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Nazi Germany Coursework

Mennonites and the Holocaust

Conference: March 16 and 17, 2018,
Krehbiel Auditorium, Luyken Fine Arts Center


Registration closed March 9, 2018.

The history of Mennonites as victims of violence in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly on the territory of the Soviet Union, and as relief workers during and after the Second World War has been studied by historians and preserved by many family histories. This commemorative and celebratory history, however, hardly captures the full extent of Mennonite views and actions related to nationalism, race, war, and survival. It also ignores extensive Mennonite pockets of sympathy for Nazi ideals of racial purity and among some in the diaspora an exuberant identification with Germany that have also long been noted. Now in the last decade an emerging body of research has documented Mennonite involvement as perpetrators in the Holocaust in ways that have not been widely known or discussed. A wider view of Mennonite interactions with Jews, Germans, Ukrainians, Roma, Volksdeutsche, and other groups as well as with state actors is therefore now necessary. This conference aims to document, publicize, and analyze Mennonite attitudes, environments, and interactions with others in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s that shaped their responses to and engagement with Nazi ideology and the events of the Holocaust.


Friday, March 16, 2018
8 - 8:30 a.m.Lobby, Luyken Fine Arts Center
8:30 - 9 a.m.
  • Welcome to Bethel
    President Jon Gering
  • Introduction to the Conference
    John Thiesen
Krehbiel Auditorium, Luyken Fine Arts Center
9 - 10:30 a.m.Session One: Pre-War Denominational and Organizational Themes
Moderator: Michele Hershberger, Hesston College
  • “Anti-Semitism and the Concept of ’Volk’: The Mennonite Youth Circular Community at the Beginning of the Nazi Dictatorship”
    Imanuel Baumann, Haus der Geschichte Baden-Württemberg
  • “Mennonite Scholarship in the Third Reich: From Knowledge Production to Genocide”
    Ben Goossen, Harvard University
  • “An Illusion of Freedom: Denominationalism, German Mennonites, and Nazi Germany”
    Jim Lichti, Milken Community Schools, Los Angeles
Krehbiel Auditorium, Luyken Fine Arts Center
10:30 - 11 a.m.Coffee Break  Luyken Fine Arts Center
11 a.m.Keynote Address: "Neighbors, Killers, Enablers, Witnesses: The Many Roles of Mennonites in the Holocaust" (free and open to the public)

Doris Bergen, University of Toronto

Joliffe Auditorium, Memorial Hall
noonLunch The Caf, Schultz Student Center
1:30 - 3 p.m.Session Two: Soviet Union
Moderator: Jessica Klanderud, Tabor College
  • “Survival and Trial: The Post-War Experience of Chortitza Mennonites”
    Erika Weidemann, Texas A& M University
  • “The Mennonites under the Nazi Regime in KGB Documentation, Ukraine 1941-44”
    Dmytro Myeshkov, Nordost-Institut (Lüneberg)
  • “The Mennonite Search for Their Place in the Struggle between Germany and USSR”
    Viktor Klets, Dnipropetrovsk University
Krehbiel Auditorium, Luyken Fine Arts Center
3 - 3:30 p.m.Coffee Break  Luyken Fine Arts Center
3:30 - 5 p.m.Session Three: Mennonite-Jewish Connections
​Moderator: Dawn Yoder Harms, Lead Pastor, Bethel College Mennonite Church
  • “Jewish-Mennonite Relations in Gabin, Plock County, Masovian Voivodeship, Poland, Prior to and during World War II”
    Colin Neufeldt, Concordia University of Edmonton
  • “The Fate of Mennonite and Jewish Settlements in Soviet Ukraine”
    Aileen Friesen, Conrad Grebel University College
Krehbiel Auditorium, Luyken Fine Arts Center
5 - 6:30 p.m.Dinner The Caf, Schultz Student Center
7:30 p.m.Film: Friesennot
(free and open to the public)
Introduction: Mark Jantzen, Bethel College
Krehbiel Auditorium, Luyken Fine Arts Center
Saturday, March 17
8 - 8:30 a.m.Lobby, Luyken Fine Arts Center
8:30 - 10 a.m.

Session Four: The Netherlands
Moderator: Rachel Waltner Goossen, Washburn University

  • “Dutch Mennonite Theologians and Nazism”
    Pieter Post, United Mennonite Church of Heerenveen and Tjalleberd
  • “Dutch Mennonites and the Yad Vashem Recognition”
    Alle Hoekema, Professor Emeritus, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
  • “From War Criminal in the Netherlands, to Mennonite Abroad and Back, to Prison in the Netherlands”
    David Barnouw, Research Emeritus, Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies
Krehbiel Auditorium, Luyken Fine Arts Center
10 - 10:30 a.m.Coffee Break  Luyken Fine Arts Center
10:30 a.m. - noonSession Five: German Mennonite Responses in Theology and Memory
Moderator: Kip Wedel, Bethel College
  • “German Mennonite Theology in the Era of National Socialism”
    Arnold Neufeldt-Fast, Tyndale Seminary
  • “Judaism as Argument: German Mennonites between Anti-Semitism and the Old Testament God“
    Astrid von Schlachta, Mennonitischer Geschichtsverein
  • “Selective Memory: Danziger Mennonite Reflections on the Nazi Era, 1945-50”
    Steve Schroeder, University of the Fraser Valley
Krehbiel Auditorium, Luyken Fine Arts Center
noonLunch The Caf, Schultz Student Center
1 - 2:30 p.m.Session Six: Personal Impacts
Moderator: Heidi Regier Kreider, Conference Minister, Western District Conference (Mennonite Church USA)
  • “The Missing Pieces of Our Narratives”
    Connie Braun, Trinity Western University
  • “A Usable Past: Soviet Mennonite Memories of the Holocaust”
    Hans Werner, University of Winnipeg
  • “Family Responses to the 1930s and ’40s in West Prussia”
    Joachim Wieler, Fachhochschule Erfurt
Krehbiel Auditorium, Luyken Fine Arts Center
2:30 - 3 p.m.Coffee Break  Luyken Fine Arts Center
3 - 4:30 p.m.Session Seven: Literary Responses
Moderator: John Sharp, Hesston College
  • "Readings from Silentium: and Other Reflections on Memory, Sorrow, Place, and the Sacred"
    Connie Braun, Trinity Western University
  • "A Mennonite Wife, A Jewish Husband, and the Holocaust," Dramatic Reading from "Heart of the World" Play and Discussion
    Helen Stoltzfus, Black Swan Arts & Media, Oakland, California
Krehbiel Auditorium, Luyken Fine Arts Center
4:30 p.m.Conference ConclusionKrehbiel Auditorium, Luyken Fine Arts Center
5-6:30 p.m.DinnerThe Caf, Schultz Student Center


