This is an independent blog and is not affiliated with any particular church, group or conference. The term Bruderthaler refers to a specific ethnic or cultural Mennonite heritage, not to any particular organized group. All statements and opinions are solely those of the contributor(s). Blog comprises notebook fragments from various research projects and discussions. Dialogue, comment and notice of corrections are welcomed. Much of this content is related to papers and presentations that might be compiled at a future date, as such, this blog serves as a research archive rather than as a publication. 'tag

Monday, November 12, 2012

Finally, a Definitive Word on Tatarstan and Mexico's Mennonites

Time to add a new decal?  Russian Mennonite - Tatarstan

The American press has finally discovered the story about Mexican Mennonites possibly returning to Tatarstan, Russia.

Please follow this link to Tim Johnson's excellent coverage of this story in the Kansas City Star:

Neu Bruderthaler's comments:

An excellent article.  Thank you Tim for taking the time to research this story properly.  It is very informative.

I do have some unease with Dr. Koth's remark which might indicate a clearer connection and gross oversimplification between the Russian Revolution and the immigration of the Mennonites out of Russia and Ukraine than is the case.   The primary immigration to North America, as most Kansans recall from their state history courses, immigrated in the 1870s when Alexander II's policies towards minorities became increasingly irrational and ambivalent and Mennonites were faced with the threat of losing their freedoms of religion, individual conscience and from mandatory military service.  Many Mennonites chose to immigrate to North America while many chose to stay during this time and negotiate further regarding these freedoms with the Czar.  The farms of those leaving were sold to either Mennonites who remained in Russia-Ukraine or to Russians and Ukrainians desiring new farmland.

Arguably, it was the unrest created by the Revolution and contact with invading German armies who promised stability and protection during WWI and WWII that caused the greatest impetus for further immigration amongst those who stayed.   But land appropriation was only one concern -- much more important was the general level of social and political violence encouraged by the early Soviet regime and Stalin's administration, natural and man-made famines, the imposed atheism of the Soviet state and the horrors of the Holodomar -- one of the darkest periods of Ukraine's history.

The North Americans had early on greatly welcomed the Mennonite immigrants of the 1870s who brought with them know-how, new technologies and improved agricultural crops -- including sun flowers and the famed Turkey Red winter wheat.  Most importantly, they immigrated in already formed communities that could be easily transplanted with minimal effort and cost by the railroad land agents and land speculators -- and they came with money -- money from the sale of their farms and homes in Russia and Ukraine, and money raised from both American and Russian Mennonites to aid in their relocation.

The Russian Mennonites had sent delegations to both the United States and British Canada to search out new lands.  Both nations made many promises to attract the Mennonites, including freedom of religion, education in their own language and freedom from military conscription.  In that Queen Victoria was able to offer immigrants to Manitoba a "royal" charter reminiscent of the rights they had known under Catherine II thru Alexander II in Russia, the majority of Mennonite immigrants headed for Manitoba.  On the other hand, a significant minority chose the better climate and economic potential of the United States, trusting in the promise of the American Bill of Rights and in the democratic tolerance of their neighbors to protect their interests.

During and after the two World Wars, the Mennonites of North America again found themselves in the position of their forefathers in Russia of the 1870s.  Just as Alexander had tried to assimilate the Mennonite culture into a modernized Russian Empire, so too did American and Canadian politicians feel the need for greater cultural uniformity and assimilation in North America.-- leading to a number of anti-Mennonite legislative efforts against use of the German language, greater state/provincial control over the Mennonite educational systems and institutionalized suspicion if not loss of immigration rights and pacifist ideals.  Many Mennonite groups also faced increased cultural assimilation into America's religious cultural wars beginning with the conflict between "liberal" and Fundamentalist theologies in the 1920s over Evolution and culminating in Mennonite inclusion or exclusion from the so-called Moral Majority of the late 20th Century.

While most Mennonites in the USA and Canada have generally assimilated, many others, like their ancestors, resisted.  Many of those resistors chose to move to new homes in Mexico, Paraguay and other portions of Latin/South America.  This is generally how the Mennonites arrived in Chihuahua.

