Session Four: The Netherlands
“Dutch Mennonite Theologians and Nazism”
Pieter Post, United Mennonite Church of Heerenveen and Tjalleberd
- Post contrasted the thought and practice of Cornelis Bonnes Hylkema (author of Werkelijkheids-theologie [The Theology of Reality] (1932), among other works) and Fritz Kuiper (author of De Gemeente in de Wereld [The Church in the World] (1941) among others). Hylkema was a retired minister from Haarlem who regarded himself as an idealist and historian. Kuiper was a minister in Alkmaar, a member of the Social Democratic Workers Party, and founder of the “Committee for Socialism and the Church.” Post analyzed how each understood the relationship between church and state, Anabaptism, nonresistance, and the faith community.
- Hylkema emphasized love of God as an example for the National Socialist party and believed that Christians should submit to the state as part of God’s creation order. Hylkema agreed with the Anabaptist tenet that violence was not in the spirit of Christ but was not himself a pacifist. Instead he argued that “a Christian people is armed and able bodied” who would fight in the name of God. He also understood the church to be a universalist faith community that offered a common grace and a “place of refuge for the spirit in a turbulent reality.”
- Kuiper believed in the strict separation of church and state, where the church serves to remind the world of God’s commandments. As a social democrat, Kuiper emphasized the freedom of Christians to choose whichever party expressed biblical justice and believed that the faith community must be prepared to suffer in order to preserve its independence. After the execution of two of his friends, however, he confessed to a friend that he “no longer had the courage to believe in peace work.” He viewed the faith community as a service of reconciliation.
“Dutch Mennonites and the Yad Vashem Recognition”
Alle Hoekema, professor emeritus, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
- Hoekema used testimonies collected by the Yad Vashem and other sources from Dutch Mennonite communities to narrate the stories of individuals who aided Jewish neighbors and friends during the Holocaust.
- He emphasized the importance of community networks and argued that most people were motivated to help, not because of their religious faith or Mennonite identity, but a more general sense of common humanity.
- He concluded by highlighting several patterns that emerged from his analysis of Dutch Mennonites who were recognized. Most were upper-middle class, many were involved in resistance movements, few later spoke about their experiences, and most saw their actions as normal rather than extraordinary.
“From War Criminal in the Netherlands to Mennonite Abroad and Back to Prison in the Netherlands”
David Barnouw, researcher emeritus, Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies
- Barnouw narrated the story of Jacob Luitjens, a Dutch collaborator with the Nazi regime during World War II. After the war, Luitjens managed to flee to Paraguay, claiming Mennonite identity and adopting the pseudonym Gerhard Harder. He later moved to Canada but was eventually arrested and extradited to the Netherlands where he was tried and convicted of war crimes.
- Barnouw highlighted how Luitjens made strategic use of his Mennonite identity and connections in the Mennonite community to avoid prosecution for his wartime collaboration. In court proceedings, he said “I told my God and He forgave me.”
- Luitjens spent time in jail but was release before serving his full sentence. Stripped of his Canadian citizenship and denied the rights of Dutch citizenship, Luitjens exists as a person without a state. Barnouw is unable to confirm whether Luitjens is still living.
Session Five: German Mennonite Responses in Theology and Memory
“German Mennonite Theology in the Era of National Socialism”
Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, Tyndale Seminary
- Neufeldt-Fast’s paper used the writings of German Mennonite church leaders to analyze the underlying logic that led most of them – from across the theological and ideological spectrum – to accept and promote National Socialist ideology.
- Drawing upon Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of the “gardening state,” Neufeldt-Fast argued that most leaders came to embrace National Socialism’s “order-making, instrumental rationale” of a modern German society in which some plants should be protected and cared for while others should be segregated, contained, removed, or destroyed.
- While earlier writings of theologians were not explicitly anti-Semitic, they did not condemn Nazi racial doctrine as heresy. By the late 1930s, however, many actively drew upon contemporary understandings of race and blood purity to argue for the expulsion of Jewish people from Germany.
- Neufeldt-Fast ended his discussion with a call for a critical evaluation of Mennonite theology and the need to develop a post-Holocaust theology.
“Judaism as Argument: German Mennonites between Anti-Semitism and the Old Testament God”
Astrid von Schlachta, Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein (paper delivered by John Thiesen in her absence)
- In her paper, Astrid von Schlachta used sermons and other publications to explore the range of theological convictions among German Mennonites on the role and use of the Old Testament in the church during the 1930s.
- Von Schlachta argued that there was not a unified opinion among Mennonites on the matter and that the influence of National Socialist ideology on Mennonite interpretations of Judaism in the Old Testament depended upon the context.
- While some interpretations were clearly anti-Semitic, other authors pushed back against a racialized view of the Old Testament and argued for its continued relevance for Mennonites and other Christians.
“Selective Memory: Danziger Mennonite Reflections on the Nazi Era, 1945-1950”
Steve Schroeder, University of the Fraser Valley
- Steve Schroeder drew from oral histories and memoirs to examine how Mennonites from Danzig remembered and explained their experiences during and after World War II. While other Christians in Germany were forced to account for their actions under allied occupation, Danziger Mennonites emigrated and were able to avoid critical reflection on their actions.
- Schroeder used the framework of cycles of grief and loss – denial, bargaining, and acceptance – to categorize Mennonite memories of the Nazi era. Although many supported the Nazi regime and identified as ethnic Germans during the war, afterwards many made strategic use of their religious identity as Mennonites, distancing themselves from the German nation in an effort to seek asylum abroad.
- Schroeder ended with a call to continue a critical examination of the role that Mennonites have played, not only in the Holocaust, but also colonial and other systems in which they continue to participate and from which they continue to benefit.