Escape From The "Red Paradise"
A Journey Of Thousands Of Miles From Communist
Slavery To Freedom.
By Erica Margita Neumann
This story is only a summary of my family history, which is being
compiled in a book which will be illustrated with photos, certificates drawings and maps.
As early as in 1763 the Russian Czarina Catherine II (the Great), of
German origin, tried to attract German people to populate and develop the vast Russian
empire, with several incentives. Later czars also tried to attract settlers; but they did
not offer them the same incentives. However, the country was still attractive because of
the vastness of unpopulated lands.
The Neumann family, which lived in Prussia, decided to follow in the
footsteps of many others that migrated in the czar's time to Volhynia, looking for better
living conditions. When the communists took over the country, the people's dreams were
transformed into a nightmare. With great difficulty and sacrifice, the Neumann family
escaped to Harbin, China, where they started to live their lives as refugees, and later
emigrated to Brazil.
Currently, most of Volhynia belongs to Ukraine; a lesser part belongs
My great-grandparents, Gottlieb Neumann and Juliane Janke were married
in the parish of Zhitomir, Volhynia, on 17 February 1859.
We know that they had several children in Volhynia, who were:
- Heinrich, born 18 January 1860 in Zhitomir
- Johann, born 6 April 1869 in Nedbajuwka.
- Justine, born 10 February 1871 in Nedbajuwka.
- Ludwig, born 27 January 1873 in Alexanderdorf.
- Gottlieb, born 15 June 1875 in Alexanderdorf; died three days later.
- Gustav (my grandfather), born 19 January 1880 in Alexanderdorf.
- one stillborn, unnamed, 18 April 1883 in Alexandzerddorf.
- Mathilde, birth date unknown; died 19 October 1883, age five.
My grandmother Rosalie Michailovna Stripling was born in Alexanderdorf, Volhynia, 8
Alexanderdorf, whose name was changed to Granidub in 1893, was located
approximately 150 miles west of Kiev. Nebajufka (or Nedbajuvka) was 2.5 miles from
Granidub, all in Heimtal (Home Valley) in Volhynia.
The marriage of my grandparents Gustav Neumann and Rosalie Michailowna
Stripling was in Rudnha, Volhynia, 15 January 1903. They had purchased a farm in Granidub,
and they lived there, working as farmers. In Granidub (formerly Alexanderdorf) their
children were born: Herta 7 December 1903, Erna 25 August 1906 and Ewald 20 July 1909.
The times of the family in these
years was of prosperity. Improvements on the property had been made; more machines to help
in planting and harvesting had been added; and the house had also been embellished.
Gustav Neumann traveled to learn about South America. He was gone
approximately three years from 1911 to 1913, leaving pregnant Rosalie at home, with small
children, to manage everything, and yet to send money to him. Among the countries that he
visited were Argentina and Brazil. His son Herbert was born 20 December 1911 while Gustav
Deportation during the First World War.
The First World War broke out in 1914. Although 300,000
Germans served in the Russian army, there was a general anti-German propaganda campaign
throughout Russia. Speaking German in public was forbidden. Discrimination against German
people reached such a point in July 1915 that deportation orders came for removal of
Germans from Volhynia. The policy arrived with soldiers armed with rifles and bayonets.
Farmers were forced to abandon their farms, livestock and everything.
Gustav and his family were banished to the area between the Volga River
and the Ural Mountains, where Siberia begins. It was time for the harvest but everything
had to be abandoned as it was. Two horses were hitched to a wagon; a canvas was fastened
on as a covering. Provisions and warm clothes were loaded on. With their small children
loaded in the wagon, they left behind, the house with all the furnishings, plantings and
Now without their farm and house, they made the wagon their home. After
they had traveled a stretch, they would stop for a time to work on farms to get money or
food and then continue on the trip again. They endured many hardships and difficulties to
survive. Cold, hunger and disease decimated thousands of Germans during this deportation.
For this terrible event, the deportees wrote the following song, using
the melody of an old Russian song called "Stenka Razin":
Aus Wolhynien sind gezogen, die Verjagten arm und reich.
Keinem ging der Weg auf Rosen, alle waren sie jetzt gleich.
Sonntag frueh, am zehnten Juli, grade zu der Erntezeit
Muessten durch die Truebsalsschule, alle arm und reiche Leut.
Angespannt und schwer beladen, stand der Wagen vor der Tuer.
Manche Sachen, oh wie Schade, bleiben liegen, nichts dafuer.
Es ging fort auf Pferd und Wagen, nach Befehl der Obrigkeit.
Niemand fand dort einen Retter, der ihm aus der Not befreit.
So ging's fort durch Sturm und Wetter, bis es zu dem Bahnhof kam.
Und dort haben wir gewartet, auf den Zug der Eisenbahn.
