Medicine Among the Mennonites in Russia

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The use of medicine among the early Mennonites of Russia, as in Prussia, was similar to that of any rural area. In the early pioneer days of the Ukraine there was little opportunity for the settlers to avail themselves of the help of medical doctors, drugs, and hospitalization. The traditional bonesetters (Knochenarzte) and midwives functioned. Some of the bonesetters (similar to chiropractors) and mid-wives had through innate gifts, years of experience, and the knowledge conveyed from generation to generation achieved a wide reputation. The ministers or the teachers were often also advisers in health matters. Health rules, recipes, and the practice of the Knochenarzt were transplanted from Russia to the Great Plains of America, where they have been preserved in some forms to this day, particularly in Mexico and South America. Even the popular contemporary chiropractors in Mennonite communities can no doubt be linked to this tradition, e.g., the Tieszen clinic at Marion, SD. Schmiedehaus relates that the Mennonites of Mexico still used such medicines as Schlagwasser, Wunderöl, Kaiseröl, Alpenkräuter, Grossmutters Abführtee, and Dr. Bell's horse medicine.

With the increase of the Russian population in the Ukraine, the government helped provide medical aid to the people. As the Mennonites advanced culturally and economically, they also became interested in better medical care. The Russian zemstvo (rural administration) made some provision for trained physicians around 1850. The primary purpose was to prevent the spread of epidemics. Only at a few places were hospitals erected. One of the first doctors to practice in Chortitza was Karnitzky. A Bernhard Schellenberg became the first "Feldscher," a trained assistant to the physician. Among the first midwives who had received some training was Charlotte Voroshevskaya. She was succeeded by Margarete Wider and later Susie Penner.

The first Mennonite doctor in Russia very likely was Jacob Esau, who was educated at the University of Kiev and became the physician of the Chortitza settlement around 1880. Considerable improvement was made during this period. A small hospital was erected, and two or three assistants (Feldscher) assisted Esau. An apothecary was located next to his office. Medicine, examination, and treatment were free. In addition to this arrangement, the Mennonite factories of Chortitza also employed doctors, among whom were Voth, Hausknecht, Knieast, Ebius, Glückman, Meder, and Heinrichs. Judging by the names, only the first two and last were Mennonites. The factory owners also established a hospital of their own next to that of the zemstvo. One of the most successful doctors with one of the longest terms of service was Theodor Hottmann, who practiced medicine in connection with the zemstvo hospital 1902-37. Hottmann was joined by Dr. David A. Harnm.

In 1908 a new zemstvo hospital was erected between the villages of Rosenthal and Chortitza. The services of the zemstvo hospital were available to all Chortitza Mennonite villages and four neighboring Russian villages. The hospital and doctors were supported by the Chortitza volost (district). For the services given to the Russian village, the provincial zemstvo furnished medicine and instruments as well as two medical assistants and nurses.

During World War I the Chortitza Mennonites maintained a 75 to 100 bed Red Cross emergency hospital in addition to the regular hospital. Many of the Mennonites served in this unit.

Less information is available about the medical care among Mennonites of other settlements in Russia, even in the Molotschna settlement. In most of the other later and smaller settlements, the Mennonites availed themselves of the medical facilities of their neighboring Russian communities. The Molotschna settlement apparently did not have the zemstvo facilities. Franz Wall established a hospital at Muntau (see Muntau Hospital) in 1880. During the last phase of its existence, this hospital prospered under Dr. Erich Tavonius, who served 1900-1927. Other small Mennonite hospitals existed at Waldheim and Ohrloff in the Molotschna settlement as well as in the Neu-Samara settlement. Bethania, near Chortitza, was a mental hospital. On the island of Chortitza a hospital for tubercular patients was established and a sanitarium called Alexandrabad.


"Doktor Erich Tavonius." Unser Blatt II (1927): 307-309.

Hamm, D. A. "Das Gesundheitswesen in Chortitza." Mennonite Life X (April 1955): 84 f.

Hottmann, Maria. "Dr. Theodor Hottmann." Mennonitisches Jahrbuch 1953 (Newton, 1953): 39-48.

Schmiedehaus, Walter. "Mennonite Life in Mexico." Mennonite Life II (April 1947): 29-38.

Wiebe, C. W. "Health Conditions Among the Mennonites of Mexico." Mennonite Life II (April 1947): 43 f.

Author(s) Cornelius Krahn
Date Published 1957

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Krahn, Cornelius. "Medicine Among the Mennonites in Russia." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 9 Jul 2020.

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Krahn, Cornelius. (1957). Medicine Among the Mennonites in Russia. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 9 July 2020, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 555. All rights reserved.

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