Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Bargen Family, Part 2

Now onto part 2 of the story of the Bargen family as told by my grandfather George Harald Martens (and remember when he refers to HIS grandfather, that would be my great great grandfather). On a cautionary note, it is strongly recommended that the reader is not eating while reading this entry.

The night most remembered is November 29, 1919. Many people fled when they heard that Makhno's bandits had been reported as coming toward the 15 villages of the Sagradowka [Zagradovka] Settlement. Everybody was deathly afraid and many fled to escape this encounter. Grandpa Peter told his family to put on a 2nd layer of clothing and get into the buggy while he harnessed up their fastest team, then they fled as fast as the horses could run. When he met his cousin's family at a crossroad, the cousin said,
"I am going to my parents' house at Munsterberg!" Grandpa said,
"I'm going to the Russian village about 20 miles away!" Peter's dealings and reputation with his Russian neighbors were good, and he had many friends there. That day Makhno's bandits started their three day plundering spree by killing 99 people at Munsterberg, one of the Zagradovka settlements. This included Peter's cousin and family. The warning came just before noon,
"Makhno's bandits have been seen coming toward the Mennonite settlements!" Everyone was fearful, but none anticipated the hellish viciousness with which Makhno would strike.

Maria Martens (nee Peters) feared for her husband's life, so she covered him in the compost pile behind the garden. Maria did not return to dig him out, so when things quieted down, Willie Martens (who was a first cousin of my great great grandfather Wilhelm Martens III) worked his way out of the compost pile and returned to the house. There, Willie found his hired hand, his wife Maria, and his 6 children: Willie, Johann, Anna, Helene, Jakob, and Mariechen, all sitting around the dining room table. Their heads were placed upon the window sills around the room. It is believed that the only people to survive this Munsterberg massacre were Willie, two older boys that hid out of sight under the floorboards of an almost full outhouse pit, and a family that was able to hide in their fireplace chimney.

Johann Martens, a middle aged man, was not well. He was also in deep depression. Johann had a premonition that today he would die. His family and his closest friend, his minister, were not able to console him. I've been told that the bandits went to his house and many of them raped his 16 year old daughter. When the bandits approached Johann in his upstairs bedroom with knives and sabers swinging, he raised his arms as if to protect himself. His limbs flew around the bedroom like cordwood as they were severed from his body. Here, he bled to death.

During one of Makhno's Ukrainian village raids, it was said that he lined the men of the village up on one side of a narrow village street opposite their wives and daughters on the other side of the street. Then, as a vindictive act, Makhno then selected his infected men to rape the wives and daughters of the men who had been his employers prior to his imprisonment.

The raiders were a filthy bunch of inhumanity and always seemed to need fresh clothes, so they simply took what they wanted. This time, one of the bandits wanted the village minister's clothes, so the minister was dragged to the center of the village and stripped of all his clothes. Then the fiendish devils decided to have some fun with him, so they tied his hands behind his back, tied weights to his genitals, and turned a pack of attack dogs on him. While the naked man was running the length of the village's only street with the weight banging against his knees, the dogs were tearing him apart and the fiendish bandits kept taunting and hollering,
"Look there, you religious Germans, there goes your Holy One!" He almost made it to the end of the village street before the dogs killed him.

Grandpa's cousin, Peter Bahnman, about 30 years old, was trapped in his house. When the fiendish bandits started swinging their swords, cousin Peter raised his arms to protect himself, and his hands rolled under the table. Then they proceeded to cut him to pieces.

Grandpa's uncle, Johann Martens, was 70. He was stripped of his clothes, led to the top of a manure pile, and used for target practice. He was murdered November 29, 1919. Johann's 59 year old brother Peter Martens was murdered the same day, too.

One bandit observed a large rat running into a short length of pipe. With the rat trapped in the pipe, he went looking for a suitable victim. After they had tied the victim to a tree, they put the pipe with the rat against the poor man's stomach, and inserted a red hot poker partway into the other end of the pipe. The highly motivated rat immediately clawed and chewed his way into the screaming man's stomach. He did not live long with the large rat chewing and digging around his stomach and heart cavity.

During the November 29, 30, and December 1, 1919 raids, Makhno's bandits murdered over 229 people in the Zagradovka settlement. Other casualties included the hundreds of survivors who were injured, raped, mutilated, and plundered. The Bargens and Martens families had much hardship and lost many relatives (39) to this Makhno massacre, and later, lost many more to the starvation from 1922 to 1932 and the Holodomor Genocides, and more to Stalin's midnight callers during the Great Purge. The Bolsheviks and bandits were also suffering because of the man-made famine, so eventually they took almost all of the peasants' farm animals, grain, next year's seed, and all the feed and food as needed to fill their empty stomachs. My aunt Sarah, who grew from 6 to 13 during that time and approaching 80 [as of 1992] asks me not to ask her about that part of her life, because those memories often generate nightmares. Mary Bargen, my mother, was 19, and Sarah was 13 when the Peter Bargen family escaped to Canada in 1926.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Bargen Family, Part 1

In the above photo, to the left is the stack of recorded history of the Mennonite side of my family. Most of it typewritten, some hand written, some of which is in German. To the right is my great great grandfather's 19th century coin purse, an 1854 Mennonite hymnal published in Odessa [Ukraine], and in the back is my great grandmother Maria "Mary" Bargen's German language bible from which the publishing page is missing.
My great grandmother's bible, bookmarked with a Soviet 1-Ruble note to a page with Luke 21:36 underlined: "Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man"
This following entry was written by my grandfather, George Harald Martens about the escape of his mother's family from Russia. The first paragraph of the next section may seem genealogically confusing, especially when written from my grandfather's lineage. To simplify that first paragraph, his parents were 2nd cousins, meaning his mother and his father had the same great grandfather, Wilhelm Martens III. Now onto the story of the Bargen family as told by my grandfather:

