with Gerhard Ens (GE)
Conducted by Robert A. Freeman (RF)
29 July 1995, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Transcription by Ari Gurkanlar and Matthew Bennett
Editing by Jessica Rice, Jessica Clark and Robert A. Freeman
RF: I am sitting with Gerhard
Ens here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It is the 29 July 1995.
I am going to work with Gerhard and we’re going to see if
it's going to be interesting to go through some of these questions.
So, I’ll just ask the questions...say anything.
GE: I most likely don’t know everything
you want to know.
RF: Of course, that’s right.
I think these are just suggestions, you know. Just some lines
to think about. Because they start out with things, of course,
just to establish. Okay? It asks… What is your name?
GE: Gerhard Ens.
RF: When were you born?
GE: The third of February 1928.
RF: 1928? Yeah, just after I was.
RF: Where were you born?
GE: In Neuendorf, Ukraine.
RF: Where is Neuendorf?
GE: It is about fifteen kilometers
west of the Dnieper. By Saparoshe.
RF: What was your father’s
name and what village did your father’s family come from?
GE: My father’s name was
Franz Ens and he was born in Noyendorf.
RF: Noyendorf also?
RF: And when and where did he die?
GE: I don’t know.
RF: What do you know about him?
GE: All I know is he was thirty-five
GE: And he was taken away under
Stalin… you know, at that time.
RF: And he was just taken away?
GE: Yeah, we never heard anything
RF: You never heard anything?
GE: No...no letter, no nothing.
RF: Did any other men get taken
away at the same time?
GE: Oh yeah, there was about thirty
or some taken in our town, ya.
RF: And what do you remember about
GE: I remember that only one came
back. He was my uncle. He was married to my mother’s sister.
His name was Heinz Dyek. He wouldn’t sign it; they just
about killed him there.
RF: What, wouldn’t sign what?
GE: He wouldn’t sign it -
that he was guilty, you know. I think they tortured him there
for about a year, I think. He didn’t sign it so they finally
had to let him go and he had to promise them not to say anything
of what happened there. And he didn’t say anything, probably
to his wife, ya, but to us you know, to the rest of us he didn’t
say anything until the Germans were there during the war. Then
he said it, then he told the story.
RF: He told the story?
RF: Do you remember them coming...soldiers
coming to your house to take your father?
GE: No they were NKVO there was
no KGB. At that time it was NKVO.
RF: It wasn’t the soldiers?
GE: Oh, no, it was the…
RF: The police, the secret police?
GE: Geheim Polizei. Secret police.
RF: So they came to your house,
and what happened?
GE: Yes, Yes. They always would
come at night. At night they would come and they would say - when
your wife wanted to pack everything - he says, ‘Don’t
worry, don’t pack anything. He is going to be back tomorrow.’
Never came back. That was it.
RF: Do you want to say anything
more about that? Do you recall anything that you would like to
add? Did you hear anything later at all?
GE: No, nothing. I heard nothing
RF: Were any other relatives taken
at the same time?
GE: Yeah. My oldest brother was
RF: Your oldest brother?
GE: It was Cornelius.
RF: Oh, that’s when Cornelius
GE: Yeah, he was taken on my birthday.
On the third of February, he was taken.
RF: And did Cornelius… did
you hear from him?
GE: No, never heard from him again.
RF: Not from Cornelius either...?
All right. What is your mother’s name and what village did
she come from?
GE: My mother’s name was
Maria Dyck, and she came from Neuhorst. That was about ten, fifteen
kilometers to the west. It was a small town.
RF: Okay… And when and where
did she die?
GE: She died here in Canada about
twelve years ago, I think.
RF: And she is buried in Brooks?
GE: Yeah, she’s buried in
Brooks. She died of old age, 93 years old.
RF: How many brothers and sisters
did you have?
GE: Well, I had two brothers and
four sisters, I think, altogether. And a half brother.
RF: So Cornelius was the oldest?
GE: Yeah. He was my half brother.
RF: Oh, he was a half brother.
RF: Alright, who came next?
RF: She was a half sister or full
GE: Yeah… no, no. They are
all half sisters.
RF: Oh, all half sisters?
GE: Then Anna, then Helen, and
then my sister - my real sister - Mary, then Frank - he was my
brother too, you know - , then me.
RF: So you were the youngest?
GE: Yeah, I’m the baby.
RF: How did your parents decide
on the children’s names?
