Krefeld (Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany)

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Mennonitenkirche Krefeld.
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Krefeld (or Crefeld before 1929), a city (population of 170,000 in 1950s; population of 238,000 in 2008; coordinates: 51° 20′ 0″ N, 6° 34′ 0″ E) of Germany on the left side of the Lower Rhine, is officially called Krefeld-Uerdingen am Rhein. Though it received the status of a town in 1373, it nevertheless remained for 300 years a walled village of poor peasants and weavers. Here, as all along the Lower Rhine, the temperament of the people reflects the admixture of cheerfulness and gloom in the landscape. Religious life has always been active here, though not explosive in nature. Here Dr. Johannes Weyer (1515-1588) at Cleve attacked witchhunting; Mennonites, Labadists, and Quakers found refuge here, and here Gerhard Tersteegen, for the only time in his life, entered the Mennonite pulpit.

The town, belonging to the counts of Moers, but surrounded by the territory of Electoral Cologne, suffered unspeakably in the dynastic wars. In the 16th century it was twice reduced to ashes. Not until the rule of the house of Orange (1600-1702) and the Hohenzollerns (after 1702) did it begin to thrive. Toleration and industry, combined with government protection, brought prosperity and rapid growth; by 1786 its population had increased to 7,500, and 100 years later to 100,000.

When the first Mennonites came to Krefeld cannot be ascertained; but there was a Mennonite congregation here before the middle of the 17th century, perhaps even at the end of the 16th. The first Mennonites known to have settled in Krefeld were the op den Graeffs, who came in 1609 or soon after from Aldekerk. According to the family chronicles of Hubert Rahr ("Familie Königs-Konings," in Heimat V, 268), the Kempen Protestants were permitted to hold their services in the city hall by 1536, whereas the 100 Mennonites living there held theirs in Weyer's barn and buried their dead behind the barn. (This family tradition was probably the basis of the painting Die Gehetzten, Mennonitenpredigt in einer Scheune, by F. ter Meer, 1845, of Krefeld.)

The head of the Krefeld Mennonites was Hermann op den Graeff (1585-1642). To the annoyance of the Reformed pastor Holtmann (Xylander), op den Graeff was not molested by the Orange government, though Holtmann complained to the government that the Mennonites were holding regular conventicles and luring the simple. By 1634 the Mennonites ventured to preach openly and to consider themselves a congregation. In 1632 Hermann op den Graeff and Weylen Kreynen signed the Dordrecht Confession. The records of the Reformed Church of 1636 report 22 talers contributed by the Reformed Church, and 25 talers by "Hermann uff den Graff" in the name of the Mennonites, for the support of some widows and orphans of Reformed clergymen. This indicates the tolerable situation of the congregation. In 1646 the Reformed preacher Mathias Kolhagen complained to the synod that the Mennonites were bold, that their offensive public meetings were noticeably harming the Reformed Church. Repeated complaints had little influence on the Orange government. Refugees from Jülich augmented the congregation, especially about 1678 (Hoop Scheffer. Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam, I, No. 1419). The Catholics remaining in Krefeld were permitted to use only the convent church and had to pay baptismal, marriage, and death fees to the Reformed Church. The Mennonites fared better.

In the middle of the 17th century renewed persecution set in, in Jülich and Cologne (Rembert, Die "Wiedertäufer" im Herzogtum Jülich, 625). The archives of the Amsterdam Mennonite Church contain valuable records on the Mennonites driven out of Jülich, causing a new influx of Mennonites into Krefeld, large numbers coming from Gladbach (1654). Not all of them found room in the city, and some had to seek refuge on farms. In 1694 refugees from severe persecution in Rheydt increased the Mennonite population again (see Instrumentum Publicum). The support of these refugees and their final relief from persecution by the Mennonites of Krefeld and Holland are a monument of Christian charity.

