Hermann Jantzen's inspiring memoirs
The amazing 1880-1881 trek of Mennonites from South Russia to Central Asia offers many life lessons. Some of those are in the lives lost along the way. It is my hope to honour the dear people who died while following their dream, or that of their family’s, to achieve freedom from military service. A short travelogue accompanies this list of all those found who died until 1884, when the first group left for America.
The note “to wiki” means that I have transcribed and translated the person’s obituary and sent it to Bethel College’s Biographical Wiki, where you should find it soon. All sources are listed at the end. I continue to search for sources that may identify other names.
Hahnsau, Am Trakt
The death of Franz Bartsch’s little daughter delayed the departure of the first wagon train by two days. Identified as:
En route: Train 1
July 3, 1880 Hahnsau, Am Trakt, South Russia - Oct 17, 1880 Kaplanbek, Turkestan.
A group of 10 families (74 souls) traveled 1,700 miles by wagon train in 15 weeks. Franz Bartsch, Gerhard Jantzen and Peter Dyck wrote about the journey in Mennonite magazines. Bartsch’s memoir was the most significant report on the trek for many years.
11 children died. Sources:
En route: Train 2
Aug 13, 1880 Am Trakt - Nov. 24, 1880 Kaplanbek, Turkestan.
A group of 13 families (76 souls) traveled 1,700 miles in 15 weeks. Their journey is well-documented in Martin Klaassen’s diary, and memoirs of his sons, Michael and Jakob. An anonymous writer shares a colourful travel report in Zur Heimath, 21 April 1881.
Four young men joined them in Orenburg after getting permission to be freed from conscription; their families followed in later trains.
None died, but twins were still-born. Sources:
En route: Train 3
July 31, 1880 Molotschna, South Russia - Dec. 2, 1880 Tashkent, Turkestan.
A group of 63 families traveled 2,600 miles by wagon train in 18 weeks. Kornelius Goossen’s diary of the journey, published in the Mennonitische Rundschau, documented many births and deaths. Helena Warkentin shared an inspiring account of her experiences in “Our trek to Asia.” Elizabeth Schultz also wrote a remarkable account in her autobiography, published in German.
9 died: 2 adults, 7 children (one was 7-8 years of age, 6 were up to 1 ½ years of age). Sources:
7 identified, missing 2 infants:
En route: train 4
July 17, 1881 from Berdyansk, South Russia - Oct 9, 1881 Tashkent, Turkestan.
This group of 11 families (74 souls) met in Berdyansk from their homes in Molotschna and Kuban in the North Caucasus region. Here they boarded a steamboat to Am Trakt, which was considered practical and safer than using horse-drawn wagons throughout.
Only one child, unidentified, died in Am Trakt while they were loading the wagons.
Source Mennonitische Rundschau 1 Feb 1882 p 2:1.
En route: train 5
Sept 1, 1881 Am Trakt, South Russia - Dec. 16, 1881 city of Turkestan, Turkestan (1,600 miles).
This group of 41 families (275 souls) from Am Trakt was well documented in the diary of Johannes Jantzen (1823-1903), its only official minister. Another diary was written by Heinrich B. Janzen. Emil Riesen wrote letters from the trek in the Gemeindeblatt.
4 died: 1 adult and 3 children. Especially poignant was the 3 children of different families dying in close succession and buried in one grave. Johannes Jantzen writes for 5 Dec. 1881: “On the 4th, brother Abrams’ Franz, and on the 6th, Abram Jantzen’s Hermann, on the 7th, the Bartsch’s Barbara, passed away.“ For the 8th, he writes: “The three children [were] buried in the Russian cemetery."
Turkestan city (train 5)
Occupied from Dec 16, 1881 - Mar 31, 1882, where train 5 spent the winter. The unexpected stop required paying for apartments.
Note: Dietrich Wiens (1861-1880) also died here en route from Molotschna; see above (train 3).
5 deaths identified in Johannes Jantzen’s diary (1 adult, 4 children):
Kaplanbek (trains 1, 2)
Occupied Oct. 17, 1880 - July 25, 1881 by trains 1 and 2 from Am Trakt.
Not far from Tashkent, temporary lodgings on an estate were offered for the settlers rent-free.
12 died here, including a “young unmarried sister.” Sources:
Occupied Dec. 2, 1880 - April 8, 1882 by trains 3 and 4 from Molotschna and Kuban. Those (9 families) joining the Am Trakt group to Bukhara left in 1881; the majority (including 15 families from the Am Trakt group) settled in Aulie-Ata in 1882.
Again accommodation was offered to the settlers rent-free. An outbreak of typhoid fever claimed many lives, exacerbated by the young men stretching the hours they worked to include some hot hours avoided by locals.
