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KIT Staff U.S.: Charles Lamar, Editor; Vincent Lagano, Assistant Editor; David E. Ostrom, research.
EuroKIT: Linda Lord Jackson, Carol Beels Beck, Elizabeth Bohlken-Zumpe, Benedict Cavanna
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K e e p I n T o u c h
Table of Contents
Swindon Evening Advertiser
KIT (Arnold Mason)
Joy Johnson MacDonald
Elizabeth Bohlken Zumpe
Rachel (Mason) Burger
Times Herald Record - Ruben Ayala
Migg Fishli - Life Story
Belinda Manley, Flat 7A, St.John's Hospital, Northgate, Canterbury, Kent. CT11BG
tel: 011 44 1227 472 353
From the Swindon Evening Advertiser, 11/13/00: PETE HOLLAND SUCCUMBS TO RARE CANCER Well-known businessman Pete Holland has died in hospital with his wife by his side, after a four year battle against cancer.
Mr. Holland who was 57, died at Hammersmith Hospital from an incurable and rare form of bone marrow cancer. Since 1996 he raised nearly £100,000 for patients with blood and bone marrow cancers at Princess Margaret Hospital and for research work at Hammersmith.
His wife Jeannette paid tribute to her husband, who died on Thursday, a day before his 58th birthday. She said: "He lived with his illness for four years and stayed so strong and positive. He never complained, but concentrated on living."
Mr Holland set up the scrapyard business Holland Handling at Braydon, near Brinkworth in 1983.
In 1996 he found out he had a bone marrow cancer called Myeloma, for which there is no known cure.
Mr. Holland had four children and three grandchildren.
From the same newspaper 11/15/00: Sadly, Peter [Holland] aged 57 years lost his fight for life on Thursday, November 9, 2000, after a battle so bravely fought. He will be missed by so many who loved and admired him.
He was the beloved husband of Jeannette, the best dad to Rosalin and Rachel, a wonderful stepdad to Rachel and Paul, loving grampi to Joshua, Maisie, and Lloyd, precious first born son of Leslie and Gerty, dearest brother to John, Matt, Luke, Andreas and Ruth and great father-in-law to Eddie. Peter's funeral will be on Monday, November 20, service at St. Mary's Church Purton at 11.30 am followed by interment at Purton Cemetery.
Family flowers only please. Donations welcomed for research in to Myeloma. Cheques should be made payable to the International Myeloma Foundation or Pete's own research fund, The Myeloma Research Fund-PH and may be sent to 170 Victoria Road, Swindon SN1 3DF.
Pete was an inspiration to us all and his spirit and strength live on in all those who knew and loved him.
Bill Peters, 11/17/00: Please send our deepest sympathy to Pete Holland's family. We never met or communicated, but were comrades-in-arms in fighting the "beast" as many MMers refer to the disease which eventually destroys our bodies. This was a sad year for me as I watched many of these comrades bite the dust. I feel incapable of saying more than paraphrasing one of the "elder" members of our MM mailing list.
"Multiple myeloma puts us to the test and very special people [like Peter Holland] make us all proud as they turn what could be a sad, somber exit from this world into a valiant battle filled with triumph, brotherhood and a showcase of all that is good in humanity." Warmest sympathies, Bill & Liz Peters, Jessie, Rose, Blake.
Ben Cavanna, 11/21/00: Hi all, I am just home from Purton. There were just about 500 people at the Funeral yesterday of Pete Holland. The church, which holds 300+ seated, was packed with standing room only and about 80 people did not make it through the doors and listened outside through a loudspeaker system.
It was a very moving and appropriate service and burial. A very Holland affair. Many "KIT" people were there including Stephan Friedemann from Germany. I hope that Joy or Christine might be able to give their impressions.
The river of people moving along the road from the church to the cemetary was most amazing and blocked the road for some time. It would be lovely if people wrote memories of Pete, and we could collate them with pictures. Love,
KIT, 10/22/00: We just learned that Arnold Mason passed away yesterday. He was probably one of the last of the Bruderhof members who joined as an adult in the Rhoen. We don't know exactly how old he was, but he was somewhere in his 90s.
We would like to express condolences to his children, both outside and inside the Bruderhof. We wish you peace and comfort in this time of loss. It is hard to lose a parent in any case, but we also know with what mixed feelings one must take leave of a loved one who's been on the Bruderhof. Part of us may be relieved that our parent is no longer in bondage to that system.
Arnold Mason was given much grief for his persistent fatherly contact with his children outside the Bruderhof. Hopefully some who knew him well will share their memories.
Peter and Jeanette Holland -Nov 10, '96
Phil Hazelton, 1022/00: My love to Rachel and Janet and Bridget and Jonny and David... wherever you all are... Your dad meant so much to so many of us. Somehow he stood for fairness and reasonableness and humaneness within a system run by fanatics.
I have many many memories, too many to share ...mostly of Wheathill days...
Will grieve some tonight, and think of and bless all of you.
Nadine Pleil, 10/23/00: It is with great sadness that I read about the passing of Arnold Mason. He was a very good friend to me as was Gladys. Both of them always showed me love and I appreciated their love for me.
Arnold was a true gentleman! I/we lived on the Cotswold, Primavera, Bulstrode and Oaklake-New meadow Run. The Masons were grandparents to our children, and our children have fond memories of them. Yes, their children have truly been blessed to have had such a wonderful father.
I learned a lot from Arnold. At one point in Bulstrode he had to pass the torch on to me, I had to take over from him the big task of keeping all the private documents in order. Passports had to be renewed and birth certificates had to be obtained, etc... I had a crash course from Arnold. He was so patient with me. I always said he had the patience of a saint. He and Gladys were being sent to Oaklake at the time, so I really had to get all my questions in in a very short time.
I respected him for the way he always would listen when I had a question . He was often able to give me good advice.
In 1991, when August and I went to Father Victor's funeral, the Masons invited us to tea. We had such a wonderful time together and they did not try to challenge us to come back to the commune, no, not once during the whole afternoon. That actually was the last time I saw Gladys.
With the passing of Arnold Mason, another one of the older generation who played a great part in my childhood and young adulthood has now departed and August and I now realize that we are part of the older generation. I will never forget how loving the Masons were to a little orphan girl. I was that, until after two years of not having a family, I was with Victor and Hilda. Arnold often said to me, "We would have taken you in, but Victor and Hilda had no children, so we thought it is best for you to be with them" It turned out that it was a blessing that I was with Victor and Hilda.
So I say farewell to a much loved man who had an all embracing love especially for children. A real English gentleman.
I wish you, Mason sisters all three, much strength, and I am so glad and thankful that you were able to see your father before he passed away, and that you could be at his funeral to pay your last respects. He was a good man! Much love to all,
Tim Johnson, 10/24/00: Farewell to Arnold Mason Lots of memories flood back when I think of Arnold and Gladys. As Barnabas has noted, their friendship with our parents predated their joining the bruderhof in Rhoen (for Mason's) and Cotswold (Guy and Eleanor), and involved social/religious activism in Birmingham in 1930s UK. Somehow that personal level friendship continued in the bruderhof years, particularly at Wheathill until we left in 1955, and I think gave our families a particular continuing bond. If memory serves, our last real contact with Arnold was when he stayed at our home in Forest River in 1956 or early 57, though Barnabas, Joy and I did meet him very briefly in 1991 at Woodcrest.
To me, Arnold was one of the few surviving "old guard" who remained at the Bruderhof. I've often wondered how he and others who remained after 1960s managed to deal internally with the contradictions developing between their earlier vision, and what the bruderhof increasingly became. In that group I'd include Robert and Olwen Rimes, and among the few survivors, Derek Wardle. Their "outside" children having been kept at arms length, I guess one must be satisfied with speculating, but I'm sure it was not easy for those pioneers to watch, perhaps bewildered or perhaps more resigned, how that dream was slowly strangled.
I'm aware of the heartache Rachel, Janet and Bridget have often endured in trying to maintain their contacts with their parents, and my heart goes out to them at this time, especially as the lack of extensive and free contact must leave a bitter taste, especially as their brothers still in the Bruderhof (at least David) seemed to be among the more zealous gatekeepers in limiting that contact.
Heartfelt condolences to Rachel and Janet, which would go also to Bridget if I had her email address. Both your parents have a special spot in my memory bank and heart.
Joy Johnson MacDonald, 10/24/00: Dear Rachel, your parents were loved by many, many people. I have been thinking of Arnold and Gladys all day, lots of rich memories and a deep sense of privilege for having been fortunate enough to have known and been influenced by their humanity, respect and love towards all they came in contact with. My thoughts are with you, Janet and Bridget. I hope your memories will give you lasting joy and inspiration,
Elizabeth Bohlken Zumpe, 10/24/00: Yes indeed Arnold Mason, same as Guy Johnson and Stanley belonged among the stable, reliable members who helped us all during our childhood and youth. Rachel, Bridget and Janet, we Hans and I think of you, and share with you the sadness that you were not able to see your beloved Daddy until the very end of his life. I think for him too, this must have been a very sad thing, he just loved "his girls."
It is so sad, that we know nothing at all about how our parents are and what they really feel! But I am sure, that it would never have been his choice to "exclude you" from his last days within the Community. We will be thinking of you and I will try and write to you as well! Although Arnold Mason is one of the last people who joined the Community in Germany, I think there are still a few left:
Inside: Winifred Bridgewater Dyroff, Emi Margaret Zumpe, Sophie Lober, Anne Mercoucheff, Elfriede Baron, Alice Lackman, Rudi Hildel.
Outside: Margot Davies, Balz and Monika Trumpi-Arnold, Bruce Sumner, Emil Fischli, Erna and Werner Friedemann and Walter von Hollander, Wolfgang Lowenthal.
But indeed there are not many left to tell about what they experienced in the beginning of the Bruderhof in Germany and Liechtenstein. Sadly, I do not think they really listen to the aged members any more.
Melchior Fros, 10/25/00 - Farewell to Arnold Mason: I want to thank all those who take the time to share memories of Hof pioneers who have left our earthly life. Doing so is not only a fitting tribute, but allows those of us who never knew the person well, to get a better picture of him or her. It means a great deal to me to have these memories published in KIT, for in years to come I can read and reflect. Thanks to ALL!!
My only memory of the Mason parents involves mother Gladys singing the solo in "The Heavens are Telling the Glory of God" (The Creation??), Wheathill, November, 1961. Her voice was magnificent and the performance so touched me that the entire piece is more or less etched permanently into my memory.
Rachel, your brother Johnny and I became good buddies in the early '70s while working side-by-side in the Deer Spring construction crew. We rubbed shoulders on a number of visits. It saddens me to think he had a hand in not allowing contact between parents and sisters. I share your loss and am resigned to the finality of my own ...a loss that began many, many years ago.
Christine's parents Robert & Olwen Rimes
Rachel Mason Burger, 10/23/00: All of you dear people who have just written about my Dad, thank you so very much. I really needed that kind of loving support as do my sisters Janet and Bridget. We are so blessed to have had such a dear man as our father. Janet and I and some of our children did get to see him and to say goodbye to him ten days before he died.
We think he had suffered a small stroke . His ability to speak was quite limited. He kept saying to each of us that he was very very happy. Then our brother Johnny would say, "That they have come," and he would say, "Yes, yes." When I said what a wonderful father he had been to us and how well he had done, he said "In what regard?" During our visit He often chuckled. He suggested we should all have coffee together. During this summer he was able to dictate a few letters to us and to sign them. This was such a relief to us. Being so cut off was so very painful.
