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Klassen, Henry F. (1900–1969) and Catherine (1906– )

Proper Title

Henry F. Klassen and Catherine fonds

Dates of Creation


Physical Description

80 cm textual material and 198 photographs

Biographical Sketch

Heinrich F. Klassen was born on October 30, 1900 in Donskoye, Neu Samara, Siberia, the fifth child of a pious Mennonite merchant. As an able student and natural leader, he completed village schooling and continued his education in high school and the school of commerce. The Russian Revolution prevented him from attending university, since conditions during the First World War forced him to go to work. For a time he served in a government office after which he was associated with the Quaker relief efforts, acting as interpreter and organizer for them for two years. Later he became an agent for a soviet cooperative in whose behalf he often travelled to Moscow and Samara. After his father died in 1924 in Russia, he came to Canada with his mother and six siblings. From 1926 to 1951 he was a bookkeeper for the United Grain Growers.

In 1927, Heinrich married Catherine Thiessen. In 1928, following an illness he committed himself to the Lord and the work of the church. Soon thereafter he joined the Mennonite Brethren Church in Winnipeg and became active in its work. For twenty-five years he taught a Sunday School class and for a number of years he was a youth leader, both locally and for the conference. He was also a deacon of the Elmwood Church for fourteen years.

Heinrich became instrumental in founding and editing the German language Konferenz-Jugendblatt in the early 1940s, at a time when the conference was taking increasing interest in publication activities. When a group of Mennonite Brethren businessmen and church leaders bought the Rundschau Publishing House in 1945, he agreed to become its managing director and to edit the Mennonitische Rundschau. Until 1951 he continued to be employed at the United Grain Growers. His association with the Mennonitische Rundschau spanned 22 years. Heinrich F. Klassen died suddenly in Winnipeg on March 3, 1969 at the age of 68. He was survived by his wife Catherine (Kaethe), three sons and two daughters.

Catherine Klassen, born on May 30, 1906 in Rueckenau, Molotschna, was the daughter of Lydia Wieler (1879–1908) and Franz C. Thiessen (1881–1950) the prominent Mennonite minister, musician, and teacher. After the death of her mother, Catherine’s father married her aunt, Margarete Wieler (1888 – 1984). This step-mother and birth mother were both daughters of Johann Wieler (1839–1889), the prominent Mennonite Brethren itinerant preacher and teacher.

Catherine Klassen (Kaethe Thiessen as she was first known) spent most of her early life growing up in Davlekanovo, Ufa, Russia where her father was a well known choir leader and teacher. In 1924 her family moved to Moscow where she worked with her father in the All-Russian Mennonite Agricultural Society until the family immigrated to Canada in 1925.

In Canada Catherine attended the Rosthern German/English Academy in Rosthern, Saskatchewan. After she married Heinrich F. Klassen, they settled in Winnipeg where they raised a family of five children and were active members first of the North End MB Church and later of the Elmwood MB Church.

Catherine loved to write, travel and read. She corresponded with many friends and relatives and wrote trip journals and diaries. She also wrote and published the biography of her father entitled, My Father, Franz C. Thiessen.

Custodial History

The Heinrich F. and Catherine Klassen came to the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies at various times. In April 1988, Catherine Klassen donated original papers, now a part of this fonds, as well as photographs and 57 books. In July 1991 Catherine donated three boxes of personal materials created by H.F. and Catherine Klassen consisting of original papers, printed materials, and books. They were delivered to the archives by son-in-law Pete Peters and are now part of this collection. Catherine made a further donation in June 1993 consisting of original papers, printed materials, books and photographs. The files contained correspondence, trip journals, diaries, personal books, and photographs. The photographs are taken in Russia, Europe, and North America, some in the early twentieth century. Many are of MCC distributions of food and clothing to refugees in Europe.

Scope and Content

The Heinrich F. and Catherine Klassen fonds consists of official records, such as correspondence with Cornelius F. Klassen, Heinrich’s brother. These letters grow out of their common interest in relief work, immigration and resettlement of Russian Mennonites. The fonds also contains records that reflect Heinrich’s work in publications, with the Jugendblatt as well as his position as editor of the Mennonitische Rundschau. But this fonds is also quite personal, depicting the life of a Mennonite family through courtship, family life, death of one partner, and continuity of life for the surviving widow. This is a valuable collection because there are so few available records created by Mennonite women.

The photograph collection consists of pictures of Mennonite life in Russia in the late 19th and early 20th century. Also in this fonds are pictures taken in Europe of C.F. Klassen, and Peter and Elfrieda Dyck in their role with Mennonite refugees. The photographs date from approximately 1874 to 1961.


