A retracing of the 1880-82 trek of Mennonites escaping military conscription and the Great Tribulation in Russia, and seeking a place of refuge in Central Asian khanates. A 2010 tour will follow the trail and retell the dramatic story.
Ukraine Samara Eastward migration of Mennonites, 1880-82
Motivating Factors <ul><li>Escape Czarist military conscription </li></ul><ul><li>Find new economic opportunities </li></ul><ul><li>Manage their own affairs, education </li></ul><ul><li>“ live according to their faith” (Klaassen) </li></ul><ul><li>Escape the Great Tribulation in the West and prepare for the imminent millennial rule of Christ in the East </li></ul><ul><li>Holland > Prussia > Russia = Asia </li></ul>
Millennial Vision <ul><li>Already present in Prussia </li></ul><ul><li>Nurtured in Am Trakt and Molotchna Colonies </li></ul><ul><li>Peters’ farewell to 1875 emigrants: wrong way! </li></ul><ul><li>Jung-Stilling, Heimweh, a novel about Eugenius and Urania, daughter of Swiss Anabaptist find refuge in Turkistan (“Ostenheim”) </li></ul><ul><li>Mennonites as the faithful remnant (Philadelphia) of Rev. 3 to find a refuge in the east </li></ul><ul><li>Thus fiction + scripture + history = destiny </li></ul>
<ul><li> . . . prophetic writings which dealt with Christ’s Second Coming came to dominate most of the preaching in the Trakt. In fact, so many sermons emphasized this teaching that it became very much part of the common spiritual heritage of the congregation. – Franz Bartsch </li></ul>
Destination Turkistan <ul><li>The governor general of Turkistan, Adjutant General von Kaufmann . . . granted our delegates an audience [in St. Petersburg] and requested His Majesty Alexander II to entrust the prospective Mennonite immigrants to his care, since he wanted to settle them in the vicinity of Tashkent. </li></ul><ul><li> – Franz Bartsch </li></ul>
“ My Turkistan” Asiatic Russia Russia had been taking Turkistan region by region and was eager to settle Europeans in conquered territories.
<ul><li>We lived here in Gnadenheim for five years when all of a sudden a great “migration fever” took hold of many, this time to Asia. </li></ul><ul><li>— Elizabeth Unruh, Gnadenheim, Molotchna Colony, Ukraine </li></ul><ul><li>The year 1880 was also a year of decision making for our church in Russia, since Russia had also instituted compulsory military service. Consequently it was no longer possible for us to remain here . . . . </li></ul><ul><li>— Hermann Abram Jantzen, Hansau, Am Trakt Colony, Samara </li></ul>
Everybody was offering their place for sale. Father soon had sold ours . . . . —Elizabeth Unruh, Gnadenheim Mennonite farm in Tiege, Molochna
Ukraine Samara Five wagon trains set out—one from Molotchna, four from Am Trakt Map by William Schroeder
We were a long caravan eighty families with 125 wagons, many horses to water. —Elizabeth Unruh
Numbers (Black numbers are estimated: average of 5.7 per family) # Families Members Wagons Weeks Miles 1 10 49 18 15 1,780 2 12 76 32 15 3 80 456 112 18 4 9 51 15 5 47 277 72 4 mo. 1,566 T 111 909 246
<ul><li>On July 3, 1880, we left our beloved home. As our caravan of ten families in 18 wagons reached the highland above Hahnsau, we all stopped, stepped out of our wagons and looked back once more into the valley below, where our former homes were hidden among the trees. Many tears were shed. –Hermann Jantzen </li></ul>
<ul><li>We had four wagons with seven horses. The first was the largest, our family wagon, drawn by three horses. It had a door in the rear. This was the lead wagon and I was the driver. ––Hermann Jantzen </li></ul><ul><li>At the back of the wagon, they fastened a trunk -like box, to hold our utensils, kettles, pans, etc., also a small barrel had to be fastened to hold our water supply. —Elizabeth Unruh </li></ul>
After three weeks we came to the large and beautiful city of Orenburg, the last city in Russia . . .