Endlich war es aufgeladen, und die Menschheit fuhr dahin.
Und der Weg mit schnellen Schritten, fuhrt uns nach Sibirien hin.
Es ist gar nicht zu beschreiben, diese grosse Traurigkeit,
Jeder lenkt' den Blick nach oben, ach, wann werden wir befreit?
Und zu diesen Truebsalkeiten, kam der Tod mit Riesenschritt.
Kleine Kinder, alte Leute, junge Blueten nahm' er mit.
The verses, translated into English, say the following:
From Volhynia marched the banished, rich and poor,
No one went the way of roses; all were now equal.
Sunday early, on July the tenth, exactly at harvest time,
All rich and poor people would have to endure the school of affliction.
Hitched and heavily laden, the wagon was at the front door.
Many things, oh how sad, left behind; we can do nothing;
They left on horse and wagon, forced by the authorities.
No one found a savior; who rescued them from their misery.
We traveled forth through storm and bad weather; until we came to the
And there we waited, for the arrival of the train.
Finally we loaded up, and humanity pulled away,
And the route led with quick steps to distant Siberia.
It is impossible to describe this great sadness;
Everyone links the view to beyond; oh, when will we be set free?
And to this great trouble, came death with giant steps.
It afflicted small children, old folks and young people.
In March 1917, the revolution that was known as the February Revolution
(the Russians still used the Julian calendar), compelled Czar Nicholas II to resign. A
provisional government was established. In the schools of the German colonies, the use of
the German language was again allowed.
With euphoria, the socialist parties
launched an intense propaganda campaign among the masses, promising great miracles and
heaven for the people. The Bolsheviks had planned a coup d'etat to take power by force and
to establish communism in the country. They were successful in doing this on 7 November
This coup d'etat was known as the October Revolution. They had attacked
the strategic points in Petrograd (old Petersburg) and had overthrown the provisional
government. The country was now in the hands of Lenin. The government authorized the
looting of the country in the name of socialism. The poor peasants had been organized and
controlled by Bolshevik agitators into groups of "without land". Through
slogans, the leaders encouraged the masses to attack the bourgeois class members and to
take from them whatever they wanted. Many of the common peasants wanted to participate in
this plundering. Anarchy was rampant in the country.
People who were disappointed and dissatisfied with the radicalism of
the Bolsheviks, started to organize centers of resistance in some parts of the country. An
army of volunteers was created and was called the "White Army." They were poorly
armed but highly motivated to defeat the Communists. The government, in turn, created the
"Red Army", armed with weapons seized from the Czarist army. A bloody civil war
ensued, which lasted until the end of 1920.
While democratic processes developed in Europe and America, autocratic
processes of the most violent kind in the history of humanity, developed in Russia. No
opposing thought to the communist doctrine was tolerated. Expression of free thought or
personal freedom was finished.
Homeward Journey to Volhynia.
In December 1917 Russia signed an armistice with Germany.
Families which had survived the exile during the civil war, received authorization in the
beginning of 1918 to return to Volhynia. They found the majority of their proprieties
occupied by invaders, who generally caused great devastation. Farms, cattle, tools,
furniture, equipment and everything that they were forced to leave behind was stolen or
broken. Those who had had their property seized by the "Muzhik" (peasants) had
not been able to get it back. The "Muzhik' refused to leave.
Gustav and his family had obtained authority to reclaim their half
destroyed property. They worked hard to rebuild the house and granary. They re-organized
everything and prepared to plant. It was difficult to begin again, because of the high
prices. A cow that had cost 50 roubles in 1914 now cost 15 times as much in 1918.
On 14 February 1918, the Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian
calendar, which was used in the west. The days of 1 to 13 were simply omitted, and the
month of February began on February 14.
The First World War ended in 1918. Russia was transformed into chaos.
On the one hand, groups of plunderers invaded peoples' houses and stole what they wanted.
On the other, the government confiscated farmers' harvests to feed people in the cities
and to export.
On 3 January 1919 my father Adolf, son of Gustav and Rosalie Neumann
was born in Granidub, Volhynia.
The Russian Civil War ended at the end of 1920 with a communist
victory. The Allies, who had helped the "White Army" had given up.
In the beginning of 1921, Gustav decided to leave Granidub and to look
for another place to live. The family moved initially to Janovka, some 10 miles distant,
where they worked several months as caretakers of a school, attached to the Lutheran
Because of the chaotic situation in the country in 1921, Lenin
reintroduced a more liberal economy. This allowed for more individual manufacture and
commerce on a small scale. Peasants could again sell their harvests on the free market.
With these changes in the economy, normalization returned to economic life.