My great great grandfather, Wilhelm Martens III, married Katharina Decker in 1844. They had 12 children. His oldest son Wilhelm IV is my great grandfather on my father's side. His daughter, eighth born Maria, is my great grandmother on my mother's side.This great grandmother, Maria Martens, married Peter Bargen Sr, a school teacher and farmer. Some of their descendants lost their lives during and following the Revolution (1918-1938). A few did make it to Canada and South America. Those who did get out of Russia have a tremendous appreciation for the freedom we enjoy in our society. Peter Sr. and Maria named their first son Peter. This young Peter was tall, slim, very intense, disciplined, and had a very persuasive personality. The following history centers around Maria's children and grandchildren, including my grandparents, Peter Jr. and Elisabeth Bargen [nee Isaak] and their oldest child, my mother, Mary Bargen. Mom was 18 when she arrived in Canada in 1926. Her experiences as an insecure young girl in Ukraine during the Revolution haunted her and had a major influence on her later life.

Young Peter Bargen served some of his required "government service" in the Forestry Department, which included a short tour on the Tsar's [Nicholas Romanov II] palace grounds. After his tour of duty, Peter returned home to Sagradowka [now Zahradivka, Kherson Oblast, Ukraine], to continue his business and raise the family. Peter's income came from the sale of farm products as well as horses bred and raised for market. Peter was successful and had hired hands and servants to help with the farm work, house work, and child rearing.

The Bargens, Mennonites, and others of German heritage had been treated reasonably well by the Tsar because they were productive, law abiding, loyal, and always paid their taxes promptly. After the First World War, this all changed. The Tsar's family had been murdered and five years of terrible bloody revolutionary unrest followed. This revolutionary war process included extremely brutal, cruel treatment for those hard working people who represented the upper and middle class - especially those of German descent.

After the Tsar was murdered, the revolutionaries released many prisoners, including a vile person named Nestor Makhno. This 5'1" man was able to put together a large band of drunken, heroin and opium addicted renegades. With this following of bandits he proceeded to rob, steal, plunder, rape, mutilate, and kill thousands of unprotected, good, hard-working people. This included many defenseless pacifist Mennonites with whom he had lived and worked.

The Kerensky Provisional Government's White Army of Generals Anton Denikin and Pyotr Vrangel were not able to fight off the Bolshevik's Red Army and retain control of the government, while trying to maintain law and order by gaining control of the marauding bands of renegades. These renegades were often referred to as the Black Army because they belonged to neither the White nor Red Armies. Wherever these bandits went, they stole everything they could carry, mutilated and killed many just for sport, abused and raped many women and girls with no consideration for age or health, and then left after they had achieved almost total destruction. As it turned out, these marauding bandits created enough of a diversion for the National White Army that they made the big difference in the outcome of the revolution, and the Bolshevik Red Army eventually won the control of what we remember as the Soviet Union.

As pacifists, most Mennonites did not own or use weapons. Therefore, they were defenseless and easy prey for these marauding bandits. One fall evening, about dusk, when one of these bands was approaching grandpa's settlement, he quickly got about 30 men together. They rode all their horses into a corn field, each man pulled up a cornstalk, peeled off the leaves, shouldered the bare stalk, and rode out to meet the bandits. Not wanting a confrontation with what they presumed to be "armed" men, the bandits fled. After Makhno discovered the ruse, he put a bounty on grandpa's head. He was now a wanted man!

Later another fall evening, a small band of armed men came looking for my grandpa Peter. The sun had set, but it wasn't dark yet. These killers on horseback saw him running over a hill in a freshly plowed field toward a small corn field. Grandpa knew that he couldn't outrun these men on horseback. While out of sight in the shadows of the cornfield, Peter dove down between two rows of cornstalks and quickly dusted himself with loose dirt. The murder band circled and crossed the small cornfield for about 20 minutes looking for him. Grandpa said,
"God must have blinded their eyes, because their horses kept stepping over me."

For almost seven years, Grandpa Bargen was either hiding or running for his life. The Bolsheviks wanted him dead because he had remained loyal to the government following the assassination of the Tsar's family. Makhno wanted him dead too. During this seven year period, his daughter Mary - my mother - and his oldest child, grew from a 12 year old girl to a 19 year old adult. In her dad's absence, she helped with the family business. One day, a strange looking man with a large unkempt bushy beard came to purchase a horse. Mom took him to the barn and showed him a horse. He asked to deal with my grandmother, so my mother Mary went to get her mother. Mary was then told to stay in the house and watch over the younger children. After the dirty bearded stranger left, grandma Maria asked Mary if she knew who that man was. She said,
"No." Then grandma told Mary,
"That was your father."

Grandpa would say in Low German,
"I would do almost anything I could to avoid a confrontation. If that fails, I can talk for five minutes; I can change their minds and save my skin." A familiar heavily armed man rode into grandpa's yard one noon. It was too late for Peter to hide, and he could tell that this horseman had ridden a long distance, so he walked up to the man and immediately said, "Your horse looks tired and thirsty, let me get him some water. He also looks hungry, let me get him some hay and some oats. And you look like you have had a long ride, you must be hungry too. Can I fix you something to eat?" During lunch together, Peter was a gracious host, and later this armed man left as a friend of grandpa. A few weeks later, grandpa learned that Makhno shot and killed this horseman for not killing grandpa when he had the chance.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Death Tolls

A meticulous written record was made of the death tolls on what was called "Schreckenstage" ("Terror-Days" in German) by my Mennonite ancestors in the Zagradovka Colony. The lists of those killed by Nestor Makhno and his bloodthirsty militia are grouped by village, and the manner in which they were slain was also documented. Some names may appear to be duplicates, but each listing is a different person. It was very common for firstborn sons to be named after their father, or for that matter, to be named after someone else in the extended family.

