A Place of Reprieve

After places of torture and death, the small German town of Mengeringhausen, known for its church with a crooked steeple was a delightful reprieve. We walked around the sleepy town where trailing geraniums spilled from the window boxes of timber-framed houses.

But I didn’t think this picturesque town had anything to do with me. ­­­Not until I emailed my father.

“Can you tell me anything about the town of Mengeringhausen?” I asked.

And he could. I don’t know where he found the information. Maybe he ran his fingers through his salt-and-pepper hair as he consulted his mind. Maybe he swiveled his chair and pulled a genealogy book from his shelf. Maybe he used a search bar on his computer.

But his email wasn’t long in coming.

My great-great grandparents, Jacob and Elizabeth Swartzentruber, had lived in Mengeringhausen. Before they immigrated to America, Jacob worked at the town mill.

In his email, my dad told me that Jacob’s step-son Daniel kept a diary of their family’s trans-Atlantic voyage. Here’s how he described the departure:

“On the 9th of May 1833 we started on the great journey. We wanted to start in the morning at 8 o’clock, but on account of bidding so many goodbye [sic] . . . our departure was delayed until 2 o’clock in the afternoonn. . . . The wagon . . . drove off and went through ‘Mengeringhausen,’ where the curious crowd which stood and looked out of the windows, wished them an obliging farewell and a happy journey.

Likely Elizabeth and Jacob and Daniel looked back on their ride out of town, perhaps getting one last glimpse of the crooked steeple. When the Swartzentrubers left Trub, more than a hundred years before, they had fled. This time town folk gave them a sendoff.

I went to bed, glad my father in his study across the Atlantic had sent me a happy story about what happened to our family on this side.

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