Daddy was clearly loved by many. In the last years he seems to have become the grandpa for all of the children. At his funeral, which we also attended, as we were about to walk with the coffin down the drive, about fifty little children were standing waiting to say goodbye. When we first arrived, Daddy's great-grandchildren were covering his body with Fall leaves. They had also decorated his coffin with paper stars. He clearly had found solace in the children.
He had his ninety-third birthday on the eleventh and died on the twenty first, while in the process of being cared for. He had almost eaten nothing for two weeks. We had asked that they would offer him liquid. What is amazing is that he was without pain and was very peaceful. It is very hard to say goodbye to him.
I find comfort in thinking of his spirit free to continue being itself, for those that know the children's story, "A Clown of God." My love to each and all of you,
10/25/00: Mel, Thanks for your kind words. Through leaving when I did in '67 I missed out on a lot of experiences with members of my family. Jonny was my buddy throughout my childhood. Its hard to say if he had a hand in keeping us away. We have a feeling that when he stopped responding in any way to letters or phone calls, his life on the 'hof and his family's depended on his silence. When we were finally allowed to see our father just a few days before he died, Jonny was there very tenderly caring for his every need. He said that when he heard that Dad had become so sick he jumped on the next car that was heading to Woodcrest. It was so good to see him. Unfortunately he then had to return to NMR and, to our amazement, was not at funeral. We do not know why. There would have been time for him to get there with his family. I think of you and Ben, and Jörg Mathis and the Zimmerman brothers, and know your pain. Love,
Christine Mathis, 11/18/00: We have just come home having been taken by our dear Joy MacDonald to see, first the Hollands and then Joerg. The news about Joerg is wonderful! He has weathered his double hip replacement so well and has started making an excellent recovery! He has even been out of bed three times, first to sit in a chair, less than 24 hours after the surgery, and now today he was walked twice.
He is thrilled at the absence of pain that he had endured for so long, even though of course there is a new kind of soreness where the incisions have been. Thank you all for your kind messages and for your prayers!! He says "Thank you," too, and sends you all his greetings.
With Gertie and Leslie it was just so precious. There is an atmosphere of such peace and beauty, such deep love and all embracing, dare I say real "unity" of a kind that can only be felt, not described. It was a real privilege to be there.
Joy and I arrived to find Ruthie, their daughter with her parents. Very soon Luke and Andreas arrived then Gottfried (John) and a neighbour friend of Gertie and Leslie. They are all so close to our hearts and we look forward to going on Monday to the funeral, and to the time of remembering the life of the very dear man Pete.
Ben, who has been there for the Hollands over this last week, also came in just shortly before we had to leave. I think he has sort of been there for us all. Greetings,
Ramon Sender, 10/28/00: Julius and Loretta Rubin's daughter Alise has been very ill in Paris. It all began when Julius and Loretta were celebrating his birthday in Cambridge, MA. News reached them from Paris that Alise, their daughter was in the hospital with pneumonia.
Loretta made plans to leave immediately. When the hospital phoned to say that the situation was deterioirating, they both left at once. When they arrived at the hospital the next morning, they were told, "She is dying. There is no hope, but you must leave right away because visiting hours are not until 1:00 P.M." !!!
An endoscopic examination of her lungs had shown they were 'as white as snow' from a type of autoimmune response i.e. her body was attacking her lungs as foreign objects. She was only receiving 40 cc of air: not enough to survive. "Without a miracle, she is not expected to survive," The Chief Doctor told them.
They were faced with not being able to spend what they thought would be Alise's last hours with her. An appeal to the U.S. Embassy proved totally unhelpful. The Embassy was unwilling to do more than offer them a list of funeral homes in Paris. They also were about to lose their hotel room because of some major conference in the city. Julius and Loretta were seated in the lobby of the hotel, totally distraught, when they were approached by an evangelical Protestant couple. The couple asked if they could pray together, so they joined hands and prayed for a miracle. The man later told Julius that God had directed him to him.
As they finished, they were approached by the hotel manager who said there had been a cancellation and they could keep the hotel room for two weeks. Over the next day or two, it seemed as if there were some signs that perhaps Alise had turned a corner and might survive. Gradually she improved until a CAT scan this week showed her right lung clear and her left lung 3/4's clear. The hospital began 'weaning' her from the respirator. Alise's auto-immune problem had never been suspected, and will have to be watched from now on. She will return home in a few weeks.
Julius and Loretta have had a truly awful time of it. Julius has done so much for KITfolk, including being sued, threatened, his office broken into, and feeling as if his home was unsafe, plus the 'Harmful Religion' adventure in the U.K. and then finally the publication of his book on the Bruderhof after constant lawsuit rumblings from Bruderhof leaders. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.
11/17/00: Julius writes with delight that Alise has been successfully breathing on her own for the past few days, a few hours in the morning and afternoon. Her lungs are completely healed, and now it's merely a process of gradually increasing the time she can 'solo.' She's eating more solid food and getting stronger. In a few more days they'll remove the trachea tube. With the help of a small amplifier she has been able to speak softly, but I assume will now be able to speak on her own.
It will still be a few weeks before Alise returns home. Loretta meanwhile has been offered a lovely apartment by the owners who are traveling. Julius and their son Josh will join her for the Thanksgiving break, with a whole lot to be thankful for!
Many prayers and healing beams to the whole Rubin family! Miracles do occur!
Kellie Obong, email@example.com 10/9/00: ] They did it again... I don't know how I should start this letter off, but I will begin with "They did it again," ...the Bruderhof and their evil ways of treating a human being.
Aniekan, the deaf Nigerian who is married to Susan Bassey was just returned to Nigeria again.
Aniekan had written to Susan letting her know that he wished to return to her and their son. Aniekan and family were unaware of what was going on in the US and the High Courts at this time. Aniekan's family in Nigeria had found it possible to sell off their property and raise money to make it possible for their brother to return to the US. Susan replied that Aniekan should come back to the US and to the family. Before Aniekan departed Nigeria to come to the U.S. he did fax the Bruderhof to let them know that he would be on his way. Aniekan arrived in New York and was met by "The One and Only."
They put Aniekan in a hotel for the night (accompanied of course) They told Aniekan that they were going to court with the other Nigerian men right now, and until that case is finished he should return to Nigeria and then the Bruderhof would send for him to return again to the U.S.
Aniekan, being a hearing-impaired man and, again, not aware of what is going on, was lost and returned back to Nigeria. The Bruderhof got him a transit visa, paid for his return, put him in a hotel overnight in London, and then sent him on to Nigeria. They had this hotel ready for him, as well as a ticket back home. The whole thing was planned. Aniekan didn't have any of our numbers to contact Joe, Basil, or Ebong. So, with his handicap, he felt lost and just went back home. Now again he is stranded at home with nothing.
Ebong just now hung up with the sister and brother to Aniekan who live in Lagos. They were all upset that they sold everything to let him return, and now he is back in Nigeria again. The Bruderhof had the whole thing planned from the start. They should have just written to him and told him not to return to the US if they didn't want him. He then could have come to us or Joe.
The sister to Aniekan called the Bruderhof and asked to speak with Susan. They hung up the line on her as soon as she asked to talk with her. She then tried to call right back again and they said, "What do you need to tell Susan?" She replied that she wanted to talk with her. The operator then hung up the line again with, "She doesn't want to speak with you!" This is pure wickedness.
I guess the Bruderhof thought that we paid for his way to put him in the hof to find out what is going on. They then made sure that they spent the night with him at a hotel (to see if any of the guys would contact him) and then sent him on his way to Nigeria. As I am sure that anyone can see that these people are wicked! Now this poor man is sitting in Nigeria again and lost and helpless right now.
I am wondering if we could all pull some money together to get a one-way to Chicago for Aniekan? His ticket can't be that much. I am willing to contact the consolidator here for air travel and see what a one-way will cost. I feel so bad as he is the Nigerian who had the nervous breakdown in Nigeria. While in the hof he lost both of his parents and a younger brother. He lost his mind again at that point. He asked to return to Nigeria and they said "No!" (their famous line to everyone.)
Aniekan would be so grateful if this was made possible at all. We are willing to let him stay here with us in Chicago. He has a Green Card so he could also work. Please, let me know if this is at all possible. This has caused a great deal of pain for many. I am also gong to contact Gilda to see what she has to say about the whole thing.
Good-night now, it is 4:00 am and I need to get some sleep for now.
KIT: Several KITfolk then pitched in to help Aniekan, but of course the plot has to thicken.
Ben Cavanna, 10/26/00: firstname.lastname@example.org 'The Gatwick Capers'
What a relief that Aniekan has arrived safely!
Tanya and I got to Gatwick at 6.00 am and checked in with British Airways Customer service desk to make sure that the "meet and assist" person was organised for Aniekan and also for his flight from Heathrow. The man checked and said it was all organised through to Chicago and that the flight into Gatwick had just landed. He advised us that it may take an hour for Aniekan to come through from customs as the assisted people usually came off the plane last.
Imoh Ebong (Ebong's brother) then arrived and we chatted while waiting for Aniekan to appear. An hour and twenty minutes later, getting worried, I returned to the Customer Service desk to find out what was happening. The man had gone off duty and the desk was being run by a woman who looked a little frazzled.
I explained that I was waiting to meet Mr Bassey and she looked on the screen and said that he was probably in the departure lounge. I asked why he would be there as he was due at Heathrow.
She told me that he would be awaiting the JFK flight. It was like a bad dream. I asked her why that was and she said that the ticket had been changed. Then she started to get defensive and would not tell me anymore. She should not really have told me that he was waiting for the JFK flight. I asked her to get a message to him asking him to tell us what was going on. She said she would not be able to do that, but would put a public announcement out for him to call her desk. I reminded her that he was deaf and she got even more unhelpful.
I explained that I thought there might be some interference from the Bhf and explained about the situation. She informed me that if a passenger changes their ticket it is his prerogative and they could not get involved. We had reached an impasse with this woman who eventually turned her back on us.
We called Kellie and Ebong and got confirmation from Kellie that the ticket had a message on it only allowing her to make changes to the flights.
So next I went to the ticket desk to ask if a passenger could make changes to the flights with such a marker on the ticket. The guy there was helpful and looked up the ticket on the screen. He said he could not confirm whether the ticket had such a flag on it, but if such a flag was on it then the passenger would not be able to make a change to the ticket. I assumed he was trying to tell me that the ticket did indeed have such a flag on it and decided to try to get some more info from him.
I said to him that in such a hypothetical case how could a flight be changed without reference to the sponsor. He smiled at me and said that hypothetically this could happen if the passenger was denied entry by immigration for some reason and then British Airways would have to switch him to a flight to the US that departed from Gatwick, so not requiring the passenger to pass through customs.
He also said that if we went upstairs to the customer service desk we might get more help there.
So we went upstairs and the man there was very helpful, though not willing to confirm that Aniekan was on the JFK flight. I asked him to confirm that the "meet and assist" person was arranged for Aniekan here and in JFK and he was happy to confirm that, and said he would be happy to hand a message to Aniekan as he boarded the plane. So we sorted out a message asking Aniekan to phone Ebong or Blair and Margot when he got to JFK to advise which flight he was to arrive on to Chicago.
That's all we knew till we heard that Aniekan had called Kellie from JFK.
