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Old July 10th, 2018, 11:16 AM   #1
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Mennonites in Poland


Mennonites are a religious and ethno-linguistic (their dialect is called Plautdietsch) group which started to settle in Poland - fleeing persecution in Western Europe - in the 16th century. Mennonites stood out because of their radical pacifism which was based on the evangelical message of love towards one's fellowmen. The majority of Mennonites settled in the province of Poland called Royal Prussia. In the 2nd half of the 18th century, around 90% of Polish Mennonites lived in the Vistula Delta and the Lower Vistula River Valley.

Map of Mennonite churches in Poland in the 18th century:

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

Density of Mennonite churches in Poland around year 1772:

Darkest shade - 1 church per less than 250 km2
Lightest shade - 1 church per over 1000 km2

Click the image to open in full size.

Mennonite villages in the area of the Vistula Delta in 1800:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vistula_delta_Mennonites

Click the image to open in full size.

After the Partitions of Poland by Brandenburg-Prussia, Austria and Russia, most of the territory of Polish Royal Prussia became known as West Prussia. This is where the majority of Mennonites lived. In 1775 the number of Mennonites in West Prussia was 12,032. According to 1817 data, there were 12,649 Mennonites in West Prussia, including 9,122 in the northern part (Region Danzig) and 3,527 in the southern part (Region Marienwerder).

A significant part of Polish Mennonites were descended from just several families. As of year 1912, around 10,000 Mennonites had 369 most popular surnames. Half of them, around 5,000 had just 23 surnames - Penner, Wiens (Wiehns), Dueck (Dick, Dieck, Dyck), Claassen (Klaassen, Claaßen, Klaaßen), Wiebe, Janzen (Jantzen), Enss (Entz, Ehns), Janz, Freese, Regher (Regier), Harder, Ewert, Paul, Neufeld, Fast, Frantz, Friesen, Reimer, Epp, Fieguth, Albrecht, Nickel and Peters.

Polish Mennonites could be divided into two main groups based on their origin - Flemish Mennonites (who came mostly from the province of Zeeland at the Belgian-Dutch border) and Frisian Mennonites (who came mostly from the area of Leeuwarden in Friesland and Groningen). In addition to that, there was a smaller group of merchants and craftsmen originating from main cities of the Low Countries, as well as a smaller group of South German and Moravian German origins.

Those different groups of Mennonites started intermarrying with each other only in the 1800s.

Mennonites often identified themselves as Dutch, and their language as a dialect of Dutch or Frisian.

After the 1st and 2nd Partitions of Poland - when Mennonite-inhabited areas were annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia - the political situation turned out to be unfavourable for the Mennonites. King Frederick William II issued an edict that restricted their chances to buy new lands. The ownership of parcels that did not belong to Mennonites was burdened with military service, and the Mennonites who bought them could not, in the face of the new law, count on the relief from this burden. Because of this, in 1787, ten years after the partition, the first wave of Mennonite colonisers moved to Russia, upon the invitation granted to them by Empress Catherine the Great. Once moved, they transferred their contemporary Plautdietsch dialect from the Vistula Delta area. When the privileges that freed Mennonites from military services were abolished in Russia between 1874-76, the group was once again forced to start searching for new lands, where they could live in accordance with their faith, and that's why the settlement of Mennonites in the Western Hemisphere started. Many Russian Mennonites - descended from Polish Mennonites - moved to South America in the 1930s.

Today thousands of their descendants live in Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Kazakhstan, Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay, and in the USA:

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