David P. Boder Interviews Julius Klüver; September 19, 1946; München, Germany

  • David Boder: [In English] September 19, 1946 in a large refugee center in the Funkkasernen we are interviewing Mr. Julius Klüver, a leader of the Mennonite Group, which moved gradually from [Name] Russia up to the American Zone in Germany.
  • David Boder: [In German]Now tell me again, Mr. Klver, what is your name, how old are you and where were you born?
  • Julius Klüver: My name is Julius Klver. I am 43 years old. I was born in the province of Ekaterinoslav in the district of Dniprovs'ke, in the Ukraine on the farm of my father, Alexandrovka.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, Mr. Klver, where were you and what happened to you when the war started?
  • Julius Klüver: At the beginning of the war I was in the Ukraine in the city of Zaporoje. I worked in a factory as a bookkeeper.
  • David Boder: So what happened when the war started?
  • Julius Klüver: When the war started I continued working at the plant until the arrival of the Germans. When the Germans arrived it became the goal of the Mennonites as well as my own to get away west as far as possible and from there to join the Mennonites of Canada, of U.S.A., or of Paraguay. That was our bold aim since 1920, and now we decided to endeavor to reach this goal.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, how many Mennonites were there altogether [In Russia]?
  • Julius Klüver: By the year 1930, there were about 80,000 Mennonites.
  • David Boder: Where did they all live?
  • Julius Klüver: Most of them lived in southern Russia.
  • David Boder: Tell me, were most of the Mennonites German?
  • Julius Klüver: The Mennonites are Dutch. They are of Dutch origin. They migrated from the Low Countries to southern Russia upon an invitation from the Empress Catherine the Second and her successors. They came to Russia to colonize the southern Ukraine. They left the low countries, the shores of the northern sea, on account of their religion and their refusal to bear arms. We were promised in Russia that we should be able to obey by our faith which precludes the bearing of arms.
  • David Boder: And that means what?
  • Julius Klüver: Not to be compelled to serve as soldiers, which is against our religious beliefs.
  • David Boder: Did the Russians keep their promise?
  • Julius Klüver: The Russians kept their promise up to the year of 1920.
  • David Boder: Did the Tzars never draft the Mennonites?
  • Julius Klüver: During the epoch of the Tzars we were not compelled to bear arms but we were drafted for labor service under the department of forestry.
  • David Boder: So when were the Mennonites drafted into the army for the first time?
  • Julius Klüver: Since the formation of the Soviet Republic.
  • David Boder: So it was then when it started? What did the Mennonites do about it?
  • Julius Klüver: The Mennonites refused, and were taken to the courts. I too was hailed before the courts in 1923 and it took a long time before I was released on the grounds of my religious beliefs.
  • David Boder: How did they happen to release you?
  • Julius Klüver: It was possible to be released by order of the Soviet Courts.
  • David Boder: Was everybody taken separately before the courts?
  • Julius Klüver: A large number of our young men were tried at that time. Many were released; many were not.
  • David Boder: And what did they do to those who were not released?
  • Julius Klüver: A few were drafted, but most of them were sentenced to labor service in Siberia.
  • David Boder: So. Well, what happened when the Germans came into Russia?
  • Julius Klüver: As soon as the Germans arrived in Russia part of the Mennonites moved immediately west.
  • David Boder: You mean they went to meet the Germans?
  • Julius Klüver: No, but they moved westward. To us it was immaterial. If there would have come a French army, a Dutch army, a Turkish army, we had only one goal. To get away from the East.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Julius Klüver: Because of our parents, our sisters and our brothers. Nearly all were exiled to Siberia. We were deprived of all our belongings.
  • David Boder: When did that happen?
  • Julius Klüver: That happened between 1920 and 1935. Take for example, my case. My father was rich. He owned a farm. My father was shot in 1920 because he was a rich man. I, then a youngster of 17, had to go for years in hiding so that I should not be shot. I had one aim, to get away to our brothers in Canada. I have in Canada three sisters. I have neither brothers or sisters here. My wife has four sisters in Canada and all we were longing for was back to our Mennonites. For example, from my ten uncles that I had here, nine of them are gone. Five died in Siberia, four died in prison, and the sole reason for their arrest was that they were rich people.
  • David Boder: Well, so when did that movement westward start? Were you in Saratov when the war started.
  • Julius Klüver: No, I lived in Zaporoje. The Germans arrived in the winter of '41 and part of us went already in 1942 to Poland. I went to Poland at the beginning of 1943.
  • David Boder: Was that with permission of the Germans?
  • Julius Klüver: Yes, that was with the permission of the Germans. We were permitted to go west. I went to Poland and stayed in Poland nearly three years. But when the front approached towards Poland I went forward from Poland to Germany and so I arrived in Chemnitz. I stayed in Chemnitz only two weeks. Then there came that big air attack. I was bombed out and I fled with my family westward and so I arrived in Munich.
