shoes.
The men wear either billed caps (not the baseball style,
though, occasionally you’ll see one) or black fedoras.
I was fortunate to get
into both the churches of my heritage.
Both are in need of repair and walls are
cracking. The congregations are very
small because so many of the German
community left. It’s quite sad to hear
them talk about only 8 people being in
church the Sunday before. There is a
sadness among those who remained in the
village–they say they are alone now and
there are very few with whom to speak
Church has a table
rather than an altar-
Name on clothing behind table is that
of my paternal ancestors!
School Attended by my Father
- Next to Church
Evangelische Church Hymn Sing
playing organ while Johann sings
in German and
Mary sings in English
Our host and hostess
were just too wonderful to describe.
Their home is better than most in the
village and we were lucky to have indoor
plumbing. They went out of their way
to make our stay an enjoyable one.
Toma is one of the two village doctors.
Toma & Lisi
Blånitå -- Our Heart Relatives
He had called my cousin and it came
up in their conversation that it was becoming very
difficult for his patients to get medicine. He
cited a case of a young gypsy woman who brought in her
baby for care–the child was very sick. Our friend
wrote a prescription and the mother said that it was
worthless because she didn’t have the money to pay for
it. As our friend put it, “what was I to do?
Let the baby die? So I gave her the money for the
prescription.” My cousin approached his doctor in
Germany and asked if he had any samples that he might
contribute to the Semlak
doctor. The German doctor packed up three large
boxes of sample medicine. We were concerned we
might not make it through the border but they didn’t
even look in our suitcases. Our
doctor host was thrilled–especially since we discovered
that his and his wife’s combined take-home pay is under
$200! And, he’s a doctor! Imagine what it is
like for the average person in
Semlak! Yet, our people continue to be
generous with whatever they have and they continue to
smile and laugh and joke with one another. They
are a remarkable people.
We went one day to Arad (the county
seat) and were surprised at the size of the city as well
as its cosmopolitan character. There are lots of
things available–just not enough money to buy what’s
being offered. There’s a brand-new hotel–the
Continental and it’s pretty posh. Food is
inexpensive (for the tourist’s pocketbook) and quite
What are my most
Seeing the spires of the
churches as we neared Semlak
Visiting the churches where
my ancestors worshipped
Finding my Bartolf great
grandfather’s grave along with some of his
Having the priest of the
Evangelische church play the two organs and
urging us to sing along with him
Meeting my second cousin
who still lives in Semlak and tasting her
Going to a schnapps burning
Sitting and visiting over
cakes and coffee with some pretty incredible
Walking the streets that my
Gaining access to the home
of my grandmother and grandfather
photographing the family homes
Home of Adam Wagner
and Elisabeth geb. Bartolf
Side Yard of My
Maternal Grandparents' Home
Market Day in Semlak
Garlic and Other
Eating the good foods of my
Weeping with my relatives
as we said our goodbyes – some are of an age
that we may never see one another again
Crying as we drove away
from the land of my dreams not knowing if I
would ever return
The Beautiful Marosch
The River Runs on the Southern Border of
Semlak Train Station
A Train Comes
Through Twice a Day