Therefore, Gustav and many others believed that the situation would be
better. He learned of available lands in Catharinoslav (or Yekaterinoslav, called
Dnepropetrovsk after 1926). Mennonite farmers were leaving the country and offering their
properties, fully equipped, at low prices. Gustav decided then to move to there and
purchase a farm. Catharinoslav was located on the left bank of the Dniepr River, to the
south of Kiev and not very far from the Black Sea. Arriving in Catharinoslav, Gustav found
a suitable farm and decided to buy it. The family settled in and started to work.
In the Catharinoslav region, it was customary for farmers to
group together in small villages, where they cultivated their fields a few miles away. The
village consisted primarily of a long wide main street. On each side of the street were
plots of land which contained the house, the flower garden, the vegetable garden and the
orchard. Also there were quarters for employees, stables for the animals, silos, sheds and
several machines. Since they did not have electricity, they used windmills and animals for
The houses in which they lived were very substantial. They were two
story houses with very thick walls to protect them from the cold of the severe winters. In
the houses were great brick fireplaces covered with tile for heating. For lighting,
kerosene lanterns were used. On the roofs, it was customary to install a wagon wheel,
which served as a nesting base for storks. Gustav installed in the cellar a small
camouflaged vodka factory; this was forbidden by the government, because of the scarcity
of wheat grain.
To the rear of the plot of land stood a small forest. Beyond the forest
lay a cemetery, where the dead from disease, epidemic, war and revolution lay buried
together in a common grave with a large mound of earth. So many people had died that they
did not have time for individual burial.
Marriages, at the time, were arranged by parents. Gustav chose Rudolf
Wichmann to be the husband of his daughter Herta. Rudolf Wichmann was born 22 September
1897 in Granidub. They married 5 May 1923 and the wedding celebration lasted several days,
and with much vodka. As a marriage dowery, Herta received a trousseau and some animals.
Rudolf acquired a piece of property in the same village, next to Gustav's farm.
Lenin died in January 1924. A great power struggle ensued in the
government of Russia.
Baby Elfriede Wichmann was born on 17 October 1926 to parents Rudolf
and Herta Wichmann.
During 1925 and 1926 land redistribution by the communist government
reached the Catharinoslav region. Farmers were being forced to give up their land without
compensation. The confiscated farms were being divided up into plots of approximately 25
to 40 acres and given without charge to those "without land".
The Neumann family were eating lunch one day, after a hard morning's
work on the farm and discussed with alarm the confiscation of lands. Suddenly seven armed
policemen invaded the house with bayonets and pulled Gustav out of the house, slapping him
around and knocking him to the ground. After eating the food on the table, they lit
torches and set fire to the storage room, where one hundred bags of wheat were stored.
After several threats, they left. It was the first warning and the beginning of several
Gustav did not escape the land confiscation. Only the piece of land
with the house where they lived was spared. Now survival came to depend almost entirely on
the clandestine vodka distillery.
The marriage of daughter Erna was also arranged by Gustav. The chosen
man was Leonhard Frenzel, who came with a mediator and a bottle of vodka. This match-maker
would negotiate the marriage. Leonhard Frenzel had been born in Neumanovka in Volhynia on
2 May 1895. The marriage was performed in 1926. Because the economic situation was
difficult at the time, the wedding party was modest and they did not receive an endowment
(dowery). After the wedding, Leonhard and Erna moved to Priamur, located beyond the Baikal
Mountains near Kharbarovsk. Here Leonard bought land in a new colony that was developing
in the region.
In 1927 Josef Stalin gained control of the government. He worked
ruthlessly to eliminate any opposition to him and to impose total control over the people.
He ended freedom to travel; everything was controlled. He instituted a great structure for
repression in which everyone informed on each other. Thus, children denounced their
parents; neighbors exposed other neighbors; wives turned against their husbands; and
husbands turned against their wives.
The threat of being put in prison was real and constant. It could
happen at any time and under insignificant ridiculous accusation. People were sent to the
fields of forced labor. The communists wanted to transform the country into a great power,
at the expense of the enslaved workers.
In 1928, the government organized a great economic plan, called the
Quinquennial (Five Year) Plan. This emphasized rapid development in heavy industry and
Inhabitants of cities received ration cards for food. If a person did
not have a ration card, he did not receive food. With these forms, the communists had the
power of life and death over the people. Adolf, accompanying his father Gustav on a trip
to Kiev, saw enormous lines of hungry people in a sad state, waiting to receive food with
ration cards. Food was scarce, so the peasants did not feel motivated to be productive. As
a result, thousands of people died of hunger. As everything belonged to everybody, and
nothing belonged to anybody, carelessness and disinterest took hold, and things were
simply left to fall to pieces.
On 14 April 1929, son Erwin was born to Rudolf and Herta Wichmann.
