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Mennonites in the Żuławy

The Reformation, which began in Germany and spread to neighboring countries, gave rise to various forms of Protestantism. The Anabaptist movement with adult baptism being the main doctrine was one of the new religious fractions. The views of Anabaptists, whose adherents were primarily of plebeian origin, were quite radical also in relation to the social life. They professed the abolition of secular and religious authority, return to simple, primitive Christianity without clergymen, and a life based on loving one's neighbor and Jesus Christ. A peasant revolt that enveloped Germany and a part of the Netherlands was bloodily suppressed and resulted in the development of a pacifistic fraction of Anabaptism - Mennonitism with Menno Simons being its founder and ideologue. Mennonites and Lutherans shared a common aversion to Rome and practiced the Eucharist in two forms, while all fractions of Anabaptists rejected the ideas of infant baptism and oath and refused to use weapons, which was associated with refusal to participate in military service. In addition to deep religiousness (however, devoid of mysticism), the Mennonites attached a great significance to the ethical aspect of life, which included active abiding by religious principles, aspiring to holiness, and imitating Christ. Even though, Mennonitism originated in Holland, the movement also had a significant following among Flemish and Frisians, who differ in both their religious orientation and material status. These differences persisted even later in the emigration. In spite of their pacifistic attitude, Mennonites suffered persecution from both Lutherans and Catholics. As a result, they decided to emigrate and chose Poland as their destination. At the time, Poland, in comparison to other countries, was a bastion of tolerance. The very founder of the religious movement, Menno Simons visited Gdańsk in person and became convinced about the favorable conditions for emigration. First groups of Mennonites settled in Gdańsk before 1546, but larger groups of Mennonite immigrants began to arrive in Poland in the mid-16th century settling primarily in Gdańsk, Malbork, and Elbląg.

Unfortunately, in Gdańsk, the immigrants were rejected the town rights; in spite of the support from wealthier burghers, they met with opposition from petit bourgeoisie, who perceived them as competitors in trade, crafts, and even ship-building. Being officially prohibited from acquiring houses in the town, the majority of Mennonites settled in Gdańsk suburban villages of Wrzeszcz, Siedlce, Nowe Ogrody, Św. Wojciech, Stare Szkoty, Orunia, and Krępiec. However, at the end of the 18th century, there were 33 Mennonites from the Flemish fraction who owned houses in Gdańsk11. The Frisian sect with less wealthy members involved in trade and crafts was much larger and in 168[1] had 570 followers, but their numbers were often overstated. In 1776, the Flemish community had ca. 1145 members, including the city and suburb residents, while the Frisian community was much less numerous. In 1820, the joint Flemish and Frisian community had 496 members, which constituted a little over 1% of Gdańsk population.

The Catholic bishop Uchański did not share the animosity Lutherans towards Mennonites and welcomed them in his estates in Chełm and Biskupia Górka. Wealthier burghers, who administered the villages of the Gdańsk estate, also supported the Mennonite colonization on the areas they managed.

Catastrophic floods of 1540s depopulated entire villages, and therefore settlers, who were capable of developing difficult terrains, were quite desirable. At the time the administrators re-founded the following villages: Bogatka, Bystra, Lędowo - 1547, Wiślinka - 1549, Błotnik, Długie Pole - 1552, Szerzawa -1556, and Cedry Małe -1561. These villages were settled by Dutch peasants, including and a small group of Anabaptists expelled by the duke Albrecht from Prussia, who had previously invited them to that area. However, at the beginning of the 17th century, in the Żuławy Gdańskie, landowners introduced quite a few obstacles, which were to prevent Mennonites from acquiring land in well-located areas. As a result, the number of Mennonites colonizing this section of the Żuławy significantly decreased. In the 19th century, in the Żuławy Gdańskie, the villages of Szkarpawa, Stare Babki, and Wybicko had the largest Mennonite populations with 179, 40, and 40 individuals, respectively.

In the 1560s, the Loitz family, which owned the Nowy Dwór tenancy, invited Mennonites to its villages. They settled in the following villages: Niedźwiedzica - 1568, Leśniewo - ca. 1566, Heberrhorst - 1569, Izbisko - 1594, Tujce - before 1600, and Dreizehnhuben - ca. 1617[2]. In this area, Mennonites not only settled wastelands and wetlands, but also farmland of Chełmno villages (villages developed under the Chełmno law), taking over farms of wealthy peasants, sometimes controlling entire villages, for example, Orłowie. It is also noteworthy that they not only inhabited homesteads located in densely built-up areas, but also introduced a modular type of building and organized reclusive, single-homestead colonies.

Mennonites also settled in villages of the Malbork estate in the Małe Żuławy. They were first recorded to inhabit the village of Kępniewo (1586) and then Markusy, Jasionno, and Różany (before the end of the 16th century). The colonization continued from the boundaries of former Chełmno villages towards Drużno lake and included pastures and meadows to the north and west of Malbork (Stogi, Kałdowo, and Kamionek). That area experienced a similar process as the Nowy Dwór tenancy: due to the lack of undeveloped land, the descendants of the first colonists began to purchase farmland in Chełmno villages. In the Żuławy Wielkie, only 8.8% of acreage was used according to the emphyteutic law. In contrast, in Żuławy Małe, over half of the 48 villages were founded under the emphyteutic law and according to some estimates, ca. 27% of farmland was owned by Mennonites. In the town of Malbork itself, Mennonites were rejected the town rights, but nevertheless were mentioned as owners of town property and even had a house of prayer outside of the castle. In total, at the end of the 18th century, Mennonites owned 48 properties in Malbork. At the time, the Mennonite community in Malbork had 117 members. In 1820, 134 individuals were recorded, which constituted 2.8% of the entire population. In the 1st quarter of the 19th century, the Żuławy Malborskie region was inhabited by 5687 Mennonites, which constituted 14.5% of the entire population.

