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Mennonite German Soldiers

Mennonite German Soldiers

Nation, Religion, and Family in the Prussian East, 1772–1880

Mark Jantzen

Mennonite German Soldiers traces the efforts of a small, pacifist, Christian religious minority in eastern Prussia—the Mennonite communities of the Vistula River basin—to preserve their exemption from military service, which was based on their religious confession of faith. Conscription was mandatory for nearly all male Prussian citizens, and the willingness to fight and die for country was essential to the ideals of a developing German national identity. In this engaging historical narrative, Mark Jantzen describes the policies of the Prussian federal and regional governments toward the Mennonites over a hundred-year period and the legal, economic, and social pressures brought to bear on the Mennonites to conform. Mennonite leaders defended the exemptions of their communities’ sons through a long history of petitions and legal pleas, and sought alternative ways, such as charitable donations, to support the state and prove their loyalty. Faced with increasingly punitive legal and financial restrictions, as well as widespread social disapproval, many Mennonites ultimately emigrated, and many others chose to join the German nation at the cost of their religious tradition.

Jantzen tells the history of the Mennonite experience in Prussian territories against the backdrop of larger themes of Prussian state-building and the growth of German nationalism. The Mennonites, who lived on the margins of German society, were also active agents in the long struggle of the state to integrate them. The public debates over their place in Prussian society shed light on a multi-confessional German past and on the dissemination of nationalist values.

“Based on extensive and exacting research, Jantzen shows in intricate detail how Mennonite attitudes toward the military draft changed over time, and how these changing attitudes reshaped the fundamental fabric of the Mennonite community. Through this prism, Jantzen also illuminates fundamental questions of modern nationalism and the implications of nationalism, religion, and everyday life.” — Helmut Walser Smith, Vanderbilt University

“What happens when a state acquires a population that is economically valuable but religiously undesirable? Mark Jantzen has opened up new territory with his absorbing study of a classic case, the Mennonites of the Vistula Delta in the century between the partition of Poland and the first decade of Bismarck’s Reich. Mennonite German Soldiers undermines more than one Sonderweg and joins the pioneering work of Benjamin Nathans and Robert Crews (Russia), Selim Deringil and Fikret Adanir (Ottoman Empire), and Mack Walker and Helmut Walser Smith (Germany) in transforming our understanding of minority-majority relations in a multi-religious environment. Crisply written and deeply researched, it should be required reading for graduate seminars in Europe’s long nineteenth century, and offers surprises to scholars working in German, Polish, Russian, and Jewish history.” — Margaret Lavinia Anderson, University of California, Berkeley

“Mennonite German Soldiers engages several fundamental themes in Prussian/German history through the transition from early modern to the modern era. This regional study of eastern Prussia focuses on the Mennonites, a fairly small religious minority, and the author clearly intends the story to be a microcosm for engaging more basic themes, such as the rise of German nationalism; the intersection of church/state in modern Europe; the role of the gender/family in state formation; the conflicted emergence of liberal politics. Similar variations of this story have been told before—focusing on the Jewish or Catholic experience—but this is the first book-length study that focuses on a Christian minority group with the debate over military service central to its argument.” — John D. Roth, Goshen College

ISBN: 978-0-268-03269-2
384 pages
Publication Year: 2010

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Mark Jantzen is associate professor of history at Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas. He is coeditor, with John D. Thiesen, of The Danzig Mennonite Church: Its Origin and History, 1569–1919.

“Jantzen emphasizes not only church and state dynamics but also tensions within the governing party, as well as those within the Mennonite community. The state increased its impact as the population became increasingly nationalistic. Jantzen also observes how theological developments among German Protestants influenced Mennonite pastors and thought leaders. Jantzen portrays an evolving Mennonite identity over a hundred-year period. His book makes a significant contribution to understanding the richness, diversity, and struggle in the Mennonite story.” — Mennonite Weekly Review

“Mennonite German Soldiers offers a fascinating, carefully researched study of Prussian Mennonites during much of the nineteenth century. The author describes with exacting detail how persistent state and societal pressures coerced Mennonites into becoming ‘good German citizens.’ The book is organized into ten chapters, the last including observations on how profoundly the self-understanding of this Mennonite community changed, resulting in a culturally adapted Scriptural hermeneutic.” — Mennonite Brethren Herald