GE: Usually since there was only
one name, you know, like Gerhard -
RF: No middle name?
GE: No. They would take, usually,
the oldest boy, when he was born; he adopted the father’s
name. And the oldest girl came after the mother’s name,
RF: Oh, is that the way it works?
GE: Yeah, that’s why Cornelius...he
was the oldest, actually. But [my father] thought he could get
some more boys, you know, so he named [Cornelius] after his brother.
RF: His brother. I see…
GE: Yeah, Cornelius Ens was my
RF: I see. Did the name show importance
in some way?
GE: I don’t think so.
RF: Yeah, except that Cornelius
was named after your father’s brother. Okay, it asks about
middle names and nobody in the family had middle names.
GE: No, no. For some reason nobody
RF: Well, did your mother tell
you anything about the old country in South Russia? [Laughs.]
Well, you were there...
RF: So this question isn’t
relevant. What do you remember?
GE: I probably was too young to
have known much about it, you see. (A089).
RF: Did you have any grandparents
living when you were there?
RF: Did you see them ever?
GE: Oh, yeah. I had a grandfather.
RF: Did you?
GE: His wife had died already.
But, I think she was dead already, well, long time before I was
RF: Was it your father’s
father or your mother’s father?
GE: It was my mother’s father.
RF: So he was Dyck.
RF: Okay, what do you remember
GE: Well, he didn’t live
in Neuendorf. He lived in Neuhorst, you know. That is where my
mother came from. All I know is that he never remarried. Since
my mother was the oldest, he told her he would let her take over
the family. She raised all us kids.
RF: She raised the kids?
GE: Yeah, there was ten alike fifteen
RF: Did you ever visit that place?
GE: Oh, yeah...we visit it lots.
Actually, you had to walk.
RF: Did you?
GE: Oh yeah.
RF: You walked?
GE: Yeah, you walked all the time.
What else would you do?
RF: Ten miles?
GE: No, no, it wasn’t that
RF: Oh, it wasn’t? All right.
GE: I would say about three or
RF: Oh, three or four kilometers?
Well, that’s still a long way.
GE: Oh ya.
RF: Okay. [Can you] describe Neuendorf
a bit? Do you remember what it looked like at all?
GE: Ya. It was nice big town, nice
houses, mostly brick.
RF: Mostly brick?
RF: And did it have…how many
people would you say?
GE: About a thousand seven.
RF: A thousand people?
GE: Oh yeah, a thousand and seven
hundred, I think.
RF: That’s a very big town.
GE: I think that was the biggest
town there, you know. Neuendorf was a big town.
RF: And did it have a church in
GE: Oh yeah, big church.
RF: What kind of church was it?
GE: Mennonite church.
RF: It was a Mennonite church?
GE: Two-story church.
RF: Oh yeah. And what did it look
like that you recall?
GE: It was made not from brick,
but the big pieces of stone.
RF: Stone? Stone church?
GE: Yeah, stone church...with the
bigger ones, you know, not like the bricks you see here.
RF: Interesting. And did it have
any kind of stores, or a school near the church?
GE: No no, the school was about
a kilometer away from the church. Because we lived there, every
day we would walk a kilometer to school and back.
RF: Did the school serve people
in other villages, or just people in Neuendorf?
GE: Just Neuendorf, but once we
got a higher education, then they came to Calgary and then to
town to learn.
RF: I see, okay. Now what kind
of terrain was it around Neuendorf? It was near the river. Near
what river, what was it?
GE: Well, it was just a river...more
or less just a creek, you know.
RF: Oh, it wasn’t…
GE: Ya. There was water there all
the time. Not a huge river, like you see the Volga or something
RF: That was not the Dnieper...that
was quite a ways from it.
GE: Like I said, about fourteen
or fifteen kilometers.
RF: I see. All right. And when
you say that they had big brick houses...anything else that you
remember of what it looks like?
GE: It was a nice town, you know.
RF: Yeah, nicely kept up.
GE: And they brought the delegation,
like from France, or Italy, you know. The communists, they were
always bringing to our town because it was nice there, you know.
They would never bring them to the Ukraine villages. Then they’d
say ‘That’s how we live’, you know.
RF: I see. So they brought them
to a German village.
GE: Oh ya.
RF: And said that’s…
GE: And they were a communist delegation.
And I don’t think from...I don’t think from Germany.