Upon renewed complaints by the Reformed clergy the government in The Hague in 1657 sent a committee to Krefeld to investigate the situation; it was decided that the Mennonites should continue to live in Krefeld and worship as they liked; but in the matter of military service a study should be made to determine whether they should be charged a fee to pay for substitutes.

Not only were civil protection and freedom of conscience assured the Mennonites, but also freedom of worship. But since the Reformed Church should predominate, the Mennonites must meet "quietly and modestly, without offensive character, one hour after the service in the parish church." Renewed complaints made by the Reformed in 1670, that the Mennonites were planning to build a church, were fruitless; the Orange government now gave the Mennonites the right of full citizenship, and 29 families at once applied.

In 1683, 13 families of Krefeld weavers, all until the 1670s members of the Mennonite Church, immigrated to America, "in order to live an active and God-fearing life with complete religious liberty." They were for the most part related to each other, and most had become Quakers before they left for America, through the influence of Quaker missionaries. They founded Germantown and by their industry and thrift contributed to the development of the country. Abraham and Derick op den Graeff there signed the first American protest against slavery in 1688. In 1920 a monument was erected in Germantown to these Krefeld emigrants, a bronze copy of which is found in the museum in Krefeld. In later years some additional Mennonites from Krefeld and vicinity joined them.

The influx of many victims of persecution contributed greatly to the prosperity of Krefeld. The circumstance that from 1689 Krefeld, together with Holland and Great Britain, was under the sovereignty of the House of Orange, was also of benefit to the city. In 1695 the Mennonites built a church in a new addition to the city. The first marriage was solemnized here on 19 January 1696. The church was remodeled and enlarged in 1843, but the old baroque gate was saved. In 1943 the church was partly destroyed by bombing, but was rebuilt in 1950.

In the years 1695-1715 the Krefeld congregation co-operated with the Amsterdam committee (later called Commissie voor Buitenlandsche Nooden) on behalf of the persecuted brethren in the Palatinate and Switzerland; Wilhelm von der Leyen and Gosen Goyen intermediated between the Palatinate and Amsterdam.

To the Mennonite silk firm of F. and H. von der Leyen Krefeld owes its good competition with Lyons. What would Krefeld be without this determined and cautiously creative Mennonite family, which in its first official year of business (1669) began Krefeld's rise "with the blessing of God"? (The Heinrich van Leyen or Leien, who was granted citizenship in 1668 was Reformed, and was of a different family.) Adolf and Heinrich von der Leyen became citizens of Krefeld in 1679, William in 1681. They came from Rade vorm Wald in the duchy of Berg. For generations the Mennonites were permitted to develop unmolested. A city with a planned network of streets came into being. Members of the von der Leyen family became officials in commerce and were very prominent, entertaining nobility and royalty at their country home, Alt-Leyenthal. Six additions were made to the city at their urging before they lost their prominence.

As early as 1725 it was officially reported, "Crefeld is carrying on a very heavy foreign trade . . . so that it has the reputation of almost being Germany's greatest trade city." "The flowering of this city is to be ascribed to the linen trade of the Mennonites; there are besides the linen trade also silk, ribbons, hosiery, needles, and other factories, which the Mennonites and the (Amish) . . . have industriously promoted and continued" (Heimat IV, 89, 94). Against the reactionary economic and guild politics of Cologne, the old German silk center, the young competitor was protected by the policies of economic liberty by the kings of Prussia.

The Mennonites were given specific protection by Frederick William I of Prussia, who visited the silk mills and inquired at length of one of the officials about their economic activity and religious life. He asked whether they sang Lutheran hymns, and was told they were more like the Reformed, but sang more psalms and their preachers had no collars. They were paying double fees to the Reformed for church services which they performed for themselves. The king granted their request to be absolved from these fees, and agreed that "they are good Christians and fine people." (See Dompelaars for a poem describing toleration in Krefeld.)

