Ministers of the Eastern District of the General Conference Mennonite Church, 1898

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Ministers of the Eastern District of the General Conference Mennonite Church, during a conference session at the Springfield meetinghouse near Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, in 1898.  While the Eastern District never printed rules for attire, ministers wore distinct garb into the late nineteenth century. Picture from left to right are Levi Schimmel, Silas Grubb, Harvey Clymer, Augustus Shuhart (layman), Jacob Moyer, Andrew Shelly, Anthony Shelly, William Gottshall, Allen Fretz, and Nathaniel Grubb.

Forrest Moyer Moyer, Archivist, Mennonite Heritage Center

Primary Source Analysis of the More-with-Less Cookbook

Isaiah Friesen

 Two millennial Mennonites, both Goshen College alumni, recently met in one of their homes to fellowship and enjoy a simple meal together around the table. As the soup simmered on the stove in the final minutes before it was ready for consumption, one of them thought he recognized the simply-designed, orange cookbook lying on his friend’s kitchen counter. “Hey, is that the More-with-Less Cookbook?” he asked. Without a trace of irony in his tone, the host replied, “It’s the only cookbook.”

imagesThe More-with-Less Cookbook was the culmination of a project sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), emerging from a desire to promote responsible eating practices in light of growing awareness of an intensifying global hunger crisis. The author, Doris Janzen Longacre, assembled recipes from other North American Anabaptists’ kitchens, as well as her own, and the result was published in 1976. Mary Emma Showalter Eby, author of an influential precursor, Mennonite Community Cookbook, wrote in her introduction to More-with-Less that it “has all the earmarks of a best seller,” highlighting its creativity and practicality as a response to a worldwide social issue.1 Indeed, Herald Press would go on to print 642,500 copies in the following twenty-five years, as well as twenty-fifth and fortieth anniversary editions.2 More than a collection of recipes, More-with-Less became a ubiquitous symbol of Mennonite theology and identity for people like these two young men. At the time, however, it was an innovative project, functioning as a bridge both within Mennonite groups and beyond, to the rest of the United States, as well as a guide in the quest to daily follow Jesus’ call to wholeness and simplicity.

To read even the first few pages of More-with-Less is to know that it is more than just a collection of recipes. In the preface, the author describes how this was a community effort, incorporating recipes gathered from cooks of various Anabaptist denominations. She also indicates that although it is not a final solution to the world hunger crisis, she believes the cookbook can be an agent for social transformation toward more faithful living. Yet she insists, “Although the book is finished, the holy frustration goes on. Do not approach this book as a set of answers for responsible change.”3 It is a sacred endeavor, and the work goes beyond cooking, beyond the publishing of this book.

With that, Janzen Longacre launches into a fifty-page manifesto on the global hunger crisis, North American overconsumption, and how eating smaller and healthier portions of food can be a faithful and even joyful Christian response to these problems. In the first section, “Less with More,” she argues that North Americans are consuming far too much sugar, protein, and processed foods, causing them to spend too much of their own budget on food and use more than their share of the planet’s resources. “Christian discipleship now calls us to turn around,” she asserts, affirming the traditional Anabaptist assumption that followers of Christ are called to live a life of repentance, counter to the culture that surrounds them.4

The second section in the manifesto addresses, in simple and straightforward terms, the faith required in order to bring about any significant change regarding the problem of global hunger. Janzen Longacre addresses the human tendency toward cynicism and indifference toward individual ethics, especially in light of large and seemingly intractable systemic injustices. It begins with communities of faithful people changing the way they themselves live, she says. Those truly committed to larger change will seek to influence public policy and programs as well, but this book is about first following Jesus by living—well, cooking—with integrity in our own homes. A move toward simpler eating will also result in better health and lower food budgets for North Americans; it is not simply an act of charity. Lest anyone lose heart for the cause even after this persuasion, she encourages readers that visible change requires committed disciples for the long haul, and in the meantime, our assurance comes “from Jesus who said, ‘Give to him who begs from you,’ ‘Give as freely as you have received,’ and ‘Give, and it will be given to you.’”5

Having addressed theological foundations for the commitment to simpler eating as a faithful step toward larger social transformation, Janzen Longacre appeals to nutrition science as she moves on to the more practical problems of establishing such a diet. Keeping with the theme of simplicity the next section,“Building a Simpler Diet,” she addresses these problems in language that regular people can understand, even as she cites scientific literature to back her claims. First, she presents lists of what to “eat more,” “use carefully,” and “avoid.” She also includes a table of the Basic Four Food Groups—dairy, protein, fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates—as promoted in United States and Canadian nutrition recommendations. She both affirms and critiques the Food Groups, her central criticism being to name the myth that humans always need more protein and it must come from meat. She delves into the various kinds of amino acids necessary to human health, how to combine different proteins in order to achieve a nutritionally complete diet, and which are the healthiest and most efficient meats (chicken and fish, for example). The rest of the chapter is packed with handy and helpful charts, graphs, lists, and tables showing suggested meal plan combinations, calorie intake recommendations, measure conversions, and tips for increasing protein content without eating more meat.6

