Explore past issues of Preservings, from Issue No. 1, January 1993 to the present. Click on the issue number and year to download full-text PDF copies of the magazine, or click on the link below each title to preview that issue’s featured theme.
Issue No. 34, 2014 1870s Migration
One hundred forty years ago Mennonites from Imperial Russia migrated to the Great Plains and Prairies of North America. The feature articles in this year’s issue tell that story. Ernie Braun begins by revisiting the question of why Mennonites chose to emigrate and why some chose Canada, while others the United States. The diaries of the 1873 delegation that toured North America are used in Hans Werner’s article to explore their personal wonderment at travel and the new sights and people they met. James Urry revisits the question of how instrumental William Hespeler actually was in making the immigration to Manitoba happen, while Adolf Ens explores the diversity of faith expression that emerged in Canada soon after Mennonites arrived. These fresh looks are accompanied by reprints of previous story tellers. An excerpt from Ferdinand Schultz’s 1938 history of Mountain Lake, Minnesota and a 1975 Mennonite Quarterly Review article by John D. Unruh and his son on settlement in South Dakota, offer windows into settlement in the United States. Other writings of the day tell us about being stuck in the ice on Lake Superior and British impressions of Mennonites stopping over in Liverpool.
Other articles offer new insights into diverse subjects. Kerry Fast uses interviews conducted in the 1970s to reconstruct the story of the early settlement of Low German Mennonites in Ontario; Orlando Hiebert examines drainage, bush and rocks on the East Reserve, while Glenn Klassen tells an engaging story of finding cemeteries there. Conrad Stoesz’s article about a new collection of photographs from Paraguay conveys both a sense of the complications of early settlement and the prospect of restoring some rare and unique images. Dora Maendal and Jesse Hofer’s account of how Hutterite suffering during World War I is being retold in new ways reminds us of the value of not forgetting our past.
Our issue ends with some interesting biographies, engaging reflections and book reviews. It is our hope you will find the issue interesting and inspiring—inspiring in that it may even stimulate you to write something for next year’s issue. We are always interested and available to help make it happen.
Issue No. 33, 2013 Mennonites of Poland/Prussia
The feature articles in this year’s issue take us back to the story of the Mennonite presence in the delta of the Wisła River in present day Poland. We begin with Peter Klassen’s review of the unique context of religious tolerance that attracted primarily Dutch Mennonites to the watery delta. My own article picks up this story, focusing on the landscape and environment that shaped the ancestors of many of us. John Friesen explores how Mennonites had to defend against those who challenged their orthodoxy while Mark Jantzen’s article takes us to a time when many Mennonites had already left for Imperial Russia and Mennonite sensibilities were increasingly in conflict with the sense of what the obligation of citizens were to the state. Finally, we have the stories of two modern-day researchers, Glenn Penner and Roland Sawatzky, who made trips to Poland to uncover and help celebrate the Mennonite experience together with Polish partners.
We also have interesting articles on other themes. Leonard Doell, who hails from Saskatchewan, has had an ongoing interest in the story of those who tried Alberta, before settling in the Saskatoon area. The relatively new Mennonite presence in Two Hills, Alberta continues to amaze both the residents of the area and us as observers. Mary Shaw, who works in the Two Hills Mennonite Elementary School tells us about this unique experiment. Andrea Dyck’s article is based on a Master’s thesis she completed a few years ago. Her reading of letters to the Mennonitische Post from those who had migrated to Mexico in the 1920s tells us about their interactions with Mexicans. Donald Stoesz’s contribution to this issue takes us into a little explored area, the question of why ministers preach on certain passages of scripture and how that has evolved over time.
Our biography section has a diversity of stories. Ralph Friesen unravels a complex family, Abram Buhler provides us with an old letter that tells us about spiritual mentoring, David Schroeder remembers Bishop David Schulz, and Conrad Stoesz tells about some marginal Stoesz’s. We end with a son’s reflection about his parents on their fiftieth anniversary.
Iris Reimer Nowakowski shares her memories of Steinbach and the EMC church during the tenure of minister Peter D. Friesen and Eleanor Hildebrand Chornoboy, reflects thoughtfully on Faspa, one of the most potent traditions of Mennonite life. A note from Ernest Braun tells about a CD of early aerial photos of the East Reseve in Manitoba, an important research tool created by the EastMenn Historical Committee. Finally, we are indebted to our book review contributors who have read books for us and not only tell us what is being written about, but also their thoughts on what they read.
Issue No. 32, 2012 Mennonite Women
It is not saying anything new that too often the experiences of women have not made it into the stories we tell about the past. This issue’s feature articles have as their subject the stories of women. Royden Loewen uses two women’s diaries to draw out how women found their own unique places in the process of transplanting communities from Russia to Manitoba in the 1870s. Similarly, Jody Marten’s article focuses on two women, but in her case she examines women who were single, often a marginal identity in Mennonite life. She concludes that the two single women of her story maintained rich and fulfilling lives, not suffering the loneliness that is often attributed to the single life. Martha Hiebert retells us the stories she heard in Bolivia—remarkable stories of women as midwives and healers. A second group of two articles looks at family life. Suzanne Smith takes us into the changing world of Hutterite family life, while Glen Klassen shares with us his interesting work on health and illness among early Manitoba Mennonites with a study of childhood illness and death.
Other articles include Titus Guenther’s sojourn in Paraguay and his story of European Mennonite interactions with Paraguay’s indigenous peoples, a relationship he characterizes as “witness through interdependence.” Bruce Wiebe delves further into the land transactions that brought the first Hutterites to Canada in 1918. The theme is not unfamiliar to us—the intermingling of political and profit interests, in this case a Prime Minister and a Senator. Arden Dueck’s records of his parent’s recollections of a Kleine Gemeinde family moving to an Old Colony settlement to teach are featured in his article “Going to Yermo.” A “Reflection” article by Ralph Friesen, a Foundation Board member, offers some food for thought as he delves into the question of “Salvation, the Ordnung, and Self Esteem.”
Most of us live locally and our neighbourhoods, where we grew up, the circles of people we have come to know, are our world. Mary Neufeld tells us about how she uncovered the history of Schoenthal in Manitoba’s West Reserve, while Frieda-Marie Elias remembers for us what it was like to be a young teacher from Saskatchewan who arrives in La Crete, Alberta to take up a teaching position.
A regular feature in the last number of issues, “Around the Mennonite World,” has four contributions. David Friesen tells us about the 90th Anniversary celebrations in the Manitoba Colony in Mexico; Jesse Hofer takes us on a trip to Germany and Austria to learn more about Hutterite roots, while Kennert Giesbrecht and I each have a report of our visits to Horse and Buggy Mennonites.
Finally there are book reviews and, for this issue, there were more books than we could find reviewers and space for. We are always looking for contributors to Preservings and want to encourage your continued support by submitting your stories of the Mennonite past. The richness of each issue is a credit to our faithful contributors and I want to thank them heartily.
Issue No. 31, 2011 Conservative 'Horse and Buggy' Mennonites
There is something about people who are nervous about new technologies that fascinates the world. People who use tractors with steel wheels, horses and buggies, do not have telephones in the home, or wear distinctively conservative dress are the object of the gaze of those who are modern..
Our feature article section in this issue sheds light on the practices of three different streams of conservatives. Diane Zimmerman Umble’s article from the mid 1990s helps us understand why installing a telephone in the home challenged Amish sensibilities of the importance of face-to-face interaction, of silence, of worship and of work. Jesse Hofer takes us inside Hutterite practices and struggles with the modern particularly with communication technology and competitive sport. Royden Loewen’s article looks broadly at the conservative impulses of Russian Mennonites who live south of the Rio Grande.
