On August 11, 2016, Dmitriy Balandin became the first person from Kazakhstan to win a gold medal in any swimming event…ever.  He wasn’t even on the radar of the announcers and in the bottom lane, at the last second snuck up and took the gold.

Why does this fact intrigue me?  Several years ago my mom was looking into our family’s genealogy and discovered how the Duecks are connected to Kazakhstan. She found a very intriguing story about my grandmother’s brother, Willi, that was nothing short of miraculous.

Susanna Dosso and Willi Dosso c. 1925.

Susanna Dosso and Willi Dosso c. 1925.

My grandmother Susanna and Willi were very close.  I heard her talk about him with joy remembering their childhood together.  Susanna and Willi were even married on the same day in 1932!  Willi married Katrina and Susanna married Gerhard.

Top: Katrina and Susanna Bottom: Willi and Gerhard

Top: Katrina and Susanna
Bottom: Willi and Gerhard

Right before the Germans showed up in their village during the Nazi campaign eastward, the Soviets were trying to quickly finish a job they had started earlier; completely destroy the farming communities where these four lived.  Willi and Gerhard were taken away by soldiers on the same day in 1941 and sent eastward to prison camps. A few days later the Soviets sent the remaining members of the Molotchna colony to train stations for a trip eastward as well.  Some pretty harrowing events took place at the train station where Susanna was sent and fortunately many were able to go back to their village this time with Germans, not Soviets, in charge.

Two years later Susanna and Katrina left towards the west with the retreating Germans and ended up settling in Poland. Susanna in Exin and Katrina with her in-laws at a farm nearby.  As the Soviets chased the Germans out of Poland in 1944, Susanna and her children fled to Potsdam and Katrina along with Susanna’s parents, sister and nieces were repatriated to the Soviet Union.  What this meant was being sent to a work camp in the eastern Gulags near China that Stalin had created for his political enemies and, in my opinion, his pleasure. After severe suffering and work for 5 years, Katrina and the others who had survived the horrors of the camp were sent to a harsh area near Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan (now Almaty) which at that time was part of the Soviet Union.  Other Mennonites were in the area and they came together to rebuild their lives. In extremely harsh conditions they constructed homes and farms as they had done in centuries past.

The miracle occurred when Willi Dosso, who made it through the war alive, was sent by the Soviets to the same area of Kazakhstan where Katrina and her surviving in-laws lived!  We don’t know exactly when Willi arrived but a reasonable guess is 1953.  They reunited as husband and wife arriving at the exact, same spot in the world but getting there through wildly different paths.

Susanna eventually came to live in Canada and then the USA.  She wrote often to Willi and her other family members in Kazakhstan.  She was told that her care packages of cigarettes, towels, soap, chocolate, etc., are what kept them alive so they could get through the harsh, early times settling the area.

Willi and Katrina Dosso lived out their lives together in Kazakhstan.  Willi (born in 1899) passed away in 1985 and Katrina passed away two years later in 1987.