The arrival of Mennonites in Elbląg was almost simultaneous with their appearance in Gdańsk and occurred ca. 1550. At that time, with an exception of the Chełmno villages of Myszewo, Myszewko, Kmiecin, Rakowiska, Lubstowo, Kępki, Stobno, and Tropy, a vast section of the Elbląg estate located to the west of the city was undeveloped. The drainage of marshes that stretched between Elbląg and the Nogat was the most remarkable economic achievement of the city. Administrators of the territory built 5 parallel causeways and divided the land between them into plots, whose number corresponded to the number of full-value properties in Stare Miasto (Old Town). The parcels were distributed by lot among burghers, who soon afterwards, began to settle colonists (1565). In 1568, the authorities allocated additional plots on the western shore of lake Drużno, in the Karczowiska area, and then in 1590, in Wikrowo and Nogatowo. By the mid 17th century, the settlers also developed the villages of Wilżyna, Gajowiec, Kopanka, Jegłownik, Kościeliska, Błotnica, Czarna Grobla, and Mechnica. And, by the mid 18th century, the Elbląg Mennonites also acquired part of farmland of the Chełmno villages of Kmiecin, Myszewko, and Myszewo. Mennonites owned land in 40 out of 46 Elbląg villages, but in 1820, they constituted only 7.3% of the population - 2094 individuals. Unlike the Mennonite residents of Gdańsk and Malbork, in Elbląg, some members of the community were granted the town charter. Ca. 1585, Jost van Campen purchased a building in Stare Miasto, which from 1590 housed the Mennonite house of prayer - the second Mennonite temple and the first in Poland.

The Dutch colonization was not evenly distributed across the Żuławy region[3]. In the Żuławy Gdańskie, by 1676, the Dutch colonists settled only in "free villages" (wsie wolne) located in the northern section of the region, including the settlements of Bogatka, Trzcinisko, Szarzawa, Wiślinka, and Przejazdowo as well as the territories located between Dziewięć Włók and Koszwała and from Wróblewo to Bystra. From 1727, they colonized the areas stretching between Wiślinka-Dziewięć Włók and Gdańsk and from Wróblewo to Stanisławowo - the Izbiska and Popowo area. The southern section of the region was colonized later and Dutch settlements were scarce.

In the Wielkie Żuławy, by 1676, Mennonites settled in the areas stretching from Linawa to Tuga, to the east of Nowy Dwór, from Stogi to Cisa, and in Pielica. After 1727, the colonization spread westward as far as Niedźwiediówka and Ostaszewo, southward from Dziewięć Włóka and Tuja to Rychnowy, eastward to Kącik, and northward as far as Szkarpawa. By 1772, the colonization covered the areas of Pordenów, Nowy Staw, and Nidowo. In the Stogi area, its range expanded in all directions spreading westward as far as Gnojewo and Lichnówk, northward to the Nogat river, and eastward to the villages of Laki, Tralewo, Kościeleczki, and the Półmiasto area. In 1783, the Mennonite population numbered 10490.

Because of their conscientious objection to participation in military service, which was doctrinally observed, Mennonites often faced restrictions, particularly from rulers with military orientation. For example, already in the 16th century (after 1543), the duke Albrecht expelled Dutch who had settled in the Ducal Prussia in 1517. Mennonites faced the same treatment in the 18th century. Mennonites, who arrived in the Tylża and Królewiec area from the Chełmno region[4] in 1710, were expelled for the same reason by the Prussian king Frederick William in 1724 in spite of their enormous contribution to re-development of the wastelands. Frederick II exempted Mennonites from military service, but in exchange, imposed a heavy tax on objectors. In 1789, Frederick William II issued an anti-Mennonite edict, which limited their rights to property lease and ownership and increased the dues they had to pay to the Lutheran church, to which they were officially assigned. Furthermore, the authorities introduced a high fee that Mennonites had to pay in order to avoid the military service. The above restrictions were responsible for mass exodus of Mennonites from the Żuławy. Those events coincided with Russian plans to develop the Black Sea coast. Tsarina Catherine II offered Mennonites very favorable conditions and they began to settle in the Yekaterinoslav area, the Dnieper delta, and on Khortytsia Island. Ca. 5000 individuals emigrated from the region between 1787 and 1809. The majority of the emigrants were religious zealots, but the movement also included the part of the population without any prospects for acquiring land due to the growth in Żuławy population or people who simply were attracted by the favorable conditions of settlement in Russia. In 1817, Prussia introduced national military service, but this edict had no significant impact on the number of abandoned farms. In 1868, the emperor William specified the scope of the Mennonite military service, who were to serve in sanitation, quartermaster, and transportation units and as clerks[5].
In 1918, the Elbląg district was inhabited by 1820 Mennonites - 5.7% of the population, the Malbork district, by 5687 - 14.5%, the Gdańsk urban district, 671 - 1.3%, and the Gdańsk rural district, 516 - 1.5%[6]. However, these proportions were different in rural areas, where the Mennonite population was the largest; and so, in Elbląg villages, Mennonites constituted 10.3% of the population, in Malbork villages - 16.65%, and in Gdańsk villages - 1.46%. The Mennonite population remained stable at 11 - 12 thousand individuals until the modern times - 1945.

[1] Kizik, p. 30-31
[2] Kizik, p. 43
[3] according to the Penner map, vol. I,
[4] Mężynski, p. 227
[5] Penner, p. 260
[6] Kizik, p. 61

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