The last section before the recipes themselves is entitled, “Eat with Joy.” This section is dedicated to reassuring readers that they can cook simply and economically at the same time as they continue to be creative and host joyful gatherings around simpler food. Janzen Longacre responds to potential qualms including, but not limited to, “Our Family Likes the Old Recipes,” “But Won’t All that Bread Make Me Fat?,” and “I Need a Simpler Way to Serve Guests.”7

This last section, though not as heavily imbued with scripture and theological language, is bookended by sayings and examples from Jesus: inviting the poor, crippled, and lame to the party; breaking bread at the Lord’s Supper with his disciples; after his resurrection, revealing himself over a shared meal. “[Jesus] invites us to join the consummation feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. Let us eat together in His name,” the author exhorts. She bemoans the growing popularity of the word “entertaining” as it relates to Christians hosting each other. “Mennonites used to just ‘have you over for dinner,’” she recalls, but she senses that their contemporary host counterparts “speak as though they are about to stage a show.”8 True joy, she reminds readers, should be based in fellowship and sharing and remembering the Lord Jesus who ate and rejoiced with people, rather than around the spectacle of fancy feasts. To this end, the following pages present specific suggestions for simpler-themed meals to host people around.

The themes of simplicity, fellowship, scriptural allusions, and practical culinary instruction are reflected throughout More-with-Less, continuing on into the recipe section which occupies the remainder of the book. Font is simple, black on plain white pages. Images of people are sparse and exclusively black and white. Each recipe section includes images of simple measuring spoons. Various sections of the book are accompanied by proverbs from other countries, scripture passages and paraphrases, poems by MCC workers, even a quote from Menno Simons himself, having to do with the value of food and sharing especially in God’s kingdom.9 Each chapter of recipes concludes with a section called “Gather Up the Fragments”—tips for how to best repurpose or preserve leftovers of the foods in that chapter—alluding to the feeding miracles of Jesus.

Some recipes are paired with stories about the dish’s significance for the family or community who submitted them, while others are annotated with cooking tips from Janzen Longacre. She highlights, for example, the Fresh Soybean-Cheese Casserole as a meat-free dish loaded with protein, “tested and enjoyed in the Goshen College Dining Hall Alternative Line.”10 Recipe contributor Rhoda King shares with regards to the Soybean Sandwich Spread recipe, “When the men combined our soybeans, I took large cans out and filled them for our eating. Lots of farm families don’t know you can do this. I soak them . . . until tender, and flavor with . . . butter and milk. The boys eat them with ketchup and mustard.”11

Especially among social justice-minded, middle-class Anabaptist Christians and even many evangelicals, More-with-Less appears to have been a smashing success, at least in terms of sales. Ron Sider, a Brethren in Christ leader and author of the influential book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, praised the cookbook for its example as a practical, embodied response to the global food distribution crisis.12 Book reviews of More-with-Less were published far and wide, and Christian groups of all stripes ordered their copies by the thousands.13 World Vision’s Stanley Mooningham and even U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield praised Janzen Longacre for the impact she made on the social conscience of the American individual, in relation to the food crisis.14

The cookbook’s impact has extended wider and later still. In 2003, a subscriber to the Countryside & Small Stock Journal recommended More-with-Less “the only cookbook a homesteader will ever need.”15 In 2011, NPR book reviewer Ellah Allfrey praised it as “[still] one of the best guides for responsible living…Turning our backs on the prevailing culture of greed and combating overconsumption by baking Fruit Moos from scratch and ‘eating with joy’ seems a deeply sensible way to save the earth—and our souls.”16 In 2015, on the eve of the cookbook’s fortieth anniversary, evangelical Christian author D.L. Mayfield named it one of her top five books for becoming a better neighbor, crediting it with changing “how I shop, eat, and grapple with food insecurity in my own neighborhood and around the world.”17 Upon the release of the More-with-Less 40th Anniversary Edition, Disciples of Christ pastor Lee Hull Moses wrote a glowing article for Christian Century entitled, “The Enduring Wisdom of More-with-Less: Recipes for a Revolution.”