The Acta Borussica (Denkmäler der preussischen Staatsverwaltung im 18. Jahrhundert, Seidenindustrie II; Heimat VI, 90, 101) show that the king gave the young silk center every encouragement by reducing their taxes. Because of their initiative, industry, and progressiveness they were to be assured of absolute religious freedom, lest they emigrate (Heimat V, 133).

Constantly renewed complaints by the Reformed inform us that in the last quarter of the 17th century other Separatists, like the Labadists and Quakers, many of whom came from England, found asylum and preached here. In 1692 the once Reformed Pastor Reiner Copper of Moers was ordered to stop his sharp sermons to large Labadist audiences.

It must not be forgotten that Krefeld, in particular the Mennonite church there, was for a century (1650-1750) a focal point for awakened Christians and mystics. Goebel (Gesch. des christlichen Lebens II, 697) says, "When the Quaker, Labadist, Separatist, Baptist, Mystic and Herrnhuter movements began, Krefeld became a place of refuge and the Mennonite church and pulpit a sure support." Among those prominent in religious life who had active contacts here were Gottfried Arnold, Hochmann von Hohenau, Charles Hector, Marquis of Marsay, and especially Gerhard Tersteegen, born 1697 in Moers. Mrs. von der Leyen corresponded with Tersteegen; when he was in Krefeld he preached in the Mennonite church. A faithful admirer of Tersteegen was Arnold Goyen (the son of the Mennonite preacher at Krefeld), who in 1727 married Susanna von der Leyen, and became the father-in-law of Johann von der Leyen. After the death of his wife in 1735 Arnold Goyen retired to Moers and lived in Tersteegen's house (Keussen, Geschichte, 376).

Especial protection was enjoyed by the firm of von der Leyen. In the 1760s, it had in operation besides the thread and ribbon mills about 500 looms for silk, velvet, silk handkerchiefs, ribbons, and East Indian materials. Of its 4,000-5,000 hand weavers most lived outside the city. Its monopoly even excluded other Mennonite firms like Floh, Preyers, von Beckerath, etc., until the French Revolution. The growth of the city is therefore parallel with the development of the firm of von der Leyen (Acta Borussica II, 585, 647; Heimat XI, 57).

Visitors also drew a glowing picture of the city with its industrial grounds, thriving trade, and the social provisions for the city. Most of the important merchants were Mennonites: Floh, Heydweiller, Lingen, von Wyk, von Beckerath, Helgers, Rahr, Scheuten, Stetius, etc. When a tax was levied it was unloaded on the wealthier citizens. Krefeld was at that time (1789) as before known as the "center of trade and industry of the entire region."

In his will (1 May 1790) Heinrich von der Leyen with justifiable pride points out that if by the grace of God he was able to achieve his ambition to build factories, it was for the interest and welfare of the city (Keussen, Geschichte, 486; Heimat XI, 57). The greatest benefactor of his native city was Friedrich von der Leyen, who during the French occupation most unselfishly vised his energy and influence to ward off all hard measures and oppressive levies. Under Napoleon I he was made mayor and first president of the Board of Trade. Probably no important visitor to the Lower Rhine neglected to pay a visit to the hospitable house of the von der Leyens. In 1789 J. H. Campe (Reise von Braunschweig nach Paris) with the young Wilhelm von Humboldt appeared here. Both are extravagant in their praise of the charm of the house, the culture of the family, the unusual liberty and toleration of the city. Campe writes: "Mr. von der Leyen once invited to his house people of all creeds and sects who were accustomed to combating each other, and saw to it that they were heartily happy and merry. The consequence was friendship and understanding" (Heimat IV, 105).

There were, of course, voices raised in protest against the too progressive and luxurious life of the merchants and in criticism of the business and social life of the Mennonites. On the other hand, as Engelbert von Brück admits, the citizens of Krefeld were distinguished for their morality, charitable gifts, and frugality, and even the populace showed less rudeness than in the outlying villages; daily contact with the Mennonites resulted in Mennonite simplicity of manner becoming a trait in the Krefeld character.

