Neuland Colony (Boquerón Department, Paraguay)
Neuland Colony, located in the Paraguayan Chaco, was organized on 4 June 1947 under the leadership of Peter Derksen, by 299 Mennonites who had fled from Russia during World War II to Germany and Poland. There the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) made contact with them and was instrumental in arranging for their emigration to Paraguay in 1947-1948. They arrived at station Fred Engen on 1 March 1947, and were the advance group of the many transports that were to follow later. A second group of 150 came a week later, the others all being delayed in Asuncion and Buenos Aires because of the Paraguayan Revolution which was raging in full force at that time. With communications to Asuncion broken, these two groups waited three months for the rest of their party and for MCC representatives, then finally decided to begin settlement on their own and accordingly left Fernheim and Menno Colony, which had given them temporary shelter, and established the first seven Neuland villages; Neu Halbstadt, Neuendorf, Einlage, Lichtenau, Heimstätte, Rosental, and Alt Chortitza. The first months on the new land were especially trying because all heavy baggage of the immigrants had been held up in Buenos Aires by the revolution, leaving the settlers without tools or equipment of any kind. Much credit is due the Fernheim and Menno settlements for their liberal help to the new immigrants in those days, through lending or giving tools, building houses and wells for them, and in general helping them over the first difficult period. Fernheim built two wells in every village and a house for every widow. In September those delayed in Buenos Aires by the revolution joined the rest in the Chaco and were received largely by the Menno Colony, which assumed the same responsibilities as Fernheim had earlier. In April 1948 the transport Stuart Heinzelmann brought an additional 803 immigrants, in July 1948 the Charlton Monarch brought 667, and in November 1948 an additional 133 of the second Volendam transport came to Neuland. Twenty-eight family members came in July 1950 to join their families, making a total colony population of 2,314 in August 1950, or 641 family units, of which 253 families were without a father or husband. The names of the additional villages established are Kronsfeld, Schönhorst, Sandhorst, Neu Chortitza, Altenau, Grossweide, Gronau, Neuhorst, Steinfeld, Schöntal, Nikolaifeld, Neuhof, Waldhof, Waldrode, and Tiege.
The average annual birth rate in 1947-50 was 53.7, and the average number of deaths 11.3. Total landholdings were 276,670 acres (110,625 hectares), of which a large percentage was typical Chaco jungle growth. This land was purchased by and in 1955 still was the property of Mennonite Central Committee. By 1 January 1950, 6,340 acres (2,536 ha.) had been placed under cultivation. In addition the colonists had by that time built 473 houses, 174 wells, and had acquired 515 horses, 740 draft oxen, 1,209 cows, 1,619 cattle, and 278 wagons. The difficulties of pioneering were accentuated by the absence of many family heads, by severe insect plagues as grasshoppers, ants, and cotton worms, by poor transportation facilities and long distances from markets, and by an inadequate well-water supp]y. However, the settlers were largely courageous and reasonably optimistic. Churches were organized, schools built, and industry established to saw lumber and manufacture furniture, an oil press for extraction of edible oils, a stone-burr mill, and other essential services. A 20-bed hospital was in operation. All colony affairs and administration were the responsibility of a five-man committee elected by all colony members for a three-year term. The chairman in 1950 of this committee, Peter Dürksen, was the colony administrator (Oberschultze). -- Peter Duerksen
Originally 2,474 persons arrived in this Chaco area of Paraguay with the help of Mennonite Central Committee in 1947-1948 and settled in 27 villages. Due to many serious pioneering difficulties many immigrants went on to Canada or returned to Germany. Better years followed eventually. The mechanization of agriculture added considerably to the stability of the colony. In 1987 there were 21 villages with a total population of 1,325 persons.
The administration of the colony was carried out by an elected committee, of which one member was chosen to serve as mayor (Oberschulze). This committee was responsible for the sale of colony products as well as the purchase of supplies needed by the settlers. It was also responsible for operating the hospital and school system. Most families belonged to the producer-consumer cooperative which was the economic center of the colony.
The original small village schools were replaced by one central elementary school, with 150 pupils in grades 1-6, and a high school, with 55 students in grades 7-12 (1987). The former was conducted in the German language, but the latter was fully integrated with the national Paraguayan plan of instruction. The colony also had its own 30-bed hospital, a doctor, several nurses and a pharmacist. Agricultural activities consisted in dairy and cattle herds as well as the cultivation of 7,500 hectares (18,525 acres) of land. Most of this acreage was used to plant peanuts, but cotton, corn, and other crops were also produced. The non-dairy cattle herd consisted of some 36,500 head, grazing on 32,400 hectares (80,028 acres).
Meetinghouses were built by both the Mennonite congregation (General Conference Mennonite), which had 500 members in 1984, and the Mennonite Brethren congregation, which had 110 members in 1984. After 40 years Neuland Colony had become home to its inhabitants. -- Heinz Braun
Handbook of Information, General Conference Mennonite Church (1988): 40.
Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1978: 252.
Mennonitische Jahrbuch (1984): 157.
Cite This Article
Duerksen, Peter and Heinz Braun. "Neuland Colony (Boquerón Department, Paraguay)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 21 May 2019. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Neuland_Colony_(Boquer%C3%B3n_Department,_Paraguay)&oldid=120427.
Duerksen, Peter and Heinz Braun. (1990). Neuland Colony (Boquerón Department, Paraguay). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 May 2019, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Neuland_Colony_(Boquer%C3%B3n_Department,_Paraguay)&oldid=120427.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 852-853; vol. 5, p. 624. All rights reserved.
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