Sawatzky, Peter Jakob (1886-1962)
Peter Jakob Sawatzky: teacher and doctor; born 14 June 1886 in Wiesenfeld, Ekaterinoslav, to Jakob J. Sawatzky and Maria (Huebert) Sawatzky. He was the youngest of 16 children. He was baptized and joined the Mennonite Brethren church on 23 March 1904. On 29 June 1916, he married Margaretha Reimer, daughter of Cornelius Reimer. The couple had two children, both of whom survived childhood. Peter died after a long illness on 22 November 1962 in Karaganda.
Schooling for Peter began in 1893 at the Halbstadt Zentralschule. Upon completion of his studies there, he took two years of teacher training before obtaining a teaching position near Gulaipole, moving next to work with German Baptists in Karkhov Province. As a youth Peter accepted the Lord as his Saviour, and he preached occasionally in the villages where he taught. In time, however, he came to the conclusion that teaching was not his particular vocation.
After attending seminars in the summer of 1903 on medical practice, Peter decided to follow the path of medicine. First he studied at, and graduated from, the eight-class classical Gymnasium in Ekaterinoslav. There, he lived very frugally since his financial resources were limited. From there he went to study Medicine at the New Russian University of Odessa. World War I broke out while he was still there, and he started working in a military hospital even before he had finished his studies.
On 29 June 1916, Peter married Margaretha Reimer, daughter of a well- known teacher, Cornelius Reimer of Wiesenfeld. After being employed in emergency care at the Bethania Psychiatric Hospital near Einlage, Peter worked at the military hospital in Odessa while completing his medical studies, which he finished in the autumn of 1918. Meanwhile, Peter’s wife Margaretha was also active, completing her training as a nurse and then working as a secretary in the Red Cross office in Odessa.
In 1918, Sawatzky and his family decided to return home, but with the Revolution and Civil War raging, they had a difficult time getting there. Via a very stormy voyage across the Black Sea to Sevastopol and then a train trip north, they at last reached Wiesenfeld. A year later, they moved south to Karassan in the Crimea, where Peter obtained a medical position. During the time of the White Army occupation, Peter was transferred to Dzhankoy to battle typhus, which had broken out among the military and civilian population. Peter himself contracted typhus and nearly died.
After the epidemic abated, Peter returned to Karassan, where he worked until 1923. When a new supervisor who was not friendly to the Mennonite doctor took over the region, Peter and his family left Karassan to settle in a Lutheran district at Naimann. Soon, Peter was busy in his medical practice, with more patients than he could handle. The family relocated to Theodosia when the two children reached high school age, and Peter soon had a busy medical practice there.
On the night of 18 November 1937, black Narodnyy komissariat vnutrennikh del (NKVD) vehicles drove through the villages and cities of the Crimea, and Peter was among the many men who went missing. After being held for a year of interrogation, he was sentenced to ten years in exile; Margaretha was able to visit her husband once there.
Peter was released from exile and returned to his family in 1946. In 1956 he retired from his medical practice; he and his wife Margaret moved Karaganda, Kazakhstan, where their two children lived. Starting in 1950, Peter had suffered from anemia, and his strength gradually failed. He died on 22 November 1962.
Peter Jakob Sawatzky was a dedicated doctor and teacher who served his community faithfully. Despite the difficulties he encountered, he left a legacy of commitment for others to follow.
Huebert, Helmut T. 1937: Stalin’s Year of Terror. Winnipeg, MB: Springfield Publishers, 2009.
Martens, Katherine, translator and editor. They Came from Wiesenfeld Ukraine to Canada: Family Stories. Winnipeg: 2005: 153, 161-163.
"Obituary of Peter Jakob Sawatzky sent in by G. J. Reimer of Kingsville Ontario and Jakob C. Reimer of Clearbrook BC." Mennonitische Rundschau (26 June 1963): 6.
Toews, Aron A. Mennonitische Märtyrer, 2 vols. North Clearbrook, British Columbia: self-published, 1949-1954: v. II, 44-47.
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MLA style: Huebert, Helmut T. and Susan Huebert. "Sawatzky, Peter Jakob (1886-1962)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. May 2009. Web. 19 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/sawatzky_peter_jakob_1886_1962.
APA style: Huebert, Helmut T. and Susan Huebert. (May 2009). Sawatzky, Peter Jakob (1886-1962). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/sawatzky_peter_jakob_1886_1962.