It was due to the influence of the von der Leyens that trained ministers were employed as soon as finances permitted. The first lay preacher, who preached in Low German, was Adam Scheuten, 1639-1668. He left a very valuable family register of the church, which, continued by the families themselves, is a genealogical treasure-trove. Other lay preachers were Johannes Ewalds (died 1697), Nicolaus ter Meer (died 1698), Leonhard Paulsen (died 1701), Jan Crous (preacher 1716-1724), and Gosen (or Goswin) Goyen (born 1667, died 1737). The names of the last two are connected with the controversy on the form of baptism (1710-1730), from which the Dompelaars arose. Gosen Goyen had himself baptized by immersion, while Jan Crous was strictly opposed (Heimat IV, 94). An agreement was finally reached, recognizing both forms. Shortly after Goyen's death immersion disappeared. Other preachers were Leonhard Ewalds together with David Köters (born 1699, preacher 1730-1755), Winand Winands (1727-1777), and Johann Remkes (born 1714, preacher 1752-1770). In 1764 a birth registry was begun.

On 4 April 1766 the brothers Friedrich and Heinrich von der Leyen set aside an endowment for the church, from which "a well-educated and capable preacher should be paid 100 talers annually." The first trained ministers came from Holland, and had been trained at the Dutch Mennonite Seminary of Amsterdam: Wopko Molenaar (1739-1794), serving 1770-1794, Zino van Abbema (died 1787) 1771-1787, Assuerus Doyer 1788-1793, Hidde Wybius van der Ploeg 1793-1818, Isaac Molenaar, son of Wopko, 1818-1834; they were followed by Leonhard Weydmann and his son Ernst, under whom the membership rose to 1,125. Leonhard Weydmann, born at Krefeld, was the first German-trained preacher called, after a series from Holland.

Little by little the Krefeld Mennonites yielded the point of nonresistance. In 1810 the decision was left to the individual members. Only a few refused military service. Adaptation to the established church led not only to pleasant relations, but also to intermarriage and the loss of several families to the church. The continued existence of the church rested upon family tradition rather than an awareness of any valuable peculiar belief or trait, and church attendance declined. Gustav Kraemer, a former minister of the Lutherans, was chosen (1937) preacher of the Krefeld Mennonites. Gradually interest in the congregational life increased, and many members of the state church now joined the Mennonites.

Following the death of Isaac Molenaar, during whose time some members of the congregation (a de Greiff, a Hermes, and a Winkelmann) once more fought through the questions of nonresistance and the oath all the way up to the king, the following pastors served the congregation: 1836-1866, Leonhard Weydmann (1793-1868); 1866-1903, Ernst Weydmann (1837-1903); 1903-1936, Gustav Kraemer (1863-1948); 1937-1950, Dirk Cattepoel (born 1912); Daniel Reuter, 1951-   .

The two Weydmanns, father and son, were natives of Krefeld; Kraemer came from Wissen on the Sieg; Cattepoel, born in Middelburg (Holland), stemmed from Neuwied. The two Weydmanns were educated at the Mennonite Seminary in Amsterdam, Kraemer in Jena and Bonn, Cattepoel at Berlin and Vienna.

Leonhard Weydmann, who had already proved himself as a preacher in Monsheim, also took his work at Krefeld seriously, lecturing on Dante and writing on Luther, thus extending his sphere of influence beyond the confines of the denomination. He introduced the use of the catechism in Krefeld, and reduced the age of baptism from 19 to 16. But like many others he was unable to cope with the decline in church interest. It was therefore decided to give him a young assistant after he had passed the age of 70. Among the candidates were two Dutch Mennonites, G. E. Frerichs and J. P. Müller, Karl Harder of Neuwied, and a second Isaac Molenaar. The choice fell on Ernst Weydmann. His contract of employment reveals that the congregation observed baptism on Palm Sunday, and communion at Easter and on the Sunday after Michaelmas, and placed importance on a thorough instruction and regular visits in the home of the poor and ill; the salary was to be 1,000 talers (Prussian currency) and parsonage, and some reduction in taxes. His duties and rights were to correspond with those of the Protestant pastors. There is in general an unmistakable trend toward adaptation to the Protestant Church. The times were such that Ernst Weydmann was also deprived of the proper fruits of his labors.

