A Train Wreck and a Hair Picture

It’s a well-known story.

It was July 25, 1896, and there had been a party at the home of John Musser in Witmer, Pennsylvania, and many young Mennonites had gathered to socialize, perhaps discussing the quarterly mission meeting that had been held a few days earlier, perhaps not. Some time before midnight the party broke up, and everybody went their separate ways.1

Three buggies went together down Old Philadelphia Pike, now Route 340, towards Bird-in-Hand. Chatting from carriage to carriage, they did not hear the east bound train approaching at the Bird-in-Hand curve—not a regularly scheduled train, but a special service, carrying militia troops home from an encampment.

“At the Bird it happened,” wrote Jakob M. Barge, recounting the incident to a son who had moved west. The first buggy, carrying Amos Landis and his girlfriend barely made it across, but the second, carrying Jakob’s son Enos, and Barbara Hershey, stopped on the tracks, horse rearing. “Enos was struck by an engine, his horse killed, his lady friend [Barbara Hershey] was killed and he has lost his right arm.” Jakob did not mention that Enos had been found thirty feet from his right arm. The next day, Enos would succumb to his wounds and die in the Lancaster hospital.2

This event is usually remembered for its tremendous impact on the young people of Lancaster Conference. Barbara Hershey’s funeral possession had three hundred carriages. At Enos Barge’s funeral, more than a thousand vehicles arrived at Strasburg for the funeral, three times the capacity of the meetinghouse.

Amos D. Wenger, already in Lancaster County at the time, was leading almost-but-not-quite-revival meetings that gained greater attention and following after the accident. Young people started to look at baptism and joining the church at a younger age—as opposed to waiting for marriage. Indeed, baptismal classes were larger than normal that summer, with about five hundred young people becoming church members. The impact of this was felt long through the conference on the account of the energy the young people brought in.

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“Hair Picture,” in Decorated and Plain: A Mennonite and Amish Sampler.

But there is also a perhaps less important impact of this story. In 1882, Sarah Lucinda Hershey made a hair picture of herself and her siblings—including Barbara Hershey. It is a fascinating thing—a punch card background, neatly framed in wood with the first initial carefully stitched below each of the thirteen locks of hair. Each lock of hair, some braided, others loosely gathered, is neatly bundled with ribbon. In the middle, “A Token of Love” with cross-stitched flowers with silk other and feathers as finishing touches. The piece came to the Society’s collection through a non-Mennonite antique dealer, and little is known during the time period between its construction and its purchase by the Society.3

I am looking for other similar hair memorials, in any form, that have Mennonite connections to provide comparative analysis. If you know of one, please connect with me through the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.


  1. This telling of the story is based on the account in John L. Ruth, The Earth is the Lord’s: A Narrative History of Lancaster Mennonite Conference (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2001), 726-727. 
  2. Jakob M. Barge to Frank Barge, July 26, 1896, in Decorated and Plain: A Mennonite and Amish Sampler in the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society Museum, Lancaster, Pa. 
  3. “Hair Picture,” in Decorated and Plain: A Mennonite and Amish Sampler

Annual Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies Mini-Conference

 

 
APASA mini-conferences are low-key events that provide an opportunity to share your work and get feedback, meet colleagues who have similar focuses, and discover potential collaborators.


The 2018 Annual Mini-Conference

Holmes County, OH: June 1, 2018

At the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center (“Behalt”)

DEADLINE FOR PROPOSALS: Friday, April 13th. CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT.

We invite abstracts and proposals for posters, paper presentations, organized sessions, or panels / round-tables.

AFFORDABILITY
In addition to being within closer reach of most plain Anabaptist scholars, the Holmes County location also allows us to substantially reduce the registration fee to $15 for APASA members (and $35 for non-members).

EXPLORE NEW RESOURCES
If you have not had a chance to visit the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center’s new library wing, this mini-conference will give you the opportunity to get acquainted with its materials and research resources. And if you have not seen the Center’s main attraction—the magnificent 360-degree “Behalt” painting of Amish and Mennonite history—this will be your chance.

Registration: Members-$15; Non-members-$35 (payable on-site)

Meals: Meals will be held at local restaurants. Registration fee does not include meals, which is estimated at $10-$20 per meal.

