Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Fate, Hate and Denial: Ingrid Rimland's Lebensraum!

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Fate, Hate and Denial: Ingrid Rimland's Lebensraum!

Article excerpt

The recent publication of Ingrid Rimland's three books, Lebensraum!, accompanied by considerable controversy over their distribution, should be of major concern to all Mennonites. (1) Not only does Rimland identify herself as a person of Mennonite descent, but in her books the major protagonists have Mennonite names, many of the places are easily identifiable with Mennonite locations and the events described draw on the troubled experiences of some Mennonites in the present century.

The books, however, go beyond appropriating the Mennonite name and past for literary convenience. As Al Reimer, himself a noted author of Mennonite historical fiction, has pointed out to me: "when the 'history' in a historical novel overwhelms the literary aspect--that is, distorts, oversimplifies, chokes the narrative world in which the invented characters must act and makes mere stereotypes out of them--the author is writing not a novel but propaganda thinly disguised as fiction." (2)

Rimland's books are indeed more concerned with propaganda than fictional narrative. The extensive notes on the back covers of the books say little about the contents but instead discuss Rimland's recent association with an internet site renowned for its racist, Neo-Nazi rhetoric and her claims that through operating the site she is a champion of free speech and truth.

It is very easy, however, for writers to claim that in writing fiction they are exercising literary license and therefore their books should not be subject to critical analysis by professional scholars such as historians. Rimland herself though claims greater substance and meaning for her work when she states she is merely reflecting truth in literary form. (3) On the back covers she writes that they are "a three-part historical novel" and her "latest contribution to the intellectual discipline called 'Revisionism.'" This is a clear reference not in fact to a scholarly "discipline" or "an intellectual movement" connected to any accepted historical practice, but in reality to its corruption. (4)

In her books Rimland's characters do not speak for themselves and the selective and distorted portrayal of events is not arbitrary; the voices and events are merely hollow vehicles for Rimland to propagate her own ideas and peddle her prejudices, just as she does elsewhere without the "cloak" of fiction. It is for this reason that this review will consider the books not as innocent fiction but as propaganda which claims to reflect historical fact and the "truth" concerning the "real" causes of events in the past.


Ingrid Rimland was born in Halbstadt (Molochansk) in the Soviet Ukraine in 1936. (55) Her mother was of Mennonite descent, the daughter of Katherina (Bestvater) and David Lotkemann. Her mother married a non-Mennonite German colonist, Brandt, from the neighboring settlement of Prischib. Although before the Russian Revolution it was unusual for Mennonites to marry non-Mennonites, it was less uncommon during the Soviet period. She has described her father as a principal (presumably of a high school), her mother as a teacher and herself as being raised in an "intellectual household." (6) Her grandmother features strongly in her first novel and obviously was a powerful influence. (7)

After the Soviets failed to deport her and her family ahead of the advancing German armies, Rimland lived under German control until forced to join the long "Trek" to Germany ahead of the Red Army. She witnessed the final death throes of the Nazi regime in Germany, escaped forced repatriation to the Soviet Union and with her family eventually settled in the new settlement of Volendam in Paraguay. Here she caught up her education and married a man called Riemland shortly before moving to St. Catherines, Ontario in 1960. Unable to settle into the community and with two sons, one of whom had a serious mental incapacity, she moved to the United States to further her education. …

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