Froese, Peter Franz (1892-1957)
Peter Franz Froese: engineer and relief worker; born on 31 January 1892, probably in the Memrik Mennonite settlement, to a minister at the Kotlyarevka-Memrik Mennonite Brethren Church. Peter had two siblings, a brother and a sister. He was baptized and joined the Mennonite Brethren church after a conversion experience at about age 12 or 13. In 1918, Peter married Daria Matweyevna, a Russian doctor. The couple had three children. In 1929, Peter was arrested and imprisoned; he was later exiled to the Smolensk area. He died of cancer in Germany on 23 September 1957.
In his youth, Peter attended the village school before going on to the Ohrloff Zentralschule. After his graduation, he began an engineering program at the University of St. Petersburg, but his studies were interrupted by World War I. Peter was drafted into the Sanitätsdienst, likely in November 1914. Peter supervised the office at the camp and along with several of his friends, he conducted Bible studies for the workers.
After the abdication of the Tsar on 13 March 1917 and the establishment of the Kerensky government, Peter, together with a number of other families, moved to Moscow. There they established a Mennonite association called Mennobshtschestvo, aimed at representing Mennonite interests as agencies of the new government in Moscow developed new policies.
After attending the Allgemeiner Mennonitischer Kongress (All-Mennonite Congress) held in 1917, Froese joined the United Council of Religious Brotherhoods and Groups, which helped in the trials of young men who had refused military service. He also became a representative for the Menno Centre in Moscow, established to look after the interests of Mennonites from eastern Russia. When the All-Russian Relief Committee was organized in 1921, Peter was chosen as a member of the committee and served on it until the Cheka dissolved the organization, arresting and jailing most of the members.
When famine came to Russia, Mennonites in North America responded by sending aid, with Peter as one of the coordinators of relief on the Russian side. He also became involved in helping Mennonites immigrate to North America, helping them obtain travel permits for both Russia and Ukraine. Eventually, about 22,500 Mennonites were able to migrate, largely to Canada.
Meanwhile, Peter helped organize the Allrussischer Mennonitischer Landwirtschaftlicher Verein (AMLV), for which he was later elected chairman, to promote economic development and the Kommission für Kirchenangelegenheiten (KfK), established by the churches to coordinate religious activities. Peter also helped start an agricultural periodical for the farmers.
Government-imposed massive collectivization in 1928 forced the closure of the AMLV. The next year, thousands of Mennonites went to Moscow, hoping to get exit visas. On 15 October 1929, Froese was arrested and taken to Lubyanka prison. Despite his fears that he might be executed, Peter received a 10-year sentence which was later extended.
On 15 October 1940, Peter was released from prison but was not allowed to return home except for a brief visit. He moved to Yegorovik, where his family came to visit him. When the German army overran the area in October of 1941, Peter was sent to Germany and settled in Fellbach, near Stuttgart. There he eventually recovered his physical, mental, and spiritual health, until he eventually became ill with an incurable cancer and died on 23 September 1957.
Peter Franz Froese was a dedicated and resilient man, committed to working for the good of his community despite the considerable difficulties in his life. His hard work and ability to make the best of his circumstances were examples for the people around him to follow.
Dyck, Anna Reimer. Anna from the Caucasus to Canada, translated and edited by Peter J. Klassen. Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1979: 14, 94-107.
Epp, Frank H., Mennonite Exodus, Canadian Mennonite Relief and Immigration Council, 1962: 225-227.
Friesen, P. M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910). Taurien: Raduga, 1911: xviii, 472.
Froese, Peter Franz. ""Die Oktober-revolution in Russland und ihre Auswirkungen: Zur Geschichte der Kommunistischen Partei der Sowjetunion (Bolschweiki)." Unpublished manuscript, n.d. Copies available at Mennonite Library and Archives (North Newton, Kansas) and Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies (Winnipeg).
Froese, Peter Franz, recreated prison diary, begun in Germany 7 March 1944, written in Russian, translated into German by Karl Fast.
Funk, Cornelius C. Escape to Freedom, translated and edited by Peter J. Klassen. Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1982: 24, 31, 32, 34, 40, 79.
Huebert, Helmut T. Events and People. Winnipeg, MB: Springfield Publishers, 1999: 237-241.
Huebert, Helmut T. Mennonites in the Cities of Imperial Russia, 2 vols. Winnipeg, MB: Springfield Publishers, 2006-2008: v. II.
Klassen, Herbert and Maureen. Ambassador to His People: C. F. Klassen and the Russian Mennonite Refugees. Winnipeg, MB and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred Press, 1990: 38-66, 3 pictures after p. 118.
Letkemann, Peter, personal and gathered information.
Lohrenz, Gerhard. Heritage Remembered. Winnipeg, MB: CMBC Publications, 1974: 122, 123.
“News Item: Announcing Peter F. Froese’s sixtieth birthday.” Mennonitische Rundschau (9 July 1952).
Quiring, Walter and Helen Bartel. Als Ihre Zeit Erfüllt War. Saskatoon, SK: self-published, 1963: 186.
Reimer, Cornelius Cornelius. “Tribute to Peter Franz Froese.” Der Bote; Series of four articles written by a fellow prisoner in honour of Peter F. Froese. The name of the author is not mentioned, but based on information gathered from Froese’s prison diary, it was Cornelius Cornelius Reimer.
Thiessen, J. J. “Heimgegangen—Peter Froese.” Der Bote (2 October 1957): 7.
Toews, Aron A. Mennonitische Märtyrer Band 2: Der Grosse Leidensweg. Self-published, pp. 410, 417.
Toews, John B. Czars, Soviets & Mennonites. Newton, Kansas: Faith and Life Press, 1982: 62, 96, 97, 99, 130, 137.
Toews, John B. Lost Fatherland: The Story of the Mennonite Emigration from Soviet Russia, 1921-1927. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1967: 111-117.
Unruh, B. H. “Heimgegangen—Peter F. Froese.” Der Bote (18 December 1957): 8.
Unruh, Benjamin H. “Obituary of Peter F. Froese.” Mennonitische Rundschau (4 June 1958): 1, 5.
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