“With Flight you will discover how Mennonites in 1929 learned what was happening to family and friends in the Soviet Union that year. The 735-page Flight has translations or summaries of all the items about Mennonites ‘facing the Soviet empire’ that appeared in the weekly Mennonitische Rundschau, during two critical years in the Soviet Union, 1929 and 1930. Ultimately, these are the stories of many others as well within Soviet Russia. Most Mennonites lived in Ukraine which was especially hard hit by the events of those years.
In 1929 Stalin’s Five Year Plan was just coming into force. It led to vast collectivization of the farm economy, requisition of most of the yield of harvests, an intense assault on religious belief, the arrest and eventual exile of many better farmers, a shift to a five-day week, and the advantaging of cities and heavy industry.
For strong faith communities like the Mennonites, it was a very difficult time. In late 1929 many thousands of Mennonites were camped around Moscow in a panicked effort to leave—hopefully for Canada.” – Cover
“Published in Winnipeg, the Mennonitische Rundschau was the premier paper of the Russian Mennonites. Most of the FLIGHT items are directly about or from Mennonites, both from those who got out and those who were forced to stay. The effort to leave is vividly told through letters and articles that appeared in the Rundschau. From FLIGHT, you will discover just what Mennonites here in America were learning about what was happening to their friends and relatives in Russia in their own words.
Many are letters from the Gulag. Stories of the 6000 refugees who came out in 1929 and their generous welcome in Germany are told in their own words. So also is the eventual settlement in Paraguay, Brazil and Canada. The book has the news reports, letters, lists, actions of bodies like the MCC and the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization, Canadian debate about accepting the refugees, actions of the Soviet government, interpretations of events in Russia and elsewhere, and much else. FLIGHT will open up many opportunities for family research and broader histories.
FLIGHT has a helpful introduction plus exhaustive People, Place and Subject indexes, so that for those with an interest in tracking family information, FLIGHT will provide it. If persons or places are mentioned anywhere in FLIGHT, they will be in the indexes.
FLIGHT—with a second printing in June 2018—is a 735-page book.
Here is what some are saying about FLIGHT:
Poignant first-hand accounts of familial love and Mennonite faith spill from these pages—thanks to Harold Jantz’s rehabilitation of voices from the past. Jantz’s translations of German letters. . . radiate sorrow, longing and practical strategizing. They are letters [between] loved ones separated by enormous geographical and political barriers—and they reveal the remarkable resilience that so often characterizes people of faith.
Jon Isaak, director, Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, Winnipeg
The many and varied submissions to the Mennonitische Rundschau in those critical years, carefully translated by Harold Jantz, will provide a substantial resource for people who, like myself, wish to understand more fully the larger reality of that era.
Dave Dyck, former MCC and MB Mission staff, son of parents among the 1929 refugees, Winnipeg
The translations by Jantz create visibility for many important stories and events. This will provide new clarity and answers for both families and historians.
Art DeFehr, Mennonite business and philanthropic innovator, whose mother fled Soviet Russia for China in 1929
These documents offer a unique window into daily life during a time of social upheaval. Through the voices of Mennonites, we can witness how ordinary citizens across the Soviet Union coped with and responded to the deepening of Soviet power and the changes to religious, agricultural, economic, and cultural life that it engendered.
Aileen Friesen, J. Winfield Fretz Fellowship in Mennonite Studies, Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo” -Eden Echoes Publishing
“‘It was the Google and Facebook of its day,’ says Jantz, 81, of how the Rundschau enabled Mennonites in Canada and the U.S. to connect with their co-religionists in the former Soviet Union.
For Jantz, the 735-page book is a six-year labour of love — with a personal connection.
His father managed to escape to Canada, along with about 20,000 other Mennonites, before the doors for emigration were closed by the Soviets in 1929. He came with his fiancée, leaving behind his widowed mother, five brothers and a sister.
He hoped to bring them to Canada once he became established, but it never happened. All five of his brothers who were left behind were imprisoned or exiled. Four were executed.
At first, Jantz set out to only tell his father’s story. But then he decided he needed more information about the situation facing his relatives, and other Mennonites, who were left behind in the former Soviet Union.
For that, he turned to the articles and letters in the Rundschau. While reading them, ‘I was struck by what I was reading… the more I read, the more it drew me in.’ He set aside his father’s story, and Flight is the result.
Translating the materials ‘moved me so much and impacted me deeply,’ Jantz says. ‘I could sense how desperate some people’s situations were, how they needed to know if someone cared about them.” They were “hanging on for some glimmer of hope in a tragic situation.’
He hopes his book will remind Mennonites in Canada now of what their ancestors went through, and make those experiences ‘accessible to more people, especially younger people.’
With its copious indexes, it will also help researchers and people searching for long-lost relatives, he says.
While the letters and other items detail the terror and hardship experienced by so many back then, Jantz says he was also impressed by ‘the many affirmations of faith.’
One letter, written around Easter by a church leader who was arrested and exiled, says that ‘many people say that there is no way that there can be a ‘happy Easter,’ but I’m inclined to affirm the opposite, because if we are in the right relationship to our Lord and Saviour, then it will be a happy Easter… even if the eyes are crying and the heart bleeding.’
At the same time, there are letters asking if ‘God has abandoned us,’ Jantz says. But most of affirm that ‘God is still on the throne and will take care of things in the end.’
For Jantz, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald and founder of ChristianWeek, the book is about a terrible tragedy, but also ‘a story rooted in faith.’ Through it, readers today can ‘discover just what Mennonites here in North America were learning about what was happening to their friends and relatives in Russia in their own words.’