The July 2020 Historian Is Available

In This Issue

This is the year of the coronavirus pandemic, necessitating cancellation of the Casselman Historians annual meeting of 2020 in Grantsville, Maryland. See the announcement on page 8.

This is the centennial year of the founding of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). That organization was brought forth on July 27, 1920. in a meeting in Elkhart, Indiana. The organization was founded in response to a specific need and a plea for help. The result was sending tons of food and clothing to Ukrainian Russia and, eventually, fifty Fordson tractors, with fifty Oliver plows, to replace horses that were confiscated by the armies or had died of hunger. See an early report of the meeting that brought MCC into being on page 4.

The article on post-WWI relief in France recognizes the urge of the Mennonite and Amish people of the Casselman Valley of Somerset (PA) and Garrett Counties (MD) to respond to the needs of war-stricken peoples. That same sense of urgency was expressed in the response in 1920 to needs caused by war and famine in Russia and the eventual formation of Mennonite Central Committee. See page 5.

The lead article in this issue deals with MCC’s first ministry of compassion, i.e. relief to Russia, a country stricken by war and famine. Kenneth Sensenig and his wife, Karen, live in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. Kenneth serves as assistant director of MCC-East Coast. His article reflects material presented at the historical meeting of the Casselman Historians in September 2019 at Grantsville, Maryland.


2020 Annual Meeting Cancelled/Postponed till 2021

This is a year of many cancellations of events by many organizations. As Casselman Historians, we thought the program for the annual historical meeting in September 2020 was taking shape. We said in the April 2020 issue: “The annual historical meeting of the Casselman Historians is scheduled for September 18,19, 2020, at Grantsville, Maryland.” Yes, it was scheduled, but now it is rescheduled. The meeting for September 2020 is cancelled, but the program is postponed and rescheduled for September 2021.

The program was meant to have an MCC centennial emphasis with focus on the involvement of the Casselman Valley Amish and Mennonite congregations in  MCC programs in the decades that followed. Postponement means that the centennial aspect will be recognized a year late, but the involvement of the local churches in the decades that followed will be equally timely.

The regular annual meeting schedule is the weekend of the third Saturday of September. That places the schedule of the next Casselman Historians meeting on Friday evening and Saturday forenoon, September  17, 18, 2021.

When Alvin J. Miller Met with Lev Kamenov

Lenin addressing soldiers of the Red Army accompanied by Leon Trotsky and Lev Kamenev (face partially seen behind Trotsky’s hat) at Sverdlov Square in Moscow, May 5, 1920.
Lenin addressing soldiers of the Red Army accompanied by Leon Trotsky and Lev Kamenev (face partially visible behind Trotsky’s hat) at Sverdlov Square in Moscow, May 5, 1920.

The cover article of the January 2020 issue of The Historian relates to the aftermath of World War I and, more specifically, to that of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia where millions were

starving in the early 1920s. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) then was a newly formed agency, organized for the purpose of sending relief materials to Russia.  Alvin J. Miller served as field director of that effort and served a significant role in opening the door for relief to be taken into Russia. This article deals with that aspect of the MCC relief ministry in Russia in the early 1920s and represents the material presented by the author at the annual meeting of the Casselman Historians in September 2019.

Alvin was born and raised on a farm by the north border of the town of Grantsville, Maryland, along present-day Dorsey Hotel Rd. For biographical information on Alvin J. Miller, see The Historian of October 2019. Anticipate more in issues to follow on the relief program of MCC in Russia after the door was opened.

Lev Kamenev – The official who signed the Agreement, with Alvin J. Miller, between the Soviets and American Mennonite Relief on October 1, 1921. Kamenev was a political colleague of Stalin under Lenin in 1921 and, as chairman of the Moscow Soviet, was “party boss.”

Lowell Bender, a great-nephew of Alvin J. Miller, lives at Accident, Maryland, with his wife Verna. He is retired from a staff position at Garrett Community College at McHenry, Maryland, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of MCC-East Coast.  The article largely follows P. C. Hiebert, ed., and Orie O. Miller, assoc. ed., Feeding the Hungry – Russian Famine 1919-1925, (Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Central Committee, 1929), chapter IV – “Unsealing the Closed Door of the Soviet Republic,” Part 2, “The Door Opens for Relief in Russia,” by Alvin J. Miller. The book is out of print, but is available in some libraries.  Reference to page numbers in this work is given in parentheses throughout the article.

The lead article is followed by extracts from Feeding the Hungry, selected for their depiction of need in Russia at the time of MCC’s effort to enter with relief. These selections contribute to understanding Alvin J. Miller’s sense of urgency when dealing with governmental red tape in opening the door to bring  to Russia MCC food stored and waiting in Constantinople.