Remembering Don Miller, 1932 - 2023

Don Miller, May, 2004, Kyiv cemetery
I’m quite certain that I would not have found my family stones in rural Ukraine if it weren’t for this man, Don Miller. When I’d first worked out the spelling of my mom’s home village and entered it into a search engine on the computer (back in 2003 computers were still magic machines), I’d come to Don’s website, In the Midst of Wolves. I emailed this man from Oregon, a retired Baptist minister, and asked if he’d heard of Federofka. (Again, checking and rechecking the spelling. It was all so foreign-sounding back then). His reply, Federofka? I go there almost every year! Suddenly, my mom’s murky past was a place in real time.

I was very much affected by the incredible research he did into the German Baptist settlers of the Volhynian area around Zhytomyr. HIs first book, In the Midst of Wolves, A History of German Baptists in Volhynia, Russia 1863-1943, (self-published in Oregon in 2000) introduced me to the world of my mother's family and to the rural farming world of Ukraine. 

In 2004 I traveled to the Zhytomyr area with Don as our roots tour guide. Through his local connections, I visited what were then isolated, poverty-stricken villages. I got to talk with an old woman who remembered my mom's family and the location of the windmill. I got to access the restricted secret police archives and found my grandfather's signature on interrogation documents. The vibrant world of the kulaks had been destroyed during Stalin’s First Five Year Plan. With the fall of communism, the collective farms were, by 2004, also a thing of the past. Don opened doors for my research as he dug deeper into the NKVD (former OGPU) secret police files.  His next book, Under Arrest, came out the same year.


It was the cover of Under Arrest that led Don and I to discover our family connection. His uncle, Heinrich Mueller, on the cover, adopted my mom’s cousin, Sofia (Sophie), on the cover. Like my grandfather, Don’s uncle was one of the many men from the area executed during the Great Terror. And so Don and I shared an intense interest in this region and these times. 

See photo of Don talking with old woman in my mom's home village. The old women remembered ...collectivization, deportation, Holodomor, Great Terror, Chernobyl, and on and on it goes.

But Don’s legacy isn’t simply about the past. Even as he researched past crimes, past atrocities, he offered support for contemporary injustices. I’m mostly aware of the homes he established for aging and isolated widows. But there was so much more he did to help those willing to try through the creation of Samaritan Ministries of Ukraine (SMU).

Don believed in people and he believed in God. These passions were contagious and he will be sorely missed, but I’ll continue to be empowered by the force of his life. 

Don Miller died May 4th. He was almost 91. 


 

No comments:

Recent Posts

It's Just-Spring

Basking in spring sun It's been a slow spring here on the Manitoba prairies.  Rainy, windy, cool.  And yet ... the light grows stronger,...