By Bertha (nee Ittermann) Krueger
My name is Bertha (nee Ittermann) Krueger and this is my story At the request of my family, and to the witness of my Heavenly Father's faithfulness. and to His glory, I will endeavor to tell in brief about my humble life. The theme of my story shall be: "HE LEADETH ME". That song expresses my feelings. But to begin my story I think I should start with my grandparents, first from my father's side and then from my mother's side. My grandparents, Christian and Luise (Berwold) Ittermann, emigrated from Germany, (Province, Brandenburg), in or about the year of 1848 to Russia. They raised a family of seven children Peter, Dory, Christine, Daniel, Christian (my father), Michael, and Rose. They were Lutherans, Lutheran being the state church in Germany. The pastors were very dictatorial, and preached that salvation was gained by the keeping and practice of the sacraments. They ruled with an iron fist, and no departure from their teachings was tolerated, nor were any other denominations given credence.
Grandfather, unfortunately, loved to drink Schnapps, and soon became an alcoholic. Consequently, the family was sentenced to a life of poverty, and grandmother was subjected to abuse and humiliation when her husband came home under the influence of alcohol. At some period during their early years of marriage, Grandmother had become a real born again Christian while attending a revival service conducted by some traveling Baptist evangelists. She very much wanted to further follow in the Lord's footsteps by being baptized by immersion, but Grandfather would not permit it.
Time passed, and Peter, the eldest son, had managed to get a fairly good education while growing to manhood. He had left home, gotten married, and held a job as a Kister in a Lutheran church. A Kister was a type of pastor's assistant, whose duties included reading the ceremony on Sunday's, teaching the children at day school, giving religious instruction, especially the Catechism. The ordained pastor of the church would come around about once a year to sprinkle babies, confirm 12 and 15 year olds, and perform marriages. For his ministrations, he would extort large fees, which left the citizens of the community even poorer than they had already been.
The influence of a Christian mother together with the power of God's Word opened Peter's eyes to Truth, and he became a truly born again Christian. He began to preach the new birth through Christ, and this promptly cost him his job, infuriated his wife, and brought the persecution of his former Lutheran friends down upon him. During this difficult time, he often visited his mother, and they would have Christian fellowship together, finding comfort, and strength in the Word and prayer, that is, if Grandfather wasn't home, which he seldom was, since he spent most of the time in the saloon. Peter often found his mother on her knees, weeping for her children and her husband, praying for their souls. Eventually, Grandfather's alcoholism cost them their farm, and Grandmother died at an early age, probably due to the heartaches she was called upon to suffer. Grandfather lived to be 72, dying very suddenly from a heart attack. While he was aware of and knew the truth of the gospel, he chose to reject it.
Very soon after losing his job as Kister for the local Lutheran church, Peter began the study of law, and eventually became a prominent lawyer in the community. He was often instrumental in helping the German farmers hold on to the farms they had built, and keeping legal possession of their land, which the local Russians were always trying to take away from them. Because of his honesty and willingness to help his community, he regained many friends he had lost, and was able to lead some of them to the Lord. Peter also had the joy of leading his wife to Christ, after two years of praying for her. Together they raised ten children.
With the coming of the Russian Revolution, all the German people in Russia were driven from the farms that they had labored so long and hard upon, and were driven into various places of exile.
August, Peter's oldest son, became a policeman and was shot with many other policeman when the Revolution began. Joseph, the second oldest, who was a minister of music, was shot in a church while directing a choir. Five of Peter's sons and one daughter had gone to the USA before the war. The daughter and family had come back to Russia to visit her parents; while returning they had only gotten to Germany when World War I broke out. We found them in a Displaced Persons Camp when we got to Germany in 1918.
Peter had not been heard of for many years, but after World War II, his brother, Christian, (my father), received a letter from him which came from Poland. He was attempting to make his way to Germany, from where he hoped to get to America to visit his children. In the letter, he asked Christian to send him some money, which Christian did. A second letter came, asking for more money, but it was not in Peter's handwriting. Peter was never heard from again, and it is surmised that he died at the hands of the communists.
My father's early years were very difficult, and he learned to work very hard to make his living, with little opportunity for an education. At the age of twenty one, he was conscripted to serve in the Russian army for four years, and became a non commissioned officer. One day during inspection while on maneuvers, an officer ordered my father to stand straighter and throw out his chest. Father's shoulders were somewhat rounded, having grown that way from his hard work in the fields while still a youngster. His efforts to stand straighter did not satisfy this officer, who grabbed him by the shoulders, put his knee in fathers back, and wrentched his shoulders back. His chest bone broke and his lungs were torn, and blood gushed from his mouth. He was put in the army hospital to die there, but was able to write home and beg for help. His sister, Christine, walked one hundred miles to his bedside, was able to get him released from the army (he had served two of the required four years), and brought him home, where she and her mother were able to nurse him back to health, using home remedies and much loving care. (There were no doctors available).
After a couple of years he met a pretty girl by the
name of Pauline Kienast, and it was love at first
sight for both of them. She had been brought up a
Baptist, and father's pastor (Lutheran), would not
give him permission to be married in a Baptist church.
Consequently, they had to go twenty five miles by
horse and buggy to the location of the Lutheran pastor,
and the roads were very bad, indeed. They were taking
another couple along as witnesses, their mode of transportation
a buggy with two old horses to pull it.
My father enjoyed walking, being able to walk fifty miles in one day and, as he always said, the last miles were accomplished at the same tempo as the first. He therefore decided that he would rather have a good walk than a poor ride, and at break of dawn they started out, with my father walking and the others in the buggy. Father knew the area well, and set out diagonally toward their ultimate destination. It was March 1, 1894.
Father had to cross a big river, and it being early spring and still covered with ice, he started across with no qualms, whatever. He was about half way across when he heard a loud crack and realized the ice was breaking up and he was in big trouble. There was no turning back, so on he went, with his heart in his mouth and a fervent prayer on his lips. He was able, in the dim light, to discern a large, dark area ahead of him, and lay down on the ice to feel it. Sure enough, it was water. He made his way carefully around it, and eventually reached the other side of the river, where yet another peril awaited him. There was virtually no shoreline, and the embankment was too high and steep to climb. He was in a real quandary there was no safe place to go. Finally, he spied a small bush growing near the top of the embankment, and decided if he could somehow manage to scramble up high enough to grab hold of it, he might make it to the top, provided the bush held. At this point, he said later, his whole life flashed before him, and what he saw did not please him. He then prayed earnestly, and promised God that if He would help him reach safety, he would change his errant ways and dedicate his life to Him. Then began the climb, with much slipping, sliding, toe digging, and grasping, and finally, a lunge for the small bush. It held! He made it to the top!
(In the year of 1910, in August, I had the opportunity of seeing this large river when I accompanied my parents to a church convention in the town of Sloboda, where my uncle Karl was pastor at the time.)
So father and mother were married; and on the homeward journey, father elected to sit beside his new bride in the buggy, bumps and all. They returned to mother's family, where a wedding celebration was held for them. Many of father's friends were there to drink toasts to the newly married couple, and father was a willing participant in the drinking. Mother became quite apprehensive when she saw her new groom drinking so lustily, and the thought crossed her mind that he might just follow in his father's footsteps and become and alcoholic, also. Although she had given her heart to Christ when she was a girl of fifteen, she had, in the ensuing years, fallen away from the strict teaching of the Word and had, consequently, married my father, a non Christian, with no qualms of conscience.
Father had been looking for work, to no avail, so they returned to his parents' farm where father hoped to rescue the farm from its run down condition. He was also concerned about his mother whom he loved very much.
Grandpa Ittermann liked his new daughter in law very much, and was glad that the young couple had come to live with them. Mother was happy at first, and was glad to help in trying to eradicate the marks of neglect which the farm suffered. After six months, however, she implored her husband to take her back home. She was horrified and appalled at the way grandfather would come home, very drunk, course his wife and threaten to beat her. Grandmother would be forced to hide until Grandfather was sober, at which point he was always very apologetic and sorry for his conduct. Mother not only missed the tranquility of her former home, but also missed her church and the opportunity to use her beautiful singing voice and the opportunity to grow spiritually, for which she had a growing longing.
