Previous | Next

Fall 1991 · Vol. 20 No. 2 · pp. 163–65 

Book Review

Mennonite Martyrs: People Who Suffered for Their Faith 1920-1940

Aron A. Toews, trans. John B. Toews. Winnipeg, MB and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1990. 263 pages.

Reviewed by Hans Kasdorf

With the exception of a few biographical sketches now and then in Mennonite periodicals, this is the first book to appear in English describing the fate of some from among the many Mennonite men and women who suffered for their faith during 70 years of the Soviet regime. Thus both, the original compiler and current translator of these stories, deserve our commendation.

Aron A. Toews was a Mennonite Brethren minister and teacher who personally knew some of the people named in the book. Years after his emigration to Canada in the 1920s, he began collecting stories and experiences about those who {164} were persecuted, sent to labor camps or prison for their faith. His efforts resulted in the publication of two volumes, entitled Mennonitische Maertyrer. John B. Toews, eminent historian and scholar of Mennonites under Czars and Soviets, has translated over sixty of these martyr stories. About fifty are from the first; the rest from the second volume.

Readers familiar with church history will inevitably be reminded of such books as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563), van Braght’s Martyrs’ Mirror (1660), Norwood’s Strangers and Exiles (2 vols., 1969) and the Hefleys’ Christian Martyrs of the 20th Century (1979). While Norwood and the Hefleys cover some of the same time period and the territory dealt with by Toews, there is no evident overlap of stories. Thus Toews’ book supplies unique information of men and women of the faith. It informs us who these people were, how and where they suffered and, in many cases, how they died. Reports have it that they literally experienced what the “heroes of the faith” experienced long ago: “They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:37-38).

Style and language are uncomplicated. Families with teenagers and lay people in churches will appreciate that. But the many letters and comments from the martyrs themselves are primary sources for the scholar and researcher. The alphabetical listing of biographies and a short glossary are helpful tools. What some readers will miss is an index; what others may note are the typographical errors. But the stories remain the main thing.

These are stories about Mennonite martyrs. That could suggest that the book is primarily for Mennonite readers. But that is not necessarily so, for these are stories of people who suffered for their faith, a fact transcending all confessional and ethnic boundaries. Furthermore, these stories also tell a unique story-a story of mission and witness of Christian Mennonites, Latvians, Jews, and Russians. The description of the tent mission and itinerant evangelism are examples. Moreover, these are stories of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters; of prophets, teachers, missionaries, pastors, and evangelists. Here are stories of God’s grace and greatness manifested in the lives of people who were faithful unto the end. Thus the {165} interest should go far beyond Mennonite readers.

Hans Kasdorf, Professor of World Mission
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary
Fresno, California

Previous | Next