Moses, however, highlights a subtle shift in formatting for the latest edition that Janzen Longacre herself might have found concerning: a change in subtitles from “suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited food resources,” as remains on the twenty-fifth anniversary edition, to “timeless recipes and inspiration for simple, joyful eating.”18 This is only the beginning of a drastic transformation evident in the edition put forth by Rachel Marie Stone. In Stone’s edition, simple poetry and cooking tips are replaced by vibrant photos of people and food, including magnificently furnished kitchens and immaculately prepared dishes. In addition to flawless food images, bright color photos of people from various countries where MCC serves are interspersed among flashy and colorful text, and recipes are labeled as to whether they are vegan, vegetarian, or gluten free. Gone is the practical spiral binding that made it possible to leave the cookbook conveniently open to the cook’s recipe of choice as they move around in the kitchen. It seems to be a piece for entertainment, to be set next to the other cookbooks too pretty to spill cooking oil on, more so than a shop manual on simple eating (as were previous editions). It seems a book likely to grab someone’s attention from a bookstore shelf, maybe even to make an attractive housewarming gift for a millennial Mennonite, more so than to transform the way they view food and resource consumption. In the back is a recommended reading list featuring Simply in Season—the latest MCC cookbook—as well as classic titles by Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan.19 This version of More-with-Less seems geared not only toward those who have plenty of food, but especially toward the cosmopolitan middle-class cookbook collector of the twenty-first century—sure to continue generating great sales.

Hopefully the More-with-Less Cookbook will continue to have a transformative impact on people’s lives and reflections in eating, whether in spite of or because of its contemporary editors’ predilection for a more showy, Pinterest-conforming presentation style. In any case, it has left a lasting legacy that continues to develop. Doris Janzen Longacre’s exhortations ring true, that it takes deep faith in order to keep working for change, beginning at the level of the individual and the community, and working up to the systemic. This cookbook will continue to offer a unique perspective on food’s place in the life of disciples and what it means to embody the Gospel of Jesus in the world.


Bibliography

Janzen Longacre, Doris. More-with-Less Cookbook. First Edition. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1976.

Janzen Longacre, Doris. More-with-Less Cookbook 25th Anniversary Edition. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2000.

Janzen Longacre, Doris, with Rachel Marie Stone. More-with-Less Cookbook 40th Anniversary Edition. Harrisonburg, Va.: Herald Press, 2016.

Mayfield, D. L. “More-with-Less Cookbook.” Christianity Today 59, no. 7 (September 2015): 74.

Moses, Lee Hull. “Recipes for a Revolution.” Christian Century 133, no. 25 (December 7, 2016): 32.

Swartz, David R. “Re-Baptizing Evangelicalism.” In The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism, 262-287. Ed. Jared S. Burkholder and David C. Cramer. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012.

“Your Favorite Books.” Countryside & Small Stock Journal 87, no. 6 (November 2003): 92.


  1.  Mary Emma Showalter Eby in introduction to Doris Janzen Longacre, More-with-Less Cookbook, First Edition (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1976), 8. 
  2. This is not to mention printings by other presses in British and German editions, bring the total to over 847,000 worldwide by 2000. By 1988 Herald Press had already thirty-six printings of the original edition for a total of 535,000 copies. See Doris Janzen Longacre, More-with-Less Cookbook 25th Anniversary Edition (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2000), ii. In comparison, the Mennonite Community Cookbook printed 374,000 copies between 1950 and 1990. 
  3. Janzen Longacre, First Ed., 7. 
  4.  Ibid., 13. 
  5.  Ibid., 24. 
  6. Ibid., 32. 
  7. Ibid., 48. 
  8. Ibid., 49. 
  9. Ibid., 6. 
  10. Ibid., 111. 
  11. Rhoda King quoted in Ibid., 114. 
  12. Ron Sider quoted in David R. Swartz, “Re-Baptizing Evangelicalism,” in The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012), 275. 
  13. Ibid., 277. 
  14. Mooningham and Hatfield quoted in Ibid., 278. 
  15. Judy Welsh in submission to “Your Favorite Books,” Countryside & Small Stock Journal 87, no. 6 (November 2003), 92. 
  16. Ellah Allfrey, “Three Books on Entering Strange New Worlds, NPR, 17 February 2011. https://www.npr.org/2011/02/17/133464039/three-books-on-entering-strange-new-worlds 
  17. D.L. Mayfield, “More-with-Less Cookbook,” Christianity Today 59, no. 7 (September 2015), 74. 
  18. Lee Hull Moses, “Recipes for a Revolution,” Christian Century 133, no. 25 (December 7, 2016), 32. 
  19. Doris Janzen Longacre with Rachel Marie Stone, More-with-Less Cookbook 40th Anniversary Edition (Harrisonburg, Va.: Herald Press, 2016), 281. 

