Dyck, Peter Johann (1884-1937)
Peter Johann Dyck: engineer and inventor; born on 21 May 1884 in Osterwick, Chortitza Mennonite settlement, south Russia, to Johann and Anna (Niebuhr) Dyck. In 1912, he married Elsbeth Wilhelm in Germany. The couple had five children. Peter was arrested in April 1937 and executed 17 September 1937 in Dnepropetrovsk.
Peter was the son of a farmer and wagon builder. After he finished his basic education and worked a year in the David Kröger factory, he went to Germany in 1906 to study at the Ingenieurschule Zwickau, Saxony. He completed his studies in 1908 and then worked in Germany before returning to Ukraine in about 1911. He married Elsbeth Wilhelm in Germany in 1912 and soon started to establish a family. Peter worked as an engineer at the Abram J. Koop Factory in Schönwiese and continued to work there as chief engineer after it was taken over by the government and renamed Factory Kommunar. Besides being a good engineer, he got along well with his co-workers there.
When several engineers from the Factory Kommunar were sent to Germany in 1925 to assess some American agricultural technology for possible introduction to farms in the Soviet Union, Dyck was among them. Afterwards, he and several colleagues from the factory, including Gerhard Hamm and Kornelius Pauls, developed the first grain combine ever produced in the Soviet Union. For this accomplishment, after examination by the head of the Soviets, Mikhail Kalinin, the engineers and the factory itself received the Order of Lenin on 3 September 1931. Peter and his colleagues were decorated for helping to promote mass production in agriculture.
After the combine’s initial introduction, Peter continued to work on modifications to the structure, adding shields and beaters to help improve the winter crop yield. He also monitored efficiency at the factory, using photographs taken of the average work day to show where time was wasted and working to correct these problems. By October 1934, the factory was producing up to 60 combines a day and had delivered 18,507 machines in total. In his position as chief engineer, Peter was allowed to build a fine new house in Einlage and also to have a few holidays in southern resorts.
On 8 April 1937, 11 of the leading people from the factory, including Peter, were accused of being enemies of the people, and were arrested and jailed in Zaporozhye. Specifically, Peter was accused of unreasonably spreading false views to a harmful organization. His wife and younger daughter were able to visit him in jail in Zaporozhye on one occasion, but after that he was moved and they were unable to see him. Together with the other prisoners arrested with him, Peter was sentenced on 16 September and executed on 17 September 1937 in Dnepropetrovsk.
On 11 September Elsbeth was also arrested and sentenced to ten years of exile in Siberia. The Dycks’ two youngest children, Walter and Hildegard, were taken to an orphanage for children whose parents had been arrested. On 6 March 1958, Peter was officially “rehabilitated.”
Peter Johann Dyck was a dedicated and inventive man, able to use his skills to help his community and the places where he worked. Although his life ended tragically, he left a legacy of commitment and perseverance for future generations. Besides his contributions in the areas of agriculture and factory efficiency, he helped to show the people around him how to work with whatever circumstances they encountered for the betterment of the community.
Huebert, Helmut T. Mennonite Estates in Imperial Russia, 2 vols. Winnipeg, MB: Springfield Publishers, 2008: v. II.
Krieger, Viktor. "Korrektur am Artikel." Personal e-mail (3 June 2011)
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