Classification scheme: 

Title: Katharina (Klassen) Penner family fonds

Dates of creation: 1892-2006; 1932-1950 predominant

Physical description: 16 cm of textual records ; 7 photographs

Biographical sketch: Katharina (Klassen) Penner (1866-1950) was the daughter of Peter Klassen and Helena (Hamm). Born in Chortitza, South Russia, she married Peter Penner, in 1890. The couple had ten children. Her husband died in 1922, and sons Jacob and Rudolf immigrated to Canada; Jacob in 1923 and Rudolf in 1926. In 1943, Katharina, her remaining children, and their families left the Soviet Union on the "Great Trek" of Mennonites following the German army to Poland. The family tried to continue on to western Germany, and became divided between those who made it west and immigrated to Canada in 1948, and those who were forcibly returned to the Soviet Union. One son, Georg (George) immigrated to South America. Katharina Penner died in Rosthern, Saskatchewan in 1950.

Custodial history: The original letters which form the basis of the fonds were in the possession of Katharina's son Rudolf and his wife Edna. They were then given to Paul Penner, a grandson of Katharina Penner, who transcribed them. The transcriptions were then translated into English by Anita Tiessen and Elenor Taves, great-granddaughters of Katharina Penner. Copies of the transcriptions and translations were donated to the Archives in 2011 by Anita Tiessen, and received by the Archives from E. Paul Penner. Other materials in the fonds were collected by Paul Penner and his wife Marie. They were donated to the Archives in 2016 by Marie Penner.

Scope and content: The fonds consists of original, transcribed and translated correspondence written by Katharina Penner and other relatives from the Soviet Union and Germany to Canada, mainly to her sons Jacob and Rudolf. Interrupted by chaotic events in the Soviet Union and the Second World War, the correspondence resumed in 1945 and continued until 1948. Authors of the letters in this collection are: Agnes Nickel, Anna Penner, Anna (Peters) Penner, Anni Penner, George Classen (Penner), Greta Esau, Hans Froese, Hans Nickel, Hildegard Hering, Katharina Penner, Kolja Nickel, Leni Penner, Margarete (Klassen) Penner, Paul Penner, Wally Penner.

Two autobiographies of grandsons of Katharina Penner are also included. George Penner (1924-1979) was in school near Konigsberg, East Prussia during the Second World War. After graduation, he was drafted. At war's end he assumed the name Hans Georg Classen to avoid being sent back to the Soviet Union. In 1948 he emigrated to Paraguay, and later to Canada. He married in 1949 in Argentina, and had two children. Paul Penner (1931-2013) was George's younger brother. He immigrated with his mother and other family members to Canada in 1948.

Also included are miscellaneous correspondence and notes from Katharina's son Rudolf and grandson Hans Nickel.

Notes: For photographs related to this family search the Mennonite Archival Image Database.
Further materials related to this family may be found by searching the Archives.
Original archival description created 2016 by Laureen Harder-Gissing.

File list:

  1. Correspondence, transcriptions
  2. Correspondence, translations
  3. Correspondence, Katharina Penner, 1933-1937, 1943-1944, 1947-1950
  4. Correspondence, 
    Peter Penner, 1892
    Anna Penner, 1932-1937
  5. Correspondence, various, 1928, 1933-1950, 1955, 1958, 1989, 2000
  6. Immigration documents, Katharina Penner
  7. Autobiography and other notes, Paul Penner, Sr.
  8. Autobiography and other writings, George Penner (Georg Classen)
  9. Miscellaneous
    Correspondence, poems and notes from Rudolf (Rudi) Penner
    Poem in low German, author unknown
    Correspondence and notes from Hans Nickel
    Correspondence, untranslated and untranscribed
  10. Family photographs, 1924-1953


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Mennonite Archives of Ontario
Conrad Grebel University College
140 Westmount Road North
Waterloo, ON N2L 3G6

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