Sunday, November 16, 2008

Visiting Mennonite History

Most of the meetings that Berny and I had in our travels were in Zaporizhzhia Oblast as that is where Berny’s interest and contacts are. Berny is of Mennonite descent. Zaporizhzhia was “home” to many Canadian Mennonites and there is great interest among the Mennonite people both in visiting and in helping in this area.

Mennonites are a branch of the Christian church, with roots in the radical wing of the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Part of the group known as Anabaptists (because they rebaptized adult believers), the Mennonites took their name from Menno Simons, a Dutch priest who converted to the Anabaptist faith and helped lead it to prominence in Holland by the mid-16th century.

During the reign of Catherine the Great, the Mennonites migrated to Zaporizhzhia establishing two colonies Chortitza and Molotschna (now spelled Khortitsa and Molochna). There is a fairly concise history in Wikipedia for those who care to know more. Beginning in about 1870 a large number of Mennonites emigrated to western Canada and another group between 1924 and 1931, after the revolution. Berny’s family emigrated to Saskatchewan from the Molochna colony in 1924. His father was 16 at the time and his mother was 14.

So we were on Berny’s “home” turf. We took time to visit the Mennonite Centre in Molochansk. Molochansk was known as Halbstadt in Mennonite times and was the political centre of the west half of the Molochna Colony. Between Molochansk and Tokmok, we stopped at the village of Kutuzovka (formerly Petershagen) to visit a restored Mennonite church originally built in 1892 and used as grain storage during Soviet times.
Finally we stopped in Khmelnitskoye (formerly Friedensdorf) where Berny’s family had lived. His father’s house was still standing though unoccupied since Berny’s last visit. When his father lived there, a long stable would have been built on the back of the house and the roof would have run the other way, with the gable end facing the street.

We also went to the village cemetery where his great grandfather’s gravestone was the only one left standing from Mennonite times. The other stones had been removed to use as building material.
I have read several histories of the Russian Mennonites in Zaporizhzhia so actually being there and seeing where it all happened was rather awe-inspiring.


  1. That is super-cool, Dad!

  2. Glad you're back. I think I missed you more than your kids did!

    Those photos are worth doing a painting of, which is what I USED to do, many years ago as a graphic design artist. But I can fight the urge....

  3. I would love to visit there myself someday. Both of my Dad's parents were from Tiegenhagen. They were forced out in 1918. Anna Neufeld was my Dad's mom, and Jacob Fast his father. I have an extensive family tree drawn out that includes Krause, Krahn, Weibe, and several more names. The Neufelds were a wealthy family, and it is said that Anna and her siblings all had their own servants. George Neufeld owned a flower mill and a wagon wheel factory. The Bolsheviks took over the mill and offered George a job in it.

    There is a rumor in our family that the Romanov family vacationed in this area, and that Anastasia was a childhood playmate of Anna Neufeld, my Oma.

    1. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a message, CJ. I tried to follow you back to find out who you are and where you live but no luck. I do hope you get to visit your grandparents' village someday.

    2. My Dad's parents settled in Wheatley, Ontario, after marrying in Winnipeg, so my Dad grew up in Wheatley. My Mom was from Windsor, so I've lived in the Windsor/Essex area my whole life.

      Most of the Mennonite immigrants who were forced out of Molochna arrived in Halifax, and many settled in Winnipeg during WWI. There were many Mennonites that settled in Wheatley or Leamington around that time. Our area phone book is full of Dycks, Wiebes, etc.

    3. I grew up surrounded by Russian Germans from the Volga and southern Ukraine. Later in life I got to know a great many Mennonite people from north of Saskatoon and the Swift current are as well as a few from Ontario.
      I found this map for you.


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