  • David Boder: When did you get to Munich?
  • Julius Klüver: I arrived in Munich in January, 1945.
  • David Boder: Didn't the Germans demand from the Mennonites any labor service?
  • Julius Klüver: A few of the Mennonites were compelled to work. A few even were drafted or were about to be drafted but not many. Most of them stuck to their religious faith which prohibits bearing arms and were working on various jobs and in this way they escaped service in the armed forces.
  • David Boder: And how many of you Mennonites are now here in this lager?
  • Julius Klüver: We are in this lager 552 Mennonites. Most of them want to go to Paraguay. A certain number want to go to Canada where their relatives are, who have sent them already the affidavits.
  • David Boder: Tell me, were the Mennonites in Canada permitted not to join the services?
  • Julius Klüver: To the best of my knowledge the Canadians have rendered in this war mostly labor service. Only a few joined the army or navy.
  • David Boder: What do you mean, the Canadians in general or the Canadian Mennonites?
  • Julius Klüver: The Canadian Mennonites.
  • David Boder: Tell me, how were these 500 Mennonites gathered together? With how many did you leave Russia.
  • Julius Klüver: I left only with my family.
  • David Boder: How many people were you?
  • Julius Klüver: We were four people. So we were gathered together from the whole American zone. One by one. Nearly all women and children.
  • David Boder: Where are the men?
  • Julius Klüver: Most of the men are in Siberia. They were all rounded up in 1936 and 1937. Before the war in Russia.
  • David Boder: Are they permitted in Siberia to follow their Mennonite faith?
  • Julius Klüver: They are prisoners in various camps. In labor service. We have no word from them and we have no word whether they are still alive or not!
  • David Boder: How many grown up men are there among these 500 people?
  • Julius Klüver: About one-third are men.
  • David Boder: The others are women and children?
  • Julius Klüver: Women and children. We have about 250 children here.
  • David Boder: Do you expect the Canadians to let you in?
  • Julius Klüver: We are quite sure of that. We have already the permission to come to Paraguay and we expect that the first transport of 430 Mennonites will depart for Paraguay. There are large Mennonite colonies in that country. And the people from here go to their relatives or to their friends in these Mennonite colonies.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, for how many generations did your family live in Russia?
  • Julius Klüver: My grandfather came to Russia as a little child.
  • David Boder: How long ago about was that?
  • Julius Klüver: That must have been eighty or ninety years ago, about ninety years ago.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, how did it happen that the Mennonites still preserved in Russia the German language?
  • Julius Klüver: You see, we talk among ourselves still Dutch, the Frisian Platt. Only our hymn book, our Bibles, and our school books were in German. Originally we used a Dutch dialect, but since the Mennonite colonies in southern Russia were surrounded by a large number of German colonies and since years ago there was a better supply of German books the language of our schools and of our religion has become German. But up to now, we still talk among ourselves at home the Dutch language.
  • David Boder: Tell me, Mr. Klver, what other differences besides the refusal to bear arms is there between the Mennonite religion and the other Protestant religions?
  • Julius Klüver: First of all, we have no infant baptism, but adult baptism.
  • David Boder: What do you mean by adult baptism?
  • Julius Klüver: Our people are baptized at the age of 17, 18, 19 years. Not as children, but when they reach the age between 17 and 19. Second, the refusal to bear arms. Third we do not swear. We say yes, yes, or no, no, but we do not make any vows.
  • David Boder: Not even to your country, to your fatherland?
  • Julius Klüver: Never.
  • David Boder: But otherwise you are Protestants?
  • Julius Klüver: Of Protestant faith.
  • David Boder: Now tell me where were you at the end, during the last year of the war? When Germany was gradually losing the war?
  • Julius Klüver: From the beginning of 1943 until the end of 1945 I lived in Poland. I lived near Lesmanstadt as a bookkeeper at a factory.
  • David Boder: In Poland?
  • Julius Klüver: In Poland.
  • David Boder: When did you get to the American zone?
  • Julius Klüver: I arrived at the American zone in January, 1945.
  • David Boder: And before that you were in Poland?
  • Julius Klüver: In Poland.
  • David Boder: So where were you when the Russians came to Poland?
  • Julius Klüver: When the front came near Poland I moved towards Germany.
  • David Boder: Farther west? Did the Germans permit it?
  • Julius Klüver: Yes. They permitted it.
  • David Boder: Were you in any districts that were severely bombed?
  • Julius Klüver: From Poland I came to Chemnitz. There I stayed two weeks and intended to look for work. I already rented there a room but in two weeks the house was entirely bombed out and to save the life of my family I fled on foot with a single trunk to the city. I escaped to Munich. Here lived a cousin of mine and I joined him.
