In the 1930s and 1940s, tens of thousands of Mennonites disappeared or experienced repression in the former Soviet Union. Men, as well as women, were arrested and exiled or sentenced to death based on invented and trumped-up charges of espionage, traitorous activities, and anti-Soviet agitation. Heinrich Sudermann, for example, was arrested in Khortitsa on November 4, 1937, falsely accused of praising fascism in Germany. Within two months of his arrest, Sudermann was executed without his family’s knowledge. Two of his brothers suffered similar fates. Their sister, who emigrated to Canada after the Second World War, struggled to find out what happened to her brothers, even writing Soviet authorities in the 1960s to seek information. For decades, their stories remained hidden.
The Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies (CTMS) has recently cracked open the KGB archives in Ukraine to help find the answers to these missing Mennonites. The accessibility of the KGB archives offers new information on the experiences and treatment of Mennonites like Sudermann, under the Stalinist regime.
CTMS wants to help families of thousands of missing Mennonites find closure. CTMS has a new program to help Mennonites uncover the fate of their family members, lost to repression in Ukraine.
In addition, CTMS wants to create an archival repository of these stories at the Mennonite Heritage Archives in Winnipeg. People with family stories, photographs, letters, and diaries from the 1930s and 1940s will be asked to donate copies to preserve the experience of Mennonites during this tumultuous period in history.