Mennonite letters survived Stalin’s reign of terror
Return to digital BC Christian News

Vancouver author Ruth Derksen Siemens will soon unveil two accounts of the plight of Mennonites persecuted during Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s reign of terror. Remember Us: Letters from Stalin’s Gulag will be released in January; it will be followed by a documentary, Through the Red Gate: Voices from Stalin’s Gulag.

Following is the story of Jasch (Jacob) Regehr:

ON A Soviet postcard imprinted with a red broom sweeping away “enemies of the people,” father  Jasch pleads for his family in prison.

So far, Jasch Regehr has been a survivor. When he was born in 1885, infant mortality rates were extremely high. He was the only survivor of six children. His mother died 10 years later. His father married his wife’s younger sister and they had six more children.

One of these younger half-siblings was Liese Regehr Bargen, who fled to Canada in 1929  – and saved the letters in a Campbell’s Soup box.

As a young conscientious objector loyal to his pacifist beliefs, Jasch served in the Medical Corps during World War One. At 26, he married lovely Maria Goosen. Six children filled their house in Altonau.

Immediately after the family’s attempt to escape to Canada in 1929, Jasch was arrested. Although Maria was allowed to visit him and occasionally bring him food, he was weak and emaciated from the beatings, nightly interrogations and meagre food rations.

He survived his eight-month term. Escorted by guards in June 1931, Jasch was taken to the granary where his family was held. He joined them on the nine-day train journey to the northern Ural region.

In the prison camp, typhus and malnutrition further weakened his body. He tried to work to earn more bread rations, but he grew weaker. Typhus is a menacing disease, transmitted by fleas, lice and bed bugs.

Continue article >>

Days of pain, fever and muscle spasms bound him to the hard wooden platform in the barrack. Yet Jasch worked whenever he could. Desperation drove him.

Jasch Regehr died in a prison camp named Tarabunka on October 8, 1933. Maria dragged his wasted body from the barracks and buried him in the frozen primeval forest.

The first volume of Remember Us will be available online in January at: www.gulagletters.com.

Jasch Regehr’s words

We are robbed of all our children.

One often gets close to despair. But God always leads out of the depths onto the heights. Many thousands have starved.

Yesterday we received the nine dollars from you. Oh, I just cannot restrain myself out of sheer thankfulness. Yes, dear siblings, if you were not here we would no longer be here either.

“Remember us at all times” is our cry to God as well as to people. When will things change? Hearty thanks to all those who have given. May God reward them.

How are things with your Peter? Fritz, be rescued while there is time. Greetings to all the children. Oh what advantages your children have over ours! God be with you . . .

My Marie just said we have no more flour . . . Things are looking very very bad for our Peter. Help [the siblings] please. We can hardly carry our burden any longer. He can no longer walk.

On June 27th we reported the news from grandfather to you. This night I dreamt a lot about him. Auf wiedersehen.

Your humble Jacob.

December 2007