From Catharinoslav to
The Neumann and Wichmann families, which had already been
reached by the confiscation and redistribution of land, were still living on the plot of
land in Catharinoslav. But the situation was no longer viable. The high taxes imposed by
the government, the prohibitions of service in the churches, and the frequent harassment
and arrest threats by the police had made Gustav see that they could no longer continue to
live there. Also the formation of collective farms were already being established in the
region. They did not know what to make of it. Some families had already been forced onto
collective farms. No one knew who would be next.
The Russian borders were closed with barbed wire; guards tried to
prevent people from escaping. If communism was so good, like they said, why were people
running away in despair, abandoning everything? Where was it possible to cross the border?
Going down the Dnieper River to the Black Sea was not so far, but all the ports were
controlled and sealed off. Even to withdraw money from the bank was impractical, because
everything was watched. They needed to concern themselves with the money that was kept in
It was the beginning of December 1930; a great sadness prevailed. It
had already been said many times that it was necessary to flee the country; but now the
moment had come. How hard it was to gather some things to take along and to abandon the
remaining possessions. It all seemed like a huge nightmare. It was a terribly cold day;
and the fingers were frozen by the wind and snow. During the night Gustav hitched two
horses to the wagon; Rosalie and the children helped to load it. The same was done by
Rudolf and Herta Wichmann, along with their children Elfriede and Erwin. Erwin was only
one year and eight months old.
In the haste that the situation demanded, only the bare essentials were
taken: clothes, blankets, pillows, documents, photos, some dishes, food and many bottles
of vodka. Rosalie remembered to take along a bag of sugar cubes to help fend off hunger,
in case they were unable to obtain food on the trip. They took along all the money kept in
They had to abandon the house with its improvements, furniture,
utensils and everything. The farm was left behind, cattle in the corral, crops in the
field, machines and other animals. With heavy hearts and tears in their eyes, they bade
their home, which was so dear to them, one last goodbye. Still they wanted to take one
last glimpse of that small village, where they had lived a long time, where the children
had been born and had grown, and where they had lived with friends and relatives.
Everything that they had gained, with much sacrifice, now had to be left behind. There was
no other solution; no one wanted to fall into the hands of the Bolsheviks.
The destination was Moscow. The Wichmann family followed in a separate
wagon. Before dawn they had left from the village area. They were going up a hill when the
first rays of sun appeared on the horizon. From there they were able to catch one last
glimpse of the village that they forever left behind. It was very difficult to hold back
the tears. They knew that the long trip would be difficult and dangerous, but they
entrusted their destiny to God. They followed the road from village to village. They found
many nearly abandoned houses, where men readied the horses as women prepared meals with
what they could find.
With overloaded wagons, they advanced slowly. At some rivers, there
were narrow wooden bridges, which fortunately supported the weight of the wagons. The trip
was hard; the road was full of rocks and ruts. After some rainy days, everything was muddy
and slippery. They were soaked through with rain and dirty from the mud. Some days it was
difficult to find food and shelter for the horses. It was necessary for someone to spend
the night in the wagon so that the horses were not stolen. Depending on the weather and
the road conditions, they advanced some 20 to 30 miles (30-50 km) each day.
When they arrived in Moscow, Gustav inquired carefully to learn where
they could cross the border. Unrelenting care was required so as not to arouse suspicion;
not to profess the communist doctrine was considered a heinous crime. Gustav used his
knowledge of Russians' proclivity for vodka to get them drunk to get the information that
he needed. The only place where it was still possible to cross the border was at far off
Vladivostok in Siberia. There, only in winter, escape could be made by crossing the frozen
river on foot, to China.
Gustav purchased tickets at the railroad station. They transferred
their possessions from the wagon to the train and climbed aboard. The horses and wagon
were abandoned at the station; it had no identification on it, so the owner could not be
traced and identified.
On the trip, they passed the Volga River and the city of Orenburg, They
crossed the white Ural Mountains constituted mainly of marble and calcareous rock, with no
tunnels. They passed Omsk and Tomsk. They arrived in Novosibirsk, where they had to change
trains. The next stop was Irkutsk, near Lake Baikal and before the Baikal Mountains. On
some days they stopped to wait for the next train on the other side of the river.
They crossed the Baikal Mountains, a rocky formation, with more than 50
tunnels. They arrived in Tchita, where the railroad tracks divided. One route passed into
China, but it was not possible for them to cross the border there. They had to take the
other route. After the mountains they came to Priamur. Priamur was the new colony where
Erna Neumann and Leonhard Frenzel had settled after their wedding.
Leonard Frenzel did not want to follow the Neumann family in their
escape to China. Therefore, besides this difference with the father in law, Leonard said
that he wanted to decide some things with his friend named Pastochenko. Also, he would not
allow Erna to follow with her parents; so under threat of denouncement, Erna gave up. The
Neumann and Wichmann families continued on to Kharbarovsk. There the train changed
direction to the south and continued to the last station, Vladivostok.