So they went back, and soon rented a small farm which was close to her old church, which she again attended, and re dedicated her heart to the Lord. After a conference at the church, during which many people found Christ, a baptismal was to be held. She informed my father that she would like to be baptized, but he was very much against it, and reminded her that she was now a member of his faith, Lutheran. Not only was he angry with his wife's new found dedication to Christ, but also chose to forget his promise to God which he had made during his perilous river crossing. He was not a drinker (probably because he was witness to the sorrow drinking had caused his own family), but he was a heavy smoker, enjoyed his old friends, and refused to attend church with mother. Mother intended to go ahead with her plans to be baptized, and had left for the baptismal service with her white dress and change of clothing in hand. Upon reaching the church, she confided her troubles to some of the preachers there, and they advised her to not go against her husband's will. Instead, they all prayed for him, and mother returned home, with all her clothes still dry. This was quite a surprise to father, who apologized for having forbidden her to be baptized and asked her forgiveness. The Lord was already speaking to his heart, and thus began his spiritual tussle.
Father fasted, prayed, and wept, day and night, from Sunday evening until Thursday, and finally surrendered his heart to Christ and found spiritual peace. He became a new man in Christ. Soon both mother and father began to witness to their friends, and to hold Bible study and prayer meetings in their home. Father's conversion took place in August, and by November they had led seven couples and one young lady who was blind, to Christ. The ice on the river was chopped open, and they were all baptized.
Father now began to feel the tugging of the Holy Spirit to go into full time Christian service, but was hampered by little education and no money to further it. Moreover, his family was growing first, Emma, then Assaf, then Albert made their appearance.
During this time the pastor of their church, Brother Spingot, took a great interest in Father, and encouraged him by lending him books to read, giving him lessons in handwriting, and whatever else he could teach him. The lessons continued until my parents moved to a Russian village, Stolpno Kiefskoy, in Gubernia. It was here that baby number four made her way into the world, a girl, whom they named Bertha. When Bertha was a mere eight weeks old, there was still another move made, this time to a German village, Collonia Chlischchie, Volinia, where they lived on a farm, which was the family residence for the next six years. It was from here, after he had gotten things in order, that father left his family to attend a Bible school a considerable distance away, leaving mother in charge of the farm and of raising the children. During his school years, father began his preaching ministry among the scattering of German people in the area, holding revival meetings, selling Bibles and other religious books, with only an occasional trip home to see his family. Babies number five (Reinhold), and number six (Emilie), were born during these six years, and it became apparent that this life was becoming too difficult for mother, with its heavy responsibilities and loneliness.
In the year 1905, the war between Russia and Japan broke out. Father was drafted into the army, just a few weeks before Emilie was born. When he was informed of the birth of his sixth child, the army released him to go home. They weren't interested in paying family subsidence for that many children.
When he returned home, father decided to take on the pastorate of a church in Chatkie, Minskoy Gubernia, sixty miles north. The year was 1906.
Chatkie was a German village, consisting of about fifty families of Baptists and about twice as many Lutheran families. They were all very poor, with little education. Father worked very hard, teaching school during the days of winter, and holding church services at night. The Lord blessed Father's efforts, and souls were led to the Lord, some Lutherans among them, which led to persecution of the Baptists, but nevertheless, the church grew and things began to improve.
In 1914, when I was 13 years old, World War I broke out. By this time our family had grown to twelve five boys, five girls, my parents, and my grandmother, Dorthea Kienast (nee Kautz), made thirteen in our family. My oldest sister, Emma, had been married in 1913, but her husband had to go to war, leaving her with a small baby.
In 1915, the Russian government informed all German
citizens that they would be sent to Siberia, despite
the fact that they were legal citizens of Russia.
In July of 1915, all those of German descent who lived
in Wolinia and Kief were uprooted from their homes
and sent on the long trek to Siberia.
Our turn came in September of that year, and we had only three days to prepare for the journey. By this time the Lord, in His wisdom, had taken Grandmother to her heavenly home, and also the baby, Regina, (the fifth girl).
We were transported from village to village in the
wooden wagons of peasants, and dumped in between transports
for from three days up to a week. We subsisted on
dry, toasted bread, which we had hastily prepared
in the three days we were given, and water or tea.
We were among thousands of refugees encamped in the
woods and fields, awaiting their fate, sleeping in
the open on ground which was freezing and getting
rained upon from time to time. The few possessions
which we were allowed to take consisted of a few clothes,
some bedding, and a few cooking utensils. Water was
especially hard to come by, and anytime we went by
even a small lake, those mothers who had small babies
would run to wash the diapers, while others ran to
get water to make tea. Needless to say, it wasn't
long before every kind of sickness broke out. People
were dying by the hundreds along the rough road, and
then hastily buried, without benefit of a funeral,
let alone a casket.
From time to time, some of the sick were taken to a hospital when there happened to be one nearby, but the remainder of the family was forced to go on, and many families were thus separated, never to find each other again. Babies were being born along the way, many of them not surviving more than a few hours or days. Fights broke out between the drivers and those in the wagons, because the drivers took a sadistic delight and making the trip as rough as possible for the refugees. They would leave the roads to take short cuts over plowed land which had frozen, and would often tip over the wagon purposely, dumping everyone and everything on the ground, and then stand and laugh and call us names. On one occasion, I was riding in the wagon with a severely burned foot when the wagon overturned. My sister, Emilie, and I were buried under the wagon and everything that was in it. I can still hear my sisters muffled screams! We were sure we would be suffocated before they could extricate us; it was the middle of the night and pitch dark. It was a harrowing and frightening experience.
After about six weeks of on again, off again travel we arrived at Orlofskoy, Gubemia, which is located in the middle of Russia. Thousands and thousands had gone on ahead of us to Siberia, and we were in the last transport from Minsk, Gubernia. Winter had begun, and we were given a choice of staying in a large city by the name of Trubchesk, or of going on to Siberia. Everybody chose to stay. We were to be housed in a large, fourstory military barracks in which the lice apparently had their head quarters. The place was rampant with diseases of all kinds, and those people who were not already sick were sure to get sick. There was small pox, typhoid fever, diphtheria, pneumonia you name it. After one look at the place, father said that under no circumstances would we stay in it. He immediately set out on foot to hunt for a place where we might stay. He finally found a very small summer house (more a but than a house), which was empty for the winter, and we all packed in an even dozen of us, counting sister Emma's baby boy. We slept on the floor, benches, and on and under the pall (the Russian bed of boards). There was a large brick oven (called a "Pjitch" by the Russians), to heat the house, to cook in, and sleep on top of. We also used it in an effort to get rid of the lice infesting our belongings, which we had picked up along the way, by baking said belongings in the oven.
All of us managed to stay well, except mother, who came down with a terrible cold, which kept her sitting up all night, coughing. It took time, but she was finally able to shake it.
Our father, who was a jack of all trades found a job across the street, putting window and door frames up in a brick building, and thus saved his family from starvation. The boys were able to find work in the forest, cutting lumber. After father finished his job, he joined the boys. Then he had a terrible accident. He stumbled and fell, and a sharp axe almost severed his hand. There was no doctor to go to for help, and he almost bled to death. For six months he carried his wounded arm in a sling, and suffered much pain.
With the arrival of Spring, we moved fifteen miles
to a small town, Malchovska, where father got a job
that he could do with one hand, keeping books for
a lumber yard. The boys also helped by doing jobs
out in the yard, all of which kept us alive.
There was very little food or anything else available on the market, but we were still able to buy rye flour, so mother baked bread, which, along with potatoes, were our main foods.
Mother was very unhappy, because we had had to move into one large room in which an old, Russian woman lived. We all had to sleep on the floor, which was clean, but the place was so infested with roaches that it was impossible to see the color of the walls. The old woman would take a broom, sweep the roaches into a pan, and throw them out the door onto the ice. It was impossible to get rid of them, and they made life very uncomfortable, to say the least.
After about a month at that place, we heard about some Christian friends who were living thirty five miles from us. They were former members of father's church and lived in a Russian village and worked in the woods. We moved there, and joined about seven other German families living among the Russian there. These Russians had never seen German people (Germansky) before, but had heard that all Germans had horns and were ferocious, terrible people. However, after they had seen us and heard us speak their language, their fears were allayed, and they rented us some of their houses. The year was 1916, and at the end of that year, December 30, I turned sweet sixteen.
