Fresh from our family archives is a photo of the village of Grimm, Russia, taken from the side view of a typical home. I suspect the home belongs to a relative of ours, although I cannot confirm that detail.
In the foreground, the roof of the home is in disrepair, with part of it actually missing. A small mud and stone barn is in the backyard, obviously in better shape than the home. Notice the laundry hanging on a clothes line in the back yard. Beyond the picket fence at about the mid-line of the photos, you can see another home and barn in worse shape than those in the foreground. In the background, the village church and school buildings are visible.
The photo was too large for me to scan in one pass, so I’ve included both photos, rather than trying to stitch them together. This was the kind of life my mother’s family lived in Russia.
Pictured above is my mother’s maternal family, circa about 1923. They immigrated from Grimm, Russia to the United States in 1913 and settled in Chicago for 5 years before moving to Fort Collins, Colorado. During their stay in Colorado, my grandmother, Mollie, was forced to drop out of high school and work in the sugar beet fields to help support her family. In 1923 the family moved to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where they finally put down roots. Mollie married Alex Kaiser in 1926 and the couple settled in Milwaukee.
Interesting to note, the men in this photo outlived the women by decades. Carl, the oldest son, lived to be 90. Shortly before his death, he reconnected with a cousin who remained in Russia but eventually immigrated to his homeland after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Edward, the youngest sibling, passed away earlier this year. He was 95 years old.
When you are reading Chapters 6, 7 and 8 of Braha and you read the description of Grimm or think about the barn where Leena and Peter would secretly meet, think about the photos above. This was the life that the Germans in Grimm, Russia, lived. This is what my grandparents and their children left behind around the same time that fictional Leena Weiss was whisked off to Gatchina and later Braha, the location of her secret sanctuary in the historic chapel in Finland.
The story of the Germans from Russia always sobers me because it’s my family’s story, too.