Young Lutherans and a Mennonite veteran, ca. 1945
Krippendorf, East Germany (See Marianne Preisser Rempel below)
As I have been translating obituaries to learn more about families and history, some stood out for their touching writing. Others represented pivotal or representative moments in Mennonite history. Below are some of these memorable stories. All were also shared with Bethel College’s Biographical Wiki for each person named.
Hermann Jantzen's inspiring memoirs
The amazing 1880-1881 trek of Mennonites from South Russia to Central Asia offers many life lessons. Some of those are in the lives lost along the way. It is my hope to honour the dear people who died while following their dream, or that of their family’s, to achieve freedom from military service. A short travelogue accompanies this list of all those found who died until 1884, when the first group left for America.
Operating a cash register in the 1970s
Our first home computer was a Commodore 64 that could talk. My ex coded the machine to speak in a robot-like voice. I can still hear its first words: “My name is Ergo.” Much better than the fake messages I now get about my “arrest warrant” or a large purchase on my credit card!
Walter Ratliff’s excellent book discusses the journey Helena took
Helena Graewe Warkentin (1865-1942) shares her amazing story about how she travelled across deserts and mountains in a wagon train from South Russia to Turkestan, Central Asia in 1880.
Dimitri and Agathe with children (in birth order):
Anna, Tina, Daniel, Willy, Liselotte and Peter in Romania, ca. 1950
My dad’s aunt Agathe Graewe wrote from Jena, Germany after the city was bombed in 1945. The family later wrote from another sort of war zone, after they were forced to move to communist Romania. I’ve also included my dad’s story of their legendary romance.
Heinrich Plett (1853-1934) and Katharina Teske (1857-1918)
I was thrilled to find records that filled out the family tree of my great-grandmother, Katharina Teske Plett. Translated letters from Russia and Saskatchewan in the early 1900s are shared below, along with Teske and Plett family trees.
John was sketched by an artist* in 1948.
My uncle John Boleak (1925-2008) was a charming man who made everyone laugh. He also survived five years of captivity in Russia.
At the casket of Johann H. Wiens, 1962 (see below for names)
When searching for my dad’s war buddy, Johann Wiens, I learned about another man with the same name who was my dad’s uncle. It was news to my dad as well! This Johann married my dad’s aunt Anna Plett, who sadly died before my father was born, but left descendants. Anna and Johann found peace with God when bandits raged in Russia.
Isaak Boleac and Hilda Balkon, about 1953, Vancouver
Isaak Boleac (1927-2007) was one of my father's three dear cousins, who were our only close relatives in Vancouver when I grew up. He left a genealogical treasure recently discovered by his daughter Esther Wolff. Isaak tells the story of an outsider being embraced by Russian Mennonites, then enduring through much upheaval.
Jakob working in a Russian Gulag
In the last chapter of my uncle Jakob Plett’s story, Fleeing to Germany in 1943, the family had just been transported to Kilometer 15, Vologda, Russia. Their new home in 1945 was a slave labour camp (Gulag).