1923 -- Trip From Russia
G.P. Schroeder, translated in 1998 by J. Pauls
Our train was the second one which, left the station in the
village of Chortitza on July 2, 1923. My neighbour, Peter
Berg, was the group leader and I was one of the railway car
All night our train stopped at the station of Alexandrovsk
where some more emigrants from Schoenwiese were added to the
group. On the morning of July 3 there was a farewell. Very
distinctly I recall some details of this. Henry H. Epp was
there to bid farewell to his brother Dietrich H. Epp. It is
quite natural that on occasions like this you witness
embracing, kissing, etc. Rev. David Hofer was present at the
Alexandrovsk railway station and took pictures of the
proceedings. When he was in the act of snapping a picture of
the two Epp brothers, Heinrich H. Epp turned and stepped
aside. He did not care to demonstrate his emotions. (See
this picture on book cover above.)
In Charkov we were kept somewhat longer, since here we were
asked to bathe, receive inoculations and our clothes were
disinfected. Then we proceeded via Kursk, Briansk, Smolensk
and Witebsk toward the boundary. On July 7 we arrived in Kursk.
Our journey was much too slow. Our children were well; there
was much singing in our car. Our plan was to organize a choir
on the other side of the boundary. This was intended to serve
on the ship as well. Rev. and Mrs. Jakob G. Tiessen with their
11 children and daughter?in?law and also Mrs. Cornelius
Warkentin, Waldheim, with her children were with us. Mr.
Warkentin was already in Canada as member of the “Study
Commission”. Mrs. Warkentin, as midwife, was repeatedly asked
to assist at births. Shortly before we reached the boundary at
Sebesch the fourth birth occurred. Brother J. Peters from
Nieder?Chortitza, who had already been in Canada, gave us all
sorts of encouraging information about it.
Sunday, July 8.
We continued to move all night. This was an answer to prayer.
After having waited in Kursk all of Saturday, we asked the
Lord for more rapid progresss and He heard our pleas. In the
morning we attempted to set up one of our samovars at one of
the railway stations. The kindling wood had barely started to
burn when the bell rang and we had to hurry to get into our
car. At 10:30 a.m. we arrived in Orel. Immediately the step
ladder was let down and the men ran for water. In Orel we
waited 16 hours and at 3:00 a.m. we continued our journey.
Monday, July 9
Toward noon we arrived in Briansk. Here too our patience was
tested severely. At 8 p.m. we left for Smolensk and arrived in
that city at 9 a.m. Truda, my wife, and I went to the market
place where we bought cheese, sugar and bread. At 9 p.m. we
left this beautiful place of our fatherland. At sunset the
forest in the west glowed as if on fire, a rare view. Inwardly
moved, we sang appropriately, “Golden evening sun, how
beautiful you are!” After this we had our evening prayer
and then some of us went off to bed.
Wednesday, July 11
During the night it had cooled off considerably. While the
train was moving, we set up our samovar and ate and drank.
Until now there was no lack of appetite. We arrived at Witebsk
and from here traveled in a more northerly direction. At
midnight we came to Novo? Sibirsk.
Thursday, July 12
Before noon we proceeded on our way to Sebesch, the boundary
station. However, now we encountered some difficulties. Our
locomotive was not strong enough to pull us up a hill; a
second locomotive was called to our assistance. Later, when
there was insufficient power again, the men had to get out and
push. Repeatedly more men were called out to push. It caused
quite a commotion. At midnight we arrived in Sebesch.
Friday, July 13
This morning we received permission from our group leader,
Peter Berg, to wash at the lake, cook, bathe, etc. A whole
gypsy camp gathered at the lake. Soon the samovar was steaming
and the whole crowd settled down on the green grass for
breakfast. The water was as soft as rain water. At 6 p.m. the
customs inspection took place.
Soon this frightening experience was behind us too. Everything
went smoothly. First to appear were our leading men, Dietrich
H. Epp and others. In Russian we say, “Ne pomascheschne
pojedjesch.” Everyone was glad to do his part to speed up
proceedings. After the inspection all our belongings were
returned to the railway cars. In the evening we were informed
that the railway officials demanded another three million
rubles per railway car from us –
one more injustice. Well, we told the Lord about this and went
Saturday, July 14
Early in the morning the samovar was set up again. During the
night Mrs. Warkentin had been called to another car. At 8 a.m.
we left Sebesch. Then, after one more examination at the
boundary where our passports were checked, the stepladder was
taken away. A rough man swore at all of us as a farewell and
then we crossed the boundary line. What a sensation! Russia
with its “Tovarischtschi” and its “Prodnalog” was behind us.
At the Latvian railway station, Zilupe we were well received
by representatives of the C.P.R. Since it was noon, men were
asked to get the prepared meals for each car. Afternoon we
transferred our belongings to the Latvian railway cars and at
3 p.m. we were taken to Reschitza. Here too we were received
graciously. A sumptuous beef soup with rice was our supper,
for which we said grace gratefully. Our belongings were put
into disinfection chambers but this was completely different
from what we had experienced at Charkov. There things were
tied together and thrown into a dirty basement; here they were
hung on clothes hangers and pushed into disinfecting chambers.