Lodging: Attendees are responsible for arranging their own lodging if needed. Hotels are available in Berlin, Millersburg, Walnut Creek, Sugarcreek, New Philadelphia / Dover, and Wooster, and advance reservations are suggested due to this being the late spring tourist season.

Call For Papers: What Young Historians Are Thinking Symposium

June 2, 2018

The Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, in partnership with the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies at Messiah College, and with the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, welcomes paper proposals for its event “What Young Historians Are Thinking.”

Invited to participate are high school students, undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students, those who have just started careers in history, as well as those who are “young” in scholarly study of historical topics (no matter what their age). All must be engaged in original research using chiefly primary sources (written and/or oral). All should be a part of a Historic Peace Church (Amish, Brethren in Christ, Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, Religious Society of Friends/Quaker, etc.) or focusing on one or more of these traditions.

Those interested should submit a 250-word proposal, for a 20-minute paper to be given at the symposium, along with a brief autobiographical sketch and full contact information. Send these to Joel Nofziger at Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, 2215 Millstream Road, Lancaster, PA 17602, or at younghistorians@lmhs.org. A limited number of travel scholarships are available. Please note in the proposal whether this will be needed. The symposium will take place at Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Elizabethtown College, 400 Campus Rd, Elizabethtown, PA., at 1:30 p.m.

For the sixth year in a row, young historians are being invited to share their research findings with others in a symposium in the Lancaster area. This event was conceived by Joel Nofziger and Devin Manzullo-Thomas, who were concerned about how few venues there are where young adults engaged in historical research and writing are the focus of attention, especially for those from Historic Peace Churches. In the symposiums, three of the proposals received are accepted for papers to be given in a public event. In addition, the papers are subsequently published in Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage.

In the past, papers have included topics such as John F. Funk and the dissemination of information to the scattered churches of America, Quaker Anne Knight and her lifelong efforts for the rights of the disenfranchised, and the peace position of the Church of the Brethren, among others.

Proposals are due April 20, 2018

Symposium Planning Committee: Jeff Bach, Simone Horst, Jason Kauffman, Devin Manzullo-Thomas, Joel Nofziger, and Anne Yoder.

Call for Papers–“Health and Well-Being in Amish Society: A Multidisciplinary Conference”

June 6-8, 2019

The international conference will focus on health, healing, health care, and individual and community welfare and well-being in Amish life. Since at least 1964, with the publication of the essay “Genetic Studies of the Amish,” by Victor McKusick, John Hostetler, and Janice Egeland, scholars have identified the unique contribution that Amish communities play in advancing medical knowledge. In the years since then, clinical studies, ethnographic research, and creative new avenues for providing health care have flourished with the active participation of the Amish.

The conference will highlight topics such as genetics, culturally appropriate care, Amish understandings of healing and well-being, mental health, alternative and complementary medicine, preventive medicine, health and Amish spirituality, insurance, aging, and death and dying. Speakers will address cultural resources for, as well as barriers to, health and well-being.

Conference planners welcome proposals from scholars and practitioners working in disciplines such as social science, medicine, public policy, and human services. Proposals may address the conference theme, other aspects of Amish life, or other traditional Anabaptist groups. Proposals for papers, panel discussions, or poster sessions are acceptable.

Specifications: A clear statement of topic, methods, and significance (350 words or fewer) and a one- to two-page résumé of the presenter

Submission: By e-mail attachment to amish2019@etown.edu

Deadline: October 1, 2018

Decision: December 1, 2018

Mennonites and the Holocaust: Personal and Literary Responses

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Session Five: Personal Impacts

“The Missing Pieces of Our Narratives,”
Connie Braun, Trinity Western University

  • Braun opened with her poem “Ecclesiastical Artifacts,” reprinted below with permission:

Ecclesiastical Artifacts

i.

Burning pyres, screws
hammered through tongues
of pious mouths, in ashes.

Births and deaths,

marriages, lineages.
Our tome is thick
with sorrow.

ii.

Between the Nogat and Vistula
and the sea.

iii.

Faith without icon, or Christs
hanging on crosses (He is risen,
He is risen, indeed).
Our ministers thanked God

for sending an army,

Jesus became Aryan, the cross
grew twisted, we, the Volk,
looked the other way

our neighbours’
wooden synagogues doused with gasoline.

We were a berm that could not hold
the river’s current.

