Gumbinnen (Gusevsky) was a government district of East Prussia, Germany (now is a district (raion) of Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia). In the northern part of the district there have been Mennonites since the 18th century, to whom King Frederick I of Prussia gave some land in the upper lowlands of the Gilge, the southernmost tributary of the Memel, for settlement. The grants were for the most part uncultivated wasteland, that had suffered serious damage in the Swedish war. To induce the Mennonites to settle there, the king promised them complete religious liberty and freedom from military service. He applied to the government of Bern, which was subjecting them to severe oppression, and secured permission for them to emigrate. In 1711, 42 Mennonite families settled in Jedwilleiten in the area of Linkuhnen; these were followed in 1713 by 18 additional families, who took over the Kallwen estate.
From the region of Culm several Mennonite families of Dutch descent settled in Lithuania in 1713; the three estates in the Kammerwerk Kukerneese (Alt- and Neu-Schöpen, as well as Neusorge) were leased to them. With great industry they converted the land into fertile fields. There were no ditches or dikes. As early as 1718 they protected themselves against floods of the Old Gilge with dikes and drained the lowlands with ditches, all built at their own expense. They were chiefly engaged in cattle raising; they made profitable use of their skills in cheese making acquired in Switzerland and Holland, and built up a thriving business. In 1724 there were 105 Mennonite families in the Tilsit lowlands.
The incidents growing out of the forcible recruiting of soldiers for the Potsdam guard caused the Mennonites of Kukerneese and Tilsit to move to the Gross-Werder and the vicinity of Thorn, for they feared further violations of their liberties. The families remaining behind—40 families were settled on estates at Waldburg—scattered throughout the country, were to be expelled from the country on the basis of a royal decree of 22 February 1732, after an invitation had been issued on 2 February to the Salzburg emigrees to settle in Lithuania. A statement presented by the Chamber of War declared to the king that "the Mennonites were of great benefit to the country both as industrialists and as farmers." By banishing them the state would suffer obvious injury, since "there is a lack of such people here who understand these things" (i.e., draining and making the soil arable). But this protest was made in vain; the Mennonites were expelled.
King Frederick II made the first attempt to bring the Mennonites back into the country. In 1740, 60 families of the region of Elbing leased the estates Seckenburg, Polenzhof, and Ginkelsmittel in the Friedrichsgraben district. But the land had been so badly damaged by previous floods that it did not yield enough to meet obligations on it. The farms were therefore leased to other colonists in 1840, "who would belong to, the church in Lappehnen." At that time there were apparently Mennonites only on the estate of Plauschwarren in the Ballgarden district, for which 12 Mennonite families applied. In 1776, 16 families with 77 souls were living here. In that year they were most numerous in the Linkuhnen district, with 27 families and 151 souls. In the Tilsit district there were 16 families with 80 souls, in the Winge district six families with 21 souls, in the city of Tilsit four families. Statistics of 1810 (Festschrift zur Einweihung des Regierungsgebäudes zu Gumbinnen, 1911, 195) registered 463 Mennonites in the district of Gumbinnen. The highest total was reached in 1890, with 743. After that there was a steady decline. The church was located in Adlig Pokraken (built in 1831). The membership in 1940 was 450, which included 120 unbaptized children. The last elder was Bruno Götzke (preacher 1931, elder 1932), later at Backnang.
Census figures show the number of Mennonites in the Gumbinnen district as follows (the Lyck, Lötzen, Sensbürg, and Johannisburg areas were after 1905 a part of the newly organized government district of Allenstein, which was composed of parts of the former districts of Königsberg and Gumbinnen; furthermore, in consequence of the Treaty of Versailles a division of the partly ceded areas of Heydekrug, Ragnit, and Tilsit was necessary. Heydekrug was united with the Lowland area, and the remaining portion of Ragnit and Tilsit became the Tilsit-Ragnit district):
|Tilsit - City||29||39||27||22||74||100||85|
|Tilsit - Ragnit||49||50||91||69||44||49||50|
|Insterburg - City||1||--||2||3||2||3||1|
|Insterburg - Rural||--||--||--||1||--||--||1|
|Belonging to Allenstein after 1905|
Brons, A. Ursprung, Entwickelung Und Shicksale Der Altevangelischen Taufgesinnten Oder Mennoniten in Kurzen Zugen Übersichtlich Dargestellt. Amsterdam: Johannes Muller, 1912.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 198 f.
Mannhardt, W. Die Wehrfreiheit der Altpreussischen Mennoniten. Marienburg, 1863.
Randt, Erich. Die Mennoniten in Ostpreussen und Litauen bis zum Jahre 1772. Königsberg, 1912.
Cite This Article
Hege, Christian. "Gumbinnen (Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 24 Oct 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Gumbinnen_(Kaliningrad_Oblast,_Russia)&oldid=95014.
Hege, Christian. (1956). Gumbinnen (Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 October 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Gumbinnen_(Kaliningrad_Oblast,_Russia)&oldid=95014.
Herald Press website.
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