Mennonite Heritage Village

Why “Mennonites at War”?

by Andrea Klassen, Senior Curator at MHV

Mennonite Heritage Village’s (MHV) exhibit on display for 2021 is entitled “Mennonites at War.”  For nearly 500 years, Mennonites have been shaped by violence, war, and military participation in different ways. The exhibit divides this complex topic into four main themes: “Martyrs” (where we highlight the roots of the Mennonite belief in nonresistance in the Radical Reformation of the 16th century); “Migrants” (where we explore how war, violence, and the threat of military participation have impelled Mennonites to be a people of migration for much of the last 500 years); “Objectors” (where we discuss the ways Mennonites have objected to war and military participation by becoming Conscientious Objectors during wartime); and lastly, “Soldiers” (times in history where Mennonites have joined the military, either voluntarily or by force, particularly in Canada but also in Europe during the Second World War). 

For some Mennonites, speaking about the times when Mennonites have been involved, either voluntarily or forcibly, in military action is an uncomfortable part of our history. For others, the fact that one’s relatives did take part in war in Canada or in the Soviet Union and Germany is a subject that may be difficult to speak about. MHV recognizes that this topic of “Mennonites at War” is a complex and potentially controversial issue. However, we think that exploring our history – even the parts that make us uncomfortable – is an important task. As a museum, we believe that it is good, both for us as individuals and corporately as a community, to engage with points of view we may not agree with in constructive and respectful ways.

For this reason, we decided to place multiple perspectives on the topic of war and violence side-by-side in the exhibit. For example, the exhibit deals with the stories of those Mennonites in Canada who chose to become Conscientious Objectors as well as those who chose full Active Service during the Second World War. It also tells the stories of those who sought a middle ground while joining the military, by serving in non-combatant roles like the Restricted Medical Corps. We believe that we can only begin to try to understand the past by looking at different points of view and types of experiences, not just those with which we are comfortable or those that fit best into our collective narrative.

As a museum, we welcome your questions and feedback about the exhibit! We also invite you to participate in the “Mennonites at War Speakers Series,” where Mennonite historians and community members will be engaging in more detail on the themes explored in the exhibit and the questions these topics raise.  The Speakers Series will take place throughout summer and fall of 2021. Our first speaker was Dr. Hans Werner (Senior Scholar, University of Winnipeg), whose presentation “Hard Decisions: Mennonite Response to War” is now available on MHV’s YouTube channel. Our next speaker, Dr. Aileen Friesen (Assistant Professor of History, University of Winnipeg) will be speaking on July 20. The title of her presentation is “Revisiting the Mythologies: Russian Military Service and Mennonite Migration.” This will be an online event and you can visit our website for more details on how to join in the conversation!

Upcoming Events

  • Re-opening to the Public, Saturday, June 26. Museum grounds and galleries will re-opening to the public this Saturday. Following the new public health orders our galleries and grounds will be running at 25% capacity or a maximum of 250 people. We look forward to seeing you back at the museum. The Livery Barn Restaurant will be opening to the public next week once staff and supplies have been secured.
  • Livery Barn Restaurant take-out, Thursdays and Fridays, 4-7 p.m. See the set menu on our website, then call 204-326-9661 to order. Pick-up is at our main entrance or there is now free delivery for Steinbach! Have your traditional Mennonite food delivered to your door in a Classic Car (delivery spots are limited).
  • Mennonites at War Exhibit Premier and Fundraiser, July 10. MHV plans to host a VIP tour of our new exhibit and have a special update on our Chortitz Housebarn with refreshments on the lawn.
  • Mennonites at War Speaker Series, July 20, 7:30 p.m. Dr. Aileen Friesen will be presenting “Revisiting the Mythologies: Russian Military Service and Mennonite Migration” in this online event. Register for the event today.