Here my father contracted to cut a large area of forest, and we started working at it. We cut and sawed down trees, trimmed off the branches, sawed the trees in yard long pieces, and piled them up in sections. We got paid by the section. Father was still unable to use his left hand, but was able to instruct us on how best to do the work. He saw to it that we had good, sharp tools, and taught the boys how to sharpen a saw, how to hold and pull a saw the right way, and how to work in tandem. My two older brothers, Assaph and Albert, were one team, and my younger brother, Reinhold, and I were another team. We learned to work together, and each of us earned a man's wages. We had to walk several miles to get to our work, work hard all day, and then walk home again. It wasn't too long before we developed good, hard muscles.
When summer came, we built a cabin in the woods, took food along for the week, and stayed there until Sunday. We were plagued night and day by hungry swarms of mosquitoes, and in the evenings we would build a smudge fire in an effort to keep them from us, so that we could get a little sleep. It was too hot to pull the quilt over my head, but I would try to use my apron for that purpose, but they always managed to find their way in. On Sundays, the families gathered for a worship service, where our spirits were strengthened and refreshed for the next week.
All these happenings so far were still under the regime of the Russian Czar, while the war went on with Germany. (The people who had had to stay in that barracks in Trubchevsk nearly all died).
In the spring of 1917, the terrible Communist Revolution broke out, and the whole country became a veritable hell. The prisons were all opened, and it seemed the worst killers got the biggest jobs killing was the order of the day, along with rapings, shooting, torturing, etc.
We had saved enough money to buy a little farm, which my father thought it would be best to do, to keep from starving to death. It was impossible to buy anything from the stores and markets, because the communists had taken everything. Therefore, father approached the commissar and asked for permission to go to a state by the name of Ufa, in the region of Gubernia next to Siberia, where some of our relatives had gone. Permission to go was granted, but instead of being able to take a passenger train, we were assigned to go in a freight car. Instead of getting there in a couple of days, which would have been normal, we were to be shunted to sidings and detained from reaching our destination for four weeks. We ran out of food during our sojourn, and there was nothing to buy. At one station we were able to buy some cucumbers that had been raised in a greenhouse, which did little to allay our hunger. There was, in reality, nothing to buy anyway, because a terrible drought had set in, so no one had anything to sell. I guess the Lord wanted to show the communists who still had the upper hand, so He kept the rain away. Through three Gubernia's we went, and the land was all blackened and burned out. (The Gubernia's were named Tulla, Caluga, and Pensa). We were halted at one railroad crossing where a number of people were gathered, and we thought there must have been an accident. As it turned out, an old horse had fallen at the crossing, unable to continue on its way, and the people had killed it and were cutting it up for food, hoping for an old bone from which they could make soup. Not only were the people starving, but not even the animals could survive. But who cared?
While our train stood there (we didn't have any idea how long it would be before it started up again), my eldest sister and brother decided to make a dash to a town that could be seen several miles distant. They thought they might be able to buy something on the black market to eat. (Any buying or selling was strictly prohibited). They came back with a half a loaf of bread, for which they had paid dearly. It was baked from moldy flour, very sour, half raw, without salt. It looked like something that could make a person very sick, but we were desperately hungry. Father broke it in twelve pieces, gave us each a piece, looked up and thanked the Lord for it and asked His blessing on it. With a little salt and a piece of cucumber we slowly ate it, and it sustained us until we arrived at the city of Samara. There the commissars were giving bread away. The line of people was very long, but we took turns standing in line until we got two loaves. Bread never tasted so good!
When we finally arrived in Ufa, we got on a cargo
boat which was so crowded we were squashed almost
to death, but we made the 150 miles to Birsk. From
Birsk our uncles came after us with a team of horses
and a wagon, to take us the 165 miles to their home.
Here it began to rain, and since the ground was mostly
clay and gumbo, we had to walk most of the way. When
we arrived, we stayed with our Aunt for a couple weeks,
until my father found a little farm to buy with the
money we had saved. It was in a German settlement
which was surrounded by Godless communists, and was
called Ekaterinoflca. I loved it there, and we lived
there a year.
One day the authorities came out to our settlement and made my father and two of my uncles commissars. This laid many responsibilities square on their shoulders. We had seen how being made commissars worked with others. One day the authorities would come back, find fault with something, and immediately kill their appointees. It was time to flee once more, but where to? We prayed to the Lord for guidance.
In a couple of days, three men came out and offered to buy our farm. Father saw God's hand in it, promptly sold the farm, and with twelve other families got underway during the night.
Now, before I go any further, I want to tell you how I became a Christian, a true Child of the King.
In my eighteenth year I started seeking the Lord in a personal way. Times were so uncertain, and I felt I needed Jesus to depend on. It was Easter Sunday, 1918, that I began earnestly to pray, and I was joined by two of my cousins and another girl. There was much doubt in me, and it took several weeks before I could believe that I had actually been saved and could count myself as a true child of God. I was even sure that I had committed the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit, but mother was aware of my doubts and struggles and soon set me straight on that. I reached the point where I told the Lord I could do no more in seeking Him, and it was then that He was able to show me His light by calling to my attention a little prayer that my mother had taught me when I was a child: "Christ Blut and Gerechtigkeit, das ist mein Schmuck and Ehrenkleid; damit werd ich vor Gott besteh'n, wenn ich in Himmel werd eingeh'n." Translated it means; The blood of Jesus Christ is my dress and my adornment; In it I shall stand before God when I will enter heaven. I saw it clearly. Then in my spirit I saw Jesus hanging on the cross, and His blood was dripping into my stained heart and washing it white. While I was still amazed over the simplicity of it all, another song ran through my mind, "Wer Jesum am Kreutze im Glauben erblickt, wird heil zu der selbigen Stund." (Whoever sees Jesus on the cross and believes, will be made whole in the same hour). What a song for a doubting Thomas! I looked and was made whole, for which I praised the Lord. It was high time I found Him (or He found me), and Oh, how much I needed Him! On June 3 I was baptized with the three other girls by my dear father in the very cold river, Ottjerra. It is the demarcation line between Russia and Siberia, and is ice cold even in summer.
So once again our belongings were piled into a little wagon pulled by a horse while we walked alongside, heading for the nearest train station, ninety miles away. My brother, Assaf, had married, so our family was enlarged by one, and there was also my sister, Emma's baby.
The whole transport finally got to the station, but
we were not allowed to go on the train because of
the Revolution raging in the land. We were in territory
held by the RedsBolshevists, Communists, and other
smaller parties in sympathy with them. They were fighting
the White faction (the old government). In addition
there were the Cossaks, Kerenskies, Trotzkie's party,
and others, none of which lasted very long. The main
battle was between the Red and White.
While we were stalled there, waiting for the opportunity to move on, several of the families took on a job that was offered by the Red government which held the city. A good pay had been promised, but when the job was finished, they had no money to pay us, but assured us that they would have some by the next week.
By this time, it was late summer and everyone was anxious to get further south before the cold winter set in. It was decided that Father would be the one to remain behind to collect the money and the rest of the group would start heading south again on foot. The plan was to cross a bridge about 25 miles from there and then head for Birsk to the river where we had taken the boat to Ekaterinoflca. So we started off without Father, hoping he would soon catch up with us. We got to the bridge alright, but were not allowed to cross it because the Whites were on the other side, so we pulled off and camped in the woods for three days hoping that Father would arrive, but he didn't. We decided to leave a message at the bridge with the watchman that we had taken a land road instead of the highway, which seemed safer, and hoped that Father would be able to find us. The reason Father hadn't shown up in the time we thought he should was because he had to wait yet another week before the money arrived and he was able to collect it.
When father got to the bridge there was no one there who had seen us or knew anything about us (perhaps another watchman was on duty). In any case, Father prayed for God's direction, not knowing whether we had been able to cross the bridge or not. He was not allowed to cross it, so he took the land road, also.
