Danzig Mennonite Church (Gdansk, Poland)
The Danzig Mennonite Church was the largest city Mennonite church in Prussia (now Gdańsk, Poland) , and had more than 1,100 baptized members in 1921. The late Danzig church was formed in 1808 from a union of the Old Flemish congregation (founded in 1569) and the Old Frisian congregation (founded about 1600).
The date of the coming of the first Mennonites to Danzig is not certain. Individual Anabaptists found their way here about 1530, especially from Holland. It is fairly certain that Menno Simons came to Danzig at least once, when he journeyed into the Baltic region and looked up his scattered brethren in and beyond Polish Prussia, and wherever possible organized them into congregations. In 1549 he wrote to the "children of God in Prussia," stating that he had been there that year. After Menno's death Dirk Philips came here again, and according to the tradition of the Danzig congregation was its first elder. He lived in Schottland near Danzig and worked with Hans Sikken several years—until 1567 or 1568—preaching and administering baptism and communion. Since during these very years Alba's reign of terror caused a greater influx of Dutch refugees to Danzig, they may have played a part in the formation of the congregation, which has existed in organized form since 1569. The list of elders and preachers is without a gap. The names of the founders are all Dutch— Hans van Amersfoort, Gijsbert de Veer (b. 14 May 1536, in Amsterdam), van Eyck, Beulke, van Buygen, van Almonde, Symons, van Dyck, Janzen, Maal (Mahl), van Beuningen, van Berynghuysen, etc. Elder Leenaert Bouwens, who visited Danzig in 1563-1565, baptized only three persons here.
The divisions that had taken place in Holland were, of course, transferred to the new locality; thus a Flemish and a Frisian congregation existed here side by side. The points of difference were maintained for a long time in Prussia, sometimes more emphatically than in the mother country. Until 1786 it was customary to rebaptize members of the Frisian group who wished to join the larger Flemish group. The latter, the more important congregation, considering itself beyond question the real Danzig Mennonite Church, kept in live communication with the strictest wing of the Old Flemish in Holland, especially in Amsterdam, Haarlem and Rotterdam. Its influence was so pronounced in Holland that a part of the Old Flemish there in the seventeenth century were called the "Old Danzig" group. That the Flemish congregations called themselves the "fine" is generally known; it is not so well known that they were also known as the "clear" (Klare, unambiguous), which gave rise to the term "Klarichen" or "Klärichen," in Low German "Klarken" or "Klerken."The Frisians, on the other hand, who were more liberal, were called the "coarse" (Grobe) or "worried" (Bekümmerte). Connections with Holland, by correspondence and by visits, remained intact as long as the Dutch language was used in church and home (1600-1750). The well-to-do Danzig congregation sent its young sons to Amsterdam to complete their education and learn a business, as well as to share youth instruction in the church and return to Danzig after receiving baptism. The Danzig baptismal registers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries nearly always contain an appendix of those who were baptized in Holland. In 1725, at the urgent request of the Old Flemish in Rotterdam and Amsterdam, Dirk Janssen, a Danzig preacher, was chosen by lot as elder to succeed Adriaan van Gameren, was ordained in Danzig, and was sent to Amsterdam. He left Danzig with his family on 7 December 1725, and returned eight years later, serving as elder in Danzig with Isaac de Veer and then alone until his death on 25 November 1750.
Evidence of these contacts between the Mennonites of Danzig and Amsterdam is found in more than three hundred documents in the Mennonite Archives of Amsterdam (see bibliography). Most of these are letters, received from or sent to Danzig. They are a rich source of information about conditions in the Danzig congregations, both Flemish and Frisian. They give information on such things as measures of the Danzig government against the Mennonites, hardships because of war, fire and floods, the considerable sums received from the Dutch Mennonite Committee for Foreign Needs, and the spiritual conditions of the Danzig Mennonites. About 1730, when a quarrel arose between the Danzig Flemish congregation and its Elder Heinrich von Dühren, two Dutch ministers, first Abraham Koenen and later Jacob Ouwejans, were sent to Danzig to settle the quarrel.
