Mennonites and the Holocaust: Panels on The Netherlands and German Mennonite Responses

Session Four: The Netherlands20180317_095008.jpg

“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 Memory20180317_103617.jpg

“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.

America’s Pastor among the “Quiet in the Land”: Billy Graham and North American Anabaptists, Part I

In the summer of 1951, two Mennonites from Virginia — brothers George and Lawrence Brunk — and a team of workers erected a large tent capable of seating 6,000 people in a field in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. For the next seven weeks, area Mennonites flocked to the tent to hear George preach and Lawrence lead the singing. The services featured all the trappings of had come to define the American revivalist tradition: expressive preaching, compelling music, modern methods of advertising and promotion, and invitations for listeners to leave their seats, walk down the aisle to the altar, and experience a religious conversion. According to reports, hundreds of people came forward at the Lancaster meetings to convert to Christianity for the first time, to renew their covenant as members of the Mennonite Church, or to make a deeper consecration as Christians.1

A man stands with his back facing the camera. He is preaching to a large crowd under a large white canvas tent.

George R. Brunk II speaks during a revival service in the 1950s. Note the large crowd sitting under the massive tent, as well as the signage at the front of the stage. Both of these elements, along with elements of Brunk’s preaching style, are borrowed from another mid-century revivalist: Billy Graham. (Source: Theron F. Schlabach Photograph Collection [HM4-378 Box 1 Folder 4 photo], Mennonite Church USA Archives, Goshen, Indiana)

After closing the event in Lancaster, the Brunk brothers traveled east to Souderton, Pennsylvania, where they held a five-week series of meetings. An article in the Gospel Herald reported that 2,500 people attended the meetings on weekday evenings, an an additional ten to twelve thousand on weekends or closing nights. Those who came to the altar confessing sin and seeking a conversion experience were invited to share their testimony. And yet, attuned to Mennonite expectations about decorum, the Gospel Herald writer also made clear that the meetings were conducted appropriately and without excessive emotionalism.2 From Souderton, the Brunk brothers conducted campaigns in Orville, Ohio and Manheim, Pennsylvania, before the end of 1951. Their crusades continued throughout the 1950s and 1960s.3

The Brunks’ work inspired others. In 1952, after attending the Brunks’ services in Ohio the previous year, Mennonite preachers Myron Augsburger and Howard Hammer each began careers as evangelists, adopting a style cribbed from the Brunk Brothers.4 Also in 1952, a Brethren in Christ minister from Mount Joy, Pennsylvania — John Rosenberry — launched the Living Hope Gospel Campaign and began holding revival meetings in the local area. Rosenberry and his team borrowed the Brunks’ tent for their first series of meetings.5

A large crowd of people sit under a large canvas tent watching a preacher behind a podium. Large signs are posted behind him, proclaiming Christian messages.

A scene from one of John Rosenberry’s Living Hope Gospel Campaign tent meetings, probably in the early 1950s. Note the use of a large canvas tent (just like the Brunk brothers and, before them, Graham) and dramatic signage. (Source: Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives, Messiah College, Mechanicsburg, Pa.)

One scholar has noted that these revival meetings “were a dramatic change from traditional Mennonite experience.”6 While revivalism per se was not new to Anabaptists, the style of these mid-century meetings — massive tents, dramatic signage behind and in front of the pulpits, branded materials such as logos, the use of technology such as speakers, and more — were clearly different than those used by previous generations. Anabaptists in the mid-twentieth century were embodying a modern revival style.7

What inspired these Mennonites and Brethren in Christ to launch revival meetings? The answer, quite simply, is Billy Graham.

Today, in popular memory, Graham — who died last week at the age of 99 — is remembered as an evangelist, a presidential confidant, and an influential icon of American evangelicalism. As then-President George W. Bush noted in 2007, Graham was “America’s pastor.”

Moreover, in the historiography of American Christianity, Graham has come to symbolize conservative Protestantism’s move from fundamentalist isolationism to irenic neo-evangelicalism. Graham’s ascendance to the national stage in the late 1940s and early 1950s marked a public “resurgence” (to use the language of Joel A. Carpenter) in conservative Protestantism. Christians from various denominational backgrounds flocked to Graham’s rallies, subscribed to Graham’s periodicals, listened to Graham’s radio program, and watched Graham’s films. In a way, Graham served to unite those communities fragmented by sectarian differences and fundamentalist-modernist schisms.

Indeed, Graham was a symbol of this conservative Protestant resurgence after World War II. But he also modeled a style that characterized this resurgence — a style emulated by well-intentioned imitators such as the Brunks, Hammer, Augsburger, and Rosenberry. As his biographer, the Duke Divinity School historian Grant Wacker, has argued, Graham was a product of his age — an evangelist who rose to fame amid the midcentury rise of mass popular media, youth culture, and organizational efficiency. From the start of his ministry Graham delivered his sermons in a crisp, compelling, and direct manner that mirrored the style of contemporaries such as the news broadcaster Walter Winchell. His preaching was backed up by heartwarming testimonies and toe-tapping music. Moreover, Graham was tall and handsome, perfectly suited to captivate audiences and appear on newsprint pages and glossy magazine covers. And behind him stood the well-oiled Billy Graham Evangelistic Association machine, comprised of a small army of professionals and staffers who promoted Graham’s services through slick advertising, organized and streamlined his growing throng of volunteers, and armed his old-fashioned tent-style meetings with dramatic signage that grabbed the attention of the audience almost as much as Graham’s preaching.8

This period newsreel from Graham’s first revival crusade, held in a Los Angeles field under a big canvas tent in 1949, showcases some of the style that captivated audiences and inspired Anabaptist imitators.