Deep Run Mennonite Cemetery, 1949

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The old Deep Run Mennonite Cemetery, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, full of eighteenth-century fieldstone markers, photographed by Walter Rush in 1949. The brand new meetinghouse of the Deep Run “East” congregation is in the rear. This is the Franconia Conference congregation. Deep Run Mennonite Church West, of the Eastern District Conference, has a meetinghouse just a few hundred feet to the west. Today, the two congregations have a friendly and cooperative relationship. At the time of this photo, sheep were still used to keep the grass down in the cemetery.

Forrest Moyer, Archivist, Mennonite Heritage Center

Whitesburg, Kentucky, 1981

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Whitesburg, Kentucky, 1981 (MCC Photo/Jim King)

MCC first became involved in housing repair work in Letcher County, Kentucky, in 1979. Pictured here is John Nighswander of Kitchener, Ontario, repairing the support for a house near Whitesburg. In 1985, Sharing With Appalachian People (SWAP) was formed, offering short-term service opportunities in Appalachia for church groups. SWAP continues in southeastern Kentucky and West Virginia as part of MCC Great Lakes.

Frank Peachey, Mennonite Central Committee Archives

Why collect a Nazi flag?: Kauffman Museum’s Role in Confronting Our Past

Renae Stucky, Kauffman Museum, Collections Manager

In November 2016, a donor approached Kauffman Museum at Bethel College with the offer of this Nazi flag for consideration for donation. The flag belonged to the donor’s father who traveled to do relief work in Europe following WWII. The young Mennonite volunteered as a “Seagoing Cowboy” helping tend and deliver livestock being transported to war-torn countries by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and the Heifer Project. The donor believes that the flag was given to his father by a man he befriended during his time in Germany.

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While the flag has Mennonite connections, usually a decisive factor in the museum’s collections policy, its Nazi connections made it a controversial case. The decision about whether or not to accept the object evoked many questions. What would it mean to have the flag in our collection? Would accessioning the item show insensitivity to those who suffered under the Nazi regime? Or could we use the flag to expose and confront this difficult history? What role did the flag play in our mission to tell the Mennonite story?

Due to the controversial nature of the artifact, the flag was brought to the full Kauffman Museum board for consideration and discussion. Members of the board, staff, and Bethel College history faculty were invited to offer their expertise and insight to the conversation. A variety of viewpoints were presented. In preliminary correspondence, the potential donor of the flag asserted that if there was no interest in the artifact by an historical institution he would likely destroy it ceremoniously in memory of those who perished. The members of the history faculty acknowledged the sensitivity of the object, however they ultimately agreed that “there are more constructive ways” of dealing with troubling historical topics if used or displayed in the “appropriate interpretative context.”

After much discussion among the board about the flag’s Mennonite connections, the importance of not denying “painful history” and the need to address recent scholarship related to Mennonites and the Holocaust the board voted unanimously to accept the artifact into the museum’s permanent collection.

The flag was officially accessioned at the end of 2017 with the understanding that it would be used to acknowledge the difficult history surrounding the symbol, and to confront hate rather than celebrate it.

In conjuncture with the recent conference “Mennonites and the Holocaust” held at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, the flag was displayed across the street at Kauffman Museum along with several other Nazi artifacts from the museum’s collection (including artifacts brought to the United States from Mennonite colonies in South America.) The artifacts were displayed in a tall narrow case with the flag as a backdrop to a Luftwaffe dagger, an iron cross medal, and a commemorative pin from the Nazi era, and a copy of Mein Kampf. Accompanying the artifacts was interpretive text explaining the museum’s thoughtful consideration and acceptance of these Nazi artifacts, specially the flag, entitled “Why collect a Nazi flag?”

Why would Kauffman Museum collect a Nazi flag? In the same way that the conference continued the conversation about Mennonite involvement in the Holocaust, a museum has a unique opportunity to use artifacts, like this flag and others objects like it, as a catalyst for conversation about historical and current topics. We talk about these difficult issues, and display these controversial symbols, in order to confront the troubling parts of our past. If we ignore or destroy evidence of our misdeeds we risk forgetting them, letting them gather dust in the dim corners of our memory—or in this case our storage space.  However if we literally, put them on display for all to see, we are forced to come face-to-face with the reality of our past, which could change our future.

Mennonites and The Holocaust: Five Ideas I Brought Home from The Conference

Joy Kraybill

When I saw an advertisement for a 2-day conference on “Mennonites and the Holocaust” at Bethel College, I jumped at the chance to attend. My family is of Swiss-German Anabaptist descent, and in college in the mid-90s, I had majored in German. I had recently read Ben Goossen’s 2017 book, Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era and suffice it to say, I had many questions about Mennonite activity during World War II. So I took two vacation days off of work, and flew to Kansas to learn more.

