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Ratzlaff, Erich L. (1911–1988)

Proper Title

Erich L. Ratzlaff fonds

Dates of Creation


Physical Description

1.5 m textual material and 14 photographs

Biographical Sketch

Erich Leonard Ratzlaff was born August 8, 1911, to Leonard P. and Anna Wohlgemuth Ratzlaff of Wymyschle, Poland. The family moved to Millervo, Russia, in 1913 and moved back to Wymyschle in 1918, where Ratzlaff received his education. Ratzlaff was a “bookworm” even in early life. His ambition was to become a teacher. When he was twelve, he accepted Christ, and, in 1928, he was baptized and received into the Mennonite Brethren Church in Wymyschle, where his father was the last elder. Erich became choir director and youth leader at the church in Wymyschle.

From 1927 to 1932, Ratzlaff attended the state teachers’ college. In 1935, he married Lydia Ratzlaff; the couple had six children. He taught in neighbouring Polish villages until the outbreak of World War II, when the civic government employed him as a translator, secretary, and teacher. In October 1942, he was conscripted into the German Army and spent the remaining war years on the eastern front of Czechoslovakia, where he was taken prisoner by the Russians. He was released in 1945 and reunited with his family in Germany in 1946.

Colin Neufeldt, a relative of Ratzlaff, notes that Ratzlaff became a full member of the Nazi Party, serving the party cause as the mayor of Gabin. According to Neufeldt, like some other prominent Mennonite men from this period, this wartime history has never been fully incorporated into Ratzlaff’s biography (see Colin Neufeldt, "Mennonite Collaboration with Nazism: A Case Study of the Responses of Mennonites in Deutsch Wymyschle, Poland, to the Plight of Local Jews during the Early Nazi Occupation Period (1939–1942)" in European Mennonites and the Holocaust, edited by Mark Jantzen and John D. Thiesen [University of Toronto Press, 2021], pp. 172–201).

In 1948, the Ratzlaff family was able to immigrate to Acme, Alberta, but because there were no employment opportunities they moved to Arnold, British Columbia, in 1951. At Arnold, Ratzlaff worked at many jobs and served as Sunday School teacher and church council member for the Arnold Mennonite Brethren Church. In 1954, he received a call to teach German and Bible at the Mennonite Educational Institute, and, in 1963, the Ratzlaffs moved to Clearbrook. He helped the Clearbrook Mennonite Brethren Church in various ways and served the Conference as radio commentator and co-ordinator and member of the Canadian Conference Board of Publications.

In 1967, the family moved to Winnipeg, where Ratzlaff became editor of the Mennonitische Rundschau, a position he held for 12 years. Central Mennonite Brethren Church of Winnipeg ordained him in 1974. He served as speaker for two German radio programs of the Manitoba Mennonite Brethren Conference. Ratzlaff was also the secretary-treasurer of the Canada Press Club in Winnipeg.

In 1981, the Ratzlaffs returned to Clearbrook, where he preached occasionally and served on several committees. He also undertook various writing projects, including the Jubilee Book of Clearbrook Mennonite Brethren Church and Tabor Home’s 25th anniversary book.

Ratzlaff died on October 18, 1988, in Clearbrook, British Columbia.

Custodial History

The Ratzlaff fonds came to the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies in several installments. On June 11, 1981, Ratzlaff donated articles about himself and by himself such as “The Last Polish Mennonite.” On July 6, 1989, Lydia Ratzlaff donated more of Ratzlaff’s original papers, now located in this fonds. Colin Neufeldt deposited more Ratzlaff documents in 2018 and 2019. He had been given access by the Ratzlaff family to the two remaining boxes of Erich's papers, under the condition that, when he was done, they were to be deposited at the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies.

Scope and Content

The Erich L. Ratzlaff fonds consists primarily of printed materials, cassette tapes, and textual records, such as correspondence, articles, reports, and minutes. The records were created as a result of Ratzlaff’s work as teacher at Mennonite Educational Institute, editor of the Mennonitische Rundschau, and radio commentator. The fonds reflects his love for Poland, publishing, and church and conference work. Some of the documents are in the Polish language.


  • Volume: textual records 1031–1034; photographs NP119.
  • Title based on contents of fonds.
  • Accession numbers are 1981–54, 1989–8, and 2018-14.
  • No restrictions on access.
  • Updated by Conrad Stoesz 2003 and Jon Isaak 2020.

Series Descriptions

I. Erich L. Ratzlaff biographical series.
6 cm textual material.

This series consists of autobiographical, biographical, personal, and genealogical documents.

  • Title based on contents of series.
  • Finding aid: Erich L. Ratzlaff file list: Vol. 1031, Flds. 1–7; Vol. 1034, Flds. 4–5.

II. Erich L. Ratzlaff radio ministry series.
25 cm textual material, and 2 photographs.

This series contains correspondence, reports, and minutes related to Ratzlaff’s work in Stimme des Evangeliums, Licht des Evangeliums, Familienandacht, and Mennonite Brethren Communications. The series includes transcripts of radio messages by Heinrich H. Janzen, and other speakers. Also included is an autobiography of Janzen.

