By Fred Tarnasky – Medicine Hat, Alta.
I was born in a farmhouse in Bessarabia, Russia in 1939. My father was born in 1908 and my mother in 1914. I was the firstborn to my parents and had two siblings from my father’s first marriage. His first wife died in labour four years prior to meeting my mother.
We had a nice well-kept mixed farm, so I was later told. When the war started in Germany in September of 1939, mother had sisters and brothers living in Germany with whom she kept in touch about what was happening there. They were concerned that things would not be good.
My great-grandparents on my father’s side who immigrated to Russia from Germany in the 1700s to take up farmland, were offered this land by Russia so they emigrated from Germany and they settled there. Then in 1942 my father was conscripted into the German army because he was of German descent.
The Russian army took my grandfather, who was 81 at the time and lived with us on the farm. They told us he was going to be taken to a senior administered residence in Russia, taken care of, and they would keep in touch with us. We never heard or saw him again and never heard if he lived or where he died.
In 1942 our farm was seized by the Russian government and we were instructed to leave everything but some food and clothing and only enough to pack onto a covered wagon that the hired hand and my mother with three small children built. We were to be escorted by wagon train to Germany because we were Germans living in Russia and the war was with Germany.
The wagon train was loaded with some pork meat, canned chicken, and homemade bread, feather tick bedding, etc. Franz, the hired hand, was in his own wagon and followed behind us to give us a hand if needed.
After the second day on the road to Germany and during the night when we were gathered at a meeting to advise us as to what was happening, the hired hand stole our wagon with all the supplies and belongings in it and we never saw him again.
We became very tired and hungry as I remember, we were without food and water except for what the others on the trail shared with us. We travelled all day and all night. We made it to Germany after about a week with horse and empty buggy and were put up by a German speaking Dutch family for about two years.
When my father was discharged from the army after being wounded in the arm and leg by shrapnel, he found us with the help of the Red Cross. Not having seen us for over two years, he hardly knew us anymore.
We were sponsored to come to Canada in 1948 by one of my uncles who immigrated and homesteaded in Hilda, Alta. 1920. He paid Canada Immigration $500 for our trip on the ship called Beaverbrae to Halifax. We arrived by train from Halifax in Medicine Hat, after about a week of travelling by Canadian Pacific Rail with homemade suitcases my dad made out of wood in Germany. We came with only what one trunk and four suitcases could hold.
It was Halloween night, Oct. 31, 1948 and as we pulled into the CPR station in Medicine Hat. As we all stared out the train cars and exited the train, we had no idea and had never ever heard of this celebration of Halloween.
When mother saw all the little ones running around with pillowcases and dressed in costumes begging for food, she said, “You know what? I think this country of has it worse than Germany! Maybe we should have stayed.”