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I Heard My People Cry: One Family's Escape from Russia

By Elizabeth Lenci-Downs

Published by Lenci Studios, Inc, Fountain Hills, Arizona, 2003, 244 pages, softcover.


The Germans from Russia Heritage Collection is pleased to provide this important story of a family's survival and escape from Russia during World War II.

Written as a narrative, this is a true story of this period in history when thousands in the Ukraine and Crimea were forced to escape from Stalin's Russia. The author tells it like it was, exposing the myth and propaganda used to cover up what really happened to Lise and her Mennonite Brethren family. The book is full of the life of the times, the inescapable resolution to survive and a passion for freedom. It is told entirely through the lives and actions of the people of Tchongraw, Crimea and Lise Huebert Toews Gerig who escaped in their midst.

It employs daily journals from 1917 to 1945 and Lise's words about her spellbinding childhood. Lise's father, Nikolai, urges his pregnant wife to flee Russia, promising that he will find her. One hundred and seventy people of Tchongraw refuse to leave anyone behind and march through the Ukraine singing forbidden hymns. Events are detailed as they affect individual members of Lise's people whose personalities, and the cultures that surround them, bring home the reality of their struggle.

Johann is a mystery, Nick Enns walks out of Siberia to hold Mariechen in his arms. Justina defies stalin's officers. Heroic Elizabeth Koop Huebert empowers her husband's people and places herself in peril to help her children out of Russia. Lise tells us, "Love is all we had, Walter and I. We found each other again in time to say good-bye."

Lise becomes a photographer of note in Canada after she is able to emigrate. Her story enriches the literature of these ethnic-German people whose ancestors were among the first Mennonite Brethren of Holland. Publication of this book awaited the freeing of a cousin who was granted Asylum in 1998.

About the author

Elizabeth Lenci-Downs was born in Virginia, Minnesota, - a city settled by European and Scandinavian immigrants - an area rich with a mosaic of culturres and nature. "Growing up in that area provided me with unique parallels to Lise's life in Russia that are evident in I Heard My People Cry: One Family's Escape From Russia. These experiences supplied the excitement and confidence that carried me through five years of research and writing." A graduate of National Louis University, Illinois, she received her MA from Columbia University, New York and did post-graduate work at Arizona State University. Her background is in European history, psychology, and education. Lenci-Downs taught for twenty-five years in Denver, Colorado and San Mateo, California. Currently, she travels, writes, maintains an active speaking schedule, and is a professional artist, awarded the 1995 YWCA Woman of the Year in Fine Arts Award for Maricopa County, Arizona. She has two children, a daughter, Karla C. Shippey, J.D. of Yorba Linda, California and a son, John Noves Downs of Burlingame, California. She lives with her husband Floyd L. Downs in Fountain Hills, Arizona.

Reviews about the book

Kathyrn Lang, Senior Editor, Southern Methodist University, Southern Methodist University Press
"I was moved by Elizabeth Lenci-Downs' book, I Heard My People Cry. Lise Heubert's resilience in the face of repeated trials is remarkable and uplifting. Many thanks for giving me the opportunity to review this book. Lise Heubert's positive outlook shines through the pages."

Writer's Digest, 2001 National Self-Published Book Awards, Certificate of Merit.
"...What impressed me the most: the heart-felt emotions that come through in the writing...just riveting. The time span the book covers also is impressive, detailing the first half of the 20th century in Russia and Europe, touching the overall political situation while also looking at the very personal stories of a family being pulled along by the tidal wave of history unfolding around it. The photos and maps add wonderfully to the story, bringing faces to the characters and perspective to the places discussed. This is truly an epic work, congratulations.

The meeting house and young linden trees in our lovely village of Tchongraw.
Released by the German occupation forces, mother made a heroic dash to freedom from January to April, 1945 by driving us for eight weeks across the back roads of besieged Europe.
We found some of my family after walking over 360 kilometers through the rubble of Germany's bombed cities, but it took years to learn what had happened to captured people from Tchongraw; and to my cousin Mary Enns who had disappeared. Photograph at Hohenbostel, Germany, 1946.

Related Articles

Review by Edna Boardman


I Heard My People Cry: One Family's Escape from Russia

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North Dakota State University Libraries
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
Libraries
NDSU Dept #2080
PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108-6050
Tel: 701-231-8416
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Director: Michael M. Miller
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