Young Lutherans and a Mennonite veteran, ca. 1945
Krippendorf, East Germany (See Marianne Preisser Rempel below)
As I have been translating obituaries to learn more about families and history, some stood out for their touching writing. Others represented pivotal or representative moments in Mennonite history. Below are some of these memorable stories. All were also shared with Bethel College’s Biographical Wiki for each person named.
1880: En route to Asia — Baby Bartsch et al
by Franz Bartsch (1854-1931)
When Mennonites seeking freedom from military service took up the offer to settle in Turkestan, Central Asia, the difficult trek over 1700 miles claimed lives. The first wagon train from Hahnsau, Am Trakt, South Russia, was the deadliest, with the loss of 11 children, while the death of another infant, the writer’s daughter, delayed the departure. In Franz Bartsch’s letter to Zur Heimat, excerpted here, he mentions 8 children:
Zur Heimat 1881 Apr 7 p 5-6
Tashkent, Central Asia, in December 1880......Our departure (from the Volga) was set for the last of June (1880), but was postponed because of our little daughter's illness, so that when the Lord took our child on July 1, we were able to leave on the 3rd. Our travelling party consisted of 12 families with 22 wagons. The farewell ceremony took place together with the funeral of our child, and then at 10 a.m. (on June 3) we left Hahnsau, where the brothers from Köppenthal, Hohendorf, and Siemonshöh had come.…
You can imagine how our journey now went; getting up at three o'clock in the morning, setting up the samovar (tea machine), drinking, feeding and watering the horses, then packing everything away, hitching up [the horses], holding the community morning service, in which we were served by brothers J. Quiring and W. Penner, in the absence of a church teacher….
But in another way the Lord's hand was heavy on us. The smallest children became ill even before Orenburg. Before Ak Tuba, brother Quiring's youngest daughter died. We had to put three bodies in one grave behind Ak Tuba. Before Karabutak, another child died, and in Karabutak, another one. Between Karabutak and Irgiz, Quiring's youngest son died. When we buried him, hay was bought at the same time….
Until the end of the journey, the Lord allowed a scourge on our backs, but His grace was always with us. In the desert, he took brother and sister Kopper’s three children so quickly one after the other, that they could be laid in one grave. In Kazalinsk, brother H. Wiebe buried his second and last little sons. In Perovsk, two young people fell ill, who along with others, had been sent as coachmen by their parents, who had stayed behind for the time being. In Turkestan, a third person was added to these two sick. The disease was typhoid. We brought them sick to Kaplanbeck; the Lord helped them. Here, too, we are not spared from illness. We have already laid a young unmarried sister in her grave….
And how anxious we were for the health of those following us! We had lost 11 children on the journey, with our little one 12, and we wondered how many they would have to give up? Well, we prayed for them and the Lord helped....
F. B. [Franz Bartsch]
1881: Typhoid in Tashkent — Jakob J. Janzen et al
by Jakob Franz Janzen (1842-1917)
Over 30 people died in Tashkent, where migrants mainly from Molotschna, South Russia, waited over a year for a place to settle in Turkestan, Central Asia. The following spring, they were able to break ground for the new Aulie Ata settlement, 150 miles (250 km) northeast of Tashkent, now in Kazakhstan. Jakob Jantzen (1842-1917), who later became the community’s Elder, reported below on 15 deaths, including his eldest son, Jakob. His letter is shared in full in Letters from Tashkent; this extract focuses on the obituaries, including:
Mennonitische Rundschau 1882 Feb 1 p 2
Tashkent, Nov. 5, 1881.
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, what could be nicer and what could be more joyful than dedicating our lives to the Lord in faith?
