My name is Bertoldo Hartfelder; and I am here
to tell the story of a group of 15 people of whom ten are members of the Hartfelder
family, and five others were brothers-in-law. I want to speak about our departure from
Russia to our arrival in Brazil. Of this group, only my niece and I are still living.
I search my memory and think about our history, I see how this group of people had
abundant courage, great daring and strong faith in God to undertake this trip across
Russia and Siberia of almost 4,000 miles (7,000 km), with minimum resources facing extreme
conditions and not knowing what would happen to them.
In the year 1930, with my father no longer living, we left Saratov, on the Volga River,
Russia, to head east to China. The group included my mother, brothers of my mother, one of
whom was married, all adults. There were also adolescents, including my mother's niece, my
sister, and children, including me at age five. We began our trek. When we hurriedly left,
we had to leave behind all of the possessions and goods that we had, thinking only about
saving our lives.
The trip, encountering many difficulties, was made on foot, by horse, by sleigh and by
train. The two older brothers had been delayed and were bringing food and warm clothing
that would be needed during the trip. On one certain day however, they were caught and
lost everything that they were carrying. They almost lost their lives themselves. They
were sentenced to die by firing squad. But, thanks to God. that did not happen; and they
were put into prison. Some months later they had the opportunity to run away from the
prison, where they had been retrained for working. They were able to join us.
Thus, we arrived in the city of Harbin, China; and here we remained three to four
years. During these years in Harbin, many things occurred to transform our family. There
was the joy of the marriages of my brother and my two sisters. There was the sadness of
the loss of my mother, an older brother and his wife, and a niece. They died due to a
great epidemic of typhus. During this epidemic, many other people lost their lives.
Time passed; and we persevered in our faith in God, and the hope of finding a better
future. And so time passed, until we learned through the Red Cross that a distant country
was accepting immigrants.
Again we prepared ourselves for a very long trip. The ocean voyage would be some 15,000
miles (24,000km). This time the destination was Brazil, more specifically a city called
Pelotas, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. This trip would be made under circumstances
somewhat better than on the trip from Saratov to Harbin. Most of this great trip would be
made by ship on the oceans. We traveled by train to the port city of Dairen to embark on
the ship, a freighter, also called "Dairen".
On this long trip, we stopped in many port cities, in many different countries. We
crossed the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, the Suez
Canal, the Mediterranean Sea, the Strait of Gibraltar. We finally reached the Atlantic
Ocean as outlined on the map. (see it below access link).
We arrived in Brazil, but still stopped in some port cities, until we arrived in Rio de
Janeiro on 19 April 1934. There we spent 40 days on the Island of Flowers (Ilha das
Flores). After 40 days, we made another trip to the Port of Pelotas, our final
destination. When we disembarked in Pelotas, we were greeted by Pastor Otto Juethler, from
the Martin Luther Church and a group of Pommeranian (Germany) colonists.
From there the trip continued with horses and wagons, until we reached a place named
Arroio do Padre II. Here we were welcomed; and we began to learn a new lifestyle and a new
culture. We learned to plant and to bring in a harvest in a country that was quite
different from our previous country. We obtained permission to chop down trees; and we
used them to make planks and
boards to build our houses. We received two hectares of land for each person for farms
from Germany. We also received clothing and tools to enable us to work in the virgin
lands. We had to plow the land three or four times to break up the ground enough to be
able to plant the seeds. The soil was extremely hard.
And so we started a new life. We married and started families. Some people remained in
Pelotas; others moved to Porto Alegre and others to Argentina.
The story that I have told here seems like a film or a novel, but it really happened.
Many other people have experienced difficulties like this, with problems, losses, sadness
and joys. In the end there remains the learning and gratefulness of God for being here
today and to be able to tell you this story. It had a happy ending, because of our great
faith and confidence in God, who knows what he does. And we are grateful to all the people
who assisted us during the great escape by giving us food, lodging, and work. And thanks
to Brazil, which accepted us and permitted us to live, work establish ourselves and to
live in peace together.