Conversations with the Wasingers
Family Histories of the following older parishioners and friends of Immaculate Conception Parish in Chelyabinsk, Southern Urals district, Russia, and its mission parishes are being recorded in a series of "Conversations" by Sister Alice Ann Pfeifer with Sister Mary Elise Leiker, her interpreter and interviewer.
Konstantine Wasinger (born 1913) and his wife Josefina Wasinger.
by Sister Lucy Ann Wasinger, C.S.A.
© Copyright 1997, the Sisters of St. Agnes, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, all rights reserved
I visited four generations of the Konstantine and Josefina Wasinger family in the Kopeysk area on October 2, 1995.
Their daughter Erika and her husband Alexander "Sasha" Schneider were there, as well as the Schneider's two sons and Robert and their wives and children.
The younger Sasha and his wife Elena (Linda) have two sons, Sasha and Jasha (Jacob); and Robert and his wife Anya have a son, Vidya, and an 11-year-old daughter, Olya.
Kopeysk is a rather large city adjoining Chelyabinsk, about 20 miles from where we live; an area or district 20 miles long and 11 miles wide with perhaps a dozen little villages.
Konstantine and his third wife live in a village beyond Kopeysk, perhaps six miles from Erika. Konstantine is 82 years old - born in 1913 in Graf, in the Volga area.
He remembers the beautiful large church there, where he was a Mass server when he was 8 years old. He remembers the terrible famine in 1920 when two of his sisters, one aged 16, died. He said they received food from America, "white flower, canned meats, powdered milk, etc."
He thinks some were sent by relatives, up until 1933. After that anyone who got packages of letters were suspect and often imprisoned. Graf and all the villages were turned into kolkhoz or huge communal farms.
Konstantine moved from Graf, married a Lutheran woman who was a believing woman and taught her children to pray, each child its own prayer, Erika remembers.
Since there were no priests, the children were not baptized, Erika's husband came from a believing Lutheran family; his father read the Bible to the family, and a grandmother baptized him as a baby.
Konstantine was 28 years old and sick with tuberculosis when the entire German population was exiled from the Volga area during World War II in 1941. He and his wife and three children were resettled in Siberia, south of Novosibirsk, about 24 miles south of Barnaul.
The families were brought from the Volga on the trans-Siberian railroad, and local Russian people were forced to take them in. Konstantine and his family lived with a Russian family, which was very good to them. This family gave the Wasingers its own bedroom and itself slept in bunks on the kitchen wall.
The housewife cooked white sugar beets, a whole tray a day, and told Konstantine to eat lots of them. He did this and within a month he was stronger and a doctor gave him a certificate and he was sent to the Chelyabinsk area to work in a Kopeysk coal mine.
After Konstantine was taken into the trudarmiya, his family stayed with the Russian family south of Barnaul about a year. The mother had sore feet and could not be taken into the work-army, so she and her sister dug homes in that part of Siberia.
These homes were holes big enough for four rooms with windows standing on the ground covered by a roof of branches and leaves. Each held two families and two cows. Each family was allowed one cow. Many people lived in such self-made dug-out "homes" in those years. There were many wolves in the area, and often they came and howled in the window.
Meanwhile, there was no doctor in Kopeysk, and Konstantine worked under terrible conditions until 1948, when the trudarmiya's families were able to get visas and join the workers. After that, Konstantine worked another 40 years.
Erika was five when the Wasingers left the Volga and a teenager when they came to Chelyabinsk. In a flat field by the mine were barracks, each consisting of a common kitchen and several large rooms.
In the large room they were in, six families were quartered; but after a few months, the Wasingers got a little house of their own in one of the villages.
Konstantine's wife died of cancer when the youngest of six children, a little girl, was 18 months. He then married the widow of his best friend - a childhood friend from the Volga. They lived in a tiny house with her four daughters and their four sons (three now in Germany) and Erika.
After a year and half, Erika's stepmother went by street car to Chelyabinsk to buy new hats for the girls and on the way home with her bags, she got caught in the door of the streetcar, and was dragged to death.
After a while Konstantine took a third wife, Josefina, a Catholic childhood acquaintance from Graf. Though they have good memories of their church and faith along the Volga, they also have had terribly hard years, with no contact with priests or church.
I am the first church person they have met. When I asked if they wanted to receive the sacraments, Konstantine laughed regretfully and said. "It is all so long ago. I do not remember anything anymore. It is all right the way we are now." Since, as we know, God is Love, and where love is, there is God, God is with them; they have peace. There is times when one does not "rearrange furniture."
Konstantine is still quite well and strong; works a little in a small garden, feeds two little pigs and shops for bread and milk in a small nearby store. Josefina's son who was 12 when they married, lives with them and works. Konstantine and Josefina, age 80, spent Saturday afternoon with Erika and her family. They have a nice house, larger and much nicer than most houses I have seen in villages - and clean and in good taste. Over the years, they have also built nice houses nearby for their sons.
I feel very good about this family which shares my family name; they are hard workers, have good taste, and are clean and progressive. We had a fantastic dinner, in courses, Russian style, over several hours in their large dining room. There were nine adults around the table, with the children eating in the larger than normal kitchen.
Konstantine asked many good questions. To intensely interested adults, I could tell of America, our family, our Volga German heritage, Bishop Werth and our diocese - about which they knew nothing - and respond to questions about what it means to be a sister or a missionary here, about religious life, the Sisters of St. Agnes and our mission here, about the new church in Chelyabinsk and about my vision and hope for Russia.
It was a beautiful day. We took a walk down the streets of the village to the homes of Erika's two sons.
Erika Wasinger Schneider, her son Alexander, his wife Elena and their two children, as well as Elena's sister Ottilia are all interested in becoming Catholics. They are also getting their papers to go to Germany.
All Sunday, in the morning and over a lunch and in the afternoon, I gave them instructions about God, faith, the various religions, the Catholic faith, prayer, the creed, the sacraments, especially the Mass and Eucharist. Also what it means to be a Catholic in the world today, to be the presence and life of Jesus in the world today in a believing community, to help our world to become a better place because we have lived in it.
I told them that I heard that in Germany many people do not go to church, that big beautiful churches are empty; and we discussed the value of finding a parish community they will feel at home in and live the faith they are choosing now.
It was a very special weekend. I gave them a Bible and a rosary, and with a prayer book, I showed them how to pray it. With a German-Russian small missal, I explained the Mass. They plan to come to Chelyabinsk next Sunday for both the German and the Russian Masses so as to experience the liturgies in our faith communities; and we will prepare them for the ceremony of Baptism, of Reconciliation, and for Shasha and Elena's Holy Marriage - to sacramentalize the married love they have lived for more than a decade.
I have become so powerfully aware of the mystery that God who is love, is really present, wherever love is. Sasha, Elena, and Ottilya will make very good Catholics, I believe. The ways of God are truly marvelous in the reality of human lives! God of our history, wonders never cease; and what a joy it is to discover those divine wonders.
[This single "Conversation" by Sister Lucy Ann Wasinger, C.S.A., is written in a different style and was not a part of Sister Alice Ann Pfeifer's series. It is appended at this site because of its close alignment in subject matter, purpose and origin with those of Sister Alice Ann. A native of Victoria, Kansas, Sister Lucy Ann is on mission with Sister Alice Ann in Chelyabinsk.]