A Storied Survivor
on Neta, Who Lived to Tell the Tale of Endurance
As the German army retreated from the Soviet Union during World War II, my grandmother fled west with her four young children. Anganeta Dyck Loewen (1912–2003) was a member of a German-Mennonite community that had farmed peaceably for generations in Ukraine's Dnieper Valley. Then came the Bolshevik Revolution. By 1943, Neta had already survived two famines that together had killed millions of Ukrainians. She had seen her three brothers deported to Siberia and had lost her husband in the war. So she and her children—including my mother, only five at the time—made their way across Eastern Europe. They traveled on wagon, train, and foot. They hid in cornfields and begged for food. They endured fierce cold, a lice infestation they had no means to treat, and the constant threat of capture and death thrumming at their heels like a threshing machine tearing up the ground.
At war's end they found refuge in a boarding house in Austria, a single room with two beds for a family of five. In a nearby Catholic churchyard Neta was hired to dig graves. She was paid a loaf of bread for every grave. And in the window of their boarding house room, she planted flowers.
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