The Mennonitisches Hilfswerk, Christenpflicht ("Christenpflicht", tr., "The Christian's Duty"), a South German Mennonite relief organization, was founded in 1920. World War I which for 51 months shook the world to its foundations demanded a frightful toll of lives. In addition the Central Powers suffered from the blockade, and the disturbed economic and monetary systems threw a large part of the population into indescribable misery. The refugees from territories ceded to other powers burdened the economic system still further.
In this time of need all Germans, especially those with religious motivation, including the Mennonites, came to the aid of the most destitute. Lene Bühler (1858-1936) of Harlanden near Ingolstadt, who had lived for some time in America, now received from her friends in America gifts of money to be used for the needy. She set up a soup kitchen in Ingolstadt, using also food donated by the Mennonites of the vicinity. In the inflation of German currency the purchasing power of the dollar became so great that she could no longer manage the project alone.
Then the American Mennonites asked Michael Horsch, the elder of the Ingolstadt congregation, to form an organization for the relief of the most urgent distress in the neediest districts. Thus Christenpflicht was organized by the Mennonites of Bavaria. Generous gifts of money given by American Mennonites were cabled to a bank in Ingolstadt to be distributed by Christenpflicht. In cooperation with the local authorities, who carried out the distribution free of charge, under the direction of committees manned as much as possible by Mennonites, the apparatus functioned almost entirely without overhead expense; in 1921, for instance, the cost of distribution was only 1.3 per cent of the turnover. In addition to Ingolstadt relief was given to the needy of all creeds in Munich, Augsburg, Würzburg, and the Erzgebirge in Saxony. The supervisor of Christenpflicht in the Erzgebirge was Pastor Richter of Scheibenberg.
Twice a week food certificates were handed out which were exchanged for food in the local stores and which Christenpflicht then redeemed. The food contributed directly by the German Mennonites was handed out in special stations. During the inflation of 1920-1923 an average of 12,000 persons were provided twice a week with essential food. The head of Christenpflicht, Michael Horsch, of Hellmannsberg, reported at the Mennonite World Relief Conference at Danzig in 1930 that in this period the organization disposed of 259,600 marks, which had a purchasing power of 2,500,000 marks. During this time several transports of undernourished children of the Erzgebirge, selected by a Mennonite physician, Dr. Hermann Neff, were sent to Mennonite farms. The Mennonites themselves, being on the whole successful farmers, needed little aid.
Soon there was opportunity to aid the Mennonites emigrating from Russia. In 1924-1925, 15,000 entered Canada alone, nearly all of whom had been in Germany before being admitted to America. Many of them had to stay in Germany for years because of their health and other reasons. For them Christenpflicht and Deutsche Mennoniten-Hilfe used the army grounds of Lechfeld as a camp until they were admitted to Canada.
In 1930 Christenpflicht received from Babette Ringenberg a former Hochstettler estate in Burgweinting near Regensburg with the stipulation that it be made a Mennonite deaconess home. Christenpflicht in a meeting in this house on 15 December 1931, agreed that since the original purpose of its organization had been fulfilled, it would turn its attention to deaconess work. But because of a lack of volunteers among Mennonite girls this work never developed. In 1929 the house was in charge of sisters from the mother-house of Hensoltshöhe (Middle Franconia) under the direction of Elise Hochstettler, a Mennonite deaconess.
In 1929, in connection with the policy of agrarian collectivization in Russia a new wave of immigrants set in, who were also offered asylum in Germany. Again there were numerous Mennonites among them. Christenpflicht admitted a number of aged women, for whom camp life was too difficult, into its deaconess home in Burgweinting. Since their departure the home was used chiefly as a home for the aged.
A new task for Christenpflicht arose in connection with the suffering occasioned by World War II, both in the relief of destitute war sufferers in their home regions, and in the aid to refugees from former German settlements in the East and Mennonite refugees from Russia and the Danzig area. This new work, which included also a spiritual ministry to scattered Mennonite refugees, began in early 1946. Food and funds were contributed by South German Mennonites, especially the farmers, but the major source of supply, both food and clothing, was the Mennonite Central Committee. Since the Mennonite Central Committee was never granted permission to operate direct relief in the American zone, it was compelled to send its food and clothing to other agencies for distribution, chiefly the Evangelisches Hilfswerk, which was the relief agency of the Lutheran state church. As soon as Christenpflicht was licensed by the American military government to serve as a distribution agency (1947), it was given generous stocks of Mennonite Central Committee food and clothing, although it also received some supplies through Evangelisches Hilfswerk in 1946. Under Mennonite Central Committee general direction it set up distributions in the severely damaged cities of Heilbronn, Pforzheim, Munich, Regensburg, and Nürnberg. It also operated an extensive package distribution program in other needy areas in South and Middle Germany, and the Russian zone, particularly for Mennonite refugees. The package service to the Russian zone continued as late as 1952.
Organizationally Christenpflicht was composed of a group of ten representatives of the Mennonite congregations of Bavaria, a self-perpetuating body which was incorporated 29 January 1922, at Ingolstadt, Bavaria, as an Eingetragener Verein. Its headquarters were always at the home of Michael Horsch at his farm at Hellmannsberg, near Ingolstadt until his death 1 October 1949, when they were transferred to Ingolstadt. The warehouse was always in Ingolstadt. Michael Horsch, who was the elder of the Ingolstadt Mennonite congregation, was its chairman and executive officer from the beginning until his death. After that Albert Schantz, a Mennonite layman of Wolfersdorf, Bavaria, who was the longtime treasurer, served as chairman. Christenpflicht, though conceived and carried through as a work of the South German (Verband badisch-württembergisch-bayischer Mennonitengemeinden e. V.)Mennonite churches, was in a real sense the lengthened "shadow of one man, Michael Horsch, whose vision, devotion and personal labors made Christenpflicht what it was and continues to be, a uniquely effective Christian relief work, to serve 'the poorest of the poor' in the name of Christ."
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexicon. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 110.
Mennonitische Welt-Hilfskonferenz Danzig 1930. Weierhof, 1930: 71-73, 104-109.
Schantz, Albert. "Das Mennonitische Hilfswerk 'ChristenpHicht.'" Gemeindeblatt der Mennoniten (1949).
Cite This Article
Schantz, Albert. "Mennonitisches Hilfswerk Christenpflicht." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 4 Oct 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Mennonitisches_Hilfswerk_Christenpflicht&oldid=119364.
Schantz, Albert. (1953). Mennonitisches Hilfswerk Christenpflicht. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 4 October 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Mennonitisches_Hilfswerk_Christenpflicht&oldid=119364.
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