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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The German identity of Mennonite Brethren immigrants in Canada, 1930-1960 Redekop, Benjamin Wall


Little scholarly research has been done on the function of Germanism among Mennonites who immigrated to Canada from Russia in the 1920's, and what has been done often relies on an oversimplified "desire for separation" to explain the phenomenon. At the same time, it has been argued that the enthusiasm for Nazi Germany among Mennonite immigrants in Canada is to be understood as part of a larger "Volks-German awakening". In fact, the Mennonite experience of brutal treatment during the Bolshevik Revolution, the economic conditions of the Great Depression, and assinflationist pressures from Canadian society put them in a naturally receptive position for the cultural, political and ethnic ideas associated with the "new Germany". The Mennonite ethno-religious culture which had emerged in Russia appeared to be breaking down, more rapidly in some areas than others; at the same time, distinctions between political and cultural Germanism were just beginning to be understood, as they were bound up in a single "package" which seemed to offer answers to the problems of fragmentation, instability and loss of identity. Germanism, and the German language in particular, functioned as an instrument of socio-religious integration for the Russlaender Brethren in the 30 years after their arrival in Canada. In the interwar years, Mennonite Germanism took on certain political, "Volkish", and nationalistic overtones; by the end of the Second World War, these elements had largely faded. In the postwar period Germanism becomes more clearly identifiable in its primary role as symbol and agent of the distinctive configuration of religious faith, sense of peoplehood, and way of life which had emerged in Imperial Russia. The Germanism which was expressed in the Canadian context was in large part a conservative response to the challenges posed by the forces of assimilation and acculturation, the effects of anti-Germanism brought on by two World Wars, and an inherent tendency of the Brethren to identify with North American "English" evangelicalism and to denigrate their cultural heritage because it was felt to detract from effective evangelism. A variety of sources have been used in writing this thesis, including church records, newspapers, personal papers, interviews, conference minutes and school committee minutes, as well as a wide range of secondary sources, including unpublished theses, dissertations and papers. In addition to outlining the contours of Brethren Germanism itself, efforts have been made to portray adequately the context in which Brethren Germanism was expressed, including that of the Brethren constituency as a whole, other "evangelical" groups, and the larger social and political currents of Canadian society. Extending the analysis into the decades after 1945 adds conclusive evidence that the Brethren Germanism of the 1930's was related more to Mennonite goals and aspirations than those of Nazi Germany, despite the presence of a significant (misguided) sympathy for the Hitler regime.

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