Our theme continues in a photo essay on the horse and buggy era and how pride of ownership played a role in deciding on the appropriate horse and buggy ornamentation that was permitted. There is also an article on the ‘Horse and Buggy’ conference held at the University of Winnipeg in October 2011 that explored the theme of anti-modern Mennonites. At the opposite pole, is Ralph Friesen’s account of how his father and companions travelled to the center of fundamentalism, how they drank deeply from the wells of North American evangelists, and how that experience contributed to the EMC move away from traditional conservatism.
Two articles focus on new research on the West Reserve. Glen Klassen and Conrad Stoesz expand earlier research on the 1918 flu epidemic (Preservings 28, 2008) with an interesting study of diphtheria while Bruce Wiebe builds on his research in Land Titles records with a study of towns like Haskett and Stephen, which remained only a dream or gradually faded away. Leonard Doell’s article goes farther afield in telling stories of Mennonite interaction with Canada’s Aboriginal people, primarily in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Doell suggests that Mennonites and Aboriginal people’s share a “sense of peoplehood and homeland.”
In this issue are also two accounts of pilgrimages to ancestral lands. Al Hamm’s account of a trip to Poland/Prussia in interesting in that his family did not participate in the Russian period before coming to Canada. Edwin Hoeppner’s trip was to Ukraine and chronicles his search for ancestors that included the delegate Hoeppner of the 18th century. The story and sermon of Peter Shellenberg and the journal of Gerhard P. Goertzen offer insights into quite different experiences of migration; in the Schellenberg case from Manitoba to Saskatchewan in 1914, while Goertzen migrated from Russia to Mexico in the 1920s. Migration is also the theme of Bill Janzen’s reflection on his years working on behalf of Mennonites from Mexico and their ability to return to Canada.
The year has witnessed the loss of some important contributors to keeping alive the Mennonite story. We briefly remember the contributions of Gerhard Ens, Adalbaert Goertz and Judith Martens. All left us in the last year.
Issue No. 30, 2010 Anabaptists in Poland-Prussia
Many of the cultural and religious sensibilities we recognize as distinctive for Russian Mennonites come to us from the Polish-Prussian period of Anabaptist history. This issue of Preservings features a number of articles that explore that history. Peter Klassen a long time student of the Polish-Prussian experience leads the feature section with his thoughts on the Polish period of Anabaptism, a period he feels has been sorely neglected by scholars. Preservings co-editor, John J. Friesen reflects on Klassen’s work with his own thoughts on the theological importance of the Polish-Prussian period and the legacy of that experience among Russian Mennonites to this day. Dan Stone, a now retired historian of Poland from the University of Winnipeg adds to our understanding of the context of Mennonites in the Vistula Delta with his overview of the Teutonic Knights who conquered the area in the centuries before Mennonites arrived. In our family history section Walter Epp shares his odyssey of looking for his Prussian heritage and showcases some of the maps that he uncovered in his quest.
A second focus of this issue is the East and West Reserves of Manitoba. Ron Friesen completes his overview of the cheese factories of the East Reserve by looking at the cooperative period that began in the 1930s. The West Reserve is featured in three articles: Arnie Neufeld’s recollections and history of Horndean and John J. Friesen’s article on the non-Mennonites of the West Reserve both deal with the ‘edges’ of West Reserve life. Bruce Wiebe offers us the first detailed look at how the sale of West Reserve lands took place after the move to Mexico by the Old Colony people. Blumenort, Gnadenthal and Hamburg illustrate the complexity of selling the land when an entire community decides to leave at the same time.
Two reports of travels are striking in how they illustrate the widely dispersed, but similarity of Low German peoples. Put together Kennert Giesbrecht and Waldfried Klassen’s adventure driving from Steinbach to Paraguay and visiting Low German people on the way and my experience of talking Low German with people who live in the vast steppes of Siberia show us the importance of language in creating and sustaining a community.
In addition to Walter Epp’s story of looking for his roots in Prussia our family history section explores both ends of life. Katherine Martens tells of the experiences of giving birth, while Roland Sawatzky paints a picture of Mennonite practices surrounding death. The second and final installment of Tim Janzen’s work on the Bergthal Colony genealogical records, and the biography of the multi-faceted Cornelius Ens from Saskatchewan complete this issue’s foray into the vagaries of family life.
A report from a visiting graduate student who is Ukrainian, but studies Mennonites in Manitoba, Bruce Wiebe’s interesting report on the Waisanamt Records in Mexico, and our usual book reviews, news and letters make this what we think will be an engaging and interesting issue.
Issue No. 29, 2009 Mennonites in Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan is the focus of three of the four feature articles in this issue of Preservings. Allan Guenther offers a thought provoking analysis of the Warman School Inquiry held in that school in 1908. An important participant in that inquiry was Ältester Jacob Wiens, who was the primary spokesman for the Old Colony Church. Leonard Doell’s biography gives us some insight into the person and family of the Saskatchewan leader. Another Old Colony leader present at the Inquiry was Johann P. Wall. Wall was also one of the delegates who went to find a new home for Old Colony Mennonites—ultimately they would migrate to Mexico. In this issue we reprint a tribute to Wall written by Cornelius Krahn upon Wall’s death in 1961. John J. Friesen has provided an introduction, and we are publishing some of Wall’s letters in English for the first time. We have also included some of the poems Wall wrote in their original German. Our final feature is an article by Martina Will de Chaparro, which looks at the Mennonite migration to Mexico from the other side—how it played into Mexican politics.
This issue also brings us back to the East Reserve with Henry Fast’s account of Paul Jaxt, an 1884 German adventurer who visited the Regehr’s of Rosenfeld. We also begin a two part series on the cheese industry in the East Reserve in this issue. This first installment by Ron Friesen examines the industry up to its demise in the 1920s. The next issue will look at the rebirth of the industry in the 1930s when it returned in the form of cooperatives. John J. Friesen, Royden Loewen and Hans Werner all traveled in Latin and South America in the last year and each offers some reflections on those travels. Margaret Loewen Reimer gives us a thoughtful translation of the children’s prayer ‘Müde bin ich geh zur Ruh’ and the interesting story of its origins.
Our family and village history section has the story of the Wiebe’s of Weidenfeld, by Margaret Hildebrand, a rich history of the Village of Edenthal, by Marlene Plett and Conrad Stoesz’s biography of Abram J. Thiessen of Thiessen Bus Lines. Tim Janzen’s careful documenting of inter-colony transfers from Russian archival sources will be of interest to the many genealogists of Russian Mennonite families.
We have included a discussion section in this issue where Jake Buhler’s interesting reflection on ‘Sin and Salvation’ and the continuing dialogue between Harold Jantz and co-editor John J. Friesen will stimulate our readers’ thinking on both the theological questions of today and from the past. We also have included a letter from Harold Schapansky, commenting and providing additional information on the Hildebrand Family story from the last issue.
Finally, we have a diverse array of books that our kind reviewers have read and offer here their impressions and critique.
Once again we thank all of the contributors to this issue without whom Preservings would not be possible.
Issue No. 28, 2008 1920s Migration to Mexico
Our 28th issue of Preservings features the migration to Mexico in the 1920s. Bill Janzen’s presentation to the Low German network meetings in Aylmer, Ontario in 2007 is published here in its full and slightly revised form. Bill retired from his many years of work on behalf of Low German speaking Mennonites and his presentation offers a clear explanation of the issues that led up to the migration and the joys and sorrows that accompanied such a dramatic relocation. The letter from the lawyer, John H. Black is much closer to the actual event. Black visited the Mennonites in Mexico in 1926 and in his letter to the Morden Times he challenges the rumours that the migration is a failure. The Krause photo collection, of which only a sample is reproduced here, is a collection of photographs taken in Mexico in the 1920s, after Mennonites had begun to settle there. To a limited extent we have used modern photo editing technology to enhance them for publication. They offer an interesting visual sense of what the landscape of Chihuahua was like in the 1920s. In contrast Hans Werner’s photos and description of the Manitoba Colony in April 2008 dramatically illustrates how change has come to the Old Colony Mennonites who left Manitoba eighty-five years ago.