“. . . [A] fascinating analysis of how Prussian Mennonites adapted so thoroughly between 1772 and 1880 to German national identity and its attendant military responsibilities. . . . Jantzen deftly combines social, political, and family history along with the more traditional religious and political narratives to show us how Mennonites, as individuals, members of their communities, and family members, altered their religious identity. He also reveals the shifting attitudes and approaches taken by various levels and iterations of the Prussian government." — American Historical Review

“This book deserves wide readership. The Mennonite experience in nineteenth-century Prussia/Germany is an intriguing example of the complex negotiations between a religious minority and the modern state. Jantzen’s analysis also holds valuable insights for the contemporary German Integrations debate.” — German Studies Review

“This is the first full-length study of a problem peculiar to Mennonites, but with implications for other minority religious groups and mainline churches: the issue of full political participation and enthusiastic military service in defense of shared national values. . . . This is a thoroughly researched work, graced by a broad view and written with a clear persuasive style that exhibits frequent poetic touches.” — The Mennonite Quarterly Review

“In this engaging historical narrative, Mark Jantzen describes the policies of the Prussian federal and regional governments toward the Mennonites over a hundred-year period and the legal, economic, and social pressures brought to bear on the Mennonites to conform. . . . The public debates over their place in Prussian society shed light on a multi-confessional German past and on the dissemination of nationalist values.” — Canadian Mennonite

“Jantzen’s study is highly recommended for anyone interested in Mennonite history. In addition to helping readers better understand the history of this important segment of the Mennonite past, it also sheds light on the character and identity of Mennonites from this community, who migrated to Russia and from there to North America and Latin America.” — Catholic Historical Review

“With this highly informative volume, Professor Jantzen takes a major step in correcting the relative neglect, at least in English historical literature, of this period of Mennonite history in central Europe. While a number of German studies have addressed significant issues of this stressful century in German Mennonite history, none has done so with the analysis and Sitz im Leben perspective that Jantzen demonstrates.” — Journal of Mennonite Studies

“In his remarkable study of Mennonites in the Prussian East, Mark Jantzen convincingly demonstrates how an examination of a seemingly marginal religious minority can make significant contributions to understanding larger historical processes, in this case those that shaped Prussia and Germany and the development of the modern state in Western Europe.” — Mennonite Life

“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. . . . That Jantzen’s discussion of the two literary works frames his social and political interpretation is also a welcome example of how productive it can be to combine one’s specialization with different approaches to history.” — Church History

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Mennonite German Soldiers

Nation, Religion, and Family in the Prussian East, 1772–1880

Mark Jantzen

 Mennonite German Soldiers: Nation, Religion, and Family in the Prussian East, 1772–1880
Paper Edition

Mennonite German Soldiers traces the efforts of a small, pacifist, Christian religious minority in eastern Prussia—the Mennonite communities of the Vistula River basin—to preserve their exemption from military service, which was based on their religious confession of faith. Conscription was mandatory for nearly all male Prussian citizens, and the willingness to fight and die for country was essential to the ideals of a developing German national identity. In this engaging historical narrative, Mark Jantzen describes the policies of the Prussian federal and regional governments toward the Mennonites over a hundred-year period and the legal, economic, and social pressures brought to bear on the Mennonites to conform. Mennonite leaders defended the exemptions of their communities’ sons through a long history of petitions and legal pleas, and sought alternative ways, such as charitable donations, to support the state and prove their loyalty. Faced with increasingly punitive legal and financial restrictions, as well as widespread social disapproval, many Mennonites ultimately emigrated, and many others chose to join the German nation at the cost of their religious tradition.

Jantzen tells the history of the Mennonite experience in Prussian territories against the backdrop of larger themes of Prussian state-building and the growth of German nationalism. The Mennonites, who lived on the margins of German society, were also active agents in the long struggle of the state to integrate them. The public debates over their place in Prussian society shed light on a multi-confessional German past and on the dissemination of nationalist values.

“Based on extensive and exacting research, Jantzen shows in intricate detail how Mennonite attitudes toward the military draft changed over time, and how these changing attitudes reshaped the fundamental fabric of the Mennonite community. Through this prism, Jantzen also illuminates fundamental questions of modern nationalism and the implications of nationalism, religion, and everyday life.” — Helmut Walser Smith, Vanderbilt University

