Toews, Johann Johann (1878-1933)

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Johann Johann Toews, teacher and minister, was born on 25 June 1878 in Fabrikerwiese, Molotschna Mennonite settlement, South Russia, to Johann Aron Toews. He was the second of six children. In the summer of 1898, he married Susanna Wiens. The couple had nine children of their own, only two of whom survived to adulthood, and an adopted daughter. Johann died of a heart condition on 21 February 1933 in a prison camp in Kornilovka, east Soviet Union.

Johann Johann Toews received his elementary education in Muntau, Molotschna settlement. He completed his Zentralschule and Lehrerseminar studies in nearby Halbstadt before passing his examinations in Berdyansk to obtain his teaching qualifications. He married Susanna Wiens in 1898, just a short time before the deaths of both of his parents, and the couple settled in Friedensdorf, Molotschna settlement, where Johann was appointed teacher in the village school.

After teaching for some years, Johann Johann Toews wrote an article under a pseudonym for the Odessär Zeitung, revealing some of the foibles of the Mennonite community. When the village authorities found out that Johann was the author, they fired him. However, people realized Johann’s abilities in the spiritual sphere and he was elected as minister and ordained in the Mennonite Church in Petershagen. Johann and his wife transferred their membership to the Mennonite Brethren church in 1908.

In the meantime, Johann had upgraded his academic qualifications and received several job offers. In 1909, he accepted an appointment at the Nikolyevka Zentralschule located in the Ignatyevo settlement, and the following year, he passed further teaching examinations in Kharkov.

As minister, Johann Johann Toews led Bible study courses and worked especially among the youth, in addition to his other duties. He also served the wider Mennonite constituency, going as a delegate to the All-Ukrainian Mennonite General Conference in Melitopol in 1926. There, he delivered a keynote address, which was later published in Unser Blatt and included in A. H. Unruh’s history of the Mennonite Brethren Church.

With increasing numbers of Mennonites leaving the Soviet Union, Johann Johann Toews also considered the option of immigration, but he decided that his responsibility lay with his church in Nikolyevka. By 1927, however, the intense government pressures on Johann caused him to reconsider; by then, however, he and his family could not obtain exit visas.

When thousands of Mennonites streamed to Moscow in 1929 in an attempt to leave the Soviet Union, Johann and his family joined them. In the midst of their preparations, Johann was arrested on 11 November 1929 and jailed in Butyrka State Prison. His wife and three children were allowed to leave the Soviet Union and move to Germany, where they began to try to free Johann, although their attempts were unsuccessful. Eventually, Susanna and her children had to leave for Brazil without him.

In the meantime, Johann Johann Toews was accused and convicted of crimes against the state. He was sentenced to five years in a concentration camp, where, despite his heart condition, he worked felling trees in the forest. When he could no longer work and officially “retired,” he was transferred to Kornilovka in northern Russia. Although he was offered freedom if he would renounce his faith, he refused. His heart condition worsened in early 1933, and he died in a prison camp on 21 February.

Johann Johann Toews was a dedicated minister and teacher, devoted to his ministry of enhancing the spiritual lives of the Mennonite community. Despite the many hardships in his life and intense pressures on him, he remained true to his faith and was an example of fortitude for his family and the people around him.


Hamm, Oscar H. Memoirs of Ignatyevo. Saskatoon, SK: Ruth F. Hamm, 1984: pictures p. 39.

Hildebrandt, Julia, Heinrich Klassen, and Gerhard Woelk. Aber wo sollen wir hin: Briefe von Russlandmennoniten aus den Jahren ihrer Gefangenschaft, Verbannung und Lagerhaft in der Sowjetunion. Frankenthal, Germany: Verlag Hirtenstimme e. V., 1998: 31-40.

Huebert, Helmut T. Mennonites in the Cities of Imperial Russia, 2 vols. Winnipeg: Springfield Publishers, 2006-2008: v. II, 266-268.

Mennonitische Rundschau (8 January 1930): 7, letter from son Peter and wife Susanna, written to a brother of Johann, probably Wilhelm, who lived in Mountain Lake, Minnesota; (12 February 1930): 1-2, list of people arrested, and list of refugees in camp; (5 February 1930): news item reporting five Mennonite leaders listed as having been executed in Moscow, including Minister Johann Toews. Actually, later information on four is that they were arrested at the time, then exiled; (26 February 1930): Obituary, again the news of his death was premature. This account states that Johann moved to the Memrik Settlement in 1908, living in the village Bahndorf.

Toews, Aron A. Mennonitische Maertyrer, 2 vols. Winnipeg, Canada: self-published, 1949: v. I, 47-56.

Toews, J. A. A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church: Pilgrims and Pioneers. Fresno, California: Board of Christian Literature, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1975: 121, 448. Available in full electronic text at:

Unruh, A. H. Die Geschichte der Mennoniten-Bruedergemeinde 1860-1954. Hillsboro, Kansas: The General Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America, 1955: 335-349.

Unser Blatt (July 1926): 236—poem “Stunden aus dem Leben”; (November 1926): 49, 51; (January 1927): 113-116; (February 1927): 151-155.

Author(s) Susan Huebert
Date Published April 2009

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Huebert, Susan. "Toews, Johann Johann (1878-1933)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. April 2009. Web. 10 Jul 2020.,_Johann_Johann_(1878-1933)&oldid=163434.

APA style

Huebert, Susan. (April 2009). Toews, Johann Johann (1878-1933). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 10 July 2020, from,_Johann_Johann_(1878-1933)&oldid=163434.

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