Glen Klassen and Kimberly Penner’s article uses a story from the past to ask questions about how Mennonite church and community life would be affected if a pandemic was to occur. The D.F. Plett Historical Research Foundation provided Klassen with a grant, which he has used to research the 1918 flu epidemic in Manitoba. We learn not only about the flu, but about the sacrifice made by church leaders who felt called to minister to the flock even when there was risk to their own health. Conrad Stoesz has expanded on earlier research he did on the migration of Old Colony Mennonites to Burns Lake, British Columbia. In his work as an archivist he came across interesting photos and analysis of the success of this Depression era migration. We also are pleased to publish here the work of Alan Warkentin who has uncovered an interesting history of the Haskett area in Southern Manitoba. Alan’s work is part of dedicated efforts of the West Reserve local history group that is engaged in a project to bring to life the histories of some of the last villages whose story has not been told. Maria Falk Lodge focuses on the women of Rosengard, near Steinbach. Her emphasis is on the later Russlaender migration and the resilience shown by these women who had been through difficult times. Finally we reprint a journal by Leonard Sawatzky, a scholar of Mennonites in Mexico who died in April 2008. Sawatzky traveled in Bolivia and sent his thoughts on what he saw and experienced in South America back to Canada where they were published. We reprint here his journal from the April 1972 issue of the Mennonite Mirror. Our issue also features reviews of recent books, a fine biography of Friesen’s from Nebraska, and book reviews. In particular, our review section features reviews of two video productions featuring Mennonites in Mexico. Royden Loewen reviews the movie Stellet Licht while Kerry Fast gives us her thoughts on the documentary Living in a Perfect World.
Our thanks to all those who share with us the fruits of their work and allow us to be the print record of their stories.
Issue No. 27, 2007 Russian Mennonites in the Diaspora
In this issue we are taken the length and breadth of the Dutch-North German-Russian Mennonite scattering across the world and over time. Sjouke Voolstra’s article about early Dutch conservatives offers rare and interesting insights that point to some conservative ways still practiced that have their origins in the 17th and 18th centuries. Voolstra died in a sailing accident in 2004 and we are indebted to Lydia Penner of the Netherlands for translating this article. The difficult times during the Soviet period were the subject of Nataly Venger’s presentation at the Mennonite Heritage Centre in the spring of 2007. Venger offers an interesting perspective on the period, suggesting that if examined in the context of the Soviet regime and its time, Mennonites were remarkably successful achieving things for themselves that others could not. To be sure that ultimately also ended, but hers is an interesting and refreshing perspective. Titus Guenther’s article not only helps us know Ältester Martin C. Friesen but also the history of the migration to Paraguay. Henry Schapansky sheds light on how estates in Russia came to be and how familial connections sustained and expanded them. Ralph Friesen’s article explores a difficult aspect of the human condition, ‘sexual sin’ and how the Kleine Gemeinde dealt with specific cases. Bruce Wiebe’s article brings to light new research about the securing of timber for the early settlers on the West Reserve across the border in North Dakota, while Lawrence Klippenstein adds another biographical piece to the rich contribution made by the Wiebes, in this case Heinrich Wiebe, to both East and West Reserve life. Royden Loewen’s article acknowledges the 50th anniversary of Mennonite presence in Belize. Roy shows us how Spanish Lookout settlers maintained earlier traditions and developed news ways of expressing their conservative orientation in a tropical environment. Change is always part of history and Adolf Ens uses John Dyck’s earlier research to give us a picture of early Mennonites who pursued higher education, while Jesse Hofer challenges the idea that Hutterites do not have a mission orientation. As always, the personal writings of our people tell their own stories. The memoirs of P.A. Elias offer an interesting window into early Bergthaler-Old Colony relations while the everyday life of a farm woman highlight the journal of Maria Voth. Altester Peter R. Dueck and the 1918 flu epidemic offer our first hint at Glen Klassen and Kimberly Penner’s research on how that epidemic affected Mennonite churches. Finally, a number of new books have been reviewed by generous contributors. It is indeed a rich potpourri.
Issue No. 26, 2006 The Dutch and Flemish Roots of Conservative Mennonites
This issue focuses on the Dutch and Flemish Mennonite stories as background to the formation of the conservatives within the Dutch, Prussian and Mennonite history. The Flemish Anabaptist movement forms the context for the origin of the conservative wing of Dutch Mennonites, and yet, relatively little is known about this rather large movement. Articles in this issue will hopefully begin to shed more light on this important segment of the story. A number of the articles in this issue were planned by Delbert Plett before his death. A few of the studies were earlier published in books or periodicals likely not seen by our readers.
After an article by Walter Klaassen which places Menno Simons into context, a number of studies focus specifically on the Flemish story. Marjan Blok provides insight into the rather large Anabaptist movement in Flanders. Allan Friesen retells the sad story of the Frisian-Flemish split, a division that rent the Mennonite community for centuries. Roy Loewen traces the Flemish origins of Mennonite inheritance patterns – patterns that are still widely practiced in many Latin American Low German speaking communities. Karl Koop discusses the Dordrecht Confession of faith – a confession which originated in the Flemish context, and has been one of the most influential Mennonite confessions of all time. Micheal Driedger studies Geeritt Roosen, a businessman from the Altona Mennonite church near Hamburg, Germany, who had Flemish roots.
Jack Thiessen’s study of Dutch words in Low German demonstrates the continuing influence of the Dutch language among Low German speaking Mennonites. This section concludes with a few articles about Mennonites and artistic life. These are taken from Mennonite Life and show the connection between the famous Dutch artist Rembrandt and Mennonites. The articles were originally published at the 350 anniversary of Rembrandt, and are included here at about his 400th anniversary.
The biographies and family histories section begins with three articles about Aeltesten, or bishops: the diary by Johann Loeppky from his trip to Mexico in the 1920s to find land for his people, the story of Herman J. Bueckert, a much loved bishop from northern British Columbia, and the account of Jacob F. Isaac, the last bishop in the Kleine Gemeinde in Kansas. Four articles deal with families: the Hamm, Unger, Broesky, and Froese families. One article makes an interesting connection between a Mennonite family and one of the principle people who tried to assassinate Adolph Hitler in 1944. Heinrich and Elizabeth Plett’s instructions for their newly wed children is not strictly a biography, but reveals a lot about family life in the 1930s in one Mennonite community.
The second set of articles address a number of different issues. Lawrence Klippenstein looks at letters written by one of the delegates to Russia in the 1780s, Johann Bartsch, to his wife, and the other is a new detailed map by Ed Hoeppner of the route taken by the delegates to Russia, Bartsch and Hoeppner. Peter Penner writes about his recent trip to the Omsk area Mennonite settlements in southern Siberia – settlements that have been largely ignored in Mennonite scholarship. Bill Janzen writes about the history of Mennonites in Saskatchewan leading up to their migration to Mexico in the 1920s. The section concludes with an article by Glen Klassen about creationism – an issue of interest to many conservative communities.
The latter part of the journal includes items which shed additional light on conservatives. The section on Hutterite life is new. The items are written from within a community that has strong beliefs, and now finds itself in the midst of considerable change. The news item section is expanded, and highlights either research about, or activities by, conservative Mennonites. Material culture has a few items about how material remains can highlight the history of a people. The issue concludes with a number of book reviews.
Issue No. 25, December 2005 Mennonites in the Netherlands and Poland/Prussia
A year ago we were all saddened when Delbert Plett died. He had filled a large role in researching the history of conservative Mennonites, and advocating that they be given respect and recognition. Would this work continue?
A number of years ago, Delbert established the D.F. Plett Historical Research Foundation, Inc., and named its first members. He willed the bulk of his estate to this Foundation, and gave it the mandate to continue his life work. Since Delbert had been providing the resources to publish the Preservings, the Flemish Mennonite Historical Society offered to transfer responsibility for the journal to the Foundation. The Foundation appointed Leonard Doell from Aberdeen, Saskatchewan, and me, to co-edit the Preservings.