As shipping and trade between Holland and Danzig had already been active in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the refugees from Holland did not flee into the unknown. At first, to be sure, the Lutheran clergy had induced the council to close its gates to them but the bishop of Cujavien, who had possessions near the city, received them in Schottland (today Altschottland), and gave them religious liberty and an opportunity to follow their trades. In the course of time the Polish kings granted them solemn letters of protection, which of course did not prevent all oppression by self-centered officials or hostile clergymen, and especially by envious competing city guilds. Here as elsewhere the government took a friendly attitude toward the Mennonites on account of their civic virtues, and their industry and skill in trades and business; but the citizenry and the clergy opposed toleration. During the entire Polish period (until 1772) they suffered almost continually from hostility and arbitrary oppression, in many cases unabashed extortion by high-ranking persons. The notes (1667-1692) of Elder Georg Hansen in the church archives cite numerous instances in which sometimes the elder or the ministers or individual members were summoned before the bishop's officer who had religious jurisdiction in the city on charges of false doctrine, Socinian connections, and the like. A more or less heavy fine was usually imposed. Fortunately the Mennonites were frequently defended from exploitation by the city council. But the council was not always able to protect them against attacks. From 1749 to 1762 a regulation was enforced by the small dealers in the city, prohibiting Mennonite merchants in the suburbs from selling anything but brandy (see Alcohol). This measure, added to the protection fee of five thousand florins arbitrarily imposed on Mennonites living in or near the city (14 January 1750), impoverished a number of respected members. The fee was later reduced to three thousand florins, then to 1,200.
In 1793, when Danzig passed into Prussian hands, much of the pressure was released. In 1800 the Mennonites were given the rights of citizenship, which permitted them to buy land without employing an agent. But this was also the beginning of their struggle to maintain their nonresistance, which lasted until 1867, and its after-effects decades longer.
The Flemish group had its church before the Petershagen city gate, and the Frisian group before the Neugarten gate. In 1648 the Flemish purchased a lot in the city (title was not transferred to them until 1732) on which they built a church, and beside it the customary home for the poor, with room for about thirty persons. In 1734 the city was besieged by the Russians for two months, during which time the many Mennonites in the southern suburbs had to flee from their homes into the city proper. The church, poorhouse and some private dwellings were destroyed. With aid from the Dutch and Prussian Mennonites and a legacy, the congregation was able to rebuild the church and the poor-home. Seventy years later, in 1805, the church was completely remodeled and an organ added against the wishes of an important minority. But in 1813, during a siege by the Russians, both were destroyed by fire.
The Frisian group, considerably smaller than the Flemish, also had a poorhouse beside their church, which was built in 1638 before the Neugarten gate. It was remodeled in 1788, but was destroyed in the French siege of 1806. After this event the two groups worshiped together and until 1813 used the Flemish church within the city limits. After the war this church was not rebuilt, for most of the members had meanwhile moved into the city. A suitable lot was bought in the city in 1816 and a poorhouse erected on it; then in spite of general impoverishment brought on by war and foreign occupation, the congregation proceeded to build the church, dedicating it on 12 September 1819. Beside it they added a parsonage in 1884. The short street in front of the church was called "Mennonitenstrasse."
The Flemish group had from the beginning included the Mennonite settlers in the Danzig Werder. In 1768 this minority, finding the roads to the city church impassable, requested that occasional services be held among them; this was feasible, for two of the preachers lived in the Werder. In 1791 this group became independent of the city church, except that the elder of the city congregation had the oversight over them. Then in 1826, when the city group engaged a salaried elder, the Werder congregation broke away and became a subsidiary of the Fürstenwerder church. In 1844 they built a small church at Neunhuben and have since been known by that name.
At first the Danzig Mennonites used the Dutch language in their services and in private. By 1750, with a decline of contact with Holland, High German began to take its place in church and Plattdeutsch mixed with many a Dutch word for daily speech. After the death of Hans van Steen, who spoke and wrote exclusively in Dutch, the change made more rapid progress. Dutch songbooks were in use in the congregations of Danzig until about 1780. Then a German hymnbook was introduced, in 1908 replaced by Gesangbuch zur kirchlichen und häuslichen Erbauung (Danzig, 1908).
Strict church discipline was one of the fundamental tenets of the Danzig Mennonites. But it was inevitable that as contacts with the world destroyed their isolation their simplicity of dress and life would gradually give way. Nevertheless, the church records tell us that even in the nineteenth century the church council opposed fashionable clothing, luxury, dancing and cards. Disciplinary action in the case of moral lapses tended to become censoriousness, and church confession became a rather external affair.
It is difficult to determine the number of Mennonites in Danzig in the early days. The elders were reluctant to hand in names to the authorities, lest their number be found too great. Complete records of baptisms, marriages and deaths have been preserved only from 1668 on. Very likely the membership was highest between 1690 and 1750. A list (probably incomplete) of Mennonite residents in Danzig in 1681, found in the city archives, names 180 families. In 1709 the plague carried away 160 adult members and 230 children of the Flemish church. Notwithstanding this the records of the next ten years show an annual average of seventeen births, twenty candidates for baptism, and sixteen marriages. In 1749 Hans van Steen enumerates 240 households, excluding rural homes. Statistics of the Frisian group are quite uncertain. When the two groups merged in 1808, the Frisian portion numbered 166 souls, the Flemish about seven hundred. A membership list of January 1831 counts a total of 635; the membership apparently declined during the war and after principally by emigration to Russia, but also by rejection of mixed marriages and refusal to admit members of other faiths. In 1852 the number of baptized members had declined to 410. Not until 1867, when the church abandoned its practice of excluding those who married outside the church and admitted members of other faiths, did the membership begin to rise. In 1882 it reached 488 baptized members. After World War I it had climbed to 1,130 baptized members, some of whom had moved in from the country. The last statistics (1940) show 1,020 baptized members, 173 unbaptized children.
