(May 28, 2007) 9:00am – This is the second full day of the journey. We are visiting sites in Zap, as well in in the former Mennonite colonies of Chortitza and Rosenthal on the Dnieper River. The oak tree, as it turns out, means “courage and invincibility” to Ukrainians. Today’s itinerary also includes a visit to the “Thousand Year Oak” that was a landmark to Mennonites and others in the area.
4:30pm – Just returned from visiting the old colonies. We saw many old homes and schools, mostly from the turn of the century when Mennonites were prospering in a big way. We went into a girls’ school here and spoke with a woman who remembered Mennonites here during her youth in the 1930′s and 40′s. We also visited a cemetery filled with Russian/Ukrainian graves (in cyrillic), interspersed with dozens of older German-Mennonite graves. These included names such as Wiebe, Hildebrand, Jantzen, and one Anton Berg. I think the images of the graves will be particularly helpful for the documentary.
The “Thousand Year Oak” is not looking very invincible these days. Almost all of its many branches are dead, and only one has bark and leaves. They say the tree’s near death happened suddenly about ten years ago.
Photos courtesy of Ed and Millie Hildebrand