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Typhus, a highly contagious and very frequently fatal fever, which often occurs epidemically. It is also called spotted fever or spotted typhus. Body and head lice are the common carriers of the disease. Spotted typhus generally breaks out in epidemic proportions after acute national emergencies such as famine, devastation, etc. The chief occurrence of this plague in the history of the Mennonites was among the Mennonites of the Ukraine in the winter of 1919-20, when the Makhno hordes brought the epidemic directly into the homes of the Mennonites; they preferred to lodge in Mennonite dwellings. Since the Mennonites had been robbed of their linens and clothes it was impossible for them to observe necessary sanitation. Together with the spotted typhus appeared a less serious disease, possibly paratyphoid fever, an intestinal infection cased by the bacterium Salmonella paratyphi, contracted by ingestion of contaminated food or water. There is no relationship between the bacteria that cause typhus and those that cause paratyphoid. 

Very severe suffering was endured from spotted typhus by the Chortitza Mennonite settlement. Several weeks before Christmas of 1919, great numbers began to die; the number gradually decreased toward the spring of 1920. The improvement was due in part to the immunity acquired by the survivors and in part to the possibility, owing to the warm spring weather, of removing the vermin from the houses and people. Of great assistance was also the aid that the villages of the Molotschna Mennonite settlement rendered in 1920 in supplying linen and nurses to the Chortitza settlement.

The statistics from the village of Nieder-Chortitza (Old Colony) show the following:

  Male Female Total
Mennonite population of the village 441 458 894
Afflicted by illness in the winter of 1919-20 310 327 630
Afflicted by spotted fever 284 286 570
Afflicted by paratyphoid 26 41 67
Total deaths 61 33 94


The total deaths amounted to just about 11 per cent of the population. These statistics would apply in the same ratio more or less to the sixteen villages (the island of Chortitza had at this time already been vacated by the Mennonite population) of the Chortitza settlement, bringing the total number of Mennonite deaths from typhus in that winter to ca. 1500.

Many also died in the Nikolaipol settlement, and elsewhere wherever the Makhno bandits remained for any period of time. As the statistics indicated, there were more deaths among the males than the females, and these were largely men of 40-60 years, the age from which the responsible personalities of society would be drawn. This resulted in great changes in many villages. Thanks to the tenacity and the deeply rooted traditions of the Mennonites (appointing the guardians for the many orphans, the administrators for the widows, regulating the estates through the "Waisenamt") this change was not as painful as it might have been. The villages of the Molotschna settlement also helped in giving many of the orphans homes in their families. The epidemic which afflicted the Menno Colony settlers at Puerto Casado, Paraguay, en route to the Chaco interior in 1927 (147 deaths) was typhoid fever and not typhus.


Die Mennoniten-Geneinden in Russland während der Kriegs- und Revolutionsjahre 1914 bis 1920. Heilbronn, 1921.

Neufeld, Dietrich. Ein Tagebuch aus dem Reiche des Totentanzes. Emden, 1921.

Author(s) John G Rempel
Date Published August 2010

Cite This Article

MLA style

Rempel, John G. "Typhus." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. August 2010. Web. 17 Aug 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Typhus&oldid=167556.

APA style

Rempel, John G. (August 2010). Typhus. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 17 August 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Typhus&oldid=167556.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 760. All rights reserved.

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