Near Vladivostok, they occupied an abandoned house, totally furnished
and some distance from the city. The house, with no heat, was frozen. There were layers of
snow on the furniture. Icicles hung in the house like stalactites in a cavern. Around he
house was a field, where many wolves howled mournfully. Beyond the field was a dark
forest; the wolves would not risk entering there because of the bears.
Gustav arranged for a job in the home of a family to earn money and
food. He cautiously inquired about where to cross the border. He discovered another fully
furnished house closer to the border, between Slawjanka and Kraskino. They moved in there.
Always using the vodka as a bribe, Gustav talked with people and
arranged for guides to help in the crossing of the border. The escape had to be made in
the middle of the night because of the border policing.
Crossing the Border into China.
The fugitives had acquired sleighs and fastened onto them
clothes, food and goose down filled comforters, as best they could. The sleighs were
pulled on foot through the snow. The contracted guides were 15 or 16 year old youngsters.
They were royally paid and demanded their money in advance.
They left on foot in the middle of the night and by the following day
at dusk, they arrived at the border of China. It was horribly cold. The guides always ran
ahead; and the group followed in their footprints in the snow. If someone could not keep
up, because of fatigue, he stopped and had to stay back. Near the border there were
accumulated snow mounds. The refugees would hide behind these mounds, as they waited for
the police to pass. The police patrolled in pairs, armed with rifles and bayonets and
ready to shoot. After the border police passed by and moved on, the refugees had to run
hard, pulling their sleighs. They had crossed the frozen river and had reached the Chinese
side of the river. As soon as they had crossed the border, the guides disappeared. They
were finally free of the communist "paradise". On the Chinese side they
continued to walk. Initially they found only farms.
A few miles after crossing the Chinese border, the group of travelers
were intercepted by the Chinese police, armed with rifles with bayonets. They ordered the
group to line up next to one another. Rudolf turned to Herta and said, "Herta, this
is the end of us." But Herta answered, "No, God has helped us and has
miraculously brought us this far. We have survived many tribulations, He will help us and
rescue us from the hands of these men now." Upon hearing this, Rudolf lowered his
head and did not say anything more. When the police raised their rifles and prepared to
shoot them, the children began to shout and cry. When the police heard the shouts and
crying of the children, they felt sorry for them and lowered their weapons. They said in
Chinese, "suba, suba" that means '"go away, go away". And so,
miraculously, they had escaped death.
After they had escaped from the Chinese police, they had the problem of
finding a place to stay overnight and of finding food to eat, in the houses that they
encountered along the road. At some places, they received food and a place to wash up and
to sleep. At all of the houses where they were welcomed, the people had heating. The beds
were made of bricks, under which was a hollow area where fires were built to keep them
They walked on foot until they reached the first train station inside
of China. According to the map, it seems to have been Onsong. There they were received in
a hotel, whose owner was a Russian.
Traveling in China.
The immediate problem was how to get to the city of Harbin, if
they had no money to buy tickets on the railroad? One member of the group had an idea. He
went to the station and asked for information about how to send some cargo to Harbin. The
man at the station explained which train, the time schedule and from which station it
would depart. When the train arrived, one of the group went to the station and looked for
an empty car; the entire group climbed aboard and made themselves comfortable. The train
departed. When the train arrived at the indicated station, they opened the gate and
carefully jumped outside so as not to be seen.
The same thing was done at other stations, always looking for an empty
car in which to hide the group. In this manner, they were able to arrive in Harbin. During
the trip they encountered more and more fugitives from communism, more fellows of
misfortune. All helped one another, as much as they could be helped.
At one station, when they needed to change trains, one of the group
members came running to tell them that he had found a car with a pile of straw on one
side. It was straw that had been used to pack bottles of wine. He said, "Tonight we
will not have to suffer the cold." They climbed aboard in this car and during the
night, pushed the straw to the middle of the car and set it afire. Nobody had realized
that Chinese railroad car floors were made of wood, not steel. Their only chance to escape
was to jump out of the burning railroad car. They walked on foot until they found a house.
It was a Russian family, who took them in and let them spend the night. On the following
day they continued the trek on foot, until they reached the next train station.
Life in Harbin, China.
When they arrived in Harbin, near the end of February or at
the beginning of March 1931, they had to seek a shelter. They knew that a shelter for
refugees had been established; it was called "Obsigitie" in Russian.
They found that it had an enormous piece of land, encircled by walls.
In the middle was a great courtyard. Around the courtyard stood one room brick structures
attached to one another. Each had a door and a window. Each one of these one roomed
structures had many beds in it. To the front of the large plot of land stood a large house
with three floors; The rooms here also had beds for refugees. The construction was brick,
with thick doors, to insulate from the cold. As more refugees arrived, they would join the
two or three families in each housing unit.
