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Wall Commemorating Conscientious Objectors is Dedicated

   
 


Conrad Stoesz and son Andrew stand before the Wall of Remembrance.

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September 30, 2011
- Conrad Stoesz

Winkler, Man. — A young girl stood next to the brick wall at Winkler’s Bethel Heritage Park. “Why are these bricks here?” she asked her mother.

The monument for conscientious objectors to war (COs) stands on the opposite side of the park from the monument to war veterans, mirroring tensions still felt in some families and the wider community. Some observers commented that honouring both in the one park represents a continuing dialogue on this important topic.

Gathered in the shade with their lawn chairs on the warm sunny afternoon for the commitment service in Winkler, Man., some 250 people, including my son Andrew and me, commemorated conscientious objectors to war (COs).

In the book of Joshua, God instructed the Israelites to build a stone monument to help the people remember and tell the story of their ancestors and ultimately of God’s faithfulness. The Wall of Remembrance follows this example. Funds donated at the event go towards the cost of the wall and the production of teaching materials.

The wall for COs is made of 3021 bricks. Each brick represents one of the young Manitoba men who served as a CO during the Second World War, explained Bernie Loeppky, chair of the Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship (EAF). A handful of octogenarian COs from Second World War – some on a day pass from the hospital – attended the event, sponsored by the EAF and Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society (MMHS).

The service opened with “O Canada”, hymns and prayers. A MMHS representative summarized the history, linking the migration of Mennonites from Europe to Winkler with their strong faith-based belief in refusing military service. Anabaptists were persecuted in the 16th century for many reasons, including their unwillingness to fight in war. Mennonites emerged from the Anabaptist experience, migrating across Europe and eventually to Manitoba, continually seeking military exemption.

On the way home I took to the opportunity to discuss our history with Andrew. I told him about his great-grandfather John Stoesz, who performed alternative service as a conscientious objector.  The wall helped me tell our story. 

Representatives from five denominations brought greetings and a call for greater faithfulness to Jesus’ teachings, including non-resistance and peacemaking. A singing group from the Winkler Bergthaler Mennonite Church rounded out the service.

For more information about conscientious objectors visit www.alternativeservice.ca

Conrad Stoesz is archivist at the Mennonite Heritage Centre and the Centre for MB Studies