THE PRICE is now available at Amazon for Kindle and as a paperback from Amazon and other online booksellers.
The Price tells the story of Hans Kaspar and Verena Schneebeli and their four children who left their ancestral home in Canton Zürich, Switzerland, for the American frontier. The story relies on a few known facts about events in my ancestor’s lives, but it could be the story of many immigrants.
They were Mennonites, members of a religious group that had faced nearly three hundred years of religious persecution. Some had fled during the Reformation when they were called “Anabaptists” or “rebaptizers,” going to more Anabaptist-friendly areas in the Alsace. Now followers of the ideas of Menno Simons, many stuck it out in their home villages even when it meant imprisonment, confiscation of their property, the kidnapping of their children and death.
My (naive) understanding of American history was that people who came to America seeking religious freedom were undaunted by the sacrifice of leaving their homes and the hardships of the journey, but my heart and mind told me that this could not be the case. The immensity of their decision hit me hard as I stood on a boat landing outside an old customs house in the town of Stein am Rhein in Switzerland. Over a doorway was a date painted in bright colors, carved into stone. The date was 1665. I understood what many European immigrants had left behind as I had not understood it before.
I had no idea in 1997, when I visited this spot, that any of my ancestors had come from Switzerland or that they might have stood on this boat landing waiting to board a river boat that would take them to Basel and, from there, to the comparatively friendly lands of the Palatinate.
The customs house, the courtyard, the stairs leading to the boat landing, all of it, contrasted in every way with what I knew of life in frontier America in 1665. For years I was haunted by that boat landing on the Rhine, realizing what the decision to emigrate could have involved, even beyond leaving behind family and beloved friends.
In The Price I have written about that decision and what it cost those who made it.