I received a copy of Elfrieda Schroeder’s memoir, Ellie’s World, about a month ago. Though eastern Europe was rumbling louder in the news in early February, I had no idea how timely her story would be considering the horrific events of this past week.
Her memoir begins, “Ellie’s [Elfreida’s] parents and her brother, Vitya, lived in Ukraine. For a long time, there were revolutions and uprisings in that part of the world . . . . Ellie’s ancestors were Mennonites from the Vistula Delta who were invited to come to Ukraine by Catharine the Great; she promised to give them land on which they could farm.” (Part I: Refugee Years before Ellie was born)
Elfrieda’s memoir, 121-pages long, spans several generations including Ellie’s immediate family, the Neufelds. Liberally sprinkled with photographs, the memoir is divided into three parts: The Refugee years, Pioneer Life in Paraguay, (South America) and Life in Canada. Ellie documents the family’s odyssey, always underscoring the value of her close-knit family, mingling hardships with moments of joy, and belief in a better life with religious freedom.
Storyteller Elfrieda exclaims over packets mailed from Canada bulging with dolls, sewing needles, cars with wheels and crayons, (sadly) melted by tropical heat. Multilingual, she details her joy of learning to read with a Fibel. I held my breath when brother Hertzy fell into icy water and nearly drowned after their move to Canada. I marveled at her ingenuity in making earrings from hoops of 3-ring binders to complete a gypsy Hallowe’en outfit.
The narrative does not contain a lot of dialogue, yet the story maintains a conversational tone as if written to young children, which indeed it is. Elfrieda has written this family history specifically for her grand-children, but I’ll bet it will survive beyond the current generation.
Her memoir is dedicated to her eight grandchildren, Sasha pictured here.
Born in Ukraine in 1943 to Mennonite parents, Elfrieda fled to Poland with her family, when she was a few months old. They immigrated to Paraguay in 1947 and five years later joined relatives in Canada.
After high school graduation in Alberta, Elfrieda went to Winnipeg and worked in a bookstore for three years, where she met her future husband Hardy, a student at a nearby Bible college. Elfrieda attended Canadian Mennonite Bible College for one year; then she and Hardy married (1968) and they spent six months at Elkhart Mennonite Biblical Seminary, followed by six months of French studies in Brussels, Belgium.
Arriving in the Belgian Congo in early 1969, Hardy joined a Bible translation team under MB Missions. Elfrieda was expecting their first child; Harold Mark was born prematurely and lived only one day. Two more children were born in the Congo, and their third daughter was born in Canada while they were on leave. The family spent fifteen years in the Congo.
They returned to Canada (Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario), where Elfrieda began university studies, eventually receiving a PhD in German from the University of Waterloo. After working as a sessional instructor at several universities and as a private tutor, Elfrieda retired in Winnipeg, working with translation and writing projects. She is a worship leader and occasionally preaches at Jubilee Mennonite Church. Elfrieda enjoys daily walks and playing Scrabble with Hardy as well as relating to her eight grandchildren.
Elfrieda’s Writing Process, in her own words
The biggest source for my memoir was Peter Dyck’s book Up From the Rubble which tells the story of our time at the Dutch border when we were trying to get into Holland and our journey to South America on the Dutch freighter the Volendam of which I have no memory. I had some other books about Paraguay and how the colonies came about, as well as the flora and fauna of that place. Other than that I relied on my memory and on family stories and photographs.
My first writing was all done by hand (printing, as my younger grandchildren don’t read or write cursive!) with pictures I drew. Then I took pictures of the pages and sent them electronically to my grandchildren and my siblings, one chapter at a time over the year it took me to write it. My siblings gave me helpful feedback and encouragement. These first drafts had no photos [but they contain my own drawings].
After spending that much time on this project I decided to work on it some more to make it more professional and to add the photos. Then we took it to a printer and had 35 copies made for family and friends.
I first met Elfrieda when we discovered each other’s blogs, probably in 2015. More About Elfrieda, a faithful commenter on this blog:
Visit Elfrieda’s blog
Her Facebook page
To purchase her book, contact Elfrieda by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is the top of a box chocolates given to us by our Ukrainian/American friend, Kathy Gould, in 2011.
Can you identify with Elfrieda’s writing process, handwriting before making the manuscript a WORD document?
Do you have friends or relatives affected by the current events in Ukraine?