Königsberg (now Russian Kaliningrad) was the capital (1931 pop. 372,000; 2002 pop. 430,000) of the former German province of East Prussia, a Baltic seaport on the Pregel River (coordinates: 54° 43′ 0″ N, 20° 31′ 0″ E). The first official record of Mennonites is of 1579, when they presented a petition to Margrave George Frederick for permission to settle in Königsberg and other towns. The reply was the order of expulsion, later frequently repeated, but apparently never enforced. It is probable that there were some here earlier, for in 1554 the Academy of Königsberg added to its rules the stipulation that every professor must swear neither to consent to nor to defend Anabaptist doctrine.
But the first Mennonite congregation in Königsberg did not come into being until 1722. In 1716 Johann Peter Sprunk (his original Dutch name was Jan Pietersz Spronck) and Heinrich van Höfen, and soon afterwards Jakob Schröder and Isaak Kroecker, were given permission to settle in Königsberg because they could distill rye whiskey "in the Danzig manner." Their skill brought the city considerable revenue, since it was now not necessary to import whiskey from Danzig; thus the Mennonites were permitted to stay in spite of the violent protest of the Lutheran clergy. In 1720 there were at a meeting in the home of the merchant Vos "six Manists and nine women" present. These meetings were allowed to be held only in the family circle. For communion they had to make the long journey to Danzig or Elbing. They therefore asked for permission to hold their services "in all quietness."
Frederick William I granted this request on 2 April 1722, not only because he found nothing dubious in the confession of faith presented by Sprunk, but especially because the Mennonites had paid 6,190 talers in taxes in five years. The practical king exploited their prosperity by requiring an annual fee of 200 talers to be paid to the recruit treasury for permission to organize as a congregation.
Thus the Mennonites could worship very quietly "because they everywhere endeavor to live a pious, quiet, and honorable life.... and especially they have tried to fulfill each and every duty of faithful and obedient subjects." The lively commercial connections between Königsberg and Danzig, Elbing, and Holland gradually brought a small congregation into being. The guarantee of freedom from military duty also brought several families from Polish territory. Nevertheless the Königsberg church never had more than 17 families; Sprunk was their first elder. The only knowledge we have of him is that he interceded for the Mennonites in the Tilsit lowlands when they were threatened with exile in 1723; his intervention was fruitless.
In the following years we hear of the attempts of the Mennonites to be admitted to the trades; the border weavers, Jakob Schroeder (of Danzig), Cauenhowen, and Bulert, did not succeed; only Bernd Claassen van Dyck obtained citizenship. A general regulation was passed on 10 December 1730: Mennonites are excluded from citizenship; they may practice their trades upon payment of a protection fee in addition to the regular taxes.
In the midst of the negotiations, the edict of 22 February 1732 was passed, banishing all Mennonites from the country within three months. The reason was their nonresistance. In their place the king wished to settle other Christians (Salzburg exiles; see Carinthian Exiles). Besides, the Samland consistorium, in an unfavorable report, had charged that the Mennonites, along with the Unitarians, Jews, and Arians, had held public services and conducted their funerals "with a public show with funeral sermons," which was allowed only the three established churches. The Kriegs- und Domänenkammer of East Prussia protested the expulsion, pointing out the profit brought the state treasury by their crafts. The economical king was persuaded to let the Mennonites stay, provided they would establish woolen and cloth mills. Thereupon most of them returned to Königsberg. Frederick the Great gave them citizenship soon after his coronation. From that time on the congregation developed undisturbed, and dedicated its first meetinghouse in 1770.
