Monday, April 23, 2018

Conference on Mennonites and Holocaust should come to Canada

Heinrich Himmler, third from right, head of the SS, at a flag-raising ceremony
in the Molotschna Mennonite colony in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, 1942. Himmler
and other National Socialists praised Mennonites’ allegedly Aryan blood.
I have followed the reports of the Mennonites and the Holocaust Conference that took place March 16-17 at Bethel College with keen interest. Three different life experiences have shaped my personal interest in this tragic subject.

I grew up on a farm in a Mennonite family in Southern Ontario. My father was a conscientious objector, and did not question his pacifism until I spent a year in Trier, West Germany, in 1973-74 attending a German high school and living with four different German families. I will never forget an evening spent with one host family looking at a recently published collection of photos of Trier in the aftermath of World War II: page after page of bombed rubble. As we neared the end of the book, the photos took a dramatic turn of subject matter. What followed were photos depicting death camp atrocities, mass graves, naked lifeless bodies piled high. In an instant, we all recoiled from the unbearable weight of connection. The sadness of the destruction of Trier was a direct result of the evil of Nazi Germany’s Aryan empire expansionism and the Final Solution.

My host father asked, “Can you imagine where we would be today if the Allies had not been successful in bringing an end to the Nazi madness?” Then he asked me, “Where did your father serve during the war?” Not really understanding how naive I sounded, I proudly proclaimed that my father was a pacifist and that he helped build a highway as a form of alternative service. My host father’s reaction was one of astonished disbelief, and I realize now that as he hurriedly changed the subject, he was trying to refrain from insulting his young guest. Until that moment, I had never really thought that there might be other understandings of the choice my father made.

Shortly after returning from Germany, I began an undergraduate degree at University of Toronto, studying German and History. Nazi Germany and the Holocaust were a big part of my studies. But it was friendships with Jewish students during those university years that left a lasting impact on my life.  (more...)


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