Mennonites from Galicia (Kleinpolen): Some Historical Notes
By Glenn Linscheid
© copyright "Mennonite Historian" and Glenn Linscheid, all rights reserved
First Published by the "Mennonite Historian" Vol.XXI, No. 3, September 1995, pages 1-2.
The historical accounts of cruel persecution unto death suffered by the early Swiss Anabaptists have been well-documented. Seeking escape and refuge, many fled into the Rheinpfalz of German Palantinate. One source puts it this way: "After the Thirty Years' War the Rheinpfalz was in a sorry state. Trees and brush covered much of the fields. Of livestock there was practically none ... The Elector wanted his former peasant land, now reduced to rubble, to be populated again with strong workers."(1)
Providential concessions and inducements caused their Rheinpfalz sojourn to prosper, despite some unjust restrictions, leading to an eventual over-abundance of settlers, usually with large families. We quote another historian as follows: "By today's standards the conditions under which the Anabaptists settled in Germany would seem somewhat discriminatory. They were allowed freedom of worship but forbidden to build their own churches, were not allowed to meet in groups larger than twenty members, and were prohibited from doing evangelistic work among their neighbours. Later they were denied the right to live in cities, and marriage required the consent of the government."(2)
In 1772 upon the first partition of Poland, Galicia, (Kleinpolen) became part of the Austrian Empire. Galicia was a predominately agrarian society, undeveloped culturally, with a peasant population largely uneducated and poor. Large sections of the region were properties of the Church and the aristocracy. Monasteries also had large land holdings. The Polish nobility valued hunting and other enterainments above developing the land and its people. Galicia was wild and untamed.
In 1780 the Austrian emporer, Franz Joseph II, extended an offer to German farmers to settle the land gained through this Polish partitioning. Thus in 1784 six Mennonite families joined this eastward flood of humanity out of Germany. The Mennonite surnames included Bachmann, Ewy, Krehiel, Mundelien and Schrag. By 1786, twenty-one more families followed them. Their surnames included Bergthold, Brubacher, Huwen, (Hubin), Klein, Kintzi, Linscheid, Merk, Müller (Miller), Rupp and Schmidt. The first settlement was named Falkenstein after their Rheinpfalz home. Its location was about 40 kilometers southwest of Lemberg (L'vov, L'vov), their chief cultural, governmental and economic center.
New settlements grew as the population increased. Einsiedel and Rosenberg spawned the daughter colonies of Neuhof, Kiernica, Wiszenka, Ehrenfeld, Troscianiec, Debrovalny, Lipowice and Podusilna. Following the lead of some 80 years earlier, in 1862, another smaller group from Rheinpfalz settled in Galacia. Their surnames included Forrer, Jotter, Laise (Leisy) and Stauffer. The total Mennonite population increased from 72 families in 1856 to 142 families in 1880.
Up to this time, pastors were chosen from within the congregation. But with settlements being in such scattered locations, the lament of "we are sheep without a shepherd" was heard. A further quote has it thus: "The number of elders and preachers was not sufficient to meet the needs of the ever-spreading church. So in 1860 Johann Klein and Jakob Müller were elected preachers...
Those at Kiernica formed their own congregation in fellowship with the large one at Einsiedel. They chose Johannes van der Smissen as their elder... But van der Smissen had hard going, inasmuch as some members and preachers had freer thoughts about some points of doctrine. Even today (1934), some talk about the "religious war of the Mennonites in 1865."(3)
Attempts at bringing in other preachers from outside the congregation during the years 1910-1929 proved less than favorable for various reasons. Heinrich Pauls, Leopold Gesell and Christian Guth pastored during those years.