But before I go any further with my story, I must tell an incident that happened in the town we had just left. We had been able to lodge in a small cabin outside of town, where Father would come to spend the night with us after work. There was only one window, which afforded the only light we had, and by the time Father got home it was dark. He had prayed, and then laid down for the night. Before he fell asleep, a voice told him to get up and bolt the door. He was never afraid, so at first did nothing, but after getting the message for the third time, he got up and bolted the door. It began to rain, but even so he heard a noise of someone or something come across a little footbridge nearby, come to the cabin door, then to the window, then back to the door, then all was quiet. In the morning when Father arose to go out, something was blocking the cabin door, so he gave a mighty push and stepped out, to be met by a large, mad dog. (Mad dogs were numerous in those days, and greatly to be feared.) Father jumped back into the cabin and grabbed the pole with which he had bolted the door, and then went out again to do battle with the dog. He finally succeeded in killing it, but it wasn't easy. So we see again how our Father in heaven takes care of his own (Psalm 91).
After Father had made his way down the land road for several hours, he became very hungry, so he went into a village along the road to see if he could buy or beg some bread. This turned out to be a big mistake, because the Red police seized him and branded him a spy, and nothing my Father told them would dissuade them of this notion. Forthwith, they began to drag him from one town to another, the Red official riding horseback, and Father running along beside, without food or water. His feet soon began to bleed, and finally he was running barefoot, more dead than alive. At every station they questioned, cursed, and threatened him, and didn't believe anything he told them. Finally, to do the Cossaks a favor (they had made peace with the Cossaks), they turned Father over to them. Their method of killing prisoners was to whip them to death with blacksnakesleather whips with metal in the ends. Two men were standing, ready to begin the whipping while the man behind the desk was screaming and cursing at Father, telling him to take off his clothes and acting truly insane. Father knew what would happen to him if the Lord would not intervene, so he looked up and began to pray. He told the Lord that he was not willing to die like this because it would be in vain, that he had served Him to the best of his ability, and asked for his help, even while the Cossaks were tearing off his clothes. God heard his prayer and a strange thing happened. The man behind the desk who had been ranting and raving became as white as a ghost and began to tremble and shake all over. He screamed at Father to get out of there, which Father did with alacrity he was free at last, but almost completely exhausted. He found a well, had a drink of water, and kept on going.
Meanwhile, our transport had arrived in rich farm country, where Mennonites had farms up to 1000 acres and more, which were farmed with modern machinery as well as with horses. The wheat harvest was being threshed. The Mennonites had their own flour mills, and factories for making fabrics and clothes, so almost everyone was able to find a job. We rested a week first. The men slept at the straw stacks and the women in outbuildings. The Mennonite women gave us milk, bread, potatoes, flour, and let us use their summer kitchen. Two of my brothers, my older sister, and I hired out to a farmer, and the three of them were gone, but I was still with mother because I had a boil on my foot, and was to start work the next week. Mother and I were sitting outside with the four little ones, and she was weeping for Father, wondering where he was and if we would ever see him again. Assaf had taken the horse and wagon to a town 25 miles away, called Dovlikonov, to see if he could sell them and find a place for mother to live. Then, far down the road we spotted a weary pilgrim slowly coming our way, looking as if every step would be his last. We could hardly believe it was father because he looked more like his ghost. Of course, we had been praying for him, but yet doubted. How wonderful it was to have him back with us again!
After a week I went to work at the farm. My father had lanced my boil with his razor. We had walked hundreds of miles, and I had gotten so many blisters and sores that I found walking barefoot more comfortable. However, the road was hard and rocky, and I had punctured my heel, which led to the abscess.
My parents moved to town, where my Father found work and a place to live. Conditions in the country as a whole were growing steadily worse, with constant warfare and random killings, and the like. We never knew if we would be next, and fear was a constant companion. Girls were being raped, and then often dragged along by the perpetrators. The farmer for whom I worked lived along a main highway, and that's where the soldiers came. We never knew whether they were Red or White, so we had to keep our mouths shut and feed them when they came, and hope they would leave peacefully. Young hoodlums would come, often drunk, loaded down with weapons which they brandished; then took anything they liked and broke up everything else in sight. We dared not complain or we would have been killed. I remember on Sunday afternoon when one of them started the house and barn, which was loaded with hay, and the grainery full of wheat on fire. They all burned down.
The Reds were winning out over the Whites, but the Reds were warring among themselves, the Socialists against the Communists. The leaders of the Communists were Jews, and many Jews were being killed. In Moscow, over 500 Jews were killed in one day. But the Communists won out in the end. Farmers were required to deliver more grain than they had threshed, and if they could not bring it in, they were shot. Large farms were being made into communes, and the young people from the rich farms had to go and work there. Free love was declared, so it was a terrible thing for these young moral, Christian people to live there. The stores were robbed, shoes were thrown out to the pole for nothing. No one was allowed to sell or to buy, and what there was, the government took. They promised everything, but gave nothing. People were dying by the scores from hunger. There were no needles for patching or sewing clothes, no matches, no kerosene for lamps. We sat in the dark. People froze, because they could not buy wood or coal. Even salt was not available, and a family could have no more than five pounds of flour on hand. If more was discovered, they were shot.
People lived in constant fear. The farmers we worked for had moved to another house they owned after the fire at the main farm, and in it they had a secret pantry that had been cut into a wall. In it there were two 100 pound sacks of flour that they had hidden there. I was sitting in there, sifting flour preparatory to baking bread. Suddenly, I heard my brother, Reinhold, talking Russian in a loud voice. He was pretending to yell at someone, telling them to quiet down and not make so much noise. It dawned on me immediately that he was trying to give me a warning, because, for one thing, we never spoke Russian in the house between ourselves. I became quiet as a mouse, and through the wall I heard him talking Russian to another man, who, it turned out, was a Red official who had dropped by unexpectedly to see if he could discover any infraction of their many rules. It was a close call for us yes, many times it was a close call.
The Lord often gave me warnings through dreams, so some of the dangers could be avoided, and some of the happenings were no surprise to me. When I was still working on this farm I had a dream which I knew would come true, and I tried to warn those involved, but they would not heed my warning. The people I was working for had a daughter a few years older than I by the name of Elizabeth, as well as a younger daughter, fourteen years of age, and a son of seventeen who were still all at home. One evening five men came in, and thus began a night of terror. They demanded that the father give them a chest of gold and silver which they were sure he had hidden somewhere. When he tried to assure them that he had no such treasure, they forced him to take off his clothes (only by begging did they allow him to keep on his long shirt to hide his "shame" in front of his children), and then took him outside where the temperature was 35 degrees below zero, stood him where the wind could hit him, and let him freeze awhile. Meanwhile, they tied everyone else's hands behind their backs, all except me. I had to carry the kerosene lamp for them while they explored the house to see what they could find. They all took turns raping poor Elizabeth, and brutalized her mother when she objected to their uncivilized conduct. My own heart was filled with fear when they leered at me, and when one of them held a revolver to my chest and demanded I tell them where the old man had buried or hidden his treasure. I knew of no such treasure, and told them that while the farmer had lots of land and cattle, I doubted that he had anything like what they were after. The farmer was able to walk into the house on his own after the first exposure to the elements, but they took him out twice more, after which they had to drag him in because he was almost frozen to death. The siege lasted until two in the morning, when they finally left. Elizabeth was never the same again. She was ruined and sick for the rest of her life. When Elizabeth's mother had fallen to her knees and tried to pray, one of the men had hit her in the face and called her an old witch. While they, my employers, were Christian people, they had not believed that God was trying to warn them through their servant girl, and now it was too late. We were locked in the cellar overnight, and when they held the revolver to my chest I knew that God would protect me, even as he had shown me in my dream. I told them I was not afraid, that I wanted to go to Jesus anyway, so they let me go.
After this episode, they, my employers, took me to my parents home in town, but it wasn't safe there, either. During a Red retreat, the bullets were flying all around me, but none of those bullets were meant for me. The Lord had other plans for my life.
In 1919 the whole country was besieged with typhoid fever. Long freight cars full of frozen, naked bodies of soldiers came through, some of which were unloaded in our town. It was my Father's job to see that they were buried, twenty bodies in one grave, piled in like sardines. My aunt also died from typhoid fever, leaving nine children, the youngest only three weeks old. Then my brother's wife died, leaving their three month old baby. My brother was drafted into the army, so we took the baby. We had no idea where they had sent my brother.
