Fleeing religious persecution in post-Reformation Germany, large numbers of Mennonites came to the New World, where they and other sects became known as the “Pennsylvania Dutch.” Others settled in what is now Ukraine, where they benefited from the same religious toleration that attracted Jews in the 16th and 17th centuries. Also like Jews, they would be routinely attacked and massacred by anti-Communist forces during the Russian Civil War, and then subjected to expropriation and persecution by the victorious Bolsheviks. The similarities end, however, during World War II, when German invaders saw the German-speaking Mennonites as fellow Aryans. After the war, the Mennonite church’s central philanthropic body, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), claimed that East European Mennonites “were brutally treated by the German occupation authorities” and “did not receive favored treatment.” Ben Goossen tells a different story:
One of Mennonite Central Committee’s star witnesses [to alleged wartime persecution] was a refugee named Heinrich Hamm. Like tens of thousands of other Mennonites who had experienced the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe, Hamm was from Soviet Ukraine, and had retreated westward with German troops in 1943 to avoid again coming under Communist rule. Five years later, Hamm was an MCC employee, helping to run a large refugee camp in Allied-occupied Germany.
Hamm and his colleagues at Mennonite Central Committee wanted United Nations-affiliated refugee organizations and other interested parties to think that any collaboration by members of the denomination with National Socialism was exceptional and insignificant. They implied that if some young men had perhaps gotten carried away, surely this was because they had been drawn away from their faith under Soviet rule. But wartime records do not corroborate this story.
Hamm was a leader at the heart of Mennonite institutional life in Europe both during and after World War II. There is no question that he and tens of thousands of other Mennonites experienced atrocities in the Soviet Union, and that this history of suffering conditioned their positive reception of National Socialism. Indeed, Hamm’s wartime writings show that he considered his support for the most heinous crimes of Hitler’s state to be directly related to his own efforts to aid fellow Mennonites. Hamm saw Jews and Bolshevism as being part of a single evil cabal that threatened his ethnic and faith communities, and he welcomed Nazi efforts to redistribute Jewish plunder.
Understanding Hamm’s wartime activities also helps to clarify the significance of Mennonite Central Committee’s European refugee operations. . . . The purpose of MCC’s refugee program was to assist people facing legal or material hardships because of their associations with Nazism.
In 2017, the American Mennonite Church passed a resolution to boycott the Jewish state.