Of course, these methods evolved over time: Graham’s first crusade, held in a Los Angeles field under a big canvas tent in 1949, was a far cry from the stadiums and amphitheaters he filled later in his career. But for midcentury Mennonites and other Anabaptists, this early style was simple enough — yet also sufficiently modern — that they believed they could borrow it, adapt it, and deploy it effectively in order to bring about what they saw as much-needed spiritual renewal in their churches.

Yet it was more than just the would-be Anabaptist evangelists who were drawn to Graham’s style. As the Goshen College historian John D. Roth recently observed in an article for The Mennonite, Graham influenced not only imitators within the Anabaptist fold but also directly inspired the many Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, and other Anabaptist laypeople that attended his crusades:

Long before Mennonites were comfortable with the “ecumenical movement,” they were participating fully in the Billy Graham revival crusades. Many of us were attracted by the biblicism, clarity and simplicity of Graham’s message, and the “altar call” fit well with our conviction that following Jesus should be a public decision. Not least, the Billy Graham crusades offered Mennonites a chance to enter alongside their neighbors into the evangelical mainstream. The long-term impact of Graham’s impact on the Mennonite community has been profound.

As Roth’s comments suggest, many Mennonites embraced Graham, his message, and his style. The work of the Brunks, Hammer, Augsburger, and Rosenberry reflects this positive assessment; they saw his success and the response to his message and style, and sought to emulate it. And the activities of these Anabaptist evangelists would make an important impact on mid-century North American Anabaptism, especially in terms of their relationship to the wider evangelical Protestant world.

But not all Mennonites held such a positive view of Graham or American evangelicalism — or their influence on North American Anabaptism. In my next post, I want to explore some of the negative reactions to America’s pastor. Then, in a final post, I want to use these reflective comments about Graham’s influence as a jumping off point for thinking about one of my major areas of research interest: the relationship between Anabaptism and evangelical Protestantism in twentieth century America. Stay tuned!


  1. Harold S. Bender and Sam Steiner, “Brunk Brothers Revival Campaign,” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, 2009, and Maurice E. Lehman, “The Lancaster Revival,” Gospel Herald, September 4, 1951, 852-853, cited in Beulah Stauffer Hostetler, American Mennonites and Protestant Movements: A Community Paradigm (Scotdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1978), 281-282. 
  2. Paul M. Lederach, “Revival in Franconia,” Gospel Herald, September 18, 1951, 902-903, cited in Hostetler, American Mennonites and Protestant Movements, 281-282. 
  3. Bender and Steiner, “Brunk Brothers Revival Campaign.” 
  4. James O. Lehman, Mennonite Tent Revivals: Howard Hammer and Myron Augsburger, 1952-1962 (Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2002). 
  5. E. Morris Sider, Called to Evangelism: The Life and Ministry of John L. Rosenberry (Nappanee, Ind.: Evangel Press, 1988), 90-92. 
  6. Sam Steiner, “Brunk, George Rowland (1911-2002),” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, 2016. 
  7. This point regarding revivalism is especially true of the Brethren in Christ, who were engaged in such religious activity as early as the late nineteenth century. See Morris N. Sherk, “Tent Evangelism Among the Brethren in Christ,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 11, no. 2 (August 1988): 157-204. 
  8. This assessment of Graham’s style comes from Grant Wacker, “Billy Graham’s America,” Church History 78, no. 3 (September 2009): 500-504. See also Wacker, America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation (Cambridge, Mass.: Bellknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014). 

King William I Allows Mennonites to Serve as Noncombatants, Forcing Mennonites to Chose Emigration or Military Service in Some Form

Mennonites Accept and Contest Military Service in the German East: A Sesquicentennial Series

The five Mennonite elders who had spent over a week in Berlin at the end of February had petitioned the king for an audience on February 20 and used that audience to press their case for a full exemption in exchange for additional cash or medical services provided as civilians. If that was not possible, they wanted a temporary reprieve from the draft which had been imposed by law on November 9, 1867, in order to sell their farms and households before emigrating. The result of their visit and other currents swirling in Prussian politics was that on March 3, 1868, the king signed an executive order granting them the right to serve as non-combatants, a deal that satisfied the vast majority of Mennonites while around fifteen percent ended up emigrating to Russia or the United States. This momentous cabinet or executive order is quoted here in full:

The High Royal Executive Order of March 3, 1868

Because the Confederation law On the Requirement to Serve in the Military, dated November 9, 1867, revoked the Mennonites’ former exemption from personal military service, I declare that the members of the older Mennonite families who do not volunteer to perform normal military duty shall, in accordance with your report of February 29 of this year, be trained to fulfill their military obligations as medics, militia clerks, artisans, and teamsters I hereby permit the Mennonites drafted as militia clerks to be released from firing range training. You are charged with arranging the necessary details.
Berlin, March 3, 1868
(signed) William
To the Minister of War and the Minister of the Interior
(signed) von Roon (signed) Count Eulenburg1

The tussle over how to implement the new draft law for Mennonites had involved the two bureaucracies most responsible for implementing it, the Ministry of War and the Ministry of the Interior, which administered the draft. War Minister Albrecht von Roon, and his temporary replacement, Theophil von Podbielski, thought Mennonites should be spared, since they believed that their religious concerns were genuine and their legal case, that royal privileges trumped parliamentary laws and even constitutions, was valid. It was, in short, a convenient way to forward their political program of maintaining monarchical power. Interior Minister Friedrich zu Eulenburg insisted that the law be followed and that the debate in the North German Confederation Diet had made clear that the lawmakers wanted the Mennonites drafted. Using the Mennonites, he could advance his political program of strengthening the rule of law over the power of the king. The tie breaker in this cabinet disagreement was Chancellor Bismarck, who did not want to be bothered with this arcane religious detail and wanted the machinery of government unstuck and moving forward.2

As a result of this political positioning and the king’s request to resolve the matter, the two ministers drafted an executive order with a copy going to Bismarck and sent it to the king for his consideration on February 29. Their rationale included many caveats. For example, only forty Mennonites a year would be drafted from the congregations along the Vistula River that opposed the draft. This was a much lower number than the one hundred and forty that was thrown around in the parliamentary debates. Since the number was so low it would be easier to implement exceptional rules. In addition, the order would treat all Mennonites in the newly expanded Prussia equally. There were not many Mennonites elsewhere in Prussia and many of them were willing to serve already, so the principle of equality everywhere could be held up without much additional risk of losing soldiers.

