The Mennonite Central Committee, referring to its wartime involvement with Nazism, says the MCC’s humanitarian work before and during the Second World War did not always reflect its core values.

The Mennonite Central Committee, referring to its wartime involvement with Nazism, says the MCC’s humanitarian work before and during the Second World War did not always reflect its core values.

The statement by Rick Cober Bauman, the executive director of MCC Canada, and Anne Graber Hershberger, the executive director of MCC U.S., was released Monday. The organization said it “grieves and repents of the harm caused by MCC’s actions and inactions during this period.”

It went on to say that the MCC is committed to do a “better telling” of the story of the MCC during that historic period and will be taking “reparative steps over the coming months and years.”

This includes not glossing over how the MCC worked with pro-Nazi Mennonites in carrying out humanitarian efforts in the 1930s and 1940s, and how some MCC workers in wartime France were slow to take action to protect Jews under threat from pro-Nazi forces.

The statement was released as a follow-up to research conducted by scholars across North America about MCC’s entanglement with Nazism in the 1930s and ’40s. The findings of that research were presented in a journal published last year and at a conference at the University of Winnipeg this fall.

As part of its broader anti-racist commitment, the MCC said it will continue to provide financial support for ongoing historical research into its involvement with Nazism, review and update how it portrays its post-Second World War refugee resettlement efforts and renew its determination to act against antisemitism.

Bauman said the organization also solicited feedback from supporters.

The majority of the feedback was positive, he said, but there were some who felt the MCC should leave the past alone. That sentiment was mostly expressed by some Mennonites who traced their roots back to the flight from Ukraine after the Second World War. Some, he said, felt their family’s history had been “sullied” by the research.

When it comes to telling the story of the MCC during that period, the organization wants to “both understand and tell a more nuanced and fulsome story” about its actions, Cober Bauman said.

Past narratives tended to paint the MCC as heroic and Mennonites as victims, he said.

“We don’t want to take away from the fact there was huge suffering,” Cober Bauman said, adding it was appropriate for the MCC to “come alongside people who needed help and a new start.”

But, he said, “We want to be transparent about the degree to which MCC had become entangled with National Socialism.”

Training about antisemitism for MCC staff members will take into account how it has “seeped into all parts of the Christian community, including MCC,” Cober Bauman said, adding the organization intends to “work hard against it.”

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Belle Jarniewski, executive director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, said the MCC is to be commended for the statement.

“This is a positive and important step forward on the part of MCC,” she said.

But, she said, “as important as it is for MCC to recognize its history of antisemitism during and after the Holocaust, I would like to see MCC address contemporary antisemitism by adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.”

Dan Stone, a professor emeritus at the University of Winnipeg, said the “MCC has taken an important and courageous step in confronting its own failure to follow its core values and identified positive actions to be taken.”

He said he would like to see the organization “examine the reasons for its past failure and look to see if these reasons persist up to the present day.”

faith@freepress.mb.ca

John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.