Members of Winnipeg’s Jewish community welcome the publication of new research by the Mennonite Central Committee on its entanglement with National Socialism before and after World War II.
“I am delighted and impressed with MCC’s honesty, determination and willingness to face its past,” said Daniel Stone of the research published in Intersections, MCC’s quarterly newsletter.
Stone, a retired history professor at the University of Winnipeg, was also impressed with the high caliber of the research.
“They have very high standards,” he said of the researchers, “and are ready to say what happened.”
Belle Jarniewski, executive director of the Western Canada Jewish Heritage Center, agrees.
“I really applaud the MCC for the research,” she said, adding “that it is important for him to take his past into account.”
Among the newsletter’s 12 essays is “MCC and Nazism, 1929-1955,” by Harvard University historian Ben Goossen.
In it, Goossen noted that MCC “at best kept silent” about its involvement with the Nazis during this period, and “at worst was involved in cover-up and denial.”
During this period, “MCC leaders made conscious decisions at many times to work with the Nazis where they did not have to, and downplayed the collaboration with the Nazis of some Mennonite refugees.” did he declare.
He later developed an account of rescuing about 12,000 Mennonite refugees from the former Soviet Union who “claimed to suffer Jews, whom Mennonites suffered like Jews,” he said.
This prevented the MCC from taking an honest look at its past, he continued, adding that it prevented it from “fighting in any meaningful way” with the Holocaust.
By evaluating the decisions of previous generations of MCC leaders, the organization can develop tools to navigate ethically difficult situations today, he said.
“Responding to the evidence of institutional anti-Semitism in the history of MCC will benefit the organization’s engagement with Jews, in particular, and it will strengthen MCC’s work more generally in various interfaith contexts,” he said. added.
In her essay, “Defining the Deserving: MCC and Mennonite Refugees from the Soviet Union after WWII,” Aileen Friesen noted that defining which refugees deserved at the time was “based on MCC’s own moral framework.”
Although “apparently without intention of covering up acts of atrocities committed during the Nazi era, the MCC allowed Soviet Mennonites to downplay or erase the various ways in which they collaborated and benefited from the Nazis,” said Friesen, who teaches Mennonite studies at university. from Winnipeg.
By carefully examining MCC’s wartime past, the agency can “fully respond” to things that were once hidden and erased, she said, adding “We don’t have to be afraid of our past … the to cover up is more damaging. ”
Friesen recognized for some, Mennonites as well as Jews, “these are painful memories of a painful time.”
But, she said, it can be an opportunity to find out what this experience means for today and to develop good relationships between the Mennonite and Jewish communities.
For Alain Epp Weaver of the MCC, who edited the special issue on the MCC and the Holocaust, the organization is “very grateful to historians for helping us understand how the MCC became involved in National Socialism”.
Through their work, some “sobering facts have emerged and have been heard,” he said, adding that the organization is committed to being “open and transparent” on this episode in its history.
This includes how Mennonites at this time were “connected” to the larger Christian experience of anti-Semitism.
The MCC’s goal now, he said, is to assess what it can learn from this episode in its history, while stressing that it “strongly opposes anti-Semitism alongside all of them. forms of racism “.
The organization is committed to “continuing to examine its history and to discern how to respond to that history faithfully to its foundation in the gospel of reconciliation.”
Some of the research was presented from September 30 to October 30. 2 at the MCC at 100 conference at the University of Winnipeg. The full report of the researchers is available at http://wfp.to/H2J
John Longhurst has written for the Winnipeg religious pages since 2003. He also writes for the Religion News Service in the United States and blogs on media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
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