Regina Rosenberg

?-1919

Russian Jews, in 1918, did not take lightly what they believed. Particularly not Orthodox Jews—and quite particularly not the Rosenbergs!

Like the Rosenbergs, all Jews of southern Russia had a special reason to value their faith. They had kept it through terrible persecutions. Their ancestors had kept it through thousands of years, back through the time of the Maccabees, the prophets and kings, and the escape from Egypt, to Abraham. No one, the Jews believed, had a faith as ancient as theirs, or one that came as directly from God. Neither had anyone paid for it as dearly.

The latest persecution of the Jews in Russia had begun when a bomb killed Tsar Aleksandr in St. Petersburg, in 1881. Many Russians blamed the Jews. The chief procurator of the Russian Orthodox church did what he could to stir the people against them and within a month of the tsar’s assassination bloody pogroms began with police cooperation.

Gunmen, throughout southern Russia, rounded up Jewish men, women, and children, shooting thousands of them at once. The rest they drove from their homes (twenty thousand from Moscow alone) or molested in numberless other ways. Christian priests told their congregations Jews killed babies, drank blood, and offered Christians as human sacrifices. Then, as if that were not enough, Russian government officials published a paper called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in 1905. A total forgery, written in France, it was said to be the Jews’ plan for overthrowing all governments in the world. New waves of violence broke out against them and hundreds of thousands fled to America and other lands.

All this Regina Rosenberg knew only too well. Even though her parents sent her to a college administered by Christians, she knew they deeply distrusted the Christian religion. So did she, and when an Evangelical Christian gave her a New Testament at the college she decided to read it only to see how wicked it was.

Nothing could have prepared her for what she found.

To begin with, she came across nothing anti-Jewish. Expecting the New Testament to be a collection of terrible lies about Jews and blasphemy against God, she found it full of simple stories and teachings. Jesus and Paul, she soon learned, said nothing bad about Moses. They seemed to appreciate the law and all the first Christians were Jews.

Regina felt confused. All she had known was Christians who hated Jews, discriminated against them, and who resorted to the lowest treachery and lies when dealing with them. Now her Evangelical friend told her about another kind of Christians, a real kind, who loved one another and returned good for evil.

It would have seemed impossible, but the longer Regina observed the life of her Evangelical friends (who also suffered under the tsar’s government) the more convinced she became they had something she did not. At the same time she studied the New Testament in the light of what Jewish Scriptures said. She read how Jewish women, Mary, Martha, and others believed in Jesus as the promised Messiah. The stories moved her. She began to pray, to repent of her sins, and almost before she knew it she believed in Jesus too.

Can there be such a thing as a “secret Christian”? Regina decided the difficult question right away. If she believed in Christ, she determined, she would do so openly and suffer the consequences.

A storm of opposition broke out upon her.

At first the Rosenberg family used every means to bring Regina back to Judaism. They loved her and she loved them, but her love for Christ had grown stronger than any other. Nothing could move her and when her parents finally drove her from their home with a curse she took to the streets and fled, in danger of her life.

The first World War still raged in eastern Europe. Austria-Hungary had invaded southern Russia. In St. Petersburg the Bolsheviks had overthrown the Tsar and where the cries of starving children rose from Russia’s streets and railroad stations, communist Red troops fought with the tsarist White army for control.

Among untold numbers of displaced and suffering people, finding shelter under bridges, and in the ruins of buildings destroyed by war, Regina made her way until the fall of 1918. Then, on a street in Kharkov she met a believing couple, Jakob and Tina Dyck.

Jakob Dyck was a young man. He spoke clearly and with a vision. From the Crimea, he had served as a conscientious objector in an army hospital during the war. That had opened his eyes.

Among wounded and unhappy soldiers, Jakob Dyck had come to appreciate what his family and childhood—among the joyfully evangelistic Mennonite “Brüdergemeinde”—had given him. More than ever, he saw the value of peace and industry. He saw the way of Christ far above the ways of the world, and in his heart he felt deeply convicted to share what he had with others.

Regina found Jakob and his wife, Tina, speaking to unhappy people and refugees of the love of Christ—and her heart grew warm within her. Was this how Jesus Christ and his first disciples had lived? Regina did not doubt it, and cast her lot with the Dycks and the unusual fellowship of believers that travelled from place to place with them.

From Kharkov Regina followed the little nameless fellowship from camp to camp and from town to town. They lived in tents and held meetings among the people. Sometimes they had food. Sometimes not. When it rained they sloshed along in the mud. Almost every evening Jakob and the brothers with him spoke in Russian villages or military bases.

