I have this sepia coloured photograph on my bedroom dresser. It was taken in Moscow during World War I. The beautiful brown-eyed young woman in it with her fashionable dress and hair piled high is my husband’s maternal grandmother Gertrude Unruh.
She was married to Heinrich Enns who sits to her immediate right in his military medical uniform. You can see the Red Cross on his hat on the table. The other two men are Gertrude’s brothers-in-law. Peter Enns to her left was obviously in military service too and Cornelius Neufeld to her right with the accounting book ran the families vast land holdings in Siberia and other parts of Ukraine.
Heinrich’s family owned a large estate in Kowalicha, Ukraine and while the men of the family were away serving in the Russian army’s medical corps Gertrude was left alone to run the family’s massive estate and deal with her irascible mother-in-law who objected to her son’s marriage to Gertrude because Gertrude’s family wasn’t rich enough.
Gertrude came from the small village of Rudneweide where her family had a modest farm. Her wealthy husband had met her while on a visit to the village with a friend.
Gertrude had four little boys and with her husband far away working on the trains transporting the wounded from the battlefront to Moscow, Gertrude was single parenting and making all the decisions about the education and upbringing of her children.
There were labour shortages as estate servants left their jobs to join the army. The weather had damaged some crops, and roving bandits had been seen on the estates’ far-flung properties. Gertrude decided she needed to go to Moscow and meet with her husband Heinrich and her brothers-in-law to get some advice about what to do. That’s when the photo of Gertrude at a family business meeting was taken.
I never met my husband’s grandmother Gertrude but whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities I look at Gertrude’s photo and think about how a girl from a small village farm ran a huge business all on her own and cared for her children and mother-in-law while the men in her family were away at war and times were incredibly tough. Gertrude inspires me!