Things were getting worse all the time. It was an impossibility to get any fabric. Clothes and linens were in deplorable condition; hardly any shoes to wear. Besides the shortages of food, clothing, and any consumer goods at all, the atrocities were increasing. Every night, for no reason at all, people were lined up against walls and shot. Preachers were arrested and persecuted. My second brother, Albert, had learned to make shoes, and he was going from farm to farm, hiding, and making shoes for the farmers who needed them so desperately. He was supposed to join the army, and if they had caught him he would have been shot.
I was working on a farm again, and one day my father came out to tell me we were going to get out of Russia into Germany. He said that after a night of prayer, God had shown him how to get out. It seemed impossible, in light of circumstances, but his faith was strong, and so we prepared to go. After about two weeks we started out, but our faith was sorely tired, and my mother was so full of fear that there was no room for faith. We finally got to Moscow, where there were over 3,000 people, all homeless just like us, housed in an open building. Most of them were lying down because they were sick, weak, and hungry. It was cold, and the snow was beginning to fall. Once a day we were fed soup that was made from dried and rotted potato peelings. The second meal of soup was made from soaked whole wheat. They both tasted dreadful and were impossible to eat, though we did eat the wheat. Our provision of toast was almost gone.
Our journey had already stretched into six weeks, the last two weeks having been spent in Moscow, waiting, waiting. My father's faith never wavered, but poor mother was completely distraught. Finally, we got the green light, and in November of 1920 we arrived in Germany. The band greeted us with the song, "Now Thank We All Our God" followed by their National Anthem, "Deutschland ""Uber"" Alles". Oh, it was like waking up from the worst nightmare! Germany was a poor country, but they had order! For once we could live without fear, and everyone was crying for joy to be free from fear.
When I had received the Lord in May of 1918, He became very precious to me. I longed to see Him, and I prayed all the time that He might take me out of this horrible world to be with Him, but he dealt with my death wish in His own way. One night after I had prayed again before I went to sleep, "Lord, take me to be with You this night," He let me have a dream. In my dream I was supposed to die within three days. I was put into an iron building which had no doors or windows and very high walls, but the top was open and I could see heaven. Every night Mr. Death came around and asked me how I wanted to die. On the third night (in my dream three days had passed), I still had not made up my mind how I wanted to die. He showed me a big knife and a big fork, and then he showed m a huge kettle full of boiling oil, which terrified me so much that I awakened with my heart pounding. Well, after that experience I felt a little different, and decided to be content to stay on earth with the rest of my family. However, the Lord gave me a scripture, Psalm 32; 7 8, and He was my hiding place, and said He would guide me "with mine eye."
During our various sojourns in Russia, I had always
preferred working on farms, because for one thing,
we were paid in products rather than money, which
was no good to us there was nothing we could buy with
it. Also, it seemed the Lord was nearer to me on a
farm, although there was just as much danger. But,
oh, how hard I had to work! One night while having
my devotions I complained a little to the Lord about
having to work so hard. Just before I awakened the
next morning the Lord gave me a warning, again in
a dream. In my dream my sister, Emilie, came in and
gave me a note and said, "Mother sent me to give
this to you." (On different occasions in my dreams
my mother represented the Holy Spirit). I unfolded
the little note and it read: "Sin Beth at the
door, and unto thee shall be his desire, but thou
shalt rule over it". (Gen. 4,7) I woke up and
was in prayer all day while working hard. That day
a young Christian woman approached me and said, "I
know how hard it is to work for these farm ladies.
I did it for years myself before I got married, but
now I have an easy life. At least you can be your
own boss. I have a brother who lives by himself on
a farm nearby, and he is looking for a wife, and he
tells me that he has fallen in love with you."
I had seen him when he had come to visit his sister
who lived at the farm where I worked, but I had thought
he had his eye on the farmer's daughter. She further
told me that her brother was not a Christian, but
that with a Christian wife, he would probably also
become a Christian. I remembered the warning in my
dream and said, "no." How thankful I am!
If I had married him I would very likely have remained
in that country of slavery.
"He leadeth me, Oh blessed thought!" This song has been one of my favorites, and if I would ever write a book about my life's story, I would want to title it, "He Leadeth Me."
There are many gruesome memories that come to my mind when I let my thoughts go back to those years. At the time I worked for the first farmer (Mennonites), we lived close to a highway, and the Revolution was in full swing, with one party chasing the other. In the winter, soldiers would come in to warm up and rest, piling their guns in a corner. We had to feed them, and for four weeks we did not retire or even undress; just grabbed a nap when we could. I had to bake large batches of bread, sometimes as many as three batches in 24 hours. The soldiers were like locusts one party would retreat, and the other came in. If the enemy wasn't at their heels and they had more time, they would get drunk, and that was always terrible. The farmer who was my employer had a large family, and one of his sons had a pretty wife. Two of these so called soldiers came in one day, and after we fed them they began to molest her. Her husband tried to protect her, so they tied him up and beat him nearly to death, and then raped his wife in front of his eyes. She had given birth to twins about two weeks prior to this.
At another time, when I worked for another farmer, the Reds came in and told the farmer he had to ride along with them to show them the way. It wasn't that they didn't know the way they did it just to be mean and to show their power to those in the area. The farmer was suffering from a rupture and was not supposed to ride horseback, but it made no difference to these heartless Reds. The poor farmer returned three days later, deathly sick. My brothers were working at this farm also, and they were told to hitch up the best horses to the buggy and drive it, so the soldiers could ride. One brother came back after about two weeks with the team of horses, but the other brother had to come back on foot, which took him about three weeks. He was footsore and starved. Bullets had been flying all around while they were pursuing the Whites, but the Lord protected my brothers and brought them safely back.
After the Lord had helped us out of Russia and we had lived in Germany for awhile, a man from our former place came to Germany and told us what had happened there after our departure. Seventeen men from the village had been driven on the run into the woods for several miles. Some of these men were as much as 70 years old, while their captors rode horseback. When they got to a certain area, they were forced to dig a large hole and then kneel around it. They were shot in the back and fell into the hole. Those who were still stirring were finished off with a hand grenade. The women and children who had been following them, screaming in protest, were turned back when one of the captors had gone back to set fire to their homes. One fifteen year old boy followed into the woods at a distance, and hiding behind a tree, witnessed the entire episode. His aged father, a distant relative of ours, was among those killed. When I contemplate on the way the Lord helped us out of that area that same summer I feel unworthy of all the benefits He has bestowed upon me. (Psalm 103: 2).
When we arrived in Germany we were put into a "durchgangs lager," (an empty army camp converted to a displaced person's camp), near Stetien. There were several hundred people in our transport, and the camp was supported by the German government and the Red Cross. For the first time, in Germany, the transport people had the opportunity to become acquainted with one another after getting off the train that had brought them to a destination.
I was nearing my twentieth birthday. There was a young man by the name of Paul, somewhat older than I, who was in our transport. When we met it seemed to be love at first sight. I thought he was just about the handsomest young man I had ever laid eyes on. But while he was concerned about secular things before he could take a life's partner, I was concerned about the spiritual side of our relationship who and what he was and believed in, and what my Heavenly Father would say to our relationship. It did not take me very long to find out that Paul was a very devout Catholic and also that our relationship was out of the Lord's will and so I told Paul what the score was, but he thought there would be a way around it if only he could provide a home for me. Soon, he found a job working in a coal mine, and because he could stand the long ride down to a very deep level without suffering any ill effects, he earned almost double wages. It did not take him long to rent and furnish a home. He always stayed in contact with me, and no matter where I was, he always found my address. I had found a job working in the home of the mother of the commissar of the Red Cross, and while it didn't pay much I at least had room and board and a little money to call my own, which was a lot in that poor country after the war. My parents were sent to a Heimkehr Lager (Homecare Camp) in Saxony near Dresden. Father put an announcement in the church paper with his address, and a number of his former church members who had also come to Germany wrote to him. One family who wrote was located in West Prussia near Marienwerder, all urged Father to bring his family to that location because we would all be able to get work immediately working for the same farmer for whom they were working. I did not want to get separated from my family since they had to go through the Polish Corridor to get there, so I left the place where I was working and went with them. The work was hard, and my health was not good. I had developed gall bladder trouble. Paul kept urging me to marry him, and I was very tempted. He told me that he had forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus, etc., but that he had made a promise to his dying father never to leave the Catholic Church, though he assured me that I could go to any church I wanted to. A still small voice was warning me to fast and pray, but I argued that I couldn't fast when I had to work so hard in the field; after all, I needed my strength. After working all day I was too tired to pray at night, etc. I continued to argue with myself about Paul, and how hard life was for me, and that if I married things would be easier. I even accused my Father of not helping me in my struggle, but he said, "You are of age and you know the way. You can choose, but the bed you make for yourself you will lie in," so the Lord took pity on me and took me to the woodshed. He laid His hand on me very hard. I got gallstone attacks and stomach ulcers and had to suffer severely, but I began to pray. An old doctor who finally took my case put me on medicine and fasting, and told me my life was in danger. Then I had time to fast and pray for two weeks. The Lord took all desire for Paul away, and showered His love over me. In six weeks I went back to work, and then He gave me another dream.