It is probably not a mere accident that Johannes Brahms, the musician, maintained live contacts with the Mennonites of Krefeld from 1880 to his death in 1897. Hans Joachim Moser, an authority on music, sees in him the master who is the most worthy representative of middle-class "educated" Protestantism in the second half of the 19th century in the field of German music. The Deutsches Requiem (1868) avoids "all that is actually Christian, in order to move the eternally human into the foreground." "Also his preludes to the chorals (Choralvorspiele) and the Vier ernste Gesänge (Op. 121, Biblical texts) are not the fruit of ecclesiastical thought, but are very personal, though highly worthy, treatments of the idea of death." Rudolf von der Leyen and Alwin von Beckerath, G. Ophüls, and the artist Willy von Beckerath were his close friends, and the Biblical texts that he set to music lived long after his death among his friends in the Krefeld Mennonite Church.

At the beginning of the 20th century a German Protestant pastor was chosen in preference to four Dutch Mennonite candidates. He was Gustav Kraemer. He had obtained his education in the outspokenly liberal universities of Jena and Bonn, and as a modernist he would have nothing to do with a blood theology. On the other hand, he was probably attracted by Anabaptism at a time when Hans Denck was actually proclaimed to be a forerunner of the newer theology (Haake, Hans Denk, 1897). From the history of his term in Krefeld—among his co-workers was Elder Otto Crous (1876-1936)—he himself related the following in 1937: "The orphanage was for want of orphans turned into a home for the aged. A new expensive organ was installed and used by master musicians; concerts were given even after the beginning of the war. The church and other church-owned buildings were remodeled, beautified, and enlarged at great expense. Central heating, electric lights, and new pews were installed in the church. In 1911 the first general German Mennonitentag was duly celebrated in Krefeld; in 1912 a new constitution was adopted which made the women eligible for places on the church council. Numerous transfers of membership into the Mennonite Church testify to its life. The vacation periods spent at the Hülserberg every summer until near the end of the war are an unforgettable experience for the youth of the period. The 'war kitchen' aided many persons of all creeds." In an impressive evaluation Kurt von Beckerath said of him, "And Gustav Kraemer was an awakener. A lively religious movement passed through the congregation, which retroactively also strengthened him."

But there was also difficulty and that of the severest kind. Old, respected families died out, not only through the war which prevented many a hope for the future of the congregation from returning home. Inflation made great inroads into the savings of decades. Decline in the birth rate and emigration lowered the membership. "The hereditary good spirit overcame all the difficulties."

Nothing else can characterize this time and the change in the times as the "General Principles" of 1912, especially in comparison with the Dordrecht Confession of 1632, which the founder of this congregation signed:

The Mennonite congregation of Krefeld counts itself as one of the brotherhood of old-evangelical Mennonite congregations, a brotherhood existing in many lands.

As members it admits, as a matter of principle, only those who enter voluntarily and consciously. It therefore rejects the baptism of small children. Baptism is considered as the covenant of a good conscience with God. No obligation to any dogmatic creed is connected with admission into the congregation.

It holds fast to the complete freedom of the congregation in its affairs as well as the religious liberty of each member.’To his own master he standeth or falleth’ (Romans 14:4); each person is responsible for himself alone before God.

It advocates the goals of life which Christ set, recognizing the marks of Christian communities in pure intentions and active love.

Requiring truthfulness as the basis of all morality, it considers the swearing of an oath as unchristian and unpermissible.

