Sometimes genealogy research leads to unexpected places. It can dash assumptions and destroy illusions; such was the result of my casual search for information and photographs from the ‘former’ area of Zeyer in Kreis Elbing. I had hoped to find photos of churches and hidden information about the community; instead I uncovered something more ominous and disturbing.
Perhaps like many of you, I had always assumed that Mennonites did their best to avoid military service as well as political involvement in more ‘earthly’ pursuits. I had assumed Mennonites were people of peace. I even have their pages labelled as such here on ManyRoads. But, I was wrong.
The first revelation I stumbled upon in my search was this:
Roughly translated the document reads:
Today in Tiegenhagen, in the Free State of Danzig, was convened a meeting of East and West Prussian Mennonites who felt a deep gratitude for the powerful resurrection, that God has provided through your [Hitler’s] energy to [the German] people; and, we offer our efforts to work in joyful collaboration with you in the rebuilding of our country using the forces of the Gospel, in order to faithfully observe the motto of our fathers: “For no other foundation can a man lay, other than that which is laid in the name of Jesus Christ.”
From the Lord Chancellor the following reply has arrived:
I offer my sincerest appreciation and thanks for your Communication, in which you expressed your loyalty and willingness to work together with me to rebuild the German Reich.
I was shocked; here was a newspaper clipping indicating that the broad East- and West Prussian Mennonite Community was expressing joy, fealty, and adherence to Adolf Hitler and his efforts to make Germany great again.
I had to see if there was more. There was.
I immediately decided to look for information via Google (something I do frequently). I searched:
What I found next was evidence of two Stutthof Concentration Sub-camps in the Zeyer area, one in Zeyersniederkampen and the second in Zeyersvorderkampen. Both camps had Mennonite involvement and the one in Zeyersvorderkampen was even run by Mennonites. Below are translations of two documents indicating the existence of both sub-camps. Thus far, I have been unable to find many details beyond what you see below.
Here are the two camps located one each in Zeyersniederkampen and Zeyersvorderkampen. (The original Source document is available; the following is an English translation with some information augmentation by me).
Zeyersniederkampen: sub-camp of the Stutthof concentration camp – ID 1279
Location: Zeyersniederkampen (today: Kępiny Wielkie)
Area: Prussia (East Prussia)
Opened: 12/27/1939 (first mention)
Prisoners: In Zeyersniederkampen and Pröbernau a total of 350 prisoners were employed.
Company (Operator): The dike association of Elbing county (Kreis Elbing)
Kind of work: Reinforcing and rebuilding dikes
Remarks: ” The inmates of the dike association of the county of Elbing were deployed to build and reinforce dikes.
Map entry: No
Literature reference(s): Grabowska 1995 & ITS 1979 (Default reference): Historia Wysoczyzny Elbląskiej Polish Website
Zeyersvorderkampen: sub-camp of the Stutthof concentration camp – ID 1280
Location: Zeyersvorderkampen (today:Kępiny Małe)
Area: Reichsgau Danzig- West Prussia (1939-1945), Free City of Danzig
Closed: 03/22/1940 (last mention)
Company (Operator): Company (Kornelius) Fast (note: Kornelius Fast was the local Mennonite Community Chairperson -Vorsteher)
Kind of work: (assumed largely to have been farm work for larger estates specifically those in and around Grenzdorf B- information obtained from other source below)
Map entry: No
Literature reference: ITS 1979 (Default reference)
Those involved included: Wilhelm Thiessen, (first name unknown) Preiskorn, Fritz Friese (a Mennonite and SS- Scharführer known as “Lord of Death and Life”), Walter Friese, Johann Heidebrecht, and a farmer named Reimer. For more on this a detailed white paper is available from Gerhard Rempel- Mennonites and the Holocaust from Collaboration to Perpetuation published originally by The Mennonite (org). The complete document may be downloaded here:
Having said that, I am left to ponder the following:
- How it is that so many people can be turned into eager, almost joyful, adherents of hatred?
- What causes people to lose their “humanity” and become predators who victimize and oppress?
- Why are people so willing to sacrifice long held beliefs and traditions and follow a path of “evil”?
I understand that what I uncovered is not “exceptional”. I share it, simply, so that others may dwell upon its impact and meaning.
Also published on Medium.