The bathroom too was clean and bathing took place all through
Sunday, July 15
The first awakening outside of Russia! Now followed the
medical examination, which brought sad results for some of the
passengers. In many families trachoma was discovered and those
concerned were kept back. We, as well as Jakob Tiessen and
family and Johann Schroeder and family, were declared healthy.
There was great rejoicing in our family, but, alas, many tears
for other families. We now received our tickets for the sea
voyage. A religious service was held in open air, in which the
speakers were Rev. Johann J. Klassen, Rosental, Rev. Jakob
Tiessen and Elder Johann Klassen, Schoenwiese. In their
sermons they gave special consideration to those who were
temporarily retained. Psalm 68:20.
Monday, July 16
After breakfast our belongings were taken to the waiting
railway cars. We gave our toasted buns to those who stayed
behind. At 2 p.m. the call came to board the train. Away we
went via Riga to Liebau. Our hearts ached as we watched those
who, with tearful eyes, were left behind. The train made good
progress and at 1 a.m. we arrived at Riga. Too bad we didn’t
have the opportunity to view this city. Our next train was
waiting for us; in a few minutes our belongings were
transferred and in half an hour we moved on.
Tuesday, July 17
Our European journey progressed rapidly, with only brief stops
at railway stations. At 11 a.m. we arrived at Liebau harbor.
We were asked to unload our belongings opposite the ship
“BRUTON” which was to take us to England. In half an hour we
were all aboard the ship.
Our family was assigned to cabin No. 127. We were happy to
have privacy here. There were double bunk beds with mattresses
and straw pillows for us and the children –
one below and one above. There was a conveniently
arranged bathroom with a mirror on the wall. We could take a
bath at any time. At 1 p.m. we were served genuine coffee and
white bread with butter and jam. We were traveling third
class. The tables were covered with table cloths. At 5 p.m. we
were served supper: coffee, potatoes, sausage and butter.
Service at first was not too good. We were unable to
communicate with the people since we had no command of the
People were weeping when our ship left the harbor; a moving
moment. We all joined in the song, “Commit thy way unto the
Lord,” and then, “Now thank we all our God.” When we left the
harbor there were considerable waves and soon pale faces
developed. Some people ate fresh or dried fruit, which made
them feel better.
Wednesday, July 18
I awoke early. The children and Truda were still sleeping and
everything was quiet. I had slept well that first night on the
ship. How different from what we had experienced in the
railway cars. Soon there was activity on deck –
washing, bathing, etc. For breakfast we were served
fried fish, white bread and jam. The sea was calm. We had our
morning devotions in which Rev. P. Rempel delivered a good
sermon. His topic was, “Where are you coming from and where
are you going?” The children are playing and felt like home on
the ship. In the afternoon we had a nice nap; then at 3 p.m.
Danzig, Germany, appeared in the distance. We met steamers and
sailing ships more frequently. We pitied Germany as we passed
by. Evening devotions were led by Gerhard A. Peters.
Thursday, July 19
What we appreciated most this day was passing through the Kiel
Canal (Wilhelmskanal). It represents an enormous achievement
by the Germans (1908 ? 1914). At a distance of 100 wersts the
canal separates Schleswig?Holstein from the mainland. The
canal is deep enough to enable the largest ships to pass
through. The passage through the canal was slow but very
interesting. It took us 8 hours. After this passage we liked
Germany so much that we would gladly have stayed there, if
only it were not part of the undesirable Europe. We saw
wonderful forests, grain fields, lovely towns and villas. At
9:30 p.m. we passed Cuxhaven with it’s beacons that could be
seen from far away. This day we met many sailboats and even
more motorboats. What we saw on both sides of the canal was
proof that Germany is still alive.
We also saw German battleships. There were no evening
devotions or choir practice today because there were so many
interesting things to see.
Friday, July 20
The North Sea is a restless sea and seasickness was an almost
regular occurrence. Truda was not well this morning. Breakfast
consisted of very tasty fried fish. I had a good appetite too,
but Truda ate nothing and the children very little.
Fortunately we had some wine and coffee with us. Truda was in
bed almost all day; only toward evening, when the sea became
more calm, did she feel better. I led the evening devotions
based on Gen. 28:15. Then till 10 p.m. I had a serious
discussion with John Dyck, Schoenwiese, about spiritual
matters, the church, etc.
Saturday, July 21
There was much fog during the night, and so our ship was
forced to move slowly, using the fog horn continuously. At one
point it had to stop. The sea was calm.
Sunday, July 22, 1923
Our ship “Bruton” arrived at Southampton and on August 4 we
left on the same ship. After a voyage of 13 days across the
ocean we arrived in Quebec on August 17.