But we had a good two hours of worry till we finally worked out what had happened. That is that the Embassy in Lagos had given Aniekan the wrong visa. All's well that ends well.
Kellie Obong, email@example.com 10/26/00: I don't remember when my head hit the pillow last night. All I do remember is this morning Aniekan shouting ABO ABO. Which is what they call Ebong in Nigeria. He didn't want to enter our room, so he shouted. Man that made me rise out of bed for sure.
10/27/00: Aniekan's arrival ...A very long day indeed. I was so drained at the end of the day that I wanted to sleep a straight twenty-four hours. I was up all night with British Airways on the phone and then again talking with Ben twice. I had to set British Airways straight and let them know that they were going to be held responsible if anything happened to him,
I don't even recall my head hitting the pillow. All I can remember is Aniekan shouting for Ebong this morning. He had a list of things made out of what he wanted to do. So, that is how my day started. He did go and fill out work papers today at Ebong's job. Now I will take him for his state ID on Saturday, Here is something that I should make you all aware of...
When Aniekan arrived at JFK, there were two messages there. One was from me to let him know that I would be at O'Hare at the designated time of arrival. The other was from the Bruderhof who wanted to let him know that he should come to Chicago and see Ebong and they would send for him later. It really didn't make any sense at all. It was more like letting us know that they knew he was here. So Aniekan wanted to **** them off and told them "I won't be coming to the Bruderhof as I have KIT supporting me." That must have put some flames under their ***. Not that they would have sent for him anyway. They just wanted to let him know that they knew he was in the US,
On another note. We found out when Aniekan arrived that Nyamse, who was the last Nigerian left in the Bruderhof, had been sent home in September. He has no Green Card and was on a visa that they kept renewing. So he is now up a creek without a paddle. There is no way he can return unless he gets another visa.
Just thought I would keep you all up to date on current events. I do show Aniekan all of the welcome greetings and he loves them, He is preparing his own speech that I will write online as soon as he is finished.
Ex-Bruderhofer Under Arrest
RIFTON: 'Another ex-member of the Woodcrest Bruderhof runs into legal difficulty with the community.' By Jeremiah Horrigan, The Times Herald-Record.
He'd been a member of the Woodcrest Bruderhof community for nearly 10 years, a streetwise Brooklyn man who said he helped set the group's social justice agenda.
Yesterday, Ruben Ayala found himself in handcuffs after turning himself in to State Police to answer menacing charges filed against him by Bruderhof members. Ayala, who left the community in January, said he thought he had an agreement with Bruderhof officials to visit his 3-year-old son and pick up some belongings last week. But, he said, when he tried to leave with his belongings after visiting his son, 8 to 10 men "surrounded" him and, telling him they loved him, refused to let him go.
When several of the men began to "crowd" him, Ayala said he picked up a piece of metal pipe and swung it at them. "I started acting out of my street bag," Ayala said after being released to a friend's custody in Town of Esopus justice court yesterday. "I didn't hit anyone," he said. "All I want to do is see my boy."
Bruderhof spokesman Joe Keiderling said Ayala's claims are "completely false" and voiced dismay that he chose to make them public. "He had a knife in one hand and a machete in the other," Keiderling said yesterday. "All of the men involved in the incident were shaken and surprised, but no one was killed." Keiderling said Ayala was drunk and out of control that night.
Ayala, while acknowledging he has a history of drug and alcohol abuse, said he was not drunk the night of the incident. Both men agreed that Ayala was allowed to remain on the community's grounds until the next morning. Keiderling said Ayala had pleaded to be allowed to return and reconcile himself to the community. Ayala said that he's been constantly harassed by phone calls from community members urging him to return.
Last summer, three ex-members of the community, which has 3,500 members worldwide, tried unsuccessfully to secure visitation rights to their children.
Before surrendering to authorities yesterday, Ayala filed custody papers in Kingston. A hearing on the menacing charge was scheduled for next Tuesday.
Andy Harries, 7/28/00: It seems that there is no end of subjects which can be discussed in KIT. I do not have Internet nor am I on the Hummer so it takes a bit longer for me and some others to respond, but I like reading some of the correspondence from the Hummer.
One period of community life which is coming up more and more is the crises period of 1948 in Wheathill. It is not easy for me to hear or to talk about what happened then because I am one of the children of the main perpetrator of harm, but I still think it is better for things to come out into the open for everybody to know the truth or at least some of the truth. I have to remind myself that I was only a small child (9) at the time. I am in no way responsible for what my father did.
Many of the older generation have told me what good and kind people my parents were, but we are hearing more and more about the bad things my father did. Isn't it amazing that all these punishments could go on in the name of Jesus or religion or whatever it was called. I think religion is like some other things, it has many good points, but if it is abused or used in the wrong way it can also have corresponding bad points. It is through religion that people can have such power over others. How can one man be given such power to punish so many people, reprimand, exclude them, break up family's and all the rest.
To my way of thinking it was worst for the children. We did not choose that life, we were just born into it, we were innocent and yet so many children suffered and were punished. Did the adults not consider what harm they might be doing to their own children, the future members of the Bruderhof? It seems they were just so involved in their own struggles, that they never really considered what harm they might be doing to their own children. Whereas normally in a family the parents work and live to bring up their own children as best they can, on the B'hof "The Life" must always come first. That means the children come second.
Nobody can foresee the damage done to children when they are taken away from their parents and family. I think the worst part about the whole business was that we children were not told what was happening or why. The adults were probably ashamed of what they were doing, so did not explain or discuss what and why things were being done but just left us in limbo. I still only have very vague memories of that period, but I know that I just buried thoughts and feelings because they were too hurtful to understand or accept. That is generally what children do to cope with difficult experiences. But that does not mean that those bad experiences have gone away, or will not affect us, because they will. Obviously all that really mattered was that the B'hof survived and flourished and "The Life" survived. We children were probably just an inconvenience.
I am sure that one reason we children were punished so much was because of the authoritarian system and especially as has been written by many, that the women had to submit to the men, so the women were not listened to enough. Women tend to have a more caring and feeling attitude to people and especially to children.
The 'unmentionable' thing on the B'hof is also being brought out in the open more. Sex has always been one of the biggest issues there and at the same time it was not to be mentioned. That is a paradox in itself. How can something be so important and so severely punished and yet at the same time nobody must talk about it, think about it or worst of all do anything about it.
I was one of the four children who were involved in sex games at the time. I was drawn into it by an older boy, I don't think that is an excuse, that was the truth. I have heard since about some of the punishments some of the others received. I almost feel guilty because as far as I can remember I was only given a (very) good hiding but nothing more, whereas others seem to have been punished much more. As was written in KIT one older girl suffered interrogation and humiliation just because she did not want to tell about what she had heard from others, to protect them. I have to say that those games were quite pleasurable and one of the girls and I carried on with them ourselves. Greetings
8/14/00: I just want to respond to what Inno Idiong wrote in the July KIT. I think it is marvellous that he could write about the events which led to the split. This is just another example of Bruderhof conceit. They are always looking for other groups of people who also live in community, especially if they share all things. Then they will go in as you found out with all sorts of promises and lovely words. They say they want to share and hopefully unite, but there is the tricky bit: they don't really want to unite. They always end up trying to take over.
As you found out at Palmgrove, they will slowly but persistently take over and take control. This works alright so long as everybody is happy, but as soon as somebody or some people start to question them, then you will see another side of them. This is really just the same as all of us ex Bruderhofers have come up against. They become cold, heartless, ruthless, etc. and will use any means to get their way by destroying people, including deceit and pure lies. In the end it is all a matter of power. They must have power and control over everybody. If you don't succumb to their control, you will be punished.
Reading further from Inno Idiong's letter, the mind boggles how B'hof people treated the African people. I don't know where the Christianity in all this is? You and your people Inno can join KIT people where we all listen to each other and respect each other, even if we have different opinions. We have all also felt abandoned, rejected, discarded, cast aside when not wanted.
It is also a B'hof thing to feel pressure to challenge people as you were challenged. I have experienced it at Brotherhood and other meetings myself. We all can feel this pressure to challenge people on the B'hof, especially at times of general crises, or one persons crises. We feel we are doing it out of love and conviction. As you say in your account, they are experts at deceit and poisoning the minds of people who do not know the truth of what is happening.
Another area where the B'hof has made a real mess is with the "arranged" marriages. We know they plan this sort of thing for political reasons, to get power and control over People and groups of people as they did with Palmgrove. We know that they like to present themselves as a group where all people of all different backgrounds can live together in peace and harmony. To have meetings for white members only shows their true colours. But that is actually how all people on the B'hof are treated to a greater or lesser degree. Any other people or group of people are treated as inferior. Only they live the true Christian life. Only they have all the answers and do everything right.
In my experience, it is also very difficult for a marriage to work between people from such different backgrounds. This is not because of race or colour, but because of such different cultures. On the B'hof it can be worse still if a black person from Africa marries a white person from the West and one is sent away or excluded. If the western person is sent out in Africa, they will find it extremely hard to fit in ordinary life there and the same applies if the African is sent out in the West. And what about the children? They will find it hard to fit into either culture. Then it seems as if Christoph anyway excludes the black man, the white woman is OK. That seems to be rather racist. Greetings,
Life Story of Migg Fischli
Prequel to Part One (Part I published in KIT March, 1999, and Part II in April, 1999)
Where shall I begin with my hitherto atypical, somewhat unusual life story?
I'm afraid I am unable to recall my beginnings. These must have come about at some moment in October of 1915. After a long period of darkness but cosy warmth I saw the light of day (so to say). Wow! That was on the 27th of June 1916. I was a child of love (am still trying to be one). It mystifies me why I that is my mother and I chose that particular date; anyway: 27 = 3x3x3, 6 = 2x3, 1+9+1+6 = 17 = indivisible.
I arrived in the Bergdörfli at N 15 (it should have been N 13) in Zurich-Wollishofen. The Bergdörfli [mountain hamlet] was one of the first housing cooperatives in Zurich. Lying on the city outskirts, separated from the woods only by a meadow, it was an ideal world for gradual discoveries. My parents called me Emil (a name I never really liked Emil-Schlemil!). It was my father's name. In Switzerland they call all little Emil's Miggeli. As they grow up, this changes to Miggel to me the ...gel produced lasting irritation so I am known as Migg by close friends and acquaintances.
Our drawing room served also as a music and guestroom. In it hung a large painting that had been presented by an artist and family friend as a thank-you for enjoyed hospitality. It portrayed my four siblings, Margrit, Trudi, Hans and Marei, standing closely together, gazing happily into the onlookers face. In the top left hand corner in blue skies floated a small soft white cloud. On it sat a tiny, pink, naked little boy (without wings!) happily swinging his little legs. I was told that I came into being just before this family portrait was painted (the ride on that cloud remains a dream, at times a daydream, to this day). So I was the baby of the family, loved and mothered by all.
My mother was a loving woman, very determined, and for those times quite modern and progressive. She did not want her Miggeli running around with a thick bundle of diapers between his fidgety little legs. She got me a special bed: The bottom was covered with a layer of fresh, absorbent peat, above that was a frame fitted with a water-absorbent cloth, with a space between the two. So quite early in life I already enjoyed a kind of freedom unknown to other babies. Whenever possible I was taken outdoors to enjoy the fresh air, something I still like to this day. Then, as soon as my little legs were able to carry me, and while my experiences and discoveries widened, I wore a little frock, and nothing else. It is quite likely that my wise mother did teach me some rules of cleanliness, or hygiene (which are still followed).
