The Story of Maria Braun: Return to Schoenwiese


Not an email. Not a phone call.

There was only one way for Karen Peters to tell me this story.

We had to be there.

In early September, well before the lockdowns returned, we arranged to leave for the Altona/Winkler area as soon as I was done work for the day.

The story begins here, at the site of the first cemetery of Schoenwiese… which I had not known existed, until Karen brought me directly to this cairn, which reads:

“In honour of our grand and great grand parents and their families who pioneers and settled in the Village of Schoenwiese 1875-1940. They were laid to rest in the cemetery, the S.W. corner of which is located 325 ft east of this marker. Its approximate dimensions are 225 ft east & 160 ft north. Lobe den herrn, meine seele und vergiss nicht was er dir gutes getan hat. Psalm 130:2″

This was the site of the village’s first cemetery, on the northern edge of the Schoenwiese.

Karen’s Braun grandparents immigrated from Russia in the 1920s, settling in Schoenwiese in 1927. Maria was their second-eldest in the family, frequently assigned to care for children. Younger children loved her so. She was a favourite. Not just with her younger siblings, but also with neighbour children. One day in 1929, the neighbours requested Maria’s help, presumably to care for children as usual. However, somehow she ended up helping with fieldwork. Up on a hayrack, maybe stamping down the hay? She fell. She did not land well.

At fourteen years old, she knew she was dying.

She had just one request.

“Do NOT bury me in the cemetery!”

Even in 1929, the Schoenwiese cemetery was becoming pasture. Cattle trod upon graves, and Maria insisted they not trod upon her.

“Bury me elsewhere!”

And so the family did exactly as she wished.

We drove south into the village.

Karen brought me here, to a cemetery I once stopped at, not knowing any of its stories.

Now I was going to learn how this cemetery came to be.

Maria Braun was the first person buried on this site, right here in a beautiful corner, under a gentle, protective tree.

Her stone is marked with vibrant silk flowers.

Maria Braun … 1915-1929 … Auf Wiedersehn

After Maria’s burial, the community began burying their dead here, instead of the original site, which as you can see, is fully agricultural.

“Maria knew,” said Karen. “She could see what was happening.”

This cemetery was located behind the school, which is gone today… but the community ice rink remains, between the cemetery and the village street.

Many of Karen’s family members rest here, including her parents, marked with a lovely bench, a place to sit in contemplation.

And at the corner, the best tree shelters Maria,

It was a beautiful, rainy day, the leaves just turning colour.

Karen and I took pictures of each other here in this place (she has the best smile). I’m so grateful to Karen for inviting me into her family’s story, and for sharing Maria’s tragic tale.

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