With no less joy, last Saturday, October 31st,* I was allowed to read your valued letter, according to our style on Sept. 3rd [Julian calendar]. Now beloved brother, as you invited us to share in your feelings, I must also ask you to share in our feelings. But I feel peculiar. I don’t know if it’s joy or sorrow that you should take part in. We aren’t without deep sighs and many a tear. We have changed our place of residence many times since we celebrated our wedding. We have lived in as many places as the number of our [living] children, and that is six sons and three daughters. We have never made a burial mound anywhere else, but here in Tashkent, one of the 28 graves that we have made hides the shell of our eldest son. I might be clear that I would ask you to cry with me, but the Lord did it, and praise God, we know our Jakob is with Jesus. With his last breath he assured us that he would go to Jesus. So on the one hand we can be happy, he has been spared from all pain; but on the other hand, we miss him very much. He helped in the school last winter, but now Heinrich Janzens’ son Kornelius is taking his place. This also answers your question as to whether the Janzens are here. Jakob Funk is also here, he is still single. On October 9th we were allowed to welcome them with another three families from Molotschna and six families from Kuban. Their journey here was a happy one. They suffered very little from illness, nobody died, except at Am Trakt (Volga), a small child died while they were getting the vehicles ready there. Until then, they had travelled by steam. No horses died either….
Jakob and Agatha Janzen
P.S. A special report on deaths: since New Year’s Day , three husbands have died here from among our people: Kornelius Wedel from Waldheim (together with his wife [Elisabet Pankratz] and eldest son [John K. Wedel]); Dietrich Wiens from Blumstein, who died on a journey to the brothers in Bukhara; and of the new arrivals, Peter Wiens from Wernersdorf (of whom brother Peters writes). Six wives: Aganetha Pauls, daughter of Abraham Wiebe from Wernersdorf. The wife of Joh. Baergen from Fischau, née Wiebe [Aganetha Wiebe]. The wife of Kornelius Wedel from Waldheim mentioned above; née Pankratz [Elisabet Pankratz]; Anna Peters, née Pauls; Maria Wiebe, daughter of Leonhard Dueck from Blumenstein, her husband is a son of Peter Wiebe from Wernersdorf; and finally; the wife of Isaak Koop, née Kroeker, from Neukirch. Four young men have died: Johann K. Wedel, Heinrich H. Graewe from Kleefeld, Abraham Kroeker, stepson of Kornelius Esau from Neukirch, and our son Jakob. Also, 12-year-old Tiene Wall, daughter of Y. Wall and his wife from Alexanderkrone, died; and several more children under 2 years of age. The total number of deaths since New Year’s Day amounts to 27.
The family of Dietrich Braun from Blumenort long for news about their dear children in America; they greet them warmly. Their Tiene died here….
A warm greeting to all who remember me.
1881: He left a strong widow — Kornelius Neumann
by J. F. (likely Jakob Funk 1851-1921, #36008)
In early days, a Mennonite widow often had to remarry to support her children, but Susanna Fransen Neumann (#1342395) was in no hurry. Her husband, Kornelius Neumann (1840-1881, #907531) died on Oct. 2, 1881, on the trek from Am Trakt, South Russia, to Turkestan, Central Asia. Just 3 weeks before, Susanna gave birth to their 7th child, Jacob (1881-). All were well two years later, living in the house that Susanna had built, mostly by herself, in the new Aulie Ata settlement. (Further sources: Johann Jantzen diary in Schultz, Aus Preusen; Heinrich B. Janzen trek diary.)
Mennonitische Rundschau 1883 Oct 31 p 3
Asia. The widow of Kornelius Neuman, Koeppenthal, asks the "Rundschau" to find her dear brother Kornelius Franz (formerly living in Hansau, Am Trakt, Russia) and to inform her of his address right away. Neuman died on the journey from the Trakt to here and the widow is managing the farm with her children. The oldest son, Cornelius, is 18, and the youngest, Jacob, will soon be 2 years old, and in addition to these there are three more boys and two girls. Sometimes she has a hard time with her farm, but she is not despondent, because she lives in hope and faith that we are heading for a better world. She has not yet completely cut the wheat, because this is a wearisome task; she cuts it herself with her children, because she cannot hire others. Last year, she built a house 18 feet wide and 56 feet long, mostly by herself. Last year, the eldest son was almost always sick, but now they are all in good health.
