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. 43, 2021 – Available Online December 2022Mennonites & Alcohol
The spiritual dimension of this discussion cannot be overemphasized. Much of our information about the role of alcohol in community life can be found in the diaries of ministers who worried about the spiritual health of their flocks, carefully documenting their sins. As Benjamin Wiebe demonstrates in his article “Alcohol and Abstinence: Mennonites in South Russia,” ministers were disturbed by what they perceived as growing alcohol consumption within Mennonite villages. While this perceived growth in licentiousness still needs to be quantitatively confirmed, we can document Mennonite entanglements with the outside world through events like the Crimean War and through the expansion of agricultural markets. This exposure to temptation coincided with the circulation of itinerant German pietists, proclaiming a relatively simple solution to Mennonite anxiety about the changes surrounding them: to abstain from alcohol.
This solution, however, failed to consider not only the frailty of humanity, but also the economic significance of alcohol. As Glenn H. Penner shows in his article, alcohol sales were big business for Mennonite administrators in the Russian empire. Penner’s assertion that alcohol “generated at least half of the income of the [Chortitza] colony administration” is staggering. Without alcohol, many of the early initiatives of the colony’s administrators would have been more difficult; funds from alcohol helped build early colony life.
It was not only administrators who benefited from alcohol sales; the establishment of distilleries and breweries could also profit individual families. As John D. Thiesen demonstrates in “Mennonite Nectar,” families made fortunes through the liquor trade, especially in the Vistula Delta. These families built distilling empires that lasted generations and immortalized Mennonites in surprising ways within German culture. While Mennonite brewers and distillers in Russia would not gain the same status, similar types of family fortunes grew in the colonies.
Not all Mennonite communities, however, saw benefit in allowing alcohol sales. Albert Siemens and Hans Werner explore the case of Winkler, Manitoba, which debated the sale of alcohol in the community for over a century. Winkler’s journey from dry to moist to wet illustrates that Mennonites viewed access to alcohol as having community implications. As Werner demonstrates, within this debate about community were competing ideas about the meaning of progress. As public social spaces, hotel bars took on symbolic significance.
Finding evidence of public consumption of alcohol is easier than documenting its domestic use, but Roland Sawatzky offers an approach to uncovering the role of alcohol within Mennonite homes in Manitoba’s East Reserve: the material culture of glass and ceramic bottles. He shows that alcohol entered Mennonite homes in bottles of medicine and vanilla extract, in addition to the more typical form of gin and beer bottles. Exploring the home as a site of consumption and pharmacies and groceries stores as access points for alcohol opens new avenues of research.
The impact of alcohol addiction on the individual and the family is the final topic explored in the theme articles in this issue. Kennert Giesbrecht provides insight into how Mennonite colonies in Latin America have addressed addiction in their communities through the treatment centres Luz en mi Camino (Light on my Path) in Cuauht´émoc, Mexico, and Guía de Paz (Guide of Peace) in Pailón, Bolivia. These facilities demonstrate a recognition of the complexity of addiction and the important role of families and communities in supporting individuals in their recovery.
The economic, social, and religious approaches to alcohol production, sales, and consumption taken in this issue offer new perspectives on Mennonite ideas about identity, community, and religiosity. Hopefully this is only the beginning of the conversation, as many topics related to this theme are waiting to be researched.
Aileen Friesen, editor
Issue No. 42, 2021 Exchanges & Connections
Although Mennonite communities have been slow to foster neighbourly relations, individuals have shown a willingness to cross cultural boundaries. The cover of Preservings provides an example of one such person, Emil Riesen. Why is this Mennonite man, born in Prussia, seated next to the Khan of Khiva, Isfandiyar Khan? Riesen, who travelled to Central Asia with Klaas Epp’s millenarian group in 1881, settled in Ak Mechet near Khiva (in present-day Uzbekistan). Possessed with a gift for languages, he quickly emerged as an important emissary between his own Mennonite community and local Muslim leaders. Although Riesen wore a suit in the photograph and remained steadfast in his Christian beliefs, he often dressed according to local custom and greeted others using the Islamic tradition of salaam, a low bow with his hand on his forehead. By immersing himself in Islamic texts and practices, Riesen could cross seamlessly between cultural realms, serving as a translator of world views for both Muslim leaders and Mennonites.