I found myself in a big city, not knowing which way to go when a young lady came and asked me to go with her. I asked her what her name was, and she said, "Worldly Lust." I asked what the name of the city was, and that I had lost my way. She told me the name of the city was Vanity, and that it was a great city when you got acquainted, but I did not go with her. Then an elderly lady came and asked if I needed help, and when I asked her what her name was she said something like "Grace and Faithful." She said that she would call a guide who knew the way. She left me, and then a soft looking, friendly man approached me and looked so lovingly into my eyes. I did not ask him his name, for I recognized him as the Holy Spirit. I told him I had lost my way because there were so many ways to go, but that I was looking for the right one. He said, "I know all these ways. I am the conductor of all the trains that go out of this city. Your train is a new one from here on." Then he told me all of the stations ahead, which all had a meaning. The last one was next to the ocean, where I said goodbye to my Father and family. Then he told me I would go to where it is better. I did not understand my dream in full, but I knew the Lord would undertake and I wanted to trust His leading.
Within a short time of this our boss sold his farm and we were dismissed. Just then we received a letter from lager Lechfeld in Bavaria inviting us to join a group of Mennonites to settle down on some land which was purchased for them. We went down together with the Schmidt family, who were the ones who had called us to come to West Prussia. Before we left for Lechfeld, the younger members in our family agreed to pray for a revival among the young people in Lechfeld. Within a short time we moved to Lechfeld, and the Lord gave us our request. Many your people and even older people were saved, and over fifty people were baptized in the river, Lech. The plan of making a colony there did not develop, but we lived there about five months and it was a place of much devotion and prayer. (In my dream the Holy Spirit had told me the first station along my way would be called, "Lauter Andacht", which means, "much devotion.")
After that, the government found a place for fifty families in Gronau, Westfalia, and we were among them. We worked in a cotton spinning factory, and I knew this would be my last station before I would cross the ocean. Sometimes I thought it would be the river of death, and I was on my way to the land of glory. However, before we had left Lechfeld my sister had received a letter from America from a lady friend whom she had learned to know in Zeitheim, near Dresden. I had met her but had seen her only twice. She asked my sister if her sister, Bertha, would be interested in coming to America that her bachelor brother had seen a picture of me at her place and would like to send me a ticket to come. In another week I had received a letter from her brother himself, asking me the same question.
America had always interested me. I had heard and
read that women, especially, had it easier there.
Germany was in the grips of a bad inflation, and jobs
were scarce. I was still working in the spinning factory,
but one loaf of bread cost 14 million marks, and our
wages were at least two to four weeks in arrears.
So, yes, I was very interested in going to America,
but not until I had the green light from my Heavenly
Father. My dear mother did not want me to go, especially
all by myself, so Father and I agreed to pray that
God would show me His will about it. After two weeks
of praying, the Lord revealed His will to both of
us. I was to go.
The next difficulty was getting the proper papers. I really did not know where to turn to get them, since we did not recognize the Communists in Russia and had left that country (our papers were all taken from us there), and we were not citizens of Germany. I was a person without a country and as such, did not know where to start to get a visa to go to America. Meanwhile, my American friend did not lose any time in sending a ticket to Hamburg, Germany, for me to come over. I really did not get impatient, but waited on the Lord. I knew that in His time He would get me there, and tell me how to get what I needed.
After a year of waiting, He opened the door for me
to go. Within three days I had my Visa. Meanwhile,
my friend in America was becoming very impatient,
but he, too, had to learn not to rush the Lord. Sometimes
he would send some American money, and so when I received
ten dollars from him, which was just what I needed,
three days before I received my Visa, I knew the Lord
was taking care of my needs. I went to Hamburg and
made arrangements for my voyage. However, the Lord
showed me in a dream that I would not get to go just
yet. In my dream I saw my ship, but I did not get
on it and it went off without me. (In my family I
was called Joseph because of my dreams).
So when I said goodbye to my family and friends, it was not too difficult for me. I told them, "I'll be back."
I stayed in Hamburg the required four days and everything seemed to be in order. The next morning we were to sail. After we had breakfast, our names were called, as usual. When they called my name they said, "Bertha Ittermann cannot go. She stays here." Even though I had had the dream that told me I would not go, it was still a shock for me. When I went to the office later that day I was told that there had been a mistake in my papers; that since I had been born in Russia I had to go on the Russian quota instead of the German quota on which they had mistakenly put me. I was told that the Russian quota was taken up to two years in advance. I felt that was a long time for me to wait, so I stormed and scolded but my ship was gone. I had spent what little money I had and had none to buy a ticket to take me back home. They finally relented and advanced me ten dollars (after I signed an I.O.U.), which they proceeded to collect from my friend in America. They also promised that I would be the first replacement for anyone who would not be permitted to go on the Russian quota.
My family was greatly surprised to find me on their
door step at midnight, a mere five days after I had
taken leave of them. However, after four and a half
months of waiting, the Lord again made it possible
for me to go; I was to replace an unfortunate woman
who was not permitted to go because of an eye problem.
On the 21st of June, 1923, I said a final (and difficult)
farewell to my family, and this time I knew I would
go because I had a dream that I was on the ship, having
a wonderful time, with music and singing. And so it
We landed in Quebec, and on the 8th of July, I reached my destination Fessenden, North
Dakota. My friend and his niece met me at the depot, and we went to the home of his sister the one who had started the whole thing.
After living in crowded Germany, the prairies of North Dakota looked mighty barren to me. I felt like a leaf that the north wind had blown as far as this ball of earth goes. However, when we were called to the dinner table I felt very content when I saw and tasted all the wonderful food. Before we could finish our dinner, we had a quite a surprise when a tornado came blowing across the plains toward our little farmhouse. The Lord was gracious once more and spared us, but we were all pretty shaken. The tornado did quite a lot of damage just beyond us.
My friend and I had made no promises to each other, so I was free. I was determined to go to work, earn money, and pay off my debts. I knew it would be a struggle for me, since I did not know the English language. In addition, I had to fight a mighty homesickness and loneliness for my family and friends that I had left behind. I took comfort in the fact that my Lord was with me and that I was in His will, so that gave me peace in my soul.
I was still at the home of my fiend's sister; the farm of Emma and Emil Wegner. They had four lovely daughters who adopted me as their older sister, and I adopted their mother as mine. The two older sisters worked away from home. One day, Olga, the older girl at home, asked me if I would help her mother in her place and she would get a job away from home and give me her wages until I could learn to speak some English. That was love! I told her that I would gladly take her place and work for her mother, but that she should keep her earnings.
After about two weeks, my friend asked me if I would
become his wife, but I did not know if that was the
will of my Heavenly Father. I was waiting for His
leading. After some struggle and earnest prayer, the
Lord again showed me in a dream that that was the
next step for me, so on August 12th, that same summer,
I became Mrs. Julius Krueger. My father, before I
left home, had given me his blessing from Genesis
24: 60, the story of Rebecca when she left home to
meet Isaac. Did my father have a prophetic visit that
I would become "Mrs. Isaac?" The pastor
who married us, Rev. John Seibel, picked up his text
for the wedding ceremony from verse 58, "Wilt
thou go with this man?" I said "Yes."
They say that life begins at forty, which was the
age of Isaac when he married Rebecca, and that was
the age of Julius when he married Bertha.
