Umsiedler (Aussiedler)

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Umsiedler (Resettlers): The term "Aussiedler" is also used for these emigrants. Before the 1970s a few Russian Mennonites immigrated into the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany) within the scope of family reunification programs. Then the numbers of "resettlers" increased dramatically, came to a peak in 1978, and slowed down to almost none in the early 1980s. The increased again by the 1990s until few Mennonites remained in the former Soviet Union

Some of those who had been members of Mennoniten-Kirchengemeinden (Kirchliche Mennoniten) in the Soviet Union established new congregations with their own church buildings (Bielefeld, Neuwied, Wolfsburg), others joined existing congregations, especially those established by refugees from West Prussia and the Soviet Union (Bechterdissen, Backnang, Espelkamp, Freiburg, Göttingen, Neuwied-Torney).

The ecclesiology of the resettlers is determined by the now fading tradition of Mennonite church life in Russia and by their consciousness as persecuted Christians. They prefer lay preaching; they do not expect their elders and preachers to have a theological education and to receive a salary. Their sermons have a evangelistic stamp. Choirs and church music play an important role. Ecumenical relations are upheld mostly with evangelical groups and the World Council of Churches in Geneva is regarded as fatal for Christendom. The resettler churches are growing, primarily due to missionary outreach.

Preferring to solve issues among themselves rather than joining the existing German Mennonite conferences, they established in Bechterdissen (Bielefeld) in 1978 what became the Arbeitsgemeinschaft zur geistlichen Unterstützung in Mennonitengemeinden (AGUM), a task force for spiritual assistance in Mennonite churches. It takes care of the continuing education for preachers, makes Sunday school material available, assists smaller churches, attends to scattered sisters and brothers, and conducts evangelization. The Conference of Mennonites in Canada and the Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit support the work of the AGUM with finances and personnel. A productive cooperation of the Vereinigung Deutscher Mennonitengemeinden with the resettler churches has not developed, despite many efforts. The resettlers find too little biblical rigor and church discipline in the Vereinigung; they object to the use of cosmetics and display of jewelry, and the wearing of fashionable dresses; and they also resist the salaried ministry by one pastor (one pastor system) among the Vereinigung congregations. GHil

During the 1970s many members of the Mennonite Brethren church of Russia also entered the Bundesrepublik. The principal motive for leaving Russia was a deep longing for religious freedom and a serious concern for the future of their children.

Some of the resettlers joined the existing Mennonite Brethren congregations. The difference in understanding of the attitudes of personal piety, however, led the resettlers to establish four churches of their own between 1976 and 1979. A few years later, the largest congregation was divided by controversy. In 1986 there were five independent resettler Mennonite Brethren congregations amounting to 1,400 members (Espelkamp [2], Waldbröl, Neuwied, Frankenthal). After the influx from Russia stopped, the churches grew more slowly. In the mid-1980s the annual increase in members was ca. 4-5 percent. Although these congregations have not joined a conference, they maintain close connections by visiting each other, by exchanging their preachers, and by conducting occasional seminars for preachers. Since the beginning, these churches have been concerned about integration and identity. Resolution of the tension arising from these concerns would be significant for the Mennonite brotherhood in West Germany. After almost 10 years the Brethren remain "resettler churches" and have no contact with other German churches. The Frankenthal congregation is an exception in its openness to outside visitors at worship services and its readiness to accept members who were not born in Russia. Children of resettlers do accept Mennonite religious instruction among the denominational options in German public schools. They maintain a Bible school to train members for congregational work.

Since these churches are still developing and have to live in difficult circumstances, the question of foreign mission first arose in 1985. Both in Russia and Germany the Baptist Church seeks to gain influence in Mennonite Brethren churches. A clarification of the biblical well-founded differences between the Mennonite Brethren Church and the Baptist Church is most essential. GWö

Return emigrants, or Rückwanderer, are Russian Mennonites who settled in South America in 1930-32 or 1947-48, then came to the Bundesrepublik beginning in the late 1950s. In Latin America they lived in the Paraguayan colonies of Neuland, Volendam, Fernheim, Friesland, and Menno; in El Ombu, Gartenthal and Delta in Uruguay; in the metropolitan areas of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Curitiba, Brazil; and near Santa Cruz in Bolivia. The relief agencies Stichting voor Bijzondere Noden (Dutch) and Hilfswerk der Vereinigung Deutscher Mennonitengemeinden (German) commissioned Rie Hoogeveen, a Dutch social worker (1960-67), and Jakob Redekopp, manager of the retirement home at Enkenbach, (1967-72) as part-time workers to assist the Rückwanderer. The International Mennonite organization (IMO) established in November 1972 the Mennonitische Umsiedlerbetreuung and employed Hans von Niessen to take care of the Rückwanderer and the Umsiedler from the Soviet Union as well. Since 1973 yearly meetings have been held for Rückwanderer and Umsiedler in Bechterdissen, Neuwied, Espelkamp and Bielefeld. In 1986 about 2,400 return emigrants were living in West Germany especially in the Bielefeld, Espelkamp, Gronau, Neuwied, and Stuttgart areas. Most return emigrants settled where they could find Mennonite congregations and jobs. Reasons for their coming were economic difficulties, social insecurities, and health problems in South America and the presence of' relatives in the Bundesrepublik. A Landsmannschaft der Südamerika-Heimkehrer (Fellowship of the Return Emigrants from South America) was established in 1979; it had 270 members in 1986.


Dürksen, H. "Mennonitische Rückwanderer aus Paraguay." Unpublished thesis at the U. of Cologne, 1975, written with support from IMO.

Mennonitisches Jahrbuch (1976-86).

Niessen, Hans v. "Betreuungsdienst mennonitischer Aussiedler aus der UdSSR" in Die Kirchen und das religiöse Leben der Rußlanddeutschen, ed. Joseph Schnurr. Stuttgart, 1978.

Wölk, Heinrich and Gerhard Wölk. Die Mennoniten-Brüdergemeinde in Rußland 1925-1980. Fresno, CA: Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 1981, Engl. trans. as A Wilderness Journey. Fresno, CA 1982. Available in full electronic text at:

Author(s) Gerhard, Gerhard Wölk Hildebrandt
Hans von Nissen
Date Published 1989

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Hildebrandt, Gerhard, Gerhard Wölk and Hans von Nissen. "Umsiedler (Aussiedler)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 24 Jun 2021.

APA style

Hildebrandt, Gerhard, Gerhard Wölk and Hans von Nissen. (1989). Umsiedler (Aussiedler). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 June 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 895-896. All rights reserved.

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