My earliest memories go back to the day when I got my first trousers. That was because they had a pocket, just like the ones that my big brother Hans and other men wore. Naturally, now that I had trousers with a pocket, something had to go in there. So my father gave me a Batz, a Swiss coin worth ten Rappen. To this day, even after some three-quarters of a century, I can still see it before me and remember the feel of this round, silver, gleaming coin. I guarded it like a treasure and constantly had to investigate if it was still there. Yes, yes, it just so happens that even now I have this habit of putting hands in pockets (well, at least I have a good excuse!).
My mother Marie's maiden name was Kofel. Her father was a mechanical engineer. Mother was of an approachable, open-minded disposition, full of warmth and sympathy for everybody with whom she came into contact. Her two brothers ? Karl, the older one, was a cofounder of Monte Veritas near Ascona ? and her sister Mathilde, or aunt Thildy as she was called, all suffered from an eye disease resulting in their loss of eyesight between the ages of thirty and forty. Confronted by this threat, mother changed to a vegetarian diet. The Swiss dietician and homeopath Dr Bircher-Benner genuinely impressed her. He became our family physician. The doctors said that the blindness in her family was a Rhesus factor blood defect. Is there a cure for it today? Fortunately the condition is not congenital. In any case, neither I nor my siblings or any of our many children and grandchildren have anything to fear in this respect. My mother's healthy lifestyle delayed by about fifteen years the onset of her blindness with its gradual descent into darkness.
Mother took me along when she went to do her shopping. In the butcher's shop window hung pieces of pink meat with white streaks, they looked beautiful and appetising.
"Muetter [mother], what's that in there?"
"You know Miggeli, that's poison, all of it," she explained.
I see. I had learned all about poison recently. We lived close to the Entlisberger wood, so we complemented our frugal wartime rations with mushrooms that grew there. So for lunch there was this deliciously fragrant mushroom dish. Margrit, my oldest sister and the most obedient and conscientious of us all, refused to eat. I was astonished.
"You're eating that," mother said sternly, and father supported her.
Suddenly Margrit burst into tears. Between sobs she said: "And if all of you now have to die because the mushrooms are poisonous, at least I want to stay with Miggeli."
That's how I discovered the meaning of poison.
It must have been that same year; my father took me to Dachslern near Niederweningen to visit Bäsi, my mother's aunt. They had a farm, with cows, pigs, chicken and so on. My father was no vegetarian by choice. He was a coerced vegetarian or, rather, a solidarity-vegetarian. So here in Bäsi's cosy parlour (oh what diverse, indefinable smells) the best items from her larder were being served. Home made farmhouse bread, and a piece of smoked, red meat. And ? oh how appalling ? my father began to eat of it!
"Vatter, you know that's poison, you're not supposed to eat it!" I screamed and howled. I was desolate and it took quite a while until I calmed down again. I am sure my father had to do some explaining to reinstate the honour of our hostess!
There was something during that visit that I found wonderful, at least I can remember it vividly: Whenever I needed to go for a pee, all I had to do was go through the kitchen door into the cow-stall. There was a shallow trench in the floor into which the cows also peed, and they didn't even turn their heads to look at me...
For the way home we were given a little cloth bag (plastic was still unknown) filled with dried apple and pear slices and plums and even cherries. This was the first and last time that I ate dried cherries. My tongue pushed the smooth pips around so nicely in my mouth.
What I am writing here are just small fragments in the mosaic of what happens to come to mind and are parts of the blessed, colourful and happy childhood I had.
We went with other relatives and their children to parties, went on walks and had picnics. I was the youngest. On one such occasion uncle Jakob, father's younger brother, asked me: "Well, Miggeli, what are you going to be one day?"
"A bridegroom!" I promptly fired off. There was much laughter, which I did not understand at all. "Hey," I reasoned, "then I'll have a whole pocketful of sweets to distribute."
The previous Saturday I had seen a wedding procession. As was the custom, the bridegroom sat high up on the carriage and threw handfuls of Feuersteine [special candies] into the crowds of bawling children. Sadly, I remained empty-handed. So there the reason for my ambition. At that age of innocence I certainly had no idea what it meant to be a bridegroom.
My experiences in the family home were characterised by the next larger home, the Bergdörfli. This was a loosely connected housing cooperative consisting of a few semidetached one-family houses and some larger, multiple-family houses. For the latter there stood in the centre of the settlement the washhouse with its two laundries, and above those an ample loft for hanging up the washing. The wooden staircase leading up to this loft had an adjoining covered long balcony. There was an ample forecourt for games. Around and in between the houses were garden beds thriving with vegetables and flowers; there were fruit trees ? apples, pears, plums, peaches and apricot, the latter two on espaliers ? that provided us with their fruit, at first unripe and forbidden, then finally ripe. The majority of the then residents were young families with a few children each. It was an ideal place for children to play and stage games.
Next to our house was a stretch of empty land. On it stood a beautiful cluster of trees, among them two ancient oaks with far reaching thick branches that were relatively easy to climb. In between stood three Scots pines with their rough bark, their tops so high that they were beyond reach. This was a further playground for carnival bonfires, and harboured some tree houses and other playhouses. All of this was our base for enacting and realising our manifold childish and youthful ideas.
There, I embarked upon the strenuous climb up to my favourite place, a forked branch of an oak with a backrest amidst the leaves. Oh blessed sensation of being removed from it all, held by the strong branch of this ancient oak, hidden and safe among its foliage!
Where does it come from, this wonderful sense of freedom, of detachment from earth? Is it a remnant instinct as a descendant, as it is claimed, from the ape? Is it part of our age-old yearning to fly like gulls or swifts? Can it be compared to the ride on a powerful, speeding motorbike or the breathtaking downhill flight on skis? Each has its own fascination. Does this feeling of liberated detachment have something to do with the desire within ourselves, earthbound as we are, for freedom, for the vanquishing of gravity, to achieve records as balloonists, aviators, rocketeers, or champions in space-speeds?
But back to my childhood in the Bergdörfli: Five of us were playing happily in the meadow, all more or less the same age, three and four years old: Werni, Wieli, myself, and two girls whom I will not name.
"Who can pee the farthest?" someone shouted.
As said, did. Three winners, two losers!
One of the mothers called: "Hey! Will you come in straight away?!"
We meekly obeyed.
That was how I discovered the difference between girls and boys that is not only restricted to their clothes, but to their bodies too. It never was a problem. It was always a simple fact.
I did not go to kindergarten. I was quite capable of occupying myself with all sorts of things. My imagination endowed sticks, stones, leaves and snail shells with life. And nobody ever disputed my right to these playthings.
School meant a considerable readjustment. Miss Hess, an elderly lady, was my first teacher. But why Miss? Until now, Miss was the title with which to address young women and girls! With much patience she introduced us via the squeaking, scratching slate to the mysterious secrets of letters, big and small. And with a wet sponge, presto, all the labouriously attained achievements disappeared.
She always had her violin with her and played it well. With it, she accompanied the songs she taught us. I discovered that the bow has two sides to it, as even today all things still do. One of the sides of the bow is fitted with horsehair. When these move over the strings, they can coax marvellously beautiful sounds from the instrument. The other side of the bow, the rounded, wooden, hard side sometimes came into painful contact with our hands or heads. But the bow always remained in one piece.
It must have been during my second year at school. We children, more than twenty, were busy writing. By now we had evolved from style and slate via a pencil to the stage of ink and pen-nib (who remembers how to make ink blots disappear? Are today's children being taught this trick?).
But what was this? A strange, deep, rumbling noise penetrated the windowpanes and assailed our ears. From outside in the corridor, banging of doors, running of feet, voices shouting: "The Zeppelin is coming, the Zeppelin is coming!"
Two boys had already disappeared through the door. Miss Hess put herself in the doorway, arms stretched wide, trying to hold the rest of us back. But children's legs can be very fast. All of us, the whole class, flitted past her, left and right, mingling with the howling crowds of the other classes. There we all stood, big and small, on the Egg, the hill next to the schoolhouse. The vast, silver-grey aircraft flew over, showing its five humming front engine nacelles, with pilot and passenger cabin as if glued on, at the back its gigantic tail-fins, elevator and rudder. Why it was called a Luftschiff [air-ship] I did not know, I would rather have called it a Luftfisch [air-fish].
It was many months later. The whole class was waiting for Miss Hess. How strange, wasn't she always the first here in the classroom? Then someone came in and said with a sad voice: "Dear children, your teacher died, you can all go home."
As with most of my classmates, a great conflict raged inside of me: Hei! A days holiday! But ?- our dear teacher is dead...
Next day we were told: "Children, you may all see your teacher for a last time to say your goodbyes."
So there was this thing called a coffin. In its side it had a tiny glass window. In single file we marched past and looked inside. There she lay, quite pallid, her nose strangely pointed ? a shiver crept down my spine. It was the first time that I saw a dead person whom I had once known alive.
Miss Kraft was our new teacher. She kept a fair but firm rule that ? I am sure ? was sometimes very necessary. One event from those times is unforgettable.
The classroom was completely silent. Everybody was absorbed in writing. As all the children were busy, Miss Kraft used the time to decorate the walls of the classroom with new pictures. Now she was standing next to my desk with her back to me. With her left hand she held the new picture in its place, wanting to mark the spot for the picture hook with her right hand.
"Hey, Emil, will you give me your pen for just a moment," she said.
Eagerly I held up the pen, nib pointing towards her. Without looking she seized it.
"Au, au!" she shouted.
Oh dear! My pen-nib was sticking out of the back of her index finger! I can still see the dangling penholder...
With one tug the nib was out again, her finger at her lips ? the caretaker later put a thick white bandage around it. I was sure that it hurt her very much. But I, too, had a great pain inside of me. If anybody licked ink ? be it a blot, or the nib ? you had to be sure not to have a sore in your mouth, because if you had, you might die of lead poisoning... After my experiences with poison and death I felt as if I had been beaten to a jelly.
'I do so hope, oh how I hope that she won't die,' a voice inside me said over and over. What relief when next day a happy teacher arrived in our classroom. It taught me to never give anybody a pointed or sharp object holding the dangerous side towards them.
More to the theme of a sense of detachment: Here is a story my mother told me about her father, Grandfather Kofel. He was a mechanical engineer, head of the Central Swiss Federal Railways Repair Workshop in Olten. He must have loved the mountains. He often took his daughter, my mother, with him on mountain walks.
"You know, Miggeli," she confided in me one day, "whenever father and I wandered like this in the wide-open air of the mountains, across the alpine meadows covered in bright flowers, father would suddenly become a different person. Yes, its true. He completely changed. This person who was usually so severe, sharp-witted, correct, so not approachable in some ways ? there he could sing, bawl, jump and run, even turn somersaults!"
Just imagine! This strict head of department, responsible for the many employees, turning somersaults, full of love of life! Why is this only possible in great heights within its inherent freedom?
True, it would be somewhat painful on the hard floor of the workshop. But what about doing it on a soft office carpet? I don't mean under the influence of alcohol but just out of pure love of life...?
Sadly, I know little about grandfather Kofel, but he did show and teach me two tricks.
The first: He was able to scratch himself behind his ears with his big toes! He did in fact demonstrate it to me! With the big toe of his left foot he scratched behind his right ear, and vice-versa. Of course, the use of hands and arms was allowed. After much practising I finally managed it too. (I am saddened that it is a long time now since I've been able to repeat the feat!)