John Sharp, Hesston College, Hesston, Kansas, Mark Jantzen, Bethel College, and John Thiesen, Mennonite Library and Archives, North Newton, Kansas



Area Accomodations

Propaganda was one of the most important tools the Nazis used to shape the beliefs and attitudes of the German public. Through posters, film, radio, museum exhibits, and other media, they bombarded the German public with messages designed to build support for and gain acceptance of their vision for the future of Germany. The gallery of images below exhibits several examples of Nazi propaganda, and the introduction that follows explores the history of propaganda and how the Nazis sought to use it to further their goals.

Introduction to the Visual Essay

The readings in this chapter describe the Nazis’ efforts to consolidate their power and create a German “national community” in the mid-1930s. Propaganda—information that is intended to persuade an audience to accept a particular idea or cause, often by using biased material or by stirring up emotions—was one of the most powerful tools the Nazis used to accomplish these goals.

Hitler and Goebbels did not invent propaganda. The word itself was coined by the Catholic Church to describe its efforts to discredit Protestant teachings in the 1600s. Over the years, almost every nation has used propaganda to unite its people in wartime. Both sides spread propaganda during World War I, for example. But the Nazis were notable for making propaganda a key element of government even before Germany went to war again. One of Hitler’s first acts as chancellor was to establish the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, demonstrating his belief that controlling information was as important as controlling the military and the economy. He appointed Joseph Goebbels as director. Through the ministry, Goebbels was able to penetrate virtually every form of German media, from newspapers, film, radio, posters, and rallies to museum exhibits and school textbooks, with Nazi propaganda. 

Whether or not propaganda was truthful or tasteful was irrelevant to the Nazis. Goebbels wrote in his diary, "no one can say your propaganda is too rough, too mean; these are not criteria by which it may be characterized. It ought not be decent nor ought it be gentle or soft or humble; it ought to lead to success."1 Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that to achieve its purpose, propaganda must "be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan. As soon as you sacrifice this slogan and try to be many-sided, the effect will piddle away."

Some Nazi propaganda used positive images to glorify the government’s leaders and its various activities, projecting a glowing vision of the “national community.” Nazi propaganda could also be ugly and negative, creating fear and loathing by portraying the regime’s “enemies” as dangerous and even sub-human. The Nazis’ distribution of antisemitic films, newspaper cartoons, and even children’s books aroused centuries-old prejudices against Jews and also presented new ideas about the racial impurity of Jews. The newspaper Der Stürmer (The Attacker), published by Nazi Party member Julius Streicher, was a key outlet for antisemitic propaganda. 

This visual essay includes a selection of Nazi propaganda images, both “positive” and “negative.” It focuses on posters that Germans would have seen in newspapers like Der Stürmer and passed in the streets, in workplaces, and in schools. Some of these posters were advertisements for traveling exhibits—on topics like “The Eternal Jew” or the evils of communism—that were themselves examples of propaganda. 

Connection Questions

  1. As you explore the images in this visual essay, consider what each image is trying to communicate to the viewer. Who is the audience for this message? How is the message conveyed?
  2. Do you notice any themes or patterns in this group of propaganda images? How do the ideas in these images connect to what you have already learned about Nazi ideology? How do they extend your thinking about Nazi ideas? 
  3. Based on the images you analyze, how do you think the Nazis used propaganda to define the identities of individuals and groups? What groups and individuals did Nazi propaganda glorify? What stereotypes did it promote? 
  4. Why was propaganda so important to Nazi leadership? How do you think Nazi propaganda influenced the attitudes and actions of Germans in the 1930s?
  5. Some scholars caution that there are limits to the power of propaganda; they think it succeeds not because it persuades the public to believe an entirely new set of ideas but because it expresses beliefs people already hold. Scholar Daniel Goldhagen writes: “No man, [no] Hitler, no matter how powerful he is, can move people against their hopes and desires. Hitler, as powerful a figure as he was, as charismatic as he was, could never have accomplished this [the Holocaust] had there not been tens of thousands, indeed hundreds of thousands of ordinary Germans who were willing to help him.”2 Do you agree? Would people have rejected Nazi propaganda if they did not already share, to some extent, the beliefs it communicated? 
  6. Can you think of examples of propaganda in society today? How do you think this propaganda influences the attitudes and actions of people today? Is there a difference between the impact of propaganda in a democracy that has a free press and an open marketplace of ideas and the impact of propaganda in a dictatorship with fewer non-governmental sources of information? 

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