Despite their attempts at accuracy, at least three dozen missing were never found, most of which were from Muensterberg. That village had a population of about 100, and of those, only one woman and one other family survived, the latter of which hid inside their chimney. The village was almost entirely burned, and many remains could not be recovered or identified. Today, the outlines of building foundations at what was once Muensterberg can still be seen in Google Earth or other mapping programs at coordinates  47°32'0.64"N  33°16'10.15"E the ruins serve as gravestones to the missing. Of the more than 230 victims of the Terror-Days, below is the list of casualties they were able to identify.

          November 29, 1919, Gnadenfeld:
  1. Gerhard Schellenberg Sr – shot
  2. Peter Wiebe Sr – shot
  3. David Koehn – shot and burned
  4. Abram Isaak – shot
  5. Johann Wiebe – shot
  6. Peter J. Koop – murdered in a Russian village
  7. Abram Warkentin – murdered in a Russian village
  8. Johann Kliewer – shot
  9. Johann Klassen – shot
  10. Gerhard Wiebe – chopped to pieces
  11. Johann Doerksen – chopped to pieces
  12. unknown non-Mennonite – chopped, shot, and burned 

    November 29, 1919, Reinfeld: 
  13. Herman Bahnmann – slaughtered
  14. Heinrich Epp – shot and burned
  15. his wife, Elizabeth Epp – shot and burned
  16. their infant daughter Liese – shot and burned
  17. their daughter Katharina – shot and burned
  18. Aaron Epp – chopped to pieces
  19. Kornelius Warkentin – chopped and burned on a haystack
  20. Heinrich Koop – chopped and shot
  21. Peter Funk – shot
  22. Abram Funk – shot
  23. Johann Klassen – shot and chopped on the oven bench
  24. Mrs. Klassen – chopped
  25. Peter Boschmann – shot
  26. Gerhard Boschmann – burned
  27. Peter Bahnmann – chopped, shot, and burned
  28. Mrs. Jakob Reimer – shot

     November 29, 1919, Orloff:
  29. Heinrich Wiens (age 62) – shot
  30. Rev. Peter Martens – shot
  31. Wilhelm Peter Martens – chopped
  32. Abram Walde – chopped, died slowly
  33. Kornelius Nickel – shot
  34. Peter Isaak – chopped and shot
  35. Isbrand Friesen (visiting from Schoenau) shot and burned
  36. Jakob H. Wiens – shot
  37. Jakob Klassen – shot through the head
  38. Nikolai Harder – chopped to pieces
  39. Johann Lammert – chopped to pieces
  40. Jakob Koehn of Altonau – shot
  41. Peter Koehn of Altonau – shot
  42. Diedrich Neufeld Sr – shot
  43. Johann D. Neufeld – chopped and shot
  44. Heinrich Wiebe Sr (age 73) chopped and stabbed in bed
  45. Jakob H. Wiebe – chopped and shot
  46. Jakob J. Wiebe Jr – shot
  47. Jakob Adrian Sr – shot
  48. Abram Walde (age 75) – shot
  49. Wilhelm Fr. Martens – shot through the heart
  50. Gerhard Wall (age 77) – shot while sitting in a chair
  51. Johann Peters – shot and burned
  52. Heinrich Wall – shot and burned
  53. Peter Wiebe – chopped to pieces in bed
  54. Mrs. Peter Wiebe – chopped to pieces in bed
  55. Heinrich Neufeld (teacher) – shot in schoolroom
  56. Johann Toews (teacher) – shot in schoolroom
  57. August Penner – chopped
  58. Heinrich D. Jager of Tiege (young student) – chopped
  59. Wilhelm Peters – slaughtered with a saber
  60. Liese Lammert – chopped to pieces
  61. Jakob W. Penner (sick with typhoid fever) – chopped in bed
  62. Johann Heinrichs – shot
  63. Wilhelm Penner – chopped
  64. David Block – chopped
  65. Johann Siemens – shot
  66. Kornelius Willms of Tiege – perished from wounds
  67. Maria Reimer – chopped
  68. Heinrich P. Siemens – shot and burned
  69. Rev. Jakob T. Friesen – decapitated
  70. Jakob Heinrich Duerksen of Neuhalbstadt (young student) – chopped
  71. Johann W. Martens (age 73) – hands torn apart by mushrooming bullet, died 6 days later
  72. Peter Klassen – sword wounds to head, died slowly
  73. Gerhard G. Bargen of Alexanderfeld (student) – chopped 21 times, suffered long before death

     November 29, 1919, Tiege:
  74. Johann Giesbrecht Sr – shot
  75. Gerhard Schroeter – chopped
  76. Peter Buller – chopped
  77. Rev. Wilhelm Duekmann – chopped and shot
  78. Jakob Braun – chopped, stabbed, and shot
  79. Franz F. Klassen (teacher) – shot
  80. Heinrich Isaak – shot
  81. Heinrich de Fehr of Altonau – shot
  82. Abram P. Dyck – chopped and burned
  83. Olga – servant of Apothecary A. Gauderer – shot
  84. Heinrich Friesen – shot
  85. Isaak Tschetter (a miller) – shot
  86. Isaac de Jager – shot
  87. Johann Krause – chopped and shot
  88. Peter Lammert – chopped and shot
  89. Johann J. Martens – shot
  90. Heinrich A. Fast – shot