Our ancestors’ gravestones
paved Stalin’ roads.

iv.

In green pastures
lower than the sea,
the shells

of our churches and housebarns,
rows and rows

of lindens we planted centuries ago
cast shadow and filigree.

  • Presenting what she termed an “Afterward” to her 2017 book, Silentium, Braun went on to identify two main streams that are missing from the stories Mennonites often tell themselves. First, Mennonites should be mourning not just their own losses and those of their families, “but mourning [also] the loss of the Other. That is the narrative that has been missing from our stories.” Braun also noted that Mennonites’ prejudices are missing from the narratives they construct.

“A Usable Past: Soviet Mennonite Memories of the Holocaust,”
Hans Werner, University of Winnipeg

  • When the Wehrmacht initiated Operation Barbarossa and shortly thereafter occupied Ukraine’s large Mennonite colonies, residents experienced intense relief that they were free from Stalinist oppression. Mennonites in these areas considered themselves German and were viewed as Germans by the invading army. They were seized with euphoria by their liberation at the same time their Jewish neighbors made a desperate escape to the east, with forced labor and death awaiting those who were caught by the advancing German army. Under occupation, Mennonites were engaged across all possible roles, although for this presentation Werner focused on those who were witnesses rather than active perpetrators of genocide
  • Werner enumerated four frameworks used by postwar memoir-writers to render their memories usable: 1) Remember/write only about the Soviet Period, but do not talk about the Holocaust; 2) Write oppositional memoirs rejecting National Socialism and its manifestations, a typology dominated by Mennonite women who married Ukrainians; 3) Feature narratives that acknowledge the stories of Jews whom the writers knew, including their execution; 4) Construct memoirs in such a way as to alleviate guilt, telling stories that portray the Wehrmacht as innocent and/or try to equate Nazi and Allied actions.
  • The presentation concluded by noting that the clearest intersection of the collective and individual memories among Mennonites who experienced Nazi occupation in Ukraine is of Hitler having saved the Mennonites. In the postwar years, members of this cohort grasped for other memories rather than dealing with their own roles in the murder and persecution of Jews and others: “They made their prewar experience under the Soviets into their own Holocaust.”

“Family Responses to the 1930s and ’40s in West Prussia,”
Joachim Wieler, Fachochschule Erfurt

  • Wieler was born before World War II in the eastern German city of Marienburg, and in 1945 fled along with his mother as a refugee to Dresden, which he remembers burning. He recounted the experience of recently being given a box of family documents after his parents had died. Inside the box, he discovered, among other surprises, a thank you note to his mother for supporting the German war effort in the World War I. One letter from after World War II, sent by his father to family from a Soviet prisoner of war camp,  read: “Since we did not do any injustice to anyone and since you also love to work, I believe we will see each other again. In this sense I am greeting all of you with justified confidence and with a strong heart.”
  • Documents from the Nazi period included a letter that Wieler’s father sent from the French front, mixing heavily patriotic language and strong religious overtones: “All soldiers who are fighting here for their fatherland are performing worship in the truest sense of the word.”
  • Wieler ended his presentation by expressing gratitude to Mennonite Central Committee and North American families for their role in supporting refugee families as well as the United States Government’s Marshall Plan for the rebuilding of Germany. He also asked, “How many more boxes are out there?”

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Session Seven: Literary Responses

“Readings from Silentium: And Other Reflections on Memory, Sorrow, Place, and the Sacred,” Connie Braun, Trinity Western University

  • Braun is a poet, memoirist, speaker and instructor. Having written and published widely in diverse genres including poetry, memoir, book reviews and academic papers, her work has been featured in numerous journals and anthologies. Her areas of interest and expertise include Mennonite Studies and Creative Writing. Connie writes on themes of family history, ethnicity, immigration/emigration, loss, (dis)placement and (dis)location.
  • She read from chapter 4, “Running through the heart of storms,” from her 2017 book, Silentium and Other Reflections on Memory, Sorrow, Place, and the Sacred (Wipf and Stock), proceeded by a poem, “Kanada.” Silentium is based on three visits to Poland–first to her mother’s village, a second to Krakow and Auschwitz (reflected in the excerpt Braun read), and a third that included visiting the Stutthoff concentration camp.

