MCC initiates research into historical connections with National Socialism

January 15, 2021 | Web First
Mennonite Central Committee
High-profile Nazi officials toured the Mennonite colonies in occupied Ukraine. During his 1942 visit to Molotschna, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and an architect of the Holocaust, exchanged greetings with Mennonite surgeon Johann Klassen. (Mennonite Heritage Centre photo [Alber Photo Collection])

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has initiated research into how national socialism (Nazism) shaped the contexts in Europe and Paraguay where MCC operated in the 1930s and ’40s, and how, at the time, MCC engaged with the German National Socialist government and worked to resettle Mennonite refugees from the Soviet Union.

At MCC’s invitation, 11 academic historians from Canada, the United States, Germany, France and the Netherlands are researching MCC’s work in Europe and Paraguay before, during and after the Second World War. They will build on previous research and bring their individual scholarly specializations to bear in examining actions MCC and its staff undertook during this period and how they wrote about those actions. 

“MCC is committed to developing a deeper understanding of this part of our history, and to reckoning with it once the research is complete,” says Ann Graber Hershberger, executive director of MCC U.S. 

“National socialism” describes the ideology of Germany’s ruling Nazi Party at the time, marked by virulent anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust of six million Jews in Europe. “MCC rejects and repudiates anti-Semitism,” says Rick Cober Bauman, executive director of MCC Canada. “Like the injustices visited upon other people groups, anti-Jewish actions and attitudes need to be named, confronted and ceased. We are eager to see what we can learn from the researchers’ work.”

Recent scholarly articles have spurred MCC’s desire to learn more about this history and to grapple with the significance of it. The research project is focused only on the activities of MCC, acknowledging that MCC’s history is entwined with, and not easily separated from, the history of Mennonites in Paraguay, Europe and the Soviet Union during this period. 

The research will be presented at the Sept. 30-Oct. 2 “MCC at 100” conference at the University of Winnipeg (held in collaboration with Canadian Mennonite University and MCC), and will be published, including in the fall 2021 edition of MCC’s Intersections journal.

Alain Epp Weaver, Intersections co-editor and MCC director of strategic planning says, “Countless displaced Mennonites directly helped by MCC after the Second World War were kept from certain death or deprivation if they would have been returned to the Soviet Union, from which many had fled a few years earlier.

“This real account nonetheless is not the complete picture. We are seeking to further round out our understanding and determine potential next steps to address this complex history.”

Related stories:
Event explores Jews, Mennonites and the Holocaust​​​​​​​
Scholars uncover hidden stories of the Holocaust

High-profile Nazi officials toured the Mennonite colonies in occupied Ukraine. During his 1942 visit to Molotschna, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and an architect of the Holocaust, exchanged greetings with Mennonite surgeon Johann Klassen. (Mennonite Heritage Centre photo [Alber Photo Collection])

Share this page:

Comments

Kuddos, MCC, for beginning to face part of our history that may be quite shameful.

Thanks MCC leadership for beginning to seek to tell the difficult truths of our past. This is not just about MCC. It is about our legacy of faith as Anabaptist Mennonites. The truth (and repentance) will set us free.

Already the word shameful is being used before we even start ! Canadian Mennonites who did not have to escape Soviet communism should be very very careful before commenting.

If it wasn’t for the German army offering some protection my parents and 12,000 others would have been sent to Siberia like my grandfather was and perished. Think about that !

There are historical societies everywhere that have the expertise and interest in history. I hope that MCC is hiring professional historians. Why is MCC diversifying into history? Many count on MCC to meet human needs, like clean water, sanitation, and so much more. There are so many needs in the world, including needs here in Canada. What agency is carrying on the work of meeting needs and setting up new things so that people can meet their own needs. I think that MCC should communicate with the constituency (us), as they used to call it, to answer the questions that this article does not cover.

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.