It was not only Mennonites who served in this role. Sometimes non-Mennonites found themselves in this position as well. In this issue, Albert Siemens describes how the “English” lawyer, J. B. McLaren, acted on behalf of Mennonites during land negotiations with the Canadian government. McLaren was quick to use his knowledge, position, and personal connections to forward the Mennonite cause, even if he believed the assimilation of this group was the ultimate goal. In the Molotschna region, Daniel Schlatter, a Swiss missionary, acted less as an intermediary and more as a critical observer of relations between Mennonites and their Nogai neighbours. As James Urry demonstrates, Schlatter was an outsider with the necessary language skills to access both communities as an insider. This position allowed him to offer an account of the tensions and prejudices that shaped interactions between these neighbours.
The significance of language for basic understanding and communication can’t be overstated. In Alan Guenther’s article, the issue of language arises often as the Bartsch brothers navigated life as migrants and Bible salesmen for the British and Foreign Bible Society in the eastern reaches of the Russian empire. Yet, language only tells part of the story. Often overlooked is how the exchange of objects can be the pretext for dialogue between neighbours. In this case, selling Bibles offered an opportunity for the brothers to interact with local Muslim men at the market.
Such exchanges of physical objects could also solidify fleeting moments of encounter. The visit of five international agronomists to the Loewen household in Blumenort, Manitoba, was brief, but the exchange of a Bible for a Qur’an, which then stood on his father’s bookshelf, imprinted the event on the memory of a young Royden Loewen. In the case of Ernest Braun, the sharing of a name served as the poignant reminder of a connection between families, forged in the most unlikely of circumstances. The quartering of German POWs in Manitoba during the Second World War is a little-known story. The relationship that developed between the German and Canadian Braun families crossed and bound generations in part because of the exchanges over these decades of food, gifts, and stories.
Even though most articles in this issue concern connections created by individuals, as Kennert Giesbrecht shows, community also has had a role to play. By sharing examples of missions and aid work initiated in Latin America, Giesbrecht emphasizes the communal nature of Mennonite interaction with their neighbours, and how this interaction changes over time depending on economic circumstances.
This issue of Preservings, along with the last, “Neighbourly Encounters,” offers only a snapshot of Mennonite neighbourliness. More needs to be written about how gender, age, denominational status, and race have influenced our interactions with others. The topic of Indigenous-Mennonite relations, in particular, deserves much more attention. But perhaps the stories in this issue will encourage us to think about how we relate to those outside of our community.
Aileen Friesen, editor
Issue No. 41, 2020 Neighbourly Encounters
These words of Kaethe Isaac Zacharias Epp, on her way to Khortitsa’s Maedchenschule, confirmed that by the early twentieth century, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, depicted on the cover of this issue, had come to define the skyline of this historic Mennonite town. In many ways, the construction of this church encapsulates the theme of neighbourly relations, as Orthodox workers and Mennonites found themselves having to negotiate shared space.
Khortitsa was not alone in its transformation from an ethnically and religiously homogeneous village into a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional industrial town. Halbstadt experienced a similar reinvention during this period with the employment of hundreds of Slavic workers in its businesses. In both cases, the local Orthodox leadership expressed concerns about this development, arguing that living among Mennonites endangered the spiritual life of its flock. Not only might these Orthodox workers adopt the spartan Mennonite religious calendar, neglecting the many occasions for spiritual reflection at the core of the Orthodox tradition, but they also might adopt German cultural and linguistic attributes. To these Orthodox leaders, it hardly mattered whether “old” Mennonites, as opposed to the more evangelically minded “new” Mennonites (Mennonite Brethren), owned the factories; the absence of religious supervision over these Orthodox workers could not continue.
Mennonite industrial leaders took these concerns of the Orthodox clergy seriously. In Khortitsa, Mennonites offered to pay the teaching salary of the priest and helped to fund the building of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. In Halbstadt, Mennonite leaders donated land for the building of Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, conveniently located down the street from a dormitory for Slavic workers. The bishop of Taurida diocese, Martinian (Muratovskii), travelled to Halbstadt to consecrate this new church. Mennonites greeted the bishop by presenting him with the traditional Slavic welcome of bread and salt. During this exchange, Mennonite leaders tried to reassure Bishop Martinian of their pure intentions by emphasizing their loyalty to Russia, their limited contact with Germany, and their desire to live peacefully with their Orthodox neighbours.
