Toews, Peter Jakob (1897-1943)

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Peter Jakob Toews: minister in the Ohrloff Church; born 14 January 1897 in Ohrloff, Molotschna Mennonite Settlement, South Russia, to Jakob and Elisabeth (Klassen) Toews. He was the 14th of 16 children but the sixth of eight from his father’s third marriage. Peter married Elisabeth K. Janzen of Ohrloff on 25 April 1921, and the couple had four children, three girls and a boy. He was arrested in 1937 and sent into exile, where he was reported to have died on 14 July 1943.

Peter grew up in the community of Ohrloff, where he attended the village school for a number of years. He likely worked at home for several years before being drafted into the Sanitätsdienst in 1916. He was released from service in 1917 and returned home before being drafted again in 1918 and serving as a medical orderly in a field hospital. In 1919, Peter was baptized and joined the Ohrloff Mennonite Church. The next year, he contracted typhus and was released from his hospital work.

Towards the end of May 1921, Toews went to court for his father, who had been levied large fines which he was unable to pay. Peter took his father’s place and was condemned to death, but on payment of a substantial bribe, he was allowed to work at the Bethania Mental Hospital for six weeks and then released.

From 1921 to 1925, Toews was the conductor of the Ohrloff Mennonite Church choir. He was elected minister by the church and tried to enhance his education by taking several courses led by Elder David Epp, who served the churches in both Ohrloff and Lichtenau. Peter delivered his first sermon in July 1924 and was ordained as minister by Elder Abraham Klassen of Neu-Halbstadt on 15 February 1925.  

With conditions in Russia deteriorating for the Mennonites, Peter tried to obtain exit visas on several occasions, but each time he was unsuccessful. In 1929, he and his father went to Moscow to try one more time to receive permission to leave; they were imprisoned but were released after 14 days. Peter continued to preach, but since he had been disenfranchised, he could not obtain work. Despite being threatened by the local authorities, he continued to serve as a minister, often traveling long distances to visit people.

In 1932, Toews was arrested again, tortured for two weeks in Halbstadt, and then in August, he was sentenced to three years of hard labor in Kem, in the far north near the White Sea. Because he had been a medical orderly in the past, he was posted to the hospital in the prison camp and worked there until his release in January 1937. He was reunited with his family in Melitopol, where they had found work. Even Peter was able to find a job, although he had to report regularly to the secret police. He was arrested again one night in December 1937 and sent into exile, where he was reported to have died on 14 July 1943. His family was deported to Siberia in 1943. 

Peter Jakob Toews was a dedicated minister who persisted in his calling despite the difficult circumstances in his life, becoming an example to his family, his community, and future generations.


GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 6.06 ed. Fresno, CA: California Mennonite Historical Society, 2011: #352850.

Toews, Aron A. Mennonitische Märtyrer: der jüngsten Vergangenheit und der Gegenwart, 2 vols. North Clearbrook, BC: Selbstverlag des Vefassers, 1949-1954: v. 1, 185-186.

Toews family information.

Author(s) Susan Huebert
Helmut T. Huebert
Date Published February 2011

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MLA style

Huebert, Susan and Helmut T. Huebert. "Toews, Peter Jakob (1897-1943)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. February 2011. Web. 22 Oct 2020.,_Peter_Jakob_(1897-1943)&oldid=85577.

APA style

Huebert, Susan and Helmut T. Huebert. (February 2011). Toews, Peter Jakob (1897-1943). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 October 2020, from,_Peter_Jakob_(1897-1943)&oldid=85577.

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