The adults worked; the children attended school. In school, the
children were able to receive food to eat. The school was improvised on the ground floor
of the large house; it was equipped with furniture and benches. There, Reinhold Holz, also
a refugee from Russia, instructed the children in German.
The women generally worked in family homes and had time off usually on
Sunday afternoons. The men worked in construction, gardening, or as caretakers for the
In 1931 the Japanese attacked Harbin with airplanes and bombs. The
people heard what sounded like thunder; the bombs made the earth shudder. The Chinese
soldiers had downed one airplane. Several curious refugees approached the downed airplane;
it exploded and killed several of them. The city of Harbin was full of Japanese soldiers,
who occupied one quarter of the city, near where the Russian refugees lived. Several of
the refugees searched around looking for weapons and ammunition that got dispersed during
the Japanese attack. The Japanese were offering reward money for the return of this
material. One refugee, named Lange, was killed while searching for war material; he
stepped on a bomb and it exploded. The life of a Russian refugee was difficult and
dangerous in Harbin, China in 1931.
The fate of the Frenzel family.
Shortly after the Neumann and Wichmann families departed from
Priamur when Leonard did not want to accompany them, the police invaded the Frenzel home
and forced them to submit to a torture session. The soldiers ordered Erna to run and they
took shots that landed close to her feet. Leonard was struck and knocked down in the mud.
Leonard and several other men were imprisoned. Leonard was condemned to die by a firing
Erna, son Edward age 11 months, and her father-in-law, and many other
people were loaded on a freight train and sent to work on a collective farm in Siberia.
The train, normally used to haul cattle, was dirty, cold, uncomfortable and overcrowded
with people - both adults and children. It was winter; many died during the trip from cold
The escape of Leonhard Frenzel.
In prison, Leonhard was assigned to work in the carpenter
shop, together with a friend named Pastochenko. They made plans together to escape. One
day at the end of work, they hid themselves in sawdust. After all the others had left the
building, they broke out a small window and climbed through it. Leonhard suffered cuts on
the fingers of his right hand. They jumped the wall, using a long jumping rod and ran away
into the weeds. They were pursued by guards and dogs, but they miraculously escaped. They
heard the barking of the dogs from afar. From there the two walked for several days to the
next village where Leonhard had two fingers of his right hand amputated because of the
risk of gangrene. From there they followed the train tracks until they came to a train
station. Here they climbed aboard with the destination of Vladivostok. Here they, too,
crossed the border into China, with the help of paid guides. Finally, they too, arrived in
Harbin and reported in to the refugee shelter on 14 December 1931.
Erna in Siberia.
The train, on which Erna, son Edward, father-in-law and others
traveled to Siberia was very cold. The trip lasted many days. They were hungry and dirty,
and they did not even receive water to wash their faces. From time to time they received
only a piece of dry bread and a little water to drink. Erna's father-in-law did not
survive the cold and hunger. He died one dawn on his knees praying. On the following
morning the guards threw him out of the train into the snow. Baby Edward of 11 months
tried in vain to nurse the breast of his unfed mother and was fainting and getting cold in
Erna's arms. In order to keep the guards from throwing his tiny body off of the train, she
held him close to her body as if he were nursing. She wanted to at least give her baby son
a decent burial.
From the train station to the collective farm, the group was taken by
wagon. Upon arriving at the farm, Erna buried her infant son. She had held the frozen baby
against her body for many days, and she had almost died of pneumonia.
Each family received as housing, one room in the large house of the
collective farm. Since Erna was alone, a family of Germans invited her to live with them.
The women and children were forced to work in the fields of the collective farm. The day
started before dawn and always ended after dark. The manager there took note of
everything. He distributed daily rations according to the amount of production of each
person. The controlling man (foreman) was assigned to the work organization, because of
his fanaticism and dedication to the communist party and his ruthless capacity to force
peasants to work.
Erna's escape from the collective
farm in Siberia.
Erna was at the forced labor collective farm from December
1930 until the beginning of 1932, when finally she was able to run away. She took along
some clothes and a little food and escaped through a window in the night, while the others
slept. She slipped through the barbed wire fence and walked until she reached the train
station. She climbed aboard the train and rode to Priamur. There she looked for her
husband, but she did not find him. At the post office there was a letter from Erna's
mother, who was now in China. She did not know what had happened to Erna. Ready to resist
bravely and to see the family again, Erna boarded the train for Vladivostok. At
Vladivostok she worked in a house for a family while she looked for a way to cross the
border into China. Like her parents, Erna crossed the frozen River on foot, helped by paid
In China, Erna found a merchant named Ickert, who owned a store in
Harbin. He regularly made deliveries between Harbin and the Russian border. He gave Erna a
ride, because she could walk no further. On his wagon, filled with large empty whitewash
barrels, Erna hid in one of them. Thus she secured transportation for a great distance.
