From the desk of the Chair in Mennonite Studies, University of Winnipeg

see also: Abstracts, Program, and post-conference Tour Detail

Planning a Siberia Mennonite History Conference for 2010

The largely hidden story of Mennonites in Siberia will be explored in a conference slated for June 2-4 2010 in Omsk, Siberia, Russia. While inspired by the pattern of Chortitza '99 and Molotschna '04, this conference will be co-sponsored by the Omsk State University and the University of Winnipeg (Chair in Mennonite Studies). Various other cultural and historical associations in Russia, Mennonite historical agencies in Canada and the United States and some Mennonite Aussiedler groups in Germany will participate as co-sponsors.

Equally important for the development of this conference was the Siberian Mennonite Research Project, launched in 2001. Organized by Paul Toews of Fresno, California, it employed Andrej Savin of the Russian Academy to search out documents about Siberian Mennonites in Russian archives. The result was the publication in 2006 of Mr. Savin's nearly 500 page book listing 1000 archival files dealing with the Siberian Mennonite story. Savin first came to the attention of Mennonite scholars through his publications in German with Detlef Brandes and through a visit by historian Peter Penner, Calgary, to Novosibirsk in 2000.

Fully committed to cooperation with the North American planning committee are distinguished scholars, Tatiana Smirnov, Petr Vibe and others in Omsk, and Johannes Dyck and Victor Fast of the Aussiedler community in Germany.

Royden Loewen, Chair in Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg and Paul Toews of Fresno Pacific University are co-chairs of the ‘Mennonites in Siberia’ Planning Committee.

Other members of the committee include Aileen Friesen, Ph.D. candidate in Russian History (Edmonton), Rudy Friesen, architect and scholar (Winnipeg), Peter Letkemann, businessman, musician and scholar (Winnipeg), Peter Penner, retired historian (Calgary), Olga Shmakina, Mennonite guide (Ukraine) and Hans Werner, historian at the University of Winnipeg (Winnipeg).

Siberia holds a profoundly important place in Mennonite global history. It marked a place of frontier hope when the first of many voluntary farm settlements were established around Omsk and on the Kalundasteppe between 1897 and 1912. Then it became a place of unspeakable sorrow to which tens of thousands of Mennonites were exiled in the 1930s and 40s. Later it became a place of hope again when it became apparent that even in the face of communism, Mennonites had survived as an Anabaptist people, many of whom have returned to the West, especially as Aussiedler to Germany since migrants in the last 20 years.

Anyone interested in attending the conference should contact Marina and Walter Unger in Toronto.

For more information interested parties should write Royden Loewen at or Paul Toews at

See more details about the Post-Conference Tour.