“What happens when a state acquires a population that is economically valuable but religiously undesirable? Mark Jantzen has opened up new territory with his absorbing study of a classic case, the Mennonites of the Vistula Delta in the century between the partition of Poland and the first decade of Bismarck’s Reich. Mennonite German Soldiers undermines more than one Sonderweg and joins the pioneering work of Benjamin Nathans and Robert Crews (Russia), Selim Deringil and Fikret Adanir (Ottoman Empire), and Mack Walker and Helmut Walser Smith (Germany) in transforming our understanding of minority-majority relations in a multi-religious environment. Crisply written and deeply researched, it should be required reading for graduate seminars in Europe’s long nineteenth century, and offers surprises to scholars working in German, Polish, Russian, and Jewish history.” — Margaret Lavinia Anderson, University of California, Berkeley

“Mennonite German Soldiers engages several fundamental themes in Prussian/German history through the transition from early modern to the modern era. This regional study of eastern Prussia focuses on the Mennonites, a fairly small religious minority, and the author clearly intends the story to be a microcosm for engaging more basic themes, such as the rise of German nationalism; the intersection of church/state in modern Europe; the role of the gender/family in state formation; the conflicted emergence of liberal politics. Similar variations of this story have been told before—focusing on the Jewish or Catholic experience—but this is the first book-length study that focuses on a Christian minority group with the debate over military service central to its argument.” — John D. Roth, Goshen College

ISBN: 978-0-268-03269-2

384 pages

“Jantzen emphasizes not only church and state dynamics but also tensions within the governing party, as well as those within the Mennonite community. The state increased its impact as the population became increasingly nationalistic. Jantzen also observes how theological developments among German Protestants influenced Mennonite pastors and thought leaders. Jantzen portrays an evolving Mennonite identity over a hundred-year period. His book makes a significant contribution to understanding the richness, diversity, and struggle in the Mennonite story.” — Mennonite Weekly Review

“Mennonite German Soldiers offers a fascinating, carefully researched study of Prussian Mennonites during much of the nineteenth century. The author describes with exacting detail how persistent state and societal pressures coerced Mennonites into becoming ‘good German citizens.’ The book is organized into ten chapters, the last including observations on how profoundly the self-understanding of this Mennonite community changed, resulting in a culturally adapted Scriptural hermeneutic.” — Mennonite Brethren Herald

“. . . [A] fascinating analysis of how Prussian Mennonites adapted so thoroughly between 1772 and 1880 to German national identity and its attendant military responsibilities. . . . Jantzen deftly combines social, political, and family history along with the more traditional religious and political narratives to show us how Mennonites, as individuals, members of their communities, and family members, altered their religious identity. He also reveals the shifting attitudes and approaches taken by various levels and iterations of the Prussian government." — American Historical Review

“This book deserves wide readership. The Mennonite experience in nineteenth-century Prussia/Germany is an intriguing example of the complex negotiations between a religious minority and the modern state. Jantzen’s analysis also holds valuable insights for the contemporary German Integrations debate.” — German Studies Review

“This is the first full-length study of a problem peculiar to Mennonites, but with implications for other minority religious groups and mainline churches: the issue of full political participation and enthusiastic military service in defense of shared national values. . . . This is a thoroughly researched work, graced by a broad view and written with a clear persuasive style that exhibits frequent poetic touches.” — The Mennonite Quarterly Review

“In this engaging historical narrative, Mark Jantzen describes the policies of the Prussian federal and regional governments toward the Mennonites over a hundred-year period and the legal, economic, and social pressures brought to bear on the Mennonites to conform. . . . The public debates over their place in Prussian society shed light on a multi-confessional German past and on the dissemination of nationalist values.” — Canadian Mennonite

“Jantzen’s study is highly recommended for anyone interested in Mennonite history. In addition to helping readers better understand the history of this important segment of the Mennonite past, it also sheds light on the character and identity of Mennonites from this community, who migrated to Russia and from there to North America and Latin America.” — Catholic Historical Review

“With this highly informative volume, Professor Jantzen takes a major step in correcting the relative neglect, at least in English historical literature, of this period of Mennonite history in central Europe. While a number of German studies have addressed significant issues of this stressful century in German Mennonite history, none has done so with the analysis and Sitz im Leben perspective that Jantzen demonstrates.” — Journal of Mennonite Studies

“In his remarkable study of Mennonites in the Prussian East, Mark Jantzen convincingly demonstrates how an examination of a seemingly marginal religious minority can make significant contributions to understanding larger historical processes, in this case those that shaped Prussia and Germany and the development of the modern state in Western Europe.” — Mennonite Life

“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. . . . That Jantzen’s discussion of the two literary works frames his social and political interpretation is also a welcome example of how productive it can be to combine one’s specialization with different approaches to history.” — Church History