    November 29, 1919, Muensterberg:
  91. Abraham Reimer – chopped and burned
  92. his wife, Emilie Reimer – died from a heart attack
  93. their son Gerhard – chopped with a saber
  94. their son Willie – chopped with a saber
  95. their daughter Emilie – chopped with a saber
  96. Johann Friesen – chopped and shot
  97. Jakob Duekmann – chopped and shot
  98. his wife, Maria Duekmann – chopped and shot
  99. their son, Jacob – chopped and shot
  100. their daughter Maria – chopped and shot
  101. their son Peter – chopped and shot
  102. Peter P. Goossen – chopped and burned
  103. his wife, Maria Goossen – chopped and burned
  104. Rev. Abraham Regehr – chopped and burned
  105. his wife, Helene Regehr – chopped and burned
  106. Johann A. Regehr – chopped and burned
  107. his wife, Helene Regehr – chopped and burned
  108. their infant daughter Lena (14 days old) burned alive in her cradle
  109. Sarah A. Warkentin of Friedensfeld – chopped
  110. Wilhelm Jakob Martens – chopped and burned
  111. his son Jakob – chopped and burned
  112. his son Kornelius – choppped and burned
  113. his son Heinrich – chopped and burned
  114. his daughter Mariechen – chopped and burned
  115. his daughter Sarah – chopped, suffered for many days before dying
  116. Heinrich P. Thiessen – chopped and burned
  117. his wife, Maria Thiessen – chopped and burned
  118. all their children, Helene – chopped and burned
  119. Heinrich – chopped and burned
  120. Anna – chopped and burned
  121. Peter – chopped and burned
  122. Aaron – chopped and burned
  123. Maria – chopped and burned
  124. Maria Martens nee Peters – chopped and burned
  125. her son Willie – chopped and burned
  126. her son Johann – chopped and burned
  127. her daughter Anna – chopped and burned
  128. her daughter Helene – chopped and burned
  129. her son Jakob – chopped and burned
  130. her daughter Mariechen – chopped and burned
  131. Johann Wiebe – chopped and burned
  132. his wife, Katharina Wiebe – chopped and burned
  133. their daughter Helene – chopped and burned
  134. Jakob A. Regehr – chopped and burned
  135. his wife, Maria Regehr nee Toews – chopped and burned
  136. their son Abraham – chopped and burned
  137. their daughter Liese – chopped and burned
  138. their daughter Lenchen – chopped and burned
  139. their son Jakob – chopped and burned
  140. their daughter Margaretha – chopped and burned
  141. their daughter Tinchen – chopped and burned
  142. Bernhard Langermann – chopped and burned
  143. his wife, Maria nee Reimer – chopped and burned
  144. their son Johann – chopped and burned
  145. their son Gerhard – chopped and burned
  146. their daughter Elisabeth – chopped and burned
  147. their daughter Anna – chopped and burned
  148. Daniel P. Goossen – chopped and burned
  149. his wife, Maria Goossen – chopped and burned
  150. Heinrich Ott – chopped and burned
  151. his wife Anna Ott – escaped to Shestirnya, but were slain and eaten by dogs & pigs
  152. Katharina Wolf – escaped to Shestirnya, but were slain and eaten by dogs & pigs
  153. Heinrich Wolf – chopped in Shestirnya
  154. Johann Wiebe – chopped and burned
  155. Gerhard Bergen – chopped and burned
  156. his wife, Anna Bergen – chopped and burned
  157. Heinrich Enns – chopped and burned
  158. Rev. Jakob J. Wiens – chopped and burned
  159. Peter Johann Wiebe – chopped and burned
  160. Peter Goossen Sr – chopped and burned
  161. Katharina Klippenstein nee Goossen – chopped and burned
  162. Helene Klippenstein – chopped and burned
  163. Gerhard Reimer Sr – chopped and burned
  164. his wife, Mrs. Reimer – chopped and burned
  165. their daughter Katharina – chopped in the street
  166. Gerhard Friesen (an infant) – burned alive in the cradle
  167. Gerhard Goossen – chopped and burned
  168. Peter P. Goossen Jr – chopped
  169. Grandmother widow Giesbrecht – chopped and burned
  170. Bernhard Giesbrecht – chopped and burned
  171. his wife, Mrs. Giesbrecht – chopped and burned
  172. their son Bernhard – chopped and burned
  173. their daughter Elisabeth – chopped and burned
  174. their daughter Anna – chopped and burned
  175. widow Huebert – chopped in a Russian village
  176. Abram A. Friesen – chopped in a Russian village
  177. Friedrich Wunsch – chopped in Shestirnya and eaten by dogs
  178. David Nickel – chopped and burned
  179. Johann Nickel – chopped and burned
  180. Heinrich Nickel – chopped and burned
  181. Johann D. Martens (teacher) – chopped and burned
  182. Klaas Enns – chopped and burned
  183. Katharina D. Friesen (infant) – killed while suckling (mother survived her wounds)
  184. Heinrich Buegler – chopped
  185. widow Klippenstein – died of a heart attack
  186. Abraham Schwarz – chopped
  187. Kornelius Klippenstein – missing without a trace

    December 1, 1919, Schoenau:
  188. Jakob Neufeld
  189. Johann Pauls
  190. Rev. Martin Hamm – chopped and shot
  191. Jakob Unruh Sr
  192. Mrs. Unruh
  193. Jakob Nickel Sr
  194. Johann Wiebe – abused and shot
  195. Jakob Wiebe – abused and shot
  196. Franz of Reisen
  197. Abraham Franz
  198. Franz Nickel
  199. Abram Quiring – shot a few days later on the street

    February, 1920, Neu Schoensee:
  200. Jakob D. Janzen – shot in a surprise night attack

    August, 1922, Blumenort:
  201. Franz Kroeker – slain on his way to town
  202. Abram Wiebe – beaten, choked with reins
  203. Johann Goertzen – beaten, choked with reins
  204. his son – beaten, choked with reins

 "Mass grave in Orloff, holding 58 bodies" (although Orloff suffered only 45 casualties, others may have likely been brought there because of its centralized location in the colony.) The grave was approximately 77 feet long. The bottom of the grave was lined with straw, and another layer of straw was blanketed over those laid to rest before they were buried.

