Homes for the Aged in Europe

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This article was written in the 1950s.

The care for the aged, indigent, ill, and orphaned has always been an integral part of the religious and social life of the Mennonites, although the forms have changed with circumstances. In the early days of persecution it was impossible to establish special homes for the needy; later on, since most of them were rural people, parents were generally taken care of in the homes of their children. Often they would live in a small house especially built for them on the home place. If necessary, the congregation would help to care for them. In Switzerland homes for the aged were established among the Mennonites, and in South Germany and France, only after World War II. The city congregations of North and East Germany had in some cases established homes for the aged and needy. The founding and early history of most of these is obscure and has never been investigated.

The Krefeld Mennonite Church originally had an orphanage next to the church on Königstrasse. Later the orphanage was changed into a home for the aged. The home was financed by small contributions from the residents and the income from the von der Leyen endowment. The church custodian also lived in this building. During World War II the numerous buildings of the congregation, including the church and the home for the aged, were destroyed.

The Krefeld Mennonite Church built an old people's home in 1906. Since provision had been made for the poor of all creeds by the Cornelius Foundation given by Cornelius de Greiff, the Krefeld old people's home was intended for unattached women who had some money (married couples were not necessarily excluded), for whom rent, light, and heat were furnished free. Each apartment was made as private as possible.

The Mennonite congregations of Emden and Norden each had an Armenhaus (home for the needy), in which old and needy people were cared for. However, as early as the 19th century these homes lost their original character and significance. The house in Emden was destroyed during World War II, but the one in Norden was still in existence in the 1950s. Although die Mennonite Church of Hamburg-Altona had always had a sense of responsibility toward the needy in the congregation, a home for the aged was never established.

The congregation of the Gross-Werder, West Prussia, had a home for the aged about which H. G. Mannhardt reported in Mennonitische Blätter (1896, p. 87). The Mennonites of Danzig had institutions called "Hospital" which cared for the aged and needy for a period of more than 300 years. The Frisian congregation had an Armenhaus next to its meetinghouse after 1638, and the Flemish congregation established one large enough to house 30 aged persons ten years later. During the Russian occupation of Danzig in 1734 it was destroyed, but was later rebuilt. In 1795 the congregation with a membership of 700, including children, supported 95 aged and poor. A collection for this purpose was usually held in connection with the observance of the Lord's Supper, which on 7 July 1765 amounted to 16,660 guilders. Again in 1813 during the occupation of Danzig, church and hospital were destroyed. A new home for 24 poor and aged persons was built in 1816 even before the church was erected. In 1902 it was replaced by a new building with eight small apartments, the home of the church custodian, and an auditorium (Gemeindesaal), which was severely damaged during World War II. The Königsberg Mennonite Church had two almshouses, which also cared for the aged, next to its church building after 1769, in which there was room for six families.

The first home for the aged in Russia was established in Rückenau, Molotschna, by the Mennonite Brethren in 1895, when P. M. Friesen donated a house for this purpose which provided room for 15 people. A larger project was started in 1903 by the Molotschna Mennonites in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the settlement. This home was erected on 90 acres of community land on the Kurushan River at a cost of 41,000 rubles raised through collections and taxes. The home was opened in 1906, had 50 inmates in 1908, and was to be enlarged to accommodate 100. The cost of maintenance for 50 inhabitants amounted to 6,000 rubles per year.

As a result of World War II, two thirds of the German Mennonites became homeless and lost much of their possessions. In order to help the aged among them an organization called "Mennonite Homes for the Aged" (Mennonitisches Altersheim) was founded 17 June 1949. Successively the following homes for the aged were opened: 28 December 1949, "Marienburg" at Leutesdorf near Neuwied on the Rhine; 20 October 1950, "Friedenshort" at Enkenbach, Palatinate; and on 6 December 1952, "Abendfrieden" at Pinneberg, near Hamburg, with 101, 72, and 22 residents respectively in 1952. Contributions for maintenance of the homes in 1952 were DM 19,630 from the Mennonite Central Committee, DM 3,049 from the German Mennonites, and DM 14,018 from their own production. Each of the homes had one or two trained nurses. Only a few of the residents were in a position to pay for their maintenance. Most of them depended upon government support and an additional allowance from the homes, which was raised within the Mennonite constituency. On 31 December 1952 the organization had a membership of 1,047, which had contributed DM 34,282 in money and DM 20,430 in gifts-in-kind. The executive committee of the organization consisted at that time of Fritz Hege, Josef Gingerich, Richard Hertzler, Gertrud Schowalter, and Paul Kliewer.

In Burgweinting near Regensburg, Bavaria, there is a home for the aged owned by "Mennonitisches Hilfswerk Christenpflicht," established in 1922, managed by Sister Elise Hochstettier. Most of the occupants were non-Mennonites.

The French Mennonites established a home for the aged at Valdoie near Belfort in 1953, operated by the Association Fraternelle Mennonite. --  CK

In the Netherlands there were two types of homes for the aged, those founded in the 17th and 18th centuries, and those established in more recent times. The former, usually called "Hofje," were homes for the poor members of the church; most of them were founded by wealthy members of the church, sometimes named for their founders, and managed by a board in which both the founders or their descendants and the church board appointed their representatives. Later most of these homes were managed directly by the church boards. There are still a number of these homes in the 1950s: at Haarlem the Blokshofje,

Bruiningshofje, Wijnbergshofje, and Zuiderhofje; at Leiden the Bethlehemhofje; at Amsterdam the Rijpenhofje, Zonshofje, De Lelie, and De Vogel; at Leeuwarden the Marcelis-Goverts Gasthuis, at Koog aan de Zaan the Johanna Elisabethstichting. Formerly there were more, but they were been closed or merged with others.

In the 20th century a number of new Mennonite homes for the aged were founded in the Netherlands; these were not in the first place meant for poor members, but for those for whom it was difficult, particularly after World War II, to obtain a proper residence. These new homes are Mooi-land at Doorwerth, near Arnhem, Doopsgezind Rusthuis at Bolsward, Doopsgezind Gasthuis en Hesselinkstichting, Doopsgezind Tehuis voor Ouderen, Doopsgezind Rusthuis, all three at Groningen; Johanna at Heerenveen, Spaar en Hout at Haarlem, Huize Salland, Colmschate near Deventer, and De Olyftack at Haarlem. Schaerweyde near Zeist, Avondzon at Velp near Arnhem and the Klokkenbelt at Almelo are operated in cooperation with other churches. In the near future other homes for the aged will be opened in the Netherlands, one near The Hague; others are planned.


Friesen, Peter M. Die Alt-Evangelische Mennonitische Brüderschaft in Russland (1789-1910) im Rahmen der mennonitischen Gesamtgeschichte. Halbstadt: Verlagsgesellschaft "Raduga", 1911: 661-663.

Görz, H. Die Molotschnaer Mennoniten. Steinbach, 1950: 150.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 38 f.

Hertzler R. and Fritz Hege. 3 Jahre Altersheim. Ludwigshafen, 1953.

Mennonitische Blätter (1896): 87; (1902): 12.

Um den Abend wird es licht. Neustadt.

Author(s) Cornelius Krahn
Nanne van der Zijpp
Date Published 1953

Cite This Article

MLA style

Krahn, Cornelius and Nanne van der Zijpp. "Homes for the Aged in Europe." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 25 Mar 2019.

APA style

Krahn, Cornelius and Nanne van der Zijpp. (1953). Homes for the Aged in Europe. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 March 2019, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 799-800. All rights reserved.

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