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was 1940. The war news from the Europe was not good. Canada and
the Allies were losing the war. Germany had conquered most of Europe
and seemed unstoppable. The community of Leamington, Ontario – the
Tomato Capital of Canada – started to look at their Mennonite neighbours
with suspicion. What did they really know about the Mennonites?
These strange people usually kept to themselves. One thing the people
of Leamington did know: the Mennonites who came from Russia in the
1920s, spoke German, and had been in Canada for less than twenty
years. Could they be trusted to support Canada?
During the Second World War, many Canadians suspected Mennonites
of being enemy spies. Not only did the Mennonites speak German,
but they refused to fight in the Canadian army. Tension was higher
in some communities than in others. In Leamington this tension was
especially strong. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police went as far
as to search Reverend Jacob Janzen's house looking for illegal or
|Mr. and Mrs.
Janzen in 1941
||Rev. Jacob Janzen's
did the RCMP want from this pacifist church minister? Their actions
were part of the wave of anti-German feeling that swept Canada during
the war. Jacob Janzen's only crime was speaking German. The fact
that Janzen and the other Mennonite immigrants were from the Soviet
Union, not Germany, was ignored.
under the communists in the Soviet Union had been hard. More than
20,000 Mennonites fled from the Soviet Union to Canada in the 1920s
to escape persecution. North American Mennonites heard of their
plight and gave what assistance they could. When they arrived in
Canada, the Russian Mennonites stayed with Swiss Mennonite families
in Kitchener, Waterloo, and other communities. When the immigrants
felt ready, they moved west to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta,
and British Columbia. Some, however, stayed in Ontario .
of these groups that stayed in Ontario travelled 300 km south and
west from their hosts in Kitchener-Waterloo to the lakeside town
of Leamington . This area soon had enough Mennonite settlers to
establish a church. In 1929, the church had 150 members. By 1947,
they had 711.
growing congregation's problems began when Canada declared war on
Germany. The English-speaking community in Leamington did not trust
the German-speaking Mennonites. On
the night of 25 May 1940, this suspicion turned to violence.
Some people broke into the Mennonite church and vandalized the basement.
They smashed dishes and destroyed Sunday School material, even though
it was in English.
week later, the RCMP called some Mennonites to the town hall for
finger printing. When they discovered that the Mennonites were all
born in Russia or the Ukraine, the event was cancelled. The Mennonites
knew the community was watching them. For that reason, the church
cancelled their German school and didn't hold private meetings in
the church basement for the rest of the war. The vandalism and the
fingerprinting made it apparent that the church's efforts had been
events shook the whole Mennonite community in Leamington. Jacob
Janzen faced a personal test in November 1940. The RCMP staged a
surprise search of his house.
to Rev. Jacob Janzen tell his story.
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