1883: Murdered in Khiva — Heinrich Abrahams
(1854-1881, #343745, duplicate #906825)
After a long trek to Asia and failed attempts to settle in the Bukhara emirate, the group mainly from Am Trakt, South Russia, built a settlement in Lausan, Khiva, about 150 km south of the Aral Sea along the Amu Darya River. But robberies and home invasions by neighbouring Turkomen made life unbearable, as the natives knew the Mennonites would not resist them with violence. The murder of Heinrich Abrahams while attempting to kidnap his wife, Elisabeth Seiler Abrahams (1863-1908), was the final straw which led to the end of the settlement in 1884. After a major fundraising drive by American Mennonites, Elisabeth, her sisters, and her son, Heinrich (1884-1954, born after his father’s death), migrated with others to America on the S. S. Fulda. Others founded the settlement of Ak Metchet, Khiva, or joined the Aulie Ata settlement. The latter included Heinrich’s brother Franz (1849-1919); and his sister Maria Abrahams Horn, 1846-1931, who came to America in 1885.
Heinrich’s granddaughter became a famous actress under the stage name Irene Worth (born Harriet Elizabeth Abrams, 1916-2002). She never married, but what a legacy for her murdered grandfather! Other grandchildren were farmer and WWI veteran, Luther J. Evans (1918-2002), and Grayce Carol Abrams Johnson (1925-). More obituaries for Heinrich are in his page in Bethel College's Biographical Wiki.
Heinrich's granddaughter wins an award
Mennonitische Rundschau 1884 Jan 23 p 2
News about the so-called Claas Epp Mennonite society, which emigrated to the Khiva Khanate…. What was still planted and sown thrived quite well, but then came locusts, wild pigs, including beasts almost like small cows and jackals, and each devoured what it liked. Very little, almost nothing, remained for the people. In addition, for many neither strength nor means are sufficient to enable a harvest in the coming year, calculated in human terms. Even the cash resources of the most well-off, who gave their assets as brothers, are said to be drying up. Furthermore, the community is suffering more and more from the rapaciousness of its fellow citizens, the Turkomen, who take away horses, boxes with objects and other things so to speak in full view; they hardly move away when called help comes. Individual watchmen are no longer feared, especially after a robbery with murder of the father of the house. For example, a young man who had camped for the night on the flat roof noticed that a Turkoman wanted to take a horse. "Friend, go away!" he shouted to him in the local language. The thief answered with a shot, from which fortunately only individual grains of shot hit the young man in the ear and chin, while the actual shot passed by. After that, the thief went away for a while, then came back and got the horse. Remembering the recent robbery-murder, the young man did not dare to call for help, nor to object himself. The mentioned murder happened under the following circumstances: One night the Turkomen entered the home of a family (named Abrahams). The woman was awakened by a noise in the other room, or whatever one calls the compartments in their tents; a glimmer of light also penetrated through a crack in the door. She woke her husband, who jumped up and hurried to the door, shouting to his wife: "Now they are here!” Here he was met by saber blows. The wife managed to jump out of the window, but she was still aware of how a Turkoman, with a light in one hand and a saber in the other, came into the bedroom. The woman, frightened out of her wits when she luckily arrived at the neighboring house, hid under the bed and said softly: "Be very quiet, they are coming!” When the brothers ran together to the house of horrors, no one was there — Abrahams lay bleeding from about 20 saber wounds, lifeless on the ground, boxes with things, clothes, etc., everything had been taken away. What might explain the man's shouting and increase the woman's terror even more is the fact that, apparently, and as the woman herself firmly believes, the robbers' main intention was wife robbery. Several times Turkomen had wanted to buy the woman from her husband and had already offered a considerable sum for her. And she thought she had recognized just such a buyer, who had been turned down a few days earlier. The authorities take no special notice of such incidents. You simply have to build closer together (the houses are 100 feet apart), build strong walls, stand guard yourself and shoot down the robbers, or hire people to do it for you, etc. Even the Russian border official, to whom they complained of their plight, gave little comfort. Individual families who would like to return to their rejected homeland, and who do not lack the means to travel from home, are deterred from returning in small numbers by the fear of the trek across the Turkomen steppe. However strong the longing, however strong the desire, individual persons must not even think of returning…. May God, who is merciful, gracious, patient and of great goodness, have mercy on them….
1905: Suffocated — Jakob Graew & Wilhelm Konrad
by Isaak P. Toews
The following tells about the tragic loss of two young men due to unventilated fumes from the coal stove, in the house that three friends built together in Alsen, South Dakota. A third friend, Abraham Peters, survived, but these two were mourned:
Jakob Peter Graew (1884-1905, #368712)
Wilhelm Peter Konrad (1883-1905, #9808)
Zionsbote 1906 Jan. 24 p 7-8
Two young men suffocated by coal gas.