The conference was intense and almost overwhelming. I came home awash with thoughts and feelings and ideas. I found it useful to synthesize the things that were running through my mind into a few key ideas. While I’m sure each attendee experienced the conference very differently, I wanted to share the five main realizations that I brought home from it:

1. Despite what we might have hoped, Mennonites seem to have reacted to the Holocaust and Nazism in much the same way as the bulk of mainstream society did.

Most Mennonites really didn’t behave any “better” or any “worse” than most other European and Russian populations did at that time. As one example, we learned at the conference about a Mennonite family who bought a store as part of the “Aryanization” efforts which essentially robbed Jews of their property and gave that property to Nazis and/or non-Jews. Apparently Mennonites were not separate from this commonplace practice at the time. Likewise, I picked up a book at the conference about a Mennonite pastor who served for 5 years in Hitler’s army. (A Witness in Times of War and Peace: The story of Gerhard Hein, a Mennonite Pastor who served in the Wehrmacht during World War II by Wilfried Hein, 2015) Next on my list is another book from the conference, Mennonite German Soliders, by Mark Jantzen, 2010. These are just some examples of many. I do not know exactly what to do with these stories just yet, but I commend the people who are finding the courage to come forward and share them. To learn about these kinds of stories within Mennonite communities is sobering and shocking, because it does not at all correlate with the image of Mennoniteism that most of us held in our minds. We assumed that Mennonites might have acted differently, and we are now learning that they generally did not. It’s hard to know what to do with this information.

2. The story likely feels different, based on your exact Mennonite roots.

Most of my family came from Switzerland, fled to Germany for about 40 years to escape the Swiss government, and then emigrated to the U.S. by the early 1700s in search of better farming conditions. By the time Hitler rose to power, all of my relatives had already been living in the U.S. for over 200 years. As I sat in the conference, I realized that this perspective probably distanced me quite a bit from the topic, in comparison to Mennonites whose families were still living in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s, for instance. Likewise, it was clear to me that Mennonites whose families were living in Poland or Germany in the 1920s and 1930s had much closer ties to the Holocaust topic than my family did. I’m not saying one situation is better or worse; I’m saying that I suddenly realized that because my family line was 200+ years removed from the countries in which the war directly took place, it distanced me from this topic more than other Mennonites may feel. Your specific Mennonite ethnicity and lineage probably matters a lot, when it comes to this topic.

3. This begs the question of what each of our individual accountability is, for the role of Mennonites in the Holocaust.

I sat in the conference, reflecting on the fact that we were discussing Mennonites’ actions in other countries, about 30-40 years before I was born. And I began to ask myself: As a person of Swiss Mennonite heritage, what is my accountability in all of this? The issues in question happened on another continent(s), decades before I was born. But despite that, I don’t think that allows me to say, “Oh, but I’m not one of those Mennonites—my family was Swiss Mennonite, and we had already been in the U.S. since the 1700s.” Drawing that kind of a line seems to negate the point of belonging to a group, and doesn’t seem like it would lead to anything good. However, on the flip side, does that mean that I share accountability for anything that any Mennonite in any country, in any time period does? If I identify as Mennonite, do I bear the responsibility for what Mennonites in Europe were doing before I was born?

4. When it comes to history, we need to rethink our Mennonite school curriculums.

I am a graduate of a Mennonite high school and a Mennonite college. I never heard a thing about Mennonites and the Holocaust from any Mennonite educational institution. I realize that we are just first now learning about Mennonite roles in the Holocaust, in very recent years. This explains why it was not discussed during my education in the 1990s. However, what this has also led me to reflect upon is the amount of classroom education I received about the history of the original Anabaptist church formation vs. the amount of classroom time spent discussing how Anabaptists applied their faith during major historical eras over the following centuries. The difference is shocking. We were schooled extensively on the original founding of the Anabaptist faith, and almost not at all on how Anabaptists applied that faith during the major historical eras of the following centuries. Hopefully this balance has shifted since my schooling in the 1990s. We clearly need to move away from reveling endlessly in the stories of the 1500s and also prepare students for how one applies that same faith in other settings over time.

5. The Mennonite world hasn’t confronted its role in World War II, and it doesn’t seem to have made any amends for it. We have to do better than nothing.

