Johannes "Hans" Harder: writer, editor, publisher, minister, and Christian activist; born 28 January 1903 in the Alexandertal settlement on the Volga. He emigrated to Germany as a young man and studied literature and philosophy at Konigsberg. From 1928 to 1933 Harder pursued a career as editor and publisher, followed by active service in the dissident Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church) to express his disapproval of the Nazis (National Socialism). During those stormy years he wrote eight novels set in Russia, the earlier ones presenting recognizably Mennonite characters and settings, the later ones portraying ethnic German colonists in Russia.
After wartime service as a military translator in Russia, he began a new career as professor of sociology at the Pädagogische Hochschule (teacher's university) in Wuppertal. Retiring in 1968, he undertook yet another career as minister and elder of the Frankfurt Mennonite Church. Retired again, he remained active as a writer, editor, spokesman, and political activist, and his home in Schlüchtern received frequent visits from former students, academic colleagues, and fellow writers. Chief among his awards and honors was the prestigious Federal Grand Cross for distinguished service to West Germany as the "father of socio-pedagogical method and practice in German universities."
As a man of letters and social philosopher Johannes Harder had few peers among Mennonites of the 20th century. His novels were authentic and powerful portrayals of life in Russia during the turbulent early Communist period, as well as nostalgic evocations of the era before the Russian Revolution. Harder had a deep, abiding love for his Russian homeland and its people, including the Mennonites, and his realistic fiction is suffused with faith in the purgative effects of suffering and the presence of grace. His first novel, In Wologdas weissen Wäldern (In the White Forests of Vologda, 1934, translated into English as No Strangers in Exile, 1979), is a tragic but spiritually uplifting story about Russian-Mennonite families sent to Stalinist labor camps in the far north. Das Dorf an der Volga (The Village on the Volga, 1937) traces the history of a prosperous Mennonite colony to its destruction in the Soviet period. Der deutsche Doktor von Moskau (The German Doctor of Moscow, 1940), his most popular novel, deals with a German doctor in Russia during Napoleonic times who became a popular hero for his selfless service to his adopted people.
As a radical Christian Johannes Harder believed in the transforming power of Christ's love, but distrusted the institution of the church. He participated frequently in peace marches, even in advanced age. His profound understanding of the Anabaptist-Mennonite heritage and of literature and culture made him a Mennonite spokesman and writer of rare eloquence and prophetic power who deserves to be more widely known among Mennonites in North America.
Hans Harder died 7 March 1987.
Harder, Hans. No Strangers in Exile. Translated, edited and expanded by Al Reimer. Winnipeg: Hyperion Press, 1979.
Harder, Hans. Das Dorf an der Volga: Ein deutsches Leben in Russland. Stuttgart: J. F. Steinkopf, 1937.
Harder, Hans. Der deutsche Doktor von Moskau: Der Lebensroman des Dr. Friedrich Joseph Haas, 5th ed. Gießen: Wilhelm Schmitz Verlag, 1983.
Harder, Johannes. Die Nacht am Jacotiner See. Bielefeld: Ludwig Beschauf Verlag, 1960.
Harder, Johannes. Und der Himmel lacht mit: Heiteres von Theologen und Theolunken. Freiburg: Herder, 1982.
Reimer, Al. "The Russian-Mennonite Experience in Fiction." Mennonite Images: Historical, Cultural and Literary EssaysDealing with Mennonite Issues, editor Harry Loewen. Winnipeg, MB: Hyperion Press, 1980: 231-232.
Cite This Article
Reimer, Al. "Harder, Johannes "Hans" (1903-1987)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 28 Mar 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Harder,_Johannes_%22Hans%22_(1903-1987)&oldid=87979.
Reimer, Al. (1987). Harder, Johannes "Hans" (1903-1987). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 28 March 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Harder,_Johannes_%22Hans%22_(1903-1987)&oldid=87979.
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