I would like to report briefly on the deeply moving tragedy that occurred on Dec. 23, namely the passing of the young men Jakob Graew and Wilhelm Konrad. In the fall, the friends Abraham Peters, Peter Graew, Jakob Graew and Wilhelm Konrad built a house in Alsen (a new town) to live there for the winter and to take on work where possible, which they did until Thursday evening, Dec. 21, when, as usual, they built a coal fire in the cooking stove and went to bed. The friends Abraham Peters, Jakob Graew and Wilhelm Konrad were there that night. All three slept in one room, the latter two in one bed. They all slept until Friday evening, when friends living nearby called on them and found Abraham Peters and the other two lying in bed. Abraham could speak right away, but could not get up right away, but may God be thanked, he soon got up, then accompanied by others went to the hotel for the night. For the two latter, a doctor was then immediately brought from another station, who also tried his best to restore the unconscious men, but all effort was in vain. Jakob Graew died at 5 o’clock the next morning, so had slept about 35 hours. Wilhelm Konrad lived for 8 hours longer. Neither of them could speak a word during this sleep, only loud moans and gasps could be heard until they died. Jakob Graew was a son of brethren Peter Graew and his wife. A very deep sorrow for the dear parents and brethren. And this was just at Christmas. Joy and sorrow are often so close to each other.
The funeral took place with a large attendance at the church on Dec. 28th. Brother David Froese held the introduction with the song: "Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende,” [Who knows how near my end], prayer and Zech. 3, where it says in verse 2: "Isn’t this a brand, which is saved from the fire?" He also noted that there were three people in the house, and one of them was like a brand saved from the fire. He then also addressed this in spiritual terms. Brother Johann Guenther spoke about Isaiah 38: "Order your house, because you will die."
Brother Johann Enns spoke on Psalm 90, pointing out the first verse to comfort the deeply grieved parents and brethren: "Lord God, you are our refuge always."
At the conclusion, there was prayer and singing. Then the body was handed over to the bosom of the earth.
Then we went to the home of the Graew brethren, where we were first served a meal, then God's word was discussed and several beautiful and touching songs were sung, and finally a great hour of prayer began. Sinners cried out to God, one prayed for the other, parents wrestled on behalf of their children. The salvation of souls was earnestly spoken about and it succeeded, some souls found peace and forgiveness in the evening. Later, more souls found peace, several more are also still seeking, it is our desire and prayer for them all to come through and come to faith. The deceased Jakob Graew reached the age of 21 years and 19 days.
The funeral of Wilhelm Konrad was in the house of his parents, Peter Konrad and his wife. It was also a large gathering. His body was buried in our churchyard. The funeral was a day later. Wilhelm reached the age of 22 years. Willy, as well as Jakob, were good, reliable workers and faithful sons of their parents. Willy was previously with the brethren Peter Fast and his wife in Dolton, South Dakota for a few years, they will remember him well.
The cause of the coal gas in the house was that they had turned the top damper, i.e. the one in the flue pipe, too tight and as a result the gas came into the room. Had soft coals.
Warm greetings, your brother
Isaak P. Toews.
1908: A child’s faith — Neta Wall
by Johann Wall (likely Johann Peter Wall, 1876-, #1320231)
I was very moved by this account of the life and death of the writer’s little daughter Neta in Turkestan, Central Asia.
Friedenstimme 1909 Jan 24 p 9
Departure of our little daughter.
When our eldest daughter became ill, we begged the Lord not to let her die unprepared, since she was no longer innocent. She recovered. After that, the Friedenstimme published an article about the conversion of children. Now I would like to share an endorsement of that article.
Almost at the same time, our other three children became ill, six-year-old Neta first and most violently. On Friday, Dec. 19, she had a high fever in the evening until 12 o'clock; then she asked for a pencil and paper and drew something, after which she fell asleep. In the morning, she very joyfully sang with the other children the Christmas carols they had learned. When I tried to quiet her because she was sick, she said happily: "Papa, I'm completely healthy!” Then she asked me if she could play the harmonium; I set up the harmonium and she played the song: “Christus, der ist mein Leben, Sterben ist mein Gewinn” (Christ, who is my life, dying is my gain).
