What was the situation of the Mennonites in 1939?
In 1939, at the beginning of the Second World War, Canada had 111,000 Mennonites. Some Mennonites had lived in Canada for over 150 years. Some had lived in Canada for 50 years. Others had come more recently, and had lived in Canada for 10-15 years.
Canadian Mennonites were mainly a rural and agricultural people. Most of them lived on farms in isolated communities. The 1941 census, for example, shows that nearly 87% of Mennonites lived on farms or in small rural towns or villages. For the most part, they had succeeded in remaining separate from wider Canadian society. Not only were they physically separated, but they also had a different religion and many spoke a different language. During times of peace, most Canadians didn't even notice the Mennonites.
During times of war, however, Mennonites were the focus of attention for their pacifist beliefs. Mennonites did not believe that killing people was ever right, even in war. Mennonites believed that they should have a spirit of peace and love instead, even if it meant personal suffering and sacrifice. The army, as well as many Canadian citizens, wondered why Mennonites were not prepared to defend their country. Why, these people asked, should Mennonites be able to live in Canada without participating fully in Canadian life?
How would Mennonites react to this challenge? Find out in the rest of the website!
View additional material on Mennonite history before the Second World War.