Tag Archives: ukraine

Family Picture

I am working on a history book about Dave’s parents for an upcoming family reunion. Dave’s cousin John who is the true Driedger family historian has been helping me by providing some wonderful photographs. My very favorite is this one of Dave’s Oma Margaretha Friesen, posing with her siblings and cousins in the village of Schoenfeld where they all lived.
Dave’s Oma is standing against the tree with a balalaika in her hand. One cousin with a very fashionable hat is riding bike and Margaretha’s brother Cornelius and another man are up in the tree. I think the photo reflects what I heard so often from my own grandparents about how almost idyllic and prosperous a life the Mennonites had in Ukraine before the revolution. There was time for leisure pursuits, farming was financially rewarding, Mennonites ran profitable businesses and established good schools and enjoyed music and other cultural endeavors. And then within a decade everything had changed and this whole way of life was gone.
I think this photo was probably taken around 1913. It is a reminder that a seemingly stable and good way of life can disappear dramatically.

Other posts……..

Dave’s Christmas Present

Thoughts on Refugees

Portraits in Hope



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Luxury Car- A Family Story

Heinrich Enns and his wife Gertrude

In 1912 my husband’s maternal grandfather Heinrich Enns bought a new car.  It was a German-made Opel. The average car at the time was priced at around $700.  The Opel’s price tag was double that at $1,500 which gives you some idea of the wealth of Enns family.

Heinrich and Gertrude Enns lived on his family’s large estate in Kowalicha, near the Schoenfeld Mennonite settlement in Ukraine.

My husband’s grandfather and his family on the lake in front of their estate 

The Opel Heinrich bought was an open touring car and was a deep red colour.

A car exactly like Heinrich’s is in the Museum Sinsheim in Germany- Photos of the Opel by Kai Gruszczynski.

When the family went driving through their home village of Kowalicha or went down the road to neighbouring Schoenfeld, where they attended church and where their children went to school, Heinrich sat behind the wheel in a full driving costume complete with goggles. 

This map of the Schoenfeld settlement was made by Henry B. Wiens in 1912. Kowalicha, where the Enns family lived, is marked by a star. 

Beside Heinrich in the front seat of the Opel were his two older sons Peter and Henry.   In the back seat was his wife Gertrude and his two younger sons Johann and Diedrich as well as the boys’ nanny.  

Dave’s grandmother Gertrude Enns with her four sons outside their house in Kowalicha. Their nanny is behind the fence.

If rain threatened a canvas was pulled over the top of the car and fastened down with buttons. People in the village would come out to see the beautiful automobile. The village dogs were especially intrigued by the car. They would run behind it barking and howling. It must have made quite a picture!

A newspaper ad for a car dealership in the Moltchna area where Heinrich’s family lived was sent to me by a blog reader. It may well be the dealership where Heinrich purchased his car. 

The car as well as all the family’s wealth was lost during the Communist Revolution in Russia.  After Heinrich’s family immigrated to Canada they were beset by a series of financial, agricultural and health difficulties that meant they were never able to afford another luxury car like that magnificent red Opel. 

Other posts………

Family Blueprints

Who Owns Family Stories? 

Dave’s Christmas Present


Filed under Family, History

Earrings and Tombstones

anchor earringsI bought these anchor earrings as a souvenir during our trip to Ukraine in 2011. I noticed many of the Mennonite tombstones in Ukraine had engravings of anchors. daniel peters tombstoneThis is the tombstone of my great, great grandfather Daniel Peters which I found in the village of Nikolaipol in Ukraine. It was hard to read some of the lettering on the stone but the anchor symbol on the top was clearly visible. me with great grandfather's tombstoneEvery time I wear my anchor earrings I am reminded of my family connections to Ukraine and our memorable visit there.

An updated version of this post can be found here. 

Other posts…….

The Station of Tears

The Disappeared

Remembering Yalta

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I just finished Maurice Mierau’s  book Detachment. He writes about the experience of adopting two sons from Ukraine.  The boys went through some pretty traumatic life events before the adoption.Interwoven with the description of these events, is the story of Maurice’s father who decades prior, also lived through traumatic times in Ukraine before immigrating to Canada.  It is interesting to see the two stories juxtapositioned and to learn how Maurice comes to terms with both.  The title of the book stems from the fact that Maurice felt a kind of ‘detachment’ in his relationship with his own Dad, and doesn’t want to have that same kind of detached relationship with the boys he has adopted, or his older son from a previous marriage. 


