Mennonites reckon with the Holocaust
May 29, 2018 8:24 AM Subscribe
"Mennonites entered Nazi consciousness in 1929, when 13,000 refugees descended on Moscow, clamoring to leave the Soviet Union. In Germany, the National Socialist Racial Observer took up their cause." [Graphic images]
Mennonite experiences of and involvement in the Holocaust differed widely. We know that a handful of individuals actively participated as executioners and concentration camp guards. We also know that a substantial percentage of Europe’s Mennonites benefited from and often sympathized with aspects of Nazism. Around 120,000 people, or about one-fourth of the denomination worldwide, lived under Nazi rule at the height of Hitler’s expansionism. Generally categorized as members of the Aryan racial elite, Mennonites sometimes received goods taken from murdered Jews or moved into their vacant homes. Others leased slave labor for their farms and factories, or otherwise profited from genocide. ...
In 1945 when the Third Reich collapsed, church institutions on both sides of the Atlantic worked to suppress allegations of Mennonite collaboration. ... Receptive bureaucrats developed an erroneous impression that huge numbers had performed “slave labour” for the Nazis, while the New York Times reported that they suffered “as the Jews.”
Denialism has marked public discussions ever since. While other Christian denominations began self-scrutiny decades ago, conservative strategies—such as emphasizing Mennonites’ own hardships, referencing “Germans” instead of “Nazis,” and refocusing on Bolshevik atrocities—have depressed engagement for generations in Paraguay, Canada, and Germany.