How an Unassuming Man Rode the Winds of History
Jacob Eckert was born in central Russia in the early 1930s. But he was also born into a German Mennonite community who escaped religious persecution two centuries previously. This community accepted the Russian invitation to break the steppes into farmland. In the next century or so, the Mennonites became great farmers and business people in the Russian Empire.
The Mennonite community moved east into Siberia to escape the Stalin pogroms. But the pogroms caught up with the Mennonites. Then one cold winter night, the entire community crossed the Amul River into Manchuria. The Chinese welcomed the Mennonites who valued their farming skills and work ethic. Many of the families were given untamed land to turn into farms. There, Jacob was given his third language: Chinese followed his German and Russian.
Shortly after, the Japanese conquered Manchuria. The Japanese left the Mennonites alone, again valuing their farming skills. Jacob learned enough Japanese to translate between the Japanese overlords and the Mennonite community.
After World War 2, Manchuria was briefly overrun by the Russians. Jacob’s father was arrested as “an enemy of the state,” and was never seen again. Jacob was just a teenager but given the responsibility of running the family farm.
Like many young men, he wanted adventure. So he joined the Chinese Army on the eve of the Korean War. He became a translator between the Chinese and Russian generals. He saw the aftermaths of many battles.
After the Korean War and as Mao Zedong asserted his control over China, the Chinese community around the Mennonites became less accepting of the white people. The Mennonites realized the signs, and they started leaving in small groups. Jacob and his family sold their farm for travel money to get to Germany. From there, they were sponsored by an uncle in Canada.
Jacob had another language to learn: English. He got enough English to get his millwright trade, and he worked for a decade building natural gas compressor stations in Alberta’s burgeoning oil industry. He married, settled in Brooks, Alberta, and started raising his family. When his uncle decided to retire from farming, Jacob bought the farm. There he continued raised his family and was a prominent member of his farming community of Duchess Alberta.
Today, Jacob lives in a senior’s home in Brooks. He still follows the Mennonite religion. My mother says he is a real nice fellow, kind to all, and respected by most. His children recommended that he put his stories into a book. He hired a ghost-writer to turn his oral history into a written history. One would never expect such an authentic and ordinary man to have been around so much history.
No More Stranger: ISBN 978–0–9919242–3–3