I wondered how knowing he was going to write a book about the adoption influenced the way Maurice felt and acted. He made notes about everything. Did keeping those notes interfere in any way with him participating in the adoption process and family life? Was he always thinking about what was going on in terms of what he would write about it?  Sometimes when I know I am going to be writing about an experience I make different choices about what to see and do and sometimes I’m so busy making notes and taking pictures it detracts from the experience.  I wonder if that happened to Maurice.  On the other hand sometimes taking notes and reflecting on an experience makes it more meaningful and memorable so that might have happened to Maurice too.

Detachment will be of particular interest to people whose families have immigrated from Ukraine like mine, and couples who have been through the foreign adoption process. The book will also make you think about how your parenting behavior was influenced by the parenting you received.  

Other posts……..

Red Stone

The Disappeared


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My Grandmother’s Childhood

My grandparents Margareta Sawatzky Peters (  1900-1999)  and Diedrich Peters (1901-1996)

Margareta Sawatzky Peters ( 1900-1999) and Diedrich Peters (1901-1996)

My grandmother, Margareta Sawatsky Peters was born in the village of Gnadenthal in Ukraine in May of 1900. In an interview with my aunt she shared childhood memories. 

My grandmother's grandparents Johann Schellenberg and Helena Andreas.  Johann lived with my grandmother's family for twenty years.

My grandmother’s grandparents Johann Schellenberg and Helena Andreas Schellenberg.  Johann lived with my grandmother’s family for twenty years.

“We had no old folks homes. My mother cared for my grandfather who lived with us for twenty years after my grandmother died from a leg infection. There were no doctors to help my grandmother. My grandfather would invite all his friends over to our house. They’d smoke Turkish cigars, drink brandy and talk about politics. My grandfather read the German Odessa newspaper regularly so he knew what was going on in the world. But he had to hold the paper right up to his nose. He was almost blind and we didn’t have anything like eyeglasses or eye doctors.

Here I am in a pile of white sand in Ukraine the kind of sand my great grandmother sprinkled on her floor in patterns to make her house beautiful

Here I am in a pile of white sand in Ukraine the kind of sand my great-grandmother sprinkled on her floor in patterns to make her house beautiful

My grandmother was a meticulous housekeeper. The clay floors of her house were carefully swept and sprinkled with sparkling white sand. Our kitchen was heated with a clay oven and the roof had a huge open chimney. As mother cooked the soot from the chimney fell on her. Sausages and hams were hung inside the chimney to be smoked. A brick oven was heated with straw or pressed manure and used for baking bread.

My grandmother's parents Franz Sawatzky 1869-1936) and Margaretha Schellenberg Sawatzky (1873-1943)

My grandmother’s parents Franz Sawatzky (1869-1936) and Margaretha Schellenberg Sawatzky (1873-1943)

My mother decorated our house with designs she cut into potato halves. She dipped the potato designs into a mixture of ash and milk and used them to stencil beautiful patterns onto the walls.

Photo I took of a community pasture on our trip to Ukraine

Photo of a community pasture I took on our trip to Ukraine

There were about 400 cows in our village. The herdsman came through the streets at 4 in the morning to take the cows to the community pasture for the day. We strained milk with a system of wooden bowls and sticks. After the cream rose to the top we made butter that we sold to a peddler along with our hens’ eggs. We sold eggs in tens not by the dozen. Two tailors made clothes for the village men but the women made all their own clothes. 

Photo I took of one of the last remaining windmills built by the Mennonites in Ukraine.

Photo  of one of the last remaining windmills built by the Mennonites in Ukraine taken on our trip there in 2011

Our village had four windmills to grind rye into flour and to grind grain into cattle feed. 

When I visited Gnadenthal in 2011 there were boys swimming in the lake just like they did in my grandmother's day.

When I visited Gnadenthal in 2011 there were boys swimming in the lake just like they did in my grandmother’s day.

The village had a lake stocked with fish and twice a year we hired people to fish for us. The fish were divided amongst the villagers. On Sunday afternoons the boys would go swimming in that fishing lake but girls weren’t allowed to. The willow trees around the lake were cut down and used to make wooden shoes that children wore to school.