In 1767 the first Mennonite hymnal in German was published in Königsberg. The publication of a hymnbook in German shows that the Dutch language of the first generations of Mennonites had fallen into disuse. About the Dutch origin of the first Mennonites of Königsberg not much is known. Most of them went to Königsberg after having settled first in West Prussia. Contacts with the Dutch Mennonites, especially with Amsterdam, were still strong in the 18th century. Some Mennonites of Königsberg had moved directly from Holland to Königsberg, as for example Jan Bruinvis (ch), a merchant from Amsterdam, who founded a large business here about 1710, and who, in his capacity of intermediary between the East Prussian (ex-Lithuanian) Mennonites and the Dutch Mennonite Committee of Foreign Needs at Amsterdam, wrote a large number of letters to Amsterdam, the first of which is dated 12 August 1711, and the last 23 June 1744. Bruinvis' letters are found in the [[Amsterdam Mennonite Library (Bibliotheek en Archief van de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente te Amsterdam)|Mennonite Archives of Amsterdam]]. Of great interest is a letter dated 16 May 1735, written by Spronck (or Sprunk) to the Committee at Amsterdam, which states that there were two congregations in Königsberg and seven poor families. Spronck also complained that Bruinvis had married outside the church and neglected the congregation (Inv. Arch. Amst. II, 2, No. 796; No. 799 is another interesting letter from Spronck, dated 5 July 1737). It is not quite clear which two branches of Mennonites were meant by Spronck, nor when these two congregations merged. The Dutch Naamlijst of 1743 and following editions mention only one congregation, which belonged to the Old Flemish. The following ministers are named for this church in the 18th century: Jan Pietersz Spronck (elder) serving from 1727, Cornelis Claasen 1731 (or 1738), Lammert van Dijk 1744, Willem Reynke 1751, Pieter Spronck 1758, Izaac Kreker (d. 1786) 1758, elder in 1767, Izaac Kauenhoven 1763-89, Jacob Kreker 1766, Zacharias Schroeder 1766, Willem Temerman (or Zimmerman) 1778, Abraham Olffers 1782, Heinrich Penner 1786, and Johann Wider 1789, elder in 1795.
When universal military service was introduced in Prussia in 1814, and was apparently to include the Mennonites, the church board appealed to the king. The immediate nearness of the Königsberg philosopher Kant is felt in this petition (given in Mannhardt, pp. 176 ff.): "Violation of nonresistance would mean to a Mennonite, who keeps the religion of his fathers and his conscience faithfully, the ruin of the moral person. For only in unwavering faith in the doctrines of his group and in conscientious obedience to them can a man be moral. It is therefore not merely a civic obstacle, it is religion itself which imposes upon us the impossibility of participating in war." This petition brought results.
The church secured a competent minister in Karl Harder, who was born in Königsberg in 1820. After the completion of his theological studies he preached in the Elbing and Königsberg churches. On the basis of his Easter sermon at Elbing in 1845, 24 families left the Elbing-Ellerwald church, built a meetinghouse of their own in Elbing, and united with the Königsberg congregation. Harder served the Königsberg congregation until 1857, when he went to Neuwied. Adolf Siebert was pastor at Königsberg in 1898-1938. Josef Gingerich, last chairman of the church council, took pains to develop a feeling of cohesion and to draw the Mennonite youth studying in Königsberg into church life by instituting social evenings with lectures. In 1934 the church had 65 members, including children; in 1941 the same number was reported.
After Siebert’s retirement in 1938 the congregation was served by Erich Göttner and Horst Quiring, the Danzig and Berlin Mennonite pastors. The attack and capture of the city by the Russians in 1944 put an end to the congregation, although its last chairman, Josef Gingerich, did not leave the city until 1946.
The congregation belonged to the Vereinigung of the Mennonite churches in Germany. On 13 April 1899 it gave the Vereinigung a sum of 125,000 marks, 60 per cent of the income to be applied to the Elbing and Königsberg churches, and the remaining 40 per cent to be used by the Vereinigung. In 1929, 75 percent of the income was to be applied to Königsberg; the obligation to pay a certain annual sum to Elbing was canceled.
Gingerich, Josef. "Die Mennonitengemeinde Königsberg und ihr Ende." Mennonit 2 (1949): 22.
Hege, Christine. Kurze Geschichte der Mennoniten. Frankfurt, 1900.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 538 f.
Randt, Erich. Die Mennoniten in Ostpreussen. Königsberg: 1912.
Mannhardt, Wilhelm. Die Wehrfreiheit der Altpreussischen Mennoniten. Danzig, 1863.
Penner, Horst. "The Anabaptists and Mennonites in East Prussia." Mennonite Quarterly Review 22 (1948): 212-225.
Schreiber, W. J. The Fate of the Prussian Mennonites. Göttingen, 1955.
|Nanne van der Zijpp|
Cite This Article
Quiring, Horst and Nanne van der Zijpp. "Königsberg (Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 30 Jul 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=K%C3%B6nigsberg_(Kaliningrad_Oblast,_Russia)&oldid=95607.
Quiring, Horst and Nanne van der Zijpp. (1957). Königsberg (Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 July 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=K%C3%B6nigsberg_(Kaliningrad_Oblast,_Russia)&oldid=95607.
Herald Press website.
©1996-2015 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.