Klassen, David Johann (1899-1990)
David Johann Klassen: minister and elder; born 22 March 1899 in Fürstenwerder, Molotschna Mennonite Settlement, South Russia, to Johann and Anna (Penner) Klassen. He was the eldest of nine children in the family. On 12 May 1929, he married Sara Hamm, daughter of Hermann H. and Elisabeth (Wiebe) Hamm in Lichtenau, Molotschna Mennonite Settlement. The couple had two sons of their own, one of whom died at age 45, and an adopted daughter. David served as a minister and elder in several churches and spent many years in prison for his faith. He died in August 1990 at the age of 91.
David grew up with his family, initially in Fürstenwerder and then in Rosenort, Molotschna Mennonite Settlement, where his father managed a store. David was baptized in August 1918 and joined the Mennonite Brethren church, where he began teaching Sunday school and eventually directing the youth choir and singing in the main church choir. In December 1924, he began working at the Bethania Mental Hospital in Alt-Kronsweide in the Chortitza Mennonite Settlement. He led a choir there until 1927, when the hospital was closed because of flooding, and then he worked at a new general hospital until 1936.
On 12 May 1929, David Klassen married Sara in the Lichtenau church, and went to live in Einlage in a house that David had built. In 1934, they adopted a girl, Anna Wiens, born in 1931 to friends of theirs. The Klassens’ first son, David, was born in 1935; their second son, Ernst, was born in 1936, about four months after David was arrested. Ernst died in an accident in September 1981.
On the night of 7-8 April 1936, Klassen was arrested and was sentenced to seven years in a labor camp for his religious activities. For much of the time, he was able to do medical work. His sentence was completed in 1943, but he was not released until 12 December 1946 because of World War II. In the meantime, Sara was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment in July 1941 and was released in 1952. Their three children stayed with relatives and were deported to Kazakhstan with them. On his release, David joined his children in Beloglinovka, Kustanai Region, Kazakhstan, where he obtained work as a first aid worker. Although there was no local church, David met with people in various homes for Bible studies, and he also organized a choir.
Klassen and five other people were arrested on 1 September 1949 and were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. In the camp where he was sent, he composed hymns and poems, which he shared with other Christians. He was released due to ill health in 1955 and joined his wife and children in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, where they had moved after Sara’s release.
Soon, David began to perform weddings and to speak at funerals and baptisms all around central Asia. In May 1957, he and Sara joined the new German Mennonite church in Karaganda, where he was soon dedicated as a minister and later as an elder. He was arrested again in September 1962 and sent to a strict prison camp, from which he was released in 1965 to return home. Sara died on 13 March 1986, and David died in August 1990 at the age of 91 at his son's home.
David Johann Klassen was a dedicated church leader who persevered in his faith despite many troubles. Whether in prison or in the church, he worked to help strengthen other people's faith, becoming an example to the people around him.
Fast, Viktor; Penner, Jakob. Wasserströme in der Einöde: Die Anfangsgeschichte der Mennoniten-Brüdergemeinde Karaganda, 1956-1968. Steinhagen: Samenkorn, 2007: 419-426.
GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 6.06 ed. Fresno, CA:, 2011: #84233.
Interview with Helene Bergen.
Interview with Viktor Fast.
Reger, Adina; Plett, Delbert. Diese Steine: die Russlandmennoniten. Steinbach, MB: Crossway Publications, Inc., 2001: 488-489.
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MLA style: Huebert, Susan and Helmut T. Huebert. "Klassen, David Johann (1899-1990)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 2011. Web. 23 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/klassen_david_johann_1899_1990.
APA style: Huebert, Susan and Helmut T. Huebert. (2011). Klassen, David Johann (1899-1990). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/klassen_david_johann_1899_1990.