May 19, 2003

Tina rennt...

I have promised the rest of Grandma Dick's story for some two weeks now. The first part is here, and there is a link from there that lets you go back to the rest of Grandpa's memoirs. This story should be contrasted with my grandfather's memory of the same events, which were not the same.

We pick up Grandma Dick's story again in 1927 - she says almost nothing about the years between her parents murder and her exit from the Soviet Union, except a series of dates for her baptism, her marriage and my grandfather's birth. For her, Russia symbolised a misery that I don't think she was ever comfortable talking about, while Canada was her liberation. Russia was where her parents were murdered, where she spent her teen years in misery with her foster parents, and where her husband died less than eighteen months after her marriage.

I suspect she rationalised some of her hatred of Russia as hatred of communists. Anti-communism was far from unusual among people who had lost their property to nationalisation, long before Stalin started to make people's lives extra difficult for their class and ethnic origins. Although there were many Mennonites exiled under Stalin - something she fears would have happened to her - this did not happen to everyone, and it did not happen to her foster parents as far as I know. It would, however, likely have happened to her in-laws, and she might well have been taken away with them. It's hard to know.

Nonetheless, her desire to flee Russia, to get as far from it as she could, was real enough. She wanted out and she never looked back. But, there were obstacles she would have to overcome first.

How often I have thanked the Lord that He lead me out of Russia with Theodor. It was His hand, and He is a Father the widows and orphans. Together with Theodor He lead me out of the land of misery.

In May 1927, I had a serious operation. I was in the Muntau Hospital, adjacent to Halbstadt in the Molotschna Colony. [Muntau is, along with Halbstadt, now a part of the city of Molochansk, Ukraine.] The wound festered and the whole incision tore open after my abdomen was highly swollen. The doctors did not know what it was and had given up on me, although I did not know it at the time.

It was there that I was born again through the ministry of Rev. Gerhard Harder of Halbstadt. Because I stayed there such a long time, I frequently had occasion to see Rev. Harder walking past the door of my room, but he never came in. When I enquired why he did not come to see me, he did come visit me even though I was a stranger from the old colony. Through him I accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour and found peace for my soul. The scripture that caused me to turn to Christ was Isaiah 38 verse 17.

Indeed it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness; but You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back. - Isaiah 38:17

I had no one whom I could ask for advice, no relatives, no brothers or sisters. Mother-in-law, together with sisters-in-law and brother-in-law, left during the time I was ill in the hospital. We - my sister-in-law Njuta (Anna Martens) and I - had obtained passports with much difficulty. Numerous times we had to walk to Aleksandrovsk to procure the passports. When the time approached where the validity of the passports expired, my in-laws left because there was no hope for my health to improve in time. Our foster parents were only too glad to keep us there because they loved Theodor so dearly. When I thought that Theodor was to grow up in that Godless land, I was afraid. How was I to train him alone?

I remained for two months in the Muntau hospital. The wound had not healed completely, but on the 24th of July I was allowed to go home. So, I thought that it was not the Lord's will that I leave. But, since the wound healed in two weeks and the passport was still valid, I took it to be the Lord's will that we should go anyway. It was terribly difficult for our foster parents to part from Theodor.

When I left for Canada, my sister Mika remained with our foster parents. She did not want to leave yet. After the Second World War, she was in the no-man's-land from which so many people were sent back to Russia. No doubt she was one of them, and since she was in poor health, she probably died. There has been no word from her since.

My foster parents put a tag around Theodor's neck, next to his body, with their address and the address of my sister in Canada. They did not believe that I could survive the trip. I was so weak that I could not even say farewell to my friends before our departure. However, I did have an auction sale where I sold the few things I owned.

On the 13th of August I left our home in Russia with Theodor bound for Canada. First we went to Moscow, where I paid for the trip which cost 471 roubles and 22 kopeks for the two of us. In Moscow, we stayed with some German people. A man by the name of Fröse looked after immigrants who were travelling through Moscow. [Peter Fröse was president of the Allrussischer Landwirtschaftlicher Verein - the All-Russia Agricultural Society. This organisation doubled as a Mennonite relief society.] I had hoped to meet a travelling companion in Moscow, and then in Riga, but no one was there. Most of those who travelled with us were Jews.

On the 19th of August, we came to Riga. There, the bottom of my wound opened half an inch. We were put in into a room with a man. For some reason, not all the rooms were available since some must have been repainted or redecorated. It was not a hotel, so it must have been some kind of boarding house. The man had a number of pictures that he thought he would not be able to take through customs, so he asked me to take some of them. [Grandpa's note: My recollection is that this took place in Moscow. If he got through Russian customs, why would he fear the customs in Riga?]

At Riga, we boarded a little ship and landed in London on August 29th. We went by train to Southampton on the 31st of August. There we thoroughly inspected by the doctor. They did not want to let us continue on our trip. I could not speak English, but I remembered the Latin name for my operation: Recto Versio. [I have not been able to determine what Recto Versio is or what it is intended to treat.] We were allowed to proceed.

In Southampton there were two children with us, a boy and girl of about 11 and 13 years of age. They were Mennonite children that had had to remain behind until their medical problems, probably with their eyes, were cleared.

From Southampton, we had passage on the large ship "Montroyal." The trip across the ocean was terribly stormy and I was alone with three children. But the Lord helped, he brought us safely to Canada. We landed in Quebec City on September 7th. There I was thoroughly inspected because I was only skin and bones. They thought I had TB.

Where would my Theodor have ended if I had not obeyed my inner voice to leave? No doubt I would have been imprisoned as were my friends soon after we left. They were tortured and murdered. And Theodor would have been put in a children's home where he would have become a communist. How often I have thanked God when I see him standing in the pulpit.

After nine years of difficult widowhood, the Lord led my David to me, and Theodor could be raised by a believing father. How much cause we have to be thankful.

Your Mother, Tina Dick


In 1928, Stalin ordered foreign relief offices shut down. In 1929, thousands of Mennonites who were trying to leave the Soviet Union were stranded in Moscow for weeks until they were either given permission to leave, or were forcibly returned to their homes, or, in some cases, sent into exile in SIberia. Grandma Dick and my grandfather got out a little more than a year before it became impossible to emigrate.

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Posted 2003/05/19 21:37 (Mon) | TrackBack