c. 2004 Religion News Service
SCOTTDALE, Pa. _ Elfrieda Dyck, a Canadian nurse who helped thousands of Mennonite refugees from Eastern Europe find new homes in South America, died Aug. 20. She was 87.
Dyck and her husband, Peter, who survives, served in Europe with Mennonite Central Committee, a North American Mennonite relief and service agency, during and immediately after World War II. Their first assignment was at a boys’ home in England, but as fighting concluded in Europe, they moved to the continent, where they did relief work in the Netherlands.
The Dycks, who had both immigrated to Canada from Russia in the 1920s, soon encountered the streams of Mennonites fleeing Soviet oppression. At the start of World War II, Russia had been home to about 100,000 Mennonites, with others in neighboring countries.
The first refugees the Dycks assisted were the Neufelds. They had escaped Russia, where their father disappeared after being arrested by the KGB. By the time Justina and her older brother Gerhard and his wife arrived in France, they had been separated from their mother in Poland and six of their siblings had also disappeared.
“Having lost my father and mother in the war, (Dyck) became a substitute mother,” said Justina, then 15 years old and now living in North Newton, Kan. “She nurtured me when I felt very much alone in the world.”
In 1947 and 1948, Dyck, who had been in charge of a 1,200-person refugee camp in Berlin, led four ships with a total of more than 5,500 Mennonites to South America. The vast majority went to Paraguay but also to Brazil and Uruguay. Other refugees found their way to Canada, the United States or remained in Western Europe.
“She left a wonderful legacy,” said MCC executive director Ron Matthies, whose wife was among the refugees assisted by the Dycks. “There are generations around the world who are grateful to her and Peter and to MCC for giving them new life.”
The Dycks recounted their experiences in their 1991 book, “Up From the Rubble” (Herald Press).
“Suffering had made them patient and kind,” Elfrieda wrote. “We learned so much from them. When discouraged, all we needed to do was walk through the camp and listen to the refugees. We came away thankful, ready to go on.”
The Dycks settled in the United States, where Elfrieda cared for their two daughters and eventually returned to nursing while Peter was an MCC administrator and served several pastorates.
But they also became well-known in Mennonite circles for their public speaking and writing. The Mennonite, the magazine of Mennonite Church USA, cited the Dycks as among the 20 most influential Mennonites of the 20th century.
“They became latter-day Old Testament prophets, telling the story of the pain of the world, the human condition and the need of Christians to respond to that,” Matthies said.
A memorial service was scheduled for Saturday (Aug. 28) at Scottdale Mennonite Church.
MO END PREHEIM