The bishop demonstrated his receptiveness to Mennonite overtures by spending time with the community. Not only did Bishop Martinian visit Mennonite factories; he also accepted invitations to see a Mennonite school and attend a service at the local Mennonite church. At the church, the bishop listened to Mennonites sing hymns in German and Russian, including “God save the Tsar,” after which a Mennonite minister gave a sermon in German. The bishop expressed appreciation for this welcome; however, he reminded them “not to interfere” in the religious life of the local workers.
These exchanges could be interpreted as mere formalities. During the entire event, however, both sides showed a willingness to cross cultural and religious boundaries, albeit briefly, to show support for courteous relations between the groups. For instance, at the evening event in which the bishop consecrated the new Orthodox church, a number of Mennonites joined the large crowd of Orthodox believers to witness the ceremony. According to an Orthodox priest, Mennonites demonstrated their respect for this sacred event by standing for the four-hour service.
In Khortitsa, Mennonites considered the ringing of the Orthodox bells as adding colour to their traditionally austere Sunday mornings and religious holidays. And when a long-time Russian school custodian passed away, Mennonite students and teachers attended the Orthodox funeral service in the church. The presence of this church also offered Mennonites a chance to learn more about Orthodoxy. Although rare, the conversion of Mennonites did occur. In 1896, the priest of St. Nicholas baptized twenty-two-year-old Maria Grunau, a native of Burwalde, into the faith.
Ultimately, the presence of these churches in Khortitsa and Halbstadt could not hide the economic disparity that would begin to define relations between the Mennonite and Orthodox populations. These towns maintained an embedded social and economic hierarchy that placed Mennonites above Ukrainians and Russians. Maps of both towns reveal the limited spaces occupied by Slavic workers, who lived primarily in barracks connected to Mennonite factories. While Mennonites grew to appreciate the decorative qualities of other ethnicities in their towns, economic power remained firmly in their hands.
Aileen Friesen, editor
Issue No. 40, 2020Along the Rails & Into the World
Movement often makes possible the lives we wish to live, and moments of immobility allow us to ponder those aspirations. Movement has been a defining theme in Mennonite history, and since the second half of the nineteenth century trains have performed an essential role in this story. As the last issue of Preservings showed, the railway shaped Mennonite life on the prairies, changing the fortunes of individuals and towns and altering the values of their communities. This current issue extends the conversation by tackling the global context. While we see some of the same themes, particularly related to economic development, the examples of Paraguay, Mexico, and Russia show how railways can help us to understand themes of entrepreneurship, collective memory, and dependency in Mennonite history.
Two of these encounters with the railway emerge out of the exodus of Mennonites to Latin America in the 1920s. We are approaching the centennial of this historic event, in which thousands of Mennonites responded to the nation-building policies of the Canadian government by leaving for new places where specific privileges related to their communities would be protected. It is interesting to think about the role of the railway in facilitating the movement of Mennonites as they spread across the region, and in connecting these newly established communities with agricultural markets.
Mexico served as the initial entry point of Mennonites into Latin America. In this issue, Patricia Islas Salinas and María Miriam Lozano Muñoz describe how Mennonites remembered the train ride that brought them to Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua, Mexico, in the 1920s. This article focuses on how the emotion of the journey solidified into collective memories for the community, which were passed down to subsequent generations. The difficulties encountered both on the train ride and after their arrival would be used to support a collective narrative of the community’s perseverance and commitment to their beliefs.
The railway also performed an important role during the migration of Mennonites to Paraguay’s Gran Chaco. The picture that introduces this article, a desolate railway winding into nowhere, in many ways represents the establishment of Menno Colony in this region. As Burt Klassen Kehler demonstrates, from the outset of their negotiations with the Paraguayan government, Mennonites viewed the construction of a railway as essential to their economic survival. Even though they had left Canada, their goal was not to flee from the world, but to limit its interference in their lives. Yet, as Kehler shows, Mennonites were dependent on others. Despite their strong desire for the railway, without money and connections, the ability of Mennonites to influence its construction was limited. The issue of transportation routes plagued the community for decades, shaping how they interacted with their new homeland.