Besides Jakob’s wife Tina—whose only child had died of scarlet fever—Regina found a friend in Luise Hübert Sukkau, a girl from a colony on the Molochna River. Others travelling with the group were Sergey Yushkevich, a Latvian musician, two Ukrainians named Vladimir Golitsyn and Danilo Astachov, and a converted soldier, Andrey Ivanovich Enns. At times the group became large and hundreds attended their evening meetings. At other times they struggled through hard situations and in hostile territory, alone. For some time Jakob sat in jail for refusing, as a Christian, to take part in militia duty. 

Many of those who found new hope in Christ through the itinerant group of believers, were young people. Regina shared her life with them. She also sat next to numberless Russian women terrified by famine and civil war, and they loved her for it. Wherever the group went, singing on the streets, visiting hospitals, preaching in the villages, more clusters of believers took shape and began to meet for Bible study and prayer. But Russia’s situation grew steadily worse. Between the Red and White armies, anarchist bands appeared on horseback, thundering from village to village, flying a black flag, burning, robbing, and killing.

In the fall of 1919, Jakob Dyck asked the members of the group if they felt they should travel directly to a Mennonite colony along the Molochna River for the winter, or if they should visit seekers in more villages along the way. Everyone happily agreed at once, in spite of dangers involved, to visit more.

On Friday morning, October 25, 1919, the group sat in a circle in a Mennonite home northeast of Aleksandrovsk, Bibles open on their laps, to read John 14. They got no further than Christ’s promise, “In my Father’s house are many dwellings . . . I go to prepare a place for you.” Then they separated into smaller groups to visit surrounding villages. Regina accompanied Jakob Dyck, three brothers, and her friend Luise to Dubovka, on the Yazykovo colony, where they held a meeting that night.

Very few converted people lived in Dubovka. But during the revolution and ensuing struggles, some had begun to seek Christ. The itinerant believers stayed in the home of a widow, Frau Peters, who served them breakfast the following morning. Before they could eat it, the door opened and to their shock several anarchists stepped in. Without a word they pulled chairs and sat down to the table.

Jakob Dyck took charge. “We will serve you breakfast,” he told them kindly, “but we are believers. Before we eat breakfast we read from the Bible and pray.”

The anarchists said nothing. Jakob read a Scripture and when everyone stood up to pray, they stood too.

After they had eaten the anarchists told Regina and Luise to dance. They sang instead, and more and more rough men with bullet belts and sabres on their sides filled the room. Jakob spoke earnestly to them of Christ’s peace. He spoke until he grew hoarse and Frau Peters brought him two raw eggs. Still the young anarchists listened, some with wistful longing in their eyes. At noon they returned to their camp. Regina and Luise went to school to have a lesson with the children, and Jakob Dyck, accompanied by the old minister Johann Schellenberg of Reinfeld, followed soon after.

Welcomed by the teacher and his wife, all were kneeling for prayer when several anarchists loudly entered the room. “Who gave you permission to hold a meeting here?” they asked. Their sullen faces struck those gathered with alarm.

In the meantime new intruders entered Frau Peters’ house. They found Vladimir Golitsin and on learning of his Christian activity, struck him down. Frau Peters, on orders from the men, brought a clean sheet they tore up to bandage his wounds. Then, after forcing him to clean his blood from the floor, they told Vladimir to take them to his companions.

The anarchists, on their arrival at school, had Regina, Luise, and the Christian men stand along the wall. The teacher begged them not to kill them in front of the children so they led them across the village street to a barn.

From a window in another classroom, the teacher’s wife watched them go. None of them resisted. Jakob Dyck held his hands over his face while two anarchists who led him struck him repeatedly. As soon as they entered the barn, shooting began.

After a little, the door opened. Regina Rosenberg, followed by one of the anarchists, stepped outside. Even though she could not hear them, the teacher’s wife saw Regina speaking earnestly to the young man. Her face was radiant. With one hand she kept pointing to heaven. Then they returned to the barn.

Two days later the believers Danilo Astachov and Andrey Epp dared to enter the silent village of Dubovka. At the first house they found two corpses on the floor. In the following houses they found others. In groups of three, five, or more, corpses of men and boys lay everywhere.[1] Then they came to the barn across from the school.

Some bodies they could not recognise. Those of Vladimir Golitsin and Jakob Dyck, stripped of their clothes and mutilated, lay toward the door. They found Sergey Yushkevitch and Luise Sukkau. Not far away, on its knees as in prayer, lay Regina Rosenberg’s body. The anarchists had slashed her in the neck and cut her head wide open. 

Physically and spiritually a descendant of Abraham who “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith,” Regina Rosenberg followed Christ at great cost and became part of his body forever.

Main sources:

Kroeker, A., Bilder aus Sowjetruszland, Hillsboro KS, 1922

Toews, Aron A., Mennonitische Märtyrer der jüngsten Vergangenheit und der Gegenwart, North Clearbrook BC, 1949-1954

[1] Seventy-nine men and boys, and three women, lost their lives in Dubovka on October 26, 1919. Most of the widows and children that remained soon died of typhus and starvation.

Leave a reply