The Great Trek  (p. 160)


When the retreating German army reached the Dnieper they were joined by thousands of ethnic Germans whose ancestors had immigrated to Russia more than a century earlier. Among them were about 35,000 Mennonites. Most of them were widows and children. When they finally reached Germany many of them in accordance with the Yalta agreement were repatriated to Russia. They were sent to Karaganda, Novosibirsk and other labour camps in Siberia. Only about 12,000 managed to get to the west. Of these 7,000 immigrated to Canada and 5,000 to Paraguay. The map shows the route that was taken by one of the several thousand families that made the great trek.

Helen Loewen age 36 and her two children Henry age 12 and Nettie age 7 lived in the village of Steinfeld in the Schlachtin Baratov Colony. Her husband Heinrich H. Loewen had been imprisoned in 1936. He died in Archangel a few years later. Helen Loewen with her two children, her sister Elizabeth Klassen with three children and Helena Friesen with four children agreed to make this journey together. The group of eleven traveled on two wagons. They had three horses (one spare) to pull one wagon and two oxen for the other.

They departed from their homes on October 23, 1943. When the exhausted refugees reached the town of Khrasilov near Ternopol they were allowed to board a train which took them to Litzmannstadt where they spent some time in a refugee centre. They stayed for ten months in Zdunska Wola where the women found employment in a factory. When the Russian front came closer they continued their trek west and finally reached the town of Parchim. They stayed there for six months. When the division of Germany was finalized they found themselves in the Russian Zone. Miraculously the group of eleven crossed the boarder into the British zone and finally came to Braunschweig where they stayed for two years. Henry was now old enough to be apprenticed to a brick layer. Finally relatives sponsored them to come to Canada. After a short stay in another refugee camp in Diepholz they went to Southampton. They boarded a ship and left for Canada on February 5, 1948.