Ep. 24 “No songs were sung at the gravesite.”

 

Blumenort, Molochna [47° 4’19.86″N, 35°35’44.22″E]

Today Mennonite survivors tell stories of Makhno’s vengeance.

The 174,000 hectares of the largest Mennonite colony in Russia blanketed three lush river valleys. Eighteen villages dotted the banks of the Molochna River which flows east to west and then bends south toward Melitopol. Fifteen kilometres further south the Kuroshan River and its tributaries supported twenty-one villages. Seventeen villages were established on the banks of the third river, the Yushanly, which like the Kuroshan, flows into the Molochna on its way south to the Black Sea. The Yushanly was also home to the Johann Cornies estate.

Kuroshan River Molochnaya

Kuroshan River today flowing through gentle Molochna countryside.

Two weeks before the butchery of their brethern in Eichenfeld, several Mennonites and a White Army officer were hatching a foolhardy plan in Molochna colony. With Soviet soldiers and Makhno’s men in every village, the fleeing White army soldiers took refuge in Waldheim village [47° 9’58.51″N , 36° 0’43.92″E] on the edge of the colony.

molochna map really good red lines.jpg

Molochna colony.

Bolsheviks, and Makhno as their ally, had established a command post in Orloff [47°4’6.31″N, 35°34’50.55″E], and Glöckner, the White Army officer, recruited twenty Mennonites who had formerly been in the Selbstschutz to drive them out. They set out in wagons from the village of Tiegerweide [47°6’18.83″N, 35°44’40.70″E] on Sunday afternoon, October 27, 1919, planning to pass through Mennonite villages of Rosenort, Blumenort, and Tiege on the way to the command post in Orloff. They arrived at mayor Johann Regehr’s farm in Blumenort at dusk.  Regehr was outraged at their folly: “What do you people want here? This will only bring catastrophe. Turn around and leave us alone!”[1]  At that moment, a young Mennonite was being taken away under arrest, and his sister called out for help. The Mennonite warriors loaded their weapons and began firing. When the shooting was over, four of Makhno’s men were dead. The would-be warriors loaded up the wagons and headed out of town in the direction from which they came “and with trembling hearts waited for the things which were to come.”[2]

It is unknown who these men were or if they were ever held responsible for igniting one of the worst massacres in Mennonite history. The ferocity of the revenge on Blumenort was unprecedented.

Early the next morning the streets of Blumenort were filled with armed men who began arresting people. They arrested the mayor, because one of the bodies of the dead men lay in his yard, then the two watchmen who were on guard at opposite ends of the village, then the mayor’s two sons, then a Johann Wall and his son, and teacher Peter Schmidt, because one of those killed the previous night lay dead on school property. These were shoved into a cellar and the door locked, and the Makhno men headed back to Orloff, five kilometres to the west to decide the fates of the villagers.

In all eight persons were imprisoned. Mother Regehr [wife of the mayor], in spite of many warnings, went directly to the prison, leaned down to the cellar window and spoke with her loved ones. She was concerned with the cardinal issue: were they prepared to die? To his mother’s question: “Do you believe?” the youngest child, some seventeen years of age, responded: “A little, Mother.”[3]

Around 10 a.m. the gang arrived in large numbers both on horseback and on Mennonite buggies with mounted machine guns. Their black banners waved in the wind. Slowly, step by step, they made their way through the deep October mud of our village …[4]

Meanwhile in the cellar Peter Schmidt and Jacob Suderman had agreed to attempt to negotiate with their captors.[5] But when they opened the cellar the killing began.

[The bandits] immediately attacked Schmidt, who stood in front. He collapsed, attempted to get up several times, then succumbed. Jacob Sudermann’s turn came next. The two martyred brothers [ministers] lay next to one another. Then they fired upon the rest through the barred windows and threw hand grenades through the cellar door. The prisoners tried to hide in this corner and that, but finally there was only a bloodied pile of corpses. And where were the rescuers? Sadly, they were only adventurers.[6]

One of the riders dressed himself in a white garment, pulled out his sabre, then leaped into the cellar swinging his weapon until all were dead.[7]

tachanka painting good

 

Eyewitness accounts describe the killing frenzy that followed:

Jakob Neufeld[8]

