MCC ‘grieves and repents’ of Nazi ‘entanglements’

Heinrich Himmler, third from right, head of the SS, at a flag-raising ceremony in the Molotschna Mennonite colony in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, 1942. — Mennonite Library and Archives, North Newton, Kan. Heinrich Himmler, third from right, head of the SS, at a flag-raising ceremony in the Molotschna Mennonite colony in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, 1942. — Mennonite Library and Archives, North Newton, Kan.

Saying its humanitarian work before and during the Second World War did not always reflect its core values, Mennonite Central Committee has issued a statement saying it “grieves and repents of the harm caused by MCC’s actions and inactions during this period” when the organization became entangled with National Socialism (Nazism).

The statement, released June 6 by Rick Cober Bauman, executive director of MCC Canada, and Anne Graber Hershberger, executive director of MCC U.S., went on to say MCC is committed to do a “better telling” of the story of MCC during that time “in its complexity and to taking reparative steps over the coming months and years.”

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

The steps MCC intends to take to deal with its past include providing financial support for ongoing historical research into MCC entanglements with National Socialism, as well as other oppressive systems such as racism, colonialism and sexism; reviewing and updating how MCC narrates its post-Second World War refugee resettlement efforts; and renewing MCC’s determination to act against antisemitism, as part of its broader antiracist commitments.

Speaking on behalf of the two MCCs, Cober Bauman said the release of the statement came after reviewing the work of scholars and soliciting feedback from supporters.

The majority of the feedback was positive, he said, but there were some who felt MCC should leave the past alone.

That sentiment was mostly expressed by some Mennonites who traced their roots back to flight from Ukraine after the war. Some, he said, felt their family’s history had been “sullied” by the research.

Last September, MCC released the findings of 12 historians — from Canada, the United States, France, Germany, Paraguay and the Netherlands — whom it had invited to conduct research on its entanglements with German National Socialism.

Although MCC has not decided how much funding it will provide for future research, it wants to make sure researchers are “not out of pocket” for their work, Cober Bauman said. MCC will also provide “unfettered” access to documents for that research.

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

This compares to past narratives, which tended to paint MCC as heroic and Mennonites as victims.

“We don’t want to take away from the fact there was huge suffering,” said Cober Bauman, who was authorized to speak on behalf of both MCC Canada and MCC U.S. He added it was appropriate for MCC to “come alongside people who needed help and a new start.”

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

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

It has not yet been determined how the action steps might be carried out by the various provincial and regional MCCs, Cober Bauman said.

 

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