puzzle pieces

What I’ve tried to do through past stories is shine a bit of light on forgotten lives. Take my grandmother, Matilde, age 41. She was put into an unmarked grave in Yaya, Siberia back in February of 1931. 

Then there’s her youngest son, Jonathan, a toddler who died along the way … left somewhere along the train tracks crisscrossing Russia. No birth or death certificates to mark their lives. Faded photographs and confused memories. Even red granite stones become anonymous over time. 

My grandmother with Jonathan on her lap

Current temperature in Yaya, Siberia is minus ten. Keeping track of the weather in Yaya is a way for me to stay in touch with my grandmother. Crazy? I know. I still hope to visit the town which orphaned my mom and her siblings. To get there I need a two-day train trip east from Moscow to Novosibirsk, and then change trains for another four-hour ride. Maybe, someday.

In the meantime, there are two other youngsters I’ve been trying to remember. My father’s two sons from his first marriage were born during the war … perhaps in Posen (now Poznan, Poland) The stigma of his subsequent divorce after five years' Soviet imprisonment, of being German, and the ubiquitous nature of death at the end of the war—means their short lives … like the lives of countless other young children … flow into an anonymous ocean of tears. For our family, their lives belonged to dark closets and forbidden photo

My father with his first son in his arms

albums. I’m still searching for a way to weave their brief lives into my stories. With only vague clues to their histories, my imagination meanders.


Did unremembered lives really live? Of course, they did. And we, the story-makers, try our best to recreate life from the lifeless.  It’s like putting a puzzle together without a picture for reference. 

This post was inspired by a Eurasian Knot podcast I listened to last night while dog-walking. While their conversation focused on Mennonite repression, my family’s German Baptists/Lutherans shared similar stories. 


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