It was a big change in my life. I was in a land where things were better, but sometimes I felt that it was all a dream. By trade, Julius was a plasterer, and worked hard everyday except Sunday. Sometimes he took a job too faraway to come home at night, and would be gone for as long as a week at a time. I was left much alone, and would become very homesick for my family far away in Germany. I do not know if Rebecca became homesick, but I would guess she did, too. We had been married about two weeks when I had another severe attack of gallstones, and Julius was there to call the doctor at 5 o'clock in the morning. He put me to sleep for twenty four hours with the aid of his hypodermic needle, and then repeated the process, after which I was allright again.
My adopted mother, now my sister in law, had moved to town, not very far from where we lived, so I spent some time at her place when I became lonesome. The two girls at home tried to teach me English, and we had a lot of fun. This arrangement was shortlived, however, when that entire family moved to Milwaukee. It was hard for me to have to say yet another sad farewell, especially since I was expecting to become a mother in about two more months, but the Lord provided me with some new friends.
I had joined the First Baptist church, where my husband was a member. They still had their morning worship service in the German language, as well as Wednesday evening prayer services. Also, most of the ladies in the Missionary Society spoke German, so I was not a stranger long. I was learning some English, too. The neighbors across the street from our house spoke both languages, and were a great help and comfort to me. One of the ladies whom I got to know in church became a good friend, Mrs. Knop. She was some years my senior and could give me some motherly advice, and she also spoke German. When the eventful day of October first, 1924 came, and my first sweet baby was born, "Mama." Knopp came to our home and took good care of us both. Now with a baby, my home felt more complete. When winter came, Papa stayed home, and we all got more acquainted. Every day, I practiced reading, writing, and speaking English, and in less than three years I became an American citizen. With my little daughter, Annella, I did not feel so homesick, and with the guitar which my husband had bought me (my first gift from him), I sang many clouds away.
Eighteen months and five days passed by quickly,
when Mama Knopp had to come to our assistance again.
It was April 5, 1926 when another baby came into our
home. It was supposed to be the son that Julius had
promised to give back to the Lord if He blessed him
with a good wife and a son, but it turned out to be
another little girl. We named her Myrtle, the nicest
name we could think of, and loved her just as much
as if she had been a boy. I was so happy with my two
little girls, and pretended I had twins. Papa was
still hoping for that son, and on a cold winter's
night, December 4, 1927, that nine pound boy arrived,
precariously. It happened to be the doctor's birthday,
and when he came to our house he was tired, and had
celebrated a little too much. He thought he would
have time for a little nap before the baby arrived,
but he rested almost too long, and by the time he
awakened to help with the delivery, little Robert
George arrived looking hopelessly blue and lifeless.
I had offered him to the Lord before we was born,
and now it looked like He would have to take a dead
baby. Oh, how I prayed (!), and the Lord answered.
After the doctor had slapped that little body so hard
and kept working on it, a loud "Waa" came
out. How I thanked the Lord, and took that little
son of mine in my arms and offered him to the Lord
On August 16, 1930, the Lord blessed us with another son, and we were glad Robert had a brother, whom we named Lorenz Jonathan.
The skies were not always blue, but not looking back, there was more sunshine than rain and time rolled by rapidly. When we still had only three youngsters, we discovered we needed more "Lebensraum," (room for living), so in 1929 we moved into a nine room house which was in need of much refurbishing. The Depression was looking us in the face, and the hard earned money which my husband had loaned out for interest could not be collected. Meanwhile, our "new" house had to have sewer and running water installed, and that took all the savings we still had. The Depression was hard on most of the people, and it hit us very hard, too. Some people were able to go on Government Relief (Welfare), but because we owned property, we could not get any help, and Julius could not get any work. A farm that we owned (along with the Federal Land Bank) about thirty miles from Fessenden on which we had paid $7200 and built a house on, was foreclosed by the bank because we could not make any more payments. A bank with $3000 of our money, closed. Very little of the money which Julius had lent to farmers was ever repaid.
The losses, the need, the worry about his family, was very hard on Julius. He had always had trouble with ulcers, and it wasn't long before he had a very bad case. The doctor put him on some kind of powder and half and half, and he became so weak that he could hardly walk. He was taken to the Harvey hospital (24 miles from Fessenden), where he was X rayed. The doctor told Julius' brother, Otto, they suspected cancer, so Otto wanted to take him immediately to the Fargo hospital to be operated on, the trip of 180 miles to be done by ambulance. To this plan I gave an emphatic NO. I felt he was too weak to stand the trip, let alone an operation. I told Otto that if the Lord wanted to take him, He would have to take him right at home, before we ran up some large bills which I would be unable to pay. Otto was very put out with me, but I told him we would wait until tomorrow, and pray about it in the meantime. Otto was not a Christian and said, "You and your prayers! Every minute counts," but Julius left the decision to me. After Otto left, out little five year old Annella came to her Daddy and said to him, "Papa, du must nicht mehr rauchen. Die Mama gleicht es night, and der Liebe Heiland auch night. Und du must nicht so boese sein zu die Mama. and zu uns." Translation: "Papa, you must not smoke anymore. Mama does not like it, and neither does Jesus, and you must not be so mean to Mama and to us." (She had heard us exchange words on her daddy's smoking. When he had asked me to marry him I told him I would not marry a man who smoked, so he quit, but later on he broke his promise about it and started to smoke again. I meant to hold him to his promise.) Annella went on to tell him, "We will pray and Jesus will make you well." This was really a strong sermon from his little daughter.
We knelt down and she prayed first, I followed, then her Daddy prayed from where he was lying. He was too weak to raise his head from the pillow. He also asked forgiveness from us. God answered our prayers. He had been unable to eat before, but he suddenly felt hungry, so I fixed him some oatmeal, a baked apple, Jello, and a soft boiled egg. He continued with the white powder and half every thirty minutes, and toast and milk. His strength came back amazingly fast. After about three weeks a man asked him to come and plaster a room for him, which he did, and later the whole house. He recovered completely.
We held a $3000 mortgage on a store building in a little town nearby. That man also got ulcers, but was not as fortunate as Julius. He died, and his widow said to take the building for what they owed on it. We tried to sell it for $300, but since people had no money, were unable to do so. Finally, we decided to dismantle the building, which we did ourselves, brick by brick and board by board. We then loaded it on the back of our little pickup and a small trailer behind and hauled it all to Fessenden, where we stored it in a friend's yard, with hopes of selling at least some of it. No such luck.
One day the local lumber yard dealer came to Julius and asked him to build a house for him. Julius demurred, saying he had no money for finishing lumber, cement, paint, etc, so they struck a deal by which the man advanced the necessary money and took it back in rent payments, or rather, in no rent payments. That was the start of Julius building four nice houses in Fessenden, and the whole family pitched in to help. We had to work very hard, with Julius digging the basement, doing the cement and plaster work, and I did the finishing on the inside, sanding, varnishing, painting, etc. We did have to hire a carpenter, as well as an electrician and plumber. The years were going by, and the thirties were drawing to a close.
Behind our house, across the alley, there were several empty lots, so our milkman lost a good customer when we decided to get a cow to supply us with all the milk we needed. The cow grazed on the empty lots, and we built a small barn on the corner lot, right next to our big garden. We also got some chickens, so had eggs in the summer and canned chicken in the winter.
Things were going along quite well, but my health suffered from time to time with more gall stone attacks, so in 1938 I had an operation to remove them as well as my appendix, and to repair a hernia. My life hung by a thread, but God heard my prayers and helped me through, though I had to remain in the hospital for thirty one days because I developed ulcers while there.
Later, Julius also had to have an operation, and also Annella had to have her appendix removed. Then, both girls had tonsillectomies, during which Myrtle almost bled to death, but always the Lord was there to see us through.
We had a nice family of two girls and two boys, and after nine years had a surprise when another son was born to us. Erich Daniel, whom we called Danny, was a beautiful baby and the joy of all the family. However, when he was six years old and in the first grade of school, he developed rheumatic fever. This happened to him every winter by Christmas he was down with the fever and had to quit school. The doctor advised moving to a warmer climate before we he was twelve, so that he would have a chance to outgrow it.
So then came another change. We liked our small town
of Fessenden, in the center of the plains of North
Dakota and lived there for many years, had lots of
friends, and enjoyed the fellowship in our beloved
Baptist church, where all our children were saved
and baptized, but by now our girls were out of college,
Robert was in the Navy, and Lorenz was in California
attending aeronautical engineering school. Annella
and Myrtle were living in Kansas City and living in
rented rooms and apartments, none of which really
suited their needs. Julius went to visit them, recognized
a change was in order, and bought a two story bungalow.