Towards the end of the conference, one of the speakers concluded his presentation with a very compelling observation that the Mennonite world has not confronted its role in World War II, and that it hasn’t processed it, and that it hasn’t attempted to reconcile it in any way. I would love for someone to show me how that speaker’s assessment is wrong, but from what I can tell so far, he is exactly, and painfully, right. I do not pretend to know how one makes right things that are so wrong. Huge, overwhelming atrocities have occurred, and they cannot be easily righted—most of them can’t really be righted at all. However, I do hope that we, as a faith community, can do better than doing nothing. We are going to have to do better than nothing, if we want to uphold the values we believe in. It seems to me that at the bare minimum we want to be thinking about what our apology statement might look like, and who (which organizations) an apology statement would come from. We clearly have a very, very long way to go on all of this—what I am flagging here is that I don’t really see us as having a choice not to do anything further, now that we are suddenly learning the truth.

In conclusion, I want to note again how grateful I am to the people who have been courageous enough to share their stories. It is only because of the people who have bravely shared their stories that we are able to grow in our group identity and better understand ourselves as a faith community.

How Mennonites Reckon with our History in the Holocaust

Lisa Schirch

Bethel College should be applauded for taking the leadership to organize the “Mennonites and the Holocaust” conference March 16-17, 2018. Because of a generous grant from Israel/Palestine Partners in Peacemaking initiative of MCUSA, I was able to attend the conference.  Across the street from Bethel College’s campus, the Kauffman Museum portrays a history of Mennonites that illustrates the type of commonly told positive narrative of our beliefs, pacifism, martyrdom, humanitarian work and community. While there are stories of Mennonites opposing the Nazis and hiding Jews in this history, the recently revealed story of Mennonites and the Holocaust feels like a betrayal of everything I’ve been taught over the last fifty years of attending and working for Mennonite institutions. There is a terrible chapter in our history that has been intentionally silenced and absent from my education. Records of Mennonite history are like Swiss cheese: full of holes that leave out our participation in the holocaust. It is important for the church to reflect on how we reckon with this history and what this history requires us to do.

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Jerusalem at Sunrise

Beyond Academic Discussions

This is not just an abstract, academic conversation among historians who compete to document the facts of this history. Many people in the audience at the conference were experiencing intense emotions because of the shocking revelations about Mennonite complicity and participation in the Holocaust.

I grew up in the Mennonite community of Bluffton, Ohio, where I never heard anything anti-semitic. I was encouraged to read Jewish literature as a kid and was taught to have nothing but respect for Judaism. I was taught to commit to “Never Again” and took up a career in peacebuilding to prevent genocide. On the other hand, I never heard any Mennonite discuss broader church responsibility for the anti-semitism or the Holocaust. In hindsight, this is problematic. Christians are generally unaware of the long history of Christian persecution of Jews.

Last fall, I led Eastern Mennonite University’s study abroad program to Israel and Palestine where we focused on Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilding efforts. My husband is Jewish, and we are raising our children to be both Jewish and Mennonite. We know at least fifteen other Jewish-Mennonite families. For us, this is not just history. I was flooded with emotion hearing about Mennonites participating in massacres of Jewish families or Mennonites taking Jewish land. 

My first thought was this: ethnic Mennonites went from participating in the Holocaust, to helping Palestinian refugees, to denouncing Israeli occupation. Where in this story did ethnic Mennonites help Jewish refugees or stand up for Jewish rights at the same scale? How dare Mennonites act self-righteous in their relentlessly critical stance toward Israel when these Mennonites literally pushed Jews out of their homes and some of those Jews fled to Palestine, where my Palestinian friends were pushed out of their homes. This is a sick and twisted history where Mennonite victims hurt Jewish victims who hurt Palestinian victims. And of these three groups, Jews suffered the most.

The role of Mennonites in the Holocaust has direct impacts on Mennonite-Jewish families, the integrity of Mennonite peacebuilding efforts in Israel and Palestine, and our collective voice on issues of peace and justice.

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Synagogue Bimah in Migdal, beside the Galilee, where Jesus studied. The bimah is the Seed of Life symbol, a symbol used to represent the sacredness of life in many religions.

Emotional Intelligence and Personal Sharing

During the first few panels of the conference, members of the audience shared personal stories. These were a necessary part of the audience digesting and processing the information provided by researchers. But it was not without consequence.

A Mennonite holocaust denier, Bruce Leichty, attended parts of the conference. Leichty is a California-based lawyer known for representing the Holocaust deniers Ernst Zundel and his Mennonite wife Ingrid Rimland Zundel. Leichty has passed out anti-semitic literature at the past several MCUSA gatherings. At the introduction of the conference, the organizers told the audience there was someone attending the conference who they were watching. But many were not in the room or did not understand what was being said. When Leichty began to ask an offensive question during the conference, the organizers removed him by calling campus security, but did not inform the audience of who the man was or why he was being removed. The lack of communication confused many in the audience.