This building now a private residence was the schooll house my grandmother attended in Gnadenthal

This building was the school-house my grandmother attended in Gnadenthal

I could only go to school till I was twelve but I loved school. At recess we girls played ‘Drop the Hanky’ or ‘Hook and Eye.’ I memorized so many poems and there were lots of books to read. Our home had no books but was filled with music. My sisters and I played the guitar, banjo and balalaika while our mother accompanied us on the accordion.”

My grandparents with their family some 45 years ago

My grandparents with their family some 45 years ago

Grandma then goes on to talk about the Russian Revolution and how it changed everything, eventually leading to a decision to immigrate to Canada. That decision changed our family’s life forever. It is sobering to think about what kind of future our family would have faced if my great grandparents had not left everything familiar to them almost a hundred years ago, to start a new life in a new country.

Other posts…….

On My Grandparents’ Farm

My Grandmother’s Epitaph



Filed under Family, History

Another Chortitza Oak

At the Chortiza Oak in 2011
When Dave and I were in Ukraine we had our photo taken in front of the Chortitza Oak. It is a dead tree propped up by pulleys and ropes. The Ukrainians keep it standing because of its importance in a key event in Cossack history.

The tree also has significance to Mennonites who used to live in Ukraine because it was located in the heart of the Chortitza area where there was a large settlement of Mennonites.chortitza oak leamington mennonite homeOver the years Mennonite visitors to Ukraine have brought back acorns from the Chortitza oak and planted them here in Canada. The one in this photo is at the Leamington Mennonite Home where my father-in-law lives. chortitza oak cottam ontario

My brother-in-law John  has one planted in his backyard in memory of his parents who were both born in Ukraine.winkler chortitza oakOn a recent visit to Winkler, Manitoba I photographed this young oak which is also a descendant of the original Chortitza Oak.plaque Chortitza Oak WinklerA plaque explains it’s significance to the  Winkler community. 

Other posts……

A Spreading Oak

The Oak Park Connection

Seven Oaks Museum

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Thoughts on Refugees

My husband Dave's grandparents Abram and Margaretha Driedger with their two children arrived in Canada in

My husband Dave’s grandparents Abram and Margaretha Driedger were refugees who arrived in Canada in 1924

I am from a refugee family. My grandparents and my husband’s grandparents were refugees who came to Canada from Ukraine. Having just lived through the violence of a World War, a civil war and raids by ruthless bandits on their homes and communities many were traumatized. They came to Canada without money and only a few belongings. The Canadian Pacific Railway had to finance their trip. They had survived a recent famine in Ukraine so their state of health was less than ideal.

My husband's mother's family just before leaving from Lichtenau. His mother Anne is the little girl on her mother's lap.

My husband Dave’s grandparents Heinrich and Gertrude Enns were refugees who arrived in Canada in 1925

They were Mennonites, a religious sect often misunderstood by their new Canadian neighbours. Here was a group of people who insisted on speaking German, wanted their own private schools and refused to serve in the military. 

My grandparents Diedrich and Margareta Peters on their wedding day shortly after arriving as refugees to Canada in 1923

Yet they were accepted into Canada and their descendants have served and enriched this country by making outstanding contributions in almost every area of Canadian life and culture. 

My grandparents Diedrich and Margaretha Peters who were born in Ukraine and whose lives were forever changed by the Break Event

My grandparents became prosperous Canadian farmers whose fifty-four descendants serve their country as school administrators, speech therapists,  nurses, media personalities, pharmacists, professors, physicians, professional musicians, agriculturalists, journalists, service managers, postal workers and teachers.

I’m so glad the government of Canada accepted my family when they were refugees. What if they hadn’t?

Other posts…….

On My Grandparents’ Farm

School for the Deaf- My Father-in-Law’s Birthplace



Filed under Family, History, Politics

Portraits in Hope

This weekend I’m busy preparing a sermon for next Sunday on the theme of hope. I will tell stories about three grandmothers from our family who immigrated to Canada from Ukraine.oma and opa's exit papers (1)My husband Dave’s Oma Margaretha Friesen Driedger shown here with her husband Abram, daughter Agatha and son Cornelius just before leaving Ukraine for Canada

My husband's mother's family just before leaving from Lichtenau. His mother Anne is the little girl on her mother's lap.

