We recently received a Familien-Bibel, or family Bible, from Lorraine (Epp) Bergmann to add to our MHV collection. A family Bible is an heirloom handed down from one generation to the next within one family, with each successive descendant recording new births, deaths, baptisms, and marriages. It was often a Mennonite family’s most treasured book, well-worn from use and kept for generations.
This particular family Bible was purchased in Russia and given as a wedding gift to Jacob and Katharina Epp in 1874. Jacob and Katharina lived on a beautiful estate in Rosenort, Russia. When Jacob built their new house, most of the materials were imported. They constructed a housebarn, with an adjoining building to house hired workers, and also a pigeon house. Everything was trimmed with rungs painted in two colours. Their garden bloomed full of roses, and the pathways were made of stone. In the orchard there were red currants, gooseberries, and fruit trees.
Jacob and Katharina Epp managed their farm estate until some of their married children were able to take it over, at which time Jacob and Katharina became house-parents in a seniors’ home. Jacob suffered from arteriosclerosis, and on July 9, 1919, he became seriously ill. Due to unstable political conditions, it was difficult to notify family members. Couriers who travelled by train were hired to bring the news to those of their children living in the Crimea, Schoenfeld and Memrick settlements. Daughter Maria and her husband, Peter Kliever, were harvesting crops and berry picking at Schoensee when they were notified, but Maria left immediately to be with her father. Jacob died peacefully on July 19 and was buried in Rosenort.
In 1924, after the years of war, revolution, disease, and hunger, Katharina and her children (Jacob, Johann, Abraham, Maria and husband Peter)decided to seek emigration to Canada. By this time, the authorities had already confiscated their farmland and many of the better animals. They took refuge in the farm buildings until they were able to leave the country.
Often a family Bible is passed from one generation to the next through the eldest son of the family. What is interesting about the history of the Kliever Bible, however, is that Katharina passed it to her youngest daughter, Maria (Epp) Kliever. Maria, in turn, gave it to her daughter, Katherina (Kliever) Epp, who gave it to her daughter, Lorraine (Epp) Bergmann, who has now donated it to MHV.