In the last months of his life Delbert planned much the content of the 2005 issue, and so it fell to us to bring the issue to completion. The Foundation plans to continue publishing the Preservings. We as editors are working on the subsequent issues.
This issue includes tributes to Delbert Plett. Most were written at the occasion of his funeral, and reflect the emotion and sense of loss at that event. After an introduction to the mission and goals of the Plett Foundation, a number of articles by Delbert Plett are included. Written during the final months of his life, they express in his straightforward, bold, and sometimes sharp style, some of the main themes and concerns that consumed his life. As such they function like editorials in which he provides admonition and advice to people about whom he cared deeply.
The feature articles reflect Delbert’s growing interest in recent years to examine the historical background to the present conservative Mennonite communities. The articles are divided into two categories: those dealing with Mennonite life in the Netherlands, and those focusing on Poland and Prussia. Both areas have been largely unknown within Mennonite circles in North America. Even less is known of the role and contribution of conservative Mennonites in those regions, since most histories have focused on the more liberal leaders and groups. These very fine articles provide a long-overdue corrective to this neglected history.
The biographies, as usual, provide unique and personal windows into the larger Mennonite story. A second set of articles are designed to present issues from new perspectives.
After a few items about news, material culture, and book reviews, the issue concludes with a tribute to Adina Reger. Delbert and Adina cooperated in the compiling of Diese Steine, a book about Russian Mennonite history. Considered by Delbert as his most important publication, he distributed almost 10,000 copies in Europe and Latin America, most of them free of charge. It is ironic, and sad, that Adina died almost exactly a year after Delbert’s death.
Preparing this issue has been a real privilege. I have been impressed again with the monumental amount of work that Delbert Plett did in preparing the Preservings, and the other publications he produced. I have also come to appreciative even more his methodology. Delbert’s aim was not only to inform, it was to change minds – or to use a contemporary expression – to effect paradigm shifts. He believed passionately that Mennonites have a rich heritage, and strove mightily to have people catch that vision.
Issue No. 24, December 2004 Molotschna Colony Bicentennial (1804-2004)
The Molotschna Colony was founded by 193 Danziger Old Flemish Mennonite families from the Vistula delta in Polish-Prussia, who arrived at the Chortitza (Old) Colony on the Dnieper River in Fall of 1803. In the Spring of 1804 the first nine villages were laid out along the banks of the Molotschna River some 100 km. to the southeast. Another 165 families came that same Fall with eight new villages laid out in 1805. Much like the 19th century settlers of the American-midwest, the Molotschna pioneers traversed the 1000 miles of primitive roads and trails in covered wagon trains carrying their possessions and herding livestock. The journey took an average of five to seven weeks.
The Molotschna Colony consisted of 120,000 desjatien (320,000 acres) of land lying to the east of the Molotschna River which flowed from north to south into the Sea of Azov. “A number of shallow streams crossed the colony, the larger ones flowing westward towards the Molochnaia (Milk) River, so named because in flood its cloudy waters resembled milk,” Urry, None But Saints (Winnipeg, 1989), page 83. When the settlers arrived on the Molotschna hills (escarpment) along the west bank of the river they made their first acquaintance with their new neighbours, the Nogaier, a nomadic and warlike people. A panoramic view of miles of waving grasses, as tall as a man, greeted the settlers from their vantage point on the heights. “The Nogai would burn off the tall grasses to enrich the soils and to provide fresh pasturage for their animals. Often the entire steppe horizon would be engulfed in flames and heavy black clouds would obscure the sky,” Urry, page 84. The colonists quickly built earth huts for themselves and their livestock to be followed within a few years by more substantial buildings constructed of brick.
“These new immigrants included a number of progressive farmers and businessmen with considerable capital, equipment and livestock,” Urry, page 57. “In 1808 61 percent of household heads in the Molochnaia listed their previous profession as `farmer.’” Urry, page 91. By comparison, many of the early pioneers at Chortitza were skilled artisans and craftsmen. Although the Chortitza (Old) Colony, would surpass it in terms of manufacturing and commercial enterprise, the Molotschna Colony was the most successful agricultural settlement in Imperial Russia and frequently visited and cited as a model by Government administrators and bureaucrats. By 1861 the population had grown to 20,828. At its peak in 1918 the Molotschna Colony consisted of 57 villages and several estates with a population of 30,000 Mennonites.
On June 6, 2004, the Molotschna Mennonite Bi-centennial was celebrated in Halbstadt (Moloschansk), Ukraine, in conjunction with an academic conference held in Melitopol, Zaporozhe and Dnjepropetrowsk on June 2-7. These events were organized by the International Mennonite Memorialization Committee and local and regional officials who deserve our gratitude for their vision and hard work. The Flemish Mennonite Historical Society Inc. is proud to present this special issue of Preservings featuring the history of the Molotschna Colony in honour of its 200th anniversary. The Editor – D. F. Plett
Issue No. 23, December 2003 The Old Colonists - Following Jesus
In 1875 the Reinländer Gemeinde was formed in the West Reserve, Manitoba, Canada, under the leadership of Ältester Johann Wiebe (1837- 1905), Rosengart, formerly of the Fürstenlandt Colony, South Russia (see Preservings, No. 14, pages 49-72). The new community consisted of immigrants from the Chortitza “old” Colony and its daughter settlements in the Black Sea region who were, therefore, known as “AltKolonier” or “Old Colonists”.
The Reinländer Gemeinde attempted nothing less than the restoration of the Apostolic Order in the tradition of their Flemish Anabaptist forebears of Reformation times who had suffered a century of fierce persecution for their faith (see Preservings, No. 22, pages 1-44). The Flemish Ordnung included a paradigm of grassroots democracy, commitment to the Gemeinde over individualism, pure orthodox teachings (“Rein” meaning pure), yieldedness or surrender to the will of God (Gelassenheit), toleration for other faiths, penitence and following Jesus (Nachfolge) as the key to salvation, and a visible church separated from the world in the spirit of medieval monasticism.
The Reinländer quickly grew to become one of the major branches of the Mennonite church and, certainly, the largest within the Flemish-Russian stream (comparable to the Amish and Old Orders among the American-Swiss Mennonites). By the turn of the century the denomination had established successful colonies near Hague and Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and later, also a pioneering settlement at Peace River, Alberta. By the 1990s the largest Old Colony congregation in Canada had been established in Southern Ontario, mainly by returnees from Mexico.
In 1922-26 some 6000 or approximately half of the Old Colonists in Canada, chose to suffer the bitter fate of exile rather than to submit to the arbitrary suppression of religious freedoms, the illegal expropriation of property and the resulting oppression and hostile cultural landscape. Mexico provided a harsh physical environment but proved to be fertile ground for the growth of the Old Colony church, spawning new settlements within Mexico as well as in Belize (1958), Paraguay and Bolivia.
For 128 years the Old Colony Mennonites have persevered through exile, poverty and harassment, blazing a trail of Biblical faithfulness across North and South America. In this issue of Preservings we proudly feature the Old Colonists, so often misunderstood and denigrated by their assimilationistic and progressivistic Mennonite co-religionists. We celebrate the immense contributions which they have made to the Christian church, serving as a light and model of a people separated unto God in the “old” New Testament tradition of “following Jesus”. The Editor.
Issue No. 22, June 2003 Our Flemish Roots - A Century of Struggle
Notwithstanding the most severe persecution of the Reformation, the Mennonite Church survived in Flanders from 1530 until 1650. Three-quarters of the 1204 martyrs in the Spanish Netherlands were Mennonites (almost half of them women) as opposed to the Reformed (Calvinist) faith. As many as seventy percent of the martyrs in Ghent, Bruges, and Coutrai were Mennonites. Two-thirds of the martyrs from the Lowlands documented in T. J. van Braght’s 1660 Martyrs’ Mirror were Flemish. “For the Flemish followers of Menno Simons it was `a century of struggle,’” writes historian A.L.E. Verheyden. Where the brotherhood of the Northern Netherlands soon divided under the influence of the individualism of elders, “….the severe repression in the South saw the Mennonites rallying anxiously around the church and expecting from it the greatest blessing,” Anabaptism in Flanders (Scottdale, Pa., 1961), page 9.