Now she became seriously ill! When she was very restless on Sunday, the 21st, I told her that she should tell everything to the Savior. Then she folded her hands and said: "Papa, let's pray.” She prayed, "Oh Savior, things are so bad; make me well; forgive all my sins with all my heart, so that I may go to heaven. Amen." When asked what sins she had done, she said, crying, "I hit the other children." The same were brought to the bedside and all was forgiven. She also embraced her Mama, kissed her and cried: "Oh, Mama, forgive me for everything!” Later, when she prayed, she said, "Oh, Savior, things are so bad, but I am glad that I have a pure heart, Savior, I love you so much!" She continued to pray often and about various things, also for others. Once, when her distress became great, she cried, "Oh, dear Lord God!" and told him about all the pain. After we also prayed, she said, "There, nothing hurts me now."
On Wednesday evening, when the students were gathered under the Christmas tree, before I went out, I asked if she wanted to die. "Not before Christmas," was the answer. When I came back and handed her the gifts, and showed her the new Bethlehem stable, she was very happy. During the night and on the first day of the holidays, she was often delirious. In the evening, we already saw where it was going. When asked if she wanted to die now, she answered: “Yes.” As her distress increased, she prayed, barely audibly, "Savior, come! Savior come!" Later, she waved her hand and whispered, "Savior, Savior!"
She passed away at 4 a.m. on the second day of Christmas. I do not want to describe our pain, which is understood by all who have been at the deathbed of their loved ones. But I wish that all children would be converted, and that no one would hinder them.
1908: A tragic accident — Johann Wedel
The writer shares the horror of a farming accident in Nikolaipol of the Aulie Ata settlement in Turkestan, Central Asia. Equally tragic was the loss two years earlier of his young wife, Maria Wall (1867-1906, #124089), and the three orphans left behind. But two children later married, and son Johann Wedel (1904-1985) migrated to Brazil with his family in 1930 on the S. S. Werra.
Friedenstimme 1908 Sept 6 (page number unknown)
Accident Tuesday, August 12, brother Johann Wedel, son of Johann Wedel, formerly residing in Waldheim, went with his worker to the field to mow grain with the reel machine. After he had driven around the field several times, the horses shied and jumped to the side. This resulted in both of them falling from their seats; the worker backwards, but brother Wedel in front of the blades of the machine, whereupon his left arm was almost completely cut off along with a piece of his chest. He also received several injuries to the head, as well as three gaping wounds on one leg. The worker, who immediately rushed over, called him by name, but received no answer, but there was still life in him. In the meantime, the horses had stopped, inhibited by the removal of the connecting rod, which the worker used to unharness a horse, and quickly rode to the village to get help; but too late, the victim was found only as a corpse. He reached the age of 45 years and several months. His wife preceded him two years ago. The deceased leaves behind 3 children. The pain is great. If only everyone could think every day: Who knows how near my end is, time is passing, death is coming, oh how quickly can my mortal need come?
August 14, Nikolaipol near Aulie-Ata, Turkestan.
1933: Death in exile — Johannes J. Giesbrecht
by Margaret “Gredel” Giesbrecht
I was very moved by this letter to the author’s brother Jakob (1896-1980) about the death of their father in exile. Although Jakob had been in Canada since 1926, his parents and 8 sisters struggled to survive after being banished by the Russians. Communication with the outside world was extremely difficult, actually forbidden, for such political prisoners. The family was also split up. The fate of all those in Russia is unknown; when Jakob Jr. died in 1980 in Abbotsford, B.C., no survivors in Russia were mentioned. Despite the deep pain expressed in this letter, underlying it is love, faith, and a community overseas who could be called upon to help. (Additional source: Ruth Derksen Siemens, Remember Us.)
