Martens, Kornelius Jakob (1876-1974)

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Kornelius Jakob Martens: businessman and evangelist; born 23 April 1876 in the Baratov Mennonite settlement of South Russia to Jakob and Susanna (Klassen) Martens. He was the eldest of eight surviving children. Kornelius was converted at age 16 and baptized by an itinerant minister, Hermann Neufeld, before joining the Kronstadt Mennonite Brethren Church. On 6 June 1902, he married Maria Dyck, daughter of Wilhelm and Maria (Riediger) Dyck. The couple had seven children, four of whom survived to adulthood. Kornelius died on 17 June 1974 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, at the age of 96.

Because his parents were quite poor, Kornelius and his family moved several times during his early years, often living on relatives’ estates. When Kornelius was eight years old, the family moved to an estate belonging to some wealthy Heinrichs relatives. At the age of nine, he was enrolled in the school of a village about six kilometers from the family’s home.

When Kornelius was 13, his parents obtained a farm in a newly-established village and moved the family there. Kornelius was known in the village as a mischievous and undisciplined boy, often participating in or instigating pranks. After a conversion experience at age 16, however, he went around the village to apologize for his previous actions. Despite the disapproval of his father and ridicule from others, he persisted in his new faith.

After his schooling ended, Kornelius moved to New York in the Ignatyevo (Ignatyevka) Mennonite settlement to learn the trade of a machinist. While working at a farm implement manufacturing company, he attended night classes at a technical school, likely the Kharkov Alexander III Practical Technological Institute.

On 6 June 1902, Martens married Maria Dyck, the fifth child of Wilhelm Isaak and Maria (Riediger) Dyck. That year, Kornelius received a “call” to become a minister, particularly to the surrounding Russian population. He decided to make spreading the gospel his primary occupation. Kornelius began his ministry in 1902, becoming involved in the founding of a Russian Baptist church in Kharkov. Two years later, the Martens family moved to Millerovo to take advantage of business opportunities in that city.

While he was establishing his business of producing agricultural machinery, Martens continued to preach, speaking to the Russians and Cossacks in the region and traveling widely for business and evangelism. Due to unrest in Millerovo, the Martens family moved to the Caucasus in 1919, where Kornelius once again took up his preaching work.

While living in the Kuban, Kornelius was very active in evangelism, not only in the region, but also throughout Russia. On a number of occasions he was incarcerated for months in various jails. After being warned of another plan to jail him, he obtained exit papers for himself and his son and left the Soviet Union in 1927. After spending several months in Germany, the two ended up moving to Canada in 1928. Kornelius continued his preaching work in Europe, and he also began to write, producing several books about Mennonite experiences in Russia. 

His wife Maria arrived in Germany in the fall of 1936 and traveled to Canada in 1938 to visit her daughter Susanne Unruh in Winnipeg, Canada. Due to the outbreak of World War II, Maria Martens was unable to return to Germany and the family of her eldest daughter Maria Schulz (nee Martens). She became a Canadian citizen sometime during the 1950s. During World War II, Kornelius Martens was interned in several Canadian camps, probably because of his pro-German attitudes, but at the end of the war, he resumed his evangelistic activities. He died on 17 June 1974 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, 13 years after his wife’s death.

Kornelius Jakob Martens was a dedicated preacher whose evangelistic efforts made a large impact on the people around him. Despite many trials in his life, he continued to be an example for others of unflagging zeal in the most difficult circumstances.


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Forschung zur Geschichte und Kultur der Russlanddeutschen, 1994: 81.

Hebley, J. A. Protestants in Russia. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976: 87-95.

Hefley, James and Marti. By their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the 20th Century. Milford, MI: Mott Media: 33-36.

Huebert, Helmut T. Mennonites in the Cities of Imperial Russia, 2 vols. Winnipeg : Springfield Publishers, 2006: v. I.

Kroeker, Abraham. Christlicher Familienkalendar (1912): 145; (1914): 159.

Loewen, Heinrich, Jr. Russische Freikirchen. Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft, 1995: 35-57.

Martens, Kornelius. Die Pioniere und Helden des russischen Protestantismus, unpublished document written while he was interned in a concentration camp, likely 1940-1945.

Martens, Kornelius. Kurzer Rückblick auf mein Leben, an autobiography written in his later years.

Martens, Maria (nee Dyck). Aus dem Leben Unseres Grossvaters Wilhelm Dyck, weiland Ältester der Mennoniten Brüdergemeinde zu Millerovo, Dongebiet. 1940.

Martens, Maria. Stormy Tides: Religious Persecutions in Soviet Russia: Life Experiences by Mrs. Maria Martens. Winnipeg, Canada: self-published, 1940.

“Nachruf für den Ältesten und Prediger Wilhelm Dyck.” Mennonitische Rundschau (6 May 1936): 6.

“Obituary: Martens, Maria (nee Dyck).” Mennonitische Rundschau (19 July 1961): 8.

“Obituary: Martens, Prediger Cornelius Jakob.” Mennonitische Rundschau (31 July 1974): 11, 12.

“Obituary: Martens, Wilhelm Cornelius.” Mennonitische Rundschau (5 December 1990): 23.

“Obituary: Schulz, Maria.” Mennonitische Rundschau (November 1995): 32, 33.

Peters, K. Genealogy of Heinrich Heese, 1787-1977. Winnipeg, Canada, 1978: 87-95.

Schroeder, William and Huebert, Helmut T. Mennonite Historical Atlas, 2nd ed. Winnipeg, Canada: Springfield Publishers, 1996: 32, 47, 124.

“Stiftung zum Andenken an Prediger Cornelius J. Martens.” Mennonitische Rundschau (21-28 December 1977): 16.

Toews, A. A. Mennonitische Märtyrer, 2 vols. North Clearbrook, British Columbia: self-published, 1954: v. 2, 67-72.

Author(s) Susan Huebert
Date Published April 2009

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Huebert, Susan. "Martens, Kornelius Jakob (1876-1974)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. April 2009. Web. 20 Jul 2018.,_Kornelius_Jakob_(1876-1974)&oldid=143080.

APA style

Huebert, Susan. (April 2009). Martens, Kornelius Jakob (1876-1974). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 July 2018, from,_Kornelius_Jakob_(1876-1974)&oldid=143080.

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