Monday, May 05, 2014

Soviet-Mennonite Writers of the 1930s

I just came a across a very interesting article today on Mennonite writers in Soviet Ukraine that were strongly supportive of communism in the 1920s and 1930s. They were part of a larger circle of ethnic German writers in Ukraine that were most active from 1930-1935 and centered around Kharkhiv. Foremost among the Mennonite writers producing work in a "socialist realist" vein during this time were David Schellenberg and Gerhard Sawatzky. As the article explains "Soviet-Mennonite writers were in the main committed Marxist-Leninists and sworn enemies of bourgeois capitalism." (Loewen, p. 38). Of course literature that did not follow these strictures could not be published in the USSR, especially during the 1930s when such writing was at its height. Ironically, Schellenberg died in Magadan in 1954 at age 51 and Sawatsky died in Solikamsk in 1944 at age 43. Sawatzky's major novel, Wir selbst (We Ourselves) was only published posthumously in the 1980s. Even strong ideological support for communism and the Soviet system under Stalin was unable to save them from early death in areas famous for housing concentration camps. Their German ethnicity condemned them to that fate and no amount of ideological support for the regime could have saved them.

Source: Harry Loewen, "Anti-Menno: Introduction to Early Soviet-Mennonite Literature (1920-1940)," Journal of Mennonite Studies, vol. 11, 1993, pp. 23-42.

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