In memory of our grandparents, Johann (1892-1938?) and Justina Sawatzky (1894-1986)
Eighty years ago, during the night of February 1, 1938, the Black Raven police cars came into the Mennonite village of Nieder Chortitza in Ukraine. Word spread quickly. Johann suspected he would be among those arrested. He took his guitar and he sang the hymn, “Take thou my hands, O Father, and lead thou me.” When the knock at the door came, he turned to Justina and said, “I can’t help you anymore, I can only pray.”
The children were sleeping. Justina woke them to say goodbye to their father, even though the police assured her that he would soon be back, that he was only taken for questioning. For the next 9 months, Johann was kept in the prison in nearby Zaporizhe along with the other 29 men who were taken that night. In November, he was transported to an unknown location. He would never be heard from again.
Justina and her four children escaped from the Soviet Union in 1943 and made their way to Canada. We, Justina’s grandchildren, are grateful for this opportunity to honour the memory of our grandparents, and thankful to Canada for offering us a home.