Exceptions were made for letting Mennonites serve as orderlies in the hospitals or as clerks. Traditionally, those jobs were reserved for soldiers who had completed their initial duty. However, since one could assume that the Mennonites would both be inclined to serve in these roles and generally exhibit good will, they would be excused from qualifying for them first. The artisans referred specifically only to tailors, cobblers, and saddlers. The teamsters would have to prove prior experience with horses and need to carry arms in any case for use if their wagons were attacked, so non-combatant does not quite capture what is offered here. Roon was skeptical this assignment would be acceptable. Nonetheless, the king signed the draft exactly as submitted by the two officials.3

The impact of this approach by politicians to dealing with Mennonites was at least two-fold. Most obviously, it gave Mennonites a third choice when confronted with military service. In addition to emigrating (or going to jail, as Johann Dyck did now and Mennonites in Prussia had done in the past) or serving outright, they could meet the state halfway by serving as non-combatants. This option opened up a divisive debate among Mennonites and met the politicians’ goal of keeping Mennonites from emigrating while training them to accept military service. In its focus on preventing emigration, it mirrored the forestry service later implemented in Russia, but given the small number of Prussian Mennonites willing to emigrate compared to Russian Mennonites who did so in large numbers even at the hint of military service, the deal Mennonites got was much worse in terms of how service was arranged, as non-combatant instead of church-related forestry service units.4

Less obvious, but reaching perhaps even deeper into the Mennonite community, was the fact that this new approach meant that Mennonites now had to make moral and theological decisions as individuals and not as a community. Leaders worked hard to keep the community together, but those who insisted that all male members serve as non-combatants ran afoul of the law. Thus all that remained for proponents of that option was education and moral suasion. Thus the executive order was reprinted by Mennonites, as in this example from 1879, and distributed widely among Mennonite congregations. Young men were now informed of their right to serve as a non-combatant and encouraged to take advantage of it. That emphasis on a right, however, sounded quite different to traditionalists, who saw it as betrayal of the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. Prussian Mennonites one-hundred-fifty years ago today experienced the problem of individualism challenging a common commitment to living out church teachings that has returned again and again to disrupt Mennonite unity and witness.


  1.   Mark Jantzen, Mennonite German Soldiers: Nation, Religion, and Family in the Prussian East, 1772-1880 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), 268. 
  2. For background and context, see ibid., 191-205. 
  3.   Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz Berlin (GStA), Hauptabteilung (HA) I, Rep. 77 (Ministry of the Interior), Tit. 332T (Militärpflicht), no. 5 (Acta betreffend die Mennoniten), vol. 1 ((1819-1868), n.p., 29 February 1868. 
  4.   On Prussian Mennonites going to jail over military service, see Jantzen, Mennonite German Soldiers, 91-2, 98-100, 222-6. The laws that forced congregations to allow individual choices are explained in ibid., 223-6,  

The Mennonite Encyclopedia, GAMEO, and Public History in the Digital Age

Jason B. Kauffman

Last spring, I represented Mennonite Church USA at my first Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online board meeting. GAMEO is “the most trusted online source for information on Anabaptist groups around the world” with articles on “Anabaptist-related congregations, denominations, conferences, institutions and significant individuals, as well as historical and theological topics.”1 Those familiar with GAMEO know that much of its content originated over fifty years ago with the publication of the four-volume Mennonite Encyclopedia (ME). Many updates were included in a fifth edition of ME, published in 1990, and over 4,000 more articles have been added since GAMEO went online in 1996.2 But there are still a host of articles that were published in the 1950s and have not been updated since. For example, the entry for Orrville Mennonite Church, my home congregation, was authored by Harold S. Bender in 1959.

During the board meetings, we spent much time discussing how to encourage more people to get involved with GAMEO.3 As a public history project, GAMEO holds enormous potential to harness the collective knowledge of the global Anabaptist community. Janneken Smucker pointed this out in a recent blog post on crowdsourcing Anabaptist history. As she notes, one of the biggest challenges for a public history project lies in “cultivating an enthusiastic community of participants.” But is that all it takes? In a search for answers to this question, I started to think about what went on behind the scenes during the fourteen years it took to produce the original ME, one of the most well-known, inter-Mennonite public history projects.4 What accounted for its success and what, if anything, can the project teach us about doing public history in 2018?5 I spent time looking at some of the project files of the ME at the MC USA Archives (Elkhart) and here’s what I came up with.6


Mennonite Encyclopedia Writer’s Acceptance Card (MC USA Archives)

First, a public history project requires extensive planning and the dedication of a core group of leaders. As Smucker noted in her blog, enthusiastic communities of participants do not cultivate themselves. Before the project began, the ME editorial board enlisted the support of an international group of editorial consultants. The board also developed criteria for article topics and assembled a list of potential contributors. Managing editor Melvin Gingerich then mailed thousands of letters to prospective authors to invite their participation and supply writing instructions. The finished product included over 13,000 articles contributed by more than 2,700 writers. Like its predecessor, GAMEO has also benefitted from strong leadership. Sam Steiner, Marlene Epp, Richard Thiessen, Bert Friesen, Susan Huebert, and many others have given years to the project, commissioning or writing new articles, updating old ones, and editing submissions. While both projects have enjoyed broad participation, neither would have been possible without heavy involvement from a core of dedicated individuals. For example, over half of the content of the original ME was generated by just eight people.7 My guess is that a similar scenario is true for GAMEO.