  • Volumes 1001–1002.
  • Title based on contents of fonds.
  • Accession numbers are 1988–11, 1991–31, 1993–24.
  • Finding aid for photographs: NP10–1, NP10–2, NP108–1, NP108–2, NP108–3, NP108–4, NP108–5, NP108–6, NP108–7, and NP108–8.
  • Restricted access until after the death of the donor, Mrs. Catherine Klassen.

Series Descriptions

I. Heinrich F. and Catherine Klassen records.
40 cm textual material.

These documents were created in the course of Heinrich and Catherine’s activities while he was alive. They consist of official and family correspondence until Heinrich’s death.

  • Title based on contents of series.
  • Finding aid: Heinrich and Catherine Klassen list 1–31.

II. Catherine Klassen records.
40 cm textual material.

These documents, for the most part, were created through Catherine’s childhood to the years when she was a widow. In this series are documents relating to family genealogy, trip journals, autobiographical speeches presented by Catherine, and her manuscript of the biography of her father.

  • Title based on contents of series.
  • Finding aid: Heinrich and Catherine Klassen list 32–83.

File List

Volumes 1001–1002

Series I: Heinrich F. and Catherine Klassen records

  1. Personal Papers: post cards (yellow card box). – 1924–1971.
  2. Personal Papers: post cards, correspondence (decorated greeting card box). – 1960–1969.
  3. Personal Papers: letters from son Frank to his parents. Also other personal correspondence (maroon box). – 1952–1970.
  4. Black address book (3.5" x 5").
  5. Black notebook entitled “Diary 1953” containing miscellaneous notes.
  6. Kontos der Kinder: family financial records. – 1956.
  7. Letters from sons Rudi & Frank. – 1950–1967.
  8. Private papers, correspondence, etc. – 1912–1928.
  9. Original and copy of letter from parents – 1916.
  10. Correspondence about studies in America. – 1923–1924.
  11. Copy of letter to H.S. Fawcett (professor of plant pathology). – 1935.
  12. Letters and notes – [194-].
  13. Bericht der Jugend Arbeit in den Gemeinden – [194-].
  14. Personal letters from brother, C.F. Klassen. – 1938, 1948–1955.
    Other correspondence from Elfrieda Dyck (sister), and F.C. Thiessen (father).
    Articles written by F.C. Thiessen: “Zur Vorgeschichte der Auswanderung aus Russland 1923–1930”; “Peter Martinowitsch Friesen: Meine Persoenliche Erinnerungen an ihn.” Eighteen pages.
  15. Correspondence (labelled private) Confidential.
  16. Private courtship letters between Henry F. Klassen and Catherine Thiessen. – 1925–1927.
  17. German original manuscript of C.F. Klassen’s biography Gott Kann by H.F. Klassen. Other papers created by C.F. Klassen.
  18. Notes on the history of Christian Press. – 1967.
  19. Trip to Europe – journal, reports, postcard. – 1952. Scrapbooks of clippings from the Mennonitische Rundschau by H.F. Klassen, describing the trip.
  20. Genealogical materials from the family Bible of Franz Klassen (1870–1924).
  21. Russian school papers of father and grandfather. – 1884–1925.
  22. Correspondence regarding Christian Press. – 1950–1966.
    Article by H.F. Klassen: “What is Publishing?” a paper presented to the Seventh World Conference in Kitchener, Ontario. Ten pages. – August 1962.
    Obituary of Franz F. Klassen (1896 – ), brother.
  23. Article: “Mennonites in the Soviet Union.” – 1966.
  24. H.F. Klassen’s photograph and passport. Misc. financial records. – 1952, 1959–1965.
  25. Mennonitische Runschau articles about H.F. Klassen. – 12. Mar. 1969, 19. Mar. 1969.
    MB Herald Editorial page, – Mar. 7, 1969.
  26. Correspondence written and received as Editor of the Mennonitische Rundschau. – 1947–1967.
  27. Paper currency used by Mennonites in Russia, 1917–1922 (39 bills).
  28. Collection of short German plays (skits) (legal size folder).
  29. Artifacts:
    • A printer’s type guage.
    • Two Government of Manitoba certificates presented to Rudolph and Frank Klassen, school age children, in commemoration of the royal visit to Manitoba of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. – May 24, 1939.
  30. Papers, articles, and correspondence. – 1929, 1939 – 1967. Articles by H.F. Klassen: “Mennonites in the Soviet Union,” “Unsre Stellung zur weltlichen Politik,” “Dr. A.H. Unruh zum 70. Geburtstag.” – 1948.
  31. Periodical clippings.

