Mennonites and their many migrations

One winner (best adapted screenplay) in the 2023 Oscars is Women talking, a film adaptation of the novel by the Canadian author Miriam Toews, a fictional response to real events that took place in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. When I first heard about this it prompted me to look into the history of the Mennonites. I was fascinated by the numerous moves groups of them had made during the last 500 years. This blog post will look at some of the main migrations during that time and also consider the Mennonites’ Low German dialect, Plautdietsch, which they have preserved across the world. The UL has a huge number of resources, both print and online, on the Mennonites, showing that their beliefs, culture and language are of great interest to researchers.

Menno Simons, picture by Rijksmuseum via Wikimedia Commons

The name Mennonite was used to refer to Dutch Anabaptists (there were others in Switzerland and Germany) and was derived from Menno Simons, a Catholic priest who turned away from Catholicism and became a leader of the Anabaptist movement in the Low Countries during the time of the Reformation (Anabaptist simply means “one who is baptised again”, referring to the belief that baptism of infants was wrong and that only adults who could knowingly profess their faith should be baptised). Mennonites in the Netherlands were regarded as heretics and were suppressed and persecuted not just by the prevailing Catholics but also by other Protestants. Continue reading