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.”
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])