Thiessen, Dietrich Kornelius (1870-1937)

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Dietrich Kornelius Thiessen: architect and entrepreneur; born 27 December 1870 to Kornelius Otto Thiessen (12 January 1806 – 13 October 1894) and Katharina (Rempel) Thiessen (22 March 1825 – 6 April 1906) in Chortitza, Chortitza Colony. He was the second youngest of 15 children. On 15 August 1903, he married Julie Martens (20 September 1881 – ca. 1945), daughter of Johann and Katharina (Esau) Martens, in Ekaterinoslav. The couple had five children, one of whom died as a teenager; another two were executed as adults. Dietrich was arrested on 1 September 1937 and shot on 16 September 1937.

Dietrich grew up in a wealthy family in Chortitza. His father raised sheep, bought and then sold two treadmills, and then went into the iron business, becoming very wealthy through this venture. Dietrich likely attended the local Chortitza village school before going to the Zentralschule. In 1886 Dietrich served as an apprentice in a machine shop in Chortitza. He went to Germany to study at the Technical University in Hildburghausen in 1894 before completing his architectural studies in Dresden. He returned to Russia and received his certification from the Technical Building Committee of the Ministry of the Interior in 1897 before beginning work at a factory in New York in 1899.

Following his graduation, Thiessen was employed first by a construction firm in Moscow and then as an architect for the Ekaterinoslav Railway Administration. In 1910, he became an assistant to the architect for the Ekaterinoslav Administration. He returned to the railway in 1925, when he became an instructor in the Ekaterinoslav Railway College of Technology. From 1927 to 1930, he held various administrative positions, mostly with the Dnepropetrovsk Technical College. In addition, Dietrich set up an architectural practice and accepted private commissions.

In about 1904, Dietrich started to build his own house, but he was unable to complete it because of financial setbacks due to his brother’s bankruptcy in Germany. With the help of Julie’s small inheritance, a small house in the village of Iwanovka, and Dietrich’s architectural practice, the family survived the crisis. However, with the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Thiessens were forced to move into two rooms in a house owned by the Lutheran Church. During the famine of 1921-1922, they lived out in their dacha in Iwanovka. Their son, Paul, was killed in a gun-related accident there, and later Makhno bandits overran the area and attacked Julie, brutally beating her in the process.

Towards the end of 1922, the family moved back to Ekaterinoslav, where Thiessen once again worked as an architect, returning in 1925 to railway work. In 1932, the family moved to Batum, Georgia, but left after a short time because they could find no living quarters. They attempted to cross the border into Turkey but were unable to leave despite having the proper documents. In their later travels, they lost the documents.

After that, Dietrich and his family moved to Baku in Azerbaijan to live with Dietrich’s nephew, Alexander Thiessen. There Dietrich was accused of being a fascist spy and was arrested on 1 September 1937. He was shot on 16 September 1937. In 1960, he was officially declared “rehabilitated,” which usually meant that the conviction had come through false evidence. Julie died in a labour camp in about 1945, but the Thiessens’ daughter, Elsa, moved to Germany in 1995/96.

Dietrich Kornelius Thiessen was a versatile man, able to adapt to the circumstances he encountered and to find ways of helping his family and the other people around him. Despite the many difficulties in his life, he managed to find ways to survive and to engage in the work he enjoyed.


Friesen, Rudy P. with Edith Elisabeth Friesen. Building on the Past. Winnipeg, Canada: Raduga Publications, 2004: 223, 695.

GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 5.07 ed. Fresno, CA: California Mennonite Historical Society, 2009: #341135.

Heese, Peter Heinrich. Yekaterinoslav: 5 of the translated version.

Huebert, Helmut T. Mennonites in the Cities of Imperial Russia, 2 vols. Winnipeg : Springfield Publishers, 2006: v. II: 173-175.

Thiessen, Elsa, Olga, and Milla, personal information.

Ziesmann, Hedy, personal information.

Author(s) Susan Huebert
Date Published April 2009

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Huebert, Susan. "Thiessen, Dietrich Kornelius (1870-1937)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. April 2009. Web. 31 May 2020.,_Dietrich_Kornelius_(1870-1937)&oldid=123825.

APA style

Huebert, Susan. (April 2009). Thiessen, Dietrich Kornelius (1870-1937). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 31 May 2020, from,_Dietrich_Kornelius_(1870-1937)&oldid=123825.

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