War resisters part of World War I story, too

National museum to recognize voices of conscience as part of centennial observances

Oct 10, 2016 by and

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NORTH NEWTON, Kan. — The trophies and destruction left by battles are many, but items that tell the stories of war resisters are scarce.

Rachel Pannabecker and James C. Juhnke look at a pamphlet produced by Western District Conference for men drafted into World War I military service. Juhnke is professor emeritus of history at Bethel College and historical consultant/writer for Kauffman Museum’s exhibit on World War I conscientious objectors. Pannabecker, former director of Kauffman Museum, is collections manager and editor of the still-forming exhibit. — Tim Huber/MWR

Rachel Pannabecker and James C. Juhnke look at a pamphlet produced by Western District Conference for men drafted into World War I military service. Juhnke is professor emeritus of history at Bethel College and historical consultant/writer for Kauffman Museum’s exhibit on World War I conscientious objectors. Pannabecker, former director of Kauffman Museum, is collections manager and editor of the still-forming exhibit. — Tim Huber/MWR

The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., is planning to recognize conscientious objectors at a special event next year. Bethel College’s Kauffman Museum is developing an exhibit on war resisters for the national museum.

While Kauffman possesses much information about the experience of COs throughout the decades, artifacts are in short supply. The museum is eager for donations or loans of items to help tell century-old stories.

The World War I Museum is planning several events to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into the war. One will be a symposium, “Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance and Civil Liberties in World War I Through Today,” Oct. 19-21, 2017, at the museum.

Kauffman Museum’s exhibit, “Voices of Conscience: Peace Witness in the Great War,” will be on display during the symposium before traveling around North America.

Kauffman director Annette LeZotte said she and her staff are casting a wide net.

“I think there is a large pool from which we can pull artifacts, and we’re not limiting it to Mennonite sources,” she said, citing other Anabaptists, Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses and secular parties who claim pacifist legacies.

Retired Kauffman director Rachel Pannabecker is helping manage the developing exhibit’s collection. She said Kauffman’s existing war-related collections include mainly items from Mennonites who served as noncombatants or battlefield souvenirs brought home by others.

“We have a collection, but it is minimally helpful in telling the story of the World War I conscientious objector experience,” she said.

There are stories of hardships endured by people on the home front who refused to fight. Barns were painted yellow. John Schrag was locked in a Burrton, Kan., jail for his own protection when a mob formed after he declined to purchase war bonds. Mennonite minister John Franz of Bloomfield, Mont., was nearly hanged for teaching Bible classes to children in German.

“Is there an old artifact of a barn board with yellow paint that we don’t know about?” LeZotte asked.

“Would someone still have the apron or knife from potato peeling duty?” Pannabecker asked. “. . . Letters, documents, registration and draft cards are most of what we’ll get, but you don’t know unless you ask.”

Hutterite martyrs

Since the exhibit is still in the planning phase, a powerful artifact could steer its development.

Informational displays are planned to surround a recreation of an Alcatraz Prison cell.

Four Hutterite COs were punished there for refusing to wear a military uniform and participate in exercises. In solitary confinement, they were chained to bars in the dungeon, forced to stand for long periods with little sleep in cold, damp conditions.

Two of the men — brothers Joseph and Michael Hofer — eventually died at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., a few weeks after the Armistice was signed. Joseph Hofer’s wife arrived at the fort just before he died and then found her husband’s body in a coffin, dressed in the uniform he had refused to wear. Hutterites consider the men martyrs, and their sacrifice has prompted their church’s involvement in the symposium and plans to potentially tour the exhibit in Canada.

James C. Juhnke, professor emeritus of history at Bethel and historical consultant for the exhibit, said Canada has links to World War I CO matters.

“A substantial number of men went to Canada to avoid World War I,” he said. “A substantial number of families moved there, including the family of theologian Walter Klassen,” who taught at Bethel in the 1960s.

Juhnke said Klassen’s ancestors had a son who died at a military camp. The man was sent home in uniform and changed into other clothing for burial. Community pressure prompted the family to leave for Canada the following day.

With so many stories, museum staff hope to uncover ways to flesh out the lives and sacrifices with physical objects.

To share an artifact, contact Kauffman Museum director Annette LeZotte at 316-283-1612 or alezotte@bethelks.edu.


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  • Conrad Ermle

    Almost every Hutterite in the United States (thousands) fled to Canada during World War I as refugees from US militarism, especially after the death of their martyrs in prison. Several later returned to the US but most remained in Canada. Most Hutterites are still in Canada. – Conrad Ermle

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