Celebration of the Mennonite Encyclopedia, 4th Volume, August 11, 1959: Left to right: Cornelius Krahn, Harold S. Bender, Melvin Gingerich. (MC USA Archives)

Second, a successful public history project requires institutional support. While the ME was under production, the three top-ranking editors—Bender, Krahn, and Gingerich—enjoyed the full support of their employers. In fact, Goshen College and Biblical Seminary, Bethel College, and the Mennonite Research Foundation allowed each to devote up to one quarter of their time to the project. Lead editors for the GAMEO project have never had their duties written into their job descriptions, but several institutions have given critical support. For example, Conrad Grebel University College provided computer equipment and web hosting early on and the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies in Winnipeg supported the digitization of volumes one through four of the ME.8 Most recently, the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism provided an institutional home for GAMEO under the direction of general editor John D. Roth.


Emily Horsch Bender’s time sheet while working on Mennonite Encyclopedia. (MC USA Archives)

Finally, a successful public history project requires sustained financial support. The ME was underwritten from the beginning by three denominational publishers, which covered the cost of labor, travel, and office expenses. Aside from wages paid to the three lead editors, Elizabeth Horsch Bender earned wages as a translator and assistant editor (often on under-reported hours) as did dozens of secretaries and typists.9 Over fourteen years, the three publishers paid just under $40,000 in editorial expenses.10 Adjusted for inflation, this amount is equivalent to roughly $370,000 in 2018.11 The publishers also bore the cost of printing and binding all four volumes. That figure came to $91,000.12 In the final year of the project, A.J. Metzler anticipated that returns on sales would cover the printing and binding costs but none of the editorial costs and only part of the selling costs. In other words, the Mennonite Publishing House lost a significant amount of the money it invested in the project. He concluded, “While the justification of this investment would be fully defended by our historians and scholars, it may be questioned by others.”13 GAMEO operates on a yearly budget of about $4,000. Like the ME, it relies upon financial support from Anabaptist-related institutional sponsors in the United States and Canada. As with the ME’s 2700 writers, GAMEO authors do not receive compensation. Unlike the ME, however, GAMEO cannot pay its editors and relies upon smaller-scale contributions from a wider variety of sponsors.

So what can a comparison of the ME and GAMEO teach us about doing public history in the digital age? Of course not all public history projects are cut from the same cloth. The ME was a massive project. Many other public history projects, including GAMEO, function successfully on a much smaller scale. Moreover, most public history projects in 2018 do not result in the publication of a four-volume book series, so printing and binding costs are not part of the equation. Since GAMEO lives online, the annual budget mostly covers the cost of webhosting and IT support and email makes communication among editors and with authors much more rapid and less costly than it was for ME staff.

In light of these difference, one might question the usefulness of comparing the ME with GAMEO and other current efforts to do public history. However, since much of the content of the ME was generated by 2,700 contributors, I think it is possible to draw some useful conclusions, especially in light of current efforts to crowdsource digital history projects. For me, the comparison highlights the enormous amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. The ME would not exist without the labor and expertise Elizabeth Bender gave to translations or the thousands of hours given by secretarial staff. Similarly, digital history projects like the University of Iowa’s DIY History require huge amounts of work behind the scenes. Before crowdsourcing could begin, the university invested time, labor, and resources to scan documents, store them, and develop specialized transcription software. It’s no coincidence that such an expansive project is hosted by a major public research university.

Much has been made of the “tremendous amount of work” that Bender, Krahn, and Gingerich invested in the creation of the ME.14 This is certainly true, but it didn’t hurt that they were being paid for their labor. As Conrad Stoesz pointed out in response to Smucker’s blog post, in the Anabaptist world we live in a time of “soft support for our…archival institutions” and, I would add, historical endeavors in general. This makes the volunteer efforts of GAMEO’s lead editors all the more impressive. They have given years of dedicated service to the project and created a valuable resource for anyone with access to the internet.

If you find GAMEO useful, I encourage you to give some money to support the project.15 Better yet, help us update old articles (beginning with many of the copious links included in this post) and generate new content. Please contact me or one of the other editors if you want to get involved. I would also welcome archivists, librarians, historians, and anyone else to weigh in on my conclusions and continue a conversation on the best ways to do Anabaptist public history in the digital age. Let’s get to work!

  1. Representatives of six partner organizations give oversight to the project and are responsible for its development. 
  2. GAMEO also incorporates content from multiple databases created by Marlene Epp with information on Canadian Mennonite congregations, individuals, and institutions. For a historical overview of the project, see [accessed 2-22-18] 
  3. See [accessed 2-21-18] 
  4. The ME was a joint venture of the Mennonite Church, the General Conference Mennonite Church, and the Mennonite Brethren Church and was guided by a 12-person editorial board and a 6-person publishing board. Bender assumed editorial responsibility for the project and Paul Erb of the Mennonite Publishing House chaired the publishing committee. Rachel Waltner, “From Anabaptism to Mennonitism: The Mennonite Encyclopedia as a Historical Document.” Mennonite Life 37 (December 1982): p. 13-14, 19. 
  5. The ME was generally well reviewed, both within Mennonite circles and by non-Mennonite church historians. In 1982, Rachel Waltner wrote that the ME “continues to be…the most accessible and authoritative reference work available on a host of Anabaptist and Mennonite topics.” Waltner, “From Anabaptism to Mennonitism,” p. 13. 
  6. The Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel College also holds official records of the ME, most of which were created by associate editor Cornelius Krahn and his assistants. 
  7. These were Nanne van der Zijpp, H.S. Bender, Cornelius Krahn, Christian Neff, Christian Hege, Robert Friedmann, Melvin Gingerich, and Johann Loserth. H.S. Bender, “The Mennonite Encyclopedia: Report of the Editor to the Publishing Committee,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 38:4 (October 1964), 364. 
  8. Email communication with Sam Steiner, 2-16-18. 
  9. At least 27 secretarial staff people from Goshen earned wages through the ME project. “Ninth Report of the Managing Editor to Editor Harold S. Bender for the period September 1, 1955 – August 31, 1959,” Mennonite Encyclopedia Records, X-31-1, Box 11. MC USA Archives, Elkhart, Indiana. Elizabeth Horsch Bender spent hundreds of hours translating articles in the Mennonitisches Lexicon from German to English and, later, copyediting English language submissions. 
  10. The Mennonite Publishing House paid about $23,000, Faith and Life Press paid about $14,000, and the Mennonite Brethren Publishing House paid about $3,000. The amount each press paid was in proportion to the number of books they agreed to distribute and sell. 
  11. Consumer Price Index inflation calculator from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics: [accessed, 2-22-2018]. 
  12. Our Mennonite Literature Service, 1958: Annual Report to the Mennonite Publication Board (Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1959), p. 6. 
  13. Our Mennonite Literature Service, 1959: Annual Report to the Mennonite Publication Board (Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1960), p. 15. 
  14. Waltner, “From Anabaptism to Mennonitism,” p. 15. 
  15. Donations should be sent to Mennonite World Conference and designated for GAMEO. 

