Both tragic and hopeful journeys began at the Lichtenau train station in the former Molotschna Mennonite colony.On our trip to Ukraine we asked our guide Victor Penner to take us to the Lichtenau train station. It was from this station both my husband Dave’s mother Anne Enns and his father Cornelius Driedger set off for Canada with their families.
The Molotschna Mennonite Atlas says the original Lichtenau train station was blown up in September of 1943 by retreating German troops but it has been rebuilt. The first station house erected in 1912 was one of the eight stations on the very profitable Tomak Railway Line built by a group of Mennonite investors who wanted a way to get their agricultural and industrial products to market.
On June 23, 1924 one of the first groups of Mennonite emigrants leaving from Lichtenau, included my three year old father-in-law Cornie, his parents Abraham and Margaretha Driedger, his maternal grandmother Agatha Friesen and his little sister Agatha. They crowded into 45 box cars at the Lichtenau station. They traveled for six days to the Russian- Latvian border town of Sebezch and after clearing customs went to the seaport of Libau where they sailed on the Marglen to Antwerp Belgium, then changed ships to the Minenedosa which arrived in Quebec City on July 17th, 1924.
It would be two more years before my mother-in-law Anne, her parents Gertrude and Heinrich Enns, her sister and brothers would also leave from the Lichtenau station for the long trip to Canada. Victor, our guide, pointed out the direction the trains with Dave’s family aboard would have traveled and my husband walked out onto the tracks to stand for just an imaginary minute ‘in his grandparents’ shoes’ as they would have faced the new direction their lives were taking.
There are two granite benches on the side of the station facing the tracks. Paul Epp of Toronto designed these functional works of art. His family also left for Canada from the Lichtenau Station. One bench recognizes the thousands of Mennonites who voluntarily departed from Lichtenau for a new life and freedom in North America between 1924 and 1929. The other bench is in memory of the thousands of Mennonites who left from Lichtenau between 1931 and 1940 because they were being sent into exile in Siberia, an exile from which many never returned. There is engraving on each bench stating that the Mennonite village of Lichtenau was founded in 1804 and describing both the deportation and immigration departures that happened at the station.
Apparently the Lichtenau railway stop was nicknamed The Station of Tears and I imagine it was. Tears of joy must have been shed by those leaving for a new life, tears of sorrow for those leaving for exile. I suspect however even those leaving for Canada must have had mixed feelings about saying good-bye to a way of life in Ukraine that had sustained their families for generations. Many also left friends and family behind and had no idea if they would ever see them again.
A newsletter published by the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta has a poem written by teenage girl named Susan Penner whose family left from Lichtenau on July 13, 1924. Here are some lines from her poem…………
The train is ready to depart,
Folks are coming from near and far,
On foot in carriages or wagons
The air is dusty, the heavens gray
At the station at Lichtenau.
The wind whistles and sings and whines,
A mother cradles her weeping child,
A samovar is set up for tea,
At the station at Lichtenau
The iron horse whistles;
Composure threatens our control,
We groan and sob, press loving hands,
One more glance towards our homes,
From the station in Lichtenau.
The bell rings out the first call,
The steps are lifted, the door
Is sealed, secured and barred.
The bell rings out a final time
With a jerk the train leaves – as people sing
“Go Thou Ahead, Oh Jesus Mine!”
Those left behind now wave goodbye
But cannot see through tear-filled eyes,
And deserted soon lies Lichtenau
Other posts about the Mennonite experience in Ukraine…….