“A Mennonite Wife, A Jewish Husband, and the Holocaust,” dramatic reading from Heart of the World,  Helen Stoltzfus, Black Swan Arts and Media, Oakland, California

  • Stoltzfus reflected on her time as co-artistic director, playwright, and performer for the internationally-acclaimed “A Traveling Jewish Theatre,” in which she was the only non-Jewish member of the ensemble.  This group’s original works for the stage were produced worldwide, including the Los Angeles Theatre Festival, the Kampnagel Hamburg Sommer Festival, the Fool’s Festival in Copenhagen, and the Baltimore International Theater Festival. The group traveled the globe–from Toronto to Oslo, and Prague to Appalachia.
  • “Heart of the World,” written twenty-five years ago, looks at the experience of a Mennonite wife and a Jewish husband as they are expecting a child and discussing how to parent their offspring, with the question, “Who will this child be?” driving the story. The play uses archetypal characters “Ancestral Mennonite” and “Ancestral Jew,” into whom the characters regularly transform, as a way to express “that we all carry our ancestors inside of us, whether we are conscious of this or not.”
  • Speaking about the play and its reception, Stoltzfus recalled, “We sought connections where others saw separations.”

Mennonites and the Holocaust: “Neighbors, Killers, Enablers, Witnesses”

20180316_110912Bookending Doris Bergen’s lecture “Neighbors, Killers, Enablers, Witnesses: The Many Roles of Mennonites in the Holocaust” was the call for more scholarship. Her talk, the keynote of the Mennonites and the Holocaust Conference and convocation for Bethel College, focused on the challenges of doing Holocaust scholarship.  Bergen—who is Chancellor Rose and Ray Wolfe Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Toronto—explored five specific challenges, increasing in difficulty, with the note that “like those nesting dolls”, each opens new issues even as the resolve others.

The first challenge looked at insider/outsider scholarship, including its costs and benefits. Mennonite scholars come with some advantages–they have access to some sources, especially oral memories–that could not be found by outsiders. Insiders also make special note  of details others might miss: Bergen recounted being at a talk about the nature of the guards at Auschwitz, and in the general spreadsheet of place of origin and other statistics was a column on religion; one Mennonite was listed. “As an insider you notice and care,” noted Bergen. However, insiders face disadvantages. She singled out the push and pull of mythologies, especially “the myth of Mennonite innocence,” as a factor that can lead scholars to attack, defend, or censor themselves.

The second challenge was the question of definitions, specifically “what is a Mennonite” and “what is the Holocaust?” For the former she gave two guidelines. First, a warning to avoid “the temptation to define to distract” where you become so caught up in the words that you lose sight of the matter at hand. Second, she stressed the importance of having a functional definition of identity, not one based on fluid individual identities, but one that accounts for accounts for all ages and genders, covers communal bonds and how Mennonite identity can be constructed. She also included an admonition not to forget the women, “as defining, narrating, and performing Mennonitism has largely been the work of women.” For the latter, she noted that a proper definition of the Holocaust would consider a chronological range, encompassing both the prewar years and the immediate postwar period, as well as  being constructed by the identity of the perpetrators not the victims.

Bergen’s third challenge was to maintain a clear focus on the way Jews maintained a particular place of destruction in the Holocaust, being mindful of anti-Semitism. It is especially important for Mennonites to examine how Jews and anti-Semitism are built into our narratives. As one example, she recounted hearing how “Mennonites were [like] Jews” being told as the description of their experience; an inversion common across genocides where people take on the identity of victims “as a way of erasing their memory of their roles as victimizers.” She also noted how in Mennonite literature, especially in texts in the 1920s and 1930s, Jews become narrated as villains. The solution to this held up by Bergen was to incorporate literary scholars into the research to help analyze texts deeply, as opposed to taking them at face value. She also highlighted the need to have multiple sources, not just Mennonite and German ones, but Jewish, Roma, and more as well.

20180316_110409The fourth challenge was the questions “how do we avoid writing scholarship that is moralistic or judgemental?” Bergen’s response was to start by noting that studying genocide does not imply that she would personally have done better had she lived in a genocidal context, but “scholarship is about analyzing and understanding–how could people like us behave certain ways?” She also warned against the tendency to use avoiding judgement as a way to avoid discussion. This also gets caught up with the maintenance of Mennonite mythology. One solution given was to use the tools of genocide scholarship, which use comparison. “Mennonites were not unique, though distinctive, many of the issues we explore have been and are being confronted by many other people,” said Bergen, “These can be humbling and extremely liberating.”