  • David Boder: Did he always live in Munich? Or was he too a refugee?
  • Julius Klüver: He too was a refugee, and he came here from Russia in 1942.
  • David Boder: And so you all gathered here gradually and you now are ready to travel further?
  • Julius Klüver: When we arrived in Munich we couldn't find lodging in the city. We went to the peasants and I found a place 40 kilometers from Munich. Here I worked for a peasant for more than a year as a hired man [his calendaric dates are apparently confused].
  • David Boder: And where was your family?
  • Julius Klüver: My family was with me too, on the farm.
  • David Boder: Who was with you? Your wife and two children?
  • Julius Klüver: My wife and two daughters. We all worked for the peasant without pay. We had to live on our ration cards and now and then we got a little bit of milk from him.
  • David Boder: What do you mean you lived on your ration cards. Didn't the peasant feed you?
  • Julius Klüver: No. We got our ration cards and we had to work. We just got a supplement of a little bit of milk.
  • David Boder: And for your other food you had to pay?
  • Julius Klüver: That I paid for.
  • David Boder: How did you pay?
  • Julius Klüver: I still had some money from my previous earnings. One didn't need too much money in order to buy the supplies that one was allowed to get on his card.
  • David Boder: You say you still had some money. What kind of currency was it?
  • Julius Klüver: That were Germen marks, reichmarks.
  • David Boder: How could you get them in exchange for Russian rubles?
  • Julius Klüver: That wasn't saved in Russian rubles. These were my earnings from Poland. There we were paid already in reichmarks. I had no more currency in Russian rubles.
  • David Boder: Now let us clear that up. You and your family worked for the peasant. Isn't that so?
  • Julius Klüver: Yes.
  • David Boder: And he did not give you the food free of charge?
  • Julius Klüver: That was against the law. If one had a ration card he had no right to eat with the peasant, that is, if one kept house for himself.
  • David Boder: Then why did you take out the ration cards?
  • Julius Klüver: That was the rule that all the refugees had to take out ration cards. That was because I had my family with me. Had I been alone I would not have been given a ration card and I would have to eat with the peasant. But since I had my family I took my meals with my family. My wife did her own cooking.
  • David Boder: And you paid for the food, and gave him your ration stamps except for some milk now and then? And he did not pay you anything?
  • Julius Klüver: No, he didn't pay me any money. He told me that I am working for our lodging and the few things that he gave me. I had a table and a few chairs and in exchange for that I had to work.
  • David Boder: What does that mean he had given them?
  • Julius Klüver: He placed them into my room.
  • David Boder: Oh, he had given them to you!
  • Julius Klüver: Yes.
  • David Boder: Was this peasant a Nazi?
  • Julius Klüver: He was a Nazi up to 1936. And then he left the party because he was afraid that in time he would lose his farm. He was a rich peasant and that is why he did not agree with the Nazis. He was afraid that in time they will organize some farm cooperative.
  • David Boder: Something like the Russian collective farms?
  • Julius Klüver: Something of that kind, and that is why in time he became aroused against the Nazis. At the beginning he had joined them and was a member of the party up to 1936.
  • David Boder: And you believe that such a peasant was uninformed either through relatives or friends about the goings-on in concentration camps?
  • Julius Klüver: I think he might not have known it. Moreover he had very little interest for such things. And he wasn't getting together with the people too much. Here in Bavaria the peasants do not mingle very much.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, you had to opportunity to observe the Germans. What did such a peasant think about the war?
  • Julius Klüver: Many of them thought that Germany will win. But many also predicted that Germany will never win the war because the superiority of the enemy was too great.
  • David Boder: And where were you on the date of Germany's surrender?
  • Julius Klüver: In the same village with the peasant.
  • David Boder: And what did the people say then?
  • Julius Klüver: Many of the Germans were very glad that the war was over and their sons will return home. And the peasants turned to their work. They said, 'It will be bad at the beginning, but in time we will get on our feet again as good peasants.' They all had hope for a better future.
  • David Boder: Tell me, did the peasants eat well during the war?
  • Julius Klüver: Most of them did. They found ways not to surrender everything and they took good care of themselves and ate very well. Most of them.
  • David Boder: Now as an observer—what do you think of the present German situation?
  • Julius Klüver: How can I tell you? I have so little interest in the situation right here. My interests, my thoughts are all overseas. To get away from here as soon as possible so that finally I should have a homeland. Since 1920 I had not a single night in peace. And to have a little, little land of my own. As I observe the Germans here, soon times will be better for them. That I heard in the villages. They think it may be bad for three, four, five years, but eventually they will have a better life, a freer life, better than they had under the Nazis.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, what was the attitude of the peasant with whom you lived and of his kind, what was their attitude toward the Jews?
