David Pätkau

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David Pätkau was a prominent Mennonite Brethren leader in the Orenburg Mennonite settlement, USSR. He was born on July 24, 1882 in Alexandrodar in the Kuban settlement. In the age of 16 he moved together with his parents to the new Orenburg settlement close to the border between Europe and Asia. The life of the pioneers was filled not only with hard work but also with vivid spiritual life. After founding a family in 1904 and establishing his own farm, Pätkau got more and more involved into active church life. 1911 he was appointed to a deacon in the Kamenka Mennonite Brethren congregation. He proved oneself as a capable person during the following years of World War I and Civil War. 1921, during a severe famine, he was elected as an elder of his church. Under his leadership, the church responded by creating a large orphanage and organizing distribution of humanitarian aid from Mennonites abroad. During the time of political uncertainty, the church hosted in 1923-1926 the Orenburg Bible School that had 67 students from Crimea to Siberia at the time of his death. Pätkau had to take responsibility for the school before the local Communist government. In 1918-1928, the church carried out a successful outreach program to the local people and even had some Russian church members. In January 1925, Pätkau took part in the General Conference of Mennonite Congregations (Allgemeine Mennonitische Bundeskonferenz) in Russia and was elected into the countrywide representation body (landesweite Vertretung) consisting of nine persons.

The Bolshevik bloody battle against religion caused the arrest of Pätkau in Orenburg on March 27, 1930. He was sentenced to five years of labor camps. He served his term in northern Russia on the shore of Northern Dvina river near Arkhangelsk. His family, declared "kulaks" by the new government, was dispossessed. His 13th child that was born two months after his arrest, did not survive and died in September 1930.

The persecutions hit Pätkau's family in a especially hard way. In September 1933 his wife Maria and his non-married children were declared enemies of the country and exiled from their village to a valley near a small river. The exiled were allowed to take with them a spade, axe, and a bucket but no food. The soldiers snatched from her hand a small bag with millet and emptied it in the courtyard. To survive, they had to dug holes into the shores of the river. The same fate was shared by 35 other families, among them nine from Mennonite villages. The Pätkau family stayed in these terrible circumstances until February 1935, when their already married oldest son took them without permission to a remote location.

Early in 1934 Pätkau was given an early release from prison and went to his family into their exile. His children did not recognize him. At the end of November 1934 he was arrested a second time and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. By then Pätkau was already an ill man. Blind in one eye, and suffering from an immobile arm, and an hernia in his abdomen, he admonished his younger cell inmates: “Suffering is the way of the Lord that we have to walk in patience”. Until 1941, he served his term in a clothing factory in a labor camp near Leningrad. He did not lament even while receiving only 400 grams bread for food (later the ration was increased to 600 grams). After the outbreak of the war with Germany, he was transferred to the eastern part of USSR. In February 1942 during a transport of prisoners he became extremely ill and could not move further. The convoy set watch dogs on him that made deep wounds on his face, hands and legs and became the cause of his death.

Source: Recollections of his daughter in: Abram Teichrieb, Der Weg zur Heimat: Erinnerungen meiner Mutter (Detmold, 2002). The information in A. Toews, Mennonite Martyrs, is incomplete and incorrect.

Submitted by Johannes Dyck