In contrast, as Conrad Stoesz demonstrates, Mennonites brought an entrepreneurial spirit to the railway cause in Russia. As the example of Johann Wall attests, prosperous Mennonites took advantage of the construction boom of the early twentieth century, benefiting financially from the expansion of the railway across the empire. The photographs for this article are especially fascinating, as they depict the material and cultural fruits of railway construction as beautified train stations became community spaces outside beyond those of churches and schools, where people could seek out entertainment, excitement, and adventure. These new secular social spaces created by the railway have often been overlooked in Mennonite history in favour of themes of town-planning and access to markets. But they are no less important for understanding how the railway transformed Mennonite community life.
Aileen Friesen, editor
Issue No. 39, 2019Mennonites on the Rails
the journal. And most importantly, for our Mennonite audience, the cost of Preservings will not increase; readers will actually receive more Mennonite history for their $20 contribution.
Over the course of its twenty-five-year history, Preservings has explored a variety of topics related to Mennonite history. While individual authors have tackled railroads in their submissions, we
have never had an issue (in this case two) dedicated to the topic. This is not surprising as traditionally Mennonites have formed an ambiguous relationship with trains. While railroads have been
essential to the development of Mennonite communities, offering paths to new homelands and connecting the Mennonites to agricultural markets, they have also brought the world into Mennonite villages and created easy escape routes for those curious about city life. Some Mennonite communities have sought to integrate the railway into their villages in very specific ways, hoping to reap the economic benefits and simultaneously limit cultural interference.
When I put out the request for articles, I wondered about the type of responses I would receive. Not surprisingly, the theme of markets dominated the materials submitted. Indeed, the economic implications of the railway for Mennonite communities in western Canada looms large in this conversation. As Hans Werner shows, the railway carried benefits into some communities while leaving others to witness the billowing smoke of progress from afar. Undoubtedly, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the railway had the capacity to determine economic prosperity for towns and the surrounding communities more than roads, schools, and co-operatives.
Although railways reoriented space, the results were not unfavourable for every community that shunned such direct access to the city and the progress or worldliness – depending on your interpretation – that it promised. Steinbach thrived without a railway, as Ralph Friesen has shown, through a combination of a strong local identity that kept people rooted in the community and a willingness to develop intermediary routes to reaching the railway in Giroux. Steinbach’s proximity to Winnipeg, however, helped to create the possibility for this alternative path, which raises questions about the prospect of replicating this particular model of engaged isolationism.
It was not only Mennonite communities that demonstrated their ambivalence to the idea of the railway; some Canadian communities also expressed their hesitation with the influx of immigrants that seemed to accompany the laying of such tracks. The Community Progress Competitions, run by the Canadian National Railway, reflected the tensions embedded in an economy that required a larger population and the cultural clashes that accompanied the integration of these diverse ethnic and linguistic groups into Canadian society. In James Urry’s analysis of these competitions, both the strong vision of progress articulated by the judges and the apparent buy-in from Mennonites are striking and raise questions about the willingness of rural
Mennonites to embrace measurements of merit initiated fromoutside the community.
While these articles address a number of important themes related to railroads, there are still many within the Canadian context yet to be researched. One of those themes is depicted on the cover: Mennonite men in Canada building the railway as conscientious objectors during the Second World War. Not only did railroad-building offer Mennonites a somewhat respectable alternative to military service, but trains would become essential in facilitating the travel of religious leaders as they established regional, national, and international communities. Although the railway challenged the values of Mennonite communities in a number of ways, it also created new spaces for the preservation and promotion of those same values
Personal family histories are also closely connected to the experience of the railway. Migration stories from the 1870s often feature trains, as Mennonites sped through the European countryside, enthralled by the views out the window, but also suffocated by the smoke of the steam engine. Within my own family, my paternal grandfather, Isaac Dyck, engaged in freighthopping as he rode the train from Manitoba into the United States in search of work during the Great Depression. While these individualized stories might seem to have little historical significance, in reality they reveal the ways in which Mennonite life was shaped by the rails.
