The Doopsgezinden, also known as the Mennonites, are a Christian Anabaptist community that can be found in many parts of the world. The community dates back to the sixteenth century, when a Dutch Roman Catholic priest called Menno Simons (1496-1561) converted to Anabaptism (a form of Protestantism that promotes the baptism of adults) and became the namesake of a movement known as the Mennonites.
A feature of Mennonite way of life is helping those in need. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the Mennonites have been producing quilts, especially for those in distress. These relief quilts (often called comforters) are especially associated with Mennonite groups in the USA and Canada. Following the end of the Second World War in 1945, hundreds of relief quilts were sent from North America to Europe, including the Netherlands and Germany. A selection of these quilts was on display at the TRC exhibition. These include a group of 'comforters' (two-layer quilts) that were organised by the Canadian Red Cross and transported to Europe, many of which ended up in a disused railway carriage in Austria (for this remarkable story, see the TRC blog of 25 September 2020). For more information, click here.
An and Herman Keuning and relief quilts
Just after the end of the war, a group of Mennonites who had fled from the Ukraine were offered refuge in the Netherlands before traveling on to Paraguay. They were helped by a Mennonite pastoral couple named An and Herman Keuning. They lived in Irnsum, Friesland, in the north of the country. Despite acute shortages in the Netherlands, they organised guest homes for 100 people in and around Irnsum.
A shortage of bedding prompted An to contact the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) office in Amsterdam and as a result hundreds of quilts made by Mennonites in North America that were sent to Amsterdam as relief goods, were soon delivered in Irnsum.
Many of these quilts remained in the Netherlands after the Ukraine Mennonite refugees had emigrated to Paraguay. They were preserved by An Keuning. In 2004 the MCC was informed about the quilts and since then theq uilts have been on tour to various parts of the world, including North America, Ukraine, Germany and France. The story of these quilts is also told in: Passing on the Comfort: the War, the Quilts and the Women who made a Difference, by Lynn Kaplanian-Buller and An Keuning-Tichelaar (2005).
Modern relief quilts
For some years, European Mennonites in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Switzerland have formed sewing groups to make quilts for Syrian and other refugees in Jordan and on the Greek island of Lesbos. These are being distributed by the MCC in the Middle East.
See also: 'Passing on the Comfort to the TRC', a TRC blog by Lynn Kaplanian-Buller, 29 January 2020, and 'I lost a quilt given to my care…. and that‘s all right,' another TRC blog by the same author, 23 September 2020.