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Book Promotion: It Happened in Moscow
Friday evening, November 8, 2013, MHSS brought another Mennonite author and book to the attention of its members and wider Mennonite circle in the Fellowship Hall of Bethany Manor, in Saskatoon, with a book promotion: It Happened in Moscow.
Author, Maureen S. Klassen, was introduced by MHSS president, Jake Buhler, by referring to an earlier work written by Maureen and her husband, Herb, about her father-in-law, C. F. Klassen, a Mennonite Brethren leader who had been instrumental in bringing many Mennonites over from Russia to Canada in the 1920s. That book was called, His People: C.F. Klassen and the Russian Mennonite Refugees
Fifteen years later, while Herb and Maureen were in Moscow as MCC workers, they discovered another story that featured Herb's mother, Mary Brieger Klassen. In 2013 Maureen has written another book, It Happened in Moscow, which reveals in a gentle but thorough way the secret that her mother-in-law, Mary had kept for so many years.
Any wondering whether this book would be worth reading was dispelled as Maureen outlined the discovery and then the background story as to what had happened to Mary in Moscow in the 1920s. This was revealed by how people hurried to snatch up and buy the last few copies left at the book table when Maureen's talk was done.
It is a story filled with God's grace and mercy, as Maureen repeated several times, the main thread of the story focusing on three particular women; herself as a British-born Presbyterian married into the very Mennonite Klassen clan, her mother-in-law, Mary (nee Brieger) Reimer Klassen, long known as Mrs. C. F. Klassen, and Erika, a half-sister to Herb's oldest (half) brother, Harold.
Mary had been married to Jakob Reimer, and when Harold was just a baby, Jakob, an engineer, had suddenly disappeared. At that time it was assumed he had deserted Mary. C.F. Klassen was a family friend, and he was seen as a hero for taking pity on Mary and marrying her, bringing her here to Canada. (Jakob had asked C.F. to look out for Mary if anything happened to him - so he may have known he would suddenly be sent away).
It all began when Herb answered the phone in their Moscow apartment, asking if he had a brother Harold, and, "is he still alive?" They came to meet and learned to know Erika well. They were amazed at how much research she had done to track down her half brother Harold. According to God's divine plan, they were able to connect the brother and sister, which was a healing for both of them.
Part of their task as MCC workers at that time, was to connect many people to their relatives between the continents. Erika's story became symbolic of many others that they were able to reunite with loved ones. Now that she has written this new book and is promoting it, It Happened in Moscow, even more are coming to them with sad stories of separated families.
Mary loved music, and often accompanied herself as she sang Russian songs even in her later years in British Columbia. To give the audience a taste of these plaintive and precious songs, Maureen asked Susan Goertz, a staff member/teacher at Bethany College in Hepburn, SK., sang in English one of those lovely and haunting Russian songs. It was lovely.
Randy Klassen, the son of Harold Klassen, and now also on staff at Bethany College in Hepburn, SK., came to the microphone and shared what an impact the discoveries about his grandparents had made in his own life, and those of his siblings. His father, Harold learned at age 16, that C.F. Klassen was not his biological father. This was a devastating shock to him.
They were able to bring Erika to see his Dad twice, the second time, in 1995, when he was dying of cancer. They are all grateful that the Soviet Union fell after 70 years, opening the political gates, so that such reunions could happen.
Then song sheets were passed out and all were asked to sing - in both English and German, the old hymn, "Take Thou My Hand, O Father."
Jake Buhler facilitated a Question and Answer period. Almost immediately a woman got up to say that one of the nannies in the photo on page 101, was her own mother. Another woman said that her parents had known the secret in the C. F. Klassen family.
Elmer Regier asked how Erika had finally figured it all out. Maureen answered that she had persisted and written many, many letters. One had been from a friend in Tel Aviv, Israel, who had advised Erika to call Herb and Maureen Klassen, MCC workers in Moscow.
All were invited to linger for coffee and cookies, and of course, to purchase a book and have Maureen sign it. Which she did quite gladly.
It Happened in Moscow is available from MHSS. See our Book Lists.
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Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan (MHSS)
Room 900 - 110 La Ronge Road, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7K 7H8
Archive Hours: Monday: 1:30 - 4:00 p.m. Wednesday: 1:30 - 4:00 p.m. & 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.