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'A man called Andreas'

Andy Kroneberger of Spicer holds a copy of the book he's written that documents the political oppression, starvation and death of children his parents endured in Russia before they escaped to the United States, where they experienced more heartbreak. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)

The question of how much heartbreak a person can stand -- and still get up to live another day -- is one that begs to be asked in page after page of a recently published book Andy Kroneberger of Spicer has written about his family.

The book, "A Man Called Andreas," plunges into the depths of despair that led the Kroneberger family across Russia, Germany, Argentina, Cuba and, finally, the United States and, specifically, Minnesota.

The autobiographical book documents starvation, political brutality, the deaths of child after child after child, and the disappearance of husbands and wives ripped from their farms and thrown into Russian gulags never to be heard from again.

With carefully documented information, Kroneberger lays out the horrific reality of life experienced by his parents, step-brothers and other family members as they struggled to live as Volga Germans in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution, World War I and World War II.

"This is my story. This is the way my family lived it," said Kroneberger during a recent interview at his Green Lake home.

But what's even more horrific is that the cruelty the Kronebergers experienced was shared by hundreds of thousands of other Russian-Germans who were banished to a life of hard labor in places like Siberia and Kazakhstan.

And yet, the book displays the power of survival, faith in God and the willingness to do whatever it takes to find a way to do what is right, including escaping from their homeland -- which they loved despite the cruelty they experienced there -- and the loving, family-oriented culture they tried to preserve in their new homes.

"I wanted my family to know what my mother and father went through," said Kroneberger, explaining why he wrote the book.


Kroneberger began researching his book in 1995 after getting a message through the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia organization that someone in Russia was looking for information about Kronebergers living in Argentina, where he knew he had relatives he'd never met.

At 82 years of age and retired after years of operating the Indian Beach Resort on Green Lake near Spicer, Kroneberger has not only told the griping story of his family but has helped reconnect multiple generations of the Kroneberger family across several continents as he researched family history.

After a life of never knowing a grandparent, aunt, uncle or cousin in the United States, his inquiries led him to a massive reunion held in his honor in Argentina.

Trips to Germany -- where his family moved after the fall of the Berlin Wall when they were allowed to leave Russia -- brought him face-to-face with more family members.

But the freedoms and successes of Kroneberger's family today came at a steep price for his ancestors.

"This was a story that needed to be told," said Kroneberger.

Russian history

The book provides a good history lesson on Catherine the Great's invitation to have Germans move to Russia around 1767, and how the successful farming communities they established there were later destroyed by the Russians.

But the heart of the story is the heartbreak of Kroneberger's father, Andreas.

With a wife and four children and the country ripped apart with political turmoil, famine and violence, Andreas left Russia in 1912 by himself for the United States. Even though a couple brothers had gone to Argentina instead, Andreas chose the United States because he had a job waiting for him.

His goal was to earn enough money -- including funds to bribe Russian officials -- to bring his wife and children here. But after receiving the money, reluctance to leave and mis-communication caused his wife to delay departure.

In that delay, World War I began and departure was impossible.

His wife and two children died of disease and starvation. One young son disappeared without a trace and the fourth son was taken in by a family in the Ukraine where he literally lived in a hole in the ground and in barbaric conditions.

News of the deaths arrived slowly through the mail, breaking Andreas' heart, writes Kroneberger.

The one remaining son was later found and moved to the United States in 1925 with Andreas' mother.

He sent much more money to Russia over the years in repeated attempts to bring other family members to the U.S. Those attempts failed and many of those family members left behind experienced cruel deaths.

New family, new heartbreaks

Kroneberger writes that his father began corresponding with a widow, who had already lost eight children but had two living sons. This woman, Maggie Stoessel, still lived in Andreas' Russian home community and had been good friends with Andreas' mother who now lived with him in Iowa.

Maggie accepted his proposal and agreed to move to the U.S. in 1928. That again involved money from Andreas that his prized nephew, Isador, used to bribe officials.

To get out of Russia, their route included a stop in Cuba, where Andreas went to meet his new wife-to-be. But officials refused to let them enter the U.S.

After a quick marriage in Cuba, Andreas, a U.S. citizen, was able to bring Maggie into the country but the two boys were left in an orphanage. They stayed there for two years until Maggie was able to pass her citizenship tests.

While gone from his Iowa farm to go to Cuba to pick up Maggie, Andreas' mother had died.

Andreas and Maggie struggled to blend the past losses of their children and spouses with their new life together and new children as they worked on a rented farm in Iowa before buying a farm near Brewster, Minn.

Their desire to hold on to their old culture, which included family members working together on the farm for the common good without wages, clashed with the new culture of Americans and their children.

They missed the ways of the "old country," Kroneberger said of his parents. "But they never wanted to go back."

Faith and future

Andreas died in 1945 when Andy Kroneberger, the oldest, was a junior in high school. He and his younger brothers and sister worked with their mother on the farm and were able to pay off the loan their father had taken out to purchase it.

His mother's faith in God helped keep the family together through those difficult years, writes Kroneberger.

The grit and determination to make something positive happen despite the challenges is a clear message in this book.

"My dad never gave up," said Kroneberger. "He always said, 'There's gotta be a way.'"

The book is written from the perspective of a man who acknowledges he didn't understand his father growing up until he learned, later in life, all the struggles and mental anguish he endured to make life better for his family.

It's a lesson well learned and well told.

Book signings

Several book signing events for "A Man Called Andreas" will be held this weekend and next month with Andy Kroneberger.

* Friday: 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Whitney Music/Jazz N' Java Coffee House on North Business 71 in Willmar.

* Saturday: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Green Lake Mall in Spicer.

* Wednesday: 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Good News Book Store in the Skylark Center in Willmar.

* June 11: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Book World in the Kandi Mall in Willmar.

Books, which were printed at Lakeside Press in Willmar, are available for purchase for $15 at Book World, Kandi Mall, Good News Book Store in Skylark Center and Lakeside Press in Willmar.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750