During this time a steady stream of refugees left Flanders and Brabant fleeing to Holland and Friesland with many eventually settling in the Vistula Delta where they were known as the “Clerken” (clear, pure or “Reine”). Some 40 to 60 percent of the genetic heritage of the Polish-Prussian Mennonites (and hence of the Russian Mennonites) can be traced to the Flemish lands of modern Belgium.
The diaspora carried with it the spirit of medieval monasticism and the core teachings of the Catholic faith which gave it birth. It was the Flemish Mennonites who successfully transplanted their Christo-centric communities from Flanders, Brabant, Holland, and Friesland, to the Vistula Delta starting in 1530, and in 1789 to southern Russia. It was the Flemish Mennonites, as opposed to the Friesians, who – after the division of 1567 – were predominant in the Vistula Delta and in Imperial Russia. The “Rein” Flemish (the Grosse Gemeinde), constituted 80 percent of the population in the Molotschna Colony during the 1860s. In Chortitza, the Flemish influence was even more prominent, clearly dominating spiritual and cultural life of the “old” Colony until the demise of the Mennonite commonwealth in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Even in 1920, the Flemish-based Kirchliche congregations included 80 percent of the 100,000 Mennonites in Russia. The three denominations immigrating to Manitoba in 1874 to 1878 – the Kleine Gemeinde, Bergthaler, and Old Colonists – were all of the Flemish Ordnung.
Through the Martyr’s Mirror our Flemish Mennonite ancestors left a ringing testimony of their faith and theology. Although constantly under attack by Satanic forces, many of their best traits have been carried forward for almost 500 years and are still practised in hundreds of traditionalist (Kirchliche) and conservative communities in North and South America. Their profound ethical, moral and spiritual values and Christo-centric biblicism continue to be reflected in the day-to-day lives of modern Mennonites and other descendants, totalling some 600- 700,000 souls. The Editor.
Issue No. 21, December 2002 The Ältesten - Faithful Servants of God
Since the time of the Reformation, the Ältesten of the Flemish Mennonite faith have stood valiantly as guardians on the battlements of Zion defending their flocks from the onslaughts of Satan. The courage and spiritual integrity of the Ältester was critical in a community continually facing persecution, flight and resettlement in search of religious freedom. The vital role of the Ältester holds prominent place in the cannon of Mennonite devotional literature.
In 1565, Ältester Matthias Servaes, Kottenem, a favourite writer of Kleine Gemeinde founder Klaas Reimer, wrote to family and co-workers from his prison cell while awaiting execution, encouraging “all those that are appointed to watch over the souls of men, exercise your office with diligence, that you may not be found slothful, drowsy or negligent in it; but that you may be faithful watchmen, who truly and honestly lead out and feed the flock of Christ, and this with all humility and meekness…give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to reproof, and this with all discretion, in the fear of the Lord,…Hence apply to them oil and wine, as did the true Samaritan to the wounded man…..be faithful to Him that esteemed you faithful, and accepted you as His ministers, and stewards of His mysteries….Hence be diligent labourers of the Lord in His vineyard, and faithful builders in His house,” Martyrs’ Mirror, page 689.
In the words of Kleine Gemeinde theologian Heinrich Balzer (1800-46), Tiege, Russia, the Ältester “…strikes valiantly and courageously against the hellish dragon with the staff of the Godly word, and who calls out unceasingly to the poor lambs, and demonstrates how they are to guard themselves against the evil one in order that they will not be consumed, one who personally leads his flock in the face of rejection, who spares no endeavour nor exertion and who rejects all earthly gain, if only he might guard and preserve the poor embattled Gemeinde which is in danger of being overwhelmed and to tear them from the clutches of Satan’s revenge,” from “An Epistle to Heinrich Rempel, Altona, 1835,” The Golden Years, page 224.
We are proud to feature the biographies of two Ältester: Isaak G. Dyck (1847-1929), Chortitza, Rosenthal, Russia, and his cousin’s grandson, Peter S. Wiebe (1888-1970), Eigengrund, East Reserve, Manitoba. They served their Lord and Saviour on two continents and over two centuries. Their valiant labours in the vineyard of Jesus Christ speak of the outstanding dedication, courage and steadfastness which has characterized the Flemish Mennonite “Ohms” over the centuries.
Issue No. 20, June 2002 Chortitza 'Old' Colony, 1789
The story of the first settlement of the Flemish Mennonites at the junction of the Chortitza and Dnjepr Rivers in 1789 in Imperial Russia is replete with drama, tension and tragedy. It is no small task to establish a peaceful Christian community in an undeveloped steppe and to create an environment where the pioneers and their descendants could thrive and p rosper. Within a century the Chortitza “Old” Colony had become perhaps the most prosperous community in the area north of the Black Sea and its industries were leading the way in the region’s booming economy.
After some initial faltering the Chortitza Flemish Gemeinde was to become the most stable and flourishing of the Mennonites in Russia. It is a precious gift of God to build a large congregation of 4000 and more members out of a population originating from different Gemeinden and various regions in the Vistula Delta in Royal Poland and West Prussia.
God had granted the Flemish pioneers noble and spirit-filled leaders who remained true to their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the face of extreme adversity and even later in the most perilous of times under the Soviets. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit the family and church divisions caused in the Molotschna Colony by Separatist Pietist predators were successfully refuted and the Mennonite Church in the Old Colony was able to build upon the sure and everlasting foundations of Christ’s commandments and to abide in the spirit of His love and reconciliation.
In this issue we feature several articles dealing with the first settlement of Flemish Mennonites in Southern Russia and their subsequent development. The work of historian David G. Rempel, (1899-1982), later of Menlo Park, California, was important in laying the groundwork for a history of the first settlement at Chortitza in 1789 and subsequent events. We are proud to feature his article “From Danzig to Russia: The First Mennonite Migration,” reprinted from Mennonite Life, January 1969, pages 8-28. Enjoy. The Editor.
Issue No. 19, December 2001 Mennonite Theology
In his feature essay, J. Denny Weaver has written that “Theology has never been more crucial to the future of Mennonites as faithful Anabaptists than at this moment.” Since the Church Councils of the third century, Christendom (what our great-grandparents referred to as the “Christentum der Welt”) has separated theology and ethics.
Professor Weaver points out that in the past, religious culture (also referred to as ethnicity) “has `saved’ many generations of Anabaptists [Mennonites] as a peace church, and continues to have meaning, religious and otherwise, for many people…” and should not be maligned. “Mennonites [had a] visible ethnicity that reminded us…that Jesus was our norm for ethics.”
On the other hand, “…throughout Mennonite history, when Mennonites have become culturally assimilated, they have also lost their commitment to nonviolence and ultimately their identity.” Consequently, “…theology has become a primary tool for defining who we are as a community of faith,” especially for assimilated Mennonites.
Weaver argues rather effectively that the current post-modern era, far from being something to be feared, is an opportunity for Mennonites and others who include the ethical teachings of Jesus in their Christian faith, to place their beliefs alongside the creeds of Christendom with equal credibility.
Weaver analyses the writings of Dutch Bishop Peter Jansz Twisk (1565-1636), as well as Kleine Gemeinde, Bergthaler and Old Colony leaders such as Ältester Klaas Reimer (1770- 1837), Ältester Abraham Friesen (1782-1849), Prediger Heinrich Balzer (1800-46), Ältester Gerhard Wiebe (1827-1900) and Ältester Johann Wiebe (1837-1905), to conclude that “Developing a theology specifically shaped by the non-violence of Jesus is not a fundamental departure from previous Anabaptist and Mennonite theologizing.”
