Siberia Mennonite History Conference


Update from Paul Toews, Fresno

Greetings from Fresno. To date communications to you regarding travels to Omsk have been either from Royden Loewen or Marina and Walter Unger. Olga Shmakina and I extend a word of greeting and welcome to all who will be traveling to Omsk in early June. The trip will surely include a set of interesting and unforgettable experiences.

In our discussions regarding conference arrangements and the two scheduled days of touring following the conference (June 5/6) we are in conversation with three individuals: Tatyana Smirnova, Professor at Omsk State University; Petr Vibe (Wiebe), Director of the Omsk Region State Historical Museum; and Peter Epp, historian of the Omsk Bruderschaft. We are personally acquainted with all three. Smirnova is a Professor in the Department of Ethnographic Studies with specialization in the history and culture of Germans of Russia and is the local organizer of the academic conference. Vibe has written several books on the history of Germans in the Omsk region. Epp has written a large book on the Bruderschaft, an association of historically Baptist and Mennonite congregations that began in 1907. We anticipate that they will accompany and provide commentary during our touring on June 5/6.

We originally assumed that our two days of touring in the Omsk region would include visiting some of the former Mennonite villages located both east and west of the city. Following extended discussion with our Omsk colleagues we have concluded that on both June 5 and 6 we will be traveling west. There is a greater concentration of former Mennonite villages to the west, the roads are considerable better and the hosting ability for a group of our size (approximately 45 people) is more adequate.

On June 5 we are proposing to drive to the village of Mirolyubovka (formerly Alexanderkrone) which today is largely a low-German speaking community. They will host us for lunch. In the afternoon we expect to pass through Issilkul to nearby Solntsevka (formerly Rosenort, Friedensruh, Tiegerweide).

We anticipate spending Sunday, June 6, in the village of Apollonovka (formerly Waldheim). The plans currently include a worship service and an afternoon musical concert (both instrumental and vocal).

Travel time between Omsk and Issilkul is approximately two hours and Apollonovka is about 45 minutes beyond Issilkul. A possible alternative for not traveling the distance twice is a stay in Mennonite homes in either the Issyl Kul or Apollonovka region. If you are interested in a Mennonite home stay for this one-night (June 5) you must so indicate to Marina Unger by March 31. While you will experience rich hospitality we cannot insure that the conveniences of North America will be available. We do expect the bus to make the return trip to Omsk on Saturday evening and then leave for Apollonovka somewhat early on Sunday morning. For those who have prepaid for a six night stay in the hotel we do not anticipate that a home-stay will result in any savings. Hotel arrangements and deposits have already been made and any return from the Ibis chain should be passed on to local hosts.

If there are other former Mennonite villages proximate to Omsk that you wish to visit it may be possible to arrange for private trips with Mennonites of the region. You need to send such requests to Marina by March 31. German language ability will be necessary as local drivers/guides will be Russian and German language speakers.

For those of you traveling from Omsk to Slavgorod on June 7 we anticipate that Alexander Weiss, leader of the Mennonite/Baptist congregation in Slavgorod (and historian of the community), will accompany. He is prepared to provide a general orientation and tour on June 8. June 9 is reserved for a variety of individual activities. For those interested in visiting a specific former Mennonite village we need the historic name and if possible also the current name. For those going because of interest in interviewing for research purposes we need information as to the categories of people you wish to interview. Send this information to Marina by March 31. A facility with the German language is required for these activities.

In late July 2007, when Walter, Marina, Olga and I traveled through the Mennonite areas adjacent to Omsk we were enchanted by the scenery a profusion of wild-flowers, blue sky, interweaving of cultivated fields and birch tree groves, graced by the hospitality of the people and moved by the story of the persistence of these communities in the face of incredible pressures. We think you will experience the same.

Paul Toews