Mennonite Elders Meet Crown Prince Frederick, Wednesday, February 26, 1868

Mennonites Accept and Contest Military Service in the German East: A Sesquicentennial Series

9.1 Crown Prince Frederick

Crown Prince Frederick

The Mennonite elders visiting Berlin to lobby for the retention of their military service exemption met with Crown Prince Frederick one hundred fifty years ago today and also with Hermann Wagener, a conservative activist who was also Otto von Bismarck’s good friend. A major impact of this visit was the Prince’s advice not to emigrate to Russia if they wanted to avoid the draft since it would soon be implemented there as well. As a result a portion of the Prussian Mennonites started investigating possibilities in the United States and two groups ended up moving to Harvey County, Kansas, and Gage County, Nebraska. Behind the scenes, an aide of the king, likely Generalmajor Heinrich von Tresckow, followed up on yesterday’s meeting with the elders by sending a memo today to the Acting Minister of War Podbielski and Minister of the Interior requesting they find a mutually agreeable solution to the petition the elders had written on the twentieth.1

The Crown Prince, the only son of King William I, would have been only thirty-six years old at the time of their meeting and had already been married for ten years to Victoria, the oldest daughter of Great Britain’s Queen Victoria. He became Emperor Frederick III upon his father’s death in 1888 only to succumb to throat cancer a few months later, passing the throne to his son William II who ruled until the demise of the Empire in 1918. Thus 1888 is known as the year of three emperors. Frederick was more progressive than either father or son and opposed to many of Bismarck’s policies. His slightly more liberal tendencies did not extend, however, to supporting Mennonites who wanted to evade military service since he wished the monarchy to respect the law and the principle of equality.

Their audience began at 1:30 p.m., presumably at the Crown Prince’s Palace near the Royal Palace on Unter den Linden Street. Peter Bartel reported that Johann Toews, the elder of the Ladekopp congregation, again served as the group’s spokesperson. Toews noted that the imperial military service law was a sad and fearful imposition. His Majesty would know that as the delegates of the Mennonite congregations they had come to seek refugee with the ruling dynasty in the hopes that royal mercy could lift them out of the clutches of that law.2

The Crown Prince responded to this group of older peasants, “But children, I will not be able to help you, because the law is higher than even the king.” He continued that he sympathized with their situation and hoped the king would find a way to soften the force of the law. That comment provided an opening for Toews to ask for a lengthy time limit.

“For what?” the Crown Prince asked. To prepare for emigration was the answer.

“And where would you go?” he asked next.

Johann Wiebe, the elder of the Fürstenwerder congregation, replied, “Your Royal Majesty, to the southern states of the Russia.”

“Oh my, then make sure you keep a path open for your children to return, for Russia will soon implement what we have here and then you will be sorry.”

Gerhard Penner, elder of the Heubuden congregation, tried a different tactic, repeating the same claim made to the king that they were loathe to emigrate and would do anything within reason the state demanded as long as it did not violate their conscience. Peter Bartel, the elder of the Gruppe congregation, followed up with a specific proposal, namely that the congregations would found and fund military hospitals in their midst to care for wounded or ailing soldiers both in times of war and peace but it had to be under the leadership of the congregations. When the Crown Prince asked in clarification if they expected the army to sent patients to them, Elder Johann Penner of the Thiensdorf congregation replied affirmatively.3

The insistence that this form of alternative service be performed under the control of the church is an early articulation of this principle of Mennonite autonomy from the state and the military that later was implemented in Russia before World War I as the forestry service and in the United States during World War II as Civilian Public Service, suggesting these anti-democratic Mennonite traditionalists nonetheless had something in common with progressive Mennonite institution builders in those other two countries. The Prussian groups did go on to found hospitals in Beatrice, Nebraska, and Newton, Kansas, so that one can see the remnants of a witness against Prussian militarism in twenty-first century Beatrice Community Hospital and Newton Medical Center.

