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.


Mark Your Calendar: Casselman Historians Annual Meeting Dates Set for September 18 & 19, 2020

The annual historical meeting of the Casselman Historians is scheduled for Friday evening and Saturday, September 18 & 19, 2020, at Grantsville, Maryland. Specific place of meeting is to be announced.

This meeting will recognize 2020 as the centennial year of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and treat the involvement of the Casselman Valley Amish and Mennonite congregations in MCC programs in the decades that followed.

MCC was founded in 1920 in an effort toward Mennonite united effort and efficiency in relief ministries. MCC’s initial work was a response to needs in Russia related to World War I and, especially, the civil war in Russia known as the Bolshevik Revolution.

The ministries of MCC were vastly expanded in geography and scope throughout the twentieth century. A major category of involvement of the Casselman Valley people, in addition to monetary donations, was relief for war sufferers of World War II though the work of the sewing circles, meat and soup canning, and the Pax program of rebuilding in Europe.

Watch future issues of The Historian for information on topics, speakers, and place of meeting. In the meantime, mark your calendar for September 18 and 19.

James W. Lowry and John L. Ruth to speak at September 2018 Historians meeting

“It was Pyrrhic victory,” wrote James W. Lowry. He was referring to the execution of Hans Landis in Zurich, Switzerland, in the year 1614. The state church meant to impress the citizens with its seriousness about eradicating Anabaptism from its territory. But it backfired – it was too much for the citizens. In addition, a Reformed man from Holland was present, saw the execution of the seventy-year-old man by beheading, went home to Holland, generated protests from himself, others of the Dutch Reformed, the Dutch Mennonites, and even involved the Dutch government.

The Swiss government in Zurich then changed its tactics. Though Hans Landis was the last to be executed there, persecution was accelerated in other ways – imprisonments, confiscation of property, and exile. Many Swiss Anabaptists (Swiss Brethren) emigrated to Germany, Holland, and Alsace (now in France). Having been forced to leave behind many of their possessions and finding themselves in a strange land, they suffered severe poverty.

The Dutch Mennonites and others not only protested the Swiss treatment of the Swiss Brethren, but also extended benevolence in response to their need. This resulted in a long series of letters between the Dutch and the Swiss. Those letters have been lying in the archives of Europe ever since. They have been available to scholars with credentials to gain access and linguistic ability to read those documents handwritten in early Dutch, German, and Latin and to decipher the writings with their varied penmanship and old vocabulary.

To the rescue: James W. Lowry. Three books2 with a combined total of more than 2,200 pages represent Lowry’s work transcribing and translating the documents. This set of three books contains nearly 325 documents extending from the years of 1608 to 1711.

Next Annual Meeting of the Casselman Historians

WHEN: September 14 & 15, 2018

Friday Evening
   7:00 – Business Meeting
   7:30 – Historical Program

   9:00 A.M. – Historical Program
   12:00 Noon – Lunch Served in Basement
Afternoon – Tour or other activity if announced

WHERE: At Maple Glen Mennonite Church, Grantsville, Md. (see Google map below)
SUBJECT: The Oppresssion of the Early Swiss Anabaptists and the Dutch Response of Aid.
GUEST SPEAKERs: James W. Lowry and John L. Ruth