Author: Hermann Heidebrecht
Shortly after seizing the power in Russia in 1917, the Bolsheviks started fighting religion because they saw, above all, the clergy being a major obstacle in creating a new communist society. In the late 1920s this caused the strongest persecution of Christians in Europe of the 20th century.
The full scale of the persecutions in those days was only revealed in the 1980s . A special state commission published the following numbers: during the Soviet era, about 200.000 ministers (priests, pastors, church elder, preacher, deacons) were murdered. An additional 300.000 ministers were locked up in prisons and in labor camps. Many ordinary Christians also suffered a similar fate. About 40.000 church buildings were destroyed. From 1935 all churches in Mennonite villages were closed. First, congregations were assigned extremely high taxes. When these could not be paid, church buildings were confiscated and turned into cinemas, granaries or workshops. Most of the church elders and preachers were arrested.
This also happened to elder Jakob A. Rempel from Grünfeld. Due to generous financial support, from 1906 until 1912 he studied theology, philology, and philosophy at the preacher’s school and University of Basel (Switzerland). Back in Russia, Rempel became a schoolteacher and later a university professor. He rejected a call to a professor position at Moscow University because he was elected elder at his congregation in Neu-Chortitza. In the 1920s, Rempel led the Mennonite brotherhood and negotiated with the government to ensure the continuing of the congregations. In 1929, Rempel had to flee from Grünfeld, as his property was confiscated, and his family deported. In November 1929 he was arrested in Moscow and tortured for seven months. Then he was sentenced to 10 years of labor camps.
Rempel’s last letter
Several years later, he managed to escape but shortly afterwards he was arrested again. He was kept in prison until September 11th 1941, when he, together with 156 other prisoners, was shot on a personal order of Stalin. In one of his last letters he wrote:
They can put me in chains, strike me, cut off my head, but nobody can take my faith, my knowledge, the history of my life. From a stable boy to a professor, and even higher in the work for my community, I am now at the peak of my life. I will not boast about that nor shrink from the chosen way, but I bow deeply before the one who prescribed this way to me.