Warkentin, Jakob (1938-2012)

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Jakob Warkentin: historian and educator, was born 9 March 1938 in Fürstenwerder, Molotschna Mennonite Settlement, Ukraine to Jacob Warkentin (30 September 1913-1938) and Justina Thiessen Warkentin (17 December 1913-3 March 1983). He had an older sister, Erika. Jakob Warkentin was five years old when the westward great trek of Russian Mennonites began from the Ukraine in 1943. His father had perished in Stalin's purges of 1938, shortly before Warkentin's birth. Five years later, after a harrowing experience as refugees in Berlin, where they desperately hoped they would not be sent back to the Soviet Union, Warkentin and his mother and sister finally settled as pioneers of Neuland Colony in Paraguay. In 1950 he was baptized into the Mennonite Brethren Church.

On 16 January 1965 he married Sina Hildebrand (29 November 1936- ), a nurse. On a visit to Germany in 2012 Jakob Warkentin suffered a massive heart attack in Frankfurt and died on 22 May 2012.

Soon after arrival in the Neuland Colony, Jakob Warkentin attended the Menno Colony primary school, graduating in 1951. From 1952 to 1955 he attended the Zentralschule in Neu-Halbstadt.

The more typical expectation of a young Mennonite boy in the Neuland Colony would have been to stay at home to help build up a farm through years of backbreaking labor. But since Warkentin proved to be an outstanding student in secondary school, his mother, supported by the colony administration, encouraged him to continue his education. The only possibility open was the teacher’s training course offered in the neighboring Fernheim Colony. However, after one semester of study there in 1956, doors opened for him to go back to Germany where Mennonite Central Committee offered to finance his studies for a teacher’s diploma.

Warkentin arrived in Frankfurt in 1956 as an 18-year-old in time to witness some of the postwar rebuilding process and MCC's involvement in those efforts. He began a six-year course of study to obtain his state diploma. During this time of intense learning, Warkentin also became familiar with many North American Mennonites working in Europe, including members of the Concern movement, volunteers in the PAX program, and MCC administrators. Some of these friendships persisted for a lifetime, and they broadened his vision for Mennonite peace theology.

After returning to Paraguay in the mid-1960s, Warkentin spent several years teaching secondary school in his native Neuland Colony. Following his marriage to Sina Hildebrandt, the couple returned to Germany in 1969 to continue studies at the University of Marburg. There he concentrated on pedagogy, history, and English. Warkentin's PhD dissertation focused on German immigrant schools in Paraguay, especially their relationship to German foreign policy, starting in the late-nineteenth century and continuing to the postwar period. That research, begun in 1974, was interrupted by years of professional activity in Germany as well as at the teacher’s training institute in Filadelfia, Paraguay. In 1995 his dissertation was published under the title Die Deutschsprachigen Siedlerschulen in Paraguay.

In the late 1990s a group of historians and archivists began to meet on a sporadic basis to debate issues of Mennonite history in Paraguay. In 1999, after several meetings, the group decided to organize formally as a historical society. Warkentin was one of the founding members and for nine years he chaired this society.

After retiring from his academic and administrative duties, Warkentin continued to promote education as the supervisor of schools in Neuland, during which time he also compiled his many essays, articles, and sermons into three volumes, published in 2007 and 2008 under the collective title Erziehung und Bildung (Education and Formation). His constant concern was to promote well-rounded education aimed at raising the quality of life through cultural advancement and responsible political involvement, locally and nationally. He often said that “economic progress without cultural progress is counterproductive to a community."

The profound gratitude that Warkentin felt for the abundant help that he received through MCC and, especially, through Peter and Elfrieda Dyck led him to write their biography. The book, aimed at the Mennonite reading audience in Paraguay, appeared in 2010 as Dienst im Namen Christi (Service in the Name of Christ).

During a tour through Canada and the United States in 2009 Warkentin spent a week in Washington, D.C., searching for documents pertaining to the German nationalist movement in Fernheim at the time of the Third Reich. Having treated this topic in his dissertation, he was eager to do additional research. This remained his last and unfinished writing project.

On a 2012 visit to Germany he suffered a massive heart attack in Frankfurt and died. Among Mennonites in Paraguay Jakob Warkentin will be remembered as a passionate and outspoken educator with a broad vision for the church as well as for Mennonite society and witness within the national context.


“Jakob Warkentin.” GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 16-01 ed. Fresno, CA: " California Mennonite Historical Society, 2016: #800414.

Niebuhr, Gundolf. "In Memoriam: Jakob Warkentin (1938-2012)." Mennonite Quarterly Review 86 (October 2012): 403-404. This GAMEO article is derived, with permission, from the MQR memorial article.

"Warkentin Thiessen, Jakob." MennLex V. Web. 3 June 2016. http://www.mennlex.de/doku.php?id=art:warkentin_thiessen_jakob.

Books by Jakob Warkentin

Warkentin, Jakob, Hrsg. 50 Jahre Kolonie Neuland Chaco-Paraguay : eine Gedenkschrift zum fünfzigjährigen Jubiläum. Asunción : Gedruckt bei Artes Gráficas Zamphirópolos, 1997.

Warkentin, Jakob. Die deutschsprachigen Siedlerschulen in Paraguay : im Spannungsfeld staatlicher Kultur- und Entwicklungspolitik. Münster : Waxmann, 1998.

Warkentin, Jakob, et al. Lexikon der Mennoniten in Paraguay. Asunción : Verein für Geschichte und Kultur der Mennoniten in Paraguay, 2009.

Warkentin, Jakob. Dienst im Namen Christi : Leben und Wirken von Peter und Elfrieda Dyck. Asunción : Verein für Geschichte und Kultur der Mennoniten in Paraguay, 2010.

Author(s) Gundolf Niebuhr
Date Published June 2016

Cite This Article

MLA style

Niebuhr, Gundolf. "Warkentin, Jakob (1938-2012)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. June 2016. Web. 26 Sep 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Warkentin,_Jakob_(1938-2012)&oldid=135171.

APA style

Niebuhr, Gundolf. (June 2016). Warkentin, Jakob (1938-2012). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 September 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Warkentin,_Jakob_(1938-2012)&oldid=135171.

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