Kara-Kum Desert In this famous world marketplace one could hear a maze of languages, some of which we could not even name. — Hermann Jantzen, July 1880
(Turkistan) Samarkand Asiatic Russia In order to reach our appointed winter-quarters . . . where the first group had already established itself, we branched off from the mail-route for the last stretch and let a Kirgheez guide us. . . We finally arrived at our journey’s end, Kaplanbek, 20 [km] opposite Tashkent. — Martin Klaassen Map by William Schroeder
<ul><li>Almost weekly we received long prophetic letters from Ohm [Claas] Epp. They contained pronouncements that always began with the words, “So says the Lord to the church at Kaplanbek.” Then followed [his] own opinions concerning many things . . . . –Hermann Jantzen </li></ul>
<ul><li>When father went to the palace to see General Kaufmann . . .the general had suffered a stroke. Father was very discouraged . . . No contract had yet been made for the land. The next day when father went back, General Kaufmann was dead. – Elizabeth Unruh </li></ul><ul><li>The death of Mr. Kaufmann hit us hard for he had always been friendly toward us. —Martin Klaassan </li></ul>
Samarkand Some wanted to go to Aulie Ata, others to Bukhara. They argued and discussed, read and talked! 72 families of our caravan decided to go to Aulie Ata [now Kyrgyzstan]. – Elizabeth Unruh Parting ways: From Tashkent north to Aulie Ata Map by William Schroeder
At Tashkent: We [40 families] said our good byes and slowly started our journey towards Bukhara [via Samarkand]. – Elizabeth Unruh Parting ways: From Tashkent South to Bukhara (via Samarkand) Map by William Schroeder
Samarkand was said to be 5,000 years old . . . All the walls glistening with all kinds of artistic drawings, in mosaic fashion . . .It was so beautifully painted . . . —Elizabeth Unruh
Here in this burial place [Samarkand] lies Tamerlane the Great . . . who wanted to rule the whole world. — Elizabeth Unruh
Serabulak, Winter 1881-82 Serabulak The Khan of Bukhara forced them back across the border into Russian territory where their young men could again be conscripted into the army. They spent the winter at Serabulak. Map by William Schroeder
Uncommon Muslim hospitality at Serabulak: Besides several other buildings, a metchet (mosque) was placed at our disposal. We used the main hall for church. —Franz Bartsch [Claas Epp and the last wagon train arrived June 12, 1882]
Waiting to see the Khan of Khiva: The Brethren Claas Epp, Hermann Jantzen & Emil Reisen were delegated to go to Chiva. —Johann Jantzen, June 21, 1882
From Serabulak to Khiva Khanate, Summer 1882 Serabulak The 3 delegates returned [to Serabulak] in good health with the permission to come to [the kingdom of] Chiva. This was accepted with thanksgiving. —Johann Jantzen, July 31, 1882 On August 30th,1882, the whole emigrant community departed for Khiva . –Jacob Klaassen Khan Muhammad Rakim II of Khiva by Divanov. Map by William Schroeder
From here the road led directly through the desert . . where it was impossible to drive with the wagons. Therefore a caravan was hired, our wagons dismantled and like all other things, loaded onto  camels, the ships of the desert . . . . – Jacob Klaassen
<ul><li>All women and children, as well as all the men who could not get up on a horse or for whom there were no horses, had to mount the camels . . . . </li></ul>
Naturally, many did this only with reluctance and not without fear. But there was no evasion, it had to be. The mounting of the camels proceeded with many cries of fear. –Jacob Klaassen
Now we moved into the desolate, awful, silent desert where the eye saw nothing but sand upon sand . . . Here we could rightly sing Our Journey Leads Through the Desert . —Jacob Klaassen
On the one hand were high sand-hills and on the other deep gullies. The path was so narrow that the walk of the camels and horses caused the sand to trickle into the depths. Yet here, as on the entire journey, the hand of the Lord was over us so that no evil befell us. –Jacob Klaassen
The nights were lit by a large bright comet, with a tail halfway across the heavens . . . . –Hermann Jantzen
Since the remaining journey from here—with the exception of our horses—had to be made by boats on the [Amu Darya] River, a number of boats had to be hired for this purpose. —Jacob Klaassen
From Serabulak to Lausan in the Khanate of Khiva Serabulak Khan Muhammad Rakim II of Khiva by Divanov. The place determined for the settlement lay 160 kilometers downstream, on the navigable irrigation canal Lausan. –Hermann Jantzen Map by William Schroeder
Lausan, an ill-fated refuge: With God’s help and his protection we arrived at our destination. –Johann Jantzen, Oct. 9, 1882 After laying out a straight village street, each family built a home on either side . . . . –Hermann Jantzen
Almost every night the thieving Jumuds [Turkomen] attack us and steal our horses . . . –Hermann Jantzen
On June 22 nd , 1883, the dreadful news reached our settlement that H. Abrams, who lived at the mountain on the far end of the village and next to the Turkmen's Au-uls, had been murdered by the Turkmen that night, allegedly in the attempt to kidnap his wife. –Jacob Klaassen
<ul><li>It soon became clear to our fathers that not only was our existence in question in these circumstances, but a basic principle of our faith, non-violence, if we did not all want to be killed, and that therefore we could not stay here. </li></ul><ul><li>Consequently, the thought of an emigration to America where many of our fellow-believers had found full religious freedom, came more and more to the fore. —Jacob Klaassen </li></ul>
In church the Bro. J. Toevs, J. K. Penner and I declared our intention to no longer stay . . . but with God’s help we would go to America in Spring. —Johann Jantzen, Jan. 29, 1884
To America Khan Muhammad Rakim II of Khiva by Divanov. Ak Metchet, a new refuge for the remnant: Your whole village of 40 families will be brought to Ak Metchet into a large park of my brother. Here you can build houses and live a peaceful life . . . —Khan of Khiva Muhammad Rakim II The parting was terribly difficult for us too . . . The next day, Tuesday, April 17th, 1884, there were twenty families on ten two-horse and four one-horse wagons . . . . –Jacob Klaassen Map by William Schroeder
Ak Metchet Mennonites <ul><li>were builders, craftsmen and contractors, </li></ul><ul><li>grew vegetables and fruit, raised cattle, milked diary herds, and manufactured cheese, </li></ul><ul><li>worked as seamstresses, sewing for the Kahn's wives or for the market, </li></ul><ul><li>bought more land and learned to raise rice and cotton, </li></ul><ul><li>were laborers in manufacturing plants. </li></ul>
Divanov with camera and children Wilhelm Penner, whom the locals called Panorbuva (Grandfather lantern), taught young Hudaibergen Divanov photography and gave him his first camera. Khivans thought it looked like a lantern. Divanov began shooting pictures in 1903 and in time became Uzbekistan’s Father of Photography and Cinematography.