RF: So, they were trying to make
GE: Oh ya. That’s how we
RF: That’s how they lived,
huh...? So, when you were coming into the town from the outside,
say from your grandfather’s town, what would you see when
you came into town? What did it look like?
GE: Well, There was a windmill
there. They broke it down later on. The same windmill that they
got in Orloff right now? They broke it down, I think, when I was
three years old. So they must have broke it down in about ’31
or ’32. They took it down.
RF: Took it down? But it was a
GE: Oh ya.
RF: And what did they mill? Was
it for milling grain?
GE: ya, that’s what that
RF: So they made their own flour?
GE: Ya. Oh ya.
RF: In town?
GE: Yeah. And there was a big steam
mill there, too. It was farther down. They took that down, then
they made a high school out of that, you know.
RF: And what did they have...I
suppose it was a steam-run mill?
RF: It was a mill for flour and
things? And it was run by steam. And they stopped that, and built
a school. What about any of your ancestors, grandpa or something...do
you remember them ever talking about wanting to go back to Germany?
GE: No, I don’t think so.
Nobody talked that much. Everybody was scared.
RF: So you didn’t really
dare talk about it?
GE: No, no.
RF: Because if you had talked about
wanting to go back, it would be unsafe.
GE: I remember there was a guy;
he had a blacksmith’s shop. Naturally, they took it away.
But, he was a German citizen and he went back to Germany in thirty-something.
He came back to visit there, and they locked him out. ‘Cause
at that time, I think in ’29, they closed the border. Nobody
could go or come. So then, lots of people came to Canada in the
RF: When your father was taken
away, it sounds like you couldn’t even talk about it, because
it would be dangerous. So what happened to you? What happened
when your father couldn’t-
GE: I was so young then, you know.
RF: You don’t remember what…
RF: How did you… Where did
you stay? Did you stay in your own house?
GE: Yaand my mother had to go to
work. That’s what they did. There was fifty or sixty men
taken away in our town, and the women had to work...to make a
RF: Your father was running a farm?
GE: Ya Before.
GE: When they were taken over there-
RF: Then the women had to run the
GE: No no, there was no more farm.
RF: Oh, they took it.
GE: It was all collected by that
RF: Oh, by that time.
GE: Oh ya. It was in ’28
or ’29. That’s when they took all the farms away already,
you know. Collective, you know, everything was collective. You
had to go and work there, your horses were gone, all your machinery
was gone, all down there and you had to work there.
RF: Now, did your father work there?
RF: He worked there until he was
taken away... Do you know if your family received letters and
things from Germany when they lived there?
GE: No. No, I don’t think
RF: You don’t recall?
GE: I don’t think we had
anybody in Germany.
RF: You didn’t have...?
GE: We had uncles here in Canada.
RF: What about life before the communists took
over? And how was property inherited? In other words, did it come
down from father to…Who would get it after a death?
GE: Most likely the youngest boy.
He would get it, and he would have to take care of his farm for
the rest of his life. I mean, that’s around there, that’s
how it was.
RF: Yeah, that’s what I understand.
That’s the life. And the older boys would have to be out
on their own.
GE: Yeah. And they were all married.
RF: Had their own (families).
GE: And so the boys got it and,
of course, each child did not inherit equally because the youngest
one got the farm.
GE: Yeah well, since I was born
in ’28, I don’t know too much about it, you know,
because nobody did own anything by that time.
RF: Yeah, you would’ve gotten…
GE: But the land was all in collective,
and you worked there.
RF: And you would’ve gotten
GE: Most likely, ya.
RF: Because you would have stayed
and took care of your father and mother… Now did you speak
German as a child? Of course you did...
RF: And did you know what dialect
GE: It was a Low German dialect,
it was Low German.
RF: It was so-called “Low
RF: What other names did it have?
Was it like Schwabisch? Or was it…
GE: No no, Plattdeutsch.
RF: It was Plattdeutsch?
GE: Yeah. If you wouldn’t
know good German, you would only know… you would only catch
about half the words, you know.
RF: Because it was so different.
Like my German… But now, did your people come from the low
country in Germany?
GE: No, we came from...well, let’s
see… Friesland. That’s where Menno Simon was.
RF: Of course, of course.
GE: And from there, we came to
around Danzig. And then from there, we emigrated on the invitation
of Queen Katherine the Second… She was German, and she knew
how good all the German farmers, and then she let in anybody that
was for freedom of religion. No going to war, and so we went there.