Mennonitische Rundschau 1934 Mar. 28 p. 9
Since I have finally received definite news about the death of my dear father, and relatives would like to know accurate information about it, I am sharing here several excerpts from the letter:
“My dear brother Jacob and sister-in-law Tina,
We finally received a letter from you yesterday after a long anxious wait. So you have not received all of our letters. Yes, our dear father is no more — each of us described his end to you after his death, it’s such a pity that all the letters are lost! He died on August 1 . They sent me and Hilda away to work on July 1. I arrived home just one day before his death. Already on the street I heard his loud Schnucken, my heart almost broke, as I came in he was unconscious. I threw myself on my knees at his poor bed, full of grief and pain. “Papa! Papa!” But he did not hear me. I cried out to God that Papa would hear me and speak to me once more. After calling him for a long time, he finally heard me. “Forgive me, Papa, love me.” — "Yes, yes," he said, "I have waited so long for you." Uncle Johann Fehdrau came and talked to him about God's Word. As it ended, we all knelt at his bedside and prayed until he drew his last breath. You should have seen how beautifully and peacefully he passed away, he closed his eyes and shut his mouth.
We washed him ourselves, dressed him in the only pair of pants that he had, and a shirt, ordered a coffin made of white boards and buried him all alone. Mama says he prayed loudly to God every day and cried and said: "My poor, poor children.” He spoke a lot about you, Jacob, and before he died he wrote you a card saying goodbye to you forever. I guess you didn't receive it either? Hilda did not see him anymore, she arrived after we had already buried him. And on August 29th, we had to pack our things in a few hours, we were put into wagons like in 1930, and we left, nobody knew where to, they transported us like that for 3 weeks. Only we were treated better now. When, when will God release us from our imprisonment? We now live by the Irtysh River at Sobolskogo Okruga. I work here in the hospital pharmacy, Mama and Irma are 5 verst away in the Russian village. Sara and Hilda have to work in the forest 45 verst away. The 4 youngest sisters are scattered in the south. When will the Lord reverse our misery and bring us together. Not only daily, but hourly, I think of you, dear Jacob, I would so like to be with you. We have not heard any sermon for 4 years, we long for it. What do you think, will the end of the world come soon? I would like the Lord to come soon and find us ready and redeem us all and bring us together. And God will wipe away all tears, how beautiful the promise sounds. Your sad sister,
Mama writes, “we feel so abandoned that sometimes we don't know what to do and quickly turn to God's Word. If we didn't have the dear Father in heaven, we would have to despair. I want to run into the forest and scream, my heart is breaking with grief. The poor children are all scattered, have to work in the forest and have nothing warm to wear. Malnutrition has brought Papa to the ground. Last week he ate almost nothing at all. The girls are completely exhausted, Hilda's feet up to past her knees are numb.” --
If anyone is willing to send something to the poor mother and sisters, send it to me and I will forward it. May God reward you for what you do for the poor orphans and the widow.
The sad children,
Jacob und Tina Giesbrecht.
1957: Imprisoned but free — Peter Franz Froese
by Aron A. Toews (1884-1969), Rosemarie Froese and B. H. Unruh (1881-1959)
Engineer Peter Froese became a relief worker for starving Mennonites, and helped many to immigrate to North America. He was a political prisoner for 11 years beginning in 1929. After his release and Russia’s invasion by Germany, he was able to migrate to Germany, where he continued to advocate for Mennonites in need. Peter is featured in the book Mennonitische Martyerer (Mennonite Martyrs) by Aron A. Toews, an extract of which is included in his obituary. See also his GAMEO article and his page in Bethel college’s Biographical Wiki. His manuscript on the history of the Communist Party in Russia, mentioned by Unruh, is now held in Mennonite archives.
Peter Fr. Fröse†
Stuttgart, West Germany
Jan. 31, 1892 - Sept. 23, 1957
As an obituary, we are taking something from "Mennonitische Märtyrer" [Mennonite Martyrs] by A. A. Toews:
"In his time he was chair of the Allrussischen Mennonitischen Landwirtschaftlichen Verein [All-Russian Mennonite Agricultural Association], which had its main office in Moscow. He was born in Russia on Jan. 31, 1892, then acquired a good education; rendered good service while still serving as a medic in Moscow and later in the reconstruction of the Mennonite colonies of the North after the revolutionary period.
However, after the liquidation of the association, he was imprisoned together with the remaining members of the association in Russia, terribly harassed and spent a series of years in prisons and in exile, as did his coworker C. C. Reimer and others.
