Ep. 39 Gerhard tells Luka’s story

plowing with oxen2

Title: [Ox pulling plow] Date Created/Published: [1921] Medium: 1 negative : glass ; 4 x 5 in. or smaller Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-npcc-03784 (digital file from original) Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LC-F8- 12855 [P&P] Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

GERHARD As it was told to me, there was a young couple: the man’s name was Luka, he was a miner who had converted to Christianity. He and his wife were at a train station. They took their tickets and rode the train until they arrived at our train station – Matveyev Kurgan, Taganrog region. How he came to our town Nikolaipol I can’t say, but in 1937 all men older than 17 were exiled. The collective was desperate for men and so Luka was accepted even though he knew nothing of agriculture.

He had no experience working on the land so he was given the job of feeding the oxen at night. He did a good job and was highly regarded; the oxen drivers were always pleased with the oxen in the morning.

Then the Lord spoke to Luka, and he found women who were still believers and whose husbands had been exiled and he gathered the women and conducted bible studies in private homes. Soon he was conducting bible studies with young people too and this triggered the hatred. He was removed from his oxen feeding job and was assigned other work. Luka did whatever he was asked without complaint. After a while the oxen were not so well cared for and the ox drivers became unhappy. So he was reassigned to feed the oxen.

He continued his bible studies, and the group grew to include young boys and girls as well as some adult men approximately 25-30 people. Converts were baptized at night five kilometers away by an elderly Russian brother. The baptized had to work all day, walk five kilometers to the baptism site, then walk back and be at work in the morning.

The war with Germany was already in progress when Brother Luka was called to report for service. He must have quoted from the book of Matthew 10:19-20[1] because he came back home and was not permitted to participate.

Brother Luka and his wife had two little girls and across the street from their house was a small grocery. One day his wife needed something for a meal she was cooking and went across the street leaving the two girls in the house alone. There was a large basket of straw on the hearth because that’s how they heated the house and cooked. Then the most terrible thing happened. The children played with the fire and when his wife returned, the whole house was engulfed in flame. Both children suffocated, and as all the workers were in the fields, there was no saving them. When he was told his children were gone, he said with a quiet voice: “The Lord gave them to me and the Lord has taken them, praise be to the Lord.”

Things went well for a time, women and girls were being converted but then the communist party did not agree with his meetings. The bible study group continued to grow. There were bible studies each Wednesday and on the first Sunday of the month they fasted. They couldn’t do much to Luka because he was a good worker. The NKVD secret police had other ideas and forced him to work in another village 12 kilometres away as a shepherd. The Christian group was now led by two women, but once a week many of them travelled the 12 kilometres after work to have a bible study with Luka, then returned ready for work in the morning.

One morning in July 1941 all the members of the group were called to the village council in the neighbouring Russian village of Petrovka [47°37’14.83″N, 39° 5’32.32″E]. If it had happened in our village, there would have been a riot. Two of my sisters were in the Christian group and were also put to the test. They were to deny their God and go home. But they refused and were tormented with questions like: “Why doesn’t your God help you now?” They gave not one word to the mockers and remain strong in their beliefs. Unfortunately I was not a member of the Christian group, since I had recently emerged from exile, I had to be careful. I was with them in spirit and also had the complete trust of the Christian group.

I had also come under suspicion again. One day I came into the house to arrange something and there was a group of men who clearly were not sober. One of them, the Brigadier, saw me and said: “Aha, you are one of them also.” I knew what he meant. He could neither read nor write and was referring to something that happened 6 or 7 years earlier. One day when my father was still at home, the Brigadier said to my father: “You are rich. You are a kulak. You let your boy go to school in the city.” My father said to him: “Don’t you know what Lenin said – lack of education is a darkness.” Because he couldn’t read or write this comment still irritated him seven years later and now he had me in his sights.

I was well thought of by the administration of the collective and I did good work. The chairman was a Russian but he had no spite for me or for the other members of the group. The Christian group still exists in the Russian village of Petrovskiy.

southern-appalachian-baptism-circa-1940

Baptism in a southern Appalachian creek.

But still, the gulag was searching for him.

GERHARD I too was called in for questioning. The GPU man offered me a cigarette, I turned it down. In a friendly voice he said: “Do you know why your father was exiled?” I said: “You would know that better than I since I wasn’t home at that time.” He said: “You can still find out from the people.” I knew well that my father Gerhard Wall and Gerhard Wiebe were responsible for keeping the threshing machine running. Since there were no spare parts available, they had to be built and it took too long. So now they were stamped as enemies of the state and were taken away to the North with my brother Nikolai.

So we talked for a while and when he got nothing out of me he said: “Five years wasn’t long enough.” I said: “It’s your government, your freedom. You can do whatever you want.” Then he said: “What kind of a fascist group do you have here. Can you tell me that?” “I don’t know of any fascist group,” I said. The GPU man calmed down and said: “You can ask someone. They will tell you.” I knew everything that was going on, but he wanted something in writing. I half-promised to do what I could and the group except for two older women was released. Mrs. Ratzlaff,  whose husband was exiled, and Mrs. Gaertner never returned.

Since I was in charge of the granary and the produce, the GPU man (his name was Yushenko) returned and wanted a written report. I told him I wasn’t quite ready with it. Upon leaving he told me to put a sack of flour on his wagon, which I did, adding some butter and honey also, all without a bill.

By now the war was in full force and our masters were very busy. Yushenko returned a few days later, but the women who were helping me let me know he was back in the village. As quickly as I could, I locked up the granary and went to the Priebe’s farm where I still had some grain and also a piggery built of clay. I hid in the pig sty until dark. The rats felt so at home there they bit the pigs away from their feed. I had never seen that before. After dark I went home and all was quiet. I never saw the GPU man again.

My sister Mariechen told me how the GPU man had pressed them for information and made them promise not to tell anyone he’d been there because if they did he would find out anyhow and it would just make matters worse.

But how could things get worse? Was Gerhard to report on the Christian group’s activities or to report on the status of the granary? It didn’t matter; Gerhard was a marked man.

It was August 29, 1941. Yushenko would come back. The women could not protect him forever. Something had to happen: and something did.

The very day after Yushenko came to take him back to the gulag, Gerhard was swept up in a call to arms to protect Russia against the approaching German army. All able-bodied men were herded to the station at Matveyev Kurgan and loaded onto trains. Gerhard was now to protect Mother Russia from Germans.

Gerhard's transport to the front

 

NOTE

[1] 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

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