University of Winnipeg fellowship will help fund research of KGB files on Mennonites who vanished during Stalin's Ukraine purges

28 February 2018, 22:32 | Other protestants | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

A fellowship has been created, thanks to $450,000 in donations to help fund research of archives Ukraine opened recently through the Centre For Transnational Mennonite Studies at University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg Free Press informs.

"This is still a big hidden chapter in Mennonite history," said Royden Loewen, chair of Mennonite Studies at U of W.

Many Mennonite families have never been told what happened to direct relatives who were lost in that period in the former Soviet Union.

"Mennonites have had their moments of horror. One of those was in the 16th century when 4,000 Mennonites were burned at the stake. But this is the second great atrocity in Mennonite history," Loewen said.

The people were arrested and sent "to some kind of kangaroo court" on false charges, and summarily executed, he said.

However, the KGB were great record-keepers. (The KGB was called the NKVD at the time, one of several name changes for the secret police.) The KGB had more than 40,000 employees in Ukraine alone, said Peter Letkemann, an independent scholar in Mennonite studies.

"They had arrest officers, torturers, prison guards, prosecutors, and hundreds of secretaries typing out all of these interrogations with prisoners," said Letkemann.

Dossiers were kept on each person and include a mug shot-like photo of the arrested person, with a front and side view. Documents would also list the charges, a transcript of the interrogation, where the person was executed and buried. The dossier might also include the identity of an accuser.

"The dossiers are one-and-a-half to two inches thick for each individual," said Letkemann.

The $450,000 raised is part of the fundraising goal of $3 million to start a professorship in Russian Mennonite History. The fellowship will assist other Russian Mennonite research but the KGB archives are a priority right now.

The KGB archives were opened up briefly from 1989 to 1991 until Russian President Vladimir Putin had them closed again, Loewen said.

"Now we can send experts in and examine the records systematically, learn about patterns of arrest, why people were arrested, patterns of tortures, and get a much better understanding of what happened," he said.

The fellowship is considering sending a small team to Ukraine to study the archives but money could also be used to fund research by scholars already there. The Mennonite Studies department already is acquainted with scholars in Ukraine and hope to collaborate with them.

The fellowship is called the Paul Toews Fellowship in Russian Mennonite History. Paul Toews was professor of Mennonite and U.S. History at Fresno Pacific University in California, and an active participant in the Mennonite Studies program at U of W.

The Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies facilitates the study of relations among Mennonites spread around the world.

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