Dave’s maternal Oma Gertrude Unrau Enns shown here with her husband Heinrich, four sons Peter, Henrich, Johann and Diedrich and two daughters Gertrude and Anne just before leaving Ukraine for Canada gm hired girl friesens_1024 (1)and my maternal grandmother Margareta Sawatsky Peters shown here with the children from a family for whom she worked as a nanny just after coming to Canada.
Preparing to tell these stories from a new angle is helping me gain an even greater appreciation for the strength and courage of my family’s female ancestors.
Other posts…………..

My Grandmother was a Guitarist

Heinrich and Gertrude Enns- A Family Story 

The School for the Deaf- My Father-in-Law’s Birthplace 

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A Call for Help in Ukraine Made Personal

There was a plea in our church bulletin on Sunday morning to send donations to Mennonite Central Committee to help people in Ukraine. Winter is upon them and many families who have been displaced by the fighting in Ukraine do not have enough to eat, adequate clothing or a warm place to stay. The Mennonite Centre  in Ukraine is providing coal, running water and paying the electricity bill for refugees sheltered in old abandoned buildings.  It reminded me of how my husband’s grandparents took shelter in an abandoned school during the conflict in Ukraine in the 1920s. 

Reading about the need for humanitarian aid in Ukraine brought back memories of an elderly woman  we visited there. dave elderly woman ukraine We met her in Schönfeld. Our guide Victor Penner brought us to the village because it was home to both my husband Dave’s Friesen and Driedger great grandparents and Schönfeld was where Dave’s Oma and Opa Driedger were born, grew up, and lived during the first years of their marriage. schoenfeld ukraineThe woman makes her home in what is left of the old Mennonite high school in Schönfeld. high school in schoenfeldDave’s great-uncle Diedrich Unrau was a teacher there. This photograph shows what the school looked like in 1910 when it had 70 students and three teachers- a physics lab and four classrooms. The house we visited was the portion of the school that served as the main entry. woman in ukraineOur hostess used her two walking sticks to show us where an artillery shell hit the house during World War II. It only knocked the clock off the wall in the livingroom and did no damage to the well- built former Mennonite school.woman in ukraineThe woman we met in Schönfeld,was feisty and lively but our guide Victor told us something of the harsh reality of her daily life. She has two daughters. They live and work in the city of Zaporozhye and rarely come and visit.  The woman has a small garden where she tries to grow enough to eat in summer.well in ukraineShe gets water from this well.  Her rural community like many others in Ukraine does not have a regular police force so crime is a problem. There are few medical services in the community, electricity is available erratically, and the roads are in need of repair.  The woman has no vehicle to get to shops. She heats her home with coal and wood. 

lady in schoenfeld ukraineVictor says he worries about her and always thinks she won’t survive the winter, but each spring when he brings new Mennonite visitors from North America to visit, she is still there. Victor always gives her some money before he leaves.

On Sunday when I read about the need for aid and assistance in Ukraine I was reminded of the woman we met in Schönfeld,and wondered if she is still alive and how she is faring this winter. I feel a little better knowing the donation we made this week to relief work in Ukraine, will help people like her, whose already difficult life is being made even more harsh by military activity in Ukraine.

Other posts about Ukraine…….

Feeling Sad About Odessa

Remembering Yalta

Remembering Independence Square

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The Station of Tears

lichtenau train station ukraineBoth tragic and hopeful journeys began at the Lichtenau train station in the former Molotschna Mennonite colony.victor and dave lichtenau train station ukraineOn 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.
train station lichtenauThe 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.

The Driedger family twenty years after immigration. My father-in-law in the centre and his sister Agatha to his left were both born in Ukraine

The Driedger family twenty years after immigration. My father-in-law  the tall handsome man in the centre and his sister Agatha to his left were both born in Ukraine

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.

My husband's mother's family just before leaving from Lichtenau. His mother Anne is the little girl on her mother's lap.

My husband’s mother’s family just before leaving Ukraine from Lichtenau. My mother-in-law Anne is the little girl in the fancy bonnet.

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. on the train tracks at lichtenau ukraineVictor, 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.
victor with paul epp's chairs lichtenau train stationThere 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. paul epp bench lichtenauThe 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.
lichtenau train tracksApparently 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. dave and victor lichtenauI 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…….

A Family Story- Heinrich and Gertrude Enns

The Disappeared


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Filed under Family, History, Ukraine