MoM 100: Remembering a mother reluctant to talk about those times

July 25, 2023
John Longhurst | Special to Canadian Mennonite

Henry Schroeder. (Photo by John Longhurst)

Henry Schroeder. (Photo by John Longhurst)

My mother’s eyes, reluctant to speak,
I’ve seen thin brothers prowling
Looking for sticks
In the woods.

So begins a poem by Henry Schroeder, a retired teacher from Winnipeg. He wrote it about his mother, who came to Canada in 1923 from the Soviet Union.

Schroeder’s mother, Melita Peters, was a child when her family made the journey.

“She didn’t tell me a great deal about it,” said Schroder, 84. “She was reluctant to talk too much about those times.”

She did share about how bandits came to her home village, massacring all the men except one—her family was spared since they had moved away on account of her father’s business.

She also told him about the month they spent hiding in an attic as a family to avoid a similar fate. They had to be absolutely quiet, so as not to be discovered, Schroeder remembers her saying.

To pass the time, the family played board games—a passion that lasted into her adult life and one she passed on to her own children.

One time, she crept to the window to peek outside and saw a wagon loaded with dead bodies going down the street, perhaps to a mass grave.

“It was a time of starvation,” he said.

Schroeder was among the few who participated in all three legs of the “Memories of Migration” tour, travelling from Quebec City to Vancouver.

During the tour, he found himself remembering his mother and father a lot.

“It was a way to emotionally connect with my parents,” he said. “I thought a lot about them on the tour. Memories of them came flooding back. I was reminded of my many blessings because of the sacrifices they made.”

After reporting on the first leg of the tour (from Quebec City to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.), Winnipeg freelance writer John Longhurst is blogging about the third and final leg (from Saskatoon, Sask. to Abbotsford, B.C.).

Read John's previous posts about the tour:
MoM 100: Pregnant tour participant has new appreciation for great-grandmother’s journey
MoM 100: Sängerfest ‘extraordinary’ for conductor
MoM 100: Tommy Douglas and Mennonite mutual aid
MoM 100: Using technology to bring Mennonite history to life
MoM 100: Tour like a pilgrimage for young adult


Henry Schroeder. (Photo by John Longhurst)

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John Longhurst
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Special to Canadian Mennonite
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