  • Title based on contents of series.
  • Finding aid: Erich L. Ratzlaff file list: Vol. 1031, Flds. 8–16.
  • Finding aid for photographs: NP119–1.

III. Erich L. Ratzlaff newspaper editing and journalism series.
27 cm textual material, 2 photographs.

This series consists primarily of minutes, correspondence, reports, surveys, and articles produced while Ratzlaff was editor of the Mennonitische Rundschau. The series also contains notes for one of the courses Ratzlaff taught at the Mennonite Educational Institute as well as records relating to the Canada Press Club of which he was a member for many years, and records pertaining to other periodicals to which he subscribed.

  • Title based on contents of series.
  • Finding aid: Erich L. Ratzlaff file list: Vols. 1031–1032, Flds. 17–28.
  • Finding aid for photographs: NP119-1.

IV. Erich L. Ratzlaff publications series.
25 cm textual material.

This series consists of research notes, drafts, and publications of Ratzlaff’s creation.

  • Title based on contents of series.
  • Finding aid: Erich L. Ratzlaff file list: Vols. 1032–1033, Flds. 29–39; Vol. 1034, Flds. 6–7.

V. Erich L. Ratzlaff article and correspondence series.
40 cm textual material.

This series consists of articles about Poland and correspondence with people there. Also included are sermons, correspondence and other church and conference related materials. Many of the letters, arranged chronologically, relate to Ratzlaff’s personal and family life.

  • Title based on contents of series.
  • Finding aid: Erich L. Ratzlaff file list: Vol. 1033, Flds. 40–62; Vol. 1034, Flds. 1–3, 8.

File List

Volume 1031

  1. Obituary of Erich L. Ratzlaff taken from Mennonitische Rundschau. -- 23 November 1988.
    Genealogical material.
  2. Ratzlaff’s poetry. -- 1947–1948.
    Popular sayings and songs.
  3. Personal documents such as birth certificate, licenses to marry, and house lease.
  4. Tour to Mennonite World Conference. -- 1972.
  5. Prescriptions, diets, preaching schedules. -- 1980–1984.
  6. “The Last Polish Mennonite” by and about Erich L. Ratzlaff. -- 1976–1977.
  7. Family register of Erich L. Ratzlaff, 110 single-spaced typewritten pages. Write-up about “Aeltester Leonhard Peter Ratzlaff.”
  8. Correspondence, radio messages, and biographies of ministers connected with Stimme des Evangeliums. Two photographs. -- 1963–1966.
  9. Correspondence, reports, and minutes of Stimme des Evangeliums. -- 1962–1967.
  10. Transcripts of radio messages, some by Heinrich H. Janzen, on Stimme des Evangeliums. -- August 1962 to July 1965.
  11. Transcripts of radio messages on Stimme des Evangeliums. -- 1962–1964.
  12. Commentaries by Erich Ratzlaff on Stimme des Evangeliums. -- 1979–1981.
  13. Correspondence, program releases, and reports of Mennonite Brethren Communications. -- 1979–1984.
  14. Autobiography of Heinrich H. Janzen, speaker on Stimme des Evangeliums.
  15. “Familienandacht,” radio messages by Erich Ratzlaff. -- 1979–1982.
  16. “Familienandacht,” radio messages by Erich Ratzlaff. -- 1980. “Kommentare der Sendung Licht des Evangeliums” by Erich Ratzlaff. -- 1979–1982.
  17. Notes on Reporting 201, a course taught by Ratzlaff at Mennonite Educational Institute, Clearbrook, British Columbia. -- June 1966 to November 1966.
  18. Notes on Reporting 201. -- December 1966 to June 1967.
  19. Correspondence and reports of Canada Press Club. -- 1968–1975.

Volume 1032

  1. Minutes, correspondence, and reports of Canada Press Club. -- 1976–1983.
  2. Correspondence, minutes, and reports regarding the Mennonitische Rundschau. -- 1964–1966.
  3. Correspondence, minutes, and reports regarding the Mennonitische Rundschau. -- 1967–1972.
  4. Minutes, correspondence, and reports regarding the Mennonitische Rundschau. -- 1972–1979.
  5. Mennonitische Rundschau survey results in Manitoba, Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. -- 1968.
  6. Mennonitische Rundschau survey results in British Columbia and in general. -- 1968.
  7. Collection of articles from the Mennonitische Rundschau. -- 1967–1975.
  8. Correspondence and articles regarding the Mennonitische Rundschau. -- 1967–1976.
  9. “Mennonite Church Periodicals Study.” A study sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee. -- 1971.
    “Zum Geleit” by Erich Ratzlaff.
  10. A short resume of “Im Weichselbogen,” a history of Mennonite settlement in Central Poland.
  11. Draft of “Im Weichselbogen,” by Erich Ratzlaff. -- 1971.
  12. Research materials for “Im Weichselbogen.” -- 1960–1971.
  13. Christian Press publication of “Im Weichselbogen.” -- 1971.
  14. Bibliography and research notes for biography of D.B. Wiens, “Ein Leben fuer den Herrn” by Erich Ratzlaff. -- 1982.
  15. Draft of “Ein Leben fuer den Herrn.” -- 1982.
  16. Draft of “Ein Leben fuer den Herrn.” -- 1982.
  17. Draft of “Mennonitische Siedlungen in Zentral Polen,” by Erhard Ratzlaff, brother-in-law. -- 1971.

