Cornelius F. Klassen

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Cornelius Franz Klassen (born August 3, 1894 in Neu Samara , Russian Empire ; † May 8, 1954 in Gronau ), an active member of the Mennonite Brethren in Canada from 1928, was a leading figure in Mennonite famine relief and Mennonite emigration and colonization in Russia, Canada and Europe. 1945-1954 he was the director of the Department for Refugees and Settlers in the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Europe for the refugees from Russia and Gdansk .

Childhood and youth

Cornelius F. Klassen was born on August 3, 1894 as the oldest of 13 children of Franz F. and Justine (Wiebe) Klassen in the Mennonite settlement of New Samara in the Russian Empire. He attended the village school in Donskoi in New Samara, where his family lived from 1900. His father owned a shop here until 1918.

From 1907 to 1910 CF Klassen attended the Mennonite Central School in Karassan in the Crimea. In the summer of 1911 he was baptized in the Mennonite Brethren Congregation in Lugovsk. In 1912 he accepted a position in the office of Otto Deutz Co. in Moscow .

1913–1914 studied pedagogy classes in Saint Petersburg with the lecturer A. Tcheriyayev and then worked for a year as a private teacher. Instead of studying medicine, as he wished, he was drafted into the forest service in 1915 , where he served until 1917.

Representative of the Mennonites in the Soviet Union

At the Mennonite Congress in 1917 in Ohrloff Klassen took part for the first time as a representative of the Mennonites. At the federal conference in Halbstadt he represented the forest servants. He finally proved his outstanding talent as a diplomat when he and Peter Froese negotiated before the Kerensky government in Moscow about the release of the imprisoned Mennonites.

1918–1919 Klassen worked as representatives of the Mennonite settlements of New Samara and Orenburg in Moscow and in the Bashkir Republic in Sterlitamak.

In 1920 Klassen - again together with Peter Froese - in Ufa was elected as the representative of the Mennonites of Eastern Russia and Siberia in Moscow. Here he worked with the United Council of Religious Bodies and the Russian Committee for Famine Relief until 1921, and helped AJ Miller in negotiations with the Kremlin. These negotiations laid the basis for the later emergence of the American Mennonite Relief (AMR) within the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Russia.

1921–1923 classes took an active part in the work of the AMR. In 1923 he took part in the reorganization of the All-Russian Mennonite Agricultural Association (AMLV) . Peter Froese was chairman and CF Klassen his deputy. The AMLV provided valuable help with the mass exodus of the Mennonites from the Soviet Union to Canada 1922–1925 and took over the representation of the Mennonites of Russia after the church conference had been switched off by the government in Moscow.

Mennonite representative in Canada

In December 1928, Klassen emigrated from Russia and settled in Winnipeg, Canada. He accepted a position with the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1930 and was instrumental in paying off the debt for the transportation of the Mennonite refugees from 1922 to 1925, for which the Mennonites had taken out a loan of over 1,000,000 Canadian dollars from the CPR.

Klassen worked closely with David Toews on the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization . He helped organize the Mennonite Central Relief Committee of Western Canada in 1940 and served as its first treasurer and secretary. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Gretna Mennonite Collegiate Institute and the Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg.

From 1936 Klassen was a member of the Committee for General Welfare and Public Relations of the MB General Conference and in 1941 he took up the role of Secretary of the Military Problems Committee of the Mennonite Congregations of Western Canada.

With David Toews he took part as a Canadian MP at the Mennonite World Conference in Gdansk (1930) and Amsterdam (1936). He was also a member of parliament and speaker at the world conference in Goshen-Newton (1948) and Basel (1952). From 1944 he was a member of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and from 1946 he was a member of its executive committee.

Working in Germany and Europe

Klass's greatest achievement is his work as the European Commissioner for Refugee Aid and Resettlement under the MCC in Europe from December 1945 until his death in 1954. In the last year of his service he was also Director General of MCC's work in Europe.

Klassen was the MCC representative on the committee for cooperation with the German Mennonites, as well as on the board of trustees of the Mennonite Bible School in Basel.

Klassen was a successful diplomat in negotiations with government institutions and international organizations ( UNO , IRO etc.) regarding exit permits, transport and the admission of over 10,000 Mennonites from Russia and several thousand Germans from Galicia and Danzig in Canada , Paraguay and Uruguay .

For the Mennonite refugees in Gdańsk, CF Klassen was the originator and organizer of the building programs in Niederbiber , Espelkamp , Backnang , Enkenbach and Wedel and also a leader in the organization of care for the elderly in Leutesdorf - where he is buried - Enkenbach and Pinneberg .

During the post-war period, Klassen worked in Europe, especially in Germany, as advisers and helpers in the revival of Mennonite community life and in the establishment of organizations such as the Mennonite Foyer in Valdoie-Belfort , France, the Basel Faith Conference and the magazine Der Mennonit , theirs He was editor until 1953.


Wife: Mary, b. Brieger

Children: Harold C. Klassen, Walfried C. Klassen, Herbert C. Klassen, Irmgard C. Klassen, Justina "Tinali" Klassen (died as a child).

Klassens Canadian domicile was Winnipeg until 1948 , then Abbotsford , British Columbia.


Klassen died on May 8, 1954 in Gronau. Through his tireless efforts he became a symbol for Mennonite hunger and refugee aid and a fighter for a better understanding among the Mennonites of various communities. This was also reflected in his collaboration on the compilation of the Mennonite Encyclopedia , of which he was co-editor from the beginning of the project until his death.


  • Der Mennonit , Issue 7 (1954), pp. 83-87.
  • Mennonitische Rundschau 77, No. 20 (May 19, 1954), pp. 1-5.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Gerhard Rempel: Klassen, Cornelius Franz. In: Mennonitisches Lexikon . Volume 5 (MennLex 5).