The village of Suzanovo in the Orenburg region of Russia was founded in 1911 by Johann Peters, as a farmstead outside of the larger Mennonite settlement in that area. In the early years, it was populated by Johann and his children. Later, other Mennonites joined this Mennonite island located amidst Russian and Bashkir villages.
In 1918, at the end of World War I and just before the Civil War began, Johann Peters, Jr., the son of the village founder, together with his family and some other people, went to a mission to the Ostyak people in Northern Siberia. In 1925, this mission project became widely known. In the next few years many other people joined the team and it became the largest Mennonite mission project in the USSR.
When the Communist antireligious campaign reached Northern Siberia, however, the Peters fled back to Suzanovo. The people there avoided de-kulakization by voluntarily founding akolkhoz (collective farms) before the government forced them to. The small village, consisting of twelve houses, avoided big shocks until 1937. Up to this time, they even were able to hold small church services there.
On February 2nd, 1937, the 26-year-old school teacher Abram Teichrieb went to a teacher’s conference in the central village of the region. During lunch in the communal dining hall, he was arrested. His wife Lisa was informed about this later by fellow villagers.
On the next day, the secret police came to the village and arrested the 27-year-old Nikolai Wiebe, a worker on the kolkhoz. He was accused of poisoning pigs in the kolkhoz. Ten days later, on February 13, the secret police again visited the village and arrested the 54-year-old mill worker Paul Peters, the 52-year-old Ostyak missionary Johann Peters, the 48-year-old Daniel Peters, the 40-year-old Johann Kehler, member of the Ostyak missionary team, and the 39-year-old evangelist, Johann Wieler, who in former days attended a theological school in Leningrad. On the same day the 35-year-old Heinrich Peters, also an Ostyak missionary, and the 27-year-old Johann Peters, son of Paul Peters and choir director, were also arrested.
After a month of anxiety and fear in the small village, the secret police again made a visit and arrested the 42-year-old Nikolai Wiebe. Two weeks later, when the sowing season was successfully completed, the police arrested the 43-year-old chairman of the kolkhoz, Heinrich Neufeld. Neufeld had had a premonition of evil–officials repeatedly blamed him for tolerating sectarians in the kolkhoz, and just a day before a local authority praised the kolkhoz for all its achievements. On the same day, the 50-year-old Peter Ens was arrested. He managed to send a short message from the prison that gave the relatives some assurance. On May 1, the 28-year-old David Pätkau, son of David Pätkau, Sr., was arrested.
All in all, in a short time, thirteen persons from one small village were arrested. The relatives of the arrested maintained hope for their release until the 1950s when they were informed by officials of the death of all arrested. Only at the end of 1980s were relatives informed that the exact date of their execution had taken place shortly after their arrests.
Source: David Dik, Vinogradnik v prekrasnom meste: Suzanovo (1911-2011) [Vineyard in a Beautiful Place: Suzanovo (1911-2011)] (Nümbrecht, 2011).
Submitted and translated by Johannes Dyck. Edited by Elizabeth Miller.