RF: Do you know if the whole group
of Mennonites went together to form Neuendorf? Or how did that
GE: I don’t know exactly
how that worked, you know. I don’t think I ever heard that.
Nobody came from there. They all was born in the Ukraine already.
RF: Sure. By the time you came
GE: Ya. Well, even my parents were
born in... Even, I think, my grandfather was born there.
RF: Yeah. Well, what did you do
as a small child? Did you have chores and things you had to do?
GE: Well, when I was six or seven
years old, I went to school already. And
summer time. There was no fences there, no barbed-wire fences.
I was herding calves, you know for the collective. I had to watch
so they wouldn’t go in the grain and stuff like that.
RF: So you had to work for the
GE: Oh yeah, there was no such
thing as a limit to work. I worked there in the summertime.
RF: That’s right, you never
worked there when it was…it was communist before you were
GE: Oh yeah. I was born in ’28,
and in ’18 or ’19, there was communism there already.
RF: So already the collectives
were established before you were born.
GE: They started later, ya, that’s
right. But they started later in Ukraine. They started in the
‘20’s in Russia.
RF: The ‘20’s, I see.
So what kind of chore did you just not like to do at all? What
did you dislike doing as a child?
GE: Hmmm…I don’t know.
RF: Hard to say?
GE: It was long ago.
RF: Yeah, you don’t remember
the bad things.
GE: No, no.
RF: If you didn’t do the
work which was assigned to you, how did they discipline you? The
boys that didn’t do the work...what kind of punishment did
GE: I don’t think they got
much punishment. They did what they had to do.
RF: But you say that you were scared
to death, anyway.
GE: [Laughs.] At that time we were
so young, you know, we weren’t scared much. The older people
RF: Yeah. When did you start raising
rabbits and things?
GE: Umm… In... ’34
RF: ’34 or ’5?
GE: Ya. Once my brother and me
were big enough, you know.
RF: Yeah. After your dad was gone,
you had to-
GE: Ya. Well, even after that,
we had no other meat.
RF: So you were required to bring
meat to the market?
RF: Not to the market, to the collective.
RF: There was a collective that
GE: Ya. You had to bring so many
pounds of meat.
RF: To the collective?
GE: Ya. (A291.5) Say you had one
cow, and you had to bring so many litres of milk there.
RF: Litres of milk?
RF: Hmm. Well, let’s see…
So you went to school, and your first school was – you were
able to stay in a German school?
GE: Yeah, we learned two years
with all German.
RF: Two years?
GE: Then the third year we went
to school, it was all Russian. Like you know, there was one half
an hour, weekly, that was German, you know.
RF: Only one half-hour?
GE: Yeah, and one half-hour was
Ukrainian, the rest was all Russian. And there’s quite a
bit of difference between Russian and Ukrainian, you know.
GE: Because some people think it’s
RF: Oh, no.
GE: The Ukraine language is closer
to Polish than it is to Russian. You see, alone when you say…
In Ukraine you say Papier. And in Russian you say Bumata. And
in Polish and Ukraine, you say groshi, you know. And in Russian,
you say gayne. That’s “money”.
RF: So, different words and terms.
GE: Completely different words.
There’s a whole bunch.
RF: Oh yeah. Did you learn to speak Ukrainian
GE: No, I never...well, what do
you learn in half an hour a week or...you know, you don’t
learn. I never learned it. Everybody spoke Russian. Yeah well,
everybody did, like I say - four hours, or five hours when you
went to school, (A315.5) everything’s Russian.
RF: Oh yeah. Now tell me about
this collective. Was there a central place where you had to take
things, or how did that work?
GE: It worked like...our town was
so big that seven brigades, ya know, whatever you were closer
to - it was (A320.5), you know. And farther down things were was
so big, that some villages had seven brigades your brigade and
that’s where you worked.
RF: And who did you report to?
GE: Well, we went down there in
the morning. We went down there, and they’d tell you what
RF: Who ran it?
GE: There was a brigadier.
RF: A brigadier?
RF: So he was an – Was he
an army person, or…?
GE: No no no, he was one of the
town leaders. They voted him in, I think, or something like that.
RF: So he was somebody from your
GE: Ya, I think so. Yeah.
RF: Was he German?
RF: He was German?
GE: Ya. He was uh…
RF: He was assigned to that?
RF: Was he considered one of your
people, or was he considered as, like, an enemy?
