NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Mark Jantzen, a professor of history at Bethel College, is celebrating the publication of his first book from a major press with a public book signing.
On Oct. 25, the University of Notre Dame Press released Mennonite German Soldiers: Nation, Religion and Family in the Prussian East, 1772-1880. Jantzen, associate professor of history, will be signing copies of his book, which will be for sale, Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 2 p.m. in Mojo’s at Bubbert’s in Schultz Student Center on the Bethel campus. The Bethel bookstore and Clio, Bethel’s history club, are sponsoring the event.
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, based on their religious confession of faith. Conscription was mandatory for nearly all male Prussian citizens and being willing to fight and die for country was essential to the ideals of a developing German national identity.
In this historical narrative, Jantzen describes the policies of the Prussian federal and regional governments toward the Mennonites over a 100-year period, and the legal, economic and social pressures on the Mennonites to conform.
Mennonite leaders defended exemption for their communities’ sons through a long history of petitions and legal pleas and sought alternate 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. 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.
In Mennonite German Soldiers, “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,” writes Helmut Walser Smith of Vanderbilt University. “Through this prism, Jantzen also illuminates fundamental questions of modern nationalism and the implications of nationalism, religion and everyday life.”
Mark Jantzen has taught at Bethel since 2001. He has degrees from Bethel College and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame. Jantzen is co-editor, with John D. Thiesen, of The Danzig Mennonite Church: Its Origin and History, 1569–1919.
Mennonite German Soldiers (384 pages, softcover, $38) will be for sale at the book signing and is also available at Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center on campus (hours Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-5 p.m.).