Germans ponder lessons of history

Feb 3, 2020 by

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NEUWIED, Germany — Germans commemorated an infamous historic date during the annual meeting of European Mennonite leaders.

On Nov. 9-10, 1938, the anti-Semitic pogroms of the Reichs­kristallnacht (night of broken glass) took place. Nazi paramilitary forces and civilians throughout Germany and Austria looted Jewish-owned stores, damaged Jewish buildings, burned 267 synagogues and incarcerated more than 30,000 Jewish men.

Youth lay wreaths before a memorial sign where a synagogue was destroyed in the Reichs­kristall­nacht (night of broken glass) pogrom of 1938 in Neuwied, Germany. — J. Nelson Kraybill/MWC

Youth lay wreaths before a memorial sign where a synagogue was destroyed in the Reichs­kristall­nacht (night of broken glass) pogrom of 1938 in Neuwied, Germany. — J. Nelson Kraybill/MWC

The Mennonite gathering in Neu­wied on Nov. 7-10 included attendance at a commemoration ser­vice with about 200 city authorities, civil organizations, local church and religious leaders and citizens.

City authorities expressed appreciation for Mennonite attendance at the event at the memorial site of the Neuwied synagogue destroyed in 1938 riots.

There are no reports about the reaction of Neuwied Mennonites to those events, but it seems they were quiet, politically indifferent toward atrocities against the Jews.

German Mennonites today believe it is important to ponder the lessons of these events and examine past involvement in situations like them as followers of Jesus.

The Mennonite Brethren congregation (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Brudergemeinden in Deutschland) hosted the meeting in Neu­wied, home to eight Mennonite churches with about 3,000 members.

In the past, this meeting of European Mennonite conference chairs was an informal gathering of representatives of the four “historic” conferences — Switz­erland, Germany, France and the Netherlands — to share new developments, discuss common concerns and prepare for MERK, the European Mennonite regional conference.

Now, participants include newer Anabaptist conferences in Portugal, Spain, Lithuania, Ukraine, Italy, England and representatives of Russian immigrant churches in Germany.

Networks also attend, such as the Anabaptist Network in the United Kingdom, Mennonite World Conference, Mennonite Central Committee Europe, the International Community of Mennonite Brethren, Multiply Europa (formerly MB Mission), historical societies and other ecumenical guests.

Participants gather to get to know each other, listen to reports, share concerns and challenges, discuss common vision and worship with local Mennonites.

The group also talked about the commemoration of 500 years of the Anabaptist movement in 2025 and spent time visiting with members and leaders of Neuwied’s eight Mennonite congregations.

The churches belong to several conferences with different histories and variations in culture and theology. Some number more than 850 members and worship at multiple sites. Several are involved in education, refuge work, evangelism and outreach.

Only two are part of MWC member conferences. Others are more mainstream evangelical or more conservative in orientation. Most of these congregations are organized by Ausseidler Mennonite immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

The welcome was open and cordial. Visits, though short, were meaningful. Mutual interests and concerns were shared so reciprocal understanding could grow. Hosts appreciated learning about the wide international and theological scope of this group of European Mennonite leaders.

Alexander Neufeld of Germany is Mennonite World Conference Executive Committee representative for Europe.


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