(A331.5 to A335.5 is blank)
RF: (A335.5) Mennonite people.
About that time, was the church stopped?
GE: Ya, there was no more church.
RF: They stopped the church?
GE: Ya. I think in about ’31.
RF: About ’31? You were very
RF: When they even stopped the
RF: So by the time you were young,
the church building was used for something else?
GE: Yeah, in the summertime. In
the summertime was kindergarten, you know. Because they had to
put the kids someplace, because the women had to work. They had
to work, because men were gone.
RF: Took them all away.
GE: Ya, they all had to work.
RF: So did your mother work in
the collective too, or did she...?
GE: Yeah, she worked in the vegetable
garden. They had a vegetable garden and that’s where she
RF: So, how long did you stay in
school? Were you staying in school until the Germans came?
RF: Then you were switched to a
GE: No, there wasn’t anymore
– no more school.
RF: You didn’t?
GE: There was hardly any teachers
there, and the teachers that were there... they had first and
second graders there, you know. And ninety percent of the time,
there was German soldiers in the school anyway.
RF: Yeah, living there?
RF: So, what did you do when the
German soldiers were there?
GE: Uh... I worked.
RF: The collective was still operating?
GE: Oh ya. It was in the same thing.
RF: It was the same one?
RF: But it was
RF: Bringing food to the German
GE: Oh ya.
RF: Interesting... So you went
from one dictatorship to another.
GE: [Laughs.] Yeah well, we didn’t
consider that it was a dictatorship. We didn’t know... Didn’t
know that it was a dictatorship.
RF: It was just nice. It was just
GE: All the soldiers themselves
were nice, you know. They were just ordinary soldiers.
RF: Yeah, they were just... Okay...
Now about church and so on, but that was pretty well not operated
in when you were around. So, were you alive when it was your –
You were in Neuendorf when your grandfather died?
GE: No. He died already after he
RF: After he came here?
GE: Ya. He died in... Most likely
in ’45 in January, you know. That’s when we were on
RF: What country... It was –
GE: No, ’44.
RF: Oh, he was still in –
GE: No no, it was ’45 already.
Because the war was over in the summer, you know.
RF: And he was staying in his village?
GE: No, he was there in our house.
We had a big house, you know there in Poland, and he stayed in
RF: Now where was this –
This was in Poland?
RF: So he, when you –
GE: Well, it was at that time in
Germany, is when where... Ya. It was Warthegua then that they
RF: But you went back with the
German troops? And the grandfather went with you?
RF: So you all went together?
RF: And you were all living in
GE: Yeah. And we couldn’t
– Our wagon was too small to hold us up, so they had –
there was an older guy, you know - so they put them in a different
nice wagon, you know. And then my sister, you know, says she wanted
to come in that wagon. And later on she wanted to come anyway
she could, you know, in our wagon. He said no, and there was hundreds
of wagons, and we lost them, and we never found them.
RF: You lost your grandfather’s
GE: No, no.
RF: Your sister’s wagon?
GE: No no, the grandfather, the
grandfather went on ahead. We lost it. There were hundreds of
wagons. They were all loose. All around, you know. We lost sight
of it we never found it. Neither the wagon, or my grandfather.
RF: Oh, I didn’t know that.
He never got there?
RF: He never got west with you?
RF: He never got out of Russia
with you? He just disappeared?
GE: Oh no, no, he came back in
Westfol I mean not in Westfol. That was in Warthegau – Oh,
he came to Germany with us.
RF: Oh, he came to Germany?
RF: So, then what happened after
GE: Well, in ’45, right after
Christmas when the Red Army so was close, we all ran. Ran farther
west, you know.
RF: Farther west?
RF: And that’s when you lost
GE: Ya, that’s when we lost
RF: Oh my. He and your sister together?
GE: No no, my sister got back.
But what she tried to, after that, she went there once to see
him and found him comfortable in a nice wagon. But there was more
people in the wagon so he wanted to stay there. But the next time
she couldn’t find him anymore and we never found him again.
RF: So when you say “wagon”,
this was a horse-drawn?
GE: Yeah, they all were horse-drawn.
RF: Horse-drawn. So you were all
RF: With a horse-drawn wagon?
RF: What about religious ceremonies
and so on in Russia? Well, you didn’t do them.
RF: When Christmas came along,
what happened? Did you have any special –
GE: No, we had... First of January,
we had the same thing what they had on Christmas. Christmas tree
and everything, and they called the guy Jeoeskomarova, which means
Gross Father that’s frosty. What call here Santa Claus.
