Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan

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Peace Perspectives - November 11, 2017

The MHSS family and friends gathered in the Bethany Fellowship Centre on Saturday afternoon at 2 pm. The day is known as Remembrance Day, but we were not here so much to remember the lives of soldiers sacrificed for our country, as to consider Peace Perspectives, and those who had chosen to refrain from going to war, and take the path of service instead.

John Reddekopp, an MHSS Board member, opened the meeting with welcoming remarks, and then David Neufeld prayed the invocational prayer.

Jake Buhler introduced the fairly well-known, Walter Klaassen, as age 91, having a wife, Ruth, at 89, and they have three sons. Walter was born near Laird, and has a number of degrees, and has taught in universities in several countries. Walter has also written some books, but Jake just briefly referred to; Pilgrim Marpeck - whose writings showed that he truly followed the gospel of Jesus. Anabaptism was not Protestant nor Catholic. Secondly, Days of our Years, about his home, and church, 1892-1992, and where they had come from.

Walter Klaassen

Walter Klaassen insisted that there are stories that need to be told. He told three short classic stories. In each the principle character was to go to war, and made a decision.

Franz was the caretaker of a village church, and a passionate Catholic, who read in the Bible about Jesus, and concluded that he could not become a soldier. He could not square Jesus' teaching with the war. His priest and family worked hard to change his mind. They told him, that soldiers were only to obey orders and thus, were not responsible for what he was told to do. But he dared not disobey Jesus. Franz was arrested, imprisoned and executed. Many years later he was beatified and declared a saint.

On August 9, 1925 a war plane was ready to take off on a bombing mission; a Catholic priest and a chaplin sent them off with a prayer and blessing. Nagasaki, the destination city was in a fog. A Catholic group met in a building there with a very tall spire that pierced the fog. The soldiers on the plane used that spire as their landmark, and dropped their atomic bomb on it. The entire congregation was burned alive. President Truman thanked the God of Peace for that victory.

In the third story, Dirk Willems, in 1569, was an Anabaptist prisoner, who escaped. As he fled he was pursued by a police officer. As Dirk ran across some ice, he heard a crack and turned to see his pursuer falling into a crack in the ice. He turned back to rescue the police officer, choosing to live by Jesus' words to "Do good to your enemies." Dirk was rearrested and burned for being baptized as a adult.

In each story the key character acted from the principles taught by Jesus, regardless of the consequences.

John Reddekopp introduced the 44 minute video, "The Last Objectors," which had been produced by the Mennonite Church of Canada. It was shown by CBC in Manitoba as a documentary.

The Last Objectors

The video showed the history of how Conscientious Objectors were treated in Canada during World War II. 11,000 men either rejected or refused to go to war. Though they came from 33 ethnic backgrounds, it was largely through the work of Mennonites that the government created the classification of Conscientious Objectors, and set them to do Alternate Service for Canada. Thousands were sent to work camps in the Rocky Mountains to cut down trees and carve the Trans Canada highway through to the west coast. C.O.s were also used as forest fire fighters, and later when a great labour shortage was recognized with so many soldiers away, fighting in Europe, some of these C.O's were reassigned to work in mental hospitals as orderlies, and other manual labour that it was hard to find men to do.

Much of the story was told in the video by interviewing a number of elderly Mennonite men who had been C.O's, and by switching from one to another, the story of how they were at first despised, then used, and their personal experiences were revealed. Details came out, such that the camp boss might be drunk and incapacitated, but the COs would do their work conscientiously, as a matter of principle. Or, the men had been told they would serve for four months, yet, in the end, they had to stay another year after the war was over and the soldiers came home so that the soldiers would get the first opportunities at the job openings.

After the video showing, Jake Buhler asked if there were any COs in the room. It turned out that Walter Klaassen was the only one, however, he had a deferment and was able to help on the family farm. 17 others had a relative who had been a CO.

The floor was opened for questions. Then Elmer Regier, the Treasurer, brought the container with the names for the draws for 5 history books.

Jake Buhler closed with prayer, and invited all to stay for coffee and sweets.

[last updated - Nov/25/2021]
Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan

Room 900 - 110 La Ronge Road,
Saskatoon, SK, S7K 7H8
Archive Hours: Monday: 1:30 - 4:00 p.m. Wednesday: 1:30 - 4:00 p.m. & by appointment on Wed. evening.