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Mennonite Weekly Review obituary:

Cornelius Krahn, an internationally respected Mennonite historian, writer and longtime Bethel College professor, died Aug 3 at Newton Presbyterian Manor of complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. He was 88.

Krahn was emeritus professor of church history at Bethel, where he taught 1937-1938 and 1944-1973. He developed the college’s Mennonite Library and Archives into one of the outstanding Mennonite historical collections in the world.

He was the founding editor of Mennonite Life, a quarterly magazine of Mennonite history and culture, and was co-editor of the landmark Mennonite Encyclopedia. He was especially noted as a leading historian of Dutch Anabaptism.

In a 1977 Mennonite Life article, fellow historian Cornelius J. Dyck described Krahn as a “historian for the church . . . [who] is also a part of the church in the present and addresses contemporary issues in deep identification with them.”

AS EDITOR OF Mennonite Life, Krahn “held up a mirror for Mennonites to see themselves, their institutions, their foibles, and always the view of nudging them to greater faithfulness to the Lord of the church,” Dyck wrote.

Bethel history professor James Juhnke said, “His open-mindedness, generosity of spirit and breadth of interest were important in his ability to inspire people and get people interested in this [Mennonite-Anabaptist] heritage.”

Krahn was born Aug. 3, 1902, in Rosenthal, Chortitza, in the Mennonite settlement of the Russian Ukraine. While he was a boy the family moved from Chortitza to a new daughter colony settlement at Arkadak on the Volga River. He had memories of the Bolshevik Revolution and the end of the czarist regime, the civil war and famine of the early ‘20s.

In 1926, on his 24th birthday, Krahn left the Soviet Union to study in Germany. For a decade he studied in Bonn, Berlin, Amsterdam and finally Heidelberg University, where he earned a doctorate in theology. He wrote his dissertation on the life and theology on Menno Simons.

KRAHN CAME TO Kansas in 1937 and taught at Bethel for one year. Then he went to the University of Wisconsin, where he earned a master’s degree in German in 1939.

He returned to Kansas to teach at Tabor College in Hillsboro. he served on the Tabor faculty 1939-1944 before returning to Bethel as professor of church history and German.

Besides teaching, Krahn immediately began the enormous task of building Bethel’s small collection of Anabaptist-Mennonite and related books left by C. H. Wedel and Abraham Warkentin into a comprehensive historical library. Krahn added thousands of items to the collection, and his development of the library is recognized as a significant achievement.

Dyck wrote: “Wherever he went, and he was very mobile, from the windy prairies of Canada to the ruins of post-war Germany and The Netherlands, the eagle eyes of Krahn spotted what others had not seen, or had seen but not recognized as potentially valuable, and box after box of materials found its way to Bethel.”

KRAHN’S ABILITY to “make the complex understandable and the unknown interesting and relevant” was displayed through Mennonite Life. The publication, which Krahn edited from its founding in 1946 until 1971, sought to correlate history and ethnicity with the church’s present identity and mission. it continues to be published by Bethel College.

As co-editor of the Mennonite Encyclopedia, published in the 1950s, he had major editorial responsibilities in addition to writing 686 articles totaling 4, 673 column inches for the encyclopedia.

Krahn was a significant contributor to Mennonite Weekly Review. By 1977 he had written at least 190 articles for MWR, and he added to that number in later years. His column “Faith of Our Fathers,” appeared regularly from 1943 into the 1950s.

He also wrote numerous articles for The Mennonite, Mennonite Quarterly Review, and other journals. He edited a number of books, and wrote revisions and enlargements for two editions of C. Henry Smith’s Story of the Mennonites.

KRAHN’S GREATEST achievement in his study of Dutch Anabaptism was his book Dutch Anabaptism: Origin, Spread, Life and Thought (1450-1600). It is recognized as a comprehensive history of Dutch Anabaptism. His biography of Menno Simons, written in German, was published both in Europe and by Bethel College.

A festschrift, titled A Legacy of Faith, was published in Krahn’s honor in 1962. He was the first director of the Menno Simons Lectureship at Bethel in the 1950s. He retired from teaching and directing the Mennonite Library and Archives in 1973.

Krahn is survived by his wife, Hilda (Wiebe), whom he married June 14, 1940; three daughters, Marianne Miller and her husband, Stanley, of Lyons, Kan., Karla Kuhn-Osius and her husband, Eckhard, of New York, and Cornelia Krahn and her husband, T. Kent Olson, of Temple, Texas; two brothers, Heinrich and Hans, both of the Soviet Union; three sisters, Helen Krahn, Greta Dyck and Tina Klippenstein, all of the Soviet Union; and eight grandchildren.

A MEMORIAL service was held Aug. 8 at Bethel College Mennonite Church, North Newton, where Krahn was a member. Darrell Fast officiated. Burial was at Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church Cemetery, Goessel.

Memorial gifts will establish a Cornelius Krahn Mennonite Library and Archives Endowment Fund, which will be used to acquire books and materials for the MLA at Bethel College.

Information for this article was taken primarily from “The Scholarly Pilgrimage of Cornelius Krahn” by Cornelius J. Dyck in the September 1977 Mennonite Life.


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