Gnadenfeld (Molotschna Mennonite settlement, Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine)
Gnadenfeld, a Mennonite village and district (volost) of the Molotschna settlement, province of Taurida, Russia, established in 1835. This settlement originated when Wilhelm Lange, elder of the Brenkenhoffswalde and Franztal Mennonite Church of Brandenburg, Germany, led his congregation of 40 families to Russia in 1834, where Mennonites of the same background had settled a few years before (see Alexanderwohl). Wilhelm Lange, who was of Lutheran background, and his congregation brought new spiritual life and a higher cultural level to the Mennonites of the Molotschna settlement. Soon Gnadenfeld became a center of higher aspiration in the realm of education and a progressive religious life. Wilhelm Lange's correspondence, dating back to the time of the immigration to Russia, presents a picture of the religious and cultural life of that day (the letters have been preserved in the Bethel College Historical Library).
From the beginning, the town of Halbstadt had been the seat of the civic administration of the Molotschna Mennonite settlement. In 1870 Gnadenfeld became the second seat of administration (volost), which included 28 of the southeastern villages of the Molotschna settlement. The administrators (Oberschulze) who served this district during the first decades were Wilhelm Ewert 1870-71, Franz Penner 1871, Peter Ewert 1871-76, 1877-78, Gerhard Fast 1876-77, David Unruh 1878-87, and Gerhard Dörksen 1887.
A very significant factor in the life of the village and community was the establishment of a Bruderschule (parochial secondary school) that was a continuation of a school that the group had in Brenkenhoffswalde. In 1859 this school acquired the right to train teachers. David Hausknecht and Heinrich Franz were the first teachers of the school, which under their leadership made a lasting impression far beyond the village. The pietistic spirit of the Gnadenfeld community, which had been fostered in the old country through Moravian influence, found new nourishment in the South German evangelist, Eduard Wüst, of a neighboring Lutheran village. Gnadenfeld became, next to Ohrloff, a center of progressive, somewhat pietistic-revivalistic Christianity. Fr. W. Lange was a personal friend of Eduard Wüst, and officiated at his wedding. By background the Gnadenfeld group had received influences unknown in most of the other Mennonite communities. They were sometimes referred to as "Lutheran Mennonites." The consecration of children, mission festivals, emphasis on temperance, and other practices generally unknown among Mennonites were adhered to in Gnadenfeld. Wüst was a frequent speaker at their mission festivals.
The Bruderschule, established in 1857, which acquired the right to train teachers in 1859, became one of the testing grounds on which it was decided in which direction all these influences were to lead. August Lenzmann and N. Schmidt were progressive spiritually minded leaders and sponsors of the school. Jakob Reimer and Johann Claassen were also leaders, but with a different emphasis; they did not approve of Heinrich Franz as a teacher because they thought he lacked the required "piety." They withdrew and became leaders in a separation movement that resulted in the founding of the Mennonite Brethren Church (1860). Nicolas Schmidt and others had introduced another foreign element by supporting a certain Johann Lange as teacher, who had graduated from a chiliastic school in South Germany and was now promoting the ideas of the "Templers" or "Friends of Jerusalem." This led to another division (1863) and a temporary closing of the school. In 1873 the school was reopened as the Gnadenfeld Zentralschule, which before World War I was changed into a school of commerce (Handelsschule). In 1907 the Gnadenfeld Mädchenschule was added.
The religious life of Gnadenfeld (see Gnadenfeld Mennonite Church), in spite of these disrupting early developments, continued without further disturbance. Because of its strong evangelistic, progressive background, disruptive elements caused little dissatisfaction. Gnadenfeld furnished the Mennonites of Russia with their first missionary, Heinrich Dirks, who went to Sumatra in 1869 and later returned to serve the congregation as elder and promoted the cause of missions among the Mennonites of Russia and Europe. His oldest son, Heinrich Dirks II, was the last elder of the Gnadenfeld Mennonite church. When in the 1870's a general conscription law was passed, 17 families with 141 persons immigrated to America, a few to Palestine.
Economically, the colony made good progress. Orchards and windbreaks were planted. Until 1881, all the land was considered crown land; it was then sold for a nominal sum to the respective farmers. In 1908 the district of Gnadenfeld had, in addition to the land of the villages which was 1,900 desiatinas (about 5,000 acres), 75 large privately owned estates with a total of 26,537 dessiatines of land or approximately 72,650 acres. In 1926, 632 of the 671 inhabitants were Mennonites. At that time Gnadenfeld constituted a civic unit with the Mennonite village of Paulsheim and the Russian villages of Mokrostrav, Semostye, and Seyony. The former elementary school and Zentralschule (Handelsschule) had been changed to a seven-class Arbeitsschule. The buildings of the former Mädchenschule were used as a training center by the tractor brigade. For a while Gnadenfeld had an agricultural school. It had a hospital, a flour mill, a bank, and a cattle breeding association. The land was very productive. The raising of grain and cattle predominated.
The Gnadenfeld Mennonite church was closed by the government in 1933 and used as a granary and later as a motion picture theater. Of the 550 to 600 members, only some 100 remained members because of the great pressure exercised by the government. Elder Heinrich Dirks perished in exile.
Over 50 persons were exiled. When the Germans occupied Gnadenfeld in October 1941, the former way of life was again resumed as much as possible. An 80-year-old minister, Heinrich Boldt, who had survived concentration camp, preached again in the old church, instructed the youth, and baptized 28. On 12 September 1943, the Gnadenfeld Mennonites left their home on more than 100 wagons to flee the approaching Red army, and the village was destroyed by fire. The majority of the Gnadenfeld Mennonite refugees were forcibly returned to Russia. The rest have found new homes in Canada and South America.
Friesen, Peter M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft "Raduga", 1911: 79 ff.
Görz, Heinrich. Die Molotschnaer Ansiedlung. Steinbach, 1950.
Isaak, Franz. Die Molotschnaer Mennoniten. Halbstadt, 1908.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 128 f.
Mennonitisches Jahrbuch (Berdyansk, 1908): 33-46 1911-12, 28-40; 1913, 38-44.
Cite This Article
Krahn, Cornelius. "Gnadenfeld (Molotschna Mennonite settlement, Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 21 Jan 2019. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Gnadenfeld_(Molotschna_Mennonite_settlement,_Zaporizhia_Oblast,_Ukraine)&oldid=162595.
Krahn, Cornelius. (1956). Gnadenfeld (Molotschna Mennonite settlement, Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 January 2019, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Gnadenfeld_(Molotschna_Mennonite_settlement,_Zaporizhia_Oblast,_Ukraine)&oldid=162595.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 530-532. All rights reserved.
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