Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

"Liquidating" Mennonite Kulaks (1929-1930)

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

"Liquidating" Mennonite Kulaks (1929-1930)

Article excerpt


For Rempel and his associates in Khortitsa, the flight to Moscow could not have come at a worse time. At a meeting of the Central Committee plenum in November 1929, Stalin announced that the country had made the "great turn" towards collectivization. Middle peasants were moving en masse onto the collectives and the collectivization of Soviet agriculture was therefore proceeding more rapidly than initially anticipated at the beginning of the Five-Year Plan. While Stalin's comment about middle peasants flocking to collectives was misleading, it helped to convince the plenum of the Central Committee to endorse a policy of wholesale collectivization, in which at least 80 percent of every village would be collectivized. Stalin's comment also created the false but widespread perception that both poor and middle peasants were overwhelmingly in support of the government's collectivization efforts. (79)

In Khortitsa, where so many Mennonite families had fled to Moscow, it was emigration and not collectivization that was on the minds of most remaining Mennonites in late 1929. Many now questioned the wisdom of moving onto a collective if there was still the possibility of emigrating to the West. By the end of 1929 rumors were also circulating among Khortitsa Mennonites that spring would be a good time to try to emigrate, and some applied for exit certificates in the hope of being able to leave in a few months; there were even local Baptists and Ukrainians now planning to emigrate. (80) Such perceived obstinacy must have angered Rempel and his superiors, who viewed the emigration chatter as an unacceptable distraction from the business at hand--collectivizing the Mennonite countryside. Rempel now had to nip the emigration issue in the bud as quickly as possible.

When Rempel first heard that some Khortitsa Mennonites had left for Moscow, he ordered his subordinates to prepare lists of their names, number of family members, social status, landholdings and tax assessments. The lists also noted whether the would-be emigres were experts, as well as whether they had emigrated, returned to Khortitsa or were exiled. (81) The district soviet and party committees also ensured that those Mennonites refugees who returned to Khortitsa in late 1929 and early 1930 were severely punished for trying to leave the motherland. Some refugees came back to homes that were looted, confiscated or destroyed; others were branded as "counterrevolutionaries" and "agitators for emigration," and many were blacklisted and disenfranchised. Almost all were prevented from earning a living or working their land, and many were ultimately imprisoned or exiled. (82)

The treatment of these Mennonite refugees was undeniably harsh and vindictive; the Khortitsa district soviet felt compelled to make an example of them. There was to be no misunderstanding: any emigration activity was counterrevolutionary and subject to severe punishment. Rempel also had to demonstrate that Khortitsa was not controlled by kulak elements promoting emigration and opposition to the state. To accomplish this, he and the district soviet launched a series of examination commissions in December 1929 and January 1930 that were intended to purge local government institutions of undesirable elements. These commissions were essentially mini-show trials hastily convened to detect kulak infiltration of village Soviets, party cells, local factories, communes, agricultural associations, reading rooms, peasant clubs, schools and medical facilities. (83) The government also wanted to ensure that the loyalty of officials in key positions was firm. Rempel had to prove that his subordinates were loyal and dedicated to implementing even the harshest of government policies.

The examination commissions varied in size and ethnic composition. (84) A number of Mennonites who served as chairmen of these examination commissions had also served on other commissions, such as the village revision committees. …

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