As families fulfill their summer travel plans, I am always excited to see that many have included the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) as one of their primary stops. Our staff often receives expressions of their appreciation for the care MHV has taken to preserve the Russian Mennonite story.
Pioneer Days is one of the highlights of my summer. Visitors from all over the globe visit our museum during this August long weekend to experience the sights and sounds of days gone by.
In celebration of our heritage, Village Books and Gifts will be presenting an Author Book Launch/Reading on Monday, August 6, at 2:00 p.m. in our auditorium. This event will feature two authors, Harold Jantz and Harold N. Wiens, as well as gifted pianist Kimberly Dyck.
Flight, written by Harold Jantz of Winnipeg, tells the story of the efforts taken by the Mennonites to flee the Soviet Empire in 1929 and 1930. Jantz, who has a personal interest in the story, says his father was one of about 20,000 Mennonites who escaped to Canada before the Soviets closed the doors to emigration in 1929. As he was researching his family history, Jantz learned it was also then that Soviet leader Josef Stalin made life miserable for wealthy Mennonite farmers, who were called Kulaks.
Jantz states, “The Kulaks were people who were the more prosperous farmers. They were the better farmers. They were considered enemies and many, many of them were removed from their farms, were sent into exile, were, in some cases, even executed. They were treated with tremendous harshness.” However, Jantz adds, Stalin didn’t stop there.
“There was a tremendous attack on religion. So, huge numbers of religious leaders, certainly among Mennonites, but among the Orthodox and others as well, were sent into exile or, perhaps, executed. They (the Soviets) introduced a five-day week (with no Sabbath) which meant that if you were religious, you couldn’t plan for your services. There was also a significant crop failure in 1929.” Jantz states that “all of these factors prompted Mennonites to plead to leave the Soviet Union for Canada. Some Mennonite families made it out but many others did not.” The book tells the stories of these families, based largely on letters published by a Winnipeg-based Mennonite weekly newspaper, which was called the Mennonitishe Rundschau at the time.
Kimberly Dyck began her career as a musician in Steinbach studying under Jane Duerksen. She graduated with a Performance degree from the University of Manitoba, studying under Dr. Judy Kehler-Siebert. She enjoys performing as a solo musician as well as collaborating with other instrumentalists and vocalists. One highlight of her journey was performing as Manitoba’s representative in a national competition in 2011. Kimberly currently teaches piano from her home in Steinbach and is on the executive of the Southeastern Manitoba Festival.
Harold N. Wiens of Edmonton, Alberta, has written a book titled Return to Odessa. This story is about a Mennonite baby named Raisa Friedrichsen who is born as her mother dies in Blumenau, Ukraine – one of the last villages established in the historic Molotschna Colony. Her father, only sixteen years old, leaves Raisa to be raised by her grandparents, taking on the role of her “brother.” With schoolyard bullies harassing her with the truth, Raisa (now known as Christina) finally leaves home to find a new life in Odessa.
After a series of unfortunate events, Christina finds herself a single mother of two teenage sons on the eve of the Russian Revolution. She must do whatever it takes to keep her boys safe. The fictional events in this book were inspired by the experiences of Harold’s parents, Nikolai and Anna Wiens.
Harold is a singer and Professor Emeritus who recently retired from the Department of Music at the University of Alberta, where he held a teaching position for thirty-five years.