They moved in, along with some friends, and sent us
the rent money. We soon began spending part of the
year in Kansas City, where the warmer climate agreed
with Danny, and he began to recover his health. No
more breakdowns by Christmas.
After a few years went by, the girls got married, moved away, and we moved to Kansas City full time, selling our properties in North Dakota and beginning a new way of life in a large city. By now, Danny was in high school, and thriving. The Lord had given him a large measure of musical talent, and he pursued it seriously by taking voice lessons, which landed him the lead roles in school musical productions, playing in the band (trombone), and singing over the radio for the Youth for Christ programs. He thought of perhaps training for opera in the future, although his father and I did not encourage it. We knew it would take many years of hard work, with no guarantee of success or steady income. He also developed an avid interest in car racing, and became a member of a pit crew, where he learned a lot about mechanics, and worked his way up to being a driver. I had hoped he would go into full time Christian service when he graduated from high school, or prepare for it, because at one time during his teen years he had mentioned that he felt led to become a missionary. This was no longer his plan, so he went to work to earn money for his racing interests, and also took some part time school classes in music. By now he was old enough for the Draft, and sure enough, he was soon drafted and spent two years in the Army, playing his trombone in the 79th Army band, and also doing some singing in ensembles as well as joining an American theater group while stationed in the Panama. Canal Zone where his mellow bass baritone voice won him choice parts in their productions.
After returning home from his stint in the Army, his interest in car racing had not diminished, much to our dismay, and he became more involved in it than ever. He also landed a job as a soloist in a large church, where he sang in their choir both Sunday morning and evening, and during the week he was manager of a store that sold racing equipment. In the evenings, often till far into the night, he spent his time working on his racing car, and eventually he and one of his buddies built their own car, in which he raced, usually every Saturday.
One Thursday morning, in August of 1967, he announced that he was leaving that evening with a load of equipment for Knoxville, Iowa, where the National SuperModified stock car race was to be held, and would not return until Sunday afternoon. He also planned to race in the event Saturday night, August 12 , which was the day of my husband's and my 44th wedding anniversary. It was almost midnight when the phone rang, and Julius answered it. A man wanted to know what we wanted done with Danny's body. He had been killed in the main event an hour earlier, and was dead on arrival at the hospital. At first, I thought someone was playing a cruel joke on us, but when I saw Julius begin to shake all over, I realized it was no joke, and I fell, screaming, on a chair. It was all too true, and his body was returned to Kansas City the next day.
Wherever Danny had gone he had made friends, and it could truly be said that everyone who knew him, loved him. His affability, ready smile, sense of humor, and willingness to be helpful had endeared him to many; he had also witnessed to some of his friends during his lifetime. He had the largest funeral ever held in our large church, and his many friends came, where they all heard the gospel, and some came back to Christ. An entourage of forty six cars followed the hearse to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was given a military interment. He was twenty seven years old, and his beautiful voice was stilled forever.
God alone knows why He took him home. Perhaps he had seen that Danny was drifting, and where it would all lead. In any case, it was very difficult for all of us to lose him that way, while still in his youth, so vibrant and full of energy. However, we have the comfort of knowing that he is with the Lord, and that someday we will all be re-united. Meanwhile, Julius and I were alone, without any of our children nearby.
I often think back to the large family in which I
was raised, thirteen children in all. My eldest sister,
Emma, had come with us to Germany, as had my two younger
sisters, and they eventually moved to Canada, as did
two of my brothers. My eldest brother, had been drafted
into the Russian Communist army while we still lived
there, and had gone through terrible times. He lost
his wife and two children to starvation. The irony
of his life had been that he had never been able to
get across the border into Germany, but during World
War II, he had been taken to Germany as a prisoner,
and was able to stay there after the war. His years
in Germany were short lived, however, when he was
accidentally killed within two years. Brothers Alfons
and Robert were drafted into the German army, where
Alfons was wounded many times, but finally made it
through the war. Robert, the youngest of us all, was
mortally wounded on the Russian front.
Three sisters died, one at eleven months, one at five months, and another at seven years. Four brothers and four sisters are still living; six in Canada, one in Germany, and I in the States.
In 1947, with the Lord's help, my husband helped my parents to come to the United States, and saved them from starving in Germany. We helped Alfons and his family stay alive by sending them Care packages after the War. My parents stayed with us in Fessenden for nine months; then they immigrated to Canada, where six of their children live.
My father lived to be almost 95 years of age, and my mother was over 91 when she went to be with the Lord.
One of the nice things that happened to me in my life was that in 1957 my son, Lorenz, and I went to Germany to visit my brother, Alfons. Alfons had been eleven years old when I left for America; now he was forty five, with a wife and three children. It was a wonderful trip for me, but I found Germany very strange to me, and the war had changed many of the people I had known.
After Danny was gone, life was quite uneventful for us. Julius did a lot of walking, which he liked to do, and I took a job in an Interior Decorating concern, and sewed drapes. About once a year we took a trip to Michigan and Illinois to visit our daughters and their families, and also Robert, when he lived in Michigan. Our children also came to visit us in Kansas City, usually at Christmas, until their families grew to the point where we couldn't all get into the house at one time there were eleven grandchildren. Annella had two daughters, as did Myrtle; Lorenz had a son and a daughter, and Robert had two daughters and three sons (like his father before him).
In 1973, Julius and I celebrated our 50'h wedding anniversary in Tennessee on Lorenz's farm, where he raised Charolais cattle. He also held a full time job at a firm as an aeronautical engineer. All of our children and grandchildren joined us, with the exception of Robert, Jr. Our five days together went by very fast, with visiting, sightseeing, eating, playing, picture taking, etc. We had a wonderful time together, and it was soon time to head back home.
In the spring of 1977, Julius was not feeling well and spent seventeen days in the hospital, and then for several weeks at home I took care of him. On March 18'', he said goodbye to this world and went to be with the Lord at the age of 94.
Before his death, when Julius knew his days were numbered and I would soon be left alone, he asked me repeatedly what I would do when he was gone. I told him that I had no plans made, and that the Lord would tell me what to do when I needed to know, and that perhaps I might even die before he did (in hopes that he might get well again). I thought to myself that if the Lord takes him, I will be strong. But when the time came that they took his body out of the house, my soul almost went with him. I was so glad that Lorenz had come and was with us when his father died, and that he took over the arrangements that had to be made. All of the children, with the exception of Annella, who was ill at the time, were able to come to the funeral. While the children were there, I held my head high and was brave, but after they left I felt very much alone. I was thankful that my church carried me in their prayers, and many friends were helpful to me.
In April, for Easter, Annella and Al came from their home in Arizona to visit me, and I went back to Arizona with them for a while, to see if perhaps I might want to live there, also.
When I returned to Kansas City I knew it was time to make a decision, so I weighed the pro's and con's in my mind. I realized that my house was not new, and needed some repairs soon, and could also be easily broken into. The city was also in a state of flux because of the new open housing laws, and neighborhoods were rapidly changing. But worst of all, my own health was deteriorating, and arthritis was spreading throughout my body. I was unable to close my hands or raise my arms very far, and was experiencing constant pain. It became clear to me that I would have to sell my beloved home.
With God's help, and that of my good neighbors, and
the dear children of God from my church, I got my
house ready for sale and sold it within a short time.
Annella and Al came again and took me to Arizona, hoping that the dry heat would be beneficial to my health, which it has been to some extent, but I'm far from cured. So since November of 1971 have made my home with Annella and Al, for about a year in Casa Grande and since then in Prescott Valley. Occasionally I go for extended visits to Lorenz and Marilyn's home in Tennessee, and also to Myrtle and Richard's home in nearby Prescott Country Club. All the children have shown me much love, and I'm especially grateful to Annella for her patience with me. Last January I celebrated my 86th birthday, an age I had never expected to reach, but I'm nearing the shore and I'm longing to go.
"I'm nearing the shore; troubles soon will be
over and I'll suffer no more. Trials all passed; victory
at last. Oh, it is wonderful that I'm nearing the