Historian Ben Goossen has a fascinating blog post up at Anabaptist Historians about Abraham Esau, one of the leaders of Nazi Germany’s nuclear energy program. Esau was charged with–twice–war crimes involving his participation in the plundering of an electronics company in the Netherland.
Despite being called an unrepentant Nazi by his fellow scientists, Esau was embraced by Mennonites after World War II. Folks from MCC, including the academic dean of Bethel College, supported his release from prison, and he was welcomed back into Mennonite society, in part because of his translation of The Story of the Mennonites. The respectability of Mennonites helped him “rehabilitate” his image, while his status as a scientist was something that Mennonites could boast of. As Goosen writes, “Denominational connections outweighed even known Nazi collaboration.”
Which raises a larger question, one that Goosen explores in much of his work:
Mennonites in North America, Europe, and around the globe might reflect on this history of perpetration and denial. Why is it that European Mennonites like Esau found collaboration with Hitler’s genocidal regime so easy and desirable? How could North American Mennonites then so breezily cover for their coreligionists, without raising serious concerns about crimes they might have committed? Abraham Esau’s case may require special soul-searching, given his direct and significant role in the Nazi war machine, as well as his broader impact on the global rise of nuclear weapons.