1 | Page 2
J. Bergen was born in 1922. In September 1940, at the age of 18,
he started teaching “on permit” in Big Black River on the northeast
shore of Lake Winnipeg . Because of the shortage of teachers during
the war years, Bergen and several others were asked to shorten their
teacher preparation courses to take up positions in schools. With
this approval from the government, Bergen accepted a job in the
Hopeland School District teaching grades one to nine. Since all
but two of his 26 students were Mennonites, Bergen included some
German items in the Christmas program. The parents of the two non-German
children took offense and left.
few months later, the father of the departed students accused Bergen
of posting pictures of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, the leaders
of Canada's enemies. The father refused to accept Bergen's explanation
that the pictures were part of a current events project, and that
the Allied leaders were included as well.
the winter of 1942, the Department of Education encouraged teachers
to sell War Savings Stamps. Bergen, knowing that this was voluntary,
wrote a letter to the Department explaining why, as a pacifist,
he did not feel that it was right to support the war by selling
stamps. Bergen received a swift reply:
opinions you expressed in this letter, in my opinion, should not
be held by anyone teaching children in this province…. “Love thine
enemy” may be a very fine belief but when our enemy is trying
to deprive us of our homes…. I think love must cease…. I wonder
what would happen in Germany today to anyone who wrote such a
letter as yours? I do not believe they would ever have an opportunity
to write a second one.”
received another letter a week later.
statements [from Bergen 's original letter] have created definite
doubt as to whether you should be in charge of a school in his
province. You are hereby notified to appear before a meeting of
a Discipline Committee of this Department on Friday, February
Bergen's class had supported a very successful Red Cross campaign
to ease suffering from the war. The Department didn't take this
into account at the discipline hearing. At the meeting, Bergen received
a letter from the Minister of Education.
is to advise you your teaching certificate is suspended in this
Province pending the decision following the report of the Discipline
committee asked why Bergen refused to serve Canada in the military.
Bergen replied that he would gladly serve in the Medical Corps if
he did not have to bear arms. This option was not available at that
time, so the committee found his answer unacceptable.
months later, when the option to serve in the Medical Corps became
available, Bergen enlisted as a non-combatant. He then asked to
have his teaching certificate returned, since he was serving his
country. In May 1946, one year after the war ended, Bergen had his
years later, in 1975, Bergen wrote to the Deputy Minister of Education.
Bergen wanted his case reopened.
certificate was cancelled because I declared myself a conscientious
objector to participation in active violence. I declared my willingness
to participate in a non-combatant capacity. When the latter became
legally possible, I joined the forces and was placed in the Dental
Corps. Nothing changed with respect to the position I held on
the basis of conviction and conscience between the time my certificate
was cancelled and the time my certificate was reinstated. Since
that was the case, I hold that the first decision was based in
the context of the then political climate, understandable in a
time of war, and not based rationally or in justice.”
received this reply from the Director of Teacher Certification and
July 11, 1975, the Deputy Minister of Education, R.W. Dalton,
made the following recommendation to the Minister of Education,
the Hon. Ben Hanuschak: ‘In view of the fact that Mr. Bergen did
serve his country during the war, and society's attitudes towards
war have changed in the last thirty years, and that Mr. Bergen's
record as a certificated teacher was unimpeachable, I wish to
recommend to you that the cancellation of Mr. Bergen's certificate
be expunged from the record and that retroactively he be considered
certified during the period of cancellation.'” [Mennonite
Life, September 1993]
Bergen's original documents.
1 | Page 2