He’s the very same thing. Everything, just a week later.
And if Christmas didn’t fall on Saturday or Sunday, we had
to go to school and the people had to work.
RF: But you could still celebrate
GE: Well, we couldn’t.
RF: In the communist time?
GE: No. Well, celebrate in the
parlor. We didn’t go to church or nothing, you know –
RF: But you – You could have
a Christmas tree in your own home?
GE: No, well, we didn’t have
– There was no – We never had a Christmas tree.
GE: There was no pine there, you
know. But some reason, there was very little wood, all the fruit
you could eat. And no other trees either.
RF: So, you were now living in,
of course, a communist country in the early 30’s. And your
father was gone and then your mother was working in a collective,
and so on. And you say when Christmas Day came along, you’d
have some kind of celebration in your house?
GE: Well, a little bit we usually
invited sisters, you know, and stuff like that...for dinner, you
know. In fact, we never had to throw the Bible away, but you had
to hide it. They could throw you in jail for having a Bible. We
always had a Bible.
RF: Okay, so then it was different when you got
back to Germany?
RF: Of course, when you were back
in Germany, it was wartime?
RF: So you were lucky to still
GE: Ya, oh ya there was a church
RF: Let’s see, when you were
still living in Russia, when you were living in communist times,
did they have arranged marriages at all? Or how did you...did
you see any people get married?
GE: Ya, people got married, but
they didn’t get married in church. They had to go to the
GE: And they put you there together,
took you there for five or six minutes for that you know.
RF: Ah. And were the husbands and
wives chosen by the family, or...?
GE: Oh no, no. We never chose them...I
don’t think so.
RF: You don’t?
GE: That’s why, when the
Germans came in, our church was open again and there was a whole
bunch of people then that got married there in church. However,
you had already one or two or three kids, you know, and they still
got married in church to make it, you know, to make it real.
GE: They figured it wasn’t
anything, you know. Put two together there, and that was it.
RF: That’s right... Well,
what about German foods and so on? Well, it sounds like you didn’t
have much food at all.
GE: Well, I’ll tell you one
thing, I was born in Russia in peacetime. And when we went to
Germany during the war as aliens, you know - we had no citizenship
there yet - we ate better there during the war than we ate in
Russia in peacetime. Not that you wanted to eat exactly, but you
had enough to eat so that you never went hungry, you know.
RF: Yeah, no food... It said that
what Stalin was trying to do during the 1930’s was to starve
all the people in the Ukraine. Is that...?
GE: Ya. Actually ya, that’s
the way it was, because they didn’t want us first. Ukraine
was the last one he got under his thumb, you know.
RF: So he really wanted to starve
GE: Oh ya, he wanted to –
RF: But, did he pick the Germans
especially, or was it the Ukrainians, or everybody? Who got...?
GE: I think everybody, I think.
RF: He took all the food from any
GE: Ya well, he didn’t take
the food, but he never gave you any, see?
RF: Yeah, well I mean, the collective
took the food?
GE: Ya, and they shipped it away.
RF: Right, that’s what I’ve
heard about taking away the food; so there was nothing left for
you to eat.
GE: That’s right.
RF: So, did they talk about the
fact that they were being starved?
GE: Well, I don’t think so.
RF: You were pretty young?
RF: You didn’t know anything about the
GE: Ya. I mean, the only thing
that really kept us alive was that we had lots of sugar beets.
We had... And we ate sugar beets.
RF: You always grew sugar beets?
GE: Oh ya. And we made...well the
rabbits, we fed them sugar beets in the wintertime, you know.
And then we made - in the fall - we made sugar beet syrup from
sugar beets. I had about five or six pails full of syrups for
the winter, you know. And that’s what kept you alive. I
know we had to go out of there, you know, and there was a syrup
stand there, and I would always take a spoon there, you know.
So I went by there, that’s why she had a stand there.
RF: Sure, so everybody could take
GE: Oh ya, sure. They were big
ones, you know. And well, it didn’t taste – I probably
wouldn’t drink it now you know, because I get it better.
RF: That was wonderful.
GE: Oh a. Well sure, it kept you
alive, you know.
RF: So, how did you do that? Did
you boil the sugar beets?
RF: And then maybe the beets got
fed to the rabbits, and then you ate the sugar? How did it work?
GE: No, no. You pressed.
