Klassen Family History

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Jacob J. Klassen Family


Prussia - Russia - Canada

     Earliest records show that Isaak Klassen's father, Isaak (bef. 1753 - 1780), was born in Mielentz, Prussia shortly before 1753. Isaak (1776 - 1852) migrated from Mielentz, Prussia to Russia in 1804 and reportedly settled in Neuendorf, Chortitza Colony in the same year, according to B. H. Unruh accounts. In the 1806 Chortitza Colony Census he is listed in Neuendorf, and in the 1808 Census he is listed at Neuendorf #39. In the October 1816 Census he is listed at Neuendorf #33. The births of his first two children, twin boys, are not recorded in the Heubuden Church Register, possibly because they were born after the family left Prussia. Isaak and Katharina had most likely left Mielentz soon after their marriage to begin their move to Russia. Records show that they passed through Grodno, Russia on August 20, 1804. They travelled to Russia with wife, Catharina's (Dyck) brother Peter, whose wife was Isaak's sister Margaretha, and Jacob Isaak, Isaak's younger half-brother.

     Jacob Isaak Klassen (1806 - 1882), moved to Schoenhorst, likely due to a marriage, where he died. His son, Jacob (1839 - 1916), moved to the Baratov-Schlachtjin colony, just west of the Chortitza Colony. I suspect his move may have been precipitated by a shortage of available land in the Chortitza Colony. It was here, in Schoendorf, where my wife's grandfather, Jacob Jacob Klassen was born in 1868, however, reference to the nearby village of Gnadental is more common as his place of residence prior to emigrating to Canada.

     The Klassen story was so similar to the many other stories of Mennonites who experienced the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Civil War following it. Unlike the experiences of Mennonites living farther east, the Chortitza Colony Mennonites, which included the Klassens, were subjected to the horrors visited upon them by the infamous Machno and his band of cut-throat, newly-liberated criminals.

     Reverend Jacob J. Klassen felt strongly that there was no longer any future for the Mennonites in this land. Furthermore, he became convinced that regaining the freedom to teach their Christian faith under an atheistic regime would not be possible. He turned his energies to providing the leadership in terms of securing all the necessary documentation and organizing the families that were planning to emigrate at the earliest possible moment. While it is not clear how long it took him to secure final approvals and make final preparations, the day of departure finally arrived on July 13, 1923, as large crowds gathered at the Chortitza railway station. It had been 134 years since the first Mennonite immigrants from the Vistula delta had arrived here and established the first Mennonite village.

     The group consisted of 756 emigrants, including 206 men, 211 women, and 339 children under the age of sixteen. By train to Libau, Latvia, and then by CPR ship (SS Bruton) to Southampton, England. After a two-day stopover to refuel and to take on more passengers, the SS Bruton sailed for Canada, arriving in Quebec City on August 17th. From here, they travelled westward by train, arriving in Winnipeg, where the large party of immigrants went their separate ways.

     The Klassen family was part of a group of families destined for a small village in S.W. Manitoba - Gretna - where they would form the nucleus of a new church on the prairies. The Jacob J Klassen family arrived without their matriarch, Margaretha, and son, Abram. They had been detained in Lechfeld, Germany, due to diseased eyes; their arrival in Canada was delayed until November 20th.

     The story of the Klassen family, since their arrival in Canada, has become quite diverse. From simple, devout believers who worked long and tirelessly to build a new life in a strange and harsh environment, to highly successful and industrious professionals, the extended Klassen family will no doubt agree that Jacob J Klassen's decision to emigrate in 1923 was the correct one.

     The individual stories are better left to those who know them. I am aware of two written accounts that will provide a good understanding of both the faith community at Blumenort ("Footprints of a Pilgrim People", by Peter D. Zacharias), and the Jacob J Klassen family in particular. George Klassen has written a book entitled, "Gerhard J Klassen, Collected Memories", in which the memory of his father (who died at a young age) is captured through the anecdotes and recollections of those who knew him. This book not only tells the Klassen family story, but also serves to describe village life in rural Manitoba (Blumenort) in the early 20th century.


Jacob J. Klassen


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