  • We now learned that the following people had been shot in their homes: Abraham Dueck of Schönbrunn [47°48’43.93″N, 35°53’7.38″E]; Jakob Schmidt, the son-in-law of the widow David Schroeder; Abraham Wiens; Nikolai Teichroeb and Kornelius Wall. On Monday fifteen persons were murdered.
  • On Wednesday afternoon we heard shooting in Ohrloff and Tiege and waited in fear.
  • I went to the street to look for people and saw no one, only the livestock, crazed by the fire and smoke, running about the street neighing, bellowing and lowing.
  • Here I learned that there were further killings: Jakob Baerg, Peter Friesen, Abraham Teichroeb and Jakob Baerg. Bernhard Willms had been wounded, but he has died since.
  • Eight large farmsteads were burned and one small one. The storage barns at four of the large farms were also burned. All the straw for feeding [the livestock] and heating was destroyed.

Abram Berg[9]

  • On November 12, 1919, the bandits ignited and burnt the following … farmsteads (houses, barns, storage sheds): Abram Kroecker, (Peter Schroeder) Johann Wall, Jakob Fast, Peter Friesen, Nikolai Teichraeb, Abraham Wiens, Kornelius Wall, Abram Teichroeb, Daniel Sudermann,
  • Half of all the full-sized farms were destroyed.
  • Almost all of the straw stacks were burned.[10]
  • Since it was evening all of the barns had been locked with bolt-locks and so many of the cows and horses perished. There were instances when the hired men simply did not open the doors and as a result many cattle burned.[11]
  • As they [bandits] stormed through the narrow barn door they got in each other’s way and so Jakob Epp got a head start. Shots rang out as he ran for his life. A few steps in front of the garden house at the end of the garden he was severely wounded and collapsed. The murderers descended upon him like wild animals and cut him to pieces with sabres.
  • Abraham J. Dueck (a refugee from Schoenbrunn) was shot on Gerhard Neufeld’s yard. Gerhard G. Neufeld was shot on the street. Jakob Schmidt from Hulyaipolye was shot in Abram Kroeker’s (later Schroeder’s) house. Kornelius Wall senior was shot on the porch of his house.
  • Abraham Wiens, who lay sick in bed when the bandits entered, was dosed [sic] in kerosene and set ablaze; Jakob Schmidt was burnt.
  • … the estate owner Peter Schroeder, had been murdered somewhat earlier on his estate (Ebenfeld) by Makhno bandits. It was also known that Peter Schroeder had been tortured to death by the notorious murderer in Makhno’s service, Veliki Nemo. He tore open the mouth of his bound victim, poured lime inside, stamped it into his throat and poured water into his mouth.
  • Jacob Schmidt, the husband of Katharina Schroeder (Schroeder’s son-in-law) and Abraham Dueck (a visitor from Schoenbrunn) were murdered [in this house] on November 10.
  • We three – Mary, Jake and I – saw the bandit take his gun which was hanging on the saddlehorn, aim and fire at our father who was already walking towards the door of the house. Father fell on his face.
  • Our straw stack was on fire. At Schroeders’ the flames were coming through the roof. Large, black clouds of smoke swept along the ground and over the meadows in a northerly direction. Several men appeared out of the smoke and said something to mother.
  • Jakob Dueck related:

I stood at the window in the living room and looked out on the street. In my hand I held a gold watch and a ring to give to the bandits when they came. I saw a rider enter your yard. I did not know what to do so I climbed into the attic. Stealthily I glanced at the yard and saw several bandits standing by the carriage. Then Neufeld’s white horses were taken from the barn, the other horses unhitched, and Neufeld’s horses put in their place.”

  • At Schroeders’ the storage shed, barn and house were already ablaze.

B.B. Janz[12]

  • For example, in response to a command, the lame Mr. Wall[13] came out with a considerable sum of money, but they wanted blood instead of money and shot him on sight.
  • In Tiege they killed the farmer at the very end of the village. The bullet shattered the tiles on the oven. It was surmised that the Red (Bolshevik) order [to execute] the man at the end of the village was meant for the farmer across the street.
  • Teichgroeb … was forced to gather straw and set fire to his own farm. Then they shot him.

J.H. Lepp[14]

The riders then surged through the village and:

  • shot Abram J. Dyck (a refugee from Schönbrunn) on Gerhard Neufeld’s yard;
  • shot Gerhard G. Neufeld on the street;
  • a student, Jakob J. Epp, tried to speak to the group leader and plead for his innocent fellow citizens, but was struck in the face with a sabre. He ran into a garden but was shot;
  • Jakob Schmidt from Hulyaipole was shot in his home;
  • Kornelius Wall senior was shot in the porch of his home;
  • Nikolai Teichroeb was shot in his home, and because no one could bury the body was cremated when the houses were burned on Wednesday.
  • Abram G. Wiens was fatally wounded on the yard by a shot in the back and, in great agony, died after an hour.

