Article Note: Benjamin W. Goossen, “The Making of a Holocaust Denier: Ingrid Rimland, Mennonites, and Gender in White Supremacy, 1945-2000”
Contemporary Church History Quarterly
Volume 28, Number 1/2 (Spring/Summer 2022)
Article Note: Benjamin W. Goossen, “The Making of a Holocaust Denier: Ingrid Rimland, Mennonites, and Gender in White Supremacy, 1945-2000,” Antisemitism Studies 5, no. 2 (Fall 2021): 233-265.
By Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University
Benjamin Goossen is among the most active scholars among the historians currently preoccupied with re-examining the history of Mennonite Christians and the Second World War, and especially their relationship to Nazism and the Holocaust. In his new article “The Making of a Holocaust Denier: Ingrid Rimland, Mennonites, and Gender in White Supremacy, 1945–2000,” Goossen tackles the person of Ingrid Rimland, the Mennonite novelist who became a prominent Holocaust denier in the 1990s after years of acclaim for her literary accounts of women’s suffering in the Soviet Union.
Rimland was born in 1936 into a Russian Mennonite family, which followed Hitler’s retreating armies westwards in 1943 to escape Bolshevik rule. After the war, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) facilitated her family’s immigration as refugees to Paraguay. As an adult, she moved to the United States and became took up writing. In her debut novel, The Wanderers: The Saga of Three Women Who Survived (1977), Rimland compared Mennonite women’s suffering to the persecution of the Jews under Nazism. She fictionalized her own experiences of displacement, flight, and emigration but was silent about the collaboration and perpetration of crimes by Mennonites in the Holocaust.
As a single mother caring for a disabled child in the 1980s, Rimland struggled to maintain her literary career. The end of the Cold War also diminished her impact, as the theme of her work–suffering under Communism–became passé. In response, she turned to antisemitic conspiracy theories, becoming intellectually, financially, and then romantically involved with the infamous Canadian neo-Nazi Ernst Zündel. Zündel was born in Germany in 1939, later immigrated to Canada, and was the subject of a serious of high-profile hate-speech trials in the 1980s and 1990s. Rimland launched the website Zundelsite.org from her home in California, in order to help Zündel spread his Holocaust denial while avoiding Canadian anti-hate laws. The site was a primary source of online Holocaust denial in the 1990s, while Rimland also sent out daily “Z-Grams” through a listserv.
Rimland also used Zundelsite.org to promote her own literary work, including her three-volume novel Lebensraum! (1988). In it she depicted Mennonites as racially pure Germans and wrote about two Mennonite settlements, one in Ukraine and one in Kansas–each threatened by Jews. The novel included a sub-plot about a global Jewish conspiracy (the “New World Order”).
Goossen sees Rimland’s life as an exemplar of how far-right extremism migrated from Hitler’s Third Reich to present-day North America. Her own turn to neo-Nazism was rooted in her long history of equating Mennonite suffering with that of the Jews in the Holocaust. “As counterintuitive as it may seem, Mennonites’ propensity to self-identify with Jews opened a path for Rimland’s racist trajectory” (236). But when a scholar suggested Canadian Mennonite views were not so different from those of Rimland, a broader controversy erupted, revealing that Canadian Mennonites had never examined the theological implications of the Holocaust for their Anabaptist theology (242).
Goossen explains Rimland’s novel The Wanderers and its appeal among Mennonite leaders, along with her slide into antisemitic conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial. He concludes that various influences played a role in her fate–her association with Ernst Zündel, to be sure, but also the background of Mennonite silence about collaboration with Hitler and her uneasy relationship with male Mennonite elites who used her depictions of female Mennonite suffering but refused to support her career.