History of Michael Bertsche

Michael Bertsche was the only child of Paul and Catharina Fink Bertsche. Paul died 9-26-1807 in Riedelberg; Catharina died 6-3-1795. As far as I know, Paul is the furthest Bertsche in our line that anyone has been able to trace. The line of Michael's wife, Katharina Nafziger, has been traced back a number of generations further, to the Gungerich family in Germany in the 1600's.

The Bertsches were Swiss anabaptists. Along with a number of other Swiss anabaptists, they fled to the wilderness area of Alsace, near the French-German border, to escape religious persecution at the hand of the Calvinists in Switzerland. Then in the mid-1800's, many anabaptists from this region emigrated to America to avoid compulsory military service under the Prussians in the Franco-Prussian war, as military service was against their pacifistic beliefs. These emigrees included Michael Bertsche's three children.

In October 1977 Emma Eymann Bertsche wrote a letter with the following:

"Yes, somewhere along the line the Bertsches were Catholic, but it was even earlier than the Michael Bertsche of Erlenkopf. During the Protestant Reformation Mennonites were among those persecuted an driven out of Switzerland. Some to hilly almost unfarmable places to escape with their lives. This likely was Michael Bertsche's reason for settling in that high hilly place. One wonders how he eked out a living for so large a family. The hogs lived on potatoes they raised and also on acorns from the woods. But the real reason for hiring so much help was likely during the grape harvest. Then too, vineyards make much work in the spring. Since wine is a cash crop the European vineyards are really kept up even today.

"We are told that Grandpa John Bertsche was robust and strong. I remember him. He could outlift most. The story is told of how in a grocery store over here he picked up a big barrel of vinegar and carried it outside to the amazement of the onlookers."

Visits to Erlenkopfhof

My parents, George J and Mary J Bertsche, visited the Bertsche homestead in the Alsace in December, 1985, and wrote this abbreviated report:
"My wife & I visited my daughter & her husband at Sembach, Germany in December 1985 and also visited the homestead, Erlenkopfhof, near Eppenbrun. Only the foundation of the home remained but the towns people had stories about the site."
They also wrote a longer account of the visit:
Immediately upon arriving at a service station in Eppenbrunn, we found an 86-year-old lady who knew of the Bertsche home but said it had been torn down. She directed us two doors over to Leo Bender, who, she said, was called Bertsche as a nick name. Leo owns and operates a hair styling shop. Leo guided us to a parking place, and we walked 4.1 kilometers down a logging road and marked trail to the farm (hof) and site of the home. We found the old well and the pond Michael had dug. He had had it stocked with trout. We saw the remains of the retaining wall which had been behind the house and saw iron shafts which had been part of the horse driven grain mill. We walked 500 meters further down the trail to the end of the farm and found a three-foot-high boundary stone inscribed with a "B" for Bavaria. The French were firing cannons on a range in the distance.

Erlenkopfhof was 200 meters from the Erlenkopf, the highest peak in the whole area, which is 1500 feet (472.1 meters) above sea level and divides Germany from France. The farm was shown as such on the trail maaps till after 1975. Leo Bender told us that Michael Bertsche bought Erlenkopfhof from Herr Trotter, a pharmacist, about 1800. The farm has incorporated into a major national forest which is a popular vacation and tourist attraction. The farm is right on one of the marked hiking trails in this forest. After Johann Bertsche left, Leo Bender's grandfather, Johannes Bender, was hired by the government as a forest ranger and given the farm home as a ranger station. Johannes' son Baldazar (Leo's father) succeeded him as ranger. Leo grew kup in the house. The Benders tended the farm till 1926. Then Herr and Fraw Kiefer were given the home to use as a guest house and restaurant for the hikers till Frau Kiefer died in 1970. The state tore the house down in 1975.

In October 1959 Adele Bertsche Reichert and her husband, LaMar, visited Erlenkopfhof and reported the following:
"We started asking at Pirmasens but no one heard of it but directed us to Erlenbrun, from there we learned that it was near Eppenbrun. While in Eppenbrun we talked to two older gentlemen. The name of the Bertsche family was unknown until we talked to these men. They got into our car and directed us two miles back in the forest over dirt and sand roads to Erlenkofhof. All of this distance was through thick forested area and no houses. Then here was this house, which consists of a house, restaurant, and barn combination. A man by the name of George Keifer was there and has lived there for 33 years. The land is too poor to farm and the State owns the house. (and land) Keifer is the forester. The house was built in 1745 and is now smaller than it once had been. It is only 200 meters from the French border. So we took pictures and walked around in the forest.

"This man Keifer knew that the Bertsches had lived here before. The two village gentlemen knew of a man by the name Bender who had lived with Bertsches and he too has gone by that name. This Bender has a son who is still living and is 80 years old. We did not get to talk to him. I think he still lives at Eppenbrun, but was not at home. Everyone calls the house a Forest Home. It sure is isolated. We are going to write Pirmasens and in the June of July issue of the newspaper was a list of all the owners of this house so we will try to get a copy."

Bertsche Homestead at Erlenkopfhof

Photo of Homestead

Caption on back of photo (written to my father, George Bertsche):

"The Johann Bertsche homestead at Erlankopf near Eppenbrun Germany near Pirmasens. The birthplace of your grandfather Joe Bertsche. The family emigrated to the U.S.A. on November 19, 1873. After a 19 day voyage they landed in Philadelphia, bound for Hamilton, Ohio. They came on the ship Fatherland."

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Last modified July 8, 1998 by Kirk Bertsche, KBertsche@aol.com