The Chortitza Zentralschule was the third secondary school established by the Mennonites of the Ukraine, South Russia, and the first in the Chortitza settlement. In order to enable the Mennonites to learn the Russian language the government through the Fürsorgekomitee encouraged the establishment of a secondary school in Chortitza, for which the Kirchenkonvent in cooperation with the Agricultural Association prepared a plan. It was approved by the Fürsorgekomitee on 3 June 1842 with the provision that six needy boys be admitted free of charge. Heinrich Heese was the first teacher, 1842-1846, succeeded by Heinrich Franz, 1846-1858. Although both men had received a fairly good training in Germany the school remained on a rather low level during their period of administration, mostly because of opposition, misunderstanding, and disagreement among leaders and constituency. And yet it was through the devoted and untiring efforts of these pioneers that the foundation was laid for a good secondary school, which became the center of Chortitza's cultural life as envisioned by its first teachers.
Considerably more progress was made under Heinrich Epp, who had received his training at Steinbach and the Chortitza Zentralschule, and had taught in a number of schools. He obtained the Russian teacher's certificate in Ekaterinoslav. The Zentralschule received an endowment of some 54,000 rubles and used during the first years only 600 rubles annually of the income from it. In 1870 a second building was erected and during the following year a teacher for Russian was engaged (Schalawski). Wilhelm Penner, a graduate of the Ekaterinoslav Gymnasium, filled this position 1874-1881.
Under P. M. Riediger, 1879-1892, and J. A. Klassen, 1881-1895, the objectives of the Zentralschule were enlarged. Formerly the Russian language had been taught as a foreign language, but now all subjects, with the exception of German and religion, were taught in the Russian language.
Under the leadership of A. A. Neufeld, the first teacher with a university training (Odessa and Berlin), the school commemorated its 50th anniversary in 1892. During Neufeld's time (1890-1905) the Zentralschule was reorganized and the educational level of all elementary schools was raised. In 1890 a two-year teacher's training course and a Musterschule (an elementary school for practice teaching) were added to the Zentralschule which now offered a four-year course. Before World War I the two-year teacher's training course became a three-year Lehrerseminar (normal school). A new structure for it was erected in 1912. The plan to add a theological seminary was never realized.
The enrollment was 52 in 1872-1873, 90 in 1876-1877, and 183 in 1900-1901. The budget in 1903-1904 was 13,750 rubles. In 1914 the school had the following teachers: P. J. Penner, D. H. Epp, H. H. Epp, J. J. Klassen, H. J. Dyck, J. A. Froese, J. A. Rempel, A. A. Vogt, and A. J. Wiebe. From 1891 to 1903, 90 students obtained a teacher's certificate.
After the Revolution the Zentralschule was changed into a Seven-Class German Work School (1920-1930) and the Lehrerseminar into an independent Pädtechnikum, later named Pädshkola. Gradually the spirit of the schools was changed. Some teachers emigrated to America; others were exiled. The growing Russian industrial population of Chortitza also had its influence on the schools. From 1938-1941 the former Zentralschule became a Russian ten-class school, which was still attended by Mennonite pupils in addition to the many other nationalities. In spite of anti-religious instruction and pressure there were no members of the communist youth organization among the Mennonite graduates.
During the German occupation (1941-1943) the school was again converted into the Zentralschule and continued the Mennonite tradition, even commemorating its hundredth anniversary on 28 June 1942. With the evacuation of the Mennonites to Germany in 1943 came the end of the Chortitza Zentralschule. The memory of the school lived on in the minds of its many graduates residing in Canada and South America. Teachers and graduates established the Echo-Verlag, a publishing enterprise, in memory of their alma mater in 1944. Numerous books pertaining to the Mennonites of Russia have already been published by this organization. How much the Chortitza Zentralschule contributed through the training of spiritual, cultural, and economic leadership during the hundred years of its existence is hard to overestimate.
For curriculum and additional information see also Education Among the Mennonites in Russia
Epp, D. H. Die ehemaligen Schüler der Chortitzer Zentralschule in Kanada. Echo-Verlag, 1944.
Friesen, Peter M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft “Raduga“, 1911:612-621.
Froese, L. "Das pädagogische Kultursystem der mennonitischen Siedlungsgruppe in Russland." Göttingen Ph.D. dissertation, 1949, mimeographed and placed in all Mennonite higher school libraries.
Heinrich Epp, Kirchenältester der Mennonitengemeinde zu Chortitza. Leipzig, 1897.
Neufeld, A. Die Chortitzer Centralschule 1842-1892. Berdyansk, 1893.
In connection with the hundredth anniversary of the Chortitza Zentralschule the Bote (Rosthern, Saskatchewan) published numerous reminiscences by former teachers and students of the school. See Bote (10 and 23 December 1942), and in 1943, 6, 20, and 27 January, 24, 17 and 31 February, March, 7 and 14 April,12 March, 2 and 16 June, and 21 and 28 July, 11 August, et seq.; also 7 November 1951.
 Cite This Article
Krahn, Cornelius. "Chortitza Zentralschule (Chortitza, Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 29 Aug 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Chortitza_Zentralschule_(Chortitza,_Zaporizhia_Oblast,_Ukraine)&oldid=122392.
Krahn, Cornelius. (1953). Chortitza Zentralschule (Chortitza, Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 August 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Chortitza_Zentralschule_(Chortitza,_Zaporizhia_Oblast,_Ukraine)&oldid=122392.
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