Faith is for it a purely inward possession, the courage to hold fast to God and the good. Externally it shall be shown only in a moral frame of mind and responsible personal life.

It considers itself bound to strict obedience toward the laws of the state and expects the same of all its members; but it repudiates all compulsory measures on the part of the state in its religious and congregational affairs.

Also from the "Congregational constitution," chapter on church institutions:

Baptism is as a rule not administered before the age of fifteen years, and usually on Palm Sunday in a public ceremony in the church.

Communion is celebrated, in repudiation of any sacramental concept, as a sign of the Christian unity among the members.

During World War I the Krefeld Mennonites supported a kitchen which fed a large number of Reformed and Catholic children free of charge. The ensuing inflation wiped out the endowments of the church, and many of the wealthy were completely impoverished. Nevertheless there was a will to master the difficulties with self-sacrifice. The orphanage, for want of orphans, became a home for aged women. The membership suffered through war casualties, expulsion of the completely indifferent, emigration, outside marriages, and a decline in the birth rate, so that in 1934 there were only 760 on the roll.

In 1939 Krefeld was host to the last German Mennonitentag before the war. In 1941 Cattepoel did not hesitate to take a Christian position against the program of euthanasia promoted by the state. For the rest of the war he was then a soldier, so that the care of the congregation fell upon Kraemer again and Elder Kurt von Beckerath, the successor of Otto Crous. On 22 June 1943 a large part of the town was destroyed by an air attack, including the church, parsonage, and the Mennonite home for the aged.

The congregation did not despair. In 1946 it published a small hymnal, and Cattepoel was one of the leaders in a petition (Bittgang) of all creeds. In 1948, while Cattepoel was attending the Mennonite World Conference held at Goshen and Newton, the congregation was served by his wife. Services for young people and children (12 to 15 years) were instituted in addition to the regular services. A group of young people carried on handicrafts, and another discussed important books. Besides choir practice and sewing circle meetings a reading hour united something like a core congregation. Many a non-Mennonite joined the congregation; a large number of Mennonite refugees from West Prussia also added to the congregation a group that the Cattepoels served with exemplary devotion. At the end of 1949 the congregation had a membership of 836 baptized persons and 256 children. At the end of 1953 the total number of souls in the congregation was 1230, of whom 870 were refugees. On 21 May 1950 the rebuilt church was dedicated (until then the congregation had worshiped in the Protestant church with sincere participation by all the creeds represented in the city. A few months later the congregation received the greatest blow of its entire recent existence. Because of personal affairs of the pastor, who resigned from his office, opposition flared up between the representatives of the older modernistic Kraemer tradition and those who were more attracted by Cattepoel's more evangelical manner. Again a pastor was chosen from the state church, Daniel Reuter. Heinz von Beckerath succeeded Kurt von Beckerath as elder.

In February 1947, the Mennonite Central Committee established a relief unit in Krefeld, which continued until the summer of 1949, with Peter Bartel in charge until December 1948. A child-feeding program was the chief work in Krefeld with up to 7,000 children receiving daily supplementary feeding. Old people were also helped and much clothing was distributed. From Krefeld also other relief projects were developed in the North Rhine-Westphalia area. There was close co-operation between the Mennonite Central Committee unit and the Krefeld congregation, Pastor Cattepoel serving as the general director of the Krefeld relief kitchens. Regular weekly fellowship meetings were held for some months at the Mennonite Central Committee center, with considerable attendance of Krefeld Mennonites.


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Map:Krefeld, Nordrhein-Westfalen

Author(s) Karl Rembert
Ernst Crous
Date Published 1955

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Rembert, Karl and Ernst Crous. "Krefeld (Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1955. Web. 31 Jul 2021.,_Germany)&oldid=147130.

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Rembert, Karl and Ernst Crous. (1955). Krefeld (Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 31 July 2021, from,_Germany)&oldid=147130.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 733-738. All rights reserved.

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