Collection PP - Bargen Letter Collection

Identity area

Reference code



Bargen Letter Collection


  • 1930-1977, 2004 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

40 cm of textual records
1 CD

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

-born in Altonau, Sagradovka, Russia; served in the medical corp, 1914-1917
-elected and served as village mayor during the 1920s;
-fled to Moscow with his family 1929 to escape further harassment from the communists
-arrived in Carlyle, Saskatchewan in 1930, moved to Springstein, Manitoba, moved to Carman, Manitoba, moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba
-worked as an orderly at the Winnipeg General Hospital for 22 years
-died in Winnipeg

Name of creator


Biographical history

-born in Russia in 1925 and immigrated to Canada with parents in 1925.
-married Peter F. Bargen in 1945; had 3 children together
-died in Winfield, B.C.

Name of creator


Biographical history

-married Franz Bargen, 26 June 1916 in Tiege, Sagravoka, Russia
-had 3 sons and 2 daughters together

Name of creator


Biographical history

-born in Tiege, Sagradovka, Russia, as the third child of 5 to Franz and Liese Bargen
-came to Canada in 1930 with parents
-lived in Winfield, BC in 1994; died in Edmonton, Alberta

Archival history

This letter collection was stored in a cardboard Campbell's Soup box, which was moved from attic to attic until 1989, when Peter Bargen (1922-2004) and his wife Anne (Peters) Bargen (1925-1997) found them and set out to translate and publish them, before depositing them in the archives.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Peter and Anne Bargen, Winfield, B.C. -- self-publish book and accompanying originals (1992)
Neil Bargen, Edmonton, AB -- CD with translations of post-war letters and original travel documents

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The collection consists of letters written by Mennonites in the Soviet Union before and after the Second World War. They were written by family and friends of Franz Bargen (1894-1976) and his wife Liese (Regehr) Bargen (1897-1976), who immigrated to Canada in 1930.

This collection of letters is divided into two sections -- over 500 letters written between 1930-1938 and almost 800 letters written between 1939-1977, the post-World War II period. There is also one file containing the travel documents for Franz and Liese Bargen when they immigrated to Canada in 1930, as well as a Canadian naturalization document from 1945.

The letters written between 1930 and 1938 present the experiences of over 30 families -- relatives of Franz and Liese Bargen. The first letters originate in Sagradovka, the Mennonite settlement in Ukraine from which families were sent into forced labour camps. Letters between family members in exile and those outside the camps were the the lifeline for many prisoners during this time of terror, brought on by Joseph Stalin's policies. The writers of the letters knew the risks of making contact with "the West" -- prison or execution, yet they continued writing, and letters got through in various circuitous and covert ways. The Bargen family responded with letters, money and packages, knowing that much material would not reach its destination.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Each item in the Bargen Letter Collection is numbered for easy reference. The post-war letters are not totally sorted as the earlier ones.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

  • German

Script of material

  • Gothic

Language and script notes

Transcripts and translations for many items.

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Inventory file list

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

The "pre-war" letters were scanned to produce digital copies by MHC staff in 2005.

Related units of description

Articles about the work of Ruth Derksen Siemens, who extensively studied these letters for her Ph.D. on the philosophy of language (University of Sheffield). (See Vol. 3973:7-10).

Through the Red Gate [DVD], a documentary about the discovery of the letters, produced by Myra Rogers and Ruth Derksen Siemens (2008).

Related descriptions

Publication note

"From Russia With Tears: Letters from Home and Exile, 1930-1938" in the Mennonite Historical Library at Canadian Mennonite University.

"Remember Us as We Remember You: Letters from the Gulag" by Ruth Derksen Siemens published in Geist, Volume 12, Number 56, Spring 2005, p. 39-45.

Ruth Derksen Siemens. "Remember us: letters from Stalin's Gulag (1930-37). Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 2007.

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Accession area

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Physical storage

  • Box: Volumes