RF: Oh. You had a press the sugar
GE: Ya, you made the sugar beets,
but fine, you know.
RF: Yeah, you ground them?
GE: Ya. And then, we had something
there, a kind of a press. And that was on there, then you put
the big rocks on there, and that’s on the board. And here
we had this bag with the mash in there, and that’s how we
pressed it out of it.
RF: Squeezed the juice out?
GE: Ya, squeezed the juice out.
RF: Did you have to cook the juice?
GE: Oh ya, then we had to, you
know we never had one of those, you know, it was as long as this
a bout this wide and that deep. That’s where we...all we
had was straw (in fuel) that’s what we cooked it in. You
had to cook out two thirds of the liquid.
(Side A ends, Side B begins)
GE: And then you had to watch,
right at the end. You had to watch; know it was too thin. And
then of a sudden thought it was too thick. You had to watch that
because if it was thick, then it was no good. You really had to
RF: Was it in the buckets?
RF: Did you have to keep that hidden?
RF: It was just down in the basement
RF: So, at this time, was there
any music or entertainment? It doesn’t sound like it..
RF: No music or anything in the
GE: No... Well, there was some
music and entertainment. I was too young.
RF: But they did teach songs in
the school when you were going to school?
RF: German songs?
GE: No, the ones that were in seventh
grade it was all Russian songs.
RF: Do you know what kind of songs
they were? Were they patriotic songs?
GE: Oh, ya...mostly patriotic.
RF: Oh, yeah, I bet you know that
GE: No, it was so long that somebody
translated that into German. And I knew even words in German of
that, you know. It’s so long – the same as most of
them Russian songs, like the Wolga Boat song. You must’ve
heard about that. I think that’s fifteen versus.
RF: Is that right? Fifteen versus?
GE: Oh, ys, that’s a long
RF: [Laughs.] Did you have to learn
that kind of thing?
RF: Not in school, huh?
GE: You have to learn a lot of
poems, you know.
RF: Oh, you learned poems?
GE: Oh, ya, the teacher would give
you poems, and then you’d take it home, and then in two
days time you’d have to say it.
RF: These are Russian poems?
RF: I bet you remember some of
those even now.
GE: Ya, the songs and then the
poems. Some of them I remember.
RF: Did you have any favorites
that you liked?
RF: Songs? I could never remember
anything like that. How about, was there a community meeting place
for young people? But, you were too young...
GE: Ya, they had a Serbut, they
called it. It was a big place. It was right by the downtown. That’s
where you could go.
RF: What kinds of things were downtown?
GE: Well, by this time in the 30’s,
they had six trucks and they added a brick building and would
put the trucks in there.
RF: A place for trucks? What would they use the
GE: Well, to haul everything, you
know...grain and everything.
RF: This was for the collective?
GE: Oh ya.
RF: I see. So this was a garage
for the trucks...they repair them and everything.
GE: Ya. It was right there by the
RF: So they had a city hall. What
else did they have downtown?
GE: The Serbud was downtown. Well,
we had no industry actually.
RF: Nothing else down there?
RF: Any place to buy things?
GE: Ya, there was a store to buy
things. There was hardly anything to buy.
RF: Can you recall any games that
you played when you were a child? Did you play card games or -
GE: No, I don’t think so.
I don’t know of anybody that had cards; they couldn’t
buy any cards. Well we played, sometimes, a little soccer you
RF: You had a soccer ball?
GE: Ya, we had a soccer ball.
RF: Was it organized at all?
GE: No, no. It was just the boys...we’d
RF: Did you have any boys your
GE: Oh ya.
RF: Did you ever see any of those?
Did they ever get out of Russia?
GE: Oh, ya. They all came out.
I don’t see any of them no more because –
RF: Where did they go?
GE: All over Canada, and a whole
bunch went to Paraguay, you know – the ones that had nobody
here to... no relative or somebody to take them out here. They
went to Paraguay.
RF: Is that right?
GE: Ya. In Paraguay anybody could
go to Paraguay, but here to Canada, if you had something wrong
with you, they wouldn’t let you into Canada.
RF: But you could go to Paraguay?
GE: Ya. There, anybody could go,
but not to Canada. You had to be healthy.
RF: Have you ever had any kind
of letters from those people that went to Paraguay?
GE: Oh, ya. Not me but my mother,
because one of my uncles, one of her brothers, went there to Paraguay.