Among the 20 elders and 38 preachers in the Flemish group before 1808, there were several who merit special mention: Kryn Vermeulen, who issued a fine edition of the Bible; Georg Hansen, a simple craftsman who competently championed Mennonite rights, but who took a narrow-minded attitude toward the painter Enoch Seemann the Elder; Hans van Steen, distinguished by his education and vigor, some of whose valuable historical notes have been preserved. In the nineteenth century Jakob Mannhardt in his long service, 1836-1885, guided his church through the difficult transition from nonresistance to acceptance of military service, and was influential in drawing the Mennonites in all parts of Germany closer together by founding the Mennonitische Blätter. Hans Momber, a respected preacher and hymn writer, was influential in uniting the two factions in 1808.
Hermann G. Mannhardt, nephew of Jakob, had a long and influential career as preacher and elder, 1879-1927. He wrote a history of the congregation, which was published in 1919. He was followed as pastor and elder by Erich Göttner, who was taken as a prisoner of war to Russia in World War II and died in 1945.
The last constitution was in use from 1886; the congregation was incorporated in 1887. The congregation was a member of the Vereinigung from the time of its organization in 1886, and was an active participant in its founding.
In addition to the lot on which the church, the parsonage, the cemetery, and the hospital built in 1902 were located, the congregation also owned two houses nearby. The hospital contained the residence of the sexton and eight small apartments for aged individuals or couples, a chapel for instruction and meetings, and the church library and archives. The costs of the upkeep and management of this property were met by interest from investments and by voluntary contributions. The church property suffered some damage during World War II, and during the hard winter of 1946 all the furniture and woodwork was torn out of the church building for fuel. The library and archives were in part plundered, and in part rescued and brought to the United States by American Mennonites who worked on cattle boats bringing relief cattle and horses to Poland via Danzig in 1945-46. In this way some church record books were saved and brought to the Mennonite Library and Archives (North Newton, Kansas).
Catalogus der werken over de Doopsgezinden en hunne geschiedenis aanwezig in de bibliotheek der Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam. Amsterdam: J.H. de Bussy, 1919: 54 f., 334 f.
Cramer, Samuel. Mennoniten (Taufgesinnte, auch Anabaptisten, Wiedertäufer). Leipzig : J. C. Hinrichs’sche Buchh., 1902: 607.
Danzig Mennonitengemeinde. Statut für die Danziger Mennoniten-Gemeinde. Danzig: Gemeinde, 1887.
Epp, H. "Die Westpreussischen Gemeinden von 1933 bis zum Untergang." Der Mennonit 1 (1948): 4-5, 20.
Ewert, B. "Four Centuries of Prussian Mennonites." Mennonite Life 3 (April 1948): 10-18.
Gemeinde-Ordnung der Vereinigten Mennoniten-Gemeinde zu Danzig vom Jahre 1841, revidirt im Jahre 1860. Danzig Mennonitengemeinde. Danzig: Druck von Edwin Groening, 1860.
Händiges, Emil. "The Catastrophe of the West Prussian Mennonites." Fourth Mennonite World Conference Proceedings. Akron, Pennsylvania, 1948: 218-226.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 391-395.
Hoop Scheffer, Jacob Gijsbert de. Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam, 2 vols. Amsterdam: Uitgegeven en ten geschenke aangeboden door den Kerkeraad dier Gemeente, 1883-1884: v. I, Nos. 589, 1049, 1110, 1121-1226, 1189, 1552-1745, passim, 1821, 1827-1865; v. II, Nos. 2624-2681, 2925-2939; v. II: 2, Nos. 691-857, passim.
Mannhardt, Hermann Gottlieb. Die Danziger Mennonitengemeinde: ihre Entstehung und ihre Geschichte von 1569-1919 : Denkschrift zur Erinnerung an das 350 jährige Bestehen der Gemeinde und an die Jahrhundertfeier unseres Kirchenbaus am 14. Danzig: Danziger Mennonitengemeinde. 1919. English translation: The Danzig Mennonite Church : its origin and history from 1569-1919. North Newton, KS: Bethel College ; Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2007.
