MCC embarks on ‘fair and full reckoning’ regarding postwar past

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The Mennonite Central Committee has initiated research into its work in Europe following the Second World War in light of recently published research into its involvement in sheltering Nazis.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/01/2021 (578 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Mennonite Central Committee has initiated research into its work in Europe following the Second World War in light of recently published research into its involvement in sheltering Nazis.

The organization, which is the relief and development arm of North American Mennonites, has invited 11 historians from five countries to explore its work after the war when it was resettling Mennonite refugees from the Soviet Union.

In a statement, MCC said it “will use the research results to reckon with this aspect of its history.”

The historians will build on past research into Mennonite involvement with Nazism, “and bring their individual scholarly specializations to bear in examining actions MCC and staff undertook during this period.”

The research will investigate MCC’s “entanglements with national socialism before and during the war, and with its legacy as the organization resettled displaced Mennonites, including those who had served in the German army,” it said.

The research will also examine how MCC portrayed its experience of resettling Mennonite refugees in the decades after the war. 

The results will be presented to a conference in Winnipeg in September.

Rick Cober Bauman, executive director of MCC Canada, says research done so far shows “MCC wasn’t blameless” after the war.

He acknowledged MCC’s involvement with Nazis “runs counter to our reputation,” but the organization has “nothing to hide. We are eager to see what the researchers come up with. We want to have a fair and full reckoning with our history.”

He is aware the findings could have a detrimental effect on MCC, given its strong reputation for peace, humanitarianism and social justice.

But, he said, “I’m not worried about harm to MCC’s reputation. Jesus said ‘The truth will set you free.’ We won’t lose by having a deeper understanding of our own history. We want to understand and own it.”

He went on to state that MCC “is clear that it repudiates anti-Semitism” today.

Belle Jarniewski, executive director of Winnipeg’s Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, which includes the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre, welcomes the committee’s examination of its past links with Nazism.

“I think it is excellent that MCC is examining this subject,” she said. “An honest look at it is important.”

Jarniewski expects the information will be difficult to hear for MCC and members of the Mennonite community, but she believes it will be helpful for everyone when “past wrongs” are openly acknowledged.

She also hopes the research will result in a “good dialogue and useful conversation” between Winnipeg’s Mennonite and Jewish communities.

MCC’s decision to examine its past involvement with Nazis was prompted, in part, by research by historian Ben Goossen of Harvard University.

In November, the Jewish magazine Tablet published Goossen’s article The Real History of the Mennonites and the Holocaust, in which he detailed how MCC employed a refugee and former Nazi supporter by the name of Heinrich Hamm after the war. 

faith@freepress.mb.ca

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