Academic journal article Church History

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

Academic journal article Church History

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

Article excerpt

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This abundantly documented study explores the course of acculturation of the Mennonites, who from the sixteenth century on settled in the Vistula Delta and became Prussian subjects in the first partition of Poland. Their cohesiveness, centered on their interpretation of Biblical texts and such elements of their faith as the rejection of war and the refusal to tender oaths and carry arms, guided their efforts to settle in their new home and also shaped the government's policy toward them. To the Frederician state the Mennonites represented an added segment to an already highly segmented society, each particle with its defined duties and privileges, arrived at by imposition and negotiation. The Mennonites' refusal to carry arms was an issue to be negotiated with ministers and provincial officials, as, among other such matters, was the relationship of their congregations to the established churches in the state.

The author notes more than once that the treatment of a small minority says a great deal about the political and social system as a whole, and his analyses of the Mennonites in Prussia and the reactions to them from the late eighteenth century to the Wilhelmine empire approach each particular issue from a wide perspective. If his work does not revise our general understanding of the changing conditions the Mennonites faced in Prussia, its detailed accounts and interpretations of the official responses to their arrival and presence, and how the state's policies were developed and implemented, are nevertheless instructive. What began as the introduction of newcomers to a stable social and political host, soon turned into their coexistence with the uncertainties brought by the French Revolution, Prussia's defeat in the war of 1806, the development of a new cultural and subsequently political German nationalism, and the expansion of Prussian particularism into the German empire under Prussian leadership. …

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