Mennonite German Soldiers: Nation, Religion, and Family in the Prussian East, 1772-1880

By Friesen, John J. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2012 | Go to article overview

Mennonite German Soldiers: Nation, Religion, and Family in the Prussian East, 1772-1880


Friesen, John J., The Catholic Historical Review


Late Modern European

Mennonite German Soldiers: Nation, Religion, and Family in the Prussian East, 1772-1880. By Mark Jantzen. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 2010. Pp. xii, 371. $38.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-26803269-2)

Mark Jantzen' s book Mennonite German Soldiers discusses the history of Mennonites in the regions of the Vistula River, from the beginning of the 1772 Prussian takeover of the lands where Mennonites resided to the early years after the formation of the German Empire in 1871. In particular, the book is the story of how a faith community, within the space of a century, was transformed from a community whose primary identity was faith in God and the belief that this faith required rejection of military service to a community that embraced German nationalism and accepted that military service was the highest duty of a German Christian. As such, this book becomes a study in nationalism, acculturation, toleration, and the precarious nature of all minority religious groups in the face of the ultimate claims of nation-states.

Jantzen portrays in detail the struggle between Mennonites and the Prussian state. In the government's effort to draw Mennonites into the national ethos and have them accept military service, it decided to put pressure on them in three areas: land, taxation, and marriage patterns. As long as Mennonites rejected military service, they could not buy additional land. This caused many to emigrate to Russia. As long as Mennonites rejected military service, they had to pay a military exemption tax and local church taxes to either the Lutheran or Catholic parishes, in addition to their normal taxes. This resulted in a double-taxation system. As long as Mennonites rejected military service, they could not marry outside of their church group, since the government decreed that children of mixed marriages could not be exempt from military service. …

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