The final challenge, as articulated at the beginning, was the need for more scholarship, particularly work “that will contextualize the topic, that will be discipline, that will look for unknown unknowns” an use a broad range of sources and tools. While this is an impossible task for an individual, it becomes possible if many become involved. Specific topics of research named included the Stutthoff concentration camp (situated among Mennonite communities), interactions between Mennonites and Roma, pre-war relations with Jews, and the role of singing and music.

Professor Bergen’s research focuses on issues of religion, gender, and ethnicity in the Holocaust and World War II and comparatively in other cases of extreme violence. During the keynote, she confided that she had not grown up with an innate interest in Mennonite history–indeed she actively avoided it–but it found her nonetheless via the topics she researched; at every turn, Mennonites popped out of the archive. Bergen’s books include Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich (1996); War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust (2003); The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Centuries (edited, 2004); and Lessons and Legacies VIII (edited, 2008).1

 


  1.  http://history.utoronto.ca/people/doris-bergen 

Reviewed: Our Amish Devotional Heritage

Our Amish Devotional Heritage: From the Collection of the Heritage Historical Library, by David Luthy. Aylmer, Ont.: Pathway Publishers, 2016. 134 pp. Hard cover. Color illustrations.

OADHOur Amish Devotional Heritage is a consideration of religious and devotional literature used by the Amish, though not strictly comprehensive. It aims to be a less-academic counterpart to Robert Friedmann’s Mennonite Piety through the Centuries.1 Like other works from the Heritage Library, it also functions as an annotated and illustrated catalog of the library’s holdings.

The work is structured in five sections: Bibles and Bible Portions, Hymnals and Songbooks, Prayerbooks, Martyr Books, and Miscellaneous, each richly illustrated.

The Bible section begins with the Vulgate and Gutenberg versions, then moves to German-language editions, giving extensive treatment of the fourteen editions of the Froschauer Bible. The detailed listing of books kept by the Heritage Library are a mix of material construction and provenance, with notable descriptors as relevant—this remains the case throughout the rest of the book. There are a few details of interest to genealogists, such as the note that family registers started appearing within Bibles in the 1800s.

The second section, on hymnals, starts with Etliche Schone Christliche Geseng, then quickly moves onto the Ausbund and variations thereof. It then moves through Schrift and Lieder Registers (schedules of Scriptures and songs to be used in worship services), Unpartheysisches Gesangbuch, and Liedersammlung “B” and “G”, and the host of small songbooks used outside worship.

Especially interesting is Luthy’s consideration of the Ausbund hymns in that he includes in his survey Ausbund hymns that appear in non-Amish hymnals. This meshes nicely with a section on Lutheran-derived hymns that are used by the Amish. “Both Mennonites and Amish accepted Lutheran hymns, but only those which include no particular Lutheran doctrine.” To help contextualize these hymns, he includes short biographies of the Lutheran writers whose hymns appear in Amish hymnals.

The discussion on prayer books starts with Die Ernsthafte Christenpflicht and editions, including discussion on authorship of the prayers contained within. It also covers Golden Apples in Silver Bowls, Lustgärtlein, and Rules of a Godly Life.

Section four, on martyr books, is the smallest section, with some discussion of the early Dutch work Het Offer des Heeren, but mostly serving as an appendix to the 2013 publication A History of the Printings of the Martyrs Mirror. It is followed by the miscellaneous section covering daily devotionals, inspirational posters, devotional booklets and tracts, religious fiction, and several Sammelbands (collections of shorter works bound as a single volume).

Our Amish Devotional Heritage is generally a very helpful reference book and introductory text, especially given the full-color illustration and the low price. It is hampered by a poor font selection, which makes extended reading difficult. English-language speakers should also note that some of the textual comparisons are done in German only, with no English translation. Those faults, however, do not detract from the worthy accomplishment of organizing such a vast swath of literature in such an accessible way.


  1.  Robert Friedmann, Mennonite Piety through the Centuries: Its Genius and Its Literature, Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History, no. 7 (Goshen, Ind.: Mennonite Historical Society, 1949).