He, later on, came to Canada. One uncle came here to Canada, and
after he was here so long, then he made an application and got
him out of Paraguay. Then he came here. He’s dead now but
he came down to Canada.
RF: So did he have children that
GE: Oh, ya...a whole bunch. He
had six or eight...
RF: Now they’re all in Canada?
GE: Ya, they’re all in Canada.
RF: Do they live near by?
GE: No, mostly around Vancouver.
RF: They’re farther west?
GE: Ya, my uncle came here to Alberta
for about four or five years. Then he went down to (B075) and
bought himself a berry farm, you know, a strawberry farm. Then
he moved down there after he had enough money. Then he brought
his brother from Paraguay then. They had a whole bunch of kids,
eight or nine after.
RF: So those people you see when
you go to Vancouver.
RF: So do you remember any stories they told
when you were a child, like fairytales and things? Did they tell
stories that they had been told by their parents? Or... the family
was broken up and you didn’t have that type of thing?
RF: So what did you do in the evening
when you came home from school and your mother came home from
GE: Well, there was a lot to do.
She only worked in the summer time actually.
RF: Did you work at home at all?
GE: Well in the summertime, when
she was working, she came home at noon all the time, you know.
So I had the water boiling, whatever it was, when she came home.
She used it to make lunch, you know. Then, she lay down a little
bit. I washed the dishes and everything.
RF: What sort of thing could you
have for lunch?
GE: Not much.
RF: Sounds like more sugar beets.
GE: Ya, something like that.
RF: Could she bring some things
from the collective sometimes?
RF: Because it sounded like the
collective was a farm.
RF: So there would be farm things
that you could get, but I guess she couldn’t pick them.
GE: Well we had a garden where
we could grow everything.
RF: Different vegetables?
RF: I see. So you had lots of different
things but no meat to speak of, except your rabbits. Were your
parents or grandparents superstitious? Did they have superstitions?
GE: I don’t know.
RF: You know, sometimes they say
you don’t step on a crack in the sidewalk, and break your
GE: Ya, or the black cat runs in
from of you can’t walk underneath a ladder. I don’t
believe in that stuff at all.
RF: No. Did they have that sort
GE: Oh, no. I don’t think
so. I don’t think they even knew about them before we came
to Germany. [Laughs.] Or even here to Canada I think.
RF: So what about any kind of medicine.
Did they have some kind of special healing techniques?
GE: Well, it was so close to the
Dnieper and there were so many mosquitoes and they were all Malaria
carriers. Three summers in a row I had the Malaria. And then,
they would give you quinine.
GE: And that is the bitterest stuff
that you can imagine, because it was clear! I was talking to a
doctor once and asked, ‘what did you do with the quinine
because it was so bitter?’ They coat it. And if they ran
out of pill, then they have powder with that. That was worse yet!
And you took that taste in your mouth the whole day, then you
have to take it again. At least in the summertime, when the cherries
were ripe, you took a cherry and you put it there, you know, and
swallowed it. [Laughs.]
RF: So you have to take quinine
here too, huh?
GE: Oh, no.
RF: No more? Oh, I thought it lasted
GE: Well, they say you can’t
give blood. That’s what I have been told because I was sick
at one time, you know.
RF: So after Malaria, it doesn’t
bother you anymore?
GE: No. The third time you got
it one day, then it would stay away one day, then come back again.
When it’d come back, first you’d put as many blankets
on you and you were still cold. You were shakin’ like a
leaf. And then you got hot. And then you’d take them all
off and you were still sweatin’. And then you got a headache.
And then that would last ‘til about two or three o’clock
in the afternoon, and then it was over. Then, for a week, you
could hardly walk. Then, the third summer, I was getting it everyday.
GE: Yeah. It must’ve been
in ’36 or something. I got it everyday. Quinine wouldn’t
help anymore and we had no doctor. There was no doctor in our
town but there was one nurse. And Mom came home at noon and borrowed
a wagon. I couldn’t walk anymore. She borrowed the wagon
and she had to drag me on that wagon for about a kilometer or
so. And there was this thing there. I was so skinny – all
too skinny! Here on the buttocks, it was the only thing. So she
gave me a needle there, and the next day she gave me a needle
there. It hurt! And from then on I never got the Malaria again.
RF: Do you have any idea what she
GE: I don’t know. That helped,
whatever she did.
RF: What year was that, that you
got the shot?
GE: I would say about ’36
[end of tape]