Minutes earlier, a Jewish participant in the audience shared about her discomfort at the emotionally inappropriate discussion of these topics. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for her to stand up in a room where she was alone in representing the Jewish people to a group of Mennonites. She noted the lack of acknowledgment that the stories being told were about people like her and included her relatives. She expressed offence at the laughter and lighthearted comments that were tone-deaf to the seriousness of the stories being told. For example, one panelist mentioned there were “fifty shades of Mennonite collaboration” which was met with laughter. She asked, “you’re laughing at the number of ways your people were involved in the genocide against my people?” I felt pain and embarrassment over the behavior of “my people.” Perhaps Mennonites are so allergic to grief that some choose to laugh inappropriately instead? This was so awkward and uncomfortable. But what came next made it worse, not better.

Panel moderators immediately told the audience we were no longer allowed to share personally. They informed us we were only allowed to write down our questions on slips of paper and submit these to the moderators. Coming immediately after the sharing of a Jewish woman, while a number of us in the audience were in tears, it was hard to understand the logic. No one explained this decision.

A trauma expert, facilitator or pastor could have helped the conference audience recognize and make space for the personal impacts we might experience during the conference. We could have acknowledged that people in the room would feel a range of emotions. We might have been reminded that laughter can be therapeutic but that we need to be careful to understand that inappropriate laughter can also be harmful.

The body and brain are not separate. I have attended many academic conferences that also include elements that address emotion and spirituality. It is not either/or. A conference can be both academic and address the intense emotional significance of a subject.

It is not possible or desirable to have an academic conference on a topic involving discussion of Mennonite complicity in the genocide of six million Jews and other groups without the expression of emotion. This insistence that the conference ONLY be academic and heady, without allowing other people to participate in shaping elements to support emotional, spiritual and personal responses was harmful. Because several conference attendees had mentioned this need for a grief room, candle or prayers to the conference organizers before and during the conference with no response. It appeared as if the organizers themselves were unable to imagine or acknowledge the emotion that might emerge from the academic discussions, overwhelmed when audience members shared their personal responses, and felt deeply uncomfortable with giving up some control of the conference and allowing others to help facilitate aspects of the program.

For a conference about Mennonite collaboration with the Nazis, it felt in form like Mennonites are still infected with some lingering patriarchal, authoritarian mindsets. There was only one person of color involved as a panel moderator. White men were in charge. No emotion was allowed. Participants were restricted in how they participated. Offers to help facilitate grief circles were seemingly ignored. There was no collective accountability or statement of responsibility. The tone and form of the conference felt offensive given the weight of the facts presented.

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Statue of Mother Mary standing on Jewish Covenant representing Supercessionist Theology

Ramifications for Mennonite Theology, History, and Institutions Today

For decades, Mennonite historians and theologians have searched for a coherent statement of our history and theology. History impacts theology. While the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) is planning a theology conference to address this history in 2020, it feels strange to try to completely separate out a history conference from a theology conference or to have to wait two more years to take church action on this history. Mennonite complicity with the Holocaust requires action in the present. This is not just an academic historical topic – this history disrupts Mennonite narratives about ourselves, our history, our theology, and our current struggle with racism in the church. Mennonite Nazi connections and theologies of racial superiority continue to have impact today. 

The role of Mennonites and the Holocaust requires an acknowledgement and a statement to Jewish groups that we are undergoing a process of accountability and repentance and invite their participation in how we best do that.  I am curious to understand the rationale for not inviting Jewish participants to attend these conferences where we are wrestling with how we are accountable.

The Bethel conference included papers about German and Dutch Mennonite theology, Some challenged Nazi theology. Some justified Nazi theology. But these scholarly panels made no reference to how the story of Mennonites and the Holocaust seriously disrupts today’s narrative of Mennonite theology.