Aileen Friesen, editor
Issue No. 38, 2018Trajectories of Family Life
In Mennonite life, migration has been one of the factors that altered, in fundamental ways, the prospects of the family. The first three articles in this issue show how the willingness of families to abandon familiar landscapes in order to protect their faith, to show solidarity with their community, and to follow God’s calling, strained resources, changed lifespans, altered the marriage pool, redefined economic opportunities, and separated family members. The frequency by which families subjected themselves to this upheaval had significant repercussions.
It was not only migration, but also education that gave rise to new trajectories for both individuals and for families. Shirley Penner Bergen’s article about her mother, Ida Hiebert, shows how a simple move from the farm into Winkler by Ida’s family created the opportunity for furthering her education, which in turn opened doors to new experiences for this young Mennonite woman. While marriage, children, and home still arguably defined much of her life, the example of Ida illustrates how trends like urbanization encouraged the embracing of professional roles, which offered new opportunities and paths for Mennonites.
Material culture often followed or memorialized these trajectories, as Mennonites carried objects with special meaning (or material value) to new lands. In this issue, two articles illustrate how often clocks served these dual purposes, witnessing the arduous journeys of their owners and standing as concrete reminders of past lives purposely or tragically left behind. The intimate memories of Liza Kroeger and the fact-finding mission of Ernest Braun also illustrate how the meaning attached to material objects
hinges on who tells the story. In fact, all of the articles addressing this issue’s theme show how deeply we as individuals look for ourselves within the trajectories our family stories.
Aileen Friesen, editor
Issue No. 37, 2017Kitchens, Gardens, Recipes and Remedies
‘Gardens, kitchens, recipes and remedies’ is the phrase that has guided our collection of articles in this issue. We do not often reflect on the story of the place of food, gardens, flowers, and cures in our past, even have and continue to represent important parts of everyday life. The stories of remedies in this issue begin with the collaboration of Conrad Stoesz, Archivist, and Paul Dyck, English Professor. Their article focusses on a book in the library of the midwife, Katherine Thiessen. We learn about the intricacies of conveying the knowledge of healing powers possessed by a variety of plants. A short vignette about an instrument, the Life Awakener, whose irritations in one part of the body were believed to drive out pain and even illness in another, and the somewhat comical prescriptions for various maladies found by Ralph Friesen in his grandfather’s diaries offer us further windows into a time when medical science did not claim dominion over the knowledge of what to do when we did not feel quite right.
Our foray into gardens, foods and recipes is rich in its diversity. We have articles about the Mennonite gardens of Manitoba, the intersection of gender and flowers and other decorative plants, and a reflective look at the role of gardens in Bolivia. Along with a photo essay on gardens in two very different landscapes, the Russian Empire and Paraguay, these articles suggest the both the emotional and practical dimensions of the Mennonite garden. Like the garden, the food we eat has both aesthetic and practical dimensions. Food is something we engage with daily and is an intensely cultural and ethnic experience that is constantly evolving. Karen Hursh Graber’s blog offers a glimpse from an outsider into the cross-cultural movement of ingredients and food in Mexico. An translated excerpt from Arnold Dyck’s writings allows us into the Russian Mennonite ritual of the fall pig killing bee. Daphne Thiessen’s essay, given as a talk at the EastMenn lectures in Steinbach, Mb is more reflective, challenging us to think in new ways about the meaning of faith and food. Finally, in a subsection, we have collected a series of short articles and blogs from the internet that in some way remind us of the importance of food in the sustaining of much more than our bodies.
In addition to our feature section we have an explanation by Rebecca Janzen of a complex land conflict in Mexico where ideas and structures (ejidos) meant to redistribute land to peasants in Mexico collides with the Mennonite migration to Mexico and the eventual expansion of Mennonite colonies. Ernie Braun has kindly allowed us to publish his talk from the EastMenn lectures on the Waisanamt. Our book review section is somewhat shorter than usual—it seems that fewer books reached our desks. Please do send us books or information about books that you would like to see reviewed.
