Mennonites in East Germany: A Fascinating Lecture at the Mennonite Heritage Archives!

You know me, I’m never one to pass up a lecture on Mennonite history. Truth be told, I’ve missed a few, but I’m happy to live in an area where such lectures are in abundance!

This past Wednesday Andrew called me up after work and said, “Want to go on a date? There’s a lecture at the Mennonite Heritage Archives.” And I said yes, of course. (HA, we’re such nerds!)

This was a very interesting lecture by Bernhard Thiessen. With a name like that, you’re probably thinking, “Oh, he must be from Jantsied.” But he’s not! Mr. Thiessen is the former pastor of the Berlin Mennonite Church. He’s not Canadian, but has been doing research at the Mennonite Heritage Archives in Winnipeg.

I think most Canadian Mennonites, at least those of Russian Mennonite origin, are only aware of the three major waves of immigration to Canada, that being the 1870s, 1920s, and post WWII. But we have to remember that with each of these waves of immigration, people were left behind. So, yes, you probably do have long lost relatives in Europe somewhere. Mr. Thiessen might be one of them.

His area of research is on the Mennonite church in communist East Germany. Fascinating! I’d never really thought about Mennonites in that part of the world before. Spies. The Stasi. The Berlin Wall. There were Mennonites living through all of that! One thing I found very interesting was that Gerhard Bassarak, who was considered a prominent Protestant theologian and was involved in the Christian Peace Conference, was actually a spy for the Stasi! Mr. Thiessen has uncovered other prominent “Christian” leaders who were actually spies as well.

I’m very grateful that my family came to Canada when they did! And I’ll certainly think a little differently the next time I look at the piece of the Berlin Wall on display at the Mennonite Heritage Village.