From power to pathos 

Photo Essay: Text and photos from The Russian Mennonite Story: The Heritage Cruise Lectures by Paul Toews with Aileen Friesen, published by the Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies in 2018.

Paul Toews and Aileen Friesen |
The Brodsky estate of Peter and Marie Bahnmann. (Photo from The Russian Mennonite Story: The Heritage Cruise Lectures.

Peter M. and Susanna Friesen.

“The story of Mennonites in Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union and the Soviet successor states is relatively short, beginning only in 1789. Despite this brief history, our memories of Mennonite life in this region are etched with deeply contradictory images.

“On the one hand, we remember a resplendent culture marked by elegance and sophistication—and celebrate an idyllic pastoral existence. 

“But memories of a very different kind are also deeply embedded in our imagination—scenes of waste, destruction, and pillage; of fields, villages and factories laid bare; accounts of starvation, torture, and death—that are almost too horrific for us to remember.” 

Here are a selection of the nearly 100 striking, often surprising, images in The Russian Mennonite Story. Used with permission. Captions adapted from the book. Photos are from the Mennonite Heritage Archives, Mennonite Archives of Ontario, Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, and Bethel Mennonite Library and Archives. 

The Martens family at their home in Ruckenau.

Mennonite women posing with bicycles.










From the opulent Mennonite estates in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the ‘Great Trek’ out of the Soviet Union in 1943, when mostly women and children escaped with the retreating German army.

The Lichtenau (Svetlodolinskoe) railway station served as the point of departure for many Mennonites who left
the Soviet Union in the 1920s and for those who were sent into exile in subsequent years.


Selbstschutz members from the villages of Blumenort, Tiege and Orloff in 1918. During a period of violent lawlessness, Mennonites organized themselves into self-defence units.

Further reading from our Spring 2019 Focus on Books & Resources:
CommonWord shares books by the dozen
Readers 'zoom' to discuss Unsettling the Word
Translation valuable to Swahili-speaking pastors
Spring 2019 List of Books & Resources

The Brodsky estate of Peter and Marie Bahnmann. (Photo from The Russian Mennonite Story: The Heritage Cruise Lectures.

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