To Volhynia

from The Mennonite Encyclopedia
Mennonite Publishing House, Scottdale, PA. 1959, Vol.IV, pp.845-847.

Two groups of ethnically Swiss Mennonites also proceeded to Volhynia, and met and merged there into a larger community. One group from South Germany, coming as part of the Mennonite movement to Galicia in 1784-86, consisting of nine families (prominent were Krehbiel, Miller, Schrag, and Zerger), left the Galician Mennonite settlement in 1796 and attempted unsuccessfully to integrate themselves into the Hutterite Bruderhof located in the northern Ukraine on the River Desna at Vishenka. The actual involvement in communal living, demanding economic and some religious reorientation, was not as satisfactory as anticipated, and therefore in the spring of 1797 the party left the Hutterites. Most of them settled near or joined the Dutch-Prussian colony of Michalin, referred to above. A few families went to Michelsdorf, a village to be mentioned below. Those who dropped anchor at Michalin stayed there until the disagreement with the government regarding taxes became acute; then when some of the Dutch-Prussian Mennonites went to Ostrog the Swiss families likewise moved to Volhynia, going northwest a bit farther, however, to the Dubno area. On the lands of Prince Lubanirsky they inhabited the village of Berezina, possibly situated a mile or two south of Dubno. The stay at Berezina was short because the dam proposed by the prince was to flood the village. On the recommendation of Lubanirsky the group resettled at Vignanka, a mile north of Dubno. Here the group lived for some years, and as the number enlarged some probably moved to the near-by villages of Futtor and Zahoriz, both known to have had Swiss Mennonites. When the second group of Swiss Mennonites came from Michelsdorf to Eduardsdorf, the Vignanka group in the course of time became a part of the Eduardsdorf settlement, some moving to that village and all becoming ecclesiastically related to the Eduardsdorf congregation. In 1874, however, Vignanka was no longer inhabited by Mennonites.

The second group of Swiss Mennonites to find their way to Volhynia left Montbéliard, France, in 1791; it consisted of six or more Amish families with the names of Gering, Graber, Kaufman, Stucky, Lichti and Roth. Although the group may have proceeded directly to Poland, there is some evidence they spent a few years in the Russian province of Podolia. Sometime between 1795 and 1800 the party settled in the Polish villages of Urzulin and Michelsdorf, both located 30 miles northeast of Lublin. Joseph Mündlein of the Galician Mennonites joined the group after their arrival and is known to have been their elder in 1802. The group was further reinforced by a few families who had been a part of the ill-fated attempt to join the Hutterite colony.

Never fully satisfied with the productivity of their marshy land and because of better prospects in Volhynia, the larger part of the Michelsdorf-Urzulin colony accepted the offer of Prince Lubanirsky and under his sponsorship founded the village of Eduardsdorf about 1807, 15 miles west-southwest of Dubno. It became the leading village of the Swiss Mennonites until 1861, and from it the Mennonites found their way into the neighboring villages of Zahoriz, Futtor, Hecker, Goritt (Koryto), Lisseberg, and possibly others.

The remaining Swiss Mennonites left Michelsdorf and Urzulin in 1837, proceeding to Horodyszcze, apparently 25 miles northeast of Rovno. In the same year, or soon after, a few families from Horodyszcze moved to Dossidorf (Zabara) and Waldheim. There is some evidence that all three of these villages were taken over from the Prussian Mennonites who had left for the Molotchna in 1836. Bereza and Alt-Kolowert were Swiss Mennonite villages near Horodyszcze.

With the increasing scarcity of land near Dubno and the opening of considerable land for ownership in eastern Volhynia, the larger portion of the people of the Eduardsdorf settlement moved in 1861 to two villages, Kutusovka and Neumannovka (q.v.), 30 miles northwest of Zhitomir. Those remaining in the Dubno area lived in the villages of Futtor, Zahoriz, Hecker and Goritt. Church services were held alternately at the first two mentioned villages.

Kutusovka (q.v.) and Neumannovka were located 3 miles apart. In time dwellings were built along the road between the two villages. The church was built between the two villages and gradually the entire complex was known as Kutusovka. Economic conditions were good, with a good market for surplus products in Zhitomir and Kiev.