The following citizens were shot in Orloff.

  • Peter Huebert, the long-time mayor of the village.
  • Aron Enns senior, who also served the village for many years.
  • Abram Schellenberg, the son-in-law of elder Abram Goerz.
  • Kornelius Baerg, senior.
  • Kornelius Baerg, junior.
  • Kornelius Janzen.

Father sat on the oven-bench and mother next to him. A bandit of seventeen or eighteen years came over to him, knocked him unconscious with his rifle butt, then turned his gun and shot him in the head. Mother was so dazed she could neither cry nor scream. She came into our room and said: “Children, father is dead.”

During the course of the conflagration thirteen farms were partially or completely burned. The bandits had taken sacks and made torches by soaking them in kerosene and with these lit one house after another.

Blumenort mass grave

The brotherhood grave in Orloff.

On Friday, after the bandits had left, bodies were hastily brought to the cemetery and buried in a common grave. The grave was twenty by twenty feet and later known as the “brotherhood grave. Not all the bodies had coffins; sometimes two were placed in one coffin, especially those who were badly burned. No songs were sung at the grave site.”

 

 

NOTES

[1] B.B. Janz, “We have Sinned” (B.B. Janz Papers, Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, Winnipeg, Manitoba), Group I, 15, d. quoted in ‘No Songs Were at the Gravesite’ The Blumenort (Russia) Massacre (November 10-12, 1919) Translated and Edited by John B. Toews, Regent College, Journal of Mennonite Studies, Vol. 13, 1995, page 63.

[2] Ibid., page 64.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., page 64.

[5] B.B. Janz notes with a sense of satisfaction that Sudermann and Schmidt were able to set aside their differences in this moment of truth in spite of the fact one was a minister in the Mennonite Church and the other a minister in the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Church.

[6] Ibid., page 65.

[7] Ibid., page 67.

[8] Neufeld, Jakob, “The Days of Terror in Blumenort, Halbstadt Volost,” Friedensstimme. Vol. XVII, no. 38 (November 16, 1919), pp. 3-4, quoted in ‘No Songs Were at the Gravesite’ The Blumenort (Russia) Massacre (November 10-12, 1919) Translated and Edited by John B. Toews, Regent College, Journal of Mennonite Studies, Vo1. 13, 1995, pages 54-56.

[9] Berg, Abram, “Reflections and Recollections on Blumenort” (original manuscript in possession of his widow, Olga Berg, Cologne, Germany). Quoted in ‘No Songs Were at the Gravesite’ The Blumenort (Russia) Massacre (November 10-12, 1919) Translated and Edited by John B. Toews, Regent College, Journal of Mennonite Studies, Vo1. 13, 1995, pages 56-62.

[10] Straw was essential for heating and cooking.

[11] Often the hired hands were Ukrainian peasants.

[12] Janz, B.B., “We have Sinned” (B.B. Janz Papers, Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, Winnipeg, Manitoba), Group I, 15, d. Quoted in ‘No Songs Were at the Gravesite’ The Blumenort (Russia) Massacre (November 10-12, 1919) Translated and Edited by John B. Toews, Regent College, Journal of Mennonite Studies, Vo1. 13, 1995, pages 62-66.

[13] No relation.

[14] Lepp, J.H., “A Week of Terror in the Village of Blumenort,” in A.A. Toews (ed.), Mennonitische Maertyrer (Clearbrook, British Columbia, 1954), Vol. 11, pp. 246-250. Quoted in ‘No Songs Were at the Gravesite’ The Blumenort (Russia) Massacre (November 10-12, 1919) Translated and Edited by John B. Toews, Regent College, Journal of Mennonite Studies, Vol. 13, 1995, pages 66-69.

2 thoughts on “Ep. 24 “No songs were sung at the gravesite.”

  1. Your blog has been so interesting. Ep.24 about Blumenort really touched me as this is where my grandparents Jacob and Anna Martens lived as well as my mother Alice Martens Reimer.They fled from there. I have a picture of G. Wall and his wife Agnes who apparently were distant relatives of my grandmother. I wonder if they are your relatives as well. I have a rough picture which I took on my I pad if you are interested. Susan Reimer.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

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