Landless (Landlose)

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Among the Russian Mennonites the landowners and farmers were called Wirte (landlord) in contrast to those who had no land and who were known as the Landlose (landless) or Anwohner, but who lived in the villages alongside of the Wirte.

The plan of settlement in the Mennonite colonies in South Russia such as the Chortitza and Molotschna colonies was village settlement, rather than scattered individual farms. The government grants of 176 acres (65 desiatinas) to each settler (Wirt) were so located as to form compact village blocks, each block having a narrow frontage on the village street. Once the immediately available space was parceled out, new families formed by marriage had no land. These had to earn their livelihood as farm hands, by renting land, by trade, industry, etc. Small remnant parcels of land at the end of the village were sold by the landowners to these landless families, about one acre for 100 rubles ($50). Such families were called Anwohner. In the village organization, the landless Anwohner had no vote, but had to pay their share of the taxes, etc., which were levied per capita on the basis of population. And so it was very likely that in many cases a large landless family had to pay more than a farmer with 176 acres.

About 1865 there were in the Molotschna 1,384 landed families and 2,356 landless families (of whom 1,063 were Anwohner); besides these about 490 families were living on farms, owned or rented, outside the villages and in towns. The landowners therefore comprised less than one-third of the population, but had all the rights, while the other two-thirds had no rights. To rectify this condition a Committee for the Landless (Landlosen-Kommission) was formed, consisting of both the landed and the landless. The landless worked for the right to vote, and for the division of the 43,000 acres which at that time belonged to the Molotschna but had not been parceled out, besides the 21,500 acres of unapportioned land attached to some of the villages. This would have been enough land to give 25-30 acres to each Anwohner. The landowners, on the other hand, wanted to lay out new villages with half farms of 88 acres, but this would not have helped all the families. The landless appealed to St. Petersburg, and after another investigation the government ordered that the available land should be distributed among the Anwohner, 40 acres to each family. After this was done there were in the villages owners of full farms (176 acres), half farms (88 acres), and small farms (40 acres), all having a voice in the government. Some of the "small farmers" of course had the inconvenience of owning land up to 12 miles from their homes.

But this expedient did not solve the problem permanently. It was therefore decided to establish a fund for the purchase of new land for the oncoming generations, into which an annual sum of 13 cents per acre (10 kopeks) was to be paid. In addition the large roads, "Tchumackonwege," which were originally a mile wide, were reduced; this yielded another 35,100 acres, which were, however, not apportioned to the landless, but remained the common property of the whole settlement. This land was rented out, and the proceeds put into a settlement fund from which new land could be bought again and again for the oncoming generation. In 1874, when universal military service was introduced in Russia, and as a result about 15,000 Mennonites immigrated to North America, the settlement of new lands was discontinued for about ten years, since the land vacated by the emigrants was now available. The settlement fund, however, continued to grow since the 10 kopek tax was not suspended. After this interval new settlements were made more frequently than ever, financed largely by the fund. The new settlers were granted five interest-free years of grace in making payments on their land purchases. During the next five years the purchase price was to be refunded with a little interest. Any land not paid for at the end of ten years was mortgaged. The payments flowed back into the settlement fund. In this manner some 45 daughter settlements had been formed by 1930 by the Molotschna settlement in conjunction with Chortitza, Am Trakt, and Alt-Samara, the four original mother settlements.


Ehrt, A. Das Mennonitentum in Russland von seiner Einwanderung bis zur Gegenwart. Langensalza: 1932.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. II, 612 f.

Isaak, Franz. Die Molotschnaer Mennoniten. Halbstadt: 1908.

Klaus, A. Unsere Kolonien (Russian). St. Petersburg: 1869.

Author(s) Abraham Braun
Date Published 1957

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Braun, Abraham. "Landless (Landlose)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 16 Jul 2024.

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Braun, Abraham. (1957). Landless (Landlose). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 16 July 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 282-283. All rights reserved.

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