A  family  strives  for survival  during  the
Russian  Revolution

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The Freeman Institute

© Copyright, 2009, The Schroeder Family. All rights reserved. Nothing on this page may be used without explicit written permission.
Note: Reproduction of any kind, including copying and pasting, is strictly prohibited. 

With the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, Russia was thrown into bloody revolution. The Mennonite communities of the Ukraine were the scene of the most violent uprisings and bandit raids in the history of the Russian Civil War. No longer in print, Miracles of Grace and Judgment is a true account of one family's experience during that time. Gerhard, Truda and the rest of the Schroeder family (Dr. Freeman's grandparents on his mother's side) watched first the anarchists, then the Bolsheviks, lay waste to their land.

"...Local brigands liked to call themselves anarchists...but few, if any...knew anything about anarchism as a philosophy or as a program of action, except that they were opposed to any form of restraint upon themselves..."

Farms, homes personal possessions, even life itself, felt the fist of tyranny. "...there was no desire in any of us to acquire nice things in those days, for we realized that we were living in a period of time when all such things could be very easily taken away from us."

Gerhard Schroeder                          
 (center, looking straight into the camera)      

An account of the personal contacts and experiences with some of the leaders of the notorious Makhnovshchina
during the Civil War in the Ukraine, 1914-1923.   
OUT OF PRINT -- 266 pages  © 1974          

Plagues of diseases and famine took their toll. Suffering became a way of life. "The disease was spread mainly through the lice from the bandits (anarchists) to the civilian population and was greatly aided...by the inability of the people to observe even elementary methods of hygiene. Malnutrition, from which the civilian Mennonite population suffered so severely...had left few people with the strength to resist the epidemic."

"The percentage of sick people varied from 60% to 70% in the smaller villages. In the larger villages...the figure was 85% to 90% because throughout the period of occupation these had the largest number of bandits quartered in them. The The deaths among the bandits were numerous. They died like flies, not because of malnutrition, but because of the filth in which they lived...and because of the terribly dissolute life they led."

After the bandits were turned back the Ukraine found itself under Communist rule. Conditions were little improved. Bloody massacres and typhus were replaced by starvation and cholera. Through years of hunger and sickness the Schroeder's were sustained by their faith. They were persecuted for their faith, because the Soviet Government had no use for anyone who believed in God.

The Schroeder family held on to their homeland despite wretched hardships, but "...when we saw that the government of the Soviets very definitely turned against God and took away from us the dearest principles of freedom -- turned us into slaves -- did we say, "Let us get out! This is enough!"
(Below: Read about the trip from Russia in 1923 .)






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© Copyright, 2009, The Schroeder Family. All rights reserved. Nothing on this page may be used without explicit written permission.
Note: Reproduction of any kind, including copying and pasting, is strictly prohibited. 

 Gerhard and Truda Schroeder

Born (Nov. 8, 1889)  in a Mennonite village in the Ukraine, Russia, Gerhard Schroeder grew up in an environment of prosperity, education and stability. 

Gerhard began his teaching career, but as a young man he found his country shattered by the forces of confusion and revolution (1917). 

Bandits, Bolsheviks, murder, plunder, persecution and hunger then marked the lives of the Schroeder family. Schroeder was the Volost Secretary of the White Army during the Russian Revolution. Experiencing the ravages of war the Schroeder endured enough suffering and heartbreak to overwhelm the spirit of most humans. Yet they triumphed in the attitude of love and forgiveness.

Since moving to the USA in 1936, Mr. Schroeder was active in teaching languages, repairing musical instruments and preaching. He spoke four languages, and preached in three languages over radio. He died at the age of 91 on Nov. 30, 1980.


(Here are some of the "talking tapes" from Gerhardt Schroeder, my grandfather.)

Tribute Page to Katherine Schroeder Freeman, my mother

The Makhnovists were an anarchist-led army that fought the nationalists,
the whites and later the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War.

"La Makhnovtchina"

Anarchist song during the Russian Revolution

Makhnovtchina, Makhnovtchina
Tes drapeaux sont noirs dans le vent
ils sont noirs de notre peine
ils sont rouges de notre sang
Par les monts et par les plaines
dans la neige et dans le vent
à travers toute l'Ukraine
se levaient nos partisans.
Au Printemps les traités de Lénine
Ont livré l'Ukraine aux Allemands
A l'automne la Makhnovtchina
Les avait jeté au vent
L'armée blanche de Denikine
est entrée en Ukraine en chantant
mais bientôt la Makhnovtchina
l'a dispersée dans le vent.
Makhnovtchina, Makhnovtchina
Armée noire de nos partisans
Qui combattait en Ukraine
contre les rouges et les blancs
Makhnovtchina, Makhnovtchina
Armée noire de nos partisans
qui voulait chasser d'Ukraine
à jamais tous les tyrans.
   Makhnovshchina, Makhnovshchina
   Your flags are black in the wind
   They are black with our pain
   They are red with our blood
   By the mountains and plains
   in the snow and in the wind
   across the whole Ukraine
   our partisans arise
   In the Spring Lenin's treaties
   delivered the Ukraine to the Germans
   In the Fall the Makhnovshchina
   threw them into the wind
   Denikin's White army
   entered the Ukraine singing
   but soon the Makhnovshchina
   scattered them in the wind.
   Makhnovshchina, Makhnovshchina
   black army of our partisans
   Who battled in the Ukraine
   against the Reds and the Whites
   Makhnovshchina, Makhnovshchina
   black army of our partisans
   who wanted to drive away all tyrants
   forever from the Ukraine.

1923 -- Trip From Russia


by 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 leaders.

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 to bed.

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 the night.

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 English language.

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.


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