The other trick: He could wag his ears! That made such a big impression on me that I wanted to imitate it too. With the help of a mirror and much face pulling and scalp moving I tried endlessly. And oh wonder, I finally did get the hang of it too, that is, I could wag both ears simultaneously or each ear singly. And I say with some pride that I can still do it! Oh well, it isn't quite enough to rid me of flies and gnats; a donkey can do that much better. Neither can I fan myself like an elephant, for that there isn't enough ear ? that's something then that I have not achieved...
I think what grandfather Kofel's descendants inherited from him is the strong tendency to punctiliousness, inventiveness, experimentation. Many thanks to him, we'll pass it on!
I don't know anything about my mother's grandmother. Today I am saddened that I never made time for my father and mother to tell me about their parents. "Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm" [The apple does not fall far from the tree trunk], this age-old proverb makes sense. I am searching for the trunk close to which I fell.
My paternal grandfather's name was Jakob Fischli, a saddler, born on the 29th of April 1847. He married Maria Magdalena Huber in 1871. He died on the 2nd of July 1916, five days after I was born. Did he wait till I was there? What was it that he wanted to convey to me?
Jakob's father had already been a saddler, so that's where he will have learned the trade. As travelling artisan he journeyed long distances, as was the custom in those times. He even went as far as Poland where he once fled from a pack of wolves by climbing a tree. Returning after his long journeys, he married his Maria Magdalena and took over his father's saddlers workshop.
He must have been very active intellectually. At least he did not declare himself satisfied with the Official State Christianity as preached by the vicar of his church. The discrepancy between the Official State Christianity and Evangelism as preached and lived by Jesus did preoccupy him profoundly, so much so that he stood up during Sunday church service and loudly declared his opposition. Would it have been the life and death issue, "Thou shalt not kill," that continues to be such an explosive question?
His protests caused him to lose his clientele, he went bankrupt and was finally declared a lunatic and shut away in an asylum.
His wife took the children and fled in the middle of the night, their household effects piled onto a horse cart that took them to Zurich-Fluntern. There, the poor, dedicated but strong-willed mother Maria Magdalena sacrificed herself for her children. She raised them in great thrift by going out to do other peoples washing, ironing, mending and cleaning. She even managed to pay for the studies of her two sons, my father Emil, and my uncle Jakob, to become geological surveyors.
Once the day had gone and darkness had fallen, my father often went with a small pail to the butchers, who filled it with the brew in which the shop's sausages had been boiled. Oh wonderful blobs of fat, large and round, swimming on the surface! Sometimes there were even a few broken sausage bits at the bottom! Fortunately, the baker usually had some stale bread that, soaked in the warm broth, filled the children's hungry bellies with warmth.
I always admired my father for his great respect of motherhood that he also extended to the world of animals.
So my grandfather Jakob Fischli was declared a lunatic and made safe by being locked up in an asylum. Did my father inherit some of this lunacy? I do think he did. Employed by the city of Zurich as their geological surveyor and land registrar, he declared his solidarity with the labourers and their poverty, those described with the invective "proletariat" for being the poorest of society.
My own father, Emil Fischli, geological surveyor and land registrar, was born on the 20th of February 1876 and died on the 14th of February 1957. He married Marie Kofel who was born on the 2nd of August 1880 and died on the 6th of July 1970.
I cannot imagine a better and more understanding father. His hard times as a young man without a father at home, his mother overworked, did open his eyes to many questions about injustices and much else. He was very modest, his signature of Fischli bore a lowercase 'f'. He had a good sense of humour of which his wily wrinkles in the corners of his eyes were proof. He did not crack crude beer-jokes, but his exquisitely colourful anecdotes, including some about himself, made everybody laugh. One such little story I still remember well.
As a young bachelor, having just finished his studies as geological surveyor, he had the luck of getting a job at Zurich's council offices. His boss asked him one day to get in touch with the surveyor of the city of St Gallen in some business matter. Obviously, in his senior position, he was to travel second class by train. The third class carriages with their hard wooden benches were for common folk.
All this meant, of course, that he had to turn himself out spick-and-span in his best-pressed suit. Alas, the spick-and-span business didn't quite work ? it was the hair. As long as it remained moist, it stayed neatly in place. But the moment it dried, the locks went all over the place. Brilliantine, this luxury article, was not available in his simple household. But hold on! Wouldn't petroleum do? It would not only keep the rebellious hair in place, it would also lend it the desired shine! No sooner said than done ? success! And anyhow, the hat kept it all under cover.
Punctually he sat himself down in the still empty second class carriage. But he didn't remain alone for long. A young, pretty lady with a kind face, surrounded by a cloud of scent, sat across from him. I think he must have been a dashing young fellow. I dare not describe the feelings welling up, alternating between delight and embarrassment. But the heart must have begun to work faster. The consequence? A flushed face and pouring perspiration. Quite impossible to remain relaxed. But then the pretty nose in front of him began sniffing, the eyes questioning him in disbelief. Anyone who has ever had to bear the effects of petroleum on hot, sweaty skin ? for it causes a damnable itch ? can imagine the outcome of this story.
Ah yes, imagination. Father had a poetic vein. His poems were about life and tended towards profundity to the realms of the sensuous-transcendental. One example: In the meadow behind the Bergdörfli stood a lovely cherry tree. By the end of April it stood in full bloom, as if in its wedding dress. The bees hummed busily among the thousands of white blossoms. Each smallest twig, each little branch was singing a love song, inaudible to us humans, full of delight and joy
in expectation of the fruit out of it all. But, oh dear! Here comes the farmer and he fells the flowering tree. Brutal murder! It took father days to get over it. This experience also caused him to write a very beautiful, questioning and moving poem.
Spring finally arrived. I cannot remember what year, I must have been in the fourth grade. It is a Sunday morning, a real spring-sun-day that beckons towards the scented, pulsating, humming outdoors. Some time ago, last autumn during an outing on the Albis Mountain, we were looking across the Zugerland towards the white mountainous range in the distance.
"Yes, down there in the Zugerland," my father had said, "there are plenty of cherry trees, and when they are in flower it would be lovely to go for a day's walk through that blossoming splendour."
At the time, this pronouncement must have left its mark with me. Ha! Today is Sunday, and father is home. So I confronted him with determination: "Father, you said when the cherry trees are in bloom we will go for a walk in the Zugerland!"
I am sure that father had reckoned with a quiet, relaxed Sunday. But he took me seriously, put on his shoes, packed a chunk of bread and off we marched, down into the Sihl-valley, up to Baldern on the Albis-range and down into the Amt (Säuliamt, or 'sows district' in the local vernacular). I don't recall that we spoke a lot while we walked, we are both rather on the quiet side and often have trouble putting into words the thoughts tumbling around in our heads, much less committing them to paper.
Near Kappel he showed me the place where in Reformation times the dear Swiss Confederates bloodied each others heads. They were trying to find out if the Catholic God was stronger than the God of the Reformed Church. Unfortunately, one of the outcomes was Zwingli's death. He must have forgotten the Biblical proverb, "Those who kill with the sword will perish by the sword." Luckily, the remaining hungry and thirsty warriors got together round a bowl of soup and continued fighting (with their spoons) but only over the chunks of bread floating around in it. At least that's how I heard the story, and I still don't know why they didn't do that before the battle. Today, on and around the blood-soaked battlefield stand beautifully blossoming cherry-trees, scented and humming, which helps to drown out all that sadness.
Slowly my legs got heavy. At long last we arrived in Baar, where father took me to a tea room. I've never had such a wonderful cup of hot chocolate in my whole life! We returned by train to Wollishofen, tired but satisfied.
The most important aspect of this story is that father took me seriously and kept his promise without 'when' or 'but'. For that I remain grateful to this day.
It must have been on one of my birthdays: there, to my great surprise, stood a pretty little house in the garden. The residents? Two cute ginger-and-white guinea pigs. They had a secure run made of wire mesh that surrounded their little house. It was a gift from the Hübscher family, that is, from uncle Rudi and aunt Emmy, my father's sister.
I cared for and looked after the little animals with enthusiasm. "Uiiiuiui," their calls greeted me when they heard my steps approaching from the distance. Dandelion leaves, fresh grass, cabbage and lettuce were all delicacies for them.
The exotically sounding name [in German] of these creatures, Meerschweinchen [ocean-piglets], was a mystery to me that needed solving. I built them a little swimming pool, quite shallow, because they couldn't yet swim. From the bricklayers at the nearby building site I stole half a bucket of plaster. Once the shallow hollow of the guinea-pig pool was firm and dry I filled it with water. For hours on end, with great patience, I watched my two animals. But strangely, neither Schnuggi nor Muggi ? those were their names ? showed the least interest in the new arrangement.
'Aha,' I thought, 'seawater is salty.' So I quickly got some salt from mother's kitchen supplies and stirred it in well. Then some more observing, even pushing their little noses gently into the now salty water. Alas this too proved unsuccessful.
So who on earth gave these dear little animals such a totally inappropriate name? In English they are called 'guinea pigs.'' In Paraguay, where they still live in the wild, their Guaraní name is aguty.
In those times my relationship with the animal world began quite harmoniously, as regards the four-legged ones. The two-legged ones ? and here I mean the feathered kind ? have always interested me. Our gardens offered feeding and roosting opportunities for many bird species, with vegetable beds, berry bushes, low growing and tall fruit-trees, compost heaps and stinging nettles as well as corners covered with weeds. A pair of Starlings had permanent renting arrangements in the nesting box up in the apple tree. Robins, those nosy confiding ones, were always present when the soil was turned, to pick up the earthy-scented fresh earthworms.
The nearby wood, edged by hedges, was an additional bird refuge. So there was something for me to watch all year round in this feathered world, something to hear, to experience. While in the fourth grade, my father gave me a very precious book, Die Singvögel Der Heimat [The Native Songbirds]. Each pair of bird species was depicted in colour with exact description of all its characteristics, song, calls, nest building habits and eggs. This book enticed me to read endlessly, to look up and compare with the living exemplars. After it participated in the far-ranging travels and stations of my life, via Germany, England, Paraguay, Uruguay, Germany and back to Switzerland, it now has its fixed place on the bookshelf. It has also survived the reading and page turning of my own nine children. It shows.
But back to the domesticated feathered two-legged ones. We had more or less one dozen hens, including a magnificent cockerel stalking around in iridescent feather dress. They said of it that it was an Italiäner [Italian]. I found it brutal and tyrannical.
It all came to a terrible end, not only for the cockerel ? that was a dreadful experience for me, as it was for my father. In short, it happened like this:
Visitors were coming on short notice. In our vegetarian household there was nothing available for the table in a culinary sense. So the cockerel had to come to grief. Despite wild flapping of its wings, father caught it and took it down into the cellar where we had a hobby room. Head down and beak gaping, the bird seemed to have given in to fate. There was the block for cutting firewood, on it the sharp hatchet used to hack the wood chips for starting up the fire. Holding the cockerel's legs in his left hand, father grabbed the hatchet with the other and when the neck lay on the block ? Happ! ? the head fell to the floor. With a last effort the cockerel freed itself and flapped wildly against the wall, where it finally fell. Blood splashes were everywhere. They remained for a long time as proof of this murderous act. In later times I often stood looking at them, steeped in thought, a shiver running down my spine. That day at the table, when the aromatic bird with its brown crust, well cooked by mother, was being shared out, I wondered how it could taste so nice.