"As the congregation saw that preachers from another land could not adjust to, or fit into local conditions, and despite mutual efforts, preacher and congregation felt strange to each other. They decided to send one from their midst to (obtain) theological education, furnishing the finances for it. They found such a one in Arnold Bachmann."(4)
"Four and one-half years the church was without a minister till Amold Bachmann finished his studies (at Tuebingen, Greifswald and Vienna) and returned."(5) Heinrich Pauls was recalled from Germany to ordain Arnold Bachmann on October 2, 1932. Of notable interest is the fact that Pauls was a leading light in the formation of the Mennonite World Conference.(6)
The devastating effects of two world wars took a tragic toll of Galician Mennonite lives and property. In effect, all these families were forced to flee their homeland, a fate endured by many caught in the web of warfare. Following World War II, resettlement efforts brought many of these refugees to the USA, to Canada, and to Uruguay. Many also resettled in what was then West Germany. It was in Hichst am Odenwald that Arnold Bachmann came to reside with his family.
"Now he (Amold Bachmann) could put his plan into action to write a book about the Mennonites in Galizien as a continuation of Peter Bachmann's book, Mennoniten In Kleinpolen... In 1983 the job was done (gathering genealogical data by many volunteers) and Paster Amold Bachmann also fmished his book. A year later the book was published in 700 copies. A work was created which describes the history of the Mennonites in Galicia from 1784 till the parish ceased to exist in 1939. So lives Amold Bachmann in our memory not only as a dedicated pastor, but also as the author of the family history of the Galician Mennonites. His mortal remains were put to rest on September 20, 1990, in Heubach (Germany).(7)
Regarding traces of this heritage remaining to the present as evidentiary testimony to their historic plight the following account is highly significant to those seriously studying this slice of our past: "As we return, Ganna, a friendly woman motions to us. We follow her down steep stone steps into the cellar of the vintage house. There a supporting beam reads, "Peter Linscheid, 1827." It is her way of connecting to my past. Hers is one of the few buildings (in Einsiedel) that survived the battle zones of 166 years."(8)
As for Galician Mennonite descendants holding Canadian citizenship, their numbers can be traced mainly to post-WWII refugee status. Canada became their new home in the late 40s and early 50s. Addresses to which the author sends an annual newsletter (Along the Galician Grapevine) include Winnipeg, Manitoba; St.Catherines and London, Ontario; as well as Lethbridge, Alberta and Landis, Saskatchewan(9)
1. Peter Bachmann. Mennoniten in Kleinpolen (1934), 91, Cf. Also an unpublished summary translation by Albert F. Rupp, Los Angeles, CA, p.11.
2. Lola (Regier) Friesen. Kintzi. The Story of Theodore and Wilhelmine (Linscheid) Kintzi and their Descendants (North Newton, KS, 1986), B-1.
3. MIK, 39; Rupp, 242.
4. MIK, 62, Rupp, 351.
5. MIK, 62; Rupp, 351.
6. Cf. C.J. Dyck, "History of the Mennonite World Conference", Mennonite World Handbook (Lombard, IL: MWC, 1978), 1-9.
7. Romauld Mueller in a funeral oration given as a final tribute to Deacon Amold Bachmann, the last pastor of the Lemberg-Kiernica (Galicia) Mennonite parish, 20 September 1990. Heubach, Germany.
8. Orpha V. Schrag, "Andreas D. Schrag: Volhynia to Dakota", Mennonite Family History Vol. XII, 3, (July 1993), 107. The author and her husband traveled in Ukraine on a pilot project to search for the former Swiss-German villages located between Zhitomir and L'vov. They visited 15 such villages. The address of the Schrags is: 3511 Echo Hill Rd., Nashville, TN, 37215.
9. ArnoldBachmann. Galiziens Mennoniten im Wandel der Zeiten (Weierhof: Mennonitischer Buchversand, 1984) To order this book write to: Gary Waltner, D-67295 Weierhof, b. Bolanden, Germany. The newsletter can be ordered from Glen Linscheid, Box 194, Butterfield, MN USA 56120. See also Brian J. Lenius, "Galizien Genealogical Organizations", Newsletter of the Federation of East European Family History Societies, Vol.3, No.1 (April, 1995), 9-13.