Deutsche VersionPlautdietsche Version By Dietrich Tissen and Nikolaj Tissen
•  Guestbook  • Links  •  E-Mail   • Genealogy

last modified
February 6th, 2005

print
version

America

In 1653 at Germantown Pennsylvania, Mennonites helped found the first large settlement of Germans in North America. They originally came from Switzerland and found a temporary shelter in the Palatinate. During the 18th century, more and more Mennonites of Swiss origin came to America. After the Revolutionary War some American Mennonites moved to Canada and settled in Ontario. The first Russian-German Mennonites that came to North America came after 1874. This Migration occurred for many reasons, mainly the introduction of general conscription in Russia. Although a compromise was reached and the Mennonites could perform a substitute service, many Mennonites saw their promised privileges broken and chose to leave Russia. In all one third of the Mennonite population in Russia emigrated. Despite the promise of the Canadian government that  Mennonites  would not have to perform military service and could settle together even though the United States could not guarantee the same rights, the majority of the emigrants went to the USA. These people chose Kansas and Nebraska because of the milder climate and what they thought would be better economic chances. Those that chose to go to Canada mostly settled in Manitoba where the Canadian government reserved land for these immigrants. This land was called the West Reserve and the East Reserve. Later immigrants went to other locations in Canada including Saskatchewan.

The next wave of immigration of Mennonites from Russia came in the mid to late 1920s. This is the era most relevant to our project. During World War I a strong German hostility came to Russia. One of the fallouts of this hostility was the expropriation of the Russian-German land ownership on 2nd February 1915. The wheels of government move slowly however. After the revolution in Februar 1917 the law was lifted. In Octover 1917, the Bolshevik Government came to power, as a tactical maneuver it permitted the farmers to transfer private possession to common land. (Within the traditional Russian communities the land was distributed to every family justly). The Mennonite estate owners became very concerned by this turn of events. As the biggerst land owner, Heinrich Reimer would also be concerned by it, however he had sold his land before.

After the seizure of power the Bolsheviks established a rule of terror. For a while private trade was forbidden and farmers had to deliver most of their grain to the government. 1921 brought a crop failure and the whole land suffered a famine which was only relieved through foreign aid. After moving to a more market-economy policy the government maintained a hard course. Farmers could work as before, but the businessmen and estate owners suffered, their livelihood was over. Most fled during or shortly after the civil war during 1918-1921. Also the Mennonites were persecuted for their religion. They were forbidden to practice it and it was forbidden in the schools. Mennonite preachers were persecuted, many teachers were substituted with young Russian teachers. The Bolshevik government pursued a strong atheistic propaganda approach. The Mennonites therefore saw no future in Russia.

For all of these reasons many Mennonites wanted to emigrate. During the years of 1923 - 1926 about 700 persons left Neu Samara. Altogether about 22,000 Mennonites from Russia moved to Canada. The USA had a very restrictive immigration policy for immigrants from Eastern Europe.  Germany was in the throws of big economic difficulites and as it had interests in the Soviet Union it did not want to annoy the government. As an emigration destination only Canada remained.

The Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization realized many families could not afford to finance an emigration. They began negotioations with the Canadain Pacific Railway Company, who also owned a fleet of ships, to bring Mennonite immigrants from Russia to Canada on credit. The CPR agreed. The Canadian government was still wanting further settlement in the western provinces, the CPR had land interests in Western Canada and saw a way it could win new customers. Mennonites were known as competent farmers and trustworthy commercial customers, the CPR saw this as a safe risk. All together, between 1923 and 1926 the CPR brought more than 21,000 persons mostly on credit to Canada.

Before those who wanted to emigrate could leave Russia they had to procure passports for themselves in Moscow. Passport prices kept going up until, in the end, no more were issued. The route most emigrants from Neu Samara took to Canada was to travel  first by horse and carriage to Sorotchinsk. Here they caught a train and traveled through Moscow to Riga in Latvia. Since only healthy persons could immigrate to Canada, health inspections were performed in Riga before they could go further. Once a family was given a good health report they travelled by ship to England. In South Hampton they boarded CPR steamships that brought them to Quebec in Canada. A family would then board a train and travel to their new places of residence.

The Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization tried to find new settlement possibilities for the immigrants of the 1920’s. Most of these people wanted to pursue and agricultural life style, farming like they did in the old homeland. The looming worldwide economic crisis complicated matters a bit. Some of the immigrants from the first wave of Mennonite settlers in Canada had a dissagreement with the Canadian Government regarding schooling for their children. Some of these settlers decided to emmigrate to South America. With this move, some spaces became free for the new immigrants. Most, including those from Neu Samara were scattered all over Canada. According to the information known to me from the book “Neu Samara am Tock” only small groups settled in any one place...for example Crowfoot and later in Lindbrook Alberta. Other places were Coaldale Alberta, Abbosford and Clearwater British Columbia, Dalmeny Saskatchewan. Sometime after 1947 there were Neu Samara Song festivals in Yarrow British Columbia under the direction of George Reimer, son of the long standing conductor Gerhard Reimer from Lugowsk. In 1936 there was a big Neu Samara festival in Manitoba (We are looking for more information about these festivals.)   

The Soviet government banned emigration at the end of the 1920's. They implemented forcible collectivization with the removal of livestock and land. Suddenly many realized what chances they missed by staying. In 1929 it was rumoured that some families received permission to emigrate. Several thousands of people, among them many Mennonites, arrived in Moscow to also receive permission. In the end about 6000 Mennonites were permitted to move to Germany. Benjamin H. Unruh who already lived in Germany raised plentiful donations for these refugees. They were brought to refugee camps in Mölln and Prenzlau. But Germany only provided temporary refuge. The new Conservative government in Canada at first refused entry of these people. In the end, 1344 were allowed to emigrate to Canada. 306 could remain in Germany, 2533 went to Brazil and 1572 to Paraguay. After World War II many of the emigrants to South America were able to go to USA and Canada. Of those who emigrated to South America, many came from Neu Samara.

Those who were not allowed to go to Germany remained as refugees in Moscow. They were rounded up by police in railway cars and sent to Siberia. I knew of a family from Neu Samara who was in such a train. When the train stopped in Buguruslan about 100 kms northwest of Neu Samara the family left the train in secret and managed to make their way home. This was later concealed by the people of their village. Also if one had relatives abroad this was also kept secret. This knowledge could become very dangerous during Stalin’s rule as one was suspected as a foreign spy if one got post from abroad. Only after Stalin’s death in 1953 did correspondence between those that emigrated to North & South America and their families in Neu Samara begin.