Mannhardt, Wilhelm. Die Wehrfreiheit der altpreussischen Mennoniten: Eine geschichtliche Erörterung. Marienburg: Im Selbstverlage der Altpreussischen Mennonitengemeinden: in Commission bei B. Hermann Hemmpels Wwe., 1863.
Penner, Horst. Die ost- und westpreussischen Mennoniten in ihrem religiösen und sozialen Leben in ihren kulturellen und wirtschaftlichen Leistungen, 2 vols. Weierhof, Germany: Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein, 1978-1987: v. 2, p. 249, 252-253.
Schapansky, Henry. Mennonite Migrations (and the Old Colony, Russia). New Westminster, BC: Henry Schapansky, 2006: 91-92, 125.
Schreiber, William Illdephonse. The Fate of the Prussian Mennonites. Goettingen: Goetingen Research Committee, 1955.
Danzig Flemish Mennonite Church Elders
|Elder||Years of Service|
|Dirk Philips (1504-1568)||Died in 1568|
|Steven Vader||Elected in 1568|
|Quirin van der Meulen||1588|
|Gysbert Franssen (d. 1602)||1598-1602|
|Heinrich Pieters von den Bosch (d. 1607)||1606-1607|
|Peter Smit (d. 1620)||1607–28 Oct 1620|
|Gerdt Claassen (d. 1639)||1621–28 May 1639|
|Jacob Jacobsen (d. 1648)||1640–28 May 1648|
|Joachim Rutenberg (d. 1664)||1649–3 Dec 1664|
|Willim Dunkel (d. 1690)||16 Sep 1667–31 Mar 1690|
|Georg Hansen (d. 1703)||13 Aug 1690–16 Jan 1703|
|Christoph Engmann (1645-1709)||1 Aug 1694–9 Sep 1709|
|Antonie Jantzen (1665-1725)||5 Sep 1709–13 Oct 1725|
|Isaac de Veer (1673-1745)||10 Feb 1726–7 Oct 1745|
|Dirk Janssen (1677-1750)||1 Nov 1733–25 Nov 1750|
|Hans von Almonde (1689-1753)||3 Oct 1751–27 Dec 1753|
|Hans von Steen (1705-1781)||24 Mar 1754–21 Sep 1781|
|Peter Epp (1725-1789)||26 Sep 1779–12 Nov 1789|
|Jacob de Veer (1739-1807)||25 Mar 1790–23 Jun 1807|
|Peter Thiessen I (1739-1825)||19 Aug 1804–4 May 1808|
Danzig Frisian Mennonite Church Elders
|Elder||Years of Service|
|Jan Gerrits van Emden (1561-1617)||1607–7 Apr 1617|
|Son of Jan Gerrits van Emden||1617-?|
|Hendrik van Dühren I (1637-1694)||1676–22 Jan 1694|
|Albrecht van Dühren (d. 1696)||1694–15 Jun 1696|
|Hendrik van Dühren II (d. 1746)||1701–6 Nov 1746|
|Jacob Kliewer I (d. 1775)||8 Apr 1742–13 Nov 1775|
|Isaac Stobbe (1712?-1788)||12 Sep 1775–11 Nov 1788|
|Heinrich Roths (1744-1797)||2 Feb 1789–7 Nov 1797|
|Jacob Kliever II (1743-1826)||21 Jan 1798–4 May 1808|
Danzig Mennonite Church Elders
|Elder||Years of Service|
|Peter Thiessen I (1739-1825)||4 May 1808–19 Mar 1825|
|Jacob Kliewer II (1743-1826)||4 May 1808–5 Oct 1826|
|Peter Thiessen II (1765-1826)||3 Jul 1825–1 Oct 1826|
|Jakob van der Smissen II (1785-1846)||9 Jul 1826–29 Sep 1835|
|Jakob Mannhardt (1801-1885)||22 May 1836–12 May 1885|
|Hermann G. Mannhardt (1855-1927)||19 Oct 1879–16 Jul 1927|
|Erich Göttner (d. 1945)||6 Nov 1927-died 1945|
|Author(s)||H. G Mannhardt|
|Date Published||October 2012|
Cite This Article
Mannhardt, H. G. "Danzig Mennonite Church (Gdansk, Poland)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. October 2012. Web. 21 Sep 2019. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Danzig_Mennonite_Church_(Gdansk,_Poland)&oldid=127394.
Mannhardt, H. G. (October 2012). Danzig Mennonite Church (Gdansk, Poland). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 September 2019, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Danzig_Mennonite_Church_(Gdansk,_Poland)&oldid=127394.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 9-11. All rights reserved.
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