And this summer, I got into a book that was hard to stop reading. One reason that the author was from my part of the world — a farmer who had a very interesting life.
Jacob Eckert was born into a German Mennonite family that had moved from Germany to central Russia circa 1750. There, they prospered for decades. In the pogroms of Stalin, they were persecuted and moved further east to Siberia to start another farming community. But the pogroms moved east. Then, on one cold night, the entire German village crossed the border into Manchuria.
The Chinese welcomed the farming skills of the Mennonites, giving them land to convert into farms. Jacob was young, easily learning Mandarin (his third language after German and Russian). When the Japanese took over Manchuria, they too left the Mennonites alone and benefited from their farming skills and work ethic.
After WW2, the Russians took over Manchuria. Jacob’s father was taken away as an enemy of the state and never seen again.
Jacob, looking for an adventure, signed up with the Chinese Army, mostly working as a translator for the Russian and Chinese generals as they were fighting the UN forces in Korea. He was discharged after the war. Despite his services, the Maoists saw the Mennonites as unwanted. The family and other Mennonites made plans to leave China.
Jacob’s father had a brother living in Duchess, Alberta. So his family eventually found their way to this small Canadian town. Jacob learned English, got a trade (pipefitting), and worked in the oilpatch building gas compressor stations. He got married, raised some kids, and eventually bought his uncle’s farm.
Now he lives in the same senior’s home as my mother. Everytime I see him, I see a lot of history. He just had his 90th birthday. I’m glad he wrote his book.