The conversation with the Crown Prince now turned to theological questions, with the Crown Prince asking about the size and location of the Mennonite congregations, the age of people being baptized as adults, and how they dealt with the issue of not swearing oaths. That was actually regulated by a Prussian edict of 1827 that allowed for affirmation, but the elders instead referenced the presumably similar arrangement of the Moravian Brethren, a Pietist group the Crown Prince was acquainted with that would have been better known than Mennonites.4

They closed out their conversation with a discussion of each elder’s home village and an exchange about the level of ice on the Vistula River, a perennial source of concern as ice jams frequently caused flooding. Peter Bartel was left with a favorable impression of the Crown Prince and his support, although there is nothing else in the historical record to support the idea that Frederick desired to help Mennonites.5

By 5 p.m. the elders were visiting with Hermann Wagener, who had been the founding editor of Prussia’s most important conservative newspaper, the Kreuzzeitung, and was now a member of the lower house of the Prussian parliament, a key conservative leader, and important confidant of Bismarck. He had been supportive of the elders when they met with him earlier on the twentieth and had asked the elders to report everything they talked about with the Crown Prince. They now reported that conversation and Wagener left them with words of encouragement that everything would work out acceptably.6

9.2 Otto von Bismarck 1873

Otto von Bismarck, 1873

The Mennonites were swimming in deep political waters here and it is hard to know if they were being manipulated or taking advantage of the wider currents around them in a fairly sophisticated way. The Crown Prince and Bismarck were political enemies and there is no evidence that Wagener really cared about the Mennonites. So perhaps they were dupes in high-level Prussian intrigues, spying on the Crown Prince for Bismarck without understanding what was going on. On the other hand, they did implement Wagener’s suggest to use the issue of the Mennonite tax to focus a conversation on their problems in the favorable terrain of the House of Lords. They actually went on to pay the tax for another couple of rounds and to create the impression that the government was still considering their case. While never a realistic option, they had with Wagener’s help created media attention about their plight, so perhaps they were savvy political operators who understood that asking for unequal treatment in being let out of the draft meant they were better off supporting monarchists than liberals.7


  1.   This note is referenced in the reply of 29 February from the two ministers to the king, Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz Berlin (GStA), Hauptabteilung (HA) I, Rep. 77 (Ministry of the Interior), Tit. 332T (Militärpflicht), no. 5 (Acta betreffend die Mennoniten), vol. 1 ((1819-1868), n.p. 
  2.  Peter Bartel, “Beschreibung der persönliche Bemühung der fünf Aeltesten bei den Hohen und Allerhöchsten Staatsmännern in Berlin um Wiederheraushelfung aus dem Reichsgesetz, worin der Reichstag uns Mennoniten am 9. November 1867 versetzt hat,” Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalendar 29 (1920), 77. 
  3.  Ibid., 78. 
  4.  Ibid. On oaths, see Mark Jantzen, Mennonite German Soldiers: Nation, Religion, and Family in the Prussian East, 1772-1880 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), 111-5, 267. 
  5.  Bartel, “Beschreibung,” 78-9. 
  6.  Ibid., 79. 
  7.   Jantzen, Mennonite German Soldiers, 198-204. 

Mennonite Elders Meet King William I, February 25, 1868

Mennonites Accept and Contest Military Service in the German East: A Sesquicentennial Series

One-hundred-fifty years ago today was the crucial day in the Mennonite Elders’ visit to Berlin. At 8 a.m. they were informed that they would not be allowed to talk to Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. He was implacably opposed to reopening the issue of their military service exemption and, although the Mennonites did not know it, without his support nothing could change in the law itself via a legislative route. By 1:45 p.m. they were in the palace where they met King William I in the hopes that relief could come from the traditional route of depending on royal mercy and a favorable executive order.

What was happening behind the scenes to lead up to this day is fairly clear now but only as a function of recent research. H. G. Mannhardt, the pastor of the Danzig Mennonite Church from 1878 to 1927, argued later that the Prussian cabinet, which led the initiative on most laws, had met and decided to ignore the Mennonites already on February 20.1 He was right that the key decision was taken by the cabinet and not the king, but wrong on the date as the published records do not record any meeting of the cabinet that day at all. The only two meetings that dealt with Mennonites according to the minutes were December 21, 1869, dealing with a petition to revoke the restrictive Mennonite Edict of 1789, and January 25, 1874, when the Mennonite Law of that year that mostly lifted the 1789 Edict was approved by the cabinet before going to the Prussian Parliament.2

One important event of February 20 was the drafting of a petition by the five elders in Berlin for an audience with the king. They wrote in part, “It seems unfathomable to us that a vote of the Imperial Diet can abrogate the confession of faith of an entire religious community. It seems unfathomable to us that a vote cast against us only because we demonstrated loyalty to the king in recent elections can annul the Charters of Privilege granted by Your Majesty’s ancestors and that we can be expelled from the dear fatherland that had provided us with protection and tolerance up to now. In spite of all the dangers arrayed against our conscience we and our congregations will not let the hope sink that Your Majesty will not abandon us and we beseech Your Majesty in their name to grant us most mercifully an audience so that we can personally lay our requests and wishes at your feet.”3 The fact that these traditionalist Mennonites voted conservative was indeed a reason for liberals in both the Confederation and Prussian Parliaments to reject any special deals for them.4 Around 1 p.m., just as they left the meeting thanking Friedrich Bloemer for his support in the debate of February 22, a messenger found them with a note that the king in response to their petition had granted them an audience at 1:45.

8.1 Theophil von Podbielski

Theophil von Podbielski

The actual behind the scenes cabinet decisions were made by circulating memos to develop a policy that the majority of the cabinet could support. This process came to a head at this time, when on February 21 Acting Minister of War Theophil von Podbielski and Interior Minister Friedrich zu Eulenburg wrote to Bismarck to report an impasse between the War Ministry, which ironically want to see Mennonites exempted, and the Ministry of the Interior, which administered the draft and wanted Mennonites included. Bismarck sided with Eulenburg at some point over the next month, ending the debate in the cabinet.5

8.2 Friedrich zu Eulenburg

Friedrich zu Eulenburg

Our five elders, of course, had no knowledge of these developments and pinned all their hopes on their meeting with the king. They had about forty-five minutes notice, so they hurried back to their hotel to prepare both by changing clothes and spending time in prayer. Once at the palace, they were led by servants through a succession of rooms until an adjutant lined them up in one room. Then he placed both hands on the double doors in the room and stared intently through the gap into the next room. After a long wait, “suddenly he threw both doors open and backed up quickly and the king and the adjutant on duty entered. As fast as lightning the king stood before us and addressed us softly, ‘Children, what can I do for you?’”6
Johann Toews, the elder of the Ladekopp congregation, spoke for the group, introducing them, outlining the problem, and expressing the hope that the king could rescue them from this sorry state of affairs. The king declared that it was his intention to protect everyone’s conscience, since his fathers and he had always respected their confession of faith, “but I cannot violate the law.” Nonetheless he assured them he would find a way forward that would protect their conscience. Toews pressed him, noting that if any type of military service was required of them, they would emigrate and he asked that they be granted an extension of time free from the draft in order to get their affairs in order before they left.7