When she left the large barrel, she was totally covered with whitewash; and she looked
like a ghost.
Erna finally reached Harbin about March or April 1932. She was walking
in the street, looking for a place to stay, when she suddenly saw her father. It was a
scene that was impossible to describe. He took Erna home to the family members, and the
reunion was like a great party.
Conditions in Harbin in 1932.
The number of refugees increased daily. Pastor Kastler of the
Lutheran Church in Harbin appealed to the president of the Committee of the Worldwide
Lutheran Convention, Dr. John A. Morehead, to assist in finding a solution to the problem.
The situation had become desperate, and the Chinese government wanted to return refugees
to their native country. Dr. Morehead was totally consumed in the task of obtaining funds,
ship passage and a country which would accept the group.
The world had sunk into a worldwide economic depression, after the
disastrous October 1929 fall of the New York Stock Market. This made everything much more
difficult. After many attempts, a reply came from São Paulo, Brazil in March 1932, to
accept the refugees and purchase land in the state of Paraná. Negotiations for
transportation and acquisition of lands had begun. More information on this subject is
very well presented on the internet by Virginia Less, of the United States at the
THE HARBIN, CHINA LUTHERAN REFUGEES.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Manchuria in Harbin issued a
document on 23 April 1932 entitled, "Brethren in
Need". It certified that Gustav, Rosalie, Ewald and Adolf Neumann were on the list of
travelers to Brazil. A similar document was issued for Leonhard and Erna Frenzel on the
Departure from Harbin.
With these documents in hand, the Neumann and Frenzel
families, together with other refugees, boarded a train in Harbin. This was at 9:45 p.m.
on 2 May 1932. On the following morning at 7:20, they changed to another train at
Chang-Chun. They traveled by train until they reached Liu-chin (Port Arthur) on the Gulf
of Liao-Tung, where they boarded a Japanese ship to cross the Yellow Sea to the port city
of Yen-tai. The Japanese ship was small, and the refugees were crowded together like
"sardines in a can". Sanitary conditions were lacking.
In the port of Yen-tai, they boarded a train for the port city of
Shanghai. On 7 May 1932, they embarked on the ship Porthos. There were 83 family groups of
refugees. A person traveling alone was included in a family as an adoptive son/daughter
(Pflegesohn/Pflegetochter). In the case of Gustav, two young men were assigned to his
responsibility: Erich Drude, 19 years old, and Jonatan Wotzke, 33 years old.
Leaving Shanghai, the ship passed through the Straits of Formosa and
stopped in Hong Kong. They continued through the China Sea and stopped in Saigon, Vietnam,
and Singapore. They crossed the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea. They passed
through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea to Marseilles, France, where they arrived
on 11 June 1932.
From Marseilles they traveled by train to the Atlantic port city of
Bordeaux. There, on 12 June 1932, they embarked on the French ship Lipari, operated by the
Chargeurs Réunis Company. Upon arrival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, they received an
arrival stamp showing 28 June 1932. They were housed for eight days on the Island of
Flowers (Ilha das Flores) in Rio De Janeiro.
The Rudolf Wichmann family had been held back. Finally on 15 March
1934, the German consulate in Harbin issued a special passport so that Rudolf, Herta,
Elfriede and Erwin Wichmann could emigrate to Brazil. On 6 April 1934 they received an
exit visa stamp from the Consulate General of Brazil in Shanghai. They boarded a ship with
the destination of France. The ship was the S.S. Dairen Maru of the D.K.K.
Dairen-Tsingtao-Shanghai Line. On 30 May 1934, they disembarked in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
From Rio De Janeiro to Santa
In Rio de Janeiro on 7 July 1932, the immigrants who embarked
on a Brazilian ship with a destination of Porto Alegre, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul.
From Porto Alegre they continued by train to the city Irai. There they crossed the Uruguay
River on a raft. On the other side of the river they were temporarily housed until their
farms could be surveyed and marked off.
The Neumann and Frenzel families received plots of land next to one
another in Maracuja. This was near the Iracema River and some 20 miles from the Uruguay
River. Each family also received clothes, blankets, kitchenware, seeds, tools, a canvas, a
firewood stove, and some money to be paid on installments until the planting and
harvesting of crops could be done.
Since there were no houses on the land, they had to live initially out
in the open under large leafy trees. For three months, while they were constructing a hut,
they slept on a bamboo mat suspended between the branches of the trees. When it rained,
they lowered the canvas sides. To get up into the tree, they had nailed branches to the
trunk, which served as stairs. Erna explained that below the improvised bed, she had found
a nest of snakes. Down on the ground, they had improvised a kitchen. Monkeys, who lived
nearby, always showed up to steal food. Also, before long, some "bugres"
(aboriginal people) raided the camp, destroyed most everything and stole kitchenware and
They constructed a hut out of branches, and they covered it with straw.