Orloff is one of the few villages in the Zagradovka Colony that still has the same name today, though the Ukrainians adjusted the spelling to "Orlove." Of course, Zagradovka is now "Zahradivka" and lies just 4.5 miles northeast of Orlove. I wonder if the Ukrainian citizens today are aware of their local history, and the events that took place there a lifetime ago.

The Attack on Orloff

The following memoir of Abram Walde captures in ghastly detail another story of the same attacks on the Zagradovka Colony on November 29th 1919, as he bore witness to the cruel fate of my great great great grandfather, Peter Isaak.

by Abram Walde (1900-1980)

It was in the year 1919. The Civil War was raging in Russia. The hosts of the White Army had penetrated far into the north, and in the occupied zone the punishing of war criminals was being carried out. Many an innocent Russian suffered an unjust punishment. This, and other unwise dealing of the White Army aroused severe bitterness in the populace.

In the north, bands of Ukrainians under the leadership of Nestor Makhno, had joined the ranks of the Red Army against the White forces. In the late summer of 1919, the Makhno bands managed to break through the ranks of the White Army. Burning and killing, these hordes flooded through the Ukraine. Ruffians, idlers, and those who were embittered flocked into his hosts, and in a short time he had a following of not less than 80,000 strong.
It was not long before terrifying reports were circulating. Eichenfeld has been massacred! - Heuboden has suffered the same fate! - Krivoy-Rog has been invaded and is occupied by Makhno! - Ekaterinoslav is in turmoil! As yet the villages of the Sagradowka Colony have been spared from their forays.

It was late fall 1919. Dense fog covered the fields. The streets were a mass of deep mud and nearly impassable. The village farmers are in an agitated mood. Everywhere they can be seen standing in small groups at the fences. The reports of the evil deeds of the Makhno are increasing and his bands are progressively coming nearer and nearer. Yesterday two of our villages, Rosenort and Altonau were visited by the bands. Nothing drastic had been done there, but they had promised to return!

Some refugees from Altonau are arriving. They do not trust the situation in their village, hoping rather to find greater safety in our village, Orloff. It has come to be noon. The farmers separate from each other. Father also comes home and we gather for diner.
"How does it look, Father?!"
"Not good. There are still some who wish to defend themselves."

Soon after dinner, a visitor, a school friend from the neighboring village, comes to see me. We cross the street to the A. Penner residence. Soon we hear some commotion on the street and we go to investigate.
There from the north they come – wagon after wagon. The entire street is full of them, and everywhere they are turning in to the yards.

We hurry to get across the street. My friend runs for the garden right away, and I enter the house.
Already there is a terrible clattering in the front porch. Father and I go to see.
"Your money!" screams one villain, and immediately follows us into the house. Then he spies a clothes closet and begin digging around in it. I see that he has my clothes on his arm and ask him to give them back to me. "There, take them," he says, jumps on his horse and rides away.
"Let us be glad, and thank God, if this is all it will be," says Father.

We look out upon the street. A band of riders comes galloping in from the south, and confusion seems to result on the street. Several riders enter the yard of A. Penner. Penner approaches them.
"Penner is being stabbed!" cries Father, "Penner is falling!"
We hear a sudden racket on the front porch and go to investigate. With drawn bayonets they come upon us. "Don't move" they scream, "Hand over your money." Father tells them that his money has already been taken. "Hand over your money!"

Slowly we retreat into the back room and into a bedroom. Here a bandit is digging through a closet. He stands up as he becomes aware of us.
"Let the young one live – take the old man along," he commands and resumes his search. I am taken to a corner room and made to sit on a chair. Father is led away. The house is in a state of riot. They dig through everything. From the street to sound of rifle and machine-gun fire is almost continuous.

Suddenly the villain holds his revolver in front of my eyes!
"Do you know what this is?"
"Yes, I know."
"Do you know what it's for?"
"Yes, I know."
Then he spies a basket of buns that has been left there by Mother. He grabs one and begins to eat. Then he throws one to me.
"Here, eat!" I eat.
He continues to eat, but his eyes are always focused on me. Nothing good is to be seen in those eyes. He pulls out his saber
"Do you know what this is?"
"Do you know what it is for?" "Yes"
"There you have it!"
I brace myself. It is only a blow with the side. He goes off. I begin to breathe again. In a few moments he is back and holds his revolver in front of me. He goes away – and comes back – how many times I cannot remember.
Then it becomes quiet in the house. I raise myself and see a neighbor, Peter Isaak running into our garden. One arm dangles at his side. He falls down under a tree. A bandit on the street sees this, comes to him, and shoots him in the forehead. His brains gush out. Chickens come and peck at the wound.

A creeping horror comes over me. I cry to God – the Lord has mercy! On the street the rearguard passes by with the Black Flag. I look out into the yard and see two horses still standing there. A few moments later I look again, and the horses are gone.

Slowly I dare to move from the corner room. It is so quiet in the house. I come into the barn. There stands Father in the back of the barn leaning against a post. As I come to him, he removes a cloth that he has been holding around his face - his lower jaw has been blown apart by a shot. I take him by the arm and help him into the machine shed. In the carriage I find a pillow and lay him on it. Then I kneel beside him.
"Father, where are Mother and the children?"
Almost inaudible is the answer, "I do not know."
"Father, you are going into the eternal rest?"

