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Academic Scholarship

November 19, 2020

The reach of murderous authoritarian hate movements is often longer than we think. It has included influential leaders within the Mennonite denomination, including within its best-known humanitarian aid organization, MCC. That knowledge alone should justify robust support for academic scholarship in our current time of resurgent global intolerance and strengthen our sense of the importance of safeguarding the integrity of the historical record in the face of official lies. BEN GOOSEN

A great gulf looms between the image of Mennonites as a peaceful Christian denomination engaged in humanitarianism and peace building around the world, including in the Middle East, and what historians have begun to reveal about the entanglement of a substantial minority of Mennonites with National Socialism during the 1930s and ’40s. So, who hid the Mennonite involvement with Nazism and how?

After World War II, the primary narrative that Mennonite leaders in Europe and North America crafted about their churches’ activities in the Third Reich emphasized repression and hardship. The denomination’s leading aid organization, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), worked during the late 1940s and early 1950s to help resettle thousands of European Mennonites who were displaced as a result of the war. MCC relied on financial and legal assistance from larger refugee agencies affiliated with the United Nations. In dealing with their United Nations colleagues, MCC officials insisted most of their wards “were brutally treated by the German occupation authorities” and “did not receive favored treatment.”

One of Mennonite Central Committee’s star witnesses was a refugee named Heinrich Hamm. Like tens of thousands of other Mennonites who had experienced the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe, Hamm was from Soviet Ukraine, and had retreated westward with German troops in 1943 to avoid again coming under communist rule. Five years later, Hamm was an MCC employee, helping to run a large refugee camp in occupied Germany. MCC’s special commissioner in Europe passed to United Nations officials Hamm’s story of evacuating from Ukraine to more western areas:

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