Some samples of Weaver’s observations regarding our local faith heroes: “[Klaas] Reimer also used terminology reminiscent of Christus Victor, the atonement motif that depicts Jesus’ saving work in terms of victory of or a defeat of the devil.” “[Gerhard] Wiebe’s description of the death of Jesus might be said to echo the element of victory from the Christus Victor atonement motif.” “[Ältester Johann Wiebe’s] “…comments about the blood of Jesus being an offering for sin…certainly locate Wiebe in the historic satisfaction school of images.” John Holdeman “…considered [premillennialism]…a gross contradiction for Christians to accept war in the present while arguing that Jesus’s teachings about nonresistance belonged to a future kingdom.”
Weaver concludes that “Mennonites and Amish [leaders]…understood and talked about atonement in terms of…some version of Anselmian, satisfaction atonement doctrine.” At the same time, “…all of [the Mennonite writers studied]….added to or changed the emphasis in some way so that discipleship and following Jesus were visible….If we now develop a theology specifically shaped by nonviolent discipleship, we are simply being more explicit and going further in a direction already visible in these earlier writers.”
Mennonites and other Gospel-centric believers can validate their faith through living a faith embodying the teachings of Jesus. “Ethics and theology are two versions–one written and one lived–of the story of Jesus.” “John Howard Yoder said that we testify to the truth of Jesus by living like Jesus did….”
In the place of the violence accommodating theology of Christendom, Weaver, suggests “…a theology that is actually a reading of the Bible’s narratives in Revelations and the Gospels…and a narrative Christus Victor for an atonement motif….that displays the reign of God in nonviolent confrontation of and triumph over evil….Developing a theology that makes explicit the nonviolence of Jesus involves a discussion about who Jesus is and what it means to be a Christian.”
Such a theology, Weaver suggests, “….shaped by the nonviolence of Jesus…thus challenges both the direct violence of war and…the systemic violence of economic and colonial exploitation….The peace church should pose an explicit challenge or alternative to the religious nationalism.”
All believers whether Mennonites or otherwise will be inspired by Weaver’s insightful and poignant analysis and observations regarding a theology acknowledging fully the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The Editor.
Issue No. 18, June 2001 Mennonite Institutions
The Mennonite people have always been richly endowed with gifted thinkers and writers. The seminal leaders in Reformation-times compiled treatises, polemics and learned discourses while the martyrs wrote hymns, poetic elegies and inspirational epistles. During the second half of the 16th century Flemish and Dutch writers (the ancestors of the conservative Mennonites in North and South America), brought forth a rich flowering of devotional, theological and historical writings, coinciding with a Dutch “Golden Age”–thousands of books and other writings, mostly unknown today.
In 17th and 18th century Prussia, Aeltesten such as Georg Hansen, Hans von Steen and Peter Epp (uncle of Klaas Reimer, Kleine Gemeinde founder), in Danzig, and Gerhard Wiebe, Ellerwald, produced Confessions of Faith, Catechisms and devotional writings. In Imperial Russia, Old Colony leaders such as Aeltesten David Epp (1781-1843) and Gerhard Dyck (1809-87), and Molotschna leaders such as Aeltester Abraham Friesen (1782-1849), Ohrloff, Aeltester Heinrich Wiens (1800-72), Gnadenheim, and theologian Heinrich Balzer (1800-42) of Tiege, Molotschna, continued in their footsteps, leaving a rich literary corpus.
The tradition was brought along to Manitoba and was best exemplified by the three pioneer Bishops Johann Wiebe (1837-1905) of the Reinländer (Old Colony), Gerhard Wiebe (1827- 1900) of the Bergthaler (Sommerfelder/ Chortitzer), and Peter Toews (1841-1922) of the Kleine Gemeinde.
It was good fortune that E. K. Francis undertook the study of the Mennonites in Manitoba in the 1940s. His doctoral thesis published by D. W. Friesen & Sons, Altona, in 1955, as In Search of Utopia, became a classic of scholarly writing, reminding Mennonites of their historical and literary heritage and their unending quest for utopia, defined as the building of God’s kingdom on earth.
In this issue we celebrate the work of sociologist E. K. Francis with the publication of his important essay on the historical and cultural origins of Mennonite institutions. The personal reflections of Ted Friesen, Altona, who worked closely with Francis during his decade long study, add a personal perspective to this important contribution to the Mennonite people.
Issue No. 17, December 2000 1874 Revisited
The celebrations of the 125th anniversaries of the East and West Reserves, Manitoba, Canada, during 1999 and 2000 are now history. Hopefully, most of our readers, particularly those in Manitoba, were able to take part in at least some of the festivities. The most important thing of course is that these events have imparted many good memories and positive impressions to our youngsters, as this will ensure that they will remain proud of their heritage in years to come and therefore more fulfilled and wholesome human beings.
All three of the founding groups of the Mennonite communities of southern Manitoba–the Kleine Gemeinde, the Bergthaler and Old Koloniers–had gone through the pioneering experience in Imperial Russia within the preceding decades, making them experienced in the art of resettlement and thus excellent settlers to spearhead the opening and development of the Canadian west.
The story of Erdmann Penner (1826-1907), a dynamic pioneer entrepreneur whose activities touched both East and West Reserves, provides a suitable focus to this issue of Preservings. Erdmann Penner’s story illustrates the dramatic impact which the immigration of almost 7000 Mennonites from Imperial Russia had on Manitoba in 1874 to 1876, for a time doubling the population of the Province. The Editor, D. Plett, Q.C.
Issue No. 16, June 2000 125th Anniversary of the West Reserve (1875-2000)
Congratulations to our neighbours in the West Reserve, Altona Winkler area, as they are celebrating their 125th anniversary this summer.
We particularly congratulate the members and descendants of the Old Kolony (OK) congregations of Manitoba, and indeed across Canada, the U. S.A., and Latin American, on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the founding of their Gemeinde by Aeltester Johann Wiebe (1837- 1905), Rosengart, W. R., Manitoba, in 1875. By 1900 the OK community in Altona Winkler was considered one of the wealthiest in Manitoba.
We wish them well and anticipate that many residents of Hanover Steinbach will want to “cross the river” to take part in various of the anniversary events planned for the West Reserve over the summer.
We welcome the readers to another feast of historical writing. Editor D. Plett Q.C.
Issue No. 15, December 1999 125th Anniversary of the East Reserve (1874-1999), Part II
Congratulations to Hanover Steinbach on the occasion of its 125th birthday, August 1, 1999, orginally founded as the East Reserve in 1874. The first ship load of settlers arrived in Winnipeg (Fort Garry) on July 31, 1874, with 10 Old Kolony (OK) and 55 Kleine Gemeinde (KG) families on board. Within several weeks they were joined by a large Bergthaler contingent of 165 families so that by the end of August, 1874, all three founding denominations of the Mennonite community in Western Canada had arrived.
The Hanover Steinbach Historical Society and Preservings is proud to have played a leading role in the celebration of the 125th anniversary of our community. In his editorial of September 13, 1999, Carillon News editor Peter Dyck wrote that “residents of Hanover Steinbach have good reason to step back and to celebrate….It would be difficult to find another community in Western Canada which has achieved such prosperity and comfort in such a short time.”
Editor Dyck’s concluding words are a fitting tribute to the pioneers: “The first settlers toiled stubbornly in a harsh enviroment, anchored by an abiding faith and the belief that the fruits of labour were there to be found. They laid the foundations well: a pause to reflect on this milestone is in order.”
Let us join together to “celebrate our heritage.” Editor D. Plett Q.C.
Issue No. 14, June 1999 125th Anniversary of the East Reserve (1874-1999), Part I
Congratulations to Hanover Steinbach on the occasion of its 125th birthday, August 1, 1999, orginally founded as the East Reserve in 1874. The first ship load of settlers arrived in Winnipeg (Fort Garry) on July 31, 1874, with 10 Old Kolony (OK) and 55 Kleine Gemeinde (KG) families on board. Within several weeks they were joined by a large Bergthaler contingent of 165 families so that by the end of August, 1874, all three founding denominations of the Mennonite community in Manitoba had arrived.