  • Julius Klüver: Their attitude toward the Jews was bad. One could feel that also among the peasants. They did not love the Jewish people.
  • David Boder: And what was the attitude of the Mennonites of Russia?
  • Julius Klüver: The Mennonites despise no nation. On the contrary the Mennonites feel that they are persecuted for their religion just as the Jews. We often compared ourselves with the Jews. Only we are a small, poor, little people, while the Jews are richer, larger in number, and have a stronger organization. We are too few and weak, but the religious persecutions of the last four hundred years are the same for us as for the Jews. We have no homeland, we have no country that we may call our own. We were once in Holland, we were near Danzig in the region of the Polish corridor, we were in southern Russia and nowhere did we find a homeland.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, do you think that one can have a homeland if he is not ready to defend it with arms?
  • Julius Klüver: According to our convictions—yes. In accordance with our faith one can have a homeland even if one does not defend it with arms.
  • David Boder: In all other respects the Mennonites recognize the authority of the state, I mean do you pay taxes?
  • Julius Klüver: Yes. In all other respects the Mennonites . . . they recognize the state.
  • David Boder: Did you ever hear of a sect in the United States, the Jehovah's Witnesses?
  • Julius Klüver: That is a different sect. No.
  • David Boder: Or take the Dukhobors. They refuse to pay taxes.
  • Julius Klüver: No, I never heard of them.
  • David Boder: So the Mennonites pay their taxes.
  • Julius Klüver: Very readily. To the best of my knowledge it was so before, and it is so now. We are not greedy. We pay, we want to work, we want to keep up our religion and we are ready to fulfill all our duties to any state.
  • David Boder: You were telling me that you worked as a bookkeeper. Are there many Mennonites who do not work on the land?
  • Julius Klüver: Very few. Most of them are farmers, peasants.
  • David Boder: Are there any Mennonites in Mexico?
  • Julius Klüver: Yes, there are Mennonites in Mexico.
  • David Boder: Where do they live there?
  • Julius Klüver: That I can't tell you exactly but I know there are Mennonites in Mexico.
  • David Boder: Do you know by any chance whether these came from Canada or did they come directly from Russia?
  • Julius Klüver: This I couldn't tell you either.
  • David Boder: How did they get to Paraguay?
  • Julius Klüver: There is already an order since April from the government of Paraguay that all Mennonites may come to that country unconditionally. There is even no control of health conditions. Only come to Paraguay. Our Mennonites have built their colonies in that large Chaco region which was formerly impassable and our colonies have flourished there.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, are there more women than men in your group?
  • Julius Klüver: Many more women than men.
  • David Boder: Now what will become of these women? Many of them do not know if they are widows or not. May a Mennonite woman marry a non-Mennonite?
  • Julius Klüver: According to our laws a woman may marry only among Mennonites.
  • David Boder: May that not lead to some difficulties?
  • Julius Klüver: So far it did not. [He apparently has turned away from the microphone on purpose while making an additional remark].
  • David Boder: Oh no. I do not refer to promiscuity. I simply mean that the situation may become difficult for a large number of women to find suitable men.
  • Julius Klüver: That certainly will be a problem, but so far we had very few mixed marriages in our colony. Lately it has become more frequent because so many of our men are away and that is why some Mennonite women have married non-Mennonites.
  • David Boder: Tell me, Mr. Klver, do Mennonites convert into their religion people of other faiths?
  • Julius Klüver: No. We remain in our own community.
  • David Boder: If somebody wants to join the Mennonites would you accept him?
  • Julius Klüver: No. He must be born a Mennonite. We are not only a religion. We consider ourself a people.
  • David Boder: Now let us suppose a Spaniard, an Uruguayan sees your way of life and likes it. Will he still be unable to become a Mennonite.
  • Julius Klüver: No. There are some very rare exceptions. If such a Spaniard or a person of another nationality happens to live in our colony in our village, and takes on our religion, learns our language and continues to live among our people, an exception can be made. Then he must be baptised.
  • David Boder: [In English] This concludes Spool 132 - an interview with Mr. Julius Klüver - a so-called Leader of the Germanic Group of the Funkkasernen Camp in, hm, near München. This is the first case that we have interviewed a displaced person, who took – so to say - advantage of the situation in Russia to move west and to get to a country where their reluctance to carry arms because of religious principles should be respected. September 19, 1956 in Munich, Germany at the UNRA Detention Camp, a Illinois Institute of Technology wire recording. The machine is not at – in the best order, one condenser is broken, seems to be broken of, because the machine got a very rough ride. But nevertheless we took the record, because we hope that the transcription will be satisfactory. September 19, 1946 – Illinois Institute of Technology wire recording.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Dagmar Platt
  • English Translation : David P. Boder