Volume 1033

  1. Draft of “Wymyschle” by David Ratzlaff. -- 1979.
  2. “Auf Tabors Hoehen” by Erich Ratzlaff about Wymyschler-Treffen. Two copies. -- 1977.
  3. “Keine Bleibende Stadt” by Erich Ratzlaff about second Wymyschler-Treffen. -- 1982.
  4. Correspondence, presentations, and program for Wymyschler Reunion. -- July 1977.
  5. Correspondence, presentations, and program for Wymyschler Reunion. -- July 1982.
  6. “The Story of My Life” by Sara Kliewer originally from Wymyschle, Poland. -- 1984.
  7. Articles about Poland.
  8. Correspondence with people in Poland. -- 1976–1980.
  9. Correspondence, articles, and reports about MCC–Lager Germany. -- 1939, 1947–1950.
  10. “Mennonitische Geschichtblaetter” by Erich Keyser about Mennonites in Poland. 65 pages. -- 5 August 1940.
  11. Articles about Poland.
  12. Articles on Mennonite subjects in general.
  13. Sermons by Erich Ratzlaff. -- 1969–1972.
  14. Constitution of the Clearbrook Mennonite Brethren Church. German and English.
  15. Reports, correspondence, and articles in connection with Mennonite periodicals, the Historical Commission, and the Mennonite Historical Society. -- 1973, 1984.
  16. Correspondence with Mennonite Central Committee, minutes of Canadian Conference Council of Boards. -- 1972.
    Correspondence with Mennonite Historical Library. – 1966–1973. Board of Reference and Counsel Minutes. -- 1966.
  17. Correspondence, reports, and minutes of conference agencies. -- 1973–1976.
  18. Correspondence, reports, and minutes of conference agencies. -- 1977–1981. Includes papers given at an Eschatology Conference held in Fresno. -- January 1978.
  19. Correspondence with Mennonite Genealogy, Winnipeg. -- 1982–1983.
    Correspondence with Christian Hymnary. -- 1973.
  20. Correspondence, general and personal. -- 1962–1969.
  21. Correspondence, general and personal. -- 1970–1972.
  22. Correspondence, general and personal. -- 1973–1974.
  23. Correspondence, general and personal. -- 1975–1977.
  24. Correspondence, general and personal. -- 1978–1980.
  25. Correspondence, general and personal. -- 1981–1982.
  26. Correspondence, general and personal. -- 1983–1984.

Volume 1034

1. Cassette tape recordings of a 1977 Wymyschler Treffen [meeting or reunion?]. 6 tapes. -- 1977.
2. Cassette tape recordings of a 1982 Wymyschler Treffen [meeting or reunion?]. 4 tapes. -- 1982.
3. Cassette tape recordings of Wymyschle gatherings with presentations by Franz Kliewer, Walter Rennert, Harold Ratzlaff, Leonard Ratzlaff, and Erich Ratzlaff. -- n.d.
4. Stamp and ink pad of the Mennonite Brethren Church in Wymyschle, Poland, submitted by Heinz Ratzlaff. -- [192-?].
5. Photos of family and friends. Ten in number. -- n.d.
6. A copy of Erich Ratzlaff's published biography of D.B. Wiens, Ein Leben für den Herrn. -- 1982.
7. A copy of a personal memoir manuscript written by Martin Hamm and translated by Marianne (Ewert) Worcester, My Old Home and the New. 121 pages, with genealogical charts.  -- 1972.
8. Correspondence. Janet Taylor to Erich Ratzlaff. -- 1986.

Erich L. Ratzlaff Photograph Collection: NP119

  • NP119-1-1 Erich L. Ratzlaff, the host of “Stimme des Evangeliums,” a radio broadcast of the British Columbia Mennonite Brethren Conference. 15 x 20. – [ca. 196-].
  • NP119-1-2 Choir members of the “Stimme des Evangeliums” choir under the direction of Helmut Janzen. 19 x 24. – [ca. 196-]. See Erich L. Ratzlaff fonds file list: Vol. 1031, Fld. 8.
  • NP119-1-3 Robert Andras, Minister of Manpower and Immigration with Ratzlaff in Winnipeg. 12 x 16 cm. – October, 1975. See Erich L. Ratzlaff fonds file list: Vol. 1031, Fld. 19.
  • NP119-1-4 Band with band leader at Mennonite Educational Institute, British Columbia. 19 x 24. – [ca. 196-]. See Erich L. Ratzlaff fonds file list: Vol. 1031, Fld. 18.
  • See also Erich L. Ratzlaff fonds file list: Vol. 1034, Fld. 5.
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