After purchasing supplies the settlers returned to the landing site at the confluence of the Red and Rat River. From here they made their way to the immigration shelters south of present-day Niverville. Over the next few weeks they braved adversity such as prairie fires, selected their homesteads, and soon the foundations of close to 60 Strassendorf villages were laid. By the following year the community had grown to 4,000, approximately 20 per cent of Manitoba’s population. The extended Hanover Steinbach community today numbers 25,000 with a diaspora in the range of 75,000.
The celebration of anniversaries is a drudgery for many people, a useless diversion from their day-to-day pursuits–the rat race, making more money or whatever. And yet, the celebration of anniversaries is one thing which inexorably separates us from animals, defining a state of civilization, and elevating homo sapiens as a nobler race, showing that human beings, for all their failings, cruelty and imperfections are still capable of focusing their intelligence to matters beyond immediate needs and gratification, to explore the reasons for being, and, through a commemoration of the past to better understand the future.
The anniversary of settlement in 1874 has been celebrated numerous times over the years. A record is noted in the journal of Abraham M. Friesen (1834-1908), Blumenort, Sunday, September 15, 1889, “15 years in America” with worship services in Grünfeld. More typical anniversary celebrations were held by the East Reserve community in 1924, 1934, 1949, and more recently, the centennial celebrations in 1974. The history of these celebrations and those involved would in itself fill an issue of Preservings.
The Hanover Steinbach Historical Society and Preservings is proud to promote the activities of our 125th anniversary. May 1999 be a time of prayerful reflection and appreciation for those who have gone before.
Congratulations Hanover Steinbach: 125 Years, 1874 to 1999. Let us join together to “celebrate our heritage.” Editor D. Plett Q.C.
Issue No. 13, December 1998 Mennonites in the Soviet Inferno
The feature article “Reform without class war” by Professor Harvey Dyck, University of Toronto, provides a glimpse into the experience of Mennonites in Soviet Russia during the 1920s and an up-date on the archival legacy of Mennonites in the Ukraine and Russia. This article is an extract from a chapter of the forthcoming book, Mennonites in the Soviet Inferno, to be published in early 1999, co-edited by Harvey Dyck and Anne Conrad.
The material advanced by Dr. Dyck is fresh and new and based on extensive research and sleuthing in Soviet and KGB archives departing from most writings about this period that have appeared in various journals and academic papers. Dyck argues that the Mennonite people were targeted by a systemic program for eradication because of their singular defiance of the Soviet regime and Sovietization.
Peter Letkeman is continuing the work of George Epp in documenting the totality of the Mennonite experience. His paper provides an overview of their suffering from 1917 to 1941. Colin Neufeldt focuses on the “collectivization” of 1928 to 1932.
The unfolding story of Mennonite suffering in the Soviet inferno in the 1930s and 40s, including Stalin’s “Great Terror” of 1937 and 1938, is told with griping intensity through the personal accounts of actual survivors. Mennonites in Soviet Russia went through some of the most vicious persecution and oppression in the human experience. 55,000 were forcibly relocated to labour camps, arrested or exiled. Some 30,000 out of a total population of 100,000 died violent or unnatural deaths.
35,000 Mennonites were able to escape the clutches of the Soviet terror in the “great trek” of 1944 escaping to the west behind the retreating German Army. Of these 23,000 were forcibly repatriated by the Western Allies, shipped in box cars to labour camps in the Siberian Gulag. 8,000 were able to find a new home in Canada. Another 4,000 went to Paraguay.
The Mennonite experience in the Soviet inferno is of interest to residents of the Hanover Steinbach area because they were co-religionists, many of them related. It is also of interest because some of these refugees chose to settle in our community where they are now among our most outstanding citizens. Editor D. Plett Q.C.
Issue No. 12, June 1998 Chortitzer Diaries of the East Reserve, 1874-1930
The study of Mennonite diaries is a new way of looking at history. The fact is that many readers of Mennonite history have until recently been unaware of their existence. I am reminded of one local Mennonite history book that was essentially a compendium of pictures since World War II; a brief introduction noted that the pioneers had been too busy building farms on the frontier to do any writing and therefore virtually nothing was known about the early years.
We now know that diary keeping was in fact a common practice amongst Mennonites, without regard to church denomination, place of residence, age, gender, wealth or education. There are diaries by Old Mennonites in Ontario, written in English, and kept by teenagers and the elderly, by men and by women, by preachers, merchants and farmers. It is a similar case in Manitoba: there are diaries by the Kleine Gemeinde at Morris, by the Old Colonists of the West Reserve, by the Bergthalers, later known as the Chortitzers, of the East Reserve. Fortunately the children and grandchildren of the pioneers here have treasured and preserved these writings. And the translations of Irene Kroeker, John Dyck, Jake Doerksen, Henry Stoesz, Ben Hoeppner and others and the remarkable publication efforts of Delbert Plett have also made the diaries well known.
Issue No. 11, December 1997 The Chortitzer Church
The feature story for this issue of Preservings is the Chortitzer Gemeinde, or Chortitzer Church, as it is now known, in honour of the 100th anniversary of the worship house at Chortitz, Manitoba (Randolph).
In 1874-76 500 families from the Bergthaler Colony from Russia emigrated to Canada en masse settling in the Hanover Steinbach area, then known as the East Reserve. From 1878-81 about half of these settlers relocated to the Altona area (West Reserve) where they came to be known as the Sommerfelder. The Bergthaler that remained in the East Reserve were known as Chortitzer, after the village of Chortitz, home of its Bishop or Aeltester and one of its central worship houses.
The Chortitzer Gemeinde, with roots going back to the founding of the Chortitza Colony in Imperial Russia in 1789, is one of the oldest Christian denominations in Western Canada, ranking with the Catholic and Anglican Churches, and is certainly the oldest Mennonite congregation west of Ontario. The Chortitzer Gemeinde has a glorious and inspired history, over 200 years as a vibrant and vital part of the Church of God.
The rigors of the pioneering experience, so totally foreign to those who have known only the comforts of modern affluence, intrigue North Americans more and more with each passing year. The exposition of these heroic times and the saga of the noble and courageous people who settled the Hanover Steinbach area in 1874, building a community with bare bleeding hands, brick by brick and acre by acre of thriving farmland, is slowly being retrieved from the journals, letters and other records which they have left for posterity.
The story of the Chortitzer Church has countless exciting and inspirational chapters—whether internal mutual aid, social services, charity to others in need, the story speaks for the struggle of pioneers everywhere to survive and build a better future for their children and posterity to come. This issue of Preservings proudly presents some of these stories.
Issue No. 10, June 1997 #2 Anna Doerksen Barkman Kornelsen: Woman of Strength
Anna Dick Doerksen could trace her genealogy to great-great-grandparents Gerhard Doerksen (1742-1806) and Anna Fast (1743- 94) in Prussia: “… originally from Heuboden, but moving to the City of Danzig in 1766…”: courtesy of Henry Schapansky.
In 1825 her great-grandparents Gerhard Doerksens (1767-1837) emigrated to Russia with 5 sons. They settled in the village of Fischau, Molotschna, where they had acquired a block of 3 Wirtschaften by 1835.
Anna was born to Gerhard Doerksen (1825-82) and Helena Dick (1832-1910) on December 28, 1854. She received her education (and work ethic) in Fischau. In his younger years her father had also served as a school teacher and was a gifted Fraktur artist: see Preservings, No. 6, June 1995, page 28.
Together with her parents, Anna emigrated to Manitoba, Canada in May-June, 1875. She was 20 at the time and kept a diary. That first fall Anna together with her parents, joined the Kleine Gemeinde (KG). On October 17, 1875, Anna married Martin G. Barkman, son of Rev. Jacob M. Barkmans (1824-75) of Steinbach: see Preservings, No. 9, Dec., 1996, Part Two, pages 1-10.
