Community Relations

“When I returned on the bus from Rosthern after graduating,” writes David Janzen, “a couple of drunken soldiers sitting behind me raised questions as to why I was not in the army and threatened to hang me with the belt from my raincoat which they snatched from me. No attempt was really made to harm me. They were very obnoxious and uncouth.”

Anti-German and pro-war sentiment ruled Canada during the Second World War. Despite this, incidents such as Janzen describes were uncommon. The wider Canadian community may not have agreed with COs, but neither did they think that it was right to harass and persecute them.

Janzen continues his story. After the drunken soldiers stole something from a store when the bus was stopped, the driver refused to let them on board. The driver wasn't defending Janzen. He was defending the Canadian values such as honesty, decency, and integrity. Despite the incident on the bus, Janzen felt respected in his community. “My witness in the community was never under question,” he says. “[I] never heard of any one who said I should be in the army, or who objected to my being on the farm.” [MHC, 1015-32]

newspaper clipping entitled "Letter from a Disabled War Veteran"
Letter From a Disabled War Veteran (From a B.C. Newspaper)

Although the Mennonites and other conscientious objectors suffered some persecution because of their beliefs, on the whole, the Canadian government and Canadian citizens treated COs very well. Most of the problems happened because of misunderstandings. There were few problems after people got to know the COs and realized that they were not cowards. It is a credit to Canadian citizens and to the COs that the two groups maintained such good relations throughout the war.

David Goerzen worked on a farm where the owner's son was killed in the war. Goerzen and the owner remained on good terms.

 Goerzen felt his CO experience was a good one.

Gerhard Ens did his alternative service on a farm and in a hospital. His experience with the community was very positive. He writes that he has “nothing but praise” for other Canadian citizens.   

"My farm boss was very, very fair. He did not necessarily agree with my view but he was a decent human being. So were his wife and family. I was not made to feel in any way that I was not a Canadian citizen. Basically I was treated well. And the same goes for the hospital. The only negative input we got over the fact that we were COs happened one day when the nurses mentioned to us (we were single fellows and occasionally dated some of the nurses and some of the single female staff) that their head nurse, their matron, had reprimanded them for having anything to do with the “yellowbacks”, such as we were. But that was an isolated incident and incidentally was resolved in a marvelous way because later this very same lady asked us for a particular favour – us CO boys – and we cooperated as wholeheartedly as we could with her. This apparently, completely changed her mind about us. She was very friendly after that. I met her once after I was out of the CO work. She stopped me on the street and chatted with me, and asked me how things were. By and large, our treatment was excellent really. I have no complaints." [TTbP, 50-51]

David Schroeder also worked at a hospital. He agrees with Ens.

“The Grey Nuns and especially Sister Dupres treated us very, very kindly. Workers were very hard to get in those days and most of the Mennonite boys knew how to work, so that they were more than pleased with what they were getting.” [TTbP, 51]

Many times, people weren't even interested in the COs' beliefs, as long as they were good workers.