Unruh, Benjamin Heinrich (1881-1959)

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Benjamin H. Unruh (1881-1959)
Source: Mennonite Life (January 1960)

Benjamin Heinrich Unruh: outstanding Russian Mennonite teacher and later emigration leader; born at Timir-Bulat (German, Philippstal), Crimea, Russia, on 17 September 1881, the son of Heinrich Benjamin Unruh (24 May 1847, Waldheim, Molotschna, South Russia – 17 October 1883, Timir-Bulat, Crimea, South Russia) and Elisabeth Wall (24 May 1846, Schoensee, Molotschna, South Russia – November 1922, Tiege, Molotschna, South Russia), (an older brother was Abraham H. Unruh). Benjamin’s first wife was Frieda Hege (1 January 1880, Loewenstein, Baden-Württemberg, Germany – 28 December 1946, Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, Germany). She was a daughter of Elder Christian Hege of Breitenau. Benjamin and Frieda married on 8 August 1907 in Loewenstein, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. After Frieda’s death, Benjamin married Paula Hotel (2 November 1911, Germany – 19 February 1998, Germany) on 17 March 1948. She was a daughter of Elder Johannes Hotel of Batzenhof near Durlach. Benjamin and Frieda had 8 children: Rudolph, Martha, Hans, Heinrich, Liesel (married to Horst Quiring), Olga, Maria, and Fritz (died during World War II). Benjamin died in a hospital in Mannheim, Baden-Württemberg, Germany on 12 May 1959.

Benjamin's father was the elder of the Mennonite (Kirchliche Mennoniten) Church at Karassan, Crimea, but Benjamin was baptized a member of the Mennonite Brethren Church at Spat at the age of 18. Benjamin attended the Orloff Zentralschule, Molotschna, followed by the pedagogical course at Halbstadt. He passed the teachers' examination at the Russian secondary school at Simferopol, and in 1899 the Russian state examination at Kharkov. His education was crowned by attendance at two higher schools in Basel, Switzerland, followed by the University 1900-1907, and the Predigerseminar, parallel in the earlier years. He received the Licentiate in theology, which was equivalent to the doctor's degree, in Church History at Basel, and the honorary Doctor of Theology at the University of Heidelberg in 1937. He also served for a number of years as lecturer in Russian language and literature at the Karlsruhe Technische Hochschule.

Unruh's career in Russia was that of teacher, serving at the Halbstadt Kommerzschule, where he taught German and Religion. He wrote a Bibelkunde for the Mennonite schools of Russia that caused some controversy in Mennonite circles there. In 1920 he was appointed a member of the Russlandmennonitische Studienkommission chosen by the Mennonites of Russia to seek out emigration possibilities in foreign countries. As such he spent most of 1920 in western Europe and North America. After his return to Europe in November 1920 he settled in Karlsruhe, Germany, living most of the time in the suburb of Rüppurr.

From 1920 to the end of his active days, about 1955, Unruh served the interests of his Russian Mennonite brethren in emigration and resettlement, working in this respect directly as commissioner for the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization for the immigration to Canada 1921-25 and later, and for the Mennonite Central Committee in immigration to Paraguay 1930-33. He long continued a close relationship with the new settlements in both countries by correspondence and the writing of articles in the German Mennonite press. In Germany he was a member of numerous organizations dealing with German refugees from Russia; e.g., Brüder in Not 1930 ff., and Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland. In his varied service in this field he became widely known and highly regarded and rendered extraordinary service. Although not an ordained minister (he refused ordination unless he could be ordained by all branches of the Mennonites in Russia), and he never transferred his membership to a Mennonite congregation in Germany, he was an able speaker and preacher and was a well-known figure at Mennonite conferences in Germany.

Unruh was the author not only of numerous articles in the German Mennonite press of Germany and Canada but of a major scholarly work, Die niederlandisch-niederdeutschen Hintergründe der mennonitischen Ostwanderungen im 16., 18. und 19. Jahrhundert (Karlsruhe-Rüppurr, 1955). His "Fügung und Fuhrung im Mennonitischen Welt-Hilfswerk 1920-1933, Streiflichter in personlicher und dienstlicher Rückschau," completed in 1958, has been deposited in manuscript with the Mennonite Central Committee at Akron, Pennsylvania, and the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.


"Benjamin H. Unruh" (an autobiography). Der Bote XXVIII (5 September 1951): 1 ff.; (12 September 1951): 1-3; (19 September 1951): 2 ff; (26 September 1951): 2 ff.

GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 5.00 ed. Fresno, CA: California Mennonite Historical Society, 2006: #133597.

Krahn, Cornelius. "Biographical Sketch of Benjamin H. Unruh." Mennonite Life (January 1960): 6.

Quiring, Horst. "Benjamin H. Unruh zum 70. Geburtstag." Mennonitische Geschichtsblätter (1952): 27-34.

Schnebele, Christian. "Auf Benjamin Unruh's Tatigkeit." Mennonitisches Jahrbuch (1952): 45-47.

Author(s) Harold S Bender
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bender, Harold S. "Unruh, Benjamin Heinrich (1881-1959)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 24 Sep 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Unruh,_Benjamin_Heinrich_(1881-1959)&oldid=170166.

APA style

Bender, Harold S. (1959). Unruh, Benjamin Heinrich (1881-1959). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 September 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Unruh,_Benjamin_Heinrich_(1881-1959)&oldid=170166.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 1131-1132. All rights reserved.

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