Hans Werner, editor
Issue No. 36, 2016 Mennonites and Indigenous Peoples
Although for most of Mennonite history separation from the world was the desire, Mennonites have always lived ‘in the world’. That has meant they always had neighbours, and often neighbours who were indigenous—they were there first. Neighbours are the theme of the feature articles in this issue. In Canada, that meant indigenous peoples both during the period of settlement and thereafter. Articles by Gerhard Ens, Darren Courchene, Leonard Doell and a reflection by Maria Campbell explore that relationship. In the Russian Empire indigenous neighbours were the nomadic Nogai and Kazakhs and Aileen Friesen provides a glimpse into those relationships. Royden Loewen points us to the rich interdependency, but separateness of Mennonite relations with their Latino neighbours.
The Plett Foundation has been engaged for a number of years creating a history curriculum for Low German speaking children and new English readers. Rosabel Fast was contracted by the Foundation to author a series of readers for schools in Ontario, Alberta, and Manitoba. Rosabel tells us about herself and what it took to write such a history. We also have two educators, Marcela Durán and Robyn Sneath who review this first volume.
Other articles explore a variety of themes. Leonard Doell tells us about the experiences of a Holdeman family facing the pressures of World War II. Ralph Friesen’s article takes us into the cultural and religious rituals and sensibilities that guided Kleine Gemeinde Mennonites when death came. Albert Siemens opens for us the details of the almost mythical Brown hotel along the Post Road of the early West Reserve in Manitoba. We are very excited here at the Foundation to be a part of the creation of a new study center in Manitoba. My short article fills in some of the details of this new Center for Transnational Mennonite Studies.
The issue’s final section has four very different and, in some ways unique, family histories. Arlette Kouwenhoven extends the work she did in her book on the Fehr’s by following up one branch who decided to join an Amish community. Ralph Friesen provides context for an autobiography written by Maria Dueck Reimer Loewen. Finally a very interesting autobiography of the West Prussian Mennonite, David Mandtler, gives us a window into the world of Prussian Mennonites around the time of the emigration to Russia. Glenn Penner and Ed Enns collaborated to bring us the the translation from the German version published by Gustav Reimer in the 1940s.
It is our hope, as always, that you will find enjoyment and new insight from the stories our writers so generously provide for us.
Hans Werner, editor
Issue No. 35, 2015 Childhood and Education
An agonizing question across the centuries has been how to instill in the next generation those faith and cultural values that would sustain Mennonite identity into the future. In this issue the focus of our feature articles is the question of childhood and education. We begin with Ivan Carroll Janer, Colombian-born graduate student who explores the nature of childhood in Salamanca, a conservative colony in the Yucatan followed by Kennert Giesbrecht’s reflections on children based on his wide travels among all kinds of colonies in South America. Bruce Wiebe takes us into the past to shed light on a little written about story of orphans and other children who were cared for in families other than those of their birth parents. We then have a number of articles that explore the continuity and changes in education in Mexico and Ontario.
An interesting conference celebrating the 225th anniversary of the Mennonite migration to Russia feature two speakers whose presentations are reproduced in our general article section. Mark Jantzen from Kansas and co-editor John J. Friesen offer new looks at the Prussian origins and early days of this migration. Co-editor Hans Werner was on research leave for the first six months of the year and his article on Mennonites in Belize and Bolivia comes from his observations while traveling to those countries in the spring of 2015.
Our Family History section has an excerpt from a lengthy family history study by Ron and Judy Plett. The excerpt tells the migration story of Abraham P. Reimer who was born in Kleefeld, Molotschna, lived in Blumenort and Steinbach, Manitoba, Lanigan, Saskatchewan, and Meade and Garden City, Kansas. David Toews tells the moving story of his memories of the accidental death of his brother while Ralph Friesen translates and offers insightful commentary on the obituary of Kleine Gemeinde Aeltester, Peter P. Toews who made his own migration from the Kleine Gemeinde to the Holdeman church.
This issue again offers an article for the readers’ reflection. This time the subject is religion and faith and comes to us from the past. Glen Klassen has carefully and thoughtfully translated, annotated and commented on the noted church leader Christian Neff’s 1901 reflections on the question of the theory of evolution – still an issue in many church education circles.
We are blessed with the continued writings on the Mennonite story and have a number of contributors who have reviewed recent books. Some crumbs of interesting new items round out this year’s issue.
– The editors
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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