Nowadays, a chicken is often a ready-cooked ingredient among many others. The fact that it once lived, had been a cute, fluffy, cheeping chick ? do children or grownups still remember or know this? Nowadays under the watchful eyes of computers, fed with man-made feed, and once it has reached its targeted weight, it is killed by machines, albeit as humanely as possible, plucked and made market-ready, gutted and packed. Guten Appetit!
Do children still have a chance of experiencing a brooding hen or watch freshly hatched chicks? Or how a hen anxiously leads her little flock of chicks and protects them, feathers bristling and wings spread?
Are human beings handled and treated as merchandise, measured and steered by computers? The beginnings are already there!
The roots of my childhood and early youth flourished in and around the self-contained house Im Bergdörfli N 15. My highly inquisitive and absorbent root-tips, thirsting for knowledge, found plentiful and manifold nourishment there, not only in a material sense.
As I was the youngest, I enjoyed much sympathy from parents and siblings. Indeed, the sympathies meted out by my next eldest sister Marei often took on forms that drove me into flight. She seemed to enjoy provoking me to the point of incandescence. From a safe distance I would then give back at highest vocal capacity: "Marieli-Bibieli! Marieli-Bibieli!" for as long as I needed, in order to somewhat re-establish the balance, or until a higher family-authority made peace. I knew exactly where her weak points lay so I was able to retaliate. I am sure I thoroughly enjoyed being considered the small, dear, innocent Miggeli.
My relationship with Hans, my older brother by six years, was never very close. I looked up to him with a certain awe whilst he treated me with a degree of condescension. The age difference between myself and both Trudi and Margrit, my two older sisters, was such that there was always an easygoing and warm relationship.
I have lively recollections of a sevenfold harmony reigning in the house. This harmony could not only be felt spiritually and emotionally, it was also rendered directly into sound waves. Margrit played the violin very expressively and correctly. The piano echoed Trudi's often stormy, whirling frame of mind. The strings of a lute as well as the keys of the piano accompanied Marieli's exulting voice. Hans practised assiduously on the cello, whilst I tried a Guggu-song [cuckoo-song] on my ocarina. My mother loved to sing. And my father? He listened with an expression of pleasure. But of course ? there had to be an audience!
Our house was an open house. That is, the front door was practically never locked. Whenever a beggar or tramp knocked, mother gave him a bowl of soup and a piece of bread, but never money, specially if he was wrapped in a Fahne [alcoholic breath]. Mother had a really perceptive nose.
Very early on my brother and sisters joined a youth group that called itself Freischar [volunteer corps]: FJO, Freie Jugend-Organisation [Free Youth Organisation]. As far as I can remember, there was more of youth than organisation around. It had a lot in common with the German Wandervogel movement [German Youth Movement], didn't belong to any political party but was highly affected by the Christian message as preached by Minister Leonhard Ragaz.
Our house was often a place of meetings and gatherings for this lively group of young people. Intensive, absorbing discussions about current conditions and problems were interrupted by folk and battle-song, or in fair weather energetic and vigorous folk dancing on the small adjoining meadow. Once dusk came and the stars began to blink, the happy group was finally ready for a quiet, contemplative round dance:
Stehn zwei Stern am hohen Himmel,
leuchten heller als der Mond,
leuchten so hell, leuchten so hell,
leuchten heller als der Mond.
[Two stars stand high in the sky,
They shine brighter than the moon,
They shine so bright, they shine so bright,
They shine brighter than the moon.]
As Freischar-chick, I was frequently dragged along. To my great delight I often picked up titbits from the discussions that helped me later to open my eyes, enabling me to look at things from all possible angles and to form my own opinion.
Our house offered a roof over many a head. Among them were people who had been forced to be on the move by the most diverse circumstances: Painters, poets, political refugees, later also Jews fleeing from Germany, fugitive workers' children from Vienna.
My father was ? I am still proud of this today ? a committed Sozi [commie], that is, he was a member of the Socialist Party. Not from a class-warfare point of view, no; his commitment was based on his Christian longing for justice. Many a Sunday morning he went to agitate, that is, to win men for the party. In advance of plebiscites and elections he used to bring home piles of flyers. I had to push them into letterboxes, from the Morgenthal district through to Wollishofen Station and then along the Mutschellenstrasse right into the Enge area.
It was at that time too that the Kinderfreunde [Children's Friends] movement began, with the organisation of various children's and youth groups. I joined one group, the Red Falcons, with great enthusiasm. Looking at it from the outside, the Red Falcons were more or less the opposite of the Boy Scouts whose members ? boys only, girls played no part then ? came mainly from wealthy families.
The members of our Wollishofen group were mostly of working-class background, sons and daughters of active members of the then very lively cooperative-movement, but also children of intellectuals supporting social justice. There were two or three young adults who were also members. But they did not want to lead, they saw themselves only as helpers. Individual responsibility, independent thinking, acting in consensus with the group was all being furthered. Everything we undertook was based on joint decisions. Our many Fahrten [excursions] were planned jointly as far as destination, provisions and other details were concerned. There were discussions on how much bread, oat flakes, rice, noodles, apples, eggs, condensed milk, chocolate and-and-and was required. Then we jointly decided who brought what, to be taken along in our rucksacks. Our three helpers ? Emil Hörnlimann, Gusti Krautter and Chrütli ? were all enthusiastic singers and loved folk-dancing, so we learnt countless songs and also practised canon-singing.
Naturally, on May the 1st, Labour Day, a day secured after struggle and conflict, we all rallied. It was little Elsi, the one with the black bobbed hair, at times shy, who proudly carried a large red flag up there right in front. Because there is a workers' pride, a demonstration pride. As Elsi had jet-black hair, she was our Möhrli [little Moor].
Just now, writing 'our Möhrli', I remembered: At the time, there was something in me that would have liked to say 'my Möhrli'. I knew that among my classmates she had a few admirers. I discovered somehow that her birthday was on the 26th of February. At the confectioner's shop on my way to school a number of glorious sweets beckoned in the window display. I usually passed quickly because if I did occasionally have some pocket money it usually was very little. Möhrli ? birthday ? Mohrenkopf [Moor-head, a ball-shaped chocolate covered sweet]; it was a chain of thought easily followed. The pocket money would just about cover the expense.
"A Mohrenkopf to take away," I said to the lady behind the counter laden with alluring sweets. Zähnerstückli [ten penny piece] and Zwänzgerstückli [twenty penny piece] was what we called these usually non-affordable delicacies. Tarts and cakes were definitely beyond my means.
So I am off now to Balberstrasse N 14 with the sweet, precious Mohrenkopf. The closer I got, the stronger my heart pounded; what on earth was I going to say if it was she who opened the door? But oh lucky me, it is her mother who answers the doorbell!
"I've got a delivery for Elsi," I quickly managed to utter, then I disappeared fast.
Many years later I found out that she very much enjoyed the Mohrenkopf. Even to this day she continues having a special fondness for Mohrenköpfe.
Today her hair is as white as snow and she isn't that shy at all anymore. But no wonder; more than sixty years lie between then and now.
But back to the Red Falcons: We had the good fortune of renting an old, unused barn shed which we refurbished, turning it into a cosy meeting place by painting it, putting in tables and benches, and hanging up posters. It became our second home. We created handmade Kleisterpapier [paste paper] in every possible colour, which represented modern art for us, using finger-painting and comb and potato-stamp techniques. We rehearsed theatre plays, and the harmonies of songs and canons resounded inside the thin wooden walls. Potential puberty problems found their natural weight and solution by way of these communal experiences and activities. There were enough happy and tragic love songs with which we could identify. The fact that girls and boys spent time together in this free and easy way played an important part too.
The experiences in this youth group must have been decisive for my further path through life. I asked myself: "Shouldn't it be possible to accomplish such a communal life also in ordinary, normal life, say as it is on our outings or camping trips?"
And as to my religious development? On Sundays prior to Christmas, while I was attending public elementary school, I had tried to go to Sunday school classes regularly because I didn't want to miss out on my Christmas gift. Later, the Minister got me to become rather sceptical about Christianity. His attitude and deeds were not consistent with what was written.
I also knew that my sister Marei had marched out of the sermon in protest at the Minister's praise of the military. My brother-in-law Hans Meier refused military service for conscientious reasons. My brother Hans spent three months in the Meilen prison, for the same reason. Many young Freischärler had been galvanised, captivated also by Minister Leonhard Ragaz's witness, to seek new ways of life.
My relationship with religion (Christian) at the time was, nonetheless, not only negative. I was baptised Emil (the calendar calls this day Siebenschläfer [lie-abed]. I blame my healthy sleeping habits on this! It is the others, the innocent, who have to put up with my snoring). This baptism brought me into the established Reformed Church without having been able to say anything about it. As time went by I began listening to stories, especially at Christmastime, about baby Jesus, because he brought presents. For a long time I wondered why he had to lie in a manger. I found it very interesting that sheep, oxen and donkeys were there, also the three kings.
My own religiosity grew via the examples given by my parents and siblings. The experience that 'lies have short legs' [Lügen haben kurze Beine], the feeling of rising hot waves of shame after being caught out, is possibly part of the religious development. In our family we knew no praying. I would say, no scriptural or epigrammatic prayers. I am certain that quiet sighs from the heart will often have risen and were sometimes answered.
My choice of profession: Now that's a complicated story.
After nine long years of schooling, freedom was beckoning. Roaming frequently through the beautiful Entlisberg forest helped me, the pubescent boy, to rediscover my inner equilibrium time and again. So what I would have liked most was to become a forester. But there were too many candidates for this profession. So then, the next best: either farmer or gardener; but just absolutely no staying-at-home or inside-an-office job. I don't know why, but deep down I felt an inexplicable yearning for the Brazilian jungles. That's out of the question at the moment, I told myself.
My father had taken early retirement. He intended to begin a new life. My sister Trudi had gone to join a Christian community in Germany. The Freischar and the circle around Leonhard Ragaz were having intensive and lively discussions touching on the same ideas and were looking for answers. Hans Meier and Margrit met a married couple who ran a farm near Winterthur. The four of them and my parents wanted to found a community. Still, the farmer advised strongly against me going into farming at such an early age; I should first learn a profession such as carpenter or mechanic.
So then: Mechanic. I passed the entrance exams at the metal works school in Winterthur with ease. Margrit ? she was in an advanced state of pregnancy ? wanted her child to be born in the little community. Mother made a point of being there, so she and my father moved a week before my school term finished. During that last week I lived at the Gäumanns, our dear neighbours. There, I had my first telephone experience.
"Margrit has a little boy, it weighs so-and-so many pounds, we are all so happy," I heard the voice say from the earpiece of the wall-telephone.
The child's name was to be Klaus. Today, Klaus is father and grandfather of a large family in a community in the United States of America.
So on that farm near Winterthur a small community was brought into being by my parents, Hans and Margrit Meier, the farm owners and one unmarried woman with physical disabilities.
It was at that time that a great tragedy ensued in Vienna between workers and the military regime. As always in such conflicts and in the belief that solutions are found by using brutal force, the victims are innocent women and children. In solidarity, the Swiss workers support services organised help, part of which was bringing some of the half-starved children over from Vienna, for a few weeks at a time, to visit with Swiss families.
My parents wanted to take part in this action. But the owner of the farm, a pious man who had the habit of quoting Bible verses, said: "God will surely help these children; we must not get involved in these matters!"