Then I hear voices. They are Mother and the younger family members. I go to meet them and bring them to Father. We lift him up. He is very weak. Mother and I each hold him by an arm and help him into the bunkhouse, where Father's sister, Mrs. Heinrich Neufeld and her husband live. We hope that we will find more order there for our house is in a terrible mess. Mrs. Neufeld has already done some straightening out. We lay Father on a bed, and Mother takes her place at his side.

Mrs. Neufeld continues to cast worried looks out the window to the street. Her husband, who is principal of Orloff High School, has not returned. The children have come home and they know only that their father was detained at the school, and then taken to the elementary school. A few hours later the news comes to us that he was shot to death.

I go out into the yard. Our straw-stacks are on fire. At the neighbors they are also burning. All around one sees fire. I go into the garden. There lies our neighbor. We cannot let the body lie like that overnight! I seek for help, and on his yard I meet his son.
"Your father is lying in our garden. Come let us carry him into our kitchen. But his eyes are turned to their house. There is fire in the house, and it is quickly filling with smoke. He feels sure that there are still some persons in the house.

Then I hear voices on the street in our Low German Dialect. I go to them. Several men have gathered together and are going through the village to remove the corpses. The dead are lying everywhere, on the street, along the fences, in the gardens. We carry the neighbor's body into our house. I go into the barn again and mechanically feed the livestock. My brother Hans is suddenly on my mind. I haven't seen him around anywhere. I go to Mother who is still sitting at Father's bedside. "Where is Hans?" She does not know. I go out and brood over it. The horse he liked best is missing. It is likely that he has ridden away and possibly fallen victim to the Makhno bands.

I come to the neighbor's yard again. The house is standing there in brilliant flames. One of his sons has broken a window and called in, in case someone was still inside. A Mr. Isbrand Friesen from Schoenau had been visiting the Isaaks. Later we found his remains in the ashes. It is likely that he had been shot to death in the house. We try to save something from the fire. Then I return to my home again.

Mrs. Neufeld has supper ready, and then wants us all to go to bed. But sleep will not come. There is a knock at the door. I jump up. My friend, who visited me in the afternoon is there.
"How did you manage to stay alive?" I ask him.
"I ran behind the garden to the Wiebe's where my parents were at the time. I saw several bandits in the garden so I quickly hid in a bush and thus was not found. At Penner's the barn is on fire. They are trying to save the house. Come, let us help.”

We go over and help for a while. The barn burned to the ground but the house remained. The next morning my grandmother comes over. Grandfather and Uncle Wilhelm have both been shot to death. Shortly, some people from the neighboring village arrive on the scene. Rev. Johann Voth, a bishop, comes to visit Father. Uncle Franz comes also. During the time that they are with us, Father dies. We take him from his bed and wash him as best we can. Mother has found some clean clothing for him and we dress him in these. Uncle Frank notices a stab wound in his neck.
"This alone, " he remarks, "would be sufficient to kill a person." We then carry the body into our house.

I go out to the village. Fire everywhere. It looks so sinister. I come to the village school. Uncle Heinrich Neufeld should be there. Mr. Wiebe, a teacher, leads me into one of the rooms. There lie the teachers, Neufeld and John Toews, both dead. Mr. Wiebe pulls back somewhat on Neufeld's coat revealing a small blood spot in the heart area – otherwise no wounds. I turn back again. As I near the W. Penner yard, Mrs. Penner calls out to me,
"Come and see!" She leads me to one of the out buildings. There
[A line is missing here on my copy of the story]

As I arrive at my home again, my brother Hans appears. He had indeed ridden away, had been captured by one of the Makhno bands, but had escaped again. He had spent the night in a neighboring village. Afternoon, orders were given to dig a grave. Several young men from the next village have come to help. A dense fog still shrouds the fields. Several horsemen are patrolling the exits of the village. The Makhno band has apparently taken up quarters in one of the Russian villages, not far away. They could appear again at a moments notice. We dig as quickly as possible so that our dead may be buried without delay.

Suddenly we hear, "They are coming!" Like startled wild animals we all run into the fields and gather together in a corn patch. Nothing is to be seen of the village so we listen intently. There is nothing to be heard. We wait. Many a person kneels down and utters a prayer. Everything remains quiet. Slowly and with great care we return. It was a false alarm.

Again we return to work, but we are unable to complete the grave, and must continue on the next morning. It is Sunday. The dense fog still covers the fields. In due time we resume work on the grave and by noon the task is done. Some straw is put on the grave floor on which the dead are to be laid. The funeral is held in the afternoon. One after the other, the dead are brought, and in the order in which come, they are laid in the grave. Forty-five lie in this grave, mostly farmers, but also some teachers, students and servants. Rev. Jakob Janzen gives a funeral address and prays with us. Slowly, we all depart from the graveyard.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

93rd Anniversary

The purpose of this blog is to create awareness of the genocide that occurred against my ancestors, who were citizens of Imperial Russia, though they were of German descent, and living in "South Russia" which is today known as the country of Ukraine. What was most unique about them is that they were Mennonites: peaceful Christians who led lives very similar to the Amish, believing in hard work, strong faith, and dedicated to freedom and nonviolence. They lived in tight communities: clusters of villages referred to as colonies. In these colonies, they would not intermarry with Russians, only other Mennonites of German descent. It goes without saying that citizens in each colony were closely related, and many Mennonites were related to those in other colonies as well.

93 years ago to the day of this posting, one of their colonies was brutally attacked by a militant anarchist named Nestor Makhno, who had a particular hatred for Mennonites. In a time where Russia was extremely unstable, the Imperial White Army was fighting a civil war against the Red Army, and there was widespread government and societal collapse. The Mennonites were mostly unaffected because they lived relatively isolated lives and kept out of politics. They were wealthier than most of their fellow countrymen, largely due to their simple lives and strong moral values such as modesty and temperance. In a way, they were victims of their own success.