<ul><li>German-Russian Mennonites, seeking escape from the world, became modernizing agents in Central Asia. They introduced new agricultural crops, methods, implements, and new breeds of livestock. Among the crops introduced: potatoes, tomatoes, peas, beans, eggplant. </li></ul><ul><li>When they hired villagers, Mennonites paid generous wages—but were also frugal, prudent and exacting. They made loans on good terms, but if repayments were not made on time, loans ended. </li></ul>
Villagers were unaware of the internal theological and ecclesiastical debates. They knew nothing of Class Epp’s growing fanaticism and autocratic pronouncements, nor of the leaders who opposed Epp and eventually excommunicated him.
Though his uncle Claas caused Herman Jantzen “great struggle,” his parents Hermann and Kornelia remained with Epp and his remnant.
All these tensions . . . Injured my spiritual life so much that I realized that I must leave. So my young wife and little son Abram and I, together with three other families, moved to Aulie-ata. This was in 1890. —Hermann Jantzen
Wilhelm Penner’s clashes with Claas Epp “nearly drove Penner to despair . . . .“ He, his fellow ministers and the majority of the congregation broke fellowship with Epp. Eventually Penner took his family—and his camera—to Aulie Ata.
Claas Epp’s prophecies concerning the Second Coming in 1889 and 1893, and his own ascension into heaven failed. He died in 1913, six days after his wife Elizabeth died, and after their two surviving children had migrated to Beatrice, Neb. While looking upward for the New Jerusalem, it would appear that Epp missed the Kingdom of God within his own community of faith.
The main community grew as others seeking to escape Soviet tribulations elsewhere found refuge in Ak Metchet that so far had resisted Stalin's collectivization.
Ak Metchet, largely untouched by WWI, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the famine, was perhaps the last open oasis of Christian community in the Soviet desert.
1930 school class: They were still using "old methods and old textbooks," and refused Soviet books, funding and teachers. Communist teachers taught elsewhere.
The large main body gathered here where “the law of God” was “taught once a week,” in spite of Soviet orders to cease religious instruction and worship.
Ella Maillart, Swiss adventurer, was amazed by what she found at Ak Metchet in 1932: To think, I had come to the depths of Turkestan to comprehend the power that lies in cleanliness and the discipline of faith.
<ul><li>Ella Maillart was the adventurous Swiss woman who made her name as an explorer and “one of the most remarkable woman travelers of the early twentieth century.“ </li></ul>Ella Maillart (1903-1997)
The Ak Metchet community flourished and by 1934 numbered 150 families. That year they celebrated the 50 th anniversary of the founding of Ak Metchet. A pageant recalled their Anabaptist origins and migrations without mentioning Claas Epp. In Beatrice, Neb., 130 gathered to celebrate the 50 th anniversary of their arrival in U.S.
In 1934, the NKVD (KGB) investigated the colony and filed a 103-page report. Its two summary points labeled them enemies of the state: 1. The German colony “Ak-Mechet” still exploits the hired laborer. 2. The Colony is absolutely not influenced by Soviet authorities, not having even now any Soviet organizations or cooperatives. (They refuse to use new soviet textbooks, they refuse state money.)
Otto Toews, chief administrator of the colony, was the first to be arrested in 1935.
The End of Ak Metchet, 1935 When first ordered to collectivize, Mennonite delegates to Moscow were granted an exception. Ten years later when the community resisted a second order, its leaders were arrested and imprisoned. When new leaders were elected they too were arrested. After making bold defenses with Bible in hand, all ten were sentenced to be shot. Their families were to be exiled to Siberia. The next day when Soviets came to Ak Metchet to deport the ten families, 200 women rose up in resistance. They and the children crowded around the vehicles, laid in front of the wheels, cried and shouted, “All or none! Take all of us or none of us!” The overwhelmed Soviets didn’t shoot; they walked away.
A few days later a long line of trucks, commandeered from the region, arrived. The Soviets announced that the women were going to get what they asked for: “You are all going!” The Mennonites were given a little time to gather some clothes and a few tools. Everything else they gave to the villagers, or simply left behind. They were driven to the river, loaded on board a ship, carried to a railroad station and deposited deep in the desert to see if they could survive— “ without laborers to exploit.” Photo by Penson Maxim