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Escape from the Bolsheviks

by Lydia Schmidt

 

Note from Betty Ashley:   The second time I visited Lydia Pinnecker Schmidt                                                                   she told  me the following story which has been written verbatim:

It was wintertime. Our folks fixed the back of the sleigh for us kids. We all lay down in the warmth of the blankets. Dad and Mom were in the front. If there were others I don't know. It must have been all planned.

Then we stayed with a private family that night. We didn't go very far that day because the sleigh was pulled by a camel. We left there and went on. I don't remember how long it took to get to the depot.

In the town where the depot was, we stayed several days. People were just lying around on the floor on their packages and things. They all were waiting for room on a train.

The trains didn't come very often - maybe only once a day. Every time one came in everyone would run alongside, and whoever could squeeze on would get on. Each time a lot of left over.

Then we were finally on a train in boxcars. We rode for quite a while. When we stopped, I guess we were in Minsk. I don't know how long this was.

There in Minsk we stayed in an empty house. Several other families were there. Our folks took us to the market there. They sold some of our possessions. I guess they needed more money. I remember they sold all our boots. We had felt boots. We really should have kept them because when we crossed the border we got very cold.

Now Minsk was next to the border. Evidently the folks hired a man to take us in secret over the border. I guess they had to wait for the right time. One evening we packed up. You know, our parents didn't tell us everything - as little as possible. What I remember myself is all I can tell you. Many people must have gone together to pay this man.

It was dark. This man led us to the border. All of the people who could walk walked. He had a sleigh because of the snow. He took the packages and the ones who didn't feel so good. He took the smallest children on ahead. Then he would come back again and get the back ones. (Later Theresa added that because she, Pauline, and Lydia were walking, she thought they had been left. Then the sleigh passed carrying the mother and Emma. Emma was crying because she wanted to walk with her sisters!)

Oh! One thing that was funny. I guess Mother thought she couldn't get along without butter. She had a special bucket. It was fancy on the outside. It was like copper - yellowish metal. In the wintertime she always had it full of - how do you say it? - melted butter - the special name - clarified butter. After we crossed the border she missed that bucket! She forgot it or maybe somebody took it. We don't know.

We were just crossing the border when Mother missed her bucket. We were in the snow and we did not have our boots to keep our feet warm. After we walked and walked we carne to a big, empty building. It was like a barracks or a big barn. One part was warm where some soldiers were. They asked us to come in and to get warm. And, boy, when my feet got warm did they really hurt! I had trouble with my feet for a long time. One woman lost her feet because of the cold.

Some of us got very sick and were taken to a hospital in Warsaw. When I found out that my father was in the hospital I felt better, but I wanted to leave. I guess we had the flu.

Some died along the way.

I can't remember how we traveled from Poland to Germany. Perhaps it was by train again. Emma remembers riding in a horse drawn wagon. I think I was still kind of sick.

In Germany we stayed in a large barracks-type building again. All the people who were from Wiesenmuller and were with us at Frankfurt on the Oder are in the photograph. The Winters sisters did not come to America as far as I know.

We were dispersed to different places to work. My sister, Pauline, married Chris Grass. They left Germany and carne to Dinuba, California. The rest of us worked until 1926 when we carne to the U.S. on the ship "Albert Ballin".

For a long time I couldn't talk about it. I remembered my oldest sister, Natalie Stobbel, who died, and my brother, Jacob. We had letters from him until about 1935. They were very sad. Maybe his children are still alive, but they probably live in that cold place, Siberia, if they survived.

Now I know how lucky our family was. The five of us and our mother and father have had good lives in America.