One of the great enterprises of Mennonite historical scholarship was the Mennonitisches Lexikon, an encyclopedia of the Anabaptist-Mennonite movement from its beginning in 1525 to the present day, covering all countries to which the movement has spread. An invaluable mine of information, thorough, authentic, comprehensive, it is an indispensable tool for students of Anabaptist-Mennonite history and a landmark in Mennonite historiography. Christian Neff (1863-1946) of Weierhof in the Palatinate, Germany, and Christian Hege (1869-1943) of Frankfurt, Germany, the founders and coeditors of the Lexikon until their death, and writers of a majority of the articles, served also as publishers. The two men formed a well-balanced team, with Hege the managing editor, carrying on together with devotion and sacrifice for over thirty years, until death called them both from their unfinished task. As they worked, what had been originally planned in 1913 as a two-volume work to be completed in ten years, grew into a three-volume work, each volume containing fifteen installments of 48 pages each, of which two volumes and six additional installments (a total of 36) had appeared by September 1942, extending into "Ob."
During the thirty years of their endeavor, the courage and faith of Neff and Hege were put to severe tests and disappointments. With but slender resources of their own, and compelled to pay for many of the contributed articles in accord with European custom, they had to depend heavily on advance subscriptions and on donations from churches and interested groups and individuals. The Dutch Mennonites, who had the wealth and might have aided the enterprise strongly, failed to do so. The Russian Mennonite churches, which were among the heaviest original supporters, were early eliminated as a result of World War I, which broke out less than fifteen months after the first installment appeared in May 1913. The German currency inflation of 1922-23 was a heavy blow. If it had not been for direct financial assistance from friends in the United States and Canada at that time, promoted largely by H. P. Krehbiel and H. H. Ewert of the General Conference Mennonite Church, the enterprise would have failed financially. When Hege lost his private income in 1934 (except for a small pension) as financial writer on a Frankfurt newspaper, the German Mennonites, primarily through the organization known as "Mennonitisches Hilfswerk Christenpflicht," led by Michael Horsch, came to the rescue with a regular, though slender, monthly stipend to enable Hege to continue his editorial work unhindered for the remaining years of his life.
World War II was the final catastrophe. Both men sacrificed practically all their personal resources to keep the Lexikon going, and upon their decease no resources were available to continue the unfinished project. Many of the original contributors had died in the course of the 35 years since 1913, and a number of the promising younger German Mennonite scholars fell on the battlefields. The end of the war left the German Mennonites in a seriously weakened state, financially and otherwise. A great work seemed destined to remain incomplete, although approximately 75 per cent of the remaining articles from "O" to "Z" as planned by the original editors, had been assembled in wholly or partially complete manuscript form, and a considerable body of notes intended for the supplementary volume of revisions and additions had also been gathered, all of which fortunately survived the devastation of war, since Hege had retired from Frankfurt to the relative security of Eichstatt in central Bavaria, and Neff remained in the rather remote village of Weierhof in the Palatinate. Eberhard Teufel of Stuttgart-Fellbach became the custodian of Hege's materials after his death, including the remaining manuscripts and supplementary notes.
At this stage, in 1945-46, soon after the close of the war, the American Mennonite scholars and publishers interested in the publication of the Mennonite Encyclopedia drew up plans which included sufficient financial and moral support to make possible the completion of the Lexikon in a reasonable time, provided German Mennonite scholars would resume the leadership in the project laid down by Hege and Neff. The Mennonite Encyclopedia organization offered to furnish the paper for printing and whatever financial subsidy was needed, in return for translation rights in the English language, giving the Lexikon in turn translation rights for the Encyclopedia. Fortunately Harold S. Bender, as the representative of the Encyclopedia, was able to negotiate such an agreement in September 1946 in Germany with Christian Neff and with the surviving heir of the late Christian Hege, his daughter Adele Hege of Eichstatt, Bavaria. Bender, one of the co-editors of the Mennonite Encyclopedia, was designated by Neff to be co-editor of the Lexikon in place of Hege. Upon the death of Neff in December 1946, Ernst Crous, a German Mennonite scholar, formerly librarian in the Prussian State Library in Berlin, living in retirement in Göttingen, Germany, was designated to be the successor of Neff as the other coeditor.
Since the new editors were unable to finance the enterprise themselves and therefore could not serve as publishers as their predecessors had done, they secured the agreement of the two Mennonite church conferences in Germany to take over this function. This was done dirough the creation of a "Lexikon Committee" composed of six men, viz., the two editors, plus one official representative of each conference, Abram Braun of Ibersheim for the Vereinigung der Deutschen Mennoniten-Gemeinden, and Fritz Hege of Reutlingen for the Badisch-Württembergisch-Bayerischer Gemeindeverband, and two co-opted members, namely Gerrit van Delden of Gronau as treasurer, and Heinrich Schneider of Karlsruhe as printer. The two conferences guaranteed to underwrite one half of the possible deficit (Vereinigung two sixths and Verband one sixth), while the Mennonite Encyclopedia assumed the other half. The Lexikon Committee became the official manager of the enterprise and publisher, but with no functions in the field of editorial control. To aid them in the editorial work the editors secured the assistance of a board of associate editors composed of the following scholars: for Germany, Emil Händiges of Monsheim, B. H. Unruh of Karlsruhe, Horst Quiring of Stuttgart, Otto Schowalter of Hamburg, Gerhard Hein of Sembach, and Eberhard Teufel of Stuttgart; for Switzerland, Samuel Geiser of Brügg bei Biel; for Holland, N. van der Zijpp.
Ernst Crous carried the main burden of the editorial work, with H. S. Bender as assistant and counselor. After an interruption of slightly more than eight years publication was resumed in January 1951 with installment No. 37; No. 41 appeared in the summer of 1957, reaching the letter "R." The new printer was the Mennonite firm of Heinrich Schneider in Karlsruhe. The size of the edition was formerly some 3,500, but since 1951 was less. Volume 4, the final volume, was published in 1967.
The coverage of the Lexikon was strong in strictly historical articles, particularly in Anabaptism and European Mennonitism, less strong in the field of American Mennonitism and in the areas of missions and education, and the social, economic, and cultural aspects of Anabaptist-Mennonite history and life.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 651-652. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Bender, Harold S. "Mennonitisches Lexikon." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 18 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M4776.html.
APA style: Bender, Harold S. (1957). Mennonitisches Lexikon. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/M4776.html.