Heritage is another strong value of the Mennonites. They believe it is important to know your lineage and many of them preserved their family histories in memoirs and journals. I have the journals of several of my Mennonite ancestors as well as several journals from their relatives. I am going to share the journal of Elizabeth Bargen, who was an aunt of one of my ancestors. I am going to transcribe it as true to her own words as possible. If you read it with a German accent in mind, some of the awkwardly translated parts might make better sense, as her native language was Low German, her second language was Russian and possibly Ukrainian, and her third language would eventually have been English after the survivors fled to Canada and America.

The village names described in the journal are mostly Mennonite villages inside the Zagradovka Colony. Zagradovka itself has many spelling variations today, due to the different spoken languages and written alphabets. I prefer to use the most common spelling, with others ranging from the Germanic Sagradowka to the contemporary Ukrainian Zahradivka, which is still there today on the eastern shores of the Ingulets River. Most old Mennonite villages are there as Ukrainian villages today, repopulated by Ukrainians and renamed after the Stalinist Purges a dozen years after these events take place.

That should be enough of the background story for a bit of context, so let us listen to Mrs. Bargen:
On the 28th of November, 1919, we had butchered two pigs. There was plenty of every kind of meat. Both my parents and my husband's parents, as well as our neighbor, John Martens, came to help us butcher. There had been much talk of murder and violence that I was so excited and began to feel sick and weak.

My parents, K. Regehr, went home for the night. My husband's parents, Peter Bargen, stayed night at our place. They thought it would be safer here in Tiege than in Altonau. In Altonau, many strange riders had already been seen during the day. These riders had told the people that Altonau would receive some visitors. Before my parents left for home, we read Psalms 91 and prayed together.

The night was peaceful, but the next day which was November 29th was the most dreadful day of our lives. In the morning, I took a liver sausage and some spare ribs to our neighbor, the Martens. He had ordered some meat. Mrs. Martens met me and seemed very scared. She told me that she had not slept all night. Mr. Martens hadn't even undressed for the night. When I entered the room, Mr. Martens began to cry and said,
"Today is my birthday, but I'm going to be murdered today. They'll come and kill me!" I begged him to call Minister Frank Klassen who could comfort him and would pray with him. Rev. Klassen was at the Martens's home that afternoon.

As I walked home, a great number of our neighbors were standing in our street, old and young, and were exchanging their fears with each other. Soon after that, father Bargen left for home. Mother stayed with us. My husband dressed in his worst clothes in order that the robbers would think of him as a poor man and not rich. On his feet, he wore some wooden slippers which he hadn't worn for years. Mother and I cleared away the meat while the 15 year old nursemaid Rosa played with the children and our housemaid Pauline cooked us some coffee.

Frank, my husband, came into the house and told us that they were already murdering and robbing in Gnadenfeld. Towards evening I undressed the children and put them to bed. Frankie, our little son, was only two years old, and Lizie, our daughter, was nine months. The housemaid went out to milk the cows, and the nursemaid was going to set the table for the evening meal when a man entered our house. He came in running and his face was deathly white as he said,
"Now they are here! They came from Orloff. It is burning!" He had barely uttered the words when our yard and house were full of the bandits. There were so many that they stood and walked close to each other. They looked like the devil himself. They were covered with filth and blood. Many carried their bare swords in their hands that were still dripping with blood! On some we saw icicles of frozen clotted blood.

David Wiens of Steinfeld lived in our summer kitchen. Wiens, who was seeking his wife, pressed through the band of robbers into the kitchen. They yelled at him thinking he was host of this house. In his anxiety, Wiens said,
"I am not host, he is," pointing to my husband who was standing next to me.

These demonic men pulled my husband from my side and two men began wielding their blood splattered swords at him. One who was quite drunk, yelled time and again,
"I'll knock your head off!" He would wield his sword again, but never hit him. All he did was chop big holes into the wall. Frank didn't say a word. I had my baby, already in her night clothes, in my arms and our son by the hand. I stood there and witnessed this terrible scene which I will never forget. Our son walked up to one of the murderers and tried to take his gun. He said,
"Give that here, that's my dad's!" The men put his sword to the boy's back and said to his companion,
"Kill the little one. He will only grow up to be our enemy," but the man stroked Frankie's head and answered,
"Let the little boy live."

While all this was going on, my husband had left the room. Because he was dressed so poorly, they thought him to be a worker and let him walk out. One man even told him to go and hide, for they were going to murder everyone. Frank took off his slippers and walked into the garden on stocking feet and escaped in the direction of Nikolaifeld.

From me the robbers demanded money and gold. They took me from room to room by poking their bloody swords at me. All at once, one of the men grabbed my baby out of my arms and hurled her across the room. She gave one cry and then lay still. I thought she was dead. In the meantime, I had lost track of my son and couldn't see him anywhere.

Then with much cursing and pushing me around with their swords, they wanted me to fulfill their desires. If I wouldn't, they would chop me to pieces. I told them they could kill me but first they should kill my children. Then my mother-in-law, Maria Bargen [nee Martens] stepped in and begged the men to leave me alone because I was sick. They turned their attention to mother and began beating her. They forgot me, so I went and picked up my baby. She was blue and limp. I pressed myself through the band of men into the entry. Here, one man handed me my son and winked towards the door. That is, I should get out. I took my children and pressed through the cursing troop and came out into the open.

While these men were harassing me in the house, I saw how they slashed Mr. Martens across the chest as I looked out of our window. After a few more strokes with the sword, the robber pulled a short gun from his pocket and shot him. Later I heard he was shot with an explosive shell.