The two other employees, Franz C. Thiessen, teacher in Davlekanovo, and C. F. Klassen, Neu Samara, escaped abroad in time. Peter Franz Fröse was finally released and found a refuge in the small town of Weinheim, near Heidelberg, West Germany. His hair turned completely gray after all the hard things he had experienced."
Mrs. R. Froese wrote after his passing:
"Very soon he followed his dear friend C. F. Klassen into eternity — after a very, very serious illness. He was allowed to go home in full accord with God's will, after brother Unruh had served us communion, a week before his death. It was — according to Peter — the greatest church service of his life."
A personal obituary by B. H. Unruh, West Germany:
"...On September 23, our dear friend was called to his eternal home. Behind him lay a life that led through much suffering and tight spots, in which he always applied his personality to the task before him to the very end. The tasks he was given were manifold, and he always had to fight, struggle and endure to fulfill them. But it was precisely at the most difficult points of his life that the helping and protecting hand of his Lord was revealed.
He was born in a Russian-German, Mennonite family, he attended village school and continuation school in Mennonite villages, then followed higher school and university in Petersburg. The hardship of the time did not allow him to finish his studies, and his strong social impulse led him to social work. In various fields — especially in the "Allrussischen Mennonitischen Landwirtschaftlichen Verein" — he served his compatriots for more than a decade.
Then the hard hand of the GPU seized him and his path went through the prisons of the USSR for many, many years. Here the strength of his personality became quite evident. They tried to "win" him — and even in the face of the possibility of death, he persisted in his position — "I am guided by the interests of the working people — and by my conscience." And so he remained free — as a prisoner! It was not made easy for him. It will be left to a later time to give a more detailed account of those years. A Higher One protected him and gave him strength to endure.
When the gates to life opened again, he was unbroken, and his experience of suffering became a deep commitment to his fellow man. Eventually, his path led him to Germany, the homeland of his ancestors. He hoped to be able to serve here with his rich experiences, and also to awaken understanding for the hard-pressed Russian people. He was not granted the complete fulfillment of the hope for such an effect. In years of peace, he worked through the great problem of our time: the October Revolution and its effects. Perhaps this work will one day become public.
His last great task here was to serve his fellow countrymen. He championed their concerns with tenacious perseverance. As a companion in their fate, he became a friend in whom they placed their trust, in which he did not disappoint. He could still live to see the final success of his efforts to equalize burdens. He was already marked by illness when he finally held in his hands the eighth “Gesetz zur Aenderung des Lastenausgleichsgesetzes” [Law Amending the Burden Equalization Act]. As long as he could, even from his sick bed, he continued to work for the cause of the Russian Germans. It became a wonderful experience for him in the last weeks of his life, as he was carried by the sacrifice of a circle of his compatriots, to whom heartfelt thanks are conveyed here.
I believe that one can apply the words of Schiller to his life: 'Und setzet Ihr nicht das Leben ein, nie wird Euch das Leben gewonnen sein!' ['And if you do not use life, life will never be won for you!”] Torn away in the middle of his work and plans for the future, he nevertheless led his life to completion. His dying in deep union with Christ became an experience of victory over death for those who witnessed it."
1962: Fleeing to Brazil — Heinrich Abram Loewen
by Jakob Thiessen (1915-1991) and Maria Loewen Thiessen (1914-2000)
Heinrich Loewen and his family were among roughly 5,000 fortunate Mennonites able to escape Russia in 1929 via Moscow. They were free, but a challenging start in Brazil followed. Heinrich escaped death more than once, and served his community faithfully despite physical challenges. (Additional sources: Ruth Derksen Siemens, Remember Us, p 33 and Through the Red Gate.)