Many of the Swiss Mennonites were Amish during much of their stay in Volhynia, losing however some of the distinctive characteristics in the years prior to their emigration to America. In the early years in Volhynia the group subscribed to the Amish Discipline signed at Essingen (q.v.) in 1779. There is evidence that Pietism was influential in their later changing orientation. At the time of the migration to America the Swiss Mennonites were organized into four congregations, Zahoriz-Futtor, Waldheim, Horodyszcze, and Kutusovka with meetinghouses at the latter two locations. Through intermarriage with other Mennonites and non-Mennonite German colonists, there were added to the already present Swiss-German family names of Albrecht, Flickinger, Gering, Graber, Kaufman, Krehbiel, Miller, Schrag, Schwartz, Stucky, Sutter, and Zerger, such names as Dirks, Ortmann, Prieheim, Ries, Senner, Straus, Wedel, Voran, and Waltner. The group spoke a South German dialect.

A total of 159 families left Volhynia in 1874 for America, and settled in Hutchinson and Turner counties, S.D. and McPherson and Harvey counties, Kan. The first group left Russia from the villages of Zahoriz and Futtor, the second group from Goritt and Hecker, the third group from Horodyszcze and Waldheim and the last group from Kutusovka. By and large the first three groups settled in South Dakota and the fourth in Kansas.

The Mennonites, both Dutch and Swiss, were brought to Volhynia primarily through the liberal offers of progressive noblemen. Although the details of the privileges given the Mennonites are in general not known, there is evidence that they were superior to those normally given to German colonists but inferior to the sweeping concessions granted by Empress Catherine to the south Ukrainian Mennonites. The only extant contract is the one entered into by Count Boreyko and the 21 families who setttled at Zofyovka near Wysock. Some of the conditions in the contract were as follows. With the exception of a land tax of 120 gulden per hide(per year; they rented a total of 33 hides) to be paid after the initial three years, the colonists were to be free of all other state taxes, dues and responsibilities. They were given complete freedom as to vocation, engaging in skills without responsibility to any guild, and were given a free hand in disposing of their products. They were given complete religious freedom with the encouragement of a grant of half a hide of land for the erection of a school and cemetery. Every household was given 200 gulden as a loan to enable it to begin farming.

Although conditions were favorable for that time, the repeated moving, the sometimes poor land, and the economic disadvantages of peasantry resulted in limited economic progress for the Mennonites of Volhynia. Much of the gain was lost when land and goods had to be sold at great loss at the time of their emigration to America. With some exceptions such as the later years in Waldheim and Kutusovka, the land was rented, not owned. In northern Volhynia greater attention was given to cattle raising, whereas in southern Volhynia more small grain crops were raised. Although the majority of the Mennonites were farmers, others, especially in Ostrog and Heinrichsdorf, were blacksmiths, carpenters, wagonmakers, cabinetmakers, weavers, millers, stonemasons, and bricklayers. Farming was primitive, the implements consisting of the plow, harrow, wagon, scythe, and sickle; the main crops were rye, wheat, buckwheat, oats, millet, flax, peas, and potatoes. Cereal crops were scythed by hand, stored in the shed, and threshed by flail during the winter months. Pasture land was often held in common.

In apparently all instances the Mennonites in Volhynia had religious freedom. The ministry was threefold, consisting of elder, minister, and deacon. The Swiss Mennonites usually had an elder for each congregation, but the Prussians often had one elder supervising several congregations. Services lasted two to three hours; sermons were often read from a book of sermons. Church discipline was severe, including the use of the ban. Officials of the various congregations had considerable contact with one another, There was a strong stress on tradition.

The schools were elementary and were administered by the church. School days were ended when an individual was mature enough to work. Thus educational advancement, at least in part, was limited by economic considerations. Sometimes the minister was also the schoolteacher. Both the religious and educational life of the Mennonites in Volhynia lacked the stimulation and challenge of outside contact.

There was considerable inter-colony visitation among the Mennonites in Volhynia, especially within either the Swiss or Prussian groups; there also was some moving of individual families from one village to another. However, very little if any of this took place between the Prussian and the Swiss. Since the Mennonites were few in number and scattered among the Slavs, the influence of Russian culture was marked, especially in the later years.

Although the great majority of Volhynian Mennonites emigrated to America in 1874, a few stayed on. Seven families, in part or whole of the Swiss Volhynian Mennonites, are known to have remained in Volhynia. Some of these came to America within ten years after the main groups had left. During World War I a Benjamin Schrag moved from Eduardsdorf to the Galician Mennonite settlement near Lemberg. Even in World War II a German Mennonite soldier fighting on the Russian front found evidences of the Swiss Mennonite stay in Volhynia.