A wooden rustic shed served as a church. They cut down a great tree and felled it across
the Iracema River; this served as a bridge.
Each family was required to donate one week of work in the building and
maintenance of a small roadway for access to the farms. The roadway needed to be big
enough only for the passage of one horse.
For being virgin forest, all types of insects lived there. Mosquitoes,
poisonous spiders the size of a hand and snakes lived everywhere. At dusk, near the river,
snakes were stacked all over one another on the still warm rocks. If someone needed to get
water after dark, they carried sticks of wood along to protect themselves from the snakes.
One time Ewald was sleeping when Adolf suddenly saw a jararaca snake
slithering down from the ceiling of the hut. Adolf cried out; and Ewald sat up
immediately. The snake fell exactly where Ewald had been lying seconds before. He had
Life on the farm was difficult; the work was hard. Gustav took two
harvested bags of maiz to the city Irai on horseback, to exchange for other provisions.
However, the cost of the river ferry to cross the river cost half of the maize. On another
occasion, Gustav went to the village to sell eggs, but nobody wanted to buy eggs. They had
their own hens who laid eggs.
After approximately a year of more or less permanence in one place,
Gustav concluded that they did not have favorable enough conditions to continue living
there. The farmers worked hard to raise their crops, but when they sold them, they
received almost nothing. Yet they had to pay a lot of money for anything that they needed
to purchase. So hey collected their belongings, abandoned their farms and moved to the
city Ijui. Many others had done the same thing. After Ijui, they moved to Porto Alegre,
the capital city of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Greater opportunities for prosperity
lay there. Deciding to move to Porto Alegre proved to be good progress.
Some did not escaped.
Not all of the German families were able to escape from Russia
in time. Some of the Neumann relatives remained in the Ukraine. They corresponded, and in
some letters, they told of the terrifying confiscation of foodstuffs. "They were
starving us to death." The last letter that they were able to send was in 1932; it
was a cry of desperation, "We do not have anything more to eat; they have taken our
last cow." The contact ceased; only silence remained. Had any of the relatives
survived? To this day we do not know the answer.
What occurred in the Ukraine was genocide, planned by Stalin in
1932-33. He decided to respond with terror to the resistance that farmers offered against
moving to collective farms. The communists confiscated all of the foodstuffs; the army
troops closed all of the roads and railway lines. Nothing and no one was allowed to enter
or leave from there. Stalin sent his fanatical servant Lazar Kaganovitch to crush the last
resistance of the farmers. Kaganovitch was one of the most ruthless Soviet murderers of
Stalin's many killers.
People ate their pets, grass, pork rind, tree bark and tree roots. When
these things were gone, people starved. Many colonies disappeared. So people died of
hunger, and nothing remained, only ruins. Every day communists arrived with wagons. They
collected people who had fallen on the ground. Some were dead; others were not. They were
all put in a mass grave.
The holocaust in the Ukraine that eliminated approximately nine million
people during 1932 - 1933 is not well known by a lot of people in the outside world.
Millions were exterminated by Stalin and his murderers; they were never prosecuted. None
of the Soviet assassins that made the monumental holocaust had been judged. Lazar
Kagonovitch lived in Moscow with a generous retirement from the state died some years ago.
The leftists, with their Marxist theology, have their ideological and historical roots
interlaced with these terrible crimes that were Stalin's mass exterminations.
Martyred and murdered in the Soviet Union from 1917 until 1991, when
communism finally fell, some 120 million people died unnecessarily. These numbers have
been confirmed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn and other
I believe that adequate words do not exist in any language, to
express the agony experienced and endured by those people who had to abandon everything
and run away in the middle of the night. They had to escape the terror of communist
enslavement that devastated and destroyed a majestic country, Russia. My grandparents
remembered their homeland from which they had left in such sadness. My grandmother cried
very often when thinking of it. In his later years of life, my grandfather rambled around
in the yard going from one side to the other. He stood sadly staring at the horizon,
silenced. It seemed as if he wanted to bring close to himself the reminiscences of the
places where he had been born and where he grew up. He thought of his home, which he was
forced to abandon in such an unfair manner. Homesickness. There remained only the
remembrances of a place that he would never see again.
With the courage and determination of my grandparents in leaving
everything behind and facing great danger and an unknown future, they did not know if they
will come through with their lives or not. They gave the gift of freedom and the
possibility of having a better life to their descendents. We hope to God that in Brazil,
that nothing would ever happen like that and that the resolve and vote of confidence that
they put into this country which took them in, has not been in vain.
"The Lord had done great things for us; whereof we are glad."
Written in Portuguese and translated into English by Erica
Margita Neumann. Porto Alegre, Brazil.
English corrections by Laurin Wilhelm. San
Antonio, Texas, USA
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