The king then turned to address each of them personally. When it was his turn, Gerhard Penner, the Heubuden elder, said, “Your Majesty, we will offer everything materially possible in order to preserve our freedom of conscience.” The king replied, “I am not in anyway opposed to you, for you have always been loyal subjects, proving this even in the latest elections, as we have been pleased to note.” The king then asked when Penner had received the medal he was wearing. When told, he noted, “So you got it from me.” Which medal Penner was wearing and why he got it is unknown, but medals were a common way for the state to recognize prominent citizens for services rendered or anniversaries in office.8

Johann Wiebe of Fürstenwerder also had a request for the king. He asked if it would be okay for the Mennonites to petition the Imperial Diet to alter the military service law. The king assured him that everyone has the right to petition the government. Wiebe replied, “We thank you most subserviently for lifting our worry that we would act against Your Majesty’s wishes by petitioning against a law that you have signed.” The king talked to the others, and then asked Peter Bartel at the end if they all lived close together, to which Bartel replied they lived about seventy-five to ninety kilometers apart (ten to twelve Meilen). Then the king got into a brief conversation with Johann Wiebe about where he lived, in Preußisches Königsdorf between Elbing and Marienburg. The king knew the area, so after this exchange of pleasantries, they were dismissed.9

The king’s assertion that he was bound by the law was perhaps the most telling comment. The Prussian constitution was only eighteen years old at this point, that of the North German Confederation, not even one. So the king and these elders certainly remembered a time when his word and their willingness to pay money settled this issue. Now parliaments, public involvement and public opinion, and new-fangled ideas about equality and nationalism limited the king’s ability and desire to protect these Mennonites, who were both loyal subjects and political allies who voted the way the king wanted. Tomorrow the elders would talk to his son, Crown Prince Frederick, in an effort to assure this newly limited royal favor continued into the future in case they would have one in Germany.


  1. H. G. Mannhardt, “Zur Entstehung und Geschichte der königl. Kabinettsordre von 3. März 1868, betreffend den Herresdienst der Mennoniten,” Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalender 28 (1919), 102. 
  2., 99, 165-6, 342-3. For context and details, see Mark Jantzen, Mennonite German Soldiers: Nation, Religion, and Family in the Prussian East, 1772-1880 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), 200-212, 269. 
  3.  Geheimer Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz (GStA), Berlin, Hauptabteilung (HA) I, Rep. 77 (Ministry of the Interior), Tit. 31 (Mennonitensachen), no. 2 (Die in Ansehung der staatsbürgerlichen Verhältnisse der Mennoniten vorgenommen Anordnugnen, desgl. wegen Behandlung der Mennoniten-Gemeinde in Danzig nach der Reoccupation dieser Stadt), vol. 9 ( Juli 1862 – Dez. 1869), 188.  
  4. Jantzen, Mennonite German Soldiers, 210, 303n79. 
  5. Jantzen, Mennonite German Soldiers, 199-200. 
  6. Peter Bartel, “Beschreibung der persönliche Bemühung der fünf Aeltesten bei den Hohen und Allerhöchsten Staatsmännern in Berlin um Wiederheraushelfung aus dem Reichsgesetz, worin der Reichstag uns Mennoniten am 9. November 1867 versetzt hat,” Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalendar 29 (1920), 75-6. 
  7. Ibid., 76-7. 
  8.  Jantzen, Mennonite German Soldiers, 189-90. 
  9.  Bartel, “Beschreibung,” 77. 

Mennonite Elders Meet Justice Minister Leonhardt While Ultra-Conservative Lords Use Mennonites as a Wedge Issue to Stage a Rebellion Against Bismarck, February 22, 1868

Mennonites Accept and Contest Military Service in the German East: A Sesquicentennial Series

Saturdays are not what they used to be. One-hundred-fifty years ago today the Prussian government was experiencing just another work day and the Mennonite Elders seeking to regain their exemption from military service were continuing their rounds of cabinet ministers. The House of Lords of the Prussian Parliament was also in session, although they finished shortly before 1 p.m.

Prussian politics had faced a crucial turning point earlier that week. The House of Lords, more conservative and traditional than the lower house, had nonetheless approved Chancellor Bismarck’s proposal to use money from the central treasury to fund certain expenditures of the new Prussian province of Hannover, which had until a little over a year ago been an independent kingdom. The setting aside of the dynasty there was seen as a revolutionary act by an otherwise reactionary chancellor and also intervened in the traditional budgeting measures of Prussian provinces. Most in the Conservative Party backed this measure, but others were vehemently opposed so that this vote taken just a few days earlier marked the beginning of the National Liberal Party that split off from the Conservative Party. Thus Mennonites’ exemption became a proxy in this conservative civil war.1

The official business conducted by the five Mennonite Elders on this day occupies only a few lines of Peter Bartel’s report. They met with Justice Minister Adolf Leonhardt, who was from Hannover and thus not likely to know much about Mennonites. Bartel reported that he appeared empathetic but that he claimed, correctly, this issue was one for the Ministries of War and the Interior to sort out.2 Oddly no other activities are reported for the day by Bartel, not even a church service. Since the main reason for their trip was to see how their petition to the House of Lords would play out, it seems likely they attended that debate, which was at the end of the session, and for whatever reason, Bartel did not report it. They did make the rounds to visit and thank supporters in the House of Lords before they left Berlin, so at least they were clearly well informed of who said what today.3

Mennonites were on the docket on account of this petition that the elders had sent in: “The House of Lords should prevent the implementation of the military service law passed by the Imperial Diet which, if it came into effect, would pronounce a sentence of expulsion from the country over all true believing Mennonites, and should also provide in the future for the protection of Mennonites’ freedom on conscience by upholding their military service exemption.” The standing committee for dealing with petitions had worked up a recommendation to support this petition and ask the government to consider implementing it. The debate involved about a dozen speakers.

