Building on the Past: Mennonite Architecture, Landscape and Settlements in Russia/Ukraine
by Rudy P. Friesen
...a treasure of more than 1,100 photographs and illustrations, information and insights on the Russian Mennonite story from 1789 until today

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From Chapter 2 Evolution of Mennonite Architecture

Buildings are an expression of the people who built them, a reflection of their intentions, aesthetic perspectives, shared values, material resources and life conditions. The buildings of the Russian Mennonites tell the dramatic story of a people who emerged from modest agrarian beginnings, flowered into a proud and prosperous society, then crumbled and scattered to the winds.

Although Mennonites virtually disappeared from the landscape of southern Russia (now eastern Ukraine) between the 1920s and the 1940s a surprising number of the former Mennonite buildings have survived. These buildings, many of them over a century old, reveal a great deal about Russian Mennonite culture and society…And now some of these strong and sturdy Mennonite buildings made of the legendary Mennonite red bricks, are being redeveloped by local Ukrainians, sometimes with the help of Mennonites from abroad.

From Chapter 19 Urban Centres

By 1900 there were 17 mills operating in Ekaterinoslav including three large flourmills (J. H. Thiessen, Johann Töws and Heese Brothers). Although not all flourmills were owned by Mennonites, ninety percent of the flour production in Ekaterinoslav was controlled by them, leading to references of a Mennonite monopoly in this large industry. Other Mennonites were involved in a variety of enterprises including manufacturing (Johann Esau), ophthalmology (Jakob Esau) and law (Jakob Heese, Gerhard Voth, K. Unruh). Many became involved in politics including Johann Esau who served as mayor, Johann J. Thiessen, Johann J. Fast and Reimer who served as members of city council and Peter H. Funk who served as a judge. Although the Mennonite community in Ekaterinoslav was relatively small its influence was significant not only within the city itself but also within the larger Mennonite community in southern Russia.




readers comments

I cannot resist sending along some words of praise for Rudy's great book on Mennonite architecture. It is a truly comprehensive and encyclopedic work - it is obvious that a lot of solid scholarship and a lot of love for our heritage/culture are involved in that continuing project. It is great for looking up specific structures/locations, as his recent note makes clear, but it's also very enjoyable just to page through and read small sections at random. It should be present in every Mennonite church library as well as in the family libraries of all literate Mennonites (and really, what other kinds are there??). It already occupies an honored spot in the library of this seriously lapsed Menno.

Arrel Toews, PhD
University of North Carolina, School of Medicine

  book reviews  

  from the author  

As a boy, I would overhear my parents fondly reminiscing about their early years in Tsarist Russia, now eastern Ukraine. Of course they also talked about the troubled years of the Russian Revolution and the Civil War, and about how they managed to leave in 1926. Their stories, along with the many Mennonite publications in our home, instilled in me a deep respect for my heritage and inspired me to learn more.

After becoming an practising architect, I noticed that very little had been written about how the Russian Mennonite buildings had developed, what influenced their designs and what they could tell us about Mennonite life in Russia. Then, in the summer of 1978, I was fortunate to visit the former Mennonite colonies of Chortitza and Molotschna together with my parents. As we toured the many villages, photographs of buildings I had see in various publications sprang to life.


Since then, I have frequently visited eastern Ukraine, researching former Mennonite places and buildings, helping travellers on the Mennonite Heritage Cruise find their roots and guiding restoration and building projects. For example, in 2001, a historically significant and architecturally distinctive former Mennonite girls’ school in Molochansk, Ukraine was refurbished under the direction of Friesen Tokar Architects. This building now houses the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine. The Centre, funded through donations from abroad, offers medical and educational aid. Its projects are initiated and carried out by local Ukrainian people.

I have also written and lectured extensively on Russian Mennonite architecture, including Into the Past: Buildings of the Mennonite Commonwealth published in 1996, a series of over 90 articles in Der Bote and an article called “Places of Worship in the Russian Mennonite Commonwealth” for the Mennonite Quarterly Review.