In Book, Lawrence man Recalls Escape With Family
From Russian Revolution
"In Book, Lawrence man Recalls Escape With Family From Russian Revolution." Topeka Capital-Journal, 1 February 2002.
|Here is the first Rempel family passport,
in May 1922. Back row, from left, are Henry D., 13, Katya, 22,
Agnes, 15, Agatha, 19, and Mitya, 17. Front row, mother Aganetha,
46, with Abram, 9 months, Annchen, 7, father Dietrich, 52, with
Michi, 5 and Hans, 21. Dr. Henry D. Remple, retired psychologist
and former board member of the Bert Nash Community Health Center,
has published a book of childhood diary entries about his family's
escape from the Russian Revolution.
LAWRENCE -- Before he was 20, Henry Remple had watched most of
his family die of disease, fled religious persecution against Mennonites
in the wake of the Russian Revolution and emigrated to Nebraska
to learn English while becoming an American.
And during most of those years, the now-retired Lawrence psychologist
kept a journal of the events.
Nearly 80 years later, he has translated his diary from the original
German and used it as the basis for a new book, "From Bolshevik
Russia to America: A Mennonite Family Story."
It is a story he admits he "repressed" for decades, only
to change his mind at the behest of relatives.
"I was thinking of writing it for my family, so they would
know what happened," he said in a voice still accented from
his German-Russian upbringing.
Henry "Rempel" was born Nov. 25, 1908, in the Mennonite
village of Alexanderwohl, Ukraine, to Dietrich and Aganetha Rempel.
"My early childhood was a very happy one," he said. "We
were well-situated. My father was mayor of the town. My mother came
from a fairly well-off family. We were in very good shape until
World War I came along."
Many of the Mennonites were descended from German immigrants who
had arrived in the region a century before -- and many still spoke
German as their main language. It was an unfortunate characteristic
for people living in a country fighting against the Germans.
"Since we were German-speaking people," Remple said,
"we must be enemies of the state."
The Russian government ordered Mennonites to sell their land or
hand it over to the government. That order was revoked during a
democratic revolution late in the war.
"But shortly after that, the Communists took over," Remple
said. "And that changed everything."
Property was nationalized, grain from farms was confiscated and
religious freedom was abolished by the Communists.
"We could no longer teach our children anything about religion,"
Remple said. "Children were persuaded to report if their parents
were teaching religion anyway.
"Eventually, it became a question of survival. My family decided
to try and leave."
An application for an exit visa was denied by Russian authorities.
So on April 6, 1922, the Rempels gathered their nine children and
headed for the open port of Batum (now Batumi) in the Russian state
"Altogether, some 300 Mennonites gathered there with the same
intent," Remple said, "but a third died from malaria,
typhus, a combination of things."
Among the casualties: Remple's parents; his sisters, Katya, Mitya
and Annchen; and his brothers, Abram, Michi and Hans. Henry, then
13, survived the terrible diseases, along with his sisters Agnes,
15, and Agatha, 19.
Americans with the Mennonite Central Committee came to the rescue,
providing food to survivors. MCC also found American sponsors willing
to pay the trip expenses so Russian Mennonites could emigrate to
the United States.
Remple and his sisters went to Constantinople to wait for their
turn under the U.S. immigration "quota" system.
"We had to wait until there was an opening for us," Remple
said. "For that, we had to wait in Constantinople for six months."
There, Remple started his diary -- at first with a few scraps of
paper, but then with a full notebook.
Eventually clearance came through. The Rempel children sailed to
Cherbourg, France; and from there to New York aboard the Saxonia.
Henry Remple arrived in the United States early the morning of
Oct. 7, 1923. He was processed at Ellis Island. Still weak from
his sickness at Bartum, he feared being sent back.
"There was always the fear a hitch would come along and we
might be sent back," he said. "My older sister was particularly
afraid they might find something wrong with me."
But he passed the physical and arrived at his new home in Henderson,
Neb., on Oct. 20, 1923. He knew a few words of English but settled
down to learning the language in high school. He also changed his
name from Rempel to Remple.
"They always pronounced it Remp Ell," he said.
Remple went on to attend college at Tabor College in Hillsboro
and the University of Minnesota. He eventually received his doctorate
in clinical psychology from University of Kansas. During World War
II, he joined the Army to use his language skills to interrogate
German prisoners of war.
"After all the hardship and dangers we had come through, I
was grateful to be in a free country, a safe place," he said.
"So if I could do something to help the country, of course
I would do it."
After the war, he worked for the Veterans Administration in Leavenworth
and served on the board of directors for Bert Nash Community Mental
Health Center in Lawrence for 14 years.
Pine Hill Press in South Dakota recently printed Remple's memoirs.
"When we left home we had no way of knowing where we would
end up," Remple said of his family's flight from Russia. "We
were getting away from danger, and we did. I'm grateful my two sisters
and I made it to our final destination."
"My life has been a good life," Remple said, now the
sole survivor of his family's migration from Russia. "But I
think of myself as a poor wretched little fellow who was given up
for dead. ... But I'm here now. I'm here."
Reprinted with permission of The Topeka-Capital Journal