Why didn’t they resist?

The opening paragraph of “Holocaust complicity documented” (March 26), on the launch of European Mennonites and the Holocaust, indicates why some of the book’s assumptions need to be questioned: “If committing genocide is a community activity, then uncovering and dealing with it is the responsibility of a community too.” That might be helpful when looking at Mennonite responses in the Netherlands, Germany and Prussia/Poland, but much less so in Soviet Russia. Community as we know it did not exist there at that time.

The book names people of Mennonite background who collaborated with the Nazis in Ukraine, and some of those stories don’t need to be disputed. But the writers are on much less certain ground when they claim most Mennonites there “tilted” toward support for what the Nazis did to the Jews.

When the Germans invaded Russia in 1941, organized church life had already been shut down for a decade. Thousands of Mennonites had been sent into exile. Thousands more had been executed. In a society ruled by fear and distrust, few dared to speak openly. When the Germans invaded Russia, those who might have welcomed them did not know they were exchanging one tyranny for another.

That some collaborated should not surprise us. That few dared to resist should not surprise us either; they had already been forced to keep their heads down for more than a decade.

One does not need to minimize what hap­pened to the Jews while asking for understanding for people who welcomed those they saw as liberators. What needs to be questioned are suggestions that they had the ability to resist what was happening to the Jews or that majorities might have implicitly or explicitly supported Nazi atrocities.

Harold Jantz, Winnipeg, Man.

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