The debate was opened by the chair of the petition committee, von Brünneck. He noted that universal military service had been the law of the land since 1814 and Mennonites had been exempted all that time. He claimed it was unthinkable that nineteenth-century Prussia should be as religious intolerant as the France of Louis XIV that had driven out the Huguenots. Indeed, he claimed, “religious freedom and freedom on conscience is the milk on which the Prussian state was raised.” Without it Prussia was not Prussia anymore. Mennonites moreover had offered to care for wounded soldiers at their own expense. For all these reasons, the committee was unanimous in its support of their petition.4

Most of the support for the Mennonites came from ultra conservatives who were angry at Bismarck for breaking monarchical tradition by annexing other kingdoms to Prussia and subsuming Prussia under the weight of a new imperial government that circumvented nobles. Adolf Senfft von Pilsach, who had also spoken for Mennonites the day before, mocked the idea that Mennonite soldiers were indispensable to the state, noting only 140 Mennonites per year would be drafted. “If Prussia cannot survive without them (and it has fought wars with honor for so long without Mennonites), then I have to confess we might as well give up all hope.”5

7.1 Hans v_Kleist-Retzow_1862

Hans von Kleist-Retzow

Hans von Kleist-Retzow was one of the top ultra-conservatives. As a Pietist he would have been more open to Mennonites’ religious pleading than most other politicians. Bismarck was married to his niece and they had roomed together as young men. Nonetheless, he was ready to challenge the position of Bismarck’s government by giving full-throated support to this petition. He was especially upset that the new-fangled North German Confederation was able to dictate to Prussia how to do things, in American terms he was backing state rights over a new federal government.6

Additional support came from two less-well-known speakers, Friedrich Bloemer and Ludwig von Rittberg. Bloemer stressed the legal rights of the Mennonites. When others said it was pointless to take up an argument that had been decided elsewhere, he countered that if the Mennonites had the right to uphold their privilege, which he thought they did, that right should trump worries about practicalities.7 Here one can see the echo of conservative disquiet with Bismarck’s trampling of the rights of the non-Prussian ruling families he had deposed.

A cabinet minister gave the first speech in opposition to the petition, signaling the uphill struggle Mennonites faced to obtain relief by visiting this group of politicians. Minister of Commerce Heinrich Friedrich von Itzenplitz was the first to note that the military service law was a confederation law and none of Prussia’s business.8 When the elders finally got to meet him three days later, Bartel reported he was quite “cold” to their problems.9

7.2 Otto von Camphausen

Otto von Camphausen

Liberal politicians and their knowledge of liberal Mennonites were the other main source of opposition to this petition. Heinrich Ondereyck from Crefeld noted that Mennonites there were happy to serve.10 Otto von Camphausen, who would become the Finance Minister the next year and was part of a famous liberal political family, backed the need for a strong central government over the stodgy rights of traditional states.11 Count Botho zu Eulenburg was exasperated by the idea that not serving in the military could be protected by law. Thus the issue was not a matter of tolerance, but of what deserves to be privileged. “Imagine, gentlemen,” he argued, “a religious society that had a stance against paying taxes to the state.” That privilege could not stand. On the matter of military service, “the entirety of developmental history of nations and states argues against” such privilege, even if it is painful for those who now fall under the necessity of state duty. The progress of equality was for Eulenburg inevitable and he therefore made a motion that the petition be passed on to the government for its information, not consideration, the difference between the House of Lords asking the government to address or ignore the issue.12

At the end of the session, Eulenburg’s amendment was defeated and a majority voted with the petition committee to defy the wishes of the government and ask that Mennonites’ military exemption be restored.13 Mennonite supporters carried the day in the interests of freedom of conscience, preserving this traditional community instead of forcing them to emigrate, and, above all, to signal for the first time that some conservatives would break with the royal government, an unheard of, if toothless, reproach to Bismarck on the relatively safe Mennonite issue.


  1.  Mark Jantzen, Mennonite German Soldiers: Nation, Religion, and Family in the Prussian East, 1772-1880 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), 198. 
  2.  Peter Bartel, “Beschreibung der persönliche Bemühung der fünf Aeltesten bei den Hohen und Allerhöchsten Staatsmännern in Berlin um Wiederheraushelfung aus dem Reichsgesetz, worin der Reichstag uns Mennoniten am 9. November 1867 versetzt hat,” Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalendar 29 (1920), 74. 
  3. Ibid., 74-5. 
  4.  Stenographische Berichte des Herrenhauses, Vierzehnte Sitzung am 22. Februar 1868, 222. 
  5.  Ibid., 223. 
  6.  On Hans von Kleist-Retzow, see Stenographische Berichte des Herrenhauses, Vierzehnte Sitzung am 22. Februar 1868, 223, 234. 
  7.  Ibid., 225. 
  8. Ibid., 223. 
  9. Bartel, “Beschreibung,” 75. 
  10.  Stenographische Berichte des Herrenhauses, Vierzehnte Sitzung am 22. Februar 1868, 224. 
  11.  Ibid. On Camphausen, see 
  12.  Stenographische Berichte des Herrenhauses, Vierzehnte Sitzung am 22. Februar 1868, 224-5. On Eulenberg, see 
  13. Stenographische Berichte des Herrenhauses, Vierzehnte Sitzung am 22. Februar 1868, 226-7.