During and after the wars, there was also increased immigration controls placed by the USA and Canada on ethnic groups originating from Russia and Ukraine.  Part of this was ethnicism, part anti-Communism and part political exasperation with immigrants who resisted assimilation and refused to bear arms for their new nations in North America.  Denied the same access to immigration opportunities enjoyed by their cousins, many of the Russian (Russlander) Mennonites who had chosen to remain in Russia and Ukraine now went directly to Latin/South America.

As one might determine, Russian Mennonites are almost better defined in contemporary times by their perpetual wanderings as religious and ethnic refugees in search of safe and quiet lands on which to raise their families, preserve their culture and live out their faith, than they are for their early Anabaptist origins.  Many have referred to this series of wanderings as the Martyrs' Trek in that this history begins with general and partial expulsions of the first Mennonites and Amish from their homes in Switzerland, Belgium and even the Netherlands during the persecutions of the early Reformation. 

The successful return of even a handful of Russian Mennonites to Russian Tatarstan would indicate an historic reversal of a portion of this Trek and be of great interest to future historians seeking to understand how various forms of modern democracy impacted the identities and culture of ethnic minorities and how these ethnic minorities assimilated or resisted assimilation into various democratic social and political structures -- as disparate as Canada, the USA, Mexico, Argentina and Russia.

Thanks again for a great story.  Hope this adds a bit of deeper understanding to the historical background against which this story is unfolding.

Neu Bruderthaler


  1. returning? they're not from tatarstan, or even russia, they're germans

  2. Alexander's policies did indeed cause many (at least most of the ones who moved to Canada and Mexico) to flee Southern Russia. This is true. The main policy was the enforcement of military conscription. However, this was only a partial % of all Russian Mennonites. The majority of Mennonites remained in Russia and Ukraine.

    The Soviets did in fact commit the worse of crimes against the communities and did cause these communities that remained to cease to exist.

    1. During the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks promoted anti-German sentiment. Like many Germans in Russian Mennonites were portrayed as foreign Kulaks (land owners). Much of the land was taken from them. This is one of the reason for the Great Russian Famine. During that famine an estimated 35,000 Russian Mennonites perished.

    2. In the 1920-30s the Mennonites communities in Ukraine practically ceased to exist because of the Holodomor. Many of these Mennonites again migrated to Canada, but also to South America.

    3. The final nail in the coffin of Mennonites in Russia happened during and after WW2. Hundreds of thousands of Mennonites were expelled or sent to camps in Siberia and Kazakhstan. Some also escaped to Paraguay after 1946.

    The largest mass migration of Mennonites was not to the Canadian or U.S prairies, and id not happened in the 1870s. It happened during the Soviet Union. This is evident by the fact that of he 2.1 million German-Russians who returned to Germany, over 200,000 of them were of low-Prussian Mennonite background.

    So yeas, the Soviet policies were devastating and they were aimed at genocide of the low-Prussian Mennonite community.

  3. Any updates on this?

    I know that the more conservative factions of the Mennonites in Mexico have been leaving the states of Durango and Chihuahua to the states of Zacatecas, Campeche, en Yucutan. The majority who remain in Chihuahua are primarily liberal to conservative. Most in Chihuahua still live on communes, but their dress is less conservative and many (if not the vast majority) now drive cars. Whereas those who have moved to southern Mexico, Argentina, and Bolivia retain the horse and buggy and culture the most.

    The ones in Chichihua are more influenced by liberal Canadians Mennonites. I think over the last 30-yrs Canadians have kind of budged their influence onto the Mexican Mennonites, encouraging them to adopt things that are simply not a part of traditional Mennonite customs and practices. A reason for this is because Mennnonitas in Chichuachua mistakenly assume that the Mennonites in Canada are successful in maintaining their own communities, when in truth Mennonites in Canada have relied on more conservative Mexicano Mennonitas moving north to prop up their own communities. That is why the more conservative Mennonitas have moved to Southern Mexico. They have been trying to escape Canadian influences on the larger communes.


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