  • Some Mennonite theologians took part in Nazi racial science, opened church records, and asserted with Nazis that “morals pass through blood.” This is seemingly in direct opposition to Anabaptist beliefs about adult baptism.
  • Some Mennonites in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Ukraine and elsewhere rejected pacifism and joined the military to defend national interests. This directly challenges the narrative of Anabaptist nonviolence.
  • Just as West Germany went through a process of self-reflection and intentional de-Nazification, so too does the Mennonite Church need an explicit de-Nazification effort to address the lingering anti-semitism that informs our history and church culture.
  • Mennonite-born White Nationalist leader Ben Klassen is one of the two main figures of the white nationalist movement in North America.  Ben Klassen grew up in a Mennonite colony in Ukraine and read Mein Kampf there. He credits Mennonite theology for his white supremacy.  Regrettably, Klassen is not an aberration. Some Mennonites have reinforced the ideology of white supremacy in unique ways in US and Canadian history. White nationalism is a serious threat to Muslims, Jews, First Nations, African Americans, Latinos and all people of color and non-Christians in North America today. The white supremacists in Charlottesville last summer were carrying the words of Mennonite-born Ben Klassen. In sharing the history of Mennonite roles in the Holocaust with friends on Facebook, the strongest response has been from African American friends who repeatedly reported that they were “not at all surprised.” Racism and anti-semitism stem from the same superiority narrative and belief that “morals pass through blood.” Friends recounted how they didn’t get jobs at Mennonite institutions even though they were clearly more qualified than the “ethnic Mennonites” who were hired. Our current work on racism needs to be informed now by this history.
  • The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) story has been told in a way that has suppressed the fact that Russian Mennonites were both victims and perpetrators. At the conference, we heard that MCC storyteller Peter Dyck told stories that intentionally deceived not only immigration agents, but also the Mennonite church at large. MCC has hidden the fact that some Russian Mennonites were Nazi leaders and collaborators. The whole story of MCC needs to be retold. MCC needs to reckon with its founding, its relationship to Jews, and its programming in Israel and Palestine which to date has focused almost entirely on the Palestinian narrative without acknowledging Jewish connection to the land and need for control over their safety following centuries of persecution. MCC is holding a 100-year anniversary conference in 2020. Hopefully, this awful history can be addressed, and real action can take place to be accountable for both these historic wrongs and the glaring absence of attention to Jewish connections to the land of Israel just as Palestinians are connected to the land of Palestine, and the need for safety for both Jews and Palestinians.
  • Who will be held to account for suppressing this awful history? Some scholars in the audience at the conference shared that they had tried to raise this history with Mennonite institutions thirty to forty years ago. Church leaders intentionally silenced these voices, diminished the Mennonite role in the Holocaust, and continued to leave out this history. Even today, I’ve heard a dozen Mennonite scholars assert that Ben Goossen’s historical survey of this history in his book Chosen Nation: Mennonites and Germany in a Global Era is an “exaggeration” or “not footnoted carefully.” When I ask for specifics, it turns out they haven’t yet read the book. But they are clearly eager to downplay the significance of this history (which, as a fellow scholar, I think is well footnoted). This failure to take responsibility and to illustrate accountability and repentance is familiar to those of us who have worked on the history of sexual abuse in the Mennonite church.  Mennonite leaders practice denial and suppression of any facts about Mennonites that are not flattering. They give speeches over and over about Mennonite values, our humility, our history of persecution, our work for reconciliation and justice. But they leave out any truthful acknowledgement of our failings.  They seem to think they can keep these terrible histories down by ignoring and suppressing them.  But truth always has a way of coming out. And the church is more likely to suffer lack of integrity by the failure of Mennonite leadership to confront these problems than it will if it admits the failures of the past.
  • Mennonites and Jews have a unique history. For centuries before the holocaust, Jews and Mennonites were persecuted together. European states applied special taxes, restrictions on public office, and allowed Mennonites and Jews only to live in certain areas. Helen Stolzfus is a Mennonite friend also married to a Jewish man, and also raising her children as both Mennonite and Jewish. Helen gave a reading of a play she and her husband wrote about their discussions of this painful history of Mennonite roles in the long history of anti-semitism. In the play, her Mennonite ancestors and her husband’s Jewish ancestors talk to each other. I know fifteen or so other Mennonite-Jewish families, at least. I don’t know that many Mennonites married to any other groups, not Mennonite Catholics, or Quakers, or Muslims. So why do Mennonites and Jews intermarry so often? And what more can we learn about the history of this, for Mennonite friends have also found they have Jewish blood. Mennonites also need to look into this broader history between Mennonites and Jews.
  • Finally, Mennonites pride themselves as being “authentic” Christians who attempt to return to the teachings of the early church, before the Council of Nicaea and before Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire. Of course, Jesus and the early church were Jewish. Jesus was very clear he was an observant Jew and was not trying to start a new religion. While traveling though Galilee last fall with my students from EMU, we visited the synagogues where Jesus studied. We learned many new things about Jesus, seeing him through the eyes of our Israeli and Palestinian guides. If Mennonites actually want to practice an authentic way of following Jesus, we are going to need to learn more about Judaism.

Mennonite history classes, books and museums need to tell this newly-revealed story of Mennonites and the Holocaust. The positive narrative of Mennonites needs to include the angels and demons in our histories. We can’t wait another few years to address Mennonite history and theology. It will take a lifetime for me to recover a positive sense of identity after learning all of this. And Mennonites have some serious work to do in taking responsibility for those Mennonites who did these terrible things. We urgently need to begin talking about the ramifications of this history now.

As a witness to this conference and this history, I feel shame, grief, and immense sadness. This history disrupts my world, my identity, and my relationships.