Vandalism in Leamington, Ontario

The news spread quickly. The first person into the Leamington Mennonite church that Sunday morning quickly told the others as they arrived. The church had been vandalized! Sometime on the night of 25 May 1940, a person or group of people had broken into the church basement and destroyed dishes and Sunday School material.

The congregation cancelled the communion service it had planned for that morning and assessed the damage. Someone snapped a few pictures before they started to clean up the mess left by the intruders. At least two of these photos survive.  

What do you see when you look at these pictures of the church basement?

The first picture is of the damaged room. The dishes lie broken on the floor and a large counter has been overturned. In the background you can see large posters lying on the ground. The second photo is a close-up of these posters. This shot shows that the posters are Sunday School material that has been ripped and crumpled up. They are in English. A few of them are maps. The others show illustrations based on the Bible.

The pictures show the result of the vandalism, but no one knows why this happened. We do know that it was part of a wider pattern of events in Leamington, Ontario. The Mennonites had lived in Leamington for less than twenty years when the war started. The local citizens wondered if the Mennonites would be loyal to Canada or to Germany. These Mennonites had lived in the Soviet Union for more than one hundred years before coming to Canada, but people still thought they were German because they spoke the German language. The RCMP even wanted to fingerprint some of the Mennonites. This exercise was cancelled when it was discovered that the Mennonites were born and raised in the Soviet Union, which was not an enemy country in the Second World War.

Even so, the RCMP searched the home of Jacob Janzen, a Mennonite minister. 

What could the Mennonites do? They had voluntarily cancelled their German school classes so they wouldn't offend their neighbours. They had voluntarily stopped serving meals in the church basement so that no one could accuse them of meeting together to plot against Canada. They also took offerings during the church service and gave them to the Red Cross. Even so, on the night of 25 May 1940, someone broke into the church and vandalized the basement.