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Throughout a long journey and endless flight the Mennonites have suffered religious persecution almost wherever they were. In the story ?sailing to Danzig? the author Rudy Wiebe describes the life of a man who is searching for his identity through historical books and the tales of his family members.
The Mennonites religious movement was first started during the ?protestant reformation? in the ?1520?s? and was led by ?Menno Simons? (Encarta). Originating in Switzerland it was not very long before they were ?prosecuted? because they ?refused to sanction war or to enroll in the military?, because of their peaceful beliefs (Encarta). They fled to numerous parts of the world such as ?the Rhinelands and the Netherlands, others to America (Pennsylvania), and still others to Eastern Europe.? (Encarta)
As a Mennonite the main character of ?Sailing to Danzig? explores his past through books and memories to cement his beliefs. Genealogical history accentuated by religious persecution an isolationist living can help explain one?s religious and family values.
The Mennonites throughout their existence have had a tumultuous history. Because of their strong beliefs on various topics and their sect like behavior of seclusion the Mennonites as well as other religious groups such as the Hutterites and the Amish have had to flee to other countries to seek refuge and peace.
The Mennonites were targeted since they were created for many different reasons but a few are common and persistent. The move away from the Roman Catholic church was one of the main reasons for their persecution. The Protestants under King Henry the VIII had a leader and were a large group, unlike the Anabaptists who were divided into small groups and therefore more easily preyed on. Their belief such as their position against infant baptism were strongly disliked through out Europe. Later when the Mennonites were living in Russia under the Communists they were also heavily persecuted as the Soviet-Union cracked down on large gatherings.
In the Mennonite society the routes and places that their members have colonized seems to be important to both their genealogical and religious backgrounds. They seem to reinforce the faith in their religion by knowing that many people have died for their beliefs. This is shown by the ?Martyrs Mirror? which is one of the ?Mennonite?s history books.? (Martyrs Mirror) ?The book contains over 1100 pages of accounts of early Christians and Anabaptist,? which describe tales of persecution, killings and torture of the earlier Mennonites and Amish. (MM)
It is important to acknowledge one?s past and for Mennonites this seems of uttermost importance. For Adam Wiebe traces his roots can be traced back to Danzig, one of the first Mennonite settlements and an important one for Canadian and Russian Mennonites. Danzig was first settled ?to seek a state where citizens rights permitted shelter.?( The Mennonite Heritage Cruise) As written in the short story ?Sailing to Danzig? Adam Wiebe played an important role in developing the city ?Adam sails to Danzig to lay the city?s first wooden watermains and set artesian wells in squares and drain the marshlands along the Radaune River by building dikes and canals and wind and horse-drawn mills that lift the turgid water up into the slate-gray sea.? These accomplishments resulted in the making of very fertile cattle fields which combined with very clean and tidy houses made their settlement very attractive (TMHC). So attractive that after the Seven-year war in Russia, Empress Katharina II invited the Mennonites to settle ?in the South Russian Steppe and to have freedom of religion assured.? (TMHC) As we know from the short story, ?Sailing to Danzig? that only latter during the Communism rule did the father of the main character escape to Canada from Russia. For the main character it is interesting to note that he is gratified that his name is the same as one of his successful ancestors.
To accentuate one?s religious beliefs and values it is important to know the history of one?s religion and people. This is the case in many religions such as Christianity where students learn the tales of Moses, the accomplishments of David and the life of Jesus. The history of the Mennonites is much briefer than the Christian?s, but since the recording techniques were much better more information has been kept.
Adam Wiebe the main character in ?Sailing to Danzig? seems to be worrisome of the value of his life and culture after he has died; this is indicated many times through the story. When he says ?That beautiful soprano now lost forever except in the folds of my memories,? it indicates his belief that the song is only a memory and that it will be lost forever when that memory dies. This fear is also clearly shown in the last two sentences of the story when he says ?Wybe Adam Von Harlingen, where are you now? Your cables are gone. Only memories of Songs remain.?(STD) It is also interesting to note that a song is used a symbol for an entity that can be written about, or described, like a human being, but if one does not know the tune, it is meaningless.
Religious prosecution and flight have influenced the ways of living of the Mennonites. Their past is very important to them religiously. Genealogy and history are thus very important to trace their roots but it also has a symbolic meaning. It is a method of comfort; it is a way to know that one will not be forgotten. But as Adam Wiebe ironically discovers a name or a few words does not make a man?s life eternal.
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