The Netzebruch is a boggy wetland along the lower course of the Netze/Noteć river, from the confluence of the Drage/Drawa river down to its end in the Warthe/Warta river. As early as 1738 Mennonite families from Poland had tried to make this land arable, but were interrupted by the first Silesian War. When oppression at the hands of a landlord in the region of Schwetz became more and more marked, three Mennonites from the village of Jeziorka on the Tuchel Heath made a successful personal appeal to Frederick the Great to have this region admitted into eastern Ostmark; they also received permission for 32 Mennonite families to settle in this desolate region, which they turned into fertile land for grain and meadow by industry and perseverance. A Privilegium of 7 February 1765 granted them free exercise of their religion, recognition of their word in place of the oath, freedom from military service for themselves and their posterity, and the erection of their own schools. For their buildings they were permitted to use the necessary wood free of charge. Each family received at least 40 "Magdeburg Morgen" of land, and several families received more.
In May and June 1765, 35 families (194 persons) arrived in Driesen/Drezdenko, a town on the border of East Prussia, and founded the settlements between Driesen and Friedeberg/Strzelce Krajeńskie: Brenkenhoffswalde, Franzthal, and Neu-Dessau. The Mennonites in Neu-Dessau soon moved into the other two villages; by 1787 there were 266 Mennonites living in Brenkenhoffswalde and Franzthal. Of all the settlers, according to one report, "the Mennonites proved themselves most industrious and most useful." And the Department of Foreign Affairs declared them to be "excellent, useful citizens of the state, even though they do not bear arms."
In a few years all the land in the Netzebruch had been bought up and settled, so that there were no possibilities for Mennonite sons to settle there. In 1785 a Mennonite family immigrated to Vyshenka in Little Russia, and joined the congregation organized on the estate of Count Rumyantsev. Several other families were about to follow, but the Department of Foreign Affairs decided that the Mennonites should be kept in the country and ordered that they should be permitted to buy land in other parts of the Netzebruch (Menn. Bl., 1928, 91).
The Brenkenhoffswalde congregation met in the homes of the members until the available rooms were too small. The government then gave them a building site for a church free of charge, and the funds for the building were donated by the Dutch Mennonites; on 8 November 1778 the congregation met for the first time in its own church. In 1787 Franzthal also acquired a small church, funds having been raised among the Mennonites of Hamburg and Holland by the preachers Jan de Jager and Johannes Deknatel.
In the period of the Enlightenment at the beginning of the 19th century many groups hostile to the government were formed, and in consequence all meetings of private groups were prohibited, including the Mennonites. The only exception made to this ruling concerned meetings held under the auspices of the Bohemian Brethren (Herrnhuter). The Mennonites at once formed connections with the Brethren and continued to meet unmolested. This fraternal association between the two groups, furthered by the Brethren traveling evangelists, Gottlieb Jahr and Niederschuh, had a stimulating effect on the Mennonites and led to a number of beneficial practices in the Brenkenhoffswalde congregation, such as the consecration of infants, which was not yet observed by the West Prussian Mennonites, mission work, and the employment of their own teachers in their schools.
At the end of 1831 the church board of the Brenkenhoffswalde congregation was informed by the government that all privileges were to be withdrawn. The Mennonites were given their choice between accepting full military service, paying 5 percent more in taxes, or emigrating. A petition to Friedrich Wilhelm III brought this reply: "My dear children, no matter how much I would like to help you, I am unable to do so." Thereupon they decided to emigrate to Russia. Since Nicholas I had prohibited such immigration, the Mennonites sent him a petition in the summer of 1832 for permission for 40 families to join their Mennonite brothers and sisters in the Molotschna settlement; the petition was not granted until the fall of 1833. Meanwhile some families had moved to other places. In July 1834, 28 Mennonite families and 10 Lutheran families who had now become Mennonites (Johann Lange and his son-in-law Johann Preuss, Gottfried Rabe, Johann Rabsch, Hermann Lenzmann, Johann Glöckler, Michael Kant, Christian Dosso, Christian Herfort, Gottlieb Strauss), besides two unmarried Lutherans (Karl Brüsso and Karl Klatt), immigrated to the Molotschna, arriving on 8 October 1834. They remained for the winter in the villages of Alexanderwohl, Friedensdorf, Rudnerweide, Grossweide, Pastva, and Steinbach. In the following spring the immigrants built the village of Gnadenfeld, which later became the center for the eastern Molotschna settlement (Jahrbuch 1909, 107), and had much influence on the rise of the Mennonite Brethren.
"Aus der Gnadenfelder Gemeindechronik." in Dirks, Heinrich. Mennonitisches Jahrbuch (Berdyansk, 1909) 33-46; (1910) 106-116.
Hänseler, A. "Mennoniten im Netzebruch." Brandenburg. Zeitschrift für Heimatkunde und Heimatpflege IV (Eberswalde, 1926): 205 ff. Reprinted in Mennonitische Blätter (1928): 90-92.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 206 f.
Unruh, Benjamin H. "Die Mennoniten in der Neumark." Mennonitischer Gemeinde-Kalender (1941): 58-76.
Wiebe, Herbert. Das Siedlungswerk niederländischer Mennoniten. Marburg, 1952: 45 f.
Cite This Article
Hege, Christian. "Netzebruch (Poland)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 20 Mar 2018. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Netzebruch_(Poland)&oldid=141230.
Hege, Christian. (1957). Netzebruch (Poland). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 March 2018, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Netzebruch_(Poland)&oldid=141230.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 844-845. All rights reserved.
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