In response, the Fischli's and Meier's packed their belongings and left, moving to Rüschlikon into the Hintere Längimoos, a farm nestling between a couple of moraine hill ranges. An ample farmhouse with many rooms and a shed-extension offered space for fifteen to twenty people. On the hillside at fifty metres distance stood the large barn with its stall for 12 cows and some calves, and the chestnut horse. Bäri, a large, shaggy Bernese Alpine cowherds dog, lay on a long chain and kept an eye on things.
The farm belonged to a Christian organisation, the Brüder des gemeinsamen Lebens [Brothers of Communal Life]. They also owned the spa hotel Nidelbad above Rüschlikon. The members of this farm formed a small life and work community that had come into existence some two years earlier. Most of the members came from the Freischar and had been influenced by the teachings of Leonhard Ragaz. Through living and working together, they wanted to find a solution to the injustices and the dreadful warring activities.
While on a bicycle tour in Germany, Hans Meier and Max Lezzi visited a community in the Rhön. During their stay they helped build a house and became deeply impressed by the happy, free, brotherly life they witnessed. The very meagre food rations were spiced up with song and laughter. As I understand it, these experiences sparked the founding of the Werkhof. That's where we ? Hans, Margrit, Klaus, father, mother and I ? moved and where we were taken in with delight.
Actually, the founding of the Werkhof had happened a couple of years earlier. I remember that I often spent my free afternoons or weekends there to help in the garden and on the field, herding cows or shovelling muck.
I have one vivid memory.
Three of the young, newly married couples ? Eva and Max Lezzi, Peter and Anni Mathis, and Hans and Margrit Meier ? were founding members. As would be the tendency, all three couples expected offspring. My mother had invited Anni to spend the time before, during and after the birth with us in the Bergdörfli. Anni, whose relatives lived far away in the Grison, accepted gratefully.
One night shortly after eleven o'clock I was woken rudely: "Migg, get up, go and call Peter on the Werkhof, things are just about starting to happen!"
I got up, dressed, got the bike out, switched on the dynamo and off I pedalled to cover the five-kilometre distance to the Werkhof.
It was a stormy, moonlit night. Tattered clouds chased one another, their shadows in the broken moonlight sailing across fields and roads. My path led past the Kilchberg church with its massive, squat church tower. Twelve beats sounded, and a cold shiver ran down my back. This is the ghost-hour!
From my bicycle I could just look over the cemetery wall and see the rows of headstones. But for goodness sake, don't look, just fly past as fast as you can! Eventually I leave it behind. At home, on my bedside table, lies the book, Sagen und Geistergeschichten aus dem Wallis [Sagas and Ghost Stories from the Vaud]. The saga of the unredeemed souls of Lake Märjelen was haunting me.
At the Werkhof I banged on the locked door. Bäri barked furiously and pulled at his chain. At last I could deliver my urgent message to Peter: Things were beginning to happen with Anni, he should come immediately! I never saw Peter, always a calm, thoughtful man, walk as fast as he did then! And I didn't need to pass by that cemetery wall on my own any more...
Once home, everything had already happened, and Peter could take his and Anni's Christoph from the arms of the exhausted but radiantly happy mother.
At that time the older Fischli children had begun to fly the nest. Margrit was on the Werkhof with her husband Hans. Trudi, who had studied to become a nurse, was working at Dr Bircher's sanatorium. Then she and her friend Leo paid a visit to the Bruderhof in Germany and ended up staying. My brother Hans had been lucky enough to continue his studies. Once he finished as structural draughtsman he spent a year at Bauhaus Dessau with Paul Klee and other luminaries. >From there, he returned totally changed, full of most modern ideas. Marei went to adult education classes in Denmark where she learned the Montessori method of infant education.
Now to my own life: With the circle of people around me, my parents, siblings, the Rote Falken [Red Falcons], the enthusiastic Freischärler, with all these I was connected and they exerted their influence on my malleable personality. I was glad that we had moved away from the farm in Winterthur. The air there ? I do not mean the actual smell of the cow stall ? seemed to me too sticky, too sweetly pious.
I started my apprenticeship in the metal works school in Winterthur. It was a twenty-minute bicycle ride from the farm. I took a packed lunch. But now, from the Werkhof near Rüschlikon, I had to get to the school ? we called it Metalli ? for seven o'clock latest. The train left Zurich at 05:20h. This meant that I had to set the alarm clock for 04:30h. Breakfast was a tin of roasted oats and sugar and a glass of milk; it kept me going during the morning.
At Zurich's central station I had to change trains to get the one for Winterthur where I arrived at ten to seven. Evenings I got home just before eight o'clock, where supper had been kept for me. The train trips gave me lots of time to read books, which was very good for my hungry mind. My parents were members of the Gutenberg book guild that provided me with a lot of modern, that is, up to date reading material. The list of authors who influenced my life and mind is too long to bring here.
The people, the inhabitants of the Werkhof, were a colourful, happy, at times also somewhat chaotic mix. Hinteres Längimoos was the name of the farm. Land, buildings, animals and vehicles belonged to the Brothers of Communal Life, this evangelical group or movement that wanted to live a Christianity of deeds. One of their members was responsible for land and cattle. The carrying core of the group were the three young married couples, Eva and Max Lezzi, Anni and Peter Mathis, and Margrit and Hans Meier, with their babies. Amongst the permanent residents and co-workers were my parents and myself; Kaspar, who was fed up being a painter; my cousin Dorli Bolli; and one uncle of Hans Meier's. The place also offered temporary accommodation to a number of people. There was one young woman whose face and arms had been dreadfully scarred and disfigured by severe burns, and another girl that suffered from incontinence. An eighteen-year-old man who had lost a leg and couldn't come to terms with his prosthesis and himself. And a thirty-year-old painter who hoped to rid himself of alcoholism.
The agricultural activities and a large vegetable garden offered plenty of work and some income. Peter worked in Zurich as construction locksmith, Hans was the gardener, Max built equipment for Dr Bircher-Benner's new therapies. On Sundays I hitched Bäri to the milk cart and delivered two churns of fresh cow-warm milk to Nidelbad spa hotel. This was always an enjoyable trip, both Bäri and I found it fun.
What I found less fun was that I had to share my room with the painter. He suffered, maybe even enjoyed, relapses into his addiction. When he slept off his alcoholic torpor the whole room stank of cheap liqueur. So one day I was allowed to move into the loft, into the topmost room, to share Kaspar's room.
A pair of swallows had artfully stuck their nest to the beam that supported the ceiling. A crack in the window remained open at all times for their comings and goings. When I came down with measles I had lots of time to watch them. Above me sat three young, hungry, never satisfied swallow chicks. Every time one if the industrious insect catching parents arrived, three wide-open beaks appeared on the rim of the nest. "Me, me, no me!" I understood them to be cheeping at their parents, gulping down moments later the offered wasp or midge. Once the food had been delivered, the parent allowed itself a moment's rest on the edge of the nest. Then one of the swallow babies turned round and ? presto! ? pushed out a whitish, moist little pouch. The adult bird took it carefully in its beak and carried it away to drop it somewhere outside in the meadow. Not one sheet of toilet paper was used. Still, newspaper was spread on bed and floor under the nest and in the flight path; it sometimes happened that the little pouch wasn't completely sealed, or would split open just that bit too soon.
Something else from that period ? I think it belongs to one of my early robust religious experiences: I got into a quarrel over something or other with a slightly older lad, the one with the amputated leg. As I can be quite stubborn, he slapped my face. Like a flash of lightning it went through my mind: 'If someone slaps your cheek, offer the other one too, that's what is says in the Book of Truth.' No sooner thought than done. "Here ? hit me again!" But his ensuing rage, his fury made me take to my heels very quickly. It seems that sometimes matters aren't quite as simple as they seem. I believed that to offer the other cheek, compared with an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, was more conducive to peace. That is in fact still my belief.
My sister Trudi sent enthusiastic letters from Germany telling about the life in the Bruderhof. My parents visited there in the summer holidays and took me along. At the time, Germany's political situation was at a turning point, highly charged and tense. Hitler's first Streitmacht, the brown SA columns, brutally fought Social Democrats and Communists. You could see swastikas everywhere. The SA men in their brown shirts and high black boots gave an impression of neatness. This was quite awe-inspiring, especially for young people, and quite arousing, whenever they marched, singing the songs taken from the Youth Movement. Singing is too nice a word for the way they hacked the melodies so that they fitted in with their thundering, snappy goose-stepping.
The Bruderhof lay in the back of beyond, on a solitary plateau in the Rhön area. Any neighbouring farmsteads were at least five kilometres away and could only be reached along bumpy field roads. The buildings clung to a hillside whose top was shaped like a Gugelhopf; it must have been a mini-volcano. On its top was a circular field of red earth called 'ox plate'. All around on the slope was wasteland covered in heather and an occasional juniper bush. There was a scattering of red tufaceous limestone clumps with rounded holes, lower down basalt rocks appeared on the surface. The climate was rough and the vegetation fitting.
To come back to the political situation: It was the time when Hitler was running for Chancellor of the Reich. The community decided to not participate in these elections. A 'Yes' for Hitler was out of the question, a 'No' would mean the bitter end.
A raid by the Nazis was feared as a direct result of this, so everybody, the whole community ? around eighty people counting adults and children ? left the Hof and went into the nearby beech woods. In a hidden clearing we settled ourselves for the day. Hans Zumpe, in charge of the Hof at the time, read out letters from Eberhard Arnold. Eberhard was presently visiting Hutterian Bruderhofs in the USA and Canada to acquaint himself with the way they ran their life concerning inner and outer matters. The Hutterians are descendants of Baptists, historically known ? mistakenly ? as Anabaptists. Since their beginnings during Reformation times they lived in communities called Bruderhofs. Eberhard hoped for a closer connection with them. He did not want the newly founded Bruderhof to become yet another branch of Christianity.
When in the evening we heard that everything on the Hof was quiet and in order, we returned home. The Gestapo had already dissolved another community, the Habertshof. There was a sense of continuing uncertainty in the air about what might happen.
I liked life there. My Swiss-German dialect didn't matter one bit. The cheerful youth group took me in immediately as one of them. I went along on their blueberry trips where berries were picked for jam and preserves. There was lots of singing, laughing and dancing, violins and recorders were played, not only on those trips but also during the simple meals.
The dining room was furnished with long, narrow tables, alongside of which stood simple wooden benches. Work stopped when the boom of a suspended ploughshare rang for the first time. It could be heard at a great distance. Everybody gathered in the dining room. By the second pealing ten minutes later the room filled up. At the top of the tables stood piles of enamelled plates, soup spoons and tin cups. Someone began a song and everybody joined in with gusto. Afterwards there were a few moments of silence during which everyone gave thanks in their own way. The hatch to the kitchen opened and the steaming soup was ladled into large aluminium bowls and carried to the tables. Food was prepared in a way that it could all be eaten with a spoon.
Breakfast consisted of a plate of thin rye-flour soup, one or two cups of Muckefuck brewed from brown roasted, ground, germinated barley. With this came a slice of rye bread and a meagre scrape of margarine. We could eat the bread straight away to appease our hunger but this meant that there wouldn't be anything else for the so-called second breakfast.
All these imperfections were, nonetheless, made good by the free, spontaneous, warm-hearted togetherness, the joint working, sharing and communicating. My visit was an enduring, unforgettable experience, a further fragment in the mosaic of my life.
