Ukraine, pt 3: Gerhard & Katharina Rempel Willems

 Dear Relatives,

           Our great-grandfather, Gerhard Willems, was born in Holland (or Prussia) on Oct. 3, 1820.  He was married to Katharina Rempel in 1841.  They spent some years farming in Russia.  Great-grandmother died in Russia in 1875 at the age of 52. [1]

 Gerhard Willems (1820-1900) and Katharina Rempel Willems (1823-1875) are my paternal great-great-grandparents.  Katharina was born in what is now Ukraine, a land known to the Mennonites as South Russia.  She was born in the village of Lichtfelde in the Mennonite colony of Molotschna and died in the village of Kutyuki on the Crimean peninsula which was then also part South Russia.  Her husband, Gerhard Willems, on the other hand, wasn’t born in Russia, and he didn’t die there.   Born in a Mennonite community in the Vistula River delta in what was then Prussia (now Poland), Gerhard was taken by his parents to the village of Lichtenau in the Molotschna colony when he was 18 months old.  On March 8, 1841 Gerhard and Katharina married.  Sometime after the Crimean War (1853-56), Gerhard and Katharina moved from the Molotschna to a village on the Crimean Peninsula. Katharina died 11 May 1875.  She was 52 years old.  During the thirty-four years of her marriage she gave birth to 16 children, 4 of whom predeceased her. 

In the summer of 1875, soon after the death of Katharina, Gerhard and ten of his children left Crimea and traveled to Mountain Lake, Minnesota.  Gerhard spent the next 24 years of his life in Mountain Lake.  Then in the spring of 1899, he embarked on another long journey to another frontier, Saskatchewan, Canada.  He died one year later, 12 March 1900.  He lived 79 years, 4 months and 1 day—a great age for those times.  During those almost 80 years he traveled from the North Sea to the Black Sea, across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States, then half-way across the North American continent to the Minnesota prairie and from there to Saskatchewan in the Canadian prairie.  He made his residence in four different countries—a long, long journey between birth and death.

I wrote about Gerhard in The Gift of Laughter, but his story in that book begins with his arrival in North America in 1875. I had researched and written up the story of his early life as well as that of Katharina Rempel and posted it in the ‘Pages’ of the website I use to archive my research. However, when I began to pull the book together I found the Ukraine chapters did not fit, and decided to leave it out, just place that document in the various Mennonite Brethren archives. Now, though, with the war that is raging in the land where Gerhard and Katharina had their life together, that material is with me again, and I’ve decided to offer it here in case you would like to read it. This document not only tells Gerhard and Katharina’s story in more detail, it speaks of the land and the Mennonite colonies and the world events that affected their lives.

To read Gerhard and Katharina story, click on the following link: .

“The Russian Mennonites — Types of Faces and Costumes”. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (New York) March 20, 1875

1875 sketch typical faces 001

[1] Invitation to a 1980 Willems Family Reunion sent out by the Reunion Committee: Sam Willems, Waldheim, Sask.; Wes Willems, Saskatoon, Sask.; Elmer Andres, Hepburn, Sask.; Herman Berg, Hepburn, Sask.

©Loretta Willems, April 25, 2022


2 thoughts on “Ukraine, pt 3: Gerhard & Katharina Rempel Willems

  1. I love all the details and the added historical context. Makes me itch to dig back into my family stories. Thanks so much for sharing!


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