Klassen, Jakob Jakovlevitch (1856-1919)

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Jakob Jakovlevitch Klassen: executive secretary (Kanzleiführer) of the Chortitza (Russia) Mennonite administration (Gebietsamt) after 1888; b. 7 April 1856 in Russia, the third of nine children of Jacob David Klassen (1820-1868) and Anna (Suderman) Klassen (1817-1909). Jakob married Margaretha Hamm (17 September 1859, Meerfeld, Kherson, South Russia - 24 October 1922, Rosenthal, Chortitza, South Russia) on 17 October 1879 in Chortitza village. She was the daughter of Martin Hamm (ca. 1824-1882) and Maria (Cornies) Hamm (1836-18 December 1912). Jakob and Margaretha had eleven children, of which seven reached adulthood: Anna, David, Maria, Jacob, Nicholas, Margaretha, and Katharina. Jakob d. 8 October 1919.

The volost administration was a sort of cabinet in miniature, headed by the volost elder, who was elected for a term of three years, assisted by an aide and an executive secretary. They had executive power to carry out orders and directions from the legislative body, the volost meeting, and from the Russian government. This executive organ had to look after nearly all the social aspects of life in the Mennonite villages, like the purchase of land for the landless, management of the "communal land," and provide for the orphans' care, fire insurance, tax for forestry service, and in a sense the higher schools of the settlement. Thus an executive secretary of the Gebietsamt who conducted the work for 34 years, with frequent changes of volost elders, was a very influential leader. Rich in experience, familiar with psychology of his people, progressive and democratic in temperament, Jakob Jakovlevitch Klassen gave direction and worked constructively for the Chortitza Mennonite community.

As a zealous promoter of education, Klassen took a leading part in all the educational efforts of his time. With his co-operation the Chortitza Mädchenschule was founded. With his support the Zentralschule was enlarged, and the normal school built. Thanks to his initiative, the daughter settlements joined Chortitza in the support of the normal school. He was one of the founders of the public library of Chortitza.

Klassen's death was a tragic one. During the period of terror from the Makhno bands in 1919, he was sent by the community to Ekaterinoslav to seek aid to meet the violence of the bandits. Unsuccessful he returned to Chortitza, was seized by the bandits and shot near Alexandrovsk.


GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 5.00 ed. Fresno, CA: California Mennonite Historical Society, 2006.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 504 f.

Date Published 1957

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Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 191-192. All rights reserved.

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