Family members of the tens of thousands of Mennonites detained in Ukraine during the 1930s and ’40s can now request further information through a new program at the Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies.
Many of the Mennonites arrested were sentenced to death or hard labour based on false charges under the Stalinist regime. Many were never seen again, their families left grieving and wondering, with little or no information.
Located at the University of Winnipeg, the Centre “wants to help families of thousands of missing Mennonites find closure,” says a Sept. 24 news release. It has personnel at the former KGB archives in Ukraine and is welcoming requests about specific people.
The KGB files will not include information about all Mennonites who went missing, though.
Aileen Friesen, the Centre’s co-director, said via email that the files include only those who were arrested, as opposed to rounded up in mass deportations, and then “rehabilitated” or officially cleared of past charges. The available files cover people arrested between 1933 and 1947.
She added that there are also some files of women who were repatriated from Europe after the Second World War, having been charged with collaborating with Germany.
In some cases, the Centre will be able to provide basic information on when the person in question was arrested, what the charges were and the sentence. Sometimes there is a photo. In some cases there may be an additional file with further information. There are, of course, no guarantees.
“In some cases, families will learn nothing,” Friesen said. “If we can’t find them, then we can’t find them.”
But the Centre is offering to look, so long as those making requests can provide a name, date and place of birth, and names of the person’s parents. Staff will then search the KGB files and pass on any available information. The offer applies to the specific set of KGB files, not to general genealogical work.
Friesen said that response times will depend on how many inquiries come in. There is no cost for people to submit a request, although the Centre has a set budget for the project. Once funds run out, the project will be re-evaluated. Donations toward the project are welcome and will receive tax receipts.
In addition to responding to individual requests, the Centre’s press release says it “wants to create an archival repository of these stories at the Mennonite Heritage Archives in Winnipeg.” It is requesting donations of relevant “family stories, photographs, letters and diaries from the 1930s and 1940s,” in order to “preserve the experience of Mennonites during this tumultuous period in history.”