The suffering of the Mennonites behind the Iron Curtain (1917- ) has been called "martyrdom." A. A. Töws collected materials on this subject and published them under the title Mennonitische Martyrer der jüngsten Vergangenheit und der Gegenwart (2 vols., 1949 and 1954). Certainly never since the days of the 16th-century persecution of the Anabaptists have their descendants suffered so severely as they did under modern Communism after its establishment in 1917. Hundreds were executed and many thousands perished in prisons, slave labor camps, and concentration camps. Although much has been done to gather the accounts of the suffering, the death, and the witness of this most recent "martyrdom" among Mennonites, no systematic study existed along these lines. Considerable material has been collected in addition to the two volumes by Töws. The Canadian Mennonite periodicals contained much information, as did the numerous books which have been published by Mennonites and non-Mennonites dealing with this question. Much more should be done to obtain all possible information from those who have escaped the death of "martyrdom" and later lived in Western Europe, Canada, or South America. Most important for a systematic study of this question would be an investigation of the accounts by survivors in Russia, to obtain information about the number that perished, details about their suffering and death, and the testimony and results of their death.
One of the basic questions arising in the investigation of the martyrdom of Mennonites or any other religious group behind the Iron Curtain was the degree to which their suffering was due to their faith in God. Did they originally not, above all, suffer because they belonged to a certain social and economic group, regardless of their religious affiliation or convictions? Many of the Mennonites who died during the early days of the Revolution were well-to-do individuals of the bourgeoisie, the prosperous class, which according to the Marxist theory had to be liquidated in order to usher in the classless society of a social Utopia. Though these revolutionary Marxists were as a rule also anti-religious, they were in most cases annihilating an enemy on a political and economic battlefield. That these sufferings were borne with the courage and the testimony of a Christian in many cases was a fact and was to the credit of those who had enjoyed days of prosperity and now with Job experienced the presence of the Lord in a more real sense while they were led through the valley of death.
The real anti-religious persecution came later with the liquidation of the "kulaks" in 1929 ff. Lenin relaxed the original plans of socializing the country overnight. After his death Stalin proceeded with collectivization and the liquidation of the kulaks (i.e;, those who would possibly be opposed to the collectivization, etc.). Many thousands of Mennonites were sent to concentration and slave labor camps in 1933-1938. Some were executed. Among these kulaks were many ministers and other sincere Christians. Simultaneously the organized church life of the communities was checked by taxing ministers and church buildings so heavily that services had to be discontinued. Again many ministers and faithful church members were imprisoned and exiled. Also many of the Mennonite teachers, who were accustomed to express their Christian convictions daily in their classroom work, were deprived of their position or exiled. The teachers as a class suffered possibly just as much as the ministers. In fact, since in many instances they combined these two professions, many a teacher was dismissed because he was also a minister. No one will ever be able to measure the cup of suffering endured for the sake of their faith by these two professions, which were hit hardest during the trying years. But again we cannot simply label all the sufferings they endured as 100 per cent religious martyrdom. Former economic status, social and cultural affiliations, and at times their German background were probably counted against them as much as their deeply rooted Christian convictions.
Some of these who were well-known leaders and confessors and are known to have died as a result of the suffering inflicted upon them during these trying years are D. J. Classen, H. H. Dirks, A. A. Dück, B. B. Dyck, H. A. Ediger, S. S. Ediger, H. H. Funk, A. A. Klassen, Johann Martens, K. K. Martens, J. A. Rempel, J. J. Wiebe, etc. Biographies of these and others are included in the Encyclopedia.
Der Bote (1923- ).
Dalin, D. and B. Nicolaevsky. Forced Labor in Soviet Russia. New Haven, 1947.
Mennonite Library and Archives, Bethel College (North Newton, Kansas, USA), Displaced Persons File.
Die Mennonitische Rundschau, (1923- ).
Töws, A. A. Mennonitische Märtyrer I (Winnipeg, 1949), II (North Clearbrook, 1954).
Toews, Aron A. Mennonite martyrs: people who suffered for their faith, 1920-1940. Winnipeg : Kindred Press, 1990.
Cite This Article
Krahn, Cornelius. "Martyrs (Russia)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 19 Oct 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Martyrs_(Russia)&oldid=89452.
Krahn, Cornelius. (1957). Martyrs (Russia). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 October 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Martyrs_(Russia)&oldid=89452.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 525-526. All rights reserved.
©1996-2017 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.