Life in the Werkhof, where my parents and I returned to, seemed to me
to be somewhat chaotic. There were many mutual visits between the two communities,
the Werkhof and the Bruderhof. The visitors from the German Bruderhof frequently
urged us not to attempt a life in Christian brother/sisterliness at two
different locations. They were urging in the sense of the song:
Warum einzeln verlodern in dürftigem Brand?
Fackeln zusammen, Hand zu Hand.
Denn wer im Innern ein Feuer verspürt,
Wird durch die Glut zu den Brüdern geführt.
Fackeln zusammen, Hand zu Hand.
[Why burn singly in feeble flame?
Torches together, hand to hand.
Because those who sense an internal fire
Will be led by the glow to the Brothers.
Torches together, hand to hand.]
There were many who followed this call, among them the minister Hans Boller with his family members who during a visit in the Bruderhof witnessed the celebration of a wedding and were so deeply impressed that they joined there and then. Peter and Anni Mathis, Hans and Margrit Meier, Dorli Bolli and Kaspar Keller also gradually moved to the Bruderhof.
In the meantime my brother Hans returned somewhat changed from his training at the Bauhaus Dessau. He soon secured a job in a progressive architect's office. He married his Olgi and went to live in the flat-roofed Neubühl in Wollishofen.
Later he became enchanted with a small triangular piece of land on a slope above the Obermeilen vineyards. He secured himself the right to buy ? Green Zone restrictions were as yet non-existent ? and set about his plans.
My grandfather Kofel, retired long ago, lived with his daughter ? my aunt Thildy, she was blind ? in Wädenswil. There was an accident; he was hit by a bicycle rider and fell so badly that he died as a consequence.
Hans wanted to become independent. He had blueprints for a house that would offer a home not only for himself and his wife Olgi but also for my parents, for myself and for aunt Thildy. Grandfather Kofel's inheritance together with Thildy's savings plus my parents' savings and a mortgage was just enough to realise the purchase of the land and the construction of the house.
The house was built of wood and had a flat roof. The large windows offered views far across the lake of Zurich right up to the range of the alpine snow covered mountain peaks.
For my brother Hans this independent construction was of great significance, the first step towards becoming an independent architect. The Meilenese, though, sneered. Of a Sunday afternoon passers-by could be heard sniggering: "Might this be a chicken coop?"
By the roadside stood a collection of ancient blackthorn. Well before the cherry trees opened their glorious white blossoms in spring, the blackthorn shone in its white spring-wedding dress. Its fruit, called Schlehen in Swiss dialect, look like mini plums, just as dark blue, covered in delicate patina. They beckon a tasting but the fruit is so sour and the tongue gets so rough that everything is spat out quickly, including the pips. Those in the know say that piquant liquor can be brewed with these Schlehen and with plenty of sugar. These prominent shrubs, the Schlehen, gave the new house its name: Im Schlehstud. And to this day that is its name.
Once the house was ready we moved in, my parents and I on one side of the mezzanine, on the other aunt Thildy. Hans set himself up on the first floor. It housed his studio-lounge-dining room alongside a large balcony, as well as bedroom, bathroom and a small kitchen.
Aunt Thildy was already blind. On her sewing table stood a strange sewing basket: The shell of an armadillo where the tail served as a handle. Aunt Thildy had lived on an estancia in Argentina for a number of years. She seemed a rather unapproachable, silent woman, unmarried, surrounded by an aura that inspired awe in me. Is this possibly a Kofel trait?
From Meilen, the train connections with Winterthur were complicated and awkward, so I took a room in Winterthur. This meant that I was home at weekends only. In the Schlehstud I had my own bedroom. All the rooms with exception of kitchen and bathroom were clad in beautifully veined plywood panels of birch, maple and ash. The large windows facing south allowed warmth and light to enter.
Despite all the comforts, I never really felt comfortable in the new house. My apprenticeship and the move to my new home broke off my contact with the Red Falcons and my friends. Had I advanced from proletariat-sympathiser to son of a house owner, or rather, degraded?
In the following spring, the house became full of life. Six schoolchildren from the Bruderhof in Germany with Lene Schulz as their teacher took up provisional quarters with us. The community school was to be brought under the management of a Nazi teacher. For this the Bruderhofers would not stand; some of the children were taken into a home near Trogen, the rest came and stayed with us. When the Nazi teacher arrived in the Bruderhof there were no schoolchildren, so he left again. The Bruderhofers were looking for a place at that time where their children as well as their carers could stay. In Triesenberg they were fortunate to rent the Silum spa hotel with its scattering of small log huts. This then developed into the Alm-BruderhofSilum.
Suddenly there was much laughter and singing in the Schlehstud and a lot of noisy chattering in High German. The gramophone, this wonder-machine that made music with a needle on a rotating black plate, was in constant use. It must have fascinated these children who came from the far away solitary Rhön. And my parents? Luckily they were tolerant and understanding. Anyhow, three weeks on and silence returned once more to the Schlehstud as the children left to find a new temporary home in the Alm-Bruderhof.
In 1934 in Germany, the National Socialists under Hitler acquired increasing powers not only through their strategies of brutal force but also by solving the then problem of high unemployment. Persecution of Jews and knowledge of the first concentration camps was spread through the book Die Moorsoldaten [The Moor Soldiers]. Certainly in Switzerland the Fröntler (Swiss SA, SS and Hitler Youth) were quite popular. It was quite obvious that the Bruderhofers, seen not only as Christians but also as high-minded communists, were a thorn in the flesh of the German Reich. Many community settlements that had sprung up in reaction to the First World War and the period of crises were being dissolved by the Nazis and disappeared. The fact that among the German Bruderhof members were also Swiss, British, Swedish and Dutch nationals postponed the community's dissolution until 1937.
My parents planned to spend the summer holidays of 1934 with their daughters and grandchildren in the Bruderhof. The Boller family, many close friends, and others such as Lini Rudolf (later Fischer) and Margot Salvodelli (later Davies) were there. Of course I was allowed to come along too. When we arrived, red flags decorated with Swastikas were flying in towns and villages. Even at Baden railway station on the Swiss-German border we already heard the salutation: "Heil Hitler! ? anything to declare?" bursting through the open door.
From then on the "Heil" salutation could be heard all the time. I was often tempted to add a "t" to the "Heil", just by mistake! (But that's not done in a host country!) I also forgot if it was the right hand or the left one that was raised for the salute ? what if a handshake was required during the hailing? (What do those with only one arm do?)
After the long train journey a taxi took us to the remote Bruderhof where we were received with great warmth and hospitality. Together with a number of other young visitors and Brothers I was lodged in a farm in the hamlet Eichenried some two kilometres away. I helped in the garden, working with Walter Hüssy, gardener and erstwhile Freischärler [volunteer] from Zurich. The rather frugal meals were usually added to, sweetened or ? if burnt ? spiced by spontaneous songs such as, Köchin was gibts auf die Nacht? Krachnudeln das dunnert und kracht? Im afraid I don't recollect the rest of this fun-making song that I only just remembered.
Despite the threat of dissolution ? there was constant dark, indescribable tension in the air ? this did not in any way impair the happiness that reigned among the industrious participants working at communal life and all its worthwhile aspirations.
Time passed all too quickly and our departure loomed. I began struggling inwardly. Back to Switzerland, to the metal works apprenticeship? Whilst I had originally wanted to be a forester, or a farmer or a gardener, I did enjoy my apprenticeship. The Metalli had good experts and was the best training in that field. Should I climb the first rung on the professional ladder after finishing my training? But it also meant going back to the Schlehstud, to the Villa where as yet I did not feel quite at home, at ease, although this house was the best solution for my parents and for aunt Thildy and of course for Hans and Olgi too.
The Internationale or Brüder zur Sonne zur Freiheit songs got kind of stuck in my throat (at the time they were sung with great conviction in the Bruderhof).
The farewell evening arrived. Everybody spoke spontaneously about what they were thinking just then. My parents, my siblings, one and the other of the group emphasised the warmth of togetherness in these short weeks. Then I was asked to say something.
I offered a brief summary of my own development, spoke about the Red Falcons, the discussions in the Freischar, the experience on the farm with the Roosts in Winterthur, my time in the Werkhof with its problems, and now all that I had just experienced in the Bruderhof. I said I did not want to leave again, that I wanted to stay. I told them that I had this strong feeling that if I returned to Switzerland I would miss the connection with the community. I felt very strongly at home in this circle.
This was a heavy blow for my parents, in particular for my father. He pleaded with me that I first complete my apprenticeship, afterwards I could do what I wanted. But Eberhard Arnold and the other Brothers and Sisters backed me and promised that having settled in I should have an agricultural apprenticeship after a period of inner strengthening.
It must have been a very difficult farewell for my father. I was only eighteen years old and he still had the paternal authority. Yet, he said:
"Migg, you are old enough to know what you are doing. I trust you."
I will never forget these words from my father. I also never heard one bitter word from him later on. (to be continued)
Herman Pleil, 10/3/00 (please, no editing): Dear friends, last time I wrote about my impression of the friends' reunion in Oberbernhards. This time I like to write something about the adventure of our trip to the Röhn burial ground. Present were Alfred, Ludwig, Irene in their car. How we got there I don't know. I just remember a lot of winding roads and little villages, completely different than when I went there about 36 years ago.
Of course we got there from the back side of the Röhn Hof. There was a gravel road and a little parking spot on gravel where already one of our little buses was parked along with a few other cars of our group. So we decided to take a shortcut to approach the burial ground from the back, so we went on a gravel road which went to the direction. From there we made a right turn into the forest of the hill and, as I knew the area from 36 years before, I thought that should be no problem, and so we went climbing that forest hill, but no end.
At last I was only by myself. I didn't know if the others gave up, or been more interested in blackberry picking. At last I got out of the jungle and I was standing before a meadow and see there was the big wooden rainbow shaped gate, so I turned back and shouted, "Come on! I found it" So the rest came so too, and when we got closer to the gate, I couldn't believe my eyes. That big gate was secured with high mesh wire and around the stone walls, so my thoughts went back straight away. 36 years back ago, there was that big rainbow wooden gate inviting you in, and when I went through the gate, I felt a strong community spirit at work at that time, to gather and carry all those stones and build this 2-1/2 feet high wall. It impressed me very much. I only wondered why so big. Then it came to me. Those people been building for the future and eternity, and what's now? (Think about it).
At last we found a way sneaking in from the back. Soon I was in, a deep depression came over me. Those trees around the graves did grow so tremendously in 3 years, and a dark shadow hanging over those few lonely graves. Even the sun couldn't brighten them up.
Lest I could stand beside my friend's grave, Peter Rutherford. I liked him very much. We took a few pictures and left the place. By the way, we beat the other groups. They got there when we already left. Every one of us been looking for a shorter way out to the parking lot. So that on one got lost we left some steam out of our lungs to make some noise to let the others know where you are. Soon you heard shouting over the whole forest.
Thomas was the best. His howling was worst than of a cajoty. Even Ludwig with his strong voice could not beat him. And when everybody arrived, we left the place. We did not bother to go on the Röhn Hof. There was in any case not much to see.
Now a small correction of my last writing for KIT. I wrote, "Sometimes it was hard for me to recognize them after 39 years, and some even longer," and in the KIT letter it appeared '29 years.' How that happened only the printer will know. It was 39 years. Greetings to all, click here to return to top of newsletter