As I emerged into the open, the two maids called me from the pig pen which was built onto the shed. Here is where they had been hiding. There among the pigs and mire which almost reached our knees, my baby regained consciousness and began to cry pitifully. There was one window towards the shed in which a great number of bandits were milling around. They would have seen us had they only looked through the hole, but God kept his protecting hand over us.

It was very cold in this pig pen so that the mud around us got quite stiff during the night. I took off my dress and petticoat and wrapped my crying baby in them. By now, both children and both maids were crying. Inside the shed was such heathenish noise that they didn't hear us. Oh, how we prayed to God there, among all this dirt. The children fell asleep but we three sat there shaking and faint hearted.

Soon we heard some loud cursing and moaning in the shed. I was afraid it was my husband they were molesting, so I dared myself and looked through the hole into the shed. I saw a very nice looking girl being raped by a shed full of robbers. All at once from out in the yard, someone yelled that he had grabbed a nice girl. The bandits in the shed all ran out into the yard leaving the girl on the straw. I called her and told her to come quickly to the hole. She was barely on our side of the wall when her tormentors returned. They looked everywhere for the girl, but seemingly never saw the hole in the wall. My, how we prayed to God for protection!

We heard one bandit suggest that they burn the shed, then they would get even with those hiding in it, so we left our hiding place. We actually got away! As we were running and turned around to look at our village, we saw many yards in flames. We could hear the cattle bellowing in the burning barns. When we sat down to rest ourselves, the girl told me they had killed my husband. How that hurt! I couldn't say a word nor shed a tear. On the next morning when they told her that her father had been killed, she cried bitterly.

We fled all night and were running on stocking feet since we had lost our shoes. Over plowed and frozen fields, we fled. From time to time, we heard people passing not far from us, but since we didn't know if they were friend or foe, we remained very quiet.

When we arrived in Blumenort, we couldn't find anyone in the village. How lonesome a deserted village appears! We ran to Alexanderkrone. The girls changed off carrying my son. I carried my baby the entire time for that was the only way we could keep her quiet. Before we reached the village, and in the darkness, we came upon some ice through which I broke. I sank into the water til under my arms. My baby also got wet. I couldn't go any further. The girls dragged me to the first house. The people, Peter Friesen, were just ready to flee. They gave me and the children dry clothing, loaded me on their wagon, as sick as I was, and took me to Neu Schoensee and put me into the house of Jacob Janzen.

Mrs. Janzen put me into a warm bed and nursed me as well as she could. I thought I would die, for I was in urgent need of a doctor. I wanted to die, and therefore welcomed it, for then I would see my husband again. In the afternoon, we got word that the bandits were approaching. Everybody fled; only Mrs. Janzen stayed with me, but those approaching were not bandits. They were people who were fleeing, and with them was my husband! What a meeting we had! Now I could cry. Until now, neither of us had been able to shed any tears. Too much had happened to us.

Soon after that, we had to flee Neu Schoensee, as an attack was feared. They loaded me on another wagon and drove me to Neu Halbstadt, where I was again put to bed at the home of Minister Janzen. Mrs. Janzen here cared for me as a mother looking after her child.

After about five days, when all the bandits had left, we were able to move back into our house, but oh my! Our house looked a mess. There wasn't a trace of clothes nor bedding. Neither was there anything to eat. The dresser drawers lay in front of the door, covered with human waste. On the table lay a pile of broken glasses of canned fruit and jam. They even used the top and underneath the table as their bathroom!

In spite of all this, we were fortunate - for our house was still standing, and our loved ones were alive. Many of our people could not say this. It is true, after this experience, our people would have liked to leave Russia, but this was not possible.We could not expect help from anywhere. It taught many, as Mr. Fast said, to again turn to the Lord in prayer. Small surprise attacks became the order of the day. Large attacks could happen again any day. How could we prevent them from coming?

Abram Quiring of Shoenau walked on the street in the beginning of December. Someone saw a man step out from behind a post and shoot him. Who was this murderer? Why did he do it? No Man could answer these questions. No police investigated the shooting, for there were no police. It was evident to all of us; that which happened to Mr. Quiring could happen to someone else tomorrow.

On February 1920, someone knocked on the window of the home of Frank Wiens, chairman of the Neu Schoensee village. When he asked who was there, they told him they were soldiers who wanted to be taken on a wagon. This happened every day. Wiens got dressed and went with the heavily armed men to the farmer who had the wagon. When they came even with Jacob Janzen's yard, the men called a halt and said they didn't want to go any farther. They wanted the owner of this house to drive them. Wiens had to submit to this. He awoke brother Janzen and told him these men wanted him to drive them somewhere. Mr. Janzen barely opened the door when these men began to rob him. Janzen's wagon was driven in front of the house on which the bandits piled anything from his house that they desired. When this was done, they took Janzen's son and stood him in front of his father, and Wiens in front of the son. One of the bandits shot Mr. Janzen in the back. This bullet was meant to kill all three of them at the same time. They would have accomplished this if they had not used a sawed-off gun which diminished the power of the bullet. Janzen cried,
"I'm hit!" and fell to the ground and was dead. His son was injured and Wiens was unharmed. Both remained alive. Since the lamps were out, the murderers ran out of the room as if someone had used a whip on them. They jumped on the wagon and chased out of the village.

Likewise in the village of Alexanderfeld and Nikolaifeld, blood was shed. No one could feel secure any more. Not rich or poor, German, Russian, or Jew. No woman, young or old, pretty or homely, well or sick, was sure of her honor. No man was sure of his belongings. Robbing, raping, and murdering was continued whenever it suited them.

This was the atmosphere in which we lived.