Mennonitische Rundschau 1962 June 6 p 3
Heinrich Abram Loewen †,
died on April 7, 1962. He was born on July 14, 1878 in Kuban, South Russia. When the Barnaul settlement was established in Siberia, our parents also moved there and lived in the village of Friedensfeld. In 1911, they were baptized and accepted into the MB church. Father fell ill with typhoid fever three times. The last time, Father was close to death, but the Lord was merciful, he got well. However, the disease left a malady, the right leg became sore and remained so until his death. After more than 10 years, the leg was so sore that he had to stay in bed for more than half a year. He received many visits and, when the conductor and singer Bernhard B. Dueck held singing courses there, they held the church service in their house, so that Father could also participate in the blessings. After 18 years, the brother Abraham Loewen, who lived in the south of Russia, surprised the parents. The joy of the reunion was great. Traveling preachers often stayed at the parents' home, and Father saw his ministry in driving them wherever they wanted to go.
After the First World War, difficult years soon came for Father, for he too was one of the banned. There was no end to the impositions and taxations. The parents had to flee. They traveled over 100 kilometers by wagon, then by train to Omsk to relatives, and from there to Moscow. There, too, they were pursued and had to change homes three times. They were also among the baptized who were saved and came to Brazil via Germany. The years in the jungle at Krauel, Santa Catarina, were very difficult for Father, with his sore leg. Father was elected deacon there and was always in the church council. In 1937, the parents moved to Curitiba. He took an active part in the settlement of Xaxim, was the first village resident, saw to it that the land was surveyed and directed the logging in the forest. This solved the worry of making the monthly payments for the land. Later, when the church in Boqueirao was built, Father was actively involved, despite suffering from cancer for many years. He also had high blood pressure and had to seek medical help repeatedly. In the last year, he could not lie down and spent days and nights sitting.
He was a faithful praying man. He attended church services as long as he could. In the last few weeks, he was able to lie down again and was very grateful to God for it.
However much it hurts that Father has died, we certainly do not begrudge his rest, and look forward to seeing him again with the Lord.
I will also add that the parents moved from Friedensfeld to Gnadenheim.
We greet all dear readers, especially our relatives and acquaintances there.
Jakob Thiessen and wife Maria, née Loewen.
(sent by Jakob Kasdorf.)
1992: Marrying a Mennonite — Marianne Preisser Rempel
by Dietrich J. Rempel (1924-2000)
Like my mother, Marianne was a Lutheran in a tiny German village near Jena, and married a Mennonite she met after the war. The two couples escaped together from Communist East Germany in 1947, but had different paths to Canada. The women missed aspects of the old homeland; Marianne went so far as to return twice, but Canada became home.
Der Bote 1993 Jan. 20 p. 7
Nelson, British Columbia
Marianne Rempel was born on April 3, 1924 in the village of Krippendorf, Thuringia. Her parents were Max and Martha Preisser. She grew up on a small farm and had a happy childhood. Her only brother Fritz was killed in the war in Finland at the beginning of the war with Russia. Her father then had a nervous breakdown. So Marianne had to run the business with her mother.
At the beginning of 1945, I came to Krippendorf with my mother and siblings and met Marianne there. We were married on July 22, 1945. The war was over, the Americans had been there and then the Russians came. So we fled across the border to the West. Here we were in the camp in Gronau until 1948. There Marianne was also baptized by Elder Winter; she accepted the Mennonite faith.
In 1948, we emigrated to Paraguay and settled there in Waldeck, Volendam Colony. Our first child had already been born in Thuringia; and in Paraguay, the second child, Wolfgang, was born, who was sick. Marianne also became ill and had to be treated in Asuncion. During that time she was in the Mennonite Home. Then we decided to go back to Germany. In March, 1953, we arrived back in Germany. There our second son died after a short time.
Twice Marianne visited her parents in Thuringia during this time, and in August 1956 we emigrated to Canada, and have lived in Nelson, B.C. ever since. In 1958 another daughter, Dorothy, was born to us, who currently resides in Vancouver.
After the reunification of Germany we went to Krippendorf again, but Marianne did not feel happy there anymore, as she had been away from there for too long.
On November 21, my dear wife and mother of John and Dorothy died in a tragic accident. God has granted her wish. He will wipe away all tears from her eyes. We were married for 47 years and four months.
In deep sorrow,
husband Dietrich Rempel,
son John, daughter Dorothy
Sent on behalf by Helen Wiens, cousin of Dietrich Rempel.
Marianne and Dietrich in later years.
(Source: obituaries; Dietrich in Der Bote 2000 Jul 12 p. 17-18)
All translations from German sources are my own, with help from DeepL.