When I visited the Russlander exhibit at the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum in Steinbach I saw this photo of Mennonites leaving Ukraine for Canada from the Lichtenau Train Station in the 1920s. It reminded me of the visit we made to that train station on our trip to Ukraine.
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 one of the 45 boxcars waiting for Mennonite emigrants at the Lichtenau station.
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.
Apparently, the Lichtenau railway stop was nicknamed The Station of Tears and I imagine it was. The travelers leaving from this station knew they would probably never return to this place and way of life and in many cases they were leaving friends and relatives who they might never see again.
A newsletter published by the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta has a poem written by a 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 grey
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