Some 30 [“30 und einige”] graves were reported by minister Jakob Janzen, including the group’s elder, Abraham Peters. Elizabeth Schultz says in her memoir that 80 died, but as it was written long after, the earlier report is more reliable. In his brief memoir, Jacob Reimer reports that 32-36 died.
In August 1881, about 32 families, mostly from Am Trakt, passed through this area en route to Bukhara.
1 death identified:
Occupied Sept-Nov 1881 off and on, as the group mainly from Am Trakt tried unsuccessfully to settle in this emirate. A group of 10 families returned in April 1882 for 4 months.
Elizabeth Schultz’s autobiography says that many died here of typhoid fever and blackpox (Aus Preußen, p. 72; What a Heritage, p 31).
Occupied Sept-Nov 1881 off and on when trying to settle in Bukhara; then stayed from Nov. 29, 1881 - Aug. 30, 1882. Train 5 arrived on June 12, 1882.
This Muslim village near Samarkand hosted the large group evicted from Bukhara, and kindly let them use their Kyk-Ota (Blue Grandfather) Mosque for church services, baptisms, weddings and funerals. The mosque is still standing, and the Mennonites are remembered fondly.
Enroute to Lausan
Aug 30, 1882 - Oct. 9, 1882.
After returning safely through Bukhara with the help of government escorts, the most challenging part of this trek required hiring camels to pass through the Karakum desert, while the men rode horses along another route. It weighed heavily on Heinrich Graewe (1834-1917) to lose his wife and never see her grave in the forest by the Amu Darya river.
2 deaths identified:
Occupied Oct. 9, 1882 - Apr. 17, 1884.
This first settlement in Khiva was plagued by robberies, besides being a wasteland that took much work getting started. The Mennonites’ non-resistance to violent attacks and thefts seemed to encourage the less trustworthy neighbours. The brazen murder of Heinrich Abrahams caused some to pursue migrating to America. Others left to found the settlement in Ak Metchet, Khiva or went to Aulie Ata. When the settlement ended, its population was 333 souls in 80 families.
10 deaths identified:
This individual died in Central Asia before 1885. The family was in train 2, which had no deaths en route. As they also traveled to Samarkand, Bukhara, Serabulak, and Lausan, it could be any of those locations.
Apr 17, 1884 Lausan, Khiva, Turkestan - Oct 4, 1884 New York, New York.
Thanks to help from Mennonites in America with the travel costs, 23 families (132 souls) left Lausan for America. They took another route by wagon train from Lausan to Orenburg, Russia; then by train to Germany, then by ship (S. S. Ems and S. S. Fulda) to New York, then by train to Kansas or Nebraska. Many also migrated in later years.
2 deaths are noted from records:
Occupied April 23, 1884 - April 1935 until the Mennonites were exiled to Tajikistan.
Of the 201 souls remaining in Asia, many accepted the Khan’s offer of this safe garden oasis near the city of Khiva (now Uzbekistan), after he learned of the troubles in Lausan. The Khan sent vehicles and men to assist with the move at his own expense.
Here Mennonites thrived in cooperation with their Muslim neighbours, and are remembered fondly for bringing advances to agriculture, woodwork, and photography. Indeed, the Ichan Kala Museum in Khiva is dedicated to the history of these Mennonites. For a time, the settlement even became a refuge for those suffering Communist oppression in southern Russia.
Maria Jantzen, the wife of Bernhard Jantzen, mentions the tragic loss of several infants, including their little Maria, in a private letter dated 5 Aug. 1884. By 19 Dec. 1885, Johann Jantzen (then in America) reported a stable population of 197 souls (101 adults, 96 children), and another 23 in the cemetery.
6 deaths in 1884 have been identified:
“All residents of Ak Metchet over 50 years of age; Jubilee photo at the 50th anniversary of the settlement on
4 May 1934. 42 persons, whose full names are listed at p. 147 of the book “Auf den Spuren der Ahnen”
Photo from the author, Robert Friesen.
Aulie Ata & area
Occupied from Apr 23, 1882 for many years, before most migrated to Germany and America.
This settlement was in the Talas Valley between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan (now in Kazakhstan). 83 families first arrived, most from Molotschna, some from Kuban and 15 from Am Trakt. When village plans were drawn up, young single men were also assigned land, bringing the number of households to 136 in 4 villages.
Pioneering here was challenging, but more peaceful than Bukhara and Lausan. Four villages (later named Leninpol) grew to six, then 11, with daughter settlements. Aulie Ata accepted 19 families in 1884 when Lausan was dissolved, and later also many fleeing persecution in southern Russia. As late as 2019, there was a small Mennonite community in Rot-Front.
17 deaths identified until 1884:
The survivors of these Mennonites can be found worldwide. May we be encouraged even now by the loving memory of those who have gone before us.
- Irene Plett
In addition to the GRANDMA genealogical database of the California Mennonite Historical Society, sources cited in obituaries are noted below.