The young couple homesteaded in Hochstadt, a few miles south of Gruenfeld. After reading her whole story (written in her words and translated by Ben B. Dueck, her grandson now living in Steinbach after a lifetime of teaching), you will understand my calling her a ‘woman of strength’.
Issue No. 10, June 1997 Pioneer Women of the East Reserve
Pathetically little has been written about the history of women and their role in society. This is also true for the Hanover Steinbach area settled in 1874 by Bergthaler (Chortitzer) and Kleine Gemeinde (KG) Mennonites from Russia and originally known as the East Reserve. Some of the best writing about local women is found in genealogies and family histories published in private editions and unavailable to a wider readership.
A new interest in women’s history is fuelled in part by the modern emphasis on social history, being the study of entire societies and the individuals within them. i.e. who cares what a few overweight Kings or tyrants may have done or decreed other than to the extent they affected peoples’ lives. The interest in women’s history is also articulated by common sense: since women make up half the population, half of our recorded history, theoretically, should be devoted to them.
Militant feminists have entered the fray using historiography as a tool to convince society that traditional gender roles were unjust and in need of restructuring. They have alleged that Christianity enslaved women and made them servient vassals of men. Karen Toole-Mitchell, a former United Church minister, has written that Christianity and other religions were “… a major source of sexism, oppression, and at the worst the execution and murder of women. The force in religion that threatens and destroys the feminine is called patriarchy….” Rev. Toole-Mitchell also referred to the “….terrible destructive power of the patriarchy that condoned and supported `gendercide’ of women in the name of an all male Father God…”: Karen Toole-Mitchell, Free Press, March 1, 1997, Page C11.
There are also the Mennonite barnburners such as Di Brandt whose righteous and messianic fury against her dictatorial father fuelled the myth of the evil archetypical patriarch. Brandt used the imagery of Jesus Christ as her lover to portray how the Christian Church had raped, enslaved and subjugated women over the centuries (page 28). Although her point was not without some merit, her imagery was so elementary and unoriginal in the literary sense that her work rated scarcely a ripple within learned and academic circles. But it did achieve Brandt’s objective of scandalizing and shocking the parochial rural community from which she came, and quickly gained wide exposure for her work, especially within the feminist movement.
Presumably Brandt’s views arose from her growing-up experiences within a “new” order Evangelical Mennonite community espousing the creed of American Fundamentalism and not apparently from any actual historical research. While the question of how traditional Mennonite culture in Southern Manitoba can be impugned for the catagoricalism of American Fundamentalism experienced with her father is not addressed, such “true confessions” type exposes have contributed to a hostile environment for historical writing and rational debate about pioneer women.
All this, of course, is no reason to discard Christianity which, after all, merely grafted itself onto the gender relationships in existence at the time of its inception and, in fact, championed a considerable improvement in women’s rights. Nor is it any reason to discard scholarly research and objective examination of women and their historical role.
Issue No. 9, December 1996 #2 Jakob M. Barkman, 1825-1875: Father of Steinbach
Jakob M. Barkman was born in Rückenau, Molotschna Colony, South Russia, to his parents Martin J. Barkman (1796-1872) and Katharina Regier (1800-66). His father was the son of Jakob Bergmann (1756-ca.1819) and Katharina Wiens. Henry Schapansky has written that the information on Jakob Bergmann is speculative but that he might have been the son of Jakob Bergmann (died 1780) who in turn may have been the son of Abraham Bergmann (1708-77) listed in the 1776 census as resident in Neuedorf, Prussia: letter Nov. 28, 1992.
Katharina Regier came from “royal” lineage as Mennonites go, being the granddaughter of Bishop Peter Epp (1725-89) of Danzig, West Prussia. He was a devoted leader of his people and instrumental in organizing the emigration to Russia. He encouraged his children to emigrate.
Katherina’s parents were Katharina Epp (b. 1764) and Johann “Hans” Regier (b. 1779) who settled in Kronsgarten, a Frisian village some 30 verst north of Ekatherinoslav or present-day Zaporozhya (Note 2). The Regiers were one of at least four Frisian families from Kronsgarten and Schönwiese in the Chortitza Colony, who became associated with the Kleine Gemeinde (KG) in the Molotschna. The Frisians under Bishop Heinrich Jantzen were sympathetic to the cause of the KG and were their allies in the reform tradition during the early 1800s (Note 3).
The Epp tradition of community service was continued by Jakob’s uncle Johann Regier (1802-42), Schönsee, who served as Oberschulz of the Molotschna 1833-42. Johann had a terrible drinking problem but was much loved by the people and consistently re-elected over the opposition of “Kirchliche” church leaders. Johann was also Johann Cornies’ partner in instituting social reforms in the Molotschna Colony, which by 1839 had a population of 12,000. For the preceding six years the position of Oberschulz was held by Johann Klassen (1785-1841), Tiegerweide, married to Johann’s sister Aganetha Regier.
Issue No. 9, December 1996 Steinbach
Anyone who has flown the Minneapolis to Winnipeg Flight on a moonlit winter night has been favoured with a fabulous view of Steinbach: the lights of the diagonal streets in the centre highlighted by orange globes around the square mile, glistening pristinely like a giant diamond on the snow driven prairie.
In 1985 the “Shunning” vaulted local poet Patrick Friesen into national renown. The popular drama also left fellow Canadians with the impression of Steinbach as a community of simpletons ruled by bigoted Bishops whose major form of entertainment on cold winter nights was to isolate, marginalize and drive to suicide any independent thinking parishioners.
The Winnipeg media seemingly loves to portray Steinbach as a group of money mad car dealers who drop “gospel tracts” into the pockets of their customers after they have been emptied of cash. By the 1930s many citizens of the community had abandoned the sturdy but sometimes dour faith of the pioneers in favour of American Fundamentalism. This made Steinbach vulnerable to all manner of Bible Belt stereotypes.
But the articles in this special issue of Preservings tell the story of another Steinbach: of clergymen such as Prediger Jakob M. Barkman and Bishop Peter R. Dueck with a vision for building community–starting schools, ministering to the needs of the poor and marginalized; of teachers such as Gerhard E. Kornelsen and Dietrich S. Friesen, who taught Christian values and not merely the 3 Rs; of entrepreneurs such as Klaas R. Reimer and C. T. Loewen who put community before personal profit; of newspaper men such as Jakob S. Friesen and Arnold Dyck, who provided a medium of communication for their people; of pioneer matriarchs such as Elisabeth Rempel Reimer and the sisters Thiessen: Aganetha Giesbrecht and Katharina Warkentin Barkman Loewen, who not only built the community with bare bleeding hands but also provided the emotional strength and fortitude to sustain it.
These were the people who provided the cultural and social ethos which attracted newcomers to the infant village: from people like the influential former delegate Cornelius P. Toews, and book seller Johann W. Dueck; and locals such as Joseph Lambert, b. 1876 of La Broquerie, who got his first job working for Abraham W. Reimer at Pine Hill; to others such as Peter H. Guenther, Heinrich Sobering and Heinrich Kruetzer who came to Steinbach to find employment and refuge from their former homes in Europe.
Together they made Steinbach not just a place of business, but a place to call home; they made it special and truly Manitoba’s “jewel of the southeast.”
Issue No. 8, June 1996 #2 Steinbach: The 'Old' and the 'New'
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Issue No. 8, June 1996 Education
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Issue No. 7, December 1995 Emigration
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Issue No. 6, June 1995 Ältester Gerhard Wiebe
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Issue No. 5, January 1995 Publication of Historical Sketches, Volume 3 in the East Reserve Historical Series
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Issue No. 4, July 1994 Immigration
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Issue No. 3, January 1994 Dedication of the Mennonite Landing Site
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Issue No. 2, July 1993 Mennonite Material Culture
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Issue No. 1, January 1993 75th Anniversary of the Goossen House (1917-1992)
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