Series II: Catherine Klassen records

  1. Autograph book. – 1914–1918
  2. “My Trip” (red book), journal of trip to Europe. – 1971.
  3. Guest book (white). – 1952–1964.
  4. Black note book: trip journal of visit in B.C., notes taken of various presentations such as lectures, sermons and Sunday School classes. – 1969.
  5. Black (6X3 1/2) ring notebook containing Birthdates and addresses of friends.
  6. Green Hilroy (5"x3") notebook containing trip journal to Alaska.
  7. Black notebook (4" x 6.5") containing miscellaneous notes. – 1986–1988.
  8. Christmas card from husband Heinrich. – 1966.
  9. Black folder with miscellaneous correspondence and writings. – 1955, 1966, 1969.
  10. Address book (Black 4" x 7").
  11. Address book (Brown 5" x 8").
  12. Notizkalender für das Jahr 1918 published by Raduga, Halbstadt, Molotschna.
  13. Folder entitled “Park Lane” containing cards, poems, and correspondence related to special events (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.)
  14. “Stammregister” – genealogical records of the Nickel, Philippsen, Martens, Thiessen, Friesen, Hein, Reimer, Dueck, Wiebe, Regehr and Arndt families.
  15. Personal journal: records of Schwesterverein and Bibelbesprechung notes. – 1958, 1978–1982.
  16. Trip journal: Unsere Reise nach Afrika vom 3. Apr. 1968.
  17. Trip journal Florida. – 1978.
  18. “Golden Memories,” a record book of expressions of sympathy at the occasion of the death of husband, Henry F. Klassen in 1969.
  19. One greeting box (red) of miscellaneous correspondence, postcards, and personal memorabalia.
  20. Personal letters of parents Franz C. Thiessen to Henry and Catherine Klassen and other correspondence. – 1939–1950.
  21. Personal documents of Catherine Klassen – academic records from Russia and Canada, University I.D. cards, drivers licence. – 1917–1927, 1981–1987.
  22. Trip journal: South America. – 1972.
  23. University of Winnipeg course notes. – 1987.
  24. File of notes used for various public speaking events. These contain autobiographical material about Catherine. – 1970–1977.Correspondence. – 1951–1969.
  25. The Henry F. Klassen family history: a typewritten manuscript (unfinished story ending in 1969).
    Worship for Klassen Family Reunion. – 1979.
  26. Trip journal: Spain and Portugal. – 1971.
  27. Miscellaneous records relating to wedding preparation in 1961.
  28. Russian Papers: Birth certificates of Johann, Lydia and Margareta Wieler issued 1892 by Einlage MB Church, Russia.
  29. Grossmama’s Aufzeichnungen: Aufzeichnungen aus ihrem Leben von unserer Grossmutter Helena Wieler-Martens, geb. Thielmann, Rueckenau, Molotschna. – 1922.
  30. My Father Franz C. Thiessen by Kaethe Klassen. – [198-].
  31. Biography of mother Mrs. Margaretha (F.C.) Thiessen.
  32. J. Wieler Tagebuch: Transcript of 1872 Diary of Johann Wieler (1839–1889).
  33. Miscellaneous obituaries & tributes.
  34. Eighty-fifth Birthday Celebration. – 1991.
  35. Letter written by Catherine Klassen to Aunt, Uncle and cousins – 1936.
  36. Unsorted correspondence. – 1947–1991.
  37. Wedding invitations & programs of friends and relatives.
  38. “In Memorium” cards of friends.
  39. Personal letter. – [198-].
  40. Greeting cards. – [196 – to 198-].
  41. The Clock from Donskoy : a short story by Peter J. Dyck. – 1989.
  42. Early family papers. – 1905–1914.
  43. Personal correspondence and other papers. – 1934–1985.
  44. Personal song books from Russia.
  45. Menno Travel Tour to Brazil Tour guide. – 1972.
  46. Poems and newspaper clippings.
  47. Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute Ladies Auxillary correspondence, reports and membership. – 1947–1954.
  48. MBCI Ladies Auxillary minutes. – 1947–1954.
  49. Elmwood MB Church Ladies Group financial records. – 1939–1966.
    “Ufa” book orders/addresses. – 1975–1983.
  50. MBCI Ladies Auxillary financial records (legal size folder